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Today in My History

2000:  Touched By an Angel
2001:  Picture Perfect
2002:  Go for the Merman, Baby!
2003:  I Think I Remember
2004:  Ribbons and Tears
2005:  It's Right on the Tip of My Tongue
Sheila's Adventure
2007: Time Wasting

2008: You're Not Listening, World!
2009:  Julie and Julia
2010:  Worth 1,000 Words
2011:  More Butterflies
2012: Zen
2013: Loss and Memory

Bitter Hack

Books Read in 2014
"The Vault"

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Airy Persiflage

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mail to Walt


August 14, 2014

I've been a show biz buff all my life.  I read all the movie magazines as a kid, my mother was a show biz buff too.  We saw all the movies, I had movie star trading cards and always followed the news of the celebrities.

Never in the over-the-top way that some fans do.  I just liked knowing there were people like that in my world and I was curious to know what they were doing, to borrow small pieces of their lives as printed on the magazine pages (not realizing that so much of it was fiction written by the studios). Today not so much since they all look the same to me and I don't know one from the other.  Heck, with some of the names, I'm not even sure what gender they are (I didn't know Cat Stevens was a guy until recently!).

With all the celebrity deaths that have occurred in the past 71 years, there are only three that have affected me profoundly.  Judy Garland's death in 1969 was the first. Judy Garland was my one long-lasting celebrity crush. I collected Garland everything, saw her in performance four times, met her once, chased her limo one time, and was one of the folks who rushed the stage holding upraised hands at the end of her Carnegie Hall concert (in San Francisco).  I remember her hand felt very small and very, very cold.  I could cry at Garland memories for years afterward her death.

I didn't have that kind of connection with him, but for some reason I was profoundly affected by Jim Henson's death.  Maybe because it was so unexpected and probably because I spent every day for years with our kids watching muppets.  Our Kermit the Frog still wears the black arm band that I put on him in the week following Henson's death.  The idea of Kermit with no voice was unimaginable.   (Yeah, he has a voice now, but it's not the right voice.  Like Julie Andrews -- someone whose voice was so familiar and it still comes out of the familiar face and mouth, but it's somehow...just not right any more).

Henson died in 1990, so it's been 14 years since a celebrity death has affected me, but boy has Robin Williams' hit me hard. And I can't put my finger on why.  He was a force of nature.  I loved his performances, but I can't say I was a die hard fan.  If he were to be appearing in San Francisco again, I probably would not rush right out and buy tickets to attend.  I didn't watch all of his movies.  But I was so taken by him whenever I happened to catch him on TV.  

Maybe it's because of the similarity of the circumstances surrounding his death to those surrounding Paul's death.  I could not sleep at all the night after I learned of his death and I couldn't figure out why until I remembered that I had not slept the night of Paul's death either.  And the memorials for Williams have been so, so heartfelt, so many people in real emotional pain, as I have been.  I watched The Birdcage the night of his death and, as I wrote on Facebook, it didn't hurt less, but it made me forget for a bit.

Today someone mentioned a movie of Williams' I had not heard of - The World's Greatest Dad - and said that Netflix was streaming it, so I immediately went and watched it.  I was a basket case afterwards.  If I had seen it last week, I probably would have said it was an OK movie.

Alison Willmore of the staff of BuzzFeed wrote a powerful article about this film, from which I will quote liberally.

He plays a father in World’s Greatest Dad, a 2009 indie written and directed by fellow comedian Bobcat Goldthwait. That may be the Williams role that I love best of all. It’s also one that is, for many reasons, almost unbearably sad to revisit now, not the least because it deals with themes of suicide, but also because its emotional epiphany is so hard-fought and so uncompromised, directly dealing with how people mourn and how we sanctify the dead....

Williams plays Lance Clayton, a high school English teacher, failed writer, and the father of a teenager boy named Kyle (Daryl Sabara) who’s an unrepentant little shit.  Kyle’s nearly friendless and hates everything except for porn, and he’s fond of throwing around the terms “fag” and “retarded” to refer to everything else, including his loving but exasperated single dad. Kyle dies in an accident involving masturbation, and in an act of parental love, Lance restages the scene as a suicide, penning a note that gets published in the school paper and makes Kyle posthumously popular for the fineness of his writing and his unflinching observations about identity and belonging....

The scene she describes shows Williams finding his son dead of autoerotic asphyxiation -- masturbating while cutting off his oxygen.  He walks in and sees his son with a necktie around his neck, connected to a closet door. When I watched the father's reaction to the son's death, I just wish Williams could have replayed that scene before he made his choice...would it have changed things to realize that his family would be feeling like this when they found his body?

It’s a role that showcases Williams’ underappreciated capacity for nuance — the scene in which he’s being comforted by a total stranger and can’t stop himself from giggling at the absurdity, a reaction the woman he’s talking to keeps mistaking for tears, passing him tissues. Or like this scene from the end (mild spoilers!), in which his face conveys such a quicksilver mix of sadness, regret, resignation, and the slightest touch of mischief. That clip doesn’t include the lines that follow, in voiceover, as the soundtrack kicks off the perfect song and a callback to earlier in the film: “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who make you feel all alone.” It’s an observation to break your heart, but the sequence that it’s a part of is filled with such complex but exhilarated joy and mourning all at once. It’s the kind of role Williams could pull off so well. God, he’ll be missed.

Life will go on.  The big wheel keeps on turnin'.  Already people are now mourning the death of Lauren Bacall.  But as with the deaths of Judy Garland and Jim Henson, my personal world is a little smaller and, with Allison Willmore, I say, "God, he'll be missed."

Photo of the Day

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Day 45:  Happiness is shooting the breeze with people with whom you have a VERY LONG history!

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