Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Balancing the Ledger

The first movie I ever took the future Mrs. Word Player to starred Lindsay Lohan.

That may sound like a sure recipe for dating disaster now, but back in August of 1998 (a handful of days after we first met) it was the G-rated Disney remake THE PARENT TRAP title that was the draw, and I'd never heard the name Lindsay Lohan before in my life. I was eager to impress upon my date that we could have G-rated fun together too, and every memory I have from that night is sensational. Thankfully the movie was great, and not at all the "isn't this fun?" (oh-no-we're-exchanging-polite-smiles!?!) bore I feared it could be.

That memory and, for all intents and purposes, that alone is what kept me rooting for Lohan to survive her marathon of death- and logic- and rationality-defying series of arrests, hospitalizations, and rehab stints. Frankly, I didn't/don't want that memory tainted by yet another senseless fatality story.

I think we'll all be looking away from THE DARK KNIGHT posters for a while

Of course, thoughts like this are dredged up by today's news that Australian actor was found dead of an apparent drug overdose at the age of 28. Here's the twist, for me at least: I've been in a funk the whole day about his death, and (surprisingly to me) I've only seen one of the films he's been in.

Why should his death affect me like this? And, how will I feel about it tomorrow?

I can barely remember seeing MONSTER'S BALL in 2001, and even less can I cobble together a handful of words about Ledger's supporting performance in the film. All I know is that I was/am very excited to see his interpretation of The Joker in the upcoming BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT, and I was bummed to hear last year that the was splitting up with DAWSON'S CREEK's Michelle Williams, his then-fiancee and mother of their child.

That's it. Yet, I still feel something strong tugging at me now that he's gone. I wonder why it was as strong as it was, and I wonder why it wasn't stronger than it was.

Ultimately, we hadn't formed any memories together yet. Ledger's passing didn't immediately affect me in the same way as the following three shocking, completely unsuspected deaths because (unbeknownst to them in life, as virtually all our bonds with celebs are) I'd internalized enough memories about them (in the same vein as me and Li-Lo) that proved (so far) to be far more difficult to shake.

We all knew eventually this blog would feature glamour shots of me.

So, in chronological order...

JOHN LENNON >>> murdered 12/8/1980 >>> his age: 40, my age: 9

I burst into tears when I heard that John Lennon had died. As near as I can remember, his is the first non-family death I can recall. I grew up listening to The Beatles at home on Father Word Player's Teac reel-to-reel, as he'd recorded his collection of vinyl albums to tape and then given them all away. I was allowed to listen to the stereo by myself on Dad's big-ass grey-brown '70s headphones growing up, and The Beatles were extremely important to me and my musical education as a child. No amount of explaining in the world could explain to a nine year-old why someone would shoot and kill someone like John Lennon.

He looks like he could still be alive, doesn't he?

RIVER PHOENIX >>> fatal overdose 10/31/1993 >>> his age:23, my age: 22

I'd thought it cool, during his life, that River Phoenix was exactly one year and one day older than me. Stupid things like that create a superficial kinship between people like him and people like me. I was a HUGE Steven King fan growing up, and after I saw STAND BY ME in 1986 (adapted from King's novella "The Body" from his collection Different Seasons), I'd become a HUGE River Phoenix fan as well. Toss in his we're-grooming-him-for-a-prequel-or-two role in INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (and, yes, fine, a desire to have my short curly dark hair look anything like his long straight blonde hair), and his shocking death hit me like a kick to the sternum.

Several years later, I was living in L.A. and went to the Viper Room to see a friend's band play.

The place still had bad ju-ju out the yin-yang.

Incidentally (and something I just now discovered) River's middle name is Jude, named after The Beatles song "Hey Jude" which was written by Paul to comfort Julian Lennon during John and Cynthia's divorce. There's something comforting about a comfort song, no?

"I move for a bad court thingy"

PHIL HARTMAN >>> murdered 5/28/1998 >>> his age:49, my age:26

Still less than 10 years ago, this is the one I remember the most vividly and the one that still hurts the most when the wind blows just so. Hartman's contribution to the comedy and pop-culture scene was vast, including major roles in PEE-WEE'S PLAYHOUSE, THE SIMPSONS, and SNL. His sensibilities were just so dead-on, and you could count on him to be funny whenever he turned up (which was very, very often) in a show or movie. I guess because he was a company player and supporting actor, most of us didn't talk about him too much before he died (for, after all, it really felt like it was the character Lionel Hutz who immortally referred to bourbon as "the brownest of the brown liquors".)

I was in the office of my new job at a production company in Venice, CA, and my bosses were in Milwaukee when I heard the news of Hartman's murder over KCRW. Alone, I once again found myself weeping over the death of someone I never knew.

Hartman, like Lennon and Phoenix, had touched my life in a way I clearly would never forget. Only time will tell how my feelings towards Ledger will evolve, based mostly, I guess, on how many stars I give his to-be-rented back catalog on Netflix combined with how I felt today.

I'm certain this will come out inelegantly, but doesn't it always feel strange when someone who was just alive is now dead forever?


Mr. CFA said...

RIP Captain Carl. That dude will be missed for years to come. Previously Frozen Caveman Lawyer is still one of the funniest characters of all time. All time I tell ya.

dwr said...

When a talented artist dies i always get very selfish. Supposedly Heath Ledger was nice and gentlemanly and a good father, but i only know his work and i'm just pissed that i won't get to see any more of it. (And this is a star who used his cache to get another Terry Gilliam pic some funding - always a very cool thing in my book.)
And I also think terrible thoughts like, "Why couldn't it have been Dane Cook?"

(And i totally recall those headphones and that reel to reel - like something out of Star Trek. Remember the very first time you put on headphones? I remember yelling, "This is so cool!" And someone else yelling, "Why are you yelling?!?")