CCW: Farr North Perspectives: Reflecting on celebrity deaths

CCW: Farr North Perspectives: Reflecting on celebrity deaths

Objectively, it’s a silly thing to mourn the passing of a celebrity. I don’t know these people. We’re not friends. We’ve never had a beer together. They’re just light and sound on a screen. Yet, celebrities keep dying and I keep taking it personally.

Consider Robin Williams. I was taken aback when he died. That was Mork! Mork died! Some of my first memories in life involved Robin Williams as Mork. A little earlier, in 2012, Sherman Hemsley died. He’s no Mork, but he is George Jefferson, and George Jefferson and I hung out every day after school until my parents rolled in from work. There was Roger Ebert, Leonard Nimoy, Harold Ramis and more. Big names, small names, but names I knew and admired.

And then this week happens. Like a series of gut punches, we lose David Bowie, Alan Rickman, and Grizzly freakin’ Adams.

Saturday, I spent two hours playing nothing but Bowie on KRNN. By the time I ended on “Life on Mars” and “Heroes” I was emotionally spent. The man’s vocal variety was astounding. His lyricism is unmatched. He told stories…hell, Bowie painted worlds with his music. Hardly anyone does that anymore; at least not while making hits. Bowie represents something rare – a time when art could be popular and matter.

I am old enough to have heard Bowie’s originals on the radio. I am old enough to remember my dad complain about “Fame” because a bunkmate in his Shemya work camp played nothing else for weeks on end. I am old enough to remember people’s confusion when Bowie went pop with “Let’s Dance.” And I am old enough to be too old for that kids’ movie, “Labyrinth.”

Perhaps the problem is these deaths remind me I’m old. At least, I am old enough to see my childhood idols die.

But Bowie wasn’t the only one.

I was a junior at East Anchorage High School when “Die Hard” came out. Perhaps for some it’s hard to remember just how unique and good a movie “Die Hard” really was. I don’t mean good for an action movie. I mean good for any movie.

“Die Hard” was smart. It was just self-aware enough to let you in on the jokes, but still wrenching in its action. It showcased a hero who wasn’t a muscle-bound Stallone or Schwarzenegger but a scarred and scared Bruce Willis. His portrayal of a flawed “hero” who feared, fretted, and bled was pretty groundbreaking.

But even more groundbreaking was Hans Gruber, The Best Villain Ever, as portrayed by Alan Rickman.

For many of you, Rickman is Professor Snape. That’s a very good role to remember him by. But for me, though, on account of being old, Rickman will forever be Gruber.

The story goes, after a successful run on Broadway in “Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” Rickman arrived in Hollywood. He was there for two days when his agent presented him with the script for “Die Hard.” Rickman was 42, unknown, and cheap. Working within the vacuum of no expectations, he constructed the best villain ever.

Rickman’s Gruber was one of those “oft imitated, never matched” performances. For one, Rickman can act. Before Hans Gruber, villains in movies, even Bond’s Blofeld, were mostly acting chops afterthoughts. (Try to watch Telly Savalas smoke an upside down cigarette as Blofeld in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” without cracking up). Rickman made the villain fun for real actors. After “Die Hard” you see the likes of John Lithgow in “Cliffhanger,” Dennis Hopper in “Speed,” and one of the greatest, John Malkovich, in “In the Line of Fire.” None of their villains could match Rickman’s Hans Gruber; Rickman had set the bar too high.

Rickman went on to great success in Hollywood. He was a fine actor. If you’re looking for a weeper to remember him by, watch 1990’s “Truly Madly Deeply” where he haunts his wife through an undying love. He had nuanced roles in “Sense and Sensibility” and “Bob Roberts.” And of course, those Harry Potter films…

Like I said, it’s been a rough week, and there’s one more.

Dan Haggerty, who you know as Grizzly Adams, also died this week. Normally, that wouldn’t even have registered except my sensitivities are already a little heightened. Truth is, 7-year-old Clint loved “Grizzly Adams.” I connected to that show based on a love of animals and nature. (This was during my “I’m going to be a veterinarian” stage). Plus, the show led to one of my dad’s greatest observations. Imagine how much improved “Grizzly Adams” would have been if they used a canned laugh track every time the bear “talked.”

So, in one week, two greats and a niche sentimental favorite are gone.

Still, this sadness at the loss of celebrities is silly. Good lord, the times we’re in now are serious. Our state is broke. We are having a weird, possibly dangerous, run-up to a national election. There are millions displaced by war and environmental catastrophe. Relative to these issues I realize, painfully realize, that I (and most of us) have nothing to be sad about.

Yet, in my defense, you only truly know what you experience, and these three were each part of my childhood experience. So in a sense, these deaths are important because they’re puzzle pieces filling in the larger picture. Little boy Clint was going to be a veterinarian. Little boy Clint knew better than to play one song over and over until its magic was gone. Perhaps teenage Clint was to be a filmmaker. I guess that’s why the passing of these people hit home. It’s not the death of the celebrity that’s sad, but the loss of the person looking back at you from the mirror they held up during their pop culture reign.

I am neither veterinarian nor filmmaker. I am still a huge Bowie fan. The deaths this week demand an assessment of redirected potential, choices made, paths taken, and a current life – a great and blessed life – never imagined by that chubby kid laughing at dad making fun of Bowie’s “Fame” while a grizzly bear growled on TV.

Silly it may be, but rest in peace Bowie, Rickman, and Haggerty. You were important to me at least.

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