Twitter fills up with little RIPs everytime some celebrity kicks off, and it’s fascinating to see the simultaneous levels of give a shit. The film geeks solemnly wrap film stock around their sleeve when George Hickenlooper dies, but the rest of the stream is quiet. Then DJ AM dies and suddenly a million weeping teens are writing text speak eulogies. Roy Scheider dies, and all people can think of is, “Oh, the Jaws guy. Bummer.” Then sometimes someone like Heath Ledger goes and everyone’s upset.
When anyone dies, whether marquee actor, behind the scenes screenwriter, or longtime Scorcese editor, it’s usually a pretty sad occasion. Even if they had been long suffering from a painful illness and finally found peace, it’s still unfortunate. But celebrity death is particularly poignant.
So my question to you is which celebrity death had the strongest impact on you? I want to say it was Chris Farley or John Candy, one of the fat men taken before their time, but honestly, I think it was Phil Hartman. I’ve been watching a ton of “NewsRadio” episodes as of late on Netflix, and I fall to sleep with the DVD player screening “Simpsons” episodes, and it’s almost impossible not to see the impact that Hartman’s tragic death had on those series. I forever admired “The Simpsons” for simply letting Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz disappear into the sunset and not trying to replace them with obvious duplicates. Likewise, I realize “NewsRadio” had obligations to try to continue, but it was easy to see that the spirit of the series would never outlive its crooning funny man. I recently learned that “Futurama” became a virtual homage to Hartman. Hartman was supposed to voice Zapp Brannigan, and it’s clear to see Billy West based his performance on Hartman’s bombastic characters. They went so far as to name the lead character Phillip J. Fry in Hartman’s honor. It might have been the suddenness of Hartman’s death that made it so effective, coupled with the fact that he seemed like such a genuinely professional and kind-hearted guy.
My fiancee Jenny said so far it was Peter Boyle that upset her. As a child in elementary school, she watched Young Frankenstein every day for years. And while Boyle was a comedic genius, a gentle giant famous for playing bellowing grouches, she said it was the fact that in real life he turned out to be this fascinatingly interesting man. He was John Lennon’s best man at his wedding.
So which celebrity death has had the biggest affect on you? Sorry to portend such a Debbie Downer motif on you kids, it’s been mighty overcast in LA the past few weeks. But as I watch my “NewsRadio” episodes, it reminds me of just how much I really enjoyed Hartman, so it’s not all sad.