When Jessica Simpson falls off her moped, E! is there with a breaking news story. Interrupting their priceless programming with some worthless news package starring Juliana Depandi as faux anchor. But the greatest comedian of all time has a heart attack, and the man can't even get mentioned in a news crawl obscured by an old episode of Party @ The Palms? What a channel. What a waste.
You're dead now, mother f*cker.
I didn't cry when my grandmother died. Or when my friend Magee died. Or when Biggie and Tupac got shot. I think death is a good thing. A transition that is both necessary and meaningful in an important way. Everything you've ever endured in life gets shaken like water off a duck's back. I've never felt bad about a soul passing. Or depressed emotionally in the least bit. Some might call that cold hearted. I don't really see it that way. When your number is up, it's up. You're done. For the most part. I think death should be celebrated. Not mourned.
I did feel something when my friend Doug shot himself in the chest, up in the mountains, a few miles away from my house. It was more akin to anger than sadness. If the dumb jerk had of talked to somebody, maybe he could have worked it out. Maybe not. Maybe he was meant to heed a higher calling. His spirit was restless and he needed to release it from the body that was keeping it captive.
I'll admit I was pretty broken up about my cat, Teddy. Poor guy's kidney burst open. I sat underneath the bed with him for about two hours, trying to comfort his little kitty soul into heaven. Even though Ted was suffering an enormous amount of pain. There was a moment there, in those last few moments we spent together, where we both looked into each other's eyes. He had these big lime green colored eyes. And I saw something. The pain was gone. And his cat mouth seemed to smile. He knew something I didn't. It was here that I realized everything goes away in the end.
My friend called me the other day. He said, "Tookie's dead! How does that make you feel?" Seriously, I felt indifferent. I knew the story. I saw the Jamie Foxx movie. I bought into the hype of the narrative. But everything I'd heard and devoured was useless fluff sold like a dime store novel. I didn't know Stanley Williams. I can't rightly make an opinion about the man. Everything I know has been sold to me by someone else. I listened to both sides of the argument. And I'm glad some kid decided not to join a gang after reading his two or three books (co-authored by some old smart white lady). But so what? It was his time to go. And there's nothing Snoop Dogg could do about it. Tookie's dead. And that was the only way he was going to find true redemption. Seriously. Think about it. It wasn't really Arnold's call (as surreal as that may seem). Death is the true purveyor of justice. Look at your watch. Took knows if he was truly a reformed man or not by now. He's sitting on a cloud with hookers. Either that or he's feeling a shotgun blast to the back of the head a million times in infinite purgatory.
Was Stanley Williams a celebrity? I'd say he was. As much of a celebrity as any other criminal I've ever seen on TV. I've never understood the concept of mourning an actor. Or a writer. Or an artist. Or a supposedly reformed gang leader/murderer. I respect a lot of people's work. As well as despise it. But they're a small, lucky group of individuals. When they die, they become something more than dead. They become legend (to quote FNM). They get to leave something behind. That a lot of people will discover for years to come. I don't need to cry over their loss. I'm grateful for the handful of things they've left me in a bag.
I'm trying to think about the last time someone's death really affected me. I don't think I cared. I always liked John Ritter. But I didn't know him. And he left me with Bad Santa. How could I be sad about that. I remember where I was when John Belushi died. The cable had just gone out, and I was trying to make channel 13 (an Oregon based CBS Affiliate) come in through the antenna. A breaking news bulletin explained that he'd killed over. It came as no real surprise to me. Even as a small kid, I saw that one coming. Then there's Kurt Cobain. I was in the college food court when it came over the radio speakers. I shrugged it off. I mean, the guy did just try to off himself with pills a few months earlier. Looking at the cover of In Utero, I instinctively knew that it was going to be the last full length album I ever heard from the man.
Yup. A lot of famous assholes have kicked the bucket since I've been alive and aware of the gifted presences given to us here on Earth. I never cried. Once. Not until last Saturday night. When I heard that Richard Pryor died. I shivered with chills and then my left eye welled up. The news truly made me sad. It seems like that mother fucker's been trying to die for awhile. And he finally succeeded. Good for him. I'm glad. Still, it was as if I'd heard a long lost childhood friend had passed on. I couldn't help but feel a little remorse.
Most guys my age talk about how Star Wars defined their life. How it was there childhood. Sure, I watched and enjoyed Star Wars. But I never felt that passionate about it. For some reason it was Richard Pryor that I loved as a kid. Even more so than Star Wars. It's true what they say. Kids are color blind. And everything he had to say about race relations flew right over my head. But the man had an energy surrounding his upper rib cage. He was illuminated, and as a young child I found something very comforting and appealing about his presence. It seemed to transcend the screen.
I was fascinated by his first TV special, which oddly enough included a scene in the Star Wars cantina. That's probably why I was watching it in the first place. I didn't get most of the jokes. I was only five or six. But I thought he was funny. And I wanted to watch him. I was mesmerized. And, it might sound weird, but I never thought of him as "black". I simply thought of him as Richard Pryor. My favorite actor. The guy on TV that I wanted to hang out with.
My mom was very strict when we were kids as far as movies were concerned. Up until about the age of fifteen, she refused to let us watch R rated films. With an exception. She would take me to see Richard Pryor movies. One of my fondest childhood memories is my Mom and my cousin Dawn taking me, at the age of 10, to a Midnight showing of the R rated Bustin' Loose. It's not the best film by any means. But I loved it. I'd play out the scenes to entertained children on the playground. My favorite one to reenact was the Ku Klux Klan moment where they happen upon Pryor in the dark. I had his rant memorized. Then I'd talk incisively about how the jerks in the white robes all fell in the mud. Looking back at Bustin' Loose today, it feels like a kid's movie in every way. Why it was rated R, I'll never now. Luckily, I got to see it.
I was super excited when my Mom and Dad took me to Stir Crazy. I desperately wanted to see Some Kind of Hero (which none of the obituaries are mentioning), but wasn't allowed to because my parents didn't think I'd enjoy it. When I saw it a few years later I was surprised to see that it wasn't a comedy. Though, the scene where he goes to rob the bank with the water gun still makes me laugh. I wish they'd release it on DVD. That, and Moving, even though it's one of his lesser efforts.
Does anyone else remember the open casting call Toys R Us had back in 1982? They were looking for a kid to star opposite Richard Pryor in the film The Toy. Little did I know it was some odd marketing ruse. I still wouldn't have cared. I wanted to be in a film with Richard Pryor. I demanded that my parents take me. I dressed in rainbow suspenders and a pageboy cap. They took my picture. Then told me it would appear in TV Guide. Well, I waited for my big phone call to come in. It never happened. My picture never appeared in TV Guide. And that Scotty kid (now of Porno movies) that they picked didn't come from some huge cattle call. I didn't hold it against Richard though.
The Dark Crystal and The Toy opened on the same weekend. I remember that vividly. My Aunt was taking us to the theater, and she was shocked that I demanded to see The Toy instead of the puppets. In my mind it was clear. Seeing Richard Pryor meant more to me than seeing a bunch of gay Muppets walking around on Popsicle sticks.
It wasn't until years later, when I was an adult, that I went back and watched his concert films. It was kind of like your fun uncle taking you aside in a bar and explaining life in a way that made sense. I understood. The man was an innovator. The last real comic. The last new anything. I just wanted to take this moment out of my day and say, "I always liked the man." I felt like I did know him. His life wasn't filtered through a bunch of last minute media hype.
The night before Richard passed on, I saw a shooting star. Out the back of a dirty window. It was soaring too low to earth, and from the angle I was sitting on the floor, it seemed to be going up. It was one of those things. I just happened to look up at the exact moment it went zooming by. There was no reason for me to see it. But I did. Then, a few hours later, when I learned of Pryor's passing, I thought of that shooting star. I like to think that it was him, screaming towards heaven. And it was just for a few of us to see.
As an entertainer, Richard Pryor gave me a lot. He gave his pain and offered it up as jokes. I learned a thing or two. And when someone asks me who my influences are, I won't hesitate to mention his name.
"Thank you, man. Thank you."