Screw you, Death.
Seriously, why you gotta have us starting EVERY year off like this? Last year it was Spock, the year before we lost Uncle Phil and JewWario and The Hoff within about 6 weeks of each other, and this year starts off with us losing David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Brian Bedford, AND Glenn Frey over a span of just 8 freakin’ days. I think your quota of cultural heartbreak has been officially filled for 2016, okay Death? Just please leave Don Bluth alone long enough for him to finish making the Dragon’s Lair movie. PLEASE.
At any rate, here we are, and we once again find ourselves in the uncomfortable position of having to reflect on our own mortality through the knowledge that even the seemingly untouchable figures that, in their own right, are cultural touchstones for generations of humanity, must eventually leave us for whatever comes next.
I will mostly be writing about Alan Rickman here, since this is a film blog, and I was never really into work of either David Bowie or Brian Bedford enough to justify calling myself an informed fan of either of them. For personal reasons, I must include a personal farewell to Glenn Frey, since the Eagles were a big part of my high school years, but even there his loss doesn’t hit quite so personally for me as losing the face that has defined Slytherin House for me since I was 11.
I had the immense pleasure of getting to briefly meet Alan Rickman in New York City about 4 years ago, after attending a performance of his in Seminar, one of his last major stage appearances (this was right before he was replaced in the cast with Jeff Goldblum, and the show promptly tanked). Although it was freezing cold in the City, and the rest of the cast was waiting on him, he took the time to go around to those of us at the perimeter to sign anything we had, take pictures with those who asked, and shake a few hands. He signed my show program, and when I asked if I could shake his hand, he graciously smiled and allowed me to do so. I asked him if he had a preference between either stage or film work, and he said he really didn’t, “he just does one, then the other.”
These are such odd moments, when I think about them. For the celebrity, something like that happens a thousand times a day, and the regular parts of anyone’s day, no matter how extraordinary they seem from the outside, always eventually become a bit repetitive , mundane, and often forgettable. So I have no reason to expect he ever recalled that brief exchange, or that he would have recognized my face had we ever crossed paths again. But for me, that will always be MY Alan Rickman moment, the time I spoke with him, however briefly, and he said something to me. And thus, that will always have value to me, even if nothing of substance passed between us.
Not that Alan Rickman didn’t also have the capacity to make someone else’s day by remembering them when they thought he wouldn’t. A friend of mine, who had obsessively went to every performance of Seminar she could while it was on Broadway, related to me once that Alan Rickman commented to her when she shook his hand after her fourth viewing that he thought he recognized her, and she told him she had already seen the show several times. When she went back a fifth time, and was again waiting out back to see him, he saw her again. When he did, she said, “Remember me? I’ve already seen the show 4 times!” To which he replied, “I know you have.”
And so, moving forward, as with other deaths of recent years, we are going to have a lot of moments over the next few years where this collective loss hits us all over again. My memory of craning my head from the far side of the front row at my first theater viewing of The Sorceror’s Stone will be shaded, just a bit. Our annual Christmas tradition of watching Love, Actually will hurt, just a bit. And the crumpled, signed program I have tucked away with my other memorabilia in my grandpa’s old suitcase now has a new importance attached to it.
In the words of a tiny, green Jedi Master, “That is the way of things.” The loss of so many great figures in such a short span of time has been hard to process. All deaths have an immediate impact on those closest to them, but there are some, like these, that resonate across the world, because in their own small ways they were able to touch on common features of humanity that we all share. Alan Rickman was one of those people, and he will be sorely missed. Rest in peace, sir. We will make sure you are always remembered. Always.