With the passing of Australian stage and screen great Ian ‘Turps’ Turpie and Hollywood legends Ernest Borgnine and Andy Griffith this year, many people have found themselves staring blankly off into space, whispering to the wind: ‘Why them?’ and ‘Who’s next?’
These three faces were so familiar to us and the roles they played in their respective TV shows/movies touched us all. Ernest Borgnine taught me about friendship and loyalty in The Wild Bunch. In Matlock, Andy Griffith showed me that not all old people are useless and Turps entertained me after school with Supermarket Sweep. He is also responsible for the greatest album cover in the history of modern music; I’ve never listened to ‘Turps is the Talk of the Town’ but I’ve laughed my head off whenever I’ve seen it in the shops. Which is once.
But answering the questions ‘Why?’ and ‘Who’s going to be next?’ is tough, not to mention morbid, but we do have to prepare ourselves for the day when someone announces the passing of our favourite star in their Facebook status or Twitter feed. You know the ones: ‘Respect to Mickey Mouse, who died today’ or ‘I’m sorry to announce the death of the greatest cartoon character ever, Mickey Mouse. Unbelievable actor. Check him out.’ Which is all fine, people have to grieve and we have our own ways of doing so. Although something like ‘#RIPMickeyMouse’ just doesn’t sit right with me. Not that Mickey Mouse dying isn’t a big deal (my god, Minnie left to raise all those kids by herself – and on a widow’s pension?!) but shoving his name next to some hash and ‘RIP’ just doesn’t seem respectful. Plus I always read ‘RIP’ like it’s the verb and when it’s combined with Mickey I can’t help but imagine the mouse I saw when I was a kid that had its stomach ripped open by our cat so that its guts were strewn across the doormat. I shouldn’t have to connect that with the passing of an icon. A Disney icon.
But our stars are going to die. It’s sad but true that one day Clint Eastwood will no longer be with us. Lauren Bacall. Jack Nicholson. Carrie Fisher. Wynona Ryder. Sigh … Now, Bacall and Ryder aren’t in the public eye so much lately (still not convinced that was Wynona in Black Swan) but for people like Eastwood and Nicholson who are still quite active in Hollywood and Fisher on stage, it’s hard to imagine them not being around. Sure, Eastwood’s movies are getting a bit staid these days, Fisher just talks about herself all the time and Jack’s getting choosier with his roles, but these people are Hollywood. You would have to go pretty damn far to find someone who hasn’t seen at least one of their movies and you’d be going almost as far to find someone who thought they were dead.
When Tony Curtis and Leslie Nielsen died in 2010 a lot of people might’ve thought they were in fact already gone, and the same may be said for Borgnine, Griffith and Turpie. These guys (with the exception of Turps) were quite old when they died and none of them had really done much in the way of movies/TV during their later years, so we can be forgiven for thinking they may have already passed. And although we may have considered them familiar, they were by no means family. You know if your grandfather and grandmother are still alive or not, but what about the guy who played Maxwell Smart? Sadly he’s dead too, but did you know otherwise before his show reel was on the news seven years ago?
Knowing whether a star is already dead or not isn’t what hits you the hardest. Sure, it’s sad to see them go but being reminded of your own immortality is what really gets to you. Yes, that old chestnut. You are going to die. The show reel on the news highlights their place in popular culture and it’s the significant moment when you realise they are now gone. Dead stars get a show reel of their great movie moments, a few short interviews with peers saying how amazing they were and a finishing shot of them smiling, looking young and brilliant. We’re never going to get that. There’s no show reel, no headline and no news story because we’ll never make a mark as monumental as that.
When a star dies there’s enough emotional distance between you so that your grief doesn’t completely take over and you can turn to other tasks, like thinking about yourself. When a loved one dies there is overwhelming grief. You knew this person intimately, shared experiences and although you have the memories, you can’t see or touch them or have a cup of tea with this person ever again. In a way, when a star dies they keep on living because the memories are so easy to recapture. I can still watch The Wild Bunch on DVD and there are re-runs of Get Smart on TV all the time, so our relationship continues. Now, I just get a bit sad when Borgnine says ‘Them’s washers!’ and think to myself: They don’t make ‘em like you anymore, mate. And they don’t. They never will again.
God, I just realised that Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn aren’t going to live forever either.
Super sigh … I’m going to need a lie down and a big think now.