“I knew a man who once said death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back”
James Gandolfini, Paul Walker, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, James Avery, Lee Thompson Young… these are just some of Hollywood’s more well-known actors who have died in the last year. It often presents the very uncomfortable question, at what point do we stop saying “rest in peace” and start saying “The show must go on”?
But that question comes later…
Many great or greatly loved entertainers and people in entertainment have passed unexpectedly, some more unexpected than others. James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Kurt Cobain, Aaliyah, Heath Ledger, the list could go on forever. As the years have passed, there are popular entertainers and not so popular ones, ones people recognize and ones we recall from roles, character actors, musicians, composers, producers, directors… but none seem to touch audiences and fan bases more than actors. It is understandable really, the people in front of the cameras will always be a little more well known, and their presence in front of the camera makes their absence that much more apparent.
The discomfort arises not only from an emotional state of grieving but from those deaths coming at what might be most unfortunately, simply described as inopportune times. Paul Walker had completed filming 2 films before his passing, and was still filming the latest entry in the Fast and Furious franchise. I recall one of my friends immediately messaging me when he found out and we spent the next hour or two trying to get confirmation, then when we finally did, the next thought we all had was “did they finish filming Fast 7 yet?”. And you feel bad having that thought, it’s just if you’re a fan of someone and something they are working on, you are going to think it, it’s a reflex. And then there is the grieving process for all who feel something. I know for many a fan, it isn’t the same and it is not expected to be the same as it is with those people we actually personally know. But as fans, we are still affected.
I still remember how upset I was when I was told Aaliyah had died, as someone who was a fan of her music and her voice, it was weird for me. I could listen to her music and it made me sad. I still to this day cannot bring myself to watch Romeo Must Die, a film I saw without issue before she passed.
I was less affected by the deaths of other artists I was a fan of, such as Tupac Shakur and Christopher ‘Biggie’ Wallace. More recently I was shocked at the deaths of James Gandolfini, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Walker, but though they saddened me as a fan of the entertainment arts, as a writer and a lover of the industry, I was not as deeply affected as others might be. I remember seeing a woman crying in her car at a traffic light, when she heard over the radio that Michael Jackson had died. I’ve never found myself that kind of upset. But for a while there I could not watch Fast 6 and as someone who loves fast cars, it made me think heavily on my love of sports cars.
“It’s no insult to say a dead man is dead”
So this is where the dilemma comes in for those left behind, the co-stars, the producers, the writers, the directors. If a musician did not finish an album, the company can release the album without the unfinished songs and no one notices the difference. But you can’t just release a film with a character there and then suddenly not, you can’t just act like it didn’t happen. It’s hard to not notice changes made in script due to an actor passing. The Matrix for instance having one actress playing The Oracle and then a different one in the sequels, The Crow changing main actors, the complete absence of The Joker in Chris Nolan’s third Batman film due to the death of Heath Ledger… different studios, and productions handle it all differently. It’s a delicate balance of respect and reality. The studios respect the people they work with, yet at some point after they have passed, people have to get back to work, and production has to continue… The Show Must Go On.
For many it isn’t easy to accept, and how the studios handle the work going forward now more than ever, in this very connected world of twitter, facebook and instant information sharing, how they handle the work is the subject of immense scrutiny and speculation. CGI and make up are at a place where some feel it can do the job in keeping a character in a feature. Some opt to leave the characters out entirely, some write the changes into the role, and find an excuse to bring in a new character. All of it is likely done with the intent of utmost respect, but there is still a lot of money being spent so no one wants to upset fans.
Ultimately, there will always be those who distrust any company as all they see is the business that is out to make money. People tend to be disconnected enough to forget that those people in those companies are people too. As fans we can get caught up. I read an article this past week about how the release of Paul walker’s latest film ‘Brick Mansions’ had to be timed for release in that weird sweet spot, between fans being too upset and not feeling ready to watch a film he is in, and fans not being so far past it that they have moved on. And unfortunately all too often, especially with newer generations, more and more artists are treated like toys, it’s almost always about the hot new thing. And so it’s hard for all involved to find a middle ground, but so many try every year… Because you can’t just abruptly end it all and cut to black like that infamous series finale of The Sopranos.
Because with respect, and in loving memory… The Show must go on.
“I wish he could be here to see this, but I know he’s here in spirit”
– Vin Diesel accepting MTV Movie Award for him and Paul Walker.