In the past month, a number of highly-regarded performers have passed away. Of special note, because of his drug-related death at such a young age, the loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman has seemed particularly tragic.
But, from a personal perspective, the two iconic performers whose deaths resonated most with me were actor Peter O'Toole and comedy genius Sid Caesar. In differing ways, their lives intersected with mine in a manner that had a profound impact.
Though I've been a licensed psychotherapist for the past 26 years, in my prior career I was a Hollywood screenwriter. One of the scripts I co-wrote was for a film called My Favorite Year, which starred Peter O'Toole and featured a fictional 1950s TV comic named King Kaiser -- who was based on Sid Caesar.
As the character named Alan Swann -- a thinly-disguised Errol Flynn -- O'Toole gave what I and many of his fans consider one of his best performances. He perfectly captured Flynn's exuberance, narcissism and insecurity -- as well as the famous swashbuckler's self-deprecating wit.
In the role of King Kaiser -- host of a weekly comedy series based on Your Show of Shows -- Joseph Bologna replicated Sid Caesar's enormous personal energy, embodying his infamous anger as well as his comedic intensity.
Both O'Toole and Caesar were, in their heyday, larger than life personalities. Famous for their struggles with alcohol, they were willing to live life on their own terms -- even when the consequences of that choice caused them more grief than glory.
Regardless, each, in my opinion, should have been given the opportunity to work much more than they did. Especially when both performers were at the top of their game. That they weren't always afforded that opportunity is our collective loss. In fact, it's unlikely that we'll see many performers of their monumental talent and outsized personalities again.
When each of their deaths were reported in the news, I thought of something a friend of mine had said when film director Stanley Kubrick died. "Well, that's one more fallen redwood in a rapidly dwindling forest."
That forest is now missing two more redwoods.
As a fan, and as a former screenwriter who'd once been professionally connected -- at least tangentially -- with both men, I mourn the passing of Peter O'Toole and Sid Caesar. And offer a posthumous thanks for the richness that each added to my life.
Rest in Peace.
A former Hollywood screenwriter, Dennis Palumbo is a licensed psychotherapist and author of Writing From the Inside Out. He also writes the Daniel Rinaldi mystery series.
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