We buy the tabloids to witness someone else's life go wrong, so we can feel a bit better about our own troubles. But the untimely death of Heath Ledger isn't like that. In his case, we were witnessing the demise of someone's life that had gone right.
This movie star's death stings me, haunts me. Perhaps it's because I've know so many actors like him in my twenty-eight years in the movie business. I understand what they have to bear -- the loneliness and the artistic demands along with size of your face when it's projected on the immense screen. The inner pain and shadow that you must carry with you is hard to imagine, as is the recognition that for some, the weight of all that is just too much.
Comics know this as well as anybody -- the weight of the shadow.
But sometimes the universe acts like a stern parent delivering a flash of deadly lightning, thereby defining the boundaries by shadows and confirming that life is scary and short.
A crowd estimated in the hundreds gathered around the street outside Ledger's apartment building, mixing with reporters, bloggers, and citizen journalists with cell phone cameras jostling for a better view. But of what? It was all macabre and indecent, reminiscent of the unwashed masses that gathered at the guillotine hoping to see the heads of aristocrats roll.
Those people who should be ashamed of themselves gathered for a simple reason: they wanted an explanation for sudden and unexpected death. In that, there is something human.
Meanwhile, this morning, the rains came to Hollywood and life goes on. A leaky pipe forced me to call the plumber. The chipper voice at the other end said, "Rabonov Plumbing. This is Beth. How can I make you smile today?"
Without missing a beat, I said, "Bring back Heath Ledger."
After a long pause, Beth sighed, "Oh my god."
Like so many people, Beth was unable to really digest tragedy without a Mickey Mouse voice or Dawson's Creek piano music and strings soundtrack. You couldn't really make me smile, Beth. Don't worry about it.
Life is deeply unexplainable and profoundly sad sometimes, despite what TMZ and the other media outlets want us to think. There is nothing to think, only to feel. What we might come to realize is that we are not armor-clad or impervious to life's punches, or to the degradations of time.
Most of us never met Heath Ledger, but we feel his loss, partly because we bond to those outsized talents on the big screen in the same way that we connect to a stranger crying on a public bus or at a Starbucks.
I live in one of Judy Garland's houses. As a fan, I never much liked Judy Garland, but living here I feel like I have come to know her. People have given me a few of her possessions, and my neighbors have told me things that I wish I didn't know. But the resounding thing I have learned about Judy Garland was that she was funny -- and I believe that she was in on the joke. She knew she was handed a freakazoid deck, but she played it and enjoyed her life, until she was found face down in her bedroom.
Everyone goes beyond the rainbow. I will, you will, and so will Heath's young daughter Matilda.
Each generation sees some person snuffed out before their time -- someone modest, controlled, brilliant and troubled.
And then the vultures pounce down, the feeding frenzy begins, the unseemly, venomous scandal-mongering, the inaccuracies and rowdy speculations.
So now, here in Los Angeles, we are soaked by the rains; we see that we are not water proof. The roof leaks. We believe that there are UFOs over Texas. We learn that the rules that may apply at the Olive Garden for a conventional life don't apply to mercurial actors in Soho.
When next week's crappy tabloids come out, they will miss the story, the same way that they did when Diana exploded in that Parisian Tunnel.
People die. Nice guys sometimes go first. Sometimes you can steal wireless, and sometimes you can't. The real concern is how we can navigate in the dark when the shadow comes over the sun. It just may be the time to readjust our eyes and see things the way they sometimes are -- unexplainable, grave, and rather poetic.
To honor Heath Ledger, I am going to take the day off, turn off the TV, have a massage, and listen to Judy's Carnegie Hall album. Maybe I will rent Brokeback Mountain to see again the many gifts that he's left behind for us and for the future.
Life goes on and the dead speak. They tell us to live. And sometimes we bask in the sunshine, sometimes we bask in the rain. But we know that the lightning can strike, anytime.