c. David Grim (7/15/08)
With the departure of two famous celebrities from our midst, and the passing of Memorial Day as well, it seems like a good time to take a moment and reflect upon mortality. Given the season though, I'd really rather not sink into a mire of morbidity. I'd really prefer mulling over the more abstract and distant meanings of people who I never knew personally, so allow me to take a few moments to share my feelings and thoughts about Gary Coleman and Dennis Hopper.
It seemed (in some slight way) like I grew up with Coleman. After all he was only a couple of years older than I am, and he played a role that portrayed him as even younger than he really was. Like most people my age, I watched a lot of Different Strokes. In retrospect it was a weird and patronizing concept- two orphaned inner city black kids go to live with a rich, lily-white, old man (and his rather whorish daughter), and they slowly come together as a family. I vividly remember my brother and I (and every one of my male friends) repeating the show's catch-phrase, "Whatcha talkin' bout, Willis?". Despite the fact that none of us could really relate to the situations on the show, there was something extremely endearing about it. I remember feeling pretty good after watching it, and for that alone Coleman can be fondly memorialized.
On the other end of the entertainment scale, you could find Dennis Hopper. Despite intimations that the younger version could be a younger heartthrob at the end of the studio era, he leaves us with wildly different associations. I was well out of my childhood before I could really appreciate his work in films like Blue Velvet, River's Edge, Apocalypse Now, Easy Rider and True Romance. He carved out a part in American film history as the off-kilter, potentially explosive, madman. His reputation for manic intensity and chemical dependency seemed somehow to accentuate the curiosity that many film goers had whenever he popped up in a role, no matter how small it might have been. For me, I believe the representation that seems truest to his essential being was documented in his trip to Bangkok with John Lurie, in the short-lived Fishing with John series. He seemed like a guy that would require endurance to spend any significant amount of time with, but one worth the effort for the stories you might hear if you were content to just shut up and listen. And he was a hell of a booster of modern art as well, which particularly endeared him to me. No doubt we're all a bit impoverished now that he's gone.