Reflections on the longevity of art and the artists we admire, long after they’re gone.
I was scrolling through my phone recently and found this adorable picture of the late Anton Yelchin. I remember the day I took it, months ago. I’d been walking through the house and heard his voice out of nowhere. I stopped what I was doing, paused the TV, and snapped this picture. Then, I sent it to my daughter so she could be sad with me.
He was on a rerun of Criminal Minds, in case you were wondering.
Anton’s been gone almost two years now, and it still hurts my heart to see him, or hear his voice. Obviously, I didn’t know him in real life. But I watched him grow from a young, very good actor, in Hearts in Atlantis. He was probably ten years old at the time, and it was clear, even then, that he would become an incredible actor. He just had ‘it.’ I followed his career, watching everything he was in, because I knew it would be good.
Now, I’m sure my daughter had a much less innocent crush on him. To me he was just a good boy who grew up to be a good man, and an amazing talent. My thoughts always turn to his poor mother when I think of him, or see him on the screen.
We’ve all felt it. Heath Ledger. Alan Rickman. Bernie Mac. The incomparable Robin Williams. So, so many more. These artists were allowed into our homes and into our hearts, and while we can’t begin to imagine what their families must feel at their passing, we feel it, too, in our own way. I remember how floored I was when I heard about Robin Williams. The shock and surreal bubble the news immediately cast me into. To know how much he was loved, and yet, he didn’t know it in his own heart.
Since my chosen field is writing, the one that touched me the most was the loss of Frank McCourt. I still remember the day I heard of his passing. I had read the news on my phone during a lunch break, and told my boss I was taking the rest of the day off. I couldn’t imagine going back to work at a time like that.
Why did his death hit me more than any others? I’m not sure. I’d never mourned a celebrity death like I mourned his. He was, by far, my favorite author. That probably had something to do with it. Angela’s Ashes is the only book that I read over and over. I suppose, since it’s autobiographical, it’s like we knew him even when we really didn’t.
Angela’s Ashes is kind of the book that started it all for me. I’d been writing as a hobby, getting paid a bit here and there for some ghostwriting stuff, but never as a serious endeavour. Then, one day, I picked up a copy of Angela’s Ashes in a grocery store check-out line. Something about the cover spoke to me, and I picked it up. I had no idea at the time how much it would change my life. I loved the story, loved his writing, and loved his honesty. Something in me clicked when I read that book, and I started taking my own writing more seriously. I was determined to go from a person who wrote, to a writer.
So, to hear of his passing on that ordinary boring work day, it sucked me out of my comfort zone and forced me to look at my own life differently. I’d been ghostwriting for so many years, making ends meet with my art. But that was all. Where had I taken my own writing in those years? What if I died suddenly, with all these stories still locked inside me? What if I never said the things I so desperately needed to say?
This is what got me thinking about what true immortality is. We, as artists - authors, actors, painters, musicians - live on through our work. Everyone knows William Shakespeare’s name, hundreds of years after his passing. Many of us don’t get the recognition we may deserve during our lifetimes, but our work will still be there for someone to pick up decades or centuries later. We’re time travelers.
Again, I think of the families. Anton’s mother has access to so many movies and television shows, years of rewatching her son grow in front of the camera. She can see these images of her son whenever she wants, like the rest of us would watch old home movies. I can imagine how that would be a blessing and a curse, depending on the day. If it were one of my children, I’d probably descend into madness rewinding certain films over and over.
The creator inside me sees it a different light. It makes me want to put out work that I can be proud of, whatever the genre. I don’t need fame or fortune during my lifetime. That’s not why I write. But, if some young girl is going to possibly pick up a copy of Epoch a hundred years from now, I want to know that I gave her the best story I could.