Thursday, June 24, 2010


The Gary Coleman headlines, and our intense concern over an ex wife selling deathbed pictures ...

There's a fever that comes over us when someone famous dies unexpectedly, like Princess Diana, like Michael Jackson ... the extraordinary things they did ...

Poor Gary, he couldn't ever get back to the summit of his life, where he was a precocious, young guy, brilliantly wisecracking on the TV show, "Different Strokes." The shocking news, the details, get me remembering so many things ... I'm intensely aware that he is nowhere, and here I am, alive and kicking!

I'm thinking that mourning can be a way of celebrating your life. The sorrow you feel for the dead celebrity -- Coleman, or the Kennedys, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe -- it's a way of mourning the people who are gone from your own life.

I was in Oregon, getting ready to teach a morning master class, before setting up the stage with the stage crew, for the evening performance.

I was called to the phone. My sister in Pennsylvania told me that our brother had drowned.

I can't remember what I said or did. I do remember standing on the balcony outside an Oregon college gym, looking down at the green, green cluster of trees, bushes, and grass. I said my brother's name -- "David." Then I said, "David is gone ..." It didn't seem real. Saying it over and over made it realer.

It took two weeks to get back to the East coast. Between phone calls, discussions with my sister, mother, friends of my brother, funeral home staff, and the police, I learned what happened -- David was celebrating the end of April, the end the semester at Antioch College in Ohio, canoeing on Indian Lake with a friend. The canoe tipped over. The cold water killed them. My eighteen-year-old brother David's body wasn't found for days.

I felt as if his death changed me, I wasn't sure how, but performing each night (I was on a one-night stand tour), I danced fuller, using my sorrow, my sense of loss. I was twenty-four. I hadn't experienced death as something that happened to me and my family.

Using your feelings is what actors learn to do. That's how most actors create emotion -- the tears, rage, sorrow, anguish -- whatever the play's script requires. My brother death, and my father's death three months later ... The tears I shed were mostly me, crying for me, as I was learning some of life's lessons.

My mother's utter devastation was grief. Mother never really recovered. Though she's been dead for seven years, I still, to this day, feel her devastation. It's heavy -- the two men in our family dying within a few months of each other -- that's not a memory to revisit.

Mourning the dead, today, I miss Richard Burton because my husband and I looked forward to being with him whenever he was in town. I miss Jean Simons (we chatted between takes while she and JC were shooting the film, "All the Way Home"), and Charleton Heston, Paul Newman ... I remember moments in favorite movies. Celebrating them, I go on with the being busy -- the joy of being very busy, alive.
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