Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Death, Dancing, Death-Wise For Real

I have no idea if this gossip is true. I’ve looked around the web a little and I don’t see the story repeated, but years ago I read and heard this story more than once.

The story—as I’ve read it and heard it—is that Christina Applegate and someone else were with River Phoenix the night he died. The three of them walked out of the Viper Club and River Phoenix collapsed to the sidewalk and began convulsing. Christina Applegate looked down, watched River Phoenix convulsing and thought he was doing some kind of break-dancing schtick, sidewalk dancing. The story is that as River Phoenix died, convulsing on the sidewalk, Christina Applegate got down on the sidewalk next to him, and flopped around herself doing faux break-dancing schtick.

I don’t really care about the background to the story. Drugs or shallowness or stupidity. I don’t care. I’ve always been struck—almost hypnotized—but the simple reality of the story, if in fact it is really true.

Imagine dying, spazing out into the afterlife, while the most beautiful woman of your era flops around next to you, spazes out herself pretending to dance with you...

That’s a pretty cool way to die.

Maybe I’m nuts. I don’t know. But I think that’s a pretty cool way to die.

A long time ago I talked about that rumor about Christina Applegate. It is still my favorite show business rumor. At this point I don’t really care if it is true or not.

Recently I found out about an actual true show business death where a guy died in his lover’s arms and although it doesn’t have the absurd farce elements of the Christina Applegate story, it is also about as cool a way to die as a person could hope for. I’m going to post about it because it gives me a chance to tell a very short story that I think about a lot.

One time I sat with a group of people and watched Alan Parker’s film version of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” When the film was over, pretty much everybody gave me a hard time for recommending the film. I heard things like, “Why would anyone want to watch a film about a self-destructive musician who destroy all his friendships, ruins all his romances and then dies? What a waste of time.”

And I tried to counter by saying, “Well, everyone here loved Bob Fosse’s “All That Jazz.” It’s the same story, but with a dancer. A self-destructive dancer destroys all his friendships, ruins all his romances and then dies. Why would one film be considered art but the other a waste of time?”

Nobody much even wanted to discuss it. That evening has always bothered me because even if I see a movie I don’t like I don’t mind discussing it and trying to figure out and explain why I don’t like it. It kind of bugged me that a discussion group didn’t want to discuss something.


I’ve always loved both movies, Bob Fosse’s “All That Jazz” and Alan Parker’s version of “The Wall.” In fact, the closing image of “The Wall,” where the children find the unexploded Molotov cocktail and pull out the wick and pour out the gasoline is one of my favorite images in all cinema. Wonderful stuff.

However Bob Fosse’s “All That Jazz” is remarkable in a different way since, more or less, it is autobiographical. And the amazing art and entertainment in the movie isn’t animation or special effects, it’s real dancers and real musicians performing their craft. More than just being wonderful stuff, it is like real life magic.

When Fosse filmed “All That Jazz” he depicted himself dying at the end. However, of course, he didn’t actually die while making the movie (although he did die of a heart problem as depicted in the movie).

It turns out Bob Fosse’s actual death was almost like a scene from a movie. Here is how Wikipedia describes it:

In 1971, Verdon filed a legal separation from Fosse (but never divorced) because of his extramarital affairs. She held him in her arms as he suffered a fatal heart attack on the sidewalk outside the Washington theatre where Sweet Charity was being revived.

Gwen Verdon at Wikipedia

That’s a pretty cool way to die, too. And it’s real.

I think I admire dancers more than any other artists or entertainers. I haven’t known a lot of dancers, but I’ve never thought of myself as being accomplished enough at anything to be, sort of, so to speak, worthy of being friends with a dancer. I’m trying to get better at a lot of things, but I don’t feel I have any skill comparable to what a dancer can do.

That’s kind of what I’m working toward. I’d like, someday, to think of myself as skillful enough at something, anything, to be able to be friends with a dancer.

Good death scenes seem to involve dancers. One way or another.

(I still like that Christina Applegate one, if we get to choose.)

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