Where I Was When So-And-So Died
A companion piece to my Cobain remembrance post. One day, these stories will be important to someone.
JIM HENSON (5/16/90): Not sure. I think I saw it on “The NBC Nightly News?” Man, we’re off to a great start! I know for a fact, though, that the next day was my fifth grade science fair. I distinctly remember R.E., the kid in my class who got left back a couple times and was really bitter about it, teasing me during said fair by suggesting that I “probably cried” when I heard about the master Muppeteer’s death. That seemed pretty uncalled for. Who doesn’t love the Muppets? In retrospect, I think R.E. probably cried when he found out he was getting left back again. Yeah. Two decades later, I finally figure out the perfect comeback.
SAM KINISON (4/10/92): I was watching Walk Like a Man on WPIX Channel 11 while playing Scrabble with my parents. They actually interrupted the movie to deliver a grim report from near the scene of Kinison’s fatal car accident. Depressing (even more so than Howie Mandel’s performance in Walk Like A Man).
SHANNON HOON (10/21/95): My friend Jon broke the news to me in our high school Journalism class. I apparently made some really crass remark, like, “Fuck it, one less hippie asshole to deal with!” Seems like something I’d say, but that corner of my mind is a little dusty. Care to clarify here, Jon?
TUPAC SHAKUR (9/13/96): Another one in front of the tube. I was watching “Ren and Stimpy” on MTV when they ran a crawl (in the “Beavis & Butt-head” font, no less) announcing that Tupac Shakur had been fatally shot. I think it was the “Crocostimpy” episode. Inappropriate. September 13th is also Dave Mustaine’s birthday. There’s some kind of interstellar connection there waiting to be found by rock/rap pundits.
PHIL HARTMAN (5/28/98): A friend of a friend told me on the phone, “Oh my God, they just said that Phil Hartman’s wife killed him and then killed herself!” I didn’t believe him because he was a known practical joker, but then I flipped on CNN and saw the crawl at the bottom said something like “HARTMAN RESIDENCE, EARLIER.” It’s always sad when a talented comedian dies because his wife is fucking bonkers. That night, I watched all my old “SNL” video tapes in Phil’s honor.
JOE CALLEJA (11/16/00): This one took a week and a half to confirm. Why, I have no idea. It’s not like anything else was going in November of 2000 (were we really that caught up in The Legend of Bagger Vance mania?). Anyway, this kid I worked with at Perkin’s (who, it should be noted, was white and drove a car with the phrase “PIMPIN’ AIN’T EASY” emblazoned across the top of the front windshield) came in one day in mock-grief over the death of Joe Calleja, a.k.a. “Kid Rock’s midget.” I could find no verification of this on the Internet or in local newspapers, so I just assumed Vanilla Ice was lying. I can’t remember what media outlet confirmed Joe C’s death for me. MTV? At any rate, it was kind of sad to see the only interesting part of Kid Rock’s stage act fade off into the ether.
JOEY RAMONE (4/15/01): Easter Motherfuckin’ Sunday. I came home from a long-ass shift at Eckerd, America’s drug store (yeah, they were actually open!), and sat down at my computer before dinner to check my e-mail. I had twenty new messages. The subject of every single one was along the lines of “Did you hear about Joey Ramone?” Right then and there, I knew that fucker was dead. Yahoo! News confirmed it. Talk about a kick in the balls. The last report I heard before his passing made it seem like Ol’ Joe was on the upswing. It was the same deal right before Johnny died. The guitarist seemed to go to great lengths to assure everyone he was alright. Oh, those Ramones. Never wanting the fans to worry about their various cancers. I miss those sloths.
LAYNE STALEY (4/5/02): At Eckerd again, slinging baby formula and dancing hamsters to the rednecks of the greater Central Florida area. Jon, the guy I mentioned before, was employed there as well, and we had actually been joking for
weeks months about when Seattle authorities might discover Layne’s decaying, drug-addled corpse. Then, on a seemingly normal April day in 2002, Jon walked in to the Mighty E, looked in my direction, and said with a slight look of fear, “They found Layne. He’s dead.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Shortly thereafter, I had four teeth pulled and spent my entire recovery period listening to Music Bank while watching “The Gong Show” on mute, wondering if my painful experience was anything like Layne’s final moments.
DEE DEE RAMONE (6/5/02): Eating a hot dog while on the phone in front of the computer. Just surfin’ around. Hit Yahoo! News and saw the amazing headline—“DEE DEE RAMONE FOUND DEAD IN HOLLYWOOD.” That’s like some shit you see in a movie, right? “Found dead in Hollywood.” How epic. Was Dee Dee Ramone the Black Dahlia? The Orlando Sentinel obit a few days later was even funnier—“PUNK ROCKER FOUND DEAD.” Like, any ol’ punk rocker, not one of the important ones. Just some dipshit punk rocker! I remember I made one of my friends drive me to the airport the next night so I could buy a couple of New York newspapers (I was still living in Florida at the time). I knew Big Apple writers would grasp the severity of the fatal overdose of the man who wrote “Rockaway Beach.” As usual, I was right.
RONALD REAGAN (6/4/04): I walked into my parents’ house and the following conversation happened…
JG1: [JOYOUS] Pack your bags, son!
JG1: [STILL JOYOUS] You have to go to California for the funeral!
JG2: What funeral?
JG1: [DRIPPING WITH SLIME] Ronald Reagan.
My dad hated Reagan.
Remember when Bo Derek walked by his casket in the Capitol and everyone was like, “Whoa, she’s a Republican?” That was funny.
STEVE IRWIN (9/4/06): This was one of those moments where I was staring at the computer and not fully believing I was completely sober. Someone must have slipped something into my Coke. This couldn’t be a real news story. The Crocodile Hunter died after a stingray stabbed his fucking heart? No goddamn way, man. Either I’m dreaming or someone’s poisoning me. At any rate, I’m tripping balls right now. The funny thing about Steve’s death is every person I told was like, “So? Who cares? Those were shitty 1980s movies anyway.” Y’see, most of my friends were confusing the Crocodile Hunter with Crocodile Dundee star Paul Hogan. Most of my friends don’t watch Animal Planet.
HEATH LEDGER (1/22/08): I was living in this windowless, completely illegal Brooklyn apartment at the time with about thirty other people. I’m sure I saw it online first, but the newspaper headlines really stand out in my mind. This was another, “Huh? Am I on drugs here or something?” death. One guy I lived with really flipped his biscuit about it. He kept holding his head in the common area saying, “It could have been me, it could have been me!” It should be noted this guy was not a hunky, acclaimed actor from Down Under who was in danger of buckling under the pressures of acting / Hollywood / celebrity / a secret Olsen twin affair; rather, he was a Repo Man hailing from Wisconsin, I believe, whose hardest decision on a day-to-day basis was figuring out what deli or pizzeria to hit up for a lunch. Proof positive that New York makes people totally fucking crazy.