The first icon death I can recall is Elvis. I was putting stickers of world war 2 bombers into my RAF Hendon commemorative brochure when the news filtered through. I knew him as a myth, as so many people are when you are eight years old, an image, a poster, a thing in an Easter holiday movie.
I was at school art club when I heard about John Lennon’s death. Alex Thomas told me. I don’t think it was the same day that I accidentally stabbed Robert Boughton in the hand with a craft knife. When the blood first poured out across his fingers, I thought it was a trick. Craft knives were banned after that. I usually created the same thing every art club, a gravestone and hand in clay. The stabbing of Robert Boughton was an awkward moment of my art being made punctured flesh. I only stabbed one more person at school, Adrian Chorley in the cheek, with an ink pen. I never had to see a psychologist. I knew John Lennon was important, but my cultural knowledge meant I was still a bystander in the multitudes outpouring of grief for a legend.
I am now older than either of these idols were when they died. I was at my sister’s house when the news came through that Kurt Cobain was dead. “How selfish”, she said, “he has a child and he was successful”. I’m 45, and I’m not stabbing anyone anymore, and it’s my icons who are dying now. 2014 has not been a good year for people who used to be blu tacked on my wall.
First to die was Bob Hoskins. I presume my obsession with him began when I saw a ruthlessly “edited for language and content” version of The Long Good Friday on Thames TV. What a charismatic turn as Harold Shand, the smallest man in the room, but rarely a doubt he was the most powerful. I can still recite the “The Mafia, I’ve shit ‘em” speech from the denouement of that film. How anxious I was to see Mona Lisa. Advertised in Time Out for the whole of the summer holidays, I obsessively photocopied the poster and palced the inky monochromes around my room. I saw Who Framed Roger Rabbit? in San Francisco and loved it. I sat in an arthouse cinema in Birmingham and watched Birmingham in Felicia’s Journey. He conveyed strength and fragility, often men concealing weakness or showing kindness when employed for cruelty. He told whopping lies with such delight that they became true. Like other acting heroes of mine, Alastair Sim or Montgomery Clift, the eyes brimmed with humanity.
“Rik Mayall is dead”, said Michael Legge as I walked out of the toilet. We bellowed lines from Comic Strip films as we walked through Leeds. Michael had broken my glasses during a cushion fight that morning, it was the right day for two middle aged men who will never know better to have a slapstick accident. In October, I organised a Rik Mayall night at my local art deco cinema (everyone should have one). I sat with Michael Legge, Alexei Sayle and Richard Turner, bellowing with wet-eyed laughter as we watched Rik on the big screen asking, “why did the pervert cross the road? Because he had his knob stuck in the chicken.” How I wish there was more footage of Ade Edmondson and Rik Mayall’s violent Beckett like plays, the 5 minutes of hammer attacks, nipple tweaks, and Johnny Craddock confused for a Volvo jokes from The Oxford Road Show will have to do for now. Rik Mayall’s sudden death held up a mirror to the blatant theft Michael and I have committed with much of our work. Genius steals, and idiots do too.
And I have drunkenly written of Robin Williams suicide already. In the nineties, his performances could sink too far into the maudlin for my taste, but when he perfected the balance, and he did many times in films like Dead Poet’s Society, Awakenings, Good Morning Vietnam and The Fisher King, oh especially The Fisher King, his acting was beautiful and beguiling.
The eyes have it.
I never knew any of them, only their work. Their work has changed now, death changes the performances and perception of it all. People say, “a bit of my childhood has died now”, but none of mine has, their work is there in cases and on memory sticks, and I’ll keep returning to it.
They are sadly dead, but their influence on me and my shouting and showing off and being an idiot will never go away, until I can make no more memories or movements obviously.
(oh, and I was in a minibus with band who were on their way to support The Wedding Present when I heard Vincent Price had died)
Brian Cox and I are on tour in the USA next year, see HERE
And I am off to Australia
plus tickets left for our UK Christmas gigs with The Cure, Alice Roberts and many experiments and surprises, and I’m off to Edinburgh, Swindon, Salford and beyond.