Alan Rickman and Grief

From Nathan:

When I work nights I’m a little bit cut off from the rest of the world. It’s not a vacuum, by any means, but I don’t really have internet access for four days at a time, and only listen to the radio occasionally. I overheard the radio guys  talking about David Bowie and then they were saying 69 and died of cancer so I thought I missed a segue to Lemmy and was gutted when I later found out they meant Bowie. This morning as I write this I was driving home, turning on the CBC and they were talking about Alan Rickman. Can’t call myself a superfan but I love Severus Snape and Dr. Lazarus and DieHardBadGuy. Like I say, not a superfan, but there is some serious emotion for this man in my heart. Love, actually.

It was devastating. I was driving, alone. I texted the only other person I know who I knew would also be heart-broken, Miss VampireNomad. I was glad to have a friend, even just via text, in that moment. Maybe coming off nightshift my defenses were down, I don’t know, but it was surprising how keenly I felt the loss. And Corinne, bless her, mourned with me.

She also shared how tired she is of people on social media criticizing those of us who mourn celebrities, who have grief and dare to express it. I saw a touch of that with David Bowie, though far, far more expressions of grief, thankfully.

Anyways, as I drove I had many thoughts on this subject, and I hope I can retrieve them before they dissolve into the incoherence of post-nightshift cognitive impairment.

David Bowie, Lemmy, Alan Rickman, all touched millions of lives, each in their unique way. You know, when I pass, if a total stranger wanted to tweet a short RIP on my behalf, I mean, that’d be huge. That somehow your art touched someone you never met so much that they felt genuine sadness at your death? Even one of those would be amazing, to me. And these gentlemen inspired millions of such outpourings of emotion. In what world is that a bad thing? When they were here they made this world a better place. Yes, they did. And now that they are gone we are all a little worse off. Because art and story, they don’t keep us alive the way food and air does, but they do something far more important, they nurture our souls. I would go so far as to say that art, story, all that, that’s what creates our souls in the first place. Without them, we are just animals.

A core value here at, perhaps unwritten until now but nonetheless very real, is that we celebrate your right to like the things you like, without apology. We don’t have to like the same things, but we won’t ever give you a hard time for loving the things you love. Similarly we strongly believe in your right to express that love in whatever fashion you see fit. Fan art? Great! Thinkpiece? Bless you. And so forth. And when a hero dies, you have every goddamn right to mourn their passing, to celebrate their lives and to be sad or mad or even glad you got to share this planet with them for at least a brief time.

From Corinne:

Bless you, Nathan, this is beautiful.  It captures so much of how I’m feeling which is, to be concise, a grieving mess.

I woke up this morning to a message from a friend on Twitter that said “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.  I have no words.  None.  First Bowie, now Rickman.  2016 can go to hell.”  I felt my stomach drop and I thought No no no no it can’t be true, that can’t be right.  But it was.  Alan Rickman had died, stolen by cancer at age 69, just a handful of days after Bowie went the same way.  I tweeted “No this can’t be true!  This can’t be happening!” because in that moment I felt what Nathan felt: devastated.  I felt like the bottom had dropped out of the world.  I’m still listening exclusively to Bowie, trying to come to terms with the fact that he wasn’t an alien after all, he wasn’t a glorious deity from another world, that he was just human and mortal and had died.  It was too much too soon to be sent back into the ropes reeling from the blow of also losing Alan Rickman.

I have written extensively about Die Hard on this site.  I call it the Greatest Christmas Movie Ever Made and I stand by that assessment.  Die Hard was a game changer for a lot of important reasons that would go on to define the action movie for the modern age.  But a very integral and memorable part of its impact was due to Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber.  As a villain Rickman played it slick and glib, suave and dirty, educated and greedy, somehow managing to be both magnanimously grandiose and laughably petty in the same take.  He was glorious: he was a posturing, menacing, cool and grasping villain the likes of whom had never been seen.  He is inseparable from Hans Gruber.  He invented the character as soon as he stepped into the man’s skin and nobody else could have done it like he did.  He’d had a string of roles in TV mini-series and acclaim on stage but Die Hard was his first film role.  It launched Rickman into the global consciousness and we are all the better for it.

Die Hard opened the door for a virtual candyland of almost unbearably beautiful characters for Alan Rickman to inhabit as only he could.  The deliciously twisted and murderous Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves who so famously threatened to cut Robin’s heart out with a spoon.  The stiff, sweet, nobly awkward Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility whom I loved dearly.  Metatron in Dogma with his incisive wit and dry, perfectly cutting delivery in that way only Rickman could do proper justice to.  The intense Shakespearean actor Alexander Dane in GalaxyQuest whose loathing of his alien character’s signature line was matched only by his total devotion to the craft and utter exasperation with everything else.  He re-teamed with Sense and Sensibility co-star Emma Thompson in Love, Actually and played the emotionally injurious philandering husband to her aching wife so brilliantly you wanted to hate Harry and yet under it all he too was damaged, lost, and there was just enough of a hint of vulnerability that you couldn’t dismiss him, not quite.  It was Rickman’s innate understanding of the nuance of character that made them both so memorable and so utterly accessibly human.  But for an entire generation none of these would matter because he then stepped into the role of Severus Snape in the Harry Potter franchise and became Snape so well it would be impossible to ever imagine the character without Rickman inside his skin.  For the Potter generation, Snape is their Hans Gruber only redemptive.  But every bit as iconic and game-changing.  In between there were a host of unbearably beautiful roles in supporting capacity or independent films which all displayed that pitch-perfect skill, the raw expressive quality, and the unmatched wit that made Rickman such a force in the industry.  Like in Snow Cake where he re-teamed with GalaxyQuest co-star Sigourney Weaver for an aching exploration of guilt, grief and friendship. 

Nathan said that art and story creates our souls.  I agree with that.  I think culture, art, music, film, literature, all the glorious creative expressions and entertainments that surround us, are what fill us up with meaning and understanding, joy and growth.  Without our art, our culture, our stories, we are just empty vessels eating and sleeping and robotically going through our lives for the sole purpose of existing.  But to express, create, indulge... these are the beauties that detail life into something more.  And those purveyors of culture - our musicians, our actors, our writers, our painters, our photographers and dancers and sculptors and singers - they are the ones nourishing our souls.  They are the ones helping us to live larger, dreamier, more inspired lives.  If a song has ever touched you then a singer has left a print on your life.  And to lose that singer leaves you a bit bereft because your soul understands that the particular music of that person is lost to it forever.  Grief is an unpredictable master: it commands all our attention at its whim and we are helpless against it.  Sometimes losing an artist - yes someone we never met, we never knew in reality, someone we’d never had a single conversation with - can be such a profound blow that grief claims us just as surely as if it had been a friend.  And we’re mourning a sincere loss: the loss of a bit of our soul. 

That’s how this week has felt.  Like slivers of soul have been burned away by the losses.  Bowie.  Rickman.  Men who changed the world.  Artists who gave us immeasurable gifts.  It’s too much, in some moments, to bear.  So let this be a place where mourning is open.  But never let us forget the gratitude that goes hand-in-hand with the loss.  Thanks to them the world is richer and our souls fuller.  Deep thanks to them for sharing so generously of themselves and - for me - leaving me with a greater understanding of beauty.

- Nathan Waddell and Corinne Simpson