Alot of people think, just because of movies like THE FANTASTIC FOUR and THE CROW, that comic strip books are only for kids. Well I’m here to tell you that actually they’re for everybody now. How else do you explain Robert Altman, the director of NASHVILLE and QUINTET, doing a movie based on the early-twentieth-century comic strip Thimble Theater by E.C. Segar? POPEYE is I guess the bizarre movie you’d have to expect when a set of weird old comic strip and cartoon characters are turned into a live action musical by the auteur of M.A.S.H. It uses cartoon physics but with muted colors (except for red or blue clothes) and dirty, lived-in settings. The plot is very simple, most of the funny lines are mumbled, it’s hard to figure out exactly what they were going for, and I sort of love it.

Robin Williams – who had done Mork & Mindy but no movies at that point – plays the famous sailor man, who floats into the port town of Sweethaven after an atmospheric prologue at sea that would’ve fit right into MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER or something. But the movie’s cartoon reality is introduced when he’s greeted by a taxman who rides up on a bicycle and demands he pay docking, new-in-town, rowboat-under-the-wharf, leaving-your-junk-lying-around-on-the-wharf and question taxes. (Don’t worry, a user on Youtube has already used the clip to show “the not too distant future if the Democrats and Libtards had their way.”)

It’s a beautifully detailed set, a rickety, crooked, wooden village built outdoors in Malta (it’s still there in fact) and populated by people who seem like Vaudeville performers. For example there’s a guy who’s perpetually trying to pick up his hat but kicking it further ahead with his oversized shoes. There are lots of flips and handsprings and people thrown through ceilings. A couple times there are cartoon sound effects. When a bunch of people are looking into a door to watch a fight one head comes down upside down from the top of the door frame. That’s the type of world it is.

Popeye is traveling the seas looking for his fadder, and luckily he stopped here because it’s where he meets Olive Oyl (Shelley Duvall), who is currently engaged to Bluto (Paul L. Smith from CRIMEWAVE).

We all remember skinny, squeaky-voiced Olive from the cartoons, but I guess the rest of her family members here are from the original comic strip. She lives with her parents and her goofball brother Castor (Donovan Scott from POLICE ACADEMY and PSYCHO III). And I’m not sure what relation Wimpy (Paul Dooley) is, but he’s always around, possibly lives with them too. I just remember from the cartoons he was a dude who tried to scam free hamburgers all the time. He does that here too but seems a little more sinister, an untrustworthy hanger-on who steals their baby to use its psychic powers to bet on mechanical horse races.

Oh yeah, the baby. Popeye becomes an adopted “mudder” when somebody stashes a baby in Olive’s basket with a note “to the one-eyed sailor” and “signed, a Mudder.” He takes the job seriously and it makes Olive fall for him, but that’s not his intent.

That’s the character of Popeye. He’s simple but he’s honest. He’s the type of guy to get in fights to protect the honor of a lady, but not to impress one. He’s good at fighting, too. One day in a diner a bunch of bullies led by Dennis Franz call his dad ugly, make fun of his “pronunskiation,” and knock around a bunch of innocent witnesses. Popeye pulls a Billy Jack: he tries to avoid conflict, but eventually gives in and avenges the “smorgasbord of violence” by dancing around and using their heads as speed bags. Afterwards he pays up and tips well, but doesn’t bother to take the chair down from the ceiling fan.

Another example of Popeye’s gentlemanly code: during a boxing match he pulls a punch because his opponent’s mother is in the corner, she points and scolds “Don’t you dare!”

“Pleased to meet you, ma’am, I’m a mudder meself.”

I’m not into what Robin Williams does alot of the time, but he’s incredible in this movie. It must be harder than most of his roles because he’s got the makeup (giant forearms like in the drawings, but with realistic blond hair on them), he’s gotta keep one eye shut and chew on a pipe most of the time, push his chin out like Billy Bob in SLINGBLADE, and internalize most things instead of rattling out thoughts like he normally does. He imitates the cartoon Popeye’s froggy voice, his method of muttering to himself and his weird laugh. But underneath all that he’s also creating a personality, slightly humanized from the cartoon but not so much as to not seem like the same guy. (And allegedly he did all this while coked out of his mind.)

An example of Williams’ next-level acting is in the scene where he first finds Swee’Pea. The baby starts talking while Popeye’s reading the note, and Popeye responds. Then the baby starts getting upset, and Popeye starts making little jokes to make him laugh. This is Robin Williams for real soothing a crying baby, but he stays in character as Popeye and finishes the scene!

It’s also hard to imagine any other actor humanifying Olive Oyl as well as Duvall does. Physically she embodies Olive’s beanpole figure and big-dot eyes, and she does her squeaky voice and constant warbling “ooooooohhhh”s. But somehow she makes this weird caricature into a consistent and funny personality. She cracks me up with her worrying. As soon as Popeye jumps in the boxing ring she whines to Swee’Pea, “Ooooohhh, poor fatherless baby!”

She’s kind of an idiot. Her fiancee is clearly an asshole that everybody’s afraid of, but she convinces herself that she loves him, singing about how “special, tall, good lookin and large” he is. “He may not be the best, but he’s large, and he’s mine.”

An equally sad but sweeter love song comes later on when Olive and Popeye sing a lullaby to Swee’Pea with a subtext of singing to each other. Popeye’s chorus asks Swee’Pea/Olive to “Sail with me” while Olive’s asks to “Stay with me.” It makes you realize that by their very nature their relationship is gonna be difficult. Popeye is the Sailor Man, he’s defined by his lifestyle of going out to sea. If he goes away for a while is she gonna decide to go back to Bluto? She seems very needy. She seems happiest singing about “he needs me,” because she needs to be needed. If Popeye doesn’t mind going off in a boat by himself he must not need her, right?

Even if they can work it out it’s sad because they’re gonna be apart alot of the time. Unless she learns to sail but, you know, I don’t really see her being able to handle that, in my opinion.

The songs are written by Harry Nillson, and I read that some of them were sung live during filming. The music was recorded in a special studio built on Malta with the sets. I didn’t notice that it was done any different, but it’s cool to know. Altman did something similar when he did KANSAS CITY and all the jazz was performed live with hidden mics on the set. (tangent: somebody should do a great live jazz movie now that we got this digital business and don’t need to waste a bunch of film to do it.)

It’s kinda odd when Popeye starts singing all the sudden. I’m not sure about all of these songs, but I like some of them. There’s the lullaby duet I mentioned. There’s Olive’s “He Needs Me” song which Paul not W.S. Anderson used in PUNCH DRUNK LOVE. There’s a strange one where the town sings about “Everything is Food.” Not “Everything is Good.” “Everything is Food.” I liked that.

At the end Popeye does some sailing, and there is a small boat chase. It’s funny, it kind of starts feeling like a stunt show at Sea World. In fact, I’m pretty sure in the early ’80s I saw a Popeye stunt show at Sea World.

Like most of the super hero movies this is an origin story. It has him meeting Olive the first time, adopting Swee’Pea, fighting Bluto the first time, finding a new home. Most importantly, for most of the movie he hates spinach. It’s kind of like BATMAN BEGINS how he’s not really truly Batman until the end. In this movie he finally learns to eat his spinach after a lecture from his dad and being force-fed by Bluto. But like in the cartoons it gives him super-strength. He punches out an octopus.

Jeeps, Alice the Goon and the Sea Hag do not appear in the movie. But since Paramount co-released it with Walt Disney Pictures maybe there’s a chance that they can special edition it with a Nick Fury recruitment cameo at the end and then continue the saga. I feel that Popeye would make a good Avenger because he would sort of bridge the gap between the highly trained human members (Black Widow and Hawkeye) and the super-powered ones. He’s mostly just a guy with boxing skills, but then his iron-heavy diet of greens gives him sub-Hulk strength.

Because of the influence Christopher Nolan has had on modern comic book movies I’m sure they’ll work in some explanations of the kind of activities that a man does that would cause his forearms to be exercised so much more than his biceps. I know alot of carpenters have big arms like that because of all the hammering they do. Maybe sailors get it from tying so many knots.

I think Popeye’s inter-team feuding would be with Iron Man, because that guy is kind of a bully, he’d probly make a bunch of mean jokes about Popeye’s arms and his eye. Popeye would ask for an apologiky and it would turn into a brawl. The fight would be great, but the better part would be the verbal sparring between wisecracking Tony Stark and muttering Popeye. Like a Navy SEAL fighting a viking. I haven’t seen that episode of whatever that Warrior show is called on the History Channel, where they investigate things like that. So I don’t know who would win.

POPEYE has a meandering story, the characters are not quite two-dimensional, it doesn’t completely make sense, but there’s nothing like it. I feel like it takes me to a weird place I haven’t been before, with some strange people like I never seen before, and I just stay cool and act like I belong there. It just kind of washes over me and suddenly it’s over and I realize how much I enjoyed it. I kinda want to watch it again already.

This entry was posted on Friday, July 13th, 2012 at 1:51 pm and is filed under Comic strips/Super heroes, Musical, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

54 Responses to “Popeye”

  1. I love this movie. I have a book about how it was made, although they don’t talk much about all the cocaine.

  2. This may, in fact, be my favorite Vern review ever. POPEYE is a forgotten by most, but beloved by me, gem. I am what I am, indeed.

  3. Yeah I’m another one that has always been fond of this movie. It’s so amazing how true to the tropes of the cartoons it was all throughout like when Bluto literally turns yellow upon becoming cowardly. Another director probably wouldn’t have done things like that but since Altman had balls he said “fuck it let’s make this movie based on a cartoon into a full length cartoon” and it makes the movie all the better. I don’t see how anybody could hate it even the songs were catchy as hell. I’M MEAN and I AM WHAT I AM being my favorites.

  4. Ok. So I read this site every time you update it Vern, but I don’t think I’ve commented in about 2 years cuz I’m usually reading on my phone or something. Anyway, I wanted to comment because a) I have always loved this weird imperfect movie. And b) I recently saw Paul L Bluto Smith in my new all-time favorite b to c level grind house Pieces. What a great bad movie, complete with lines like “of that’s just my kung fu professor” and (while pointing to a bloody chainsaw) “I think this is the murder weapon”. Vern and fellow outlaws, I recommend it highly.

  5. Oops. That should say “oh that’s just my Kung fun professor’ not “of”

  6. Find and review PIECES immediately.

  7. it seems like it was a trend in the 80’s to try to emulate comic strips and cartoons in live action and it all started with Popeye, continued on with Crimewave, Brenda Starr, Who Framed Roger Rabbit (which might not count since that was literally both cartoons and live action) and culminated with Dick Tracy (which is also an underrated movie in my opinion)

    on the subject of Popeye, it’s been well over a decade since I last saw it and now I really want to see it again, by the way, I read on the internet once that everybody on the set was doing so much cocaine (including Altman I wonder?) that they actually had a whole craft service table set up with a Scarface style mountain of coke, but I don’t know if that’s true or not

    p.s. Vern, if you want to watch another underrated Robin Williams movie, check out Toys

  8. caruso_stalker217

    July 13th, 2012 at 10:05 pm

    Shelley Duvall is fucking hot in this.

  9. dude, seriously now, Shelley Duvall is never hot, she’s a good actress sure, but not an attractive woman, sorry

  10. I remember being taken to Malta as a teen; My grandfather had been posted there with the Navy and my old man wanted to revisit it. They’ve preserved the set (badly) and it’s a tourist attraction, or at least was 20 years ago, not sure how well it’s fared, so don’t go blaming me if it’s since crumbled. Anyroad, it pretty much sparked a lifelong love of all things Popeye. it was a real high point. Yeah, this film’s the shit, I’m definitely gonna revisit it soon. Thanks Vern for reminding me of happy times.

  11. I really liked this movie a lot when I was a kid and seeing it again recently it’s still very charming. I didn’t know who Robert Altman was when I first saw it but after seeing things like M*A*S*H, McCabe & Mrs. Miller and Nashville I totally see it fits his style with the overlapping dialogue. The whole town of Sweet Haven is one of the best sets I’ve ever seen and Ray Walston as Popeye’s dad is hilarious.

  12. I like POPEYE, seen it three or four times now, but it goes in one ear and out the other. I think that’s what makes it rewatchable, its ephemerality. You forget it immediately and need to see it again to remind yourself. I honestly feel that this slippery, ungraspable quality was Altman’s secret weapon.

  13. caruso_stalker217- DO. NOT. WANT.

  14. caruso_stalker217

    July 14th, 2012 at 1:50 am

    Griff, I admire your resolve.

  15. As a guy, who is usually more attracted to the normal, flawed, girl next door kind of women, than perfect supermodel/pornstar types, I can totally see where Caruso is coming from. (Or should I say “cumming on”? Har har har. Man, why am I talking only about dicks and pussies on here since a few days?)

  16. As far as surreal, cartoony Altman films go, I strongly urge you to check out the vastly underestimated BREWSTER MCCLOUD. It’s his second film I think after M.A.S.H. It stars Bud Cort as a bizarre outlaw who is a) obsessed with birds, b) working on building a mechanical apparatus that will allow him to fly, and c) may or may not be a serial killer. Shelley’s in it as well; her first role; she’s amazing.

    There are so many utterly confounding aspects to the film. The whole thing is framed as if you are in a classroom listening to this guy lecture about birds; every so often it cuts back to the Lecturer and he gradually transforms into a bird. The victims of the serial killer all end up with bird shit on them. The lady who played the Wicked Witch of the West is in it as a wealthy racist who calls crows “nigger birds” and makes an African American marching band’s life hell. It’s the sort of thing where a million bizarre things are happening at once and you just gotta go with it. I love it quite dearly.

  17. yup, that sounds like the kind of movie Bud Cort would star in

  18. Big Popeyes fan as a kid, so I loved this strange gem of a movie. Robin Williams isn’t just doing a good impression, he becomes the Popeye we all loved from the cartoons. I just love everything about this movie, including the part where Bluto sees Popeye and Olive return home with SweetPea and gets really pissed off, as if Popeye knocked Olive up and she gave birth to a six-month-old in the span of one night.

    And caruso better stay away from the Fairytale Theatre videos, especially the one where she plays Rapunzel. (Weird Jeff Bridges performance in that one, too. And he knocks up Rapunzel!)

  19. Jareth Cutestory

    July 14th, 2012 at 8:07 am

    Holy shit, is that a picture of Ziggy up in the “Comics Con” banner at the top of this review? I hope he’s planning a comeback. Maybe in EXPENDABLES 3

    Majestyk: “Secret weapon” indeed. I have no problem with Altman, but I’m sure that my positive predisposition toward so many of his movies is due to the fact that I can only remember a few fleeting details of each one. GOSFORD PARK in particular. Any other murder mystery might be considered flawed if the whole “whodunit” part was rendered so immaterial; Altman somehow makes it a virtue, not through exceptional characterization, as someone like Wong Kar Wai would do (I don’t think characters are Altman’s strong suit), but more, I think, through the movement of his camera and the narcotic effect of his approach to dialogue. Strange.

    Griff: Without any obvious bombshell attributes at her disposal, Shelley Duvall inhabits the whole rock-star-milieu sexiness in ANNIE HALL way more convincingly than any of the pretty people in ALMOST FAMOUS (who certainly aren’t terrible). She understands that sexiness is more about communicating her availability than it is about bra size. Duvall can be attractive through sheer force of acting talent, which is pretty cool. Of course, the downside is that you can’t communicate this quality through a pin-up.

    But maybe it helps to have lived in the 1970s when Duvall was considered no less attractive than Janeane Garofalo was in the 1990s or Sarah Silverman is today.

  20. What a fascinating, odd little (big budget) movie. Even stranger is that it remembered as a flop when actually it I suppose at least broke even so I don’t get that at all.

    Anyway some weeks back Genndy Tartakovsky was hired to make a new POPEYE movie and for some reason, that news made me happy. Vern I’m surprised you didn’t mention that, not that it mattered but still. Though personally I hate that it’ll be in CGI. I’m sure that DEXTER’S LABORATORY/SAMURAI JACK guy can pull off a good movie, but personally I wished somehow it could’ve been done in that classic Max Fleischer animation. That’s just how I picture ole Popeye, him in CGI is just a weird notion in my head you know? Why not make Bugs Bunny CGI too? It goes against my hard-wired mind.

    One thing about Altman’s POPEYE sticks in my mind: Why did it have to be a musical? If it was based off a popular Broadway show like fucking ANNIE or something I would understand that, but it wasn’t I don’t think? It’s like hey let’s adapt a beloved cartoon/comic strip into a live-action movie, and of course we make it a musical. It’s such a weird creative jump to make if you ask me from my perspective but whatever.

    Anyway Popeye’s creative origins are fascinating. I mean he was meant as a one-off joke and more or less stuck around because readers loved him, and they loved him simply because he randomly beat the shit out of people, sometimes for no good reason. If I remember right, this happened during the Depression and people related to this forearm muscle freak letting off some steam violently.

  21. I love this place :-)

  22. I could understand the Shelley Duvall love. After a few cans of King Cobra and a couple of blunts conquering Shelley Duvall is probably an interesting adventure.

    Griff – I’ve heard that rumor forever. I’d like to think that became standard practice on the set of EVERY Robin Williams movie. Even HOOK.

  23. This movie might have been even better if it was about Robin Williams instead of Popeye, and how he uses cocaine instead spinach to get super strength.

  24. RRA: I remember reading on Wikipedia or IMDB that the studio settled on doing Popeye after losing a bidding war for the rights of Annie. They were most likely in a musical frame of mind. Look how popular Grease had been only two years before Popeye.

    I don’t mind that it’s a musical. Gave us a few good songs, one that, as mentioned, is used perfectly in Punch Drunk Love.

  25. The music in Popeye is pretty amazing in my opinion. Better than Nilsson’s music for The Point…

  26. Ace Mac Ashbrook

    July 17th, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    I loved this as a kid. By coinkidink I also went past the set on a booze cruise years back.

    Just out of interest, is the Comic con thing as big a deal as everyone online makes it out to be? Because I’m sick of this whole Big Bang Theory bullshit.

  27. Actually i’ve been to the set in Malta about 4 years ago and made some nice pictures there.

  28. We had a copy of his HBO special from the Metropolitan Opera house in the 80’s. I found it when I was 11 years old one night, when I started sleeping past my usual bedtime and everyone was asleep. My family was going through a profoundly hard time for reasons I won’t get into. I never remembered laughing so hard before and it was such a healing for me at the time. This is staggeringly sad and upsetting news.

  29. this might be the worst celebrity death I’ve ever seen in my lifetime, Robin Williams was a huge part of my childhood, Toys, Jumanji, Aladdin and Ms. Doubtfire were all movies I loved as a kid, just the sound of his voice was like a security blanket to me, sure not all of his movies were good, but in my opinion if they were bad it was not because of him (PATCH ADAMS is a perfect example of this, it’s a terrible movie but because of the script, not his performance)

    there was just something comforting about him to me and learning that he was a fan of stuff like The Legend of Zelda and Evangelion only reaffirmed in my mind that he was cool, to see that he goes out like this, by suicide, is beyond devastating, if he had dropped dead from a heart-attack that would be one thing, it would be tragic, but suicide makes it all the more worse, to know that he spent the last time of his life in such agony that he ended it by his own hands, there are no words, it’s horrible, a literal nightmare

    there have been many celebrity deaths that were shocking, but this is the first one where I literally did not believe what I was reading, I felt dizzy, everything suddenly seemed unreal, I just could not believe it, I felt for sure that there was some mistake, that maybe this was a hoax of some sort, but no, even so I still can’t really believe

    RIP Robin Williams, this is the day that you become a legend now and forever

  30. For all the sadness today, I do like that repeatedly I’ve seen people mention 2 Williams movies as highlights: DEATH TO SMOOCHY and JUMANJI. I remember both being shit on when they came out, so its nice that in the end the did find their audience.

    I think Griff hit this right on the head why its devastated alot of people today. Some people older than us remember seeing POPEYE and MORK & MINDY. I was one of those 1990s kids who got ALADDIN and MRS. DOUBTFIRE but also crap like JACK and FLUBBER. Not to mention that a guy who clearly brought alot of joy to the world through his comedy or his dramatic roles, its just beyond sad that depression got the best of him.

    Speaking of POPEYE, a guy at another message board told about how last year he screened that film for his film club and months later was at a L.A. watering hole where he got to meet Williams. He said that (1) Williams was sincerely nice and (2) Williams was thrilled that people still cared about POPEYE.


    Dammit, my room is dusty…

  31. I remember what so cool about JUMANJI to me as a kid, was it was like a JURASSIC PARK esque adventure movie but starring my favorite actor as a kid, Robin Williams, it was a match made in Heaven

    also, I love movies where total fucking chaos is introduced into a sleepy small town (see also: GREMLINS), JUAMNJI might be the last significant example of that sub-genre, it’s just too bad some of the CGI effects are painfully dated today

  32. He was great in The Bird Cage. As was Gene Hackman and everybody else in that one.

  33. I totally understand you Griff. This might be the first celebrity death that actually had me teary eyed a little. Usually it’s more like “Wow, that’s sad, but whatever, I didn’t know them”, but this time, especially as a guy who suffers from depressions himself, it really got me.

    Also I remember JUMANJI being actually very beloved when it came out, although it always got critizised for its FX. What surprises me is the love that THE BIRDCAGE gets. Now THAT was a movie, that got bad reviews and that seemed actually more like a little cared for footnote in his career.

    Also I hope that more people will now find the time to watch WORLD’S GREATEST DAD, although I can see how it might be “too soon” for some.

  34. It’s crazy how many generations he touched. For me he’s Mork and Popeye and stuff, but there are all these people who grew up with him in ALADDIN and MRS. DOUBTFIRE and FLUBBER and even HOOK. And to many people it’s the dramas they think of first, like GOOD MORNING VIETNAM. Alot of us turned our nose up to his later comic persona and movies like BICENTENNIAL MAN and FATHER’S DAY but then you would see him in WORLD’S GREATEST DAD or ONE HOUR PHOTO or even going back to SHAKES THE CLOWN and that documentary about Andy Kaufman’s wrestling career, and it’s clear that he was a cool guy and a good actor.

    WORLD’S GREATEST DAD was filmed in Seattle, and while he was in town one time he dropped into a very small local comedy night and I guess he went up and performed for a bit. I talked to people who met him there, including a guy who always makes fun of movies like OLD DOGS, and they thought he was the nicest guy in the world. And yes, they asked him about POPEYE and he told them about it. (Apparently there was alot of cocaine involved in its production.)

    I actually still haven’t seen GOOD WILL HUNTING. I’ve been meaning to watch that forever.

    Anyway, terrible bummer. I’m sorry I took him for granted.

  35. I guess I was the Popeye generation also, but my best memories are from his Aladdin and Jumanji era, mainly because I saw them with my kids when they were little.

    Obviously he was famous for his comedy, and comedies, but I remember how jarring it was watching some of his more dramatic and creepy stuff. Example – I was 13 when I rented WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, expecting some Mork madness, only to be presented with a drama about transsexuals, infidelity and accidental penis biting.

    ONE HOUR PHOTO I also really like and thought Williams nailed the desperation of the lonely family stalker, Sy.

  36. The 90s were my main Williams era too, although I remember watching Mork & Mindy as a kid. It might even have been my first exposure to him.

  37. It’s heartbreaking (and, as not, historically, the happiest, most upbeat person in the world, a little worrying) to know that someone so beloved was so sad. But I’m not even gonna front: I was not particularly a fan. I was a few years too young for MORK, a few years too old for MRS. DOUBTFIRE. I tend to prefer cinema of the badass variety over the regular kind, so Mr. Williams and I did not cross paths very often.

    Except for this here comic strip motion picture, a genuine work of badass cinema. What we got here is the musical story of a bad motherfucker who only turns to violence as a last resort who comes to a rough town, beats up everybody in it, and steals the skinniest girl away from the local despot. This is the plot of ROAD HOUSE, except with a giant fucking octopus instead of that guy who used to fuck guys like you in prison. This is some kind of masterpiece.

    I watched it last night (it’s one of the only Williams films I own) and it was better than ever. Sweet, silly, epic, funny, sad, and yes, tough. His Popeye wasn’t schtick, it was a full-blooded performance that no one else on earth could have pulled off.

    So I give credit where it’s due: When he was good, there was nobody better. And I’d be lying if I said just thinking about the “O Captain, My Captain” speech didn’t make the room a little dusty.

    Let’s all try and make each other laugh today, huh? We could all probably use it.

  38. DEAD POETS SOCIETY had such a massive influence on me as a young man. I will be a Peter Weir, Ethan Hawke, Kurtwood Smith and Robin Williams fan for the rest of my live.

    And now one of them is gone. Sad day.

  39. It seems to be hitting 90s kids the hardest. A lot of people are saying that this is the first celebrity death that has really affected them. I’m seeing a lot of “No… That’s not… It can’t be. That’s not… That’s not right.” For me, that was John Candy. He’d been so much a part of so many things I loved for so long that I couldn’t imagine a world without him in it. The idea that there’d never be another John Candy cameo… It was too strange and sad to process.

    What was yours?

  40. Phil Hartman probably. Beyond just the shock of knowing someone you saw on TV nearly every week dying, with SNL and SIMPSONS reruns and NEWSRADIO being a show I watched a bit back then, nearly everything I read or saw of him in interviews convinced me he had as deep a warmth towards life as he had talent.

    But I get more affected by musicians, with this news being a clear exception to that. My best friend who’s a local musician said there’s not much difference between them and comedians (the good ones anyway) so there’s that to consider. John Entwistle was one that was a major blow, as he was a big reason The Who were hitting their stride again as a live band. I love them even now but I don’t think they’ve fully recovered from that. Michael Kamen was another, I loved his scores and work with rock musicians, entwining that world with his classical training. And as a huge Pink Floyd fan, Rick Wright was particularly hard because he was just getting his creative juices flowing again having toured with David Gilmour off his last solo album and working on one of his own. The new Floyd album will be bittersweet for so many reasons for me, but knowing it’s being done as a tribute to him is very touching indeed.

  41. Musicians usually don’t affect me that much, because I don’t feel like I “know” them the way I feel like I “know” actors. I love their work but their personalities are usually a mystery to me. The one exception was MCA. Man, I was a wreck for days on that one.

    One that really surprised me was Christopher Reeve. It’s not like I was a huge fan, really. I hadn’t even seen that much of his work. But he was my Superman, and I didn’t realize how much that meant to me until he was gone.

    Mass media is a strange thing. At worst, it’s a distancing mechanism, isolating us in little fantasy worlds of our own. At best, it’s a giant empathy engine, making strangers feel like family. The chemicals in our brains can’t tell that we didn’t actually know Robin Williams. He made them feel something, so they love him and miss him all the same.

  42. I’m definitely feeling the good side of that from my Twitter and Facebook feeds. Everybody is either responding as what’s left of the child within, or the adult who enjoyed his humor. Watching that Met tape like I mentioned earlier, I got the feeling that adult life was as silly as the one that I’d known. But it also made me feel like a kid again, which is the bottom line of how that part of his work affected me.

    I really liked INSOMNIA, that and WHAT DREAMS MAY COME are the only films of his in my DVD/Blu-ray collection. It was interesting reading about the high regard Pacino had for him, saying he was the major inspiration for what he did in DICK TRACY. I really liked WORLD’S GREATEST DAD too for what he brought to the role and as a satire of high school. Not much for me to say about POPEYE except that it was my half-sister’s favorite movie, and I think I’ve only seen it once or twice.

    I should say that Candy’s death had got to me too a little bit. PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES will always be a favorite of mine, and it was one of those early R-rated movies I watched a bit of as a younger chap. Again, a guy who seemed to be as warm and sensitive as he was talented. I seem to have remembered hearing that his death was the major catalyst for John Hughes calling it a day with Hollywood for the most part.

  43. We’ve had a rough couple of years, with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tony Scott, James Gandolfini, Dennis Farina, Elmore Leonard, Iain Banks and now Williams passing.

    One day soon our 70’s film icons like Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman and Jack Nicholson will also be gone, and then I will feel really old and depressed.

  44. As one of the few people under the age of 50 who admits to watching & liking The Crazy Ones, I have nothing bad to say about Mr. Williams. Dude was edgy as hell, went from clean to raunchy, from comedy to drama, from happy-manic-psycho to sad-creepy-psycho, and remained a brilliant crowdpleaser the whole time.

    That tv show had issues — basically the whole premise is insultingly stupid and the sets are absurd if you think about them for 10 seconds and all the character interactions are broad and contrived and silly — but somehow it had just enough of a tinge of semi-magical realism to suspend your disbelief even while reminding you you’re watching a dumb tv show, and every episode had at least 1 or 2 moments where Williams said something fucking hilarious. I sometimes share funny or interesting lines I hear on tv with my writer friends (Their screenplays could always use some plagiarized punching-up), and, ironically, the one text message I ever sent during an episode of The Crazy Ones so that I could preserve one of its jokes was from when Williams’s character is planning a client’s relative’s eulogy & death “celebration” and he says “We’ll put the ‘fun’ in funeral.” Okay, that’s not all that clever, but the set-up and Williams’s delivery — somber yet barely restraining his smile — sells it as a single line even as the script moves quickly to the next.

    Oh and he’s responsible for my favorite sex joke: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t63W-SFqCpA
    I’m usually a prude about this kind of thing, and physical comedy is way more miss than hit in my opinion, but goddamn if that isn’t the best use of a person’s own ample body hair (usually a source of self-consciousness & deprecation) I’ve ever seen. That’s a guy who’s starred in a bunch of child-friendly comedies & dubious weepie melodramas. Mrs. Doubtfire himself is nosing his elbow to show how Patch Adams eats pussy.

    Condescending hipsterism-based hate for him probably plateaued a few years ago, because that’s what happens in the age of the internet to popular energetic performers who deign to do broad comedies & treacly dramas sometimes instead of staying artistically pure and fiscally poor. Yahweh forbid we get a talented guy on camera as often as possible doing as many voices & impressions as possible and he doesn’t always hit a home run with the material, oh well, so what. They say comedy is mostly timing, but Williams rarely let that concept get in his way if he had a good riff going. I guess Williams had a machine gun for a mouth, and that annoyed some people. Pretty brilliant of Robert Altman to put a permanent pipe in there.

    But where were you sad motherfuckers when Panna Rittikrai died a couple weeks ago?

  45. I was a small child when MORK & MINDY was on. Either it left an impression or I caught re-runs later, but I loved it. I can see how his quickfire craziness would entertain a kid, but it was later on in life when I was able to truly appreciate his talent. Still to this day if I come across an episode I have to stop and watch it and probably laugh my ass off.

    Then came GOOD MORNING VIETNAM where we got to see the combination of his comedy and dramatic abilities. It was great because life isn’t all comedy or all drama. His scene of the VP is a VIP is just bloody brilliant.

    DEAD POETS SOCIETY came into my life at such a perfect time. I was coping with all that teenage angst and trying to figure out my place in this world and the ideas he shared as that teacher spoke to me in profound ways. It was probably also the hardest I’ve ever cried in a theater.

    BEST OF TIMES has to get an honorable mention. Him and Kurt Russell in their prime playing past their prime, underdog football heroes tugs at a lot of my heart strings.

    Somebody once said something along the lines that laughter, or perhaps it’s comedy, isn’t a reflection of joy, but of pain. I’m sad that he had so much pain, but I’m happy that he chose to share it with the rest of the world as laughter.

  46. First celebrity death that really affected me… hmmm. Been thinking on this a lot, but if it really affected me then my emotional memory would kick in and I wouldn’t have to think all that much, would I? I guess I’ve witnessed & participated in more death than the average 1st world citizen in the 21st century, so maybe that’s why.

    The diagnosis of Earvin “Magic” Johnson should have become the death that made young me realize awesome people are vulnerable to mortality, but he turned out to be really fucking resilient and in my opinion still alive somehow.

    But the killing of Phil Hartman

    (if you haven’t seen the hilarious Newsradio episode “The Cane,” then you need to. One of the all time great tv performances.)

    and the passing of Stanley Kubrick destroyed me.

    Kubrick’s last release was an event movie for me. I remember the day I saw it clear as I remember this morning. Normally I don’t do memorabilia, but I still have that ticket stub. Since 1999, there’s been a yawning gap where a great the greatest filmmaker’s prospective continued filmography should be.

    More recently, the early death of Christopher Hitchens devastated me. I want to read thousands more pages of his writing, want to see hours more of him dominating debates. I had the chance to maybe meet him a couple of times near or at his home in DC, and I shyly declined, thinking it vulgar or rude or unbecoming or something for a guy like me to pop up unannounced to say what an admirer I am. I wish he weren’t so correct on the nonexistence of deities so that he could see these regretful words now. I’d give anything for him to be able to weigh in again on the issue of Kurdistan.

    I don’t know why I can’t think of any bigtime female celebrity deaths that affected me.

  47. I gotta say this was pretty startling.
    I’ve realized that the thing that I’ll miss most about Robin Williams will not be his movies, but his late nite talk show appearances.
    Maybe not soooo much anymore, but in the 80’s and 90’s, when Robin Williams was going to be a guest on Carson or Letterman or even Leno, it was an event! The host was excited! The audience was excited! And Robin delivered!
    I wasn’t even really a fan, but if I heard RW was going to be on Letterman, I tuned in, and was seldom disappointed.

    First celebrity death that affected me much was John Candy. Not a week goes by when I don’t think about a movie of his, or think that I’ll never see another one.

  48. I agree, and I’ll go as far to say that that was where his gift was most apparent. His appearance on INSIDE THE ACTOR’S STUDIO is brilliant in it’s own right in that he effortlessly goes from answering questions to doing a 5-7 minute bit with someone’s pink scarf. He was also great on Charlie Rose, whether it would just be him and Rose or like when he was promoting ONE HOUR PHOTO and Mark Romanek was alongside him.

  49. John Çandy’s premature death was sentimentally notable because he was such a likable buffoon, and he showed some real vulnerability in characters like in PLANES TRAINS. Steve Martin the arsehole tearing shreds off him only put me more on his side(im sure that was John Hughes intention, but well played.)

    The death that really hit my balls like Ali working the speed bag was Brando. I never grew up with his films(im a 70’s child) but I credit my discovery of his early films and onwards as cementing my love for cinema. On the rare occasion in the 90’s when he came out of hibernation to make a film, I would get all excited, and go out of my way to see it. THE FRESHMAN(spinning off his godfather role), the two movies with Depp, the Charles(not Charlie) Sheen one, the miss piggy one(poor Frank). And the crème de la crème THE ISLAND OF DR MOREAU.

  50. the first celebrity death that affected me was Chris Farley, I was 8 years old and had been a huge fan of his work on SNL and his movies, I might even go as far to say that Robin Williams’ death is the one that has hit me the hardest since Farley

    I was too young to know when John Candy died, but I also remember being really sad when my mom told me about that years later

  51. The first one I remember, is probably Michael Landon. I remember seeing, years later on E! the press conference he did saying he only had a short time left and remembering what dignity he had in the face of it.

  52. Man, this is just awful news.

    Depression is a truly terrible thing. Such a shame that a man who created so much happiness in others couldn’t find a way to keep a sliver of it for himself.

  53. There’s a documentary on Netflix about Robert Altman’s career by Ron Mann, simply called ALTMAN. It’s far too short for someone with the long line of work he did but somehow it covered everything in a very intriguing manner, and focusing much more on his personal life (his widow did much of the narrating) and how it affected his work. POPEYE is touched on, more specifically the disastrous nature of the filming and the aftermath the film flopping had on his career.

    It’d be a good thing to watch back-to-back with the John Milius doc we talked about here a bit before. Makes me wonder if they’d ever met.

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