I remember seeing certain deaths in the newspaper at breakfast when I was a child, and hearing the adults comment on them. Harry Chapin comes to mind, and Jim Croce. I was 8 when he died. That affected me because I knew a couple of his songs and I knew he wasn't old. He just up and died, accidentally, shockingly.
Then there was Groucho Marx. I'd just finished reading his hilarious autobiography around the time he died, and I was kinda crushed. I felt like I knew him a little bit, you know? That was the first one that hit me hard, at age 12, and I've never forgotten it. (Elvis had just died three days earlier, and that barely affected me at all.) I can picture the column in the newspaper, below the fold—maybe there was something important going on in the world that day—just as I saw it that morning at the table. I cut it out and saved it in my scrapbook, actually. Wish I still had that.
I was very into old movies by around the age of 10. We'd always watched old stuff at our house, anyway, and all my fondest TV memories are in black and white. Well, plus we didn't have color TV until 1981. Since most of what I loved wasn't even in color, that never bothered me much. People were crap at adjusting their greens and oranges, anyway.
I had early crushes on James Garner, Robert Stack, and Raymond Burr. But then I had a lot of time to myself starting in 1975 because of family illnesses and other difficulties, and I became infatuated with Cary Grant (pretty much been over that for a long time, but I do love him like an old boyfriend I outgrew,) Gary Cooper, and Gregory Peck. I was sad to learn Gary Cooper was dead, and that launched me into a decade of reading biographies and obsessing over which film stars were alive and dead. Every time I'd see one I hadn't noticed before, I'd ask Mom if he was alive. Most of the time she knew, sometimes we had to go to the library to look it up.
Things weren't at all like they are now, of course. Old movies were 20, 30, 40 years old, not 50, 60, 70. That's real history now!
In high school, I added Jimmy Stewart, Joseph Cotten, Gene Kelly, Rossano Brazzi and a few others to my growing list of loves. They were all still alive. I also developed mad passions for Jack Lemmon, Rex Harrison, and William Powell. Among a number of others, of course and sigh.
Two actors I've always enjoyed but was never enamored by, Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart, were long dead. Then Bill Holden died, and Steve McQueen. My love for Holden has grown immensely over the past 10-15 years, never so much into McQueen.
But then, starting with William Powell when I was 19, my true classic loves all started to depart. One by one by one since then, all my childhood loves have died, except for James Garner.
I'd only just rediscovered Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra around the time they died, and it was a gripping realization to have; these guys were in their prime before I was born, and now I was in that time of life myself. But they lived long rich lives, as did Grant, Stewart, Kelly, Peck, and Lemmon. So mourning them was more like mourning a bygone era than anything else. Also, I was an adult, mourning something lost from my childhood.
When Jim Garner, who is nearly 83, passes from this world, I don't know if I'll be overcome with sadness. It's a confusing thought. I mean, I love 1957-1985 Jim Garner of film and TV. He is, by all accounts, a very fine man for his family and friends to know and love, but to me he is mostly a collection of screen memories. Well, let's be honest. In considering all my oddly intense feelings for a handful of famous men, living and dead, he is the one about whom I've composed the most and most deeply, intricately detailed sexual fantasies. But also, he was so honest as a man on screen; a real man. A Jim Garner character is always a person we'd wish to know and we do know that extends to reality as well. There aren't that many big stars about whom we are certain this is true.
I cannot remember a time in my life I wasn't basically in love with him, from very early childhood. Of course I don't really know him, but he always made you believe you could, right? And the point is, he was my first love, beginning over 40 years ago. Before I knew what sex was and before I wanted it, I wanted him. Don't take that wrong because it isn't. And I've never stopped wanting him. But when he dies, I'll still have everything of him I was ever going to have, anyway. His family will mourn the real person they knew and loved, and, as is generally the way, celebrate their lives with him.
I think I'll be mourning an ideal that seems impossible to ever conjure again. But I guess I'm mourning that already.