Alan Rickman was the Epitome of Film and the Artistic Endeavor

God, this is hard.

Here I am again, staring at my computer overwhelmed with feeling at the sudden passing of an icon, and wordless — but not taking a moment to add my small, unimportant voice in tribute seems like an insult.

Alan Rickman wasn’t just my childhood, he was film for me. Period. Die Hard, Robin Hood, Truly Madly Deeply, Quigley Down Under, Sense and Sensibility, Galaxy Quest, Dogma, Love Actually, Sweeney Todd, Harry Potter. Just think about that list for a second.

The first time I saw Die Hard, I was mesmerized. I was eight, maybe nine, and had never seen anything like him on a movie screen before. I couldn’t take my eyes off him — his captivating presence, his effortless magnetism, every choice of body language and dialogue delivery. He didn’t just read lines, he transformed them into a kind of poetry: hummed, mused, chewed, eviscerated them into something new. I read pages of emotion in one look, a quirk of an eyebrow, or a deadly silence. And that much-revered, divine gift of a voice other actors might kill for, that could alternatively strike a knife of cold terror between your ribs or weaken your knees with perfectly enunciated, seductive depth. He introduced me to the notion that I could adore the bad guy even more than the hero; he was just as compelling, just as fascinating.

As effective a villain as a romantic lead, an underrated comedic genius, never afraid to tackle the complex gray areas in-between, Rickman influenced, shaped, and changed my movie-viewing experience, and for the unquestionable better. He was the first actor to make a lasting impression on me, and I watched every movie he was in with an almost religious fervor. No matter how small his role, he guaranteed to steal the film out from under everyone with astonishingly rich, impeccable performances, whether they were manipulative evil or aching tenderness. His exuberant glee in Prince of Thieves; the quiet, pained longing in Sense and Sensibility; the perfectly arch bitterness of Galaxy Quest. Each one a joy and privilege to watch. Many are labeled masters of their craft, but Rickman was the conductor of his own acting opera: a true Shakesperian instrument with enormous range and utterly beguiling grace notes.

For one generation he’s the elegant, viper-like Hans Gruber, a masterful performance too good for an action movie that forever changed cinema’s perception of and approach to villainy (and his first movie!). For another generation he’s the calculating, mysterious Professor Snape, a role he embodied with such captivating elegance and unbelievable pathos that he elevated it into something truly special beyond a franchise blockbuster; something real in a fantasy world of magic. He was the torn apart broken heart of the story, a well of barely suppressed grief.

For me, he’s both and all roles in between. His performances and my life go hand-in-hand, and I know I’m not the only one.

Obviously I had an adolescent crush, but it was more than that. As I grew up, my appreciation for his acting grew with me, and my appreciation for the man as a person. Ever gracious, kind, generous, and thoughtful, committed to the arts, he warmed my heart even though we were complete strangers. It’s that same phenomenon I tried, poorly, to understand with David Bowie’s passing — how an artist we’ve never met, who isn’t a family member or close friend, made such an impact on our lives that the loss of them leaves us heavy-hearted and fragile; to a seemingly ridiculous degree, since we had no personal relationship.

But that’s the power of art. Of storytelling. Of acting, and performance, that a stranger’s death creates a swell of grief for millions simply because of his talent and character. Alan Rickman left one of the most indelible marks possible on cinema and those who watched. It seems unreal to accept that he was a mortal like the rest of us, and he wouldn’t always simply be there. His passing feels like a cruelty, even though he lived a long, successful, happy life — stolen from his loved ones at 69 from a horrible disease, too much like the other British icon who went before him this week.

I was at work when the news broke, and I cried.

Facebook pointed me toward a beautifully resonate blog post by Julie E. Richardson that I’d be remiss not to share:

Look, people die every day. I know this. And sometimes in awful and horrible and tragic ways, nothing like a man who has, by all accounts, lived a full and meaningful life, passing away (so the news reports say) surrounded by those who loved and knew him best. And my day-to-day life will be no different now that Mr. Rickman is gone. But the stars, they feel a bit dimmer today. It seems like maybe something extra-special has been temporarily sapped from the Universe.

[…] This is why the arts matter, people. This is why stories–even if (and especially often) made up ones–burrow under our skin and become part of who we are. This is why the deep passion that the likes of Robin Williams and Alan Rickman and others offered the world is so deeply missed when they’re gone. This is why we must keep telling stories. Raising artists. Nurturing the creativity of our children. It matters. Wholeheartedly and in ways we don’t even understand.

Every fiber of my being agrees.

For me and many, Alan was the peerless epitome of the arts; both the height of performing, and the experience of viewing. As I have with Bowie, I plan to spend the next several days surrounding myself with his work. The work endures, and lives on when they can’t, and the best thing I can do is celebrate them.

A Love Letter from the Girl with the Mousy Hair

We can beat them forever and ever. We can be heroes, just for one day.

It’s hard trying to describe the effect a stranger’s had on your life. Celebrities, whether musicians, actors, or authors, are just people: the same as us, although, obviously, on a much higher plane of public notoriety. I’m not one for celebrity worship culture — I enjoy what they do, oftentimes fervently adore their contributions and how they’ve touched my life (here’s looking at you, Leonard Nimoy), but I try not to blow it out of proportion. When you think about it, it feels kinda weird to say, “Insert name here changed my life,” or affected me in thus-and-such profound way. We never even met!

But we form these deeply moving, deeply personal attachments to artists who don’t know we exist, who we may only experience through the distance of electronics. It’s a phenomenon I don’t have the words to try and examine, especially when the wound of losing one of my favorites is still so fresh. But it happens. It’s undeniable. For whatever universal reason, we attach to these people. They shape our lives and help us understand the world we share. They help us understand ourselves, and how to express our own creativity. They become our heroes, even if they’re as flawed as the listener.

Sometimes, they just write damn great music we love jamming to in the car at eardrum-melting volume.

David Bowie’s one of the miraculous who managed all.

We passed upon the stair, we spoke of was and when; although I wasn’t there, he said I was his friend.

I never met Bowie; never had the chance to see him in concert. (One of my top bucket-list wishes.) He was an incomparably famous, massively rich celebrity, born forty-two years before me. A personal connection between the two of us was as distant as can be.

My parents were playing classic rock music for me since before I could talk, but like most ’80s kids I discovered him through the wonders of Labyrinth. I had the same adolescent crush as the majority of my fellows, and from there, slowly, it was the discovery of his music catalogue: famous songs, peerless albums that saw me through years and times. Ziggy Stardust. Low.Young Americans. Scary Monsters. Heroes. The rest of his film catalogue, The Man Who Fell To Earth, The Hunger, The Prestige. Hours spent hunting down used CDs in the days before Spotify. When I was sixteen and he sang the opening lines of Life on Mars, I swore he was singing to me. I’m that girl with the mousy hair, David! You’ve seen into my soul! It’s still my favorite song of all time, even if my connection to it is, thankfully, no longer rooted in teenage angst.

I might only have been a fan for a little over a decade, a mockingly small amount of time in comparison to literal lifelong fans who’ve followed his career vinyl to vinyl, but his music’s woven into my DNA as tightly as if I’d popped out of the womb singing Space Oddity. The Beatles are the only group more present and influential to my life. Hell, I wrote a 17,000 word short fiction built around his discography.

I won’t try to rhapsodize about why his work’s endured. I’m far from qualified enough to tackle a music critic’s perspective. This is a knee-jerk reaction from an emotional consumer. So I’ll just say I could carve some of Bowie’s lyrics onto my heart.

He was an ideas man, questioning concepts as grand as life and time and spiritual wonders, or as basic as human resilience. There was something transcendent in the balance he struck between aching gentleness and unforgiving, bitter anger. He always, always yearned for more, and gave voice to the outsider, no matter what kind of outsider you were. Even in today’s era I can’t think of a musician more diversified, more self-challenging, more inventive.

I’m not a prophet or a stone aged man, just a mortal with potential of a superman. I’m living on.

I’d downloaded Blackstar on Saturday and thought how exciting it was, and how lucky we were, to still have new music of his to enjoy. I can’t have that feeling again. It’s heartbreaking, and staggering given how young he still was. In retrospect, he faced his death knowingly and turned it into a piece of artwork — and could we have expected him to do anything less?

It doesn’t mean much, in the grand scheme of the universe. But one of those thousands of mousy-haired girls is missing you today, Mr. Bowie. Thanks for keeping me company, making me imagine and think, and making me dance, even though we never met.

Put on your red shoes and dance the blues.