Sunday, July 15, 2007

Goodbye to a Legend

Renowned South African actor, Bill Flynn, passed away suddenly wednesday, after suffering what appears to be a heart attack. He was only 58. Bill was instrumental in my getting started in the business. My first professional production was the annual panto, and Bill was playing the Dame. He was excruciatingly funny and brought the house down every night. I played a few characters and had a little stand-up bit during a set change. Bill was kind enough to introduce me to his agent after a performance and I was on my way.

I had the pleasure of working with him on two more occasions - in Paul Slab's rugby farce "Heel Against the Head" and as Bernard opposite his Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman". In Heel, Bill could be a terror; whispering something that only I could hear, trying to corpse me. He got me the first time (and a few more) - you were putty in his hands. It took every fiber of my being not to get caught again. I was so furious I was determined to get him back and, for the rest of the run, devised all manner of plans to break him onstage in revenge.

I finally settled on a comment on a business card that my character handed him. I was so excited for my corpse I could barely contain myself. When the moment came to hand him the thing, Bill merely looked at it, dryly (and only audible to me, of course) read my "clever" comment back to me - and I cracked up. He corpsed me with my own damn corpse! Brilliant.

His Willy Loman, on the other hand, showed how he could blow a dramatic role out the park. The production won pretty much every award going. There's a scene where Willy sees how far Bernard has come, in stark contrast to his own son. When Bill turned to go, he looked upstage at me with such sadness and loss I nearly cried every night. I felt so privileged - no-one ever saw that look but me.

Bill was one of the warmest people I've ever met. A comic genius, a dramatic powerhouse, a talented singer (even though he tended always towards the spoof) and an inspiration to other actors, generous on stage and off. I will miss his voice, his ever-expanding monologues, his business, his passion, his love, his Dr Spock death grip (damn he was strong) and his multitude of characters. Nearly 200 plays, dozens of films and TV credits, numerous best actor awards, thousands of voice-overs and millions of memories for all of us.

Thank you, my friend. Thank you for everything. I love you. I am standing with you and Paul at the Baxter now. We've finished the show, taken off our make-up, you've had a drag of my cigarette. We've said good-bye to the last of the people at the bar and climbed the long staircase after the show. We stop at the top, just before the exit and gaze upward at the orange domes. We shift slightly, to position ourselves perfectly in the middle, to maximize the acoustics. Perfect. Then, with as much conviction as possible (ie: milking it), we deliver that movie trailer guy's voice...

"It has been buried for thousands of years. A mystery, a secret, a key to our past, and maybe... our future"

Gonna miss you.

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