you’ve spent your last dime, you can shift gears without anyone noticing. I was drained financially after my divorce settlement, and I couldn’t hide, couldn’t shift gears.
“Hey, that temp in accounting? Didn’t he used to be on that
show? Tell him to beam up my expense reports.”
As an actor, you might have made next to nothing on your last movie, but you had better show up to the premiere dressed to the nines or, as Hollywood often demands, dressed to the tens. Nobody wants to hear that 10 percent of your earnings went to your agent, another 10 to your lawyer, and maybe even 15 went to your manager and the other 65 percent to your ex-wife. They just demand you be famous and appear famous.
The best way to be successful in Hollywood is to seem successful, no matter the cost. The sweet smell of success can overpower the stench of failure.
Thankfully, forty years later, I’m in much better shape. Daniel Ellsberg mentioned to me while taping our
interview that miracles happen all the time—miracles are just the things that happen that you don’t expect. I wish I could go back in time and share Ellsberg’s wisdom with the forty-year-old me.
Eighty is great. I’m married, financially secure, and have work whenever I want it.
But here’s the thing . . .
When I woke up on my fortieth birthday, I felt like my career was over. That was terrible.
When I woke up on my eightieth birthday, I felt that might life might be over soon. That was terrifying.
I thought I was prepared for March 22, 2011. What is eighty, other than a number? I’m in good shape; all the horse riding has been great for my legs and my upper body strength. I feel great; I take my vitamins and exercise every day. (I don’t use skin creams or cosmetics, though. I’m an actor, but I’m not
much of an actor.)
But the terror of dying felt very keen that morning in the darkness of my bedroom.
God, I’m going to die. Very soon,
I thought to myself. Everyone knows they are going to die, no matter how much they deny it, but once you’re eighty, you’re now actually on a deadline.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross outlines the five stages of grief in her book
On Death and Dying.
They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I had already jumped to my own “acceptance,” and I hadn’t even gotten out of my pajamas yet.
RULE: Do Not Keep Elisabeth Kübler-Ross on Your Nightstand.
Is a Slightly Lighter Read.
There are some people who view death as an adventure. I once heard that Timothy Leary’s last words were, “Of course.” At the moment of death he saw the logic of the universe. What a joyous celebration of the unknown! That line alone offers me more comfort than any one of the supposed five people you meet in Heaven.
You know who else saw death as an adventure?
I never played Kirk with fear. Kirk was never frightened; he was always amazed, curious. And that’s how I approached his death, once it became clear that the executives at Paramount were hell bent on killing him off.
What would Captain Kirk feel at the moment of death, having lived his life looking at the strangest animals and the strangest things?
Captain Kirk would look at death with awe and wonder. He wouldn’t run from it; he would move forward toward it. I imagined that Captain Kirk would look at whatever death is—blackness, lightness, the devil, God, nothing—and wonder
Where am I going?
I’m on another step on the journey. What’s the next step after this
Kirk’s final words upon his death in
Star Trek: Generations
were, “Oh my.” No fear. No fear at all!
So, this attitude of Kirk’s can be used to prove one thing, once and for all.
I am not Captain James T. Kirk.
On my eightieth birthday, I just lay there in my terror, no awe or wonder to be found. I wish I could stampede over to a belief system that offered me a convenient afterlife and a benevolent God. That kind of thing requires faith, and I don’t have it. I would love to be nurtured in the arms of someone ecclesiastical when I die, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.
The fear that I had that morning marking my eightieth year comes from the loneliness in all of our souls; this is the promontory that every human being stands on. We yearn to be joined with someone or something. We strive all our lives to do so with marriage and children and friends and family and clans and country and patriotism and
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