When you lose a couple of times, it makes you realize how difficult it is to win. (Steffi Graf)
Paul Walker, best known as Brian O’Conner in the Fast & Furious movie franchise and of whom I was a longtime fan, died on Saturday afternoon. You can read the news article I wrote for Starpulse, but given what his work contributed to my life personally, I also wanted to take some space to discuss his passing, and the thoughts that came with it.
Grieving a public figure isn’t like grieving someone you know, but that doesn’t make it any less valid. The entire point of art, and of life, is to connect with another human being. When we become a fan of someone, it’s because their work or who they are has connected with us in some way. We’ve let them into our lives, built memories around them, even if we never meet them. I never had the pleasure of meeting Paul, but I can count numerous fond memories that his movies created in my life, whether it was excitedly turning up for the midnight screening of the latest Fast & Furious picture, or reading The Death and Life of Bobby Z because I watched the movie. I’d always hoped that someday I could tell him thank you for all those little joys, and I feel pain right now because I know that there won’t be any more of them.
There’s a certain bubble that bursts, too, when someone like this falls. I’ve lost childhood heroes of mine, one of whom, Junior Seau, took his own life last year. And the nature of my job meant that I had to report the passing of author Vince Flynn, who died in June after I had interviewed him in 2012. It was truly unsettling to remember that I was writing an obituary for someone I had talked to, joked with, whose books were sitting on the bookshelves right beside my desk. All of a sudden, these people who we tend to think of as larger than life just aren’t there anymore, and it takes some of the wonder out of the world.
This isn’t to say that the death of a celebrity compares to the loss of a loved one, or that our collective grief as fans in any way compares to the people who actually knew them first-hand. But I’ve always just shaken my head when people chastize me for being affected when someone whose work I’ve enjoyed passes on. To me, it’s only right to grieve, if only out of respect for everything that person has brought into my life.
Death is a difficult thing to deal with and there’s no right or wrong way to handle it, no matter what anyone tells you. Unfortunately, I have a little more experience with it than most people. Knowing that I’m supposed to be dead right now, it’s constantly in the back of my mind. I’m aware that I shouldn’t necessarily be here, and that with the health problems I have, I might not be here tomorrow. That means I better damn well make the most of things now – and that when I lose somebody, it hits me a little harder, because I know just how fragile life is.
I’ve lost quite a few people I looked up to, and I also lost my childhood best friend thirteen years ago. Like Paul, he died in a single-car accident. His death created wounds in me that I still carry today, including a case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. That’s how deeply I was affected by him not being here. For the longest time, I thought of his loss as the most horrible thing in the world. And honestly, it still hurts me. But I’ve also learned that while there’s a time for that grief, my friend’s memory is better served by me doing something he would’ve been proud of. Everything I’ve ever accomplished in my career has been with him in mind. As much as I miss him, I know that he’s a part of everything I’ve done, and that he’d be proud of all of it.
And I suppose that’s what I’m thinking of right now. While there’s an uncomfortable sadness sitting in my bones from the knowledge that Paul Walker isn’t with us anymore, that when I go to see Fast & Furious 7 it’ll be the last time I get to see him playing Brian, what I know of him makes me think he wouldn’t want his fans to be paralyzed by our grief over his loss. Maybe the best thing that we can do is not just observe our sadness, but do something he’d be proud of. I can’t bring him back, but at least I can take a moment to appreciate him. Even if he’ll never know it.
Rest in peace, Paul, and thank you for everything.