I was only lucky enough to know Don for the last five years of his life, but over that period, he was a source of decades’ worth of both camaraderie and wise counsel, both about screenwriting and life in general. He was like the older brother I never had, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that knowing him made me a better person (if only slightly, because I am hard to teach).
Mostly, he led by example. Don was one of the most good-natured people I’ve ever known — but it wasn’t the cloying, marshmallow-edged type of good-naturedness that makes you suspect the person exhibiting it has either never read a newspaper or is in a state of active denial about reality.
Don’s good-naturedness was deeper and more fully lived than that — the sort that knows perfectly well just how unfair and stupid life can be, but has decided the best way to get through it isn’t to weep at the injustice, or rail against it, or stew in your own bitterness (personally, I’m good at all three, while excelling at the third), but to laugh at it.
Don’s ability to do this held true whether the source was Hollywood development executives or something actually serious, like cancer. When Don got sick a few years ago, he didn’t whine, or moan, or get depressed and withdraw from the world. Instead, he started a blog and made fun of it.
Let’s Radiate Don began as a series of comic updates about his treatment and, over time, turned into something deeper and more poignant. Since he died last fall, his wonderful wife and kids have continued to update it, making the site into a kind of living memorial and serving as a powerful reminder that even stories that don’t end well can be a source of comfort and inspiration.
If you check it out, I’d recommend reading backwards by first going to the bottom of the page and clicking “older posts” repeatedly, until it loads all of the archives dating back to July 17, 2010, where the initial obituary notice for Don’s lost taste buds appears. Or at least go as far back as “All Clear…and yet a little Fuzzy” on November 19, 2010, which is a real keeper.
Don wrote more than his share of successful films, including Rio, Happy Feet, and Big Momma’s House. The Oscar telecast is tomorrow night, and in spite of his long and impressive career, when it comes time to roll the tribute to prominent members of the film industry who’ve passed away this past year, it’s likely Don will be overlooked by the Academy one last time.
Now, my instinct — which, unfortunately, Don wasn’t around long enough to fully beat out of me — would be to treat this as an opportunity for some bitter screed about Hollywood’s lack of respect for screenwriters in general, and comedy writers in particular.
But that wasn’t Don’s way, and it’s not his family’s way, either — and thank goodness for that, because it led his son Andrew to create the following tribute to Don’s films. Even if you didn’t know Don, it’s a fun way to spend two minutes.
And if you DID know him, you may have the same reaction I did, which is to wonder how on earth you could get a lump in your throat watching clips of Martin Lawrence in drag.
Rest in peace, buddy.