Today is the birthday of the late Douglas Adams. Sadly, my grief is still tender as we lost him, far too soon, 14 years ago. Has it been that long? Tragically, it seems longer. Here’s a piece I penned shortly after I heard the news of his death. A little something to manage the grief and bid adieu to a friend I only wish I had.
I didn’t know him.
We weren’t friends. I never sent him a card for his birthday. We didn’t go to see movies together, grab dinner sometimes after work or play Scrabble to pass the time. I never called him up late at night to talk about “The West Wing” or forwarded a funny email that someone sent me. He couldn’t have picked me out of a lineup if his life had depended on it.
But I met him. Once. An encounter, more like. At the ICA, the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.
He was there to promote his newest book. I was there to catch a glimpse of my idol. I skipped class and sat in the back, just thankful to be in the same room with the man.
Understand, I labored under no delusion that I would shake his hand and become fast friends, that he would invite me round to his flat for tea or down to the local for a swift half. That, I feel, is every fan’s deep, unspoken dream, that the object of their secret obsession will warm to them in a way unparalleled and that they will end up Watson to his Holmes, Pokey to his Gumby, Jughead to his Archie. “Hi there. I’ve been shaking hands and signing autographs all day long for hundreds of strangers but I sense a kinship with you. Won’t you sit down and chat for a while?”
No, I knew the fanboy fantasy was just that and had long since realized that stars, celebrities and the famous were simply people and treated them accordingly, albeit with the respect and reverence due their station.
And so, I watched and listened to him as he talked with a friend about his life and career. It was a de facto interview but it was pure softball, an admiration society of one, us the audience a lucky witness. When it was over, he took questions, signed books, spoke to his followers.
I wanted to tell him how much his work meant to me, how he had inspired me, how I stayed up all night reading his book the very first day I got my hands on it, how I wanted to emulate him, to know him, to be him. But, I simply proffered my copy of his latest and asked him politely if he wouldn’t mind signing. I mentioned to him that I had enjoyed his work immensely and asked if I might take some photos. He was gracious, to say the least, but I’m sure he paid me no more heed than he did the dozens of others there that day, the hundreds, perhaps thousands who had ever come up to him seeking contact, a signature, affirmation.
I have always remembered this experience with fondness and am heartened that I got this all-too-brief chance to rub shoulders with his genius. Because now … Now. It’s too late.
British writer Douglas Adams, author of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (the bestest sci fi comedy cult classic ever) is dead. He died suddenly, unexpectedly, tragically of a heart attack last Friday in his California home.
As I said, I didn’t know him. We weren’t pals. We weren’t relatives, co-workers, neighbors or acquaintances. But the knowledge of his passing shook me as certainly as would that of someone close to me. No more Arthur Dent. No more Ford Prefect. No more Zaphod Beeblebrox. No more Marvin the Paranoid Android. No more Dirk Gently. No more sentences like “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.” No more Douglas Noel Adams.
The world will never be quite the same again.
I’ll miss you, dear friend.