I realize that in the past, there have been many internet trolls and bitter naysayers who have whipped themselves up into a frenzy over a fan’s outpouring of grief for a celebrity who has just passed on. They didn’t know these folks personally, right?
See, I don’t get the bitterness and anger. It doesn’t make sense to me.
Now, as I take to the keyboard to somehow (this is utterly impossible) sum up my feelings and the immense sense of loss I have over George A. Romero’s recent death – I find myself as emotional as I did mere hours ago when I first heard.
And I say to the trolls who would mock me for my deep despair over his death – these feelings are real. They’re true and the ugly sobbing I experienced yesterday – it was heartfelt, painful and beyond my control.
When someone is this important to you – whether they were your personal buddy or not – their death is powerful.
It is what it is. And Mr. Romero was my biggest creative inspiration. That’s the truth.
But what I was mentioning yesterday, in the aftermath of this news, was that in my strange grief, I couldn’t imagine anyone feeling as shitty as I did. And even friends who know me well, were coming out of the woodwork to make sure I was okay. Romero was my man. He absolutely meant the world to me.
And the bottom line — after all of these years — is that I felt like he was mine. All mine. I can be selfish and this is certainly one of those moments.
I know it’s probably terrible to try to outdo someone else’s depths of their grief. And of course, his close friends and family feel it far more than I do. But as a die-hard fan, no one is hurting more than I am. At least that’s how it feels from my own perspective… and of course, that’s what this article is… my own personal (and feeble) attempt to explain what this loss means to me.
I always had it on the back burner as I continued to grow in my screenwriting and continued to make strides toward better product and better exposure – that one day I’d get the chance to work with Mr. Romero. It never dawned on me that it might be a long shot. It could happen, right?
Cripes, my second feature-length script had him as a central character, and I always dreamed of the moment when he would read the script, pronounce it “brilliant” and shake my hand while saying, “I’d love to play myself in this snappy little screenplay! Let’s get the funding and make it!”
But that potential drop into my personal bucket list just can’t happen now. And I’m shattered.
I first got a glimpse into Romero’s cinematic imagination when HBO was playing Creepshow ad nauseum – somewhere in 1982 (or perhaps it was 1983 when it was released to cable) and my brother, friends and I would eat it up, over and over. I was only 8 years old when that Stephen King collaboration was released and it not only intrigued me, but it scared (and scarred) me. I was so petrified by the visage of Nathan Grantham coming up from the depths of his grave in the Happy Father’s Day segment, that my older brother decided that we should try some good old-fashioned aversion therapy to cure my fears.
I was allowed the choice of one sacred stuffed toy and I was then ushered into my parent’s bedroom. All lights were extinguished, drapes closed and the door shut. I was to sit in the center of the room on the floor, desperately grasping my cherished stuffed animal and told to wait. My brother then proceeded to lightly pound on the bedroom door from the outside – and repeatedly grumble (as if he had years of soil lodged in his throat), “Happy Father’s Day!”
Obviously, my fear was not vanquished, but this is definitely where my obsession with horror, more specifically the walking dead and George A. Romero – began.
I wrote my first short story, entitled The House of the Dead, not long after. It was about three kids going into an abandoned house in their neighborhood (which of course they had never, ever noticed before) where they encounter shambling corpses – including the leader of these ghouls, affectionately known as “the body with the head cut off”.
As I grew up, my horror obsession started to expand, and I became a Freddy convert in my pre-teen years. And that lasted a good long while – but when I hit 12, I had my first experience with Romero’s zombie flesh-eaters. I saw Day of the Dead on home video – with my parents, my older brother and my best buddy – and my life was forever changed.
If Creepshow was the pouring of the cement, then Day of the Dead was the solidification of said cement and the moment my honest-to-goodness zombie/Romero obsession began.
[For oodles of information on my love affair with Day of the Dead (my favorite film of ALL TIME), check out this link – where I celebrated the 30th anniversary of Romero’s third zombie film.]
30 years later – and countless zombie stories, screenplays, a couple of zombie shorts and thousands of sweat-inducing zombie nightmares – I am still stumbling along in my zombie-loving shoes (prepping for another forthcoming zombie short film as well as the pending zombie apocalypse) – having seen the almost X-rated gore-monster turn into a mainstream, high profile and true money-making member of our zeitgeist. Who’d a thunk it? But of course, I feel less special now that everyone is on board with flesh-eating dead folks! I’m not known for my generous sharing abilities.
And all because Romero and Russo and a gang of their friends decided to make a low budget indie, outside of the studio system – about flesh-eating monsters preying on a bunch of folks in an old farmhouse.
Now I know that not all of Romero’s films were the best ever. There were some stumbles (I wasn’t a big fan of The Dark Half or Bruiser), but outside of his notable zombie films, he also had some amazingly powerful pieces like Martin, The Crazies and the horrifically underrated Season of the Witch. But no one can deny the impact and artistry of so much of his work.
I had the tremendous pleasure to meet Mr. Romero on a couple of occasions – at a screening of Day of the Dead (my first time seeing it on the big screen – it was orgasmic!) at the legendary Biograph Theatre in Chicago and then again at Flashback Weekend on the outskirts of Chicago – the same year.
I made an overnight journey to Pittsburgh for the premiere of Land of the Dead in 2005. I didn’t get any face-time, but as he made his way down the aisle for some opening remarks – past the screeching, hollering, cheering and standing ovations of his throngs of fans – he looked right at me as he passed by and said, “Well, this is weird.”
And in those few times I got to talk to him – that was the humble sense he had about him. Sure, I didn’t know the guy personally, but from body language, an ease of conversation with anyone and everyone, and that wide smile – you can tell a lot about someone.
So not only was he a marvel at his craft (his editing skills are fantastic and generally not as celebrated as they should be) he was just an all-around “nice guy”. And as we see thoughts and stories and anecdotes about people’s time with him flooding social media and the interwebs – that “aw, shucks” persona was apparently everywhere and it was the real deal.
As I regretfully send off my biggest artistic hero, my ultimate inspiration for all of my creative life – I wish him well and hope that as he joins others in the afterlife (how long before he comes shambling back — we can hope, right?) I hope he’s getting that same standing ovation as he did in Pittsburgh that summer so many years ago – as we celebrated his legacy.
I can say this for certain – when the praise and grief and love continue to pour in from across the globe – “Mr. Romero, it’s so not weird. You deserve every screech, holler and cheer – and then some.”
For someone I really only knew through his work – I’m gonna miss the hell out of you, George A. Romero. RIP, genius.