There Are No Easy Pieces

Jack Nicholson is now an octogenarian, joining a club that makes me uneasy, if grateful. As I mentioned a few days ago, most of the film actors I watched with enthusiasm in my formative years are still with us. This is a curious phenomenon for me, the idea that famous people should never die; the apparent sorrow floating around social media when one of these folks passes rarely acknowledges that, you know. People who live into their eighth or ninth decades have done pretty well in terms of lifespan.

I say formative. I mean this in context; I was very interested in actors when I was a kid, much more as I reached my teenage years. That’s my excuse, anyway, for looking back and finding mostly men. I was looking to identify.

So there we are: Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Gene Hackman, Clint Eastwood. All still here, and all now over 80 (this year, at any rate). All of them of my parents’ generation, stardom cresting when they were in their 30s.

This doesn’t surprise me, and shouldn’t; I can add. More poignant for me is the realization that strikes from time to time, which is that in 10 years these people will be gone. Perhaps not on to their reward, but most likely missing from screens near you. Hackman is already retired, and Hoffman seems eager to work but finding less and less out there, I’m guessing.

Redford was my favorite, I think, due to Butch Cassidy; I took my first date to see Jeremiah Johnson, when I was 14. I’m Facebook friends with that girl, which I guess is not a big story but still feels weird.

My wife and I have been talking about this lately. We saw Willie Nelson last summer because it’s Willie Nelson, and because it won’t be all that much longer. We’re now checking out James Taylor tour dates near us.

But I think Nicholson gets the nod, at least in terms of his impact and the number of his films I’ve seen. Redford already had some visibility and was working a lot when he was cast in Butch; Hoffman’s big break, The Graduate, was too mature for my young eyes, as was Beatty’s Bonnie and Clyde.

So was Easy Rider, but I managed to catch Five Easy Pieces and The Last Detail before succumbing to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I took another date, this during my senior year in high school, and I remember her commenting afterwards that she thought it was the best movie she’d ever seen. It was hard to argue.

So, yeah. Jack is 80. I’m getting closer to 60. All of this makes sense, as strange as it feels. And as I find myself wishing for just one more performance, I’m aware of the imperative that’s always been there but feels a bit more immediate. I’d pay to see that, in other words, and hope I get the chance.

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