COLUMN SEVENTY-SIX, OCTOBER 1, 2002
(Copyright © 2002 Al Aronowitz)
IN MEMORY OF MIKE NICHOLS
(Photo by Margaret Nichols)
[The following was written by Maggie Nichols for the program distributed at La Ripaille Restaurant on the occasion of the memorial for her late husband, Mike Nichols, who is now also memorialized in SECTION ONE of COLUMN SEVENTY-SIX of THE BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST.]
Although it was expected, the fact that Mike did in
fact die still comes as a surprise, for over the years he had pulled himself
away from Death's door so many times it seemed he would somehow be able to keep
pulling away forever. After all,
hadn't he managed to escape all those times when, as a young man, he himself had
rung the doorbell in his quests for adventure?
And later, hadn't he beaten back a series of debilitating illnesses that
would have killed less powerful men? And
wasn't he the quintessential New Yorker---tough, resilient, adaptable, street
smart, people smart, tireless and, surely, indestructible---a storyteller who,
in another age, would have wandered from castle to castle with his lute or made
the rounds of bazaars with a rolled-up rug, telling his tales and putting other
storytellers together with rug makers or lute players or whoever might be able
to help each other out.
Mike was not an office kind of guy.
He thrived on challenge, but not routine.
During the last 25 or 30 years of his life he was involved with a wide
variety of activities---a series of concerts at the Beacon Theater, including a
seriously oversold appearance by Ike and Tina Turner; a fund-raising and
publicity campaign for Dr. John Cashin, whose National Democratic Party of
Alabama successfully challenged the entrenched white power structure in that
state, including then-Governor George Wallace; movie making with Nicholas Ray
and Rip Torn; advertising with Fred Mogubgub; plus various video projects,
photography, novel writing---and always, on top of it all, making the rounds,
telling stories, listening to music, meeting, greeting, checking out the scene,
looking for people who might need to know other people, and arranging for them
That's what Mike really did best---stir things up, get
people moving and help them succeed, encourage strength, discourage weakness.
His methods could be crude and rude---and sometimes overwhelming---and
not everyone took to them. But it
was hard not to like him, and impossible not to feel the force of his being.
A friend, G. Geier, wrote: "I think most people
not only enjoyed being with Mike, but liked themselves better afterwards just
for having spent some time with him. There
are plenty of put-down artists in the world, but Mike was one of the few
"put-up? artists. He even
seemed to make people feel good when he was insulting---a paradox I can't
his last days, Mike was surrounded by love, and though he was almost too weak to
talk, what he did say was about love and reconciliation.
"That's stupid," he told one friend who said he was feuding
with his sister. And when the friend asked Mike if he had any message when he
did make the call, Mike said, "Tell her I love her." In a way, that
message was for all Mike's friends; to the end, his heart was big and full of
love, both given and taken in.
though that heart kept trying to keep him away from the door he'd escaped so
many times before, this time it couldn't pull it off. On September 23, 1993, the day of the Autumnal Equinox, at
quarter to 8 in the evening, the combination of fluid build-up in his brain and
misbehaving bone marrow (not cancer, but some mysterious dysfunction) proved too
much for his poor body. And so, at
home in his own bed, with Willie Nelson singing Stardust on the record
player, while I (his wife) and other dear friends held his hands, his great
spirit slipped away.
Aronowitz, who had known him since she was a child, wrote: "When I heard
that Mike Nichols had died I imagined his spirit fusing with the most perfect
brilliant white light imaginable. I
know his soul is mingling with other great souls that have passed away.
Sometimes I imagine that there is a great party going on.
here's to Mike. He may have gone
through the door to join the great party, but he left a lot of stories and his
indomitable spirit to keep us company until we too are ready to join the scene.
love to all,
Maggie Nichols ##
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