It's hard to say how sad it makes me to learn of the death of my first favorite comedian.
I wrote this fan letter to him five years ago, but was either too proud to chance it being just another in the stack, or just too shy to send it. Yep. I can be shy.
Condolences to all of his fans, and those who loved him.
November 22, 2009
Dear Mr. Williams,
I have asked my friend XXX to deliver this to you, and hope this finds you and yours well this Thanksgiving week.
I write as a sort of debt-to-society-in-abstract. I have rewritten this letter in my head every year or so for the last decade (give or take a year), and think it best to put one neurotic regret to rest.
One of the last conversations I recall clearly with my late father was his simple declarative statement when watching your work on the post 9-11 show you gave in New York. He said, “I worked him.” (Musicians slang for, “I was in the band behind him.") Dad played at Harrah’s for 25 years, and until then I'd somehow not recalled his claim that apparently you played there sometimes in the early 1980s.
My dad had been friends with Lenny Bruce in LA & Las Vegas, and apparently knew Lenny’s mom quite well. I write because the first time I heard Lenny’s name was not from dad or from hearing Mr. Bruce on an LP, but instead from hearing you utter his name in a sentence I couldn’t possibly have understood at age twelve: “And when Lenny played at the Dunes, he did.” (At least, that’s my recollection of your line, thirty years later.)
The line was on Reality, What a Concept, an album that two friends and I memorized (complete with errors, no doubt) and would quote from, often when bored in algebra class. As every reasonably bright child has a first book that grabs them, some of us have another work of art that grabs us, and your album of was, for better or worse, that to me. It was an opening into the world outside the terribly provincial town of South Lake Tahoe (it’s like Marin, but higher, and without the wealth or books or much anything than physical beauty), replete with references to men and places I’d never heard of, but with enough of the familiar to let me know that the world I was growing into awaited me, and there were people who found things funny the way I found things funny.
So you were my first intellectual hero. When younger, I wrote a couple of fawning letters to a few men I admired, but I think this is different in that I seek nothing other than the chance to say thank you for your work, and to wish you health and happiness.
What more could one possibly wish for another?
Kevin A. Madden