Jeremiah Healy took his life last week. He was a nice man and a good writer, specializing in PI fiction and legal thrillers (he had a legal background). We weren’t close friends but we were friendly, and because we both graduated high school in 1966 always kidded each other about being classmates. I remember at one long ago Bouchercon he took the time to converse with my son Nate, just a kid at the time, and gave him a signed book or two. He was so affable it’s hard to believe this dire news. I find it impossible to picture him without seeing him smiling. You can read a little more about it here.
Ed Gorman, who is a close friend, tells me that alcoholics who fall off the wagon after a long time sober often are victims of suicide or heart attack. I had no idea – none – that Jerry had alcohol problems or depression, either. If there’s a point here, it’s that we can never know what’s going on inside a life…even a life that seems obviously one thing, as with Jerry, who appeared so upbeat and fun whenever I saw him. He was active in the Private Eye Writers of America, and the year I won the Eye for Life Achievement was the master of ceremonies. I know Jerry’s peers are shaking their heads as much as drying their eyes over this one.
Of course this comes on the heels of Robin Williams’ suicide. I admit, meaning zero offense, that I was not a big fan of his comedy, particularly not of his stand-up. He seemed to me to be rolling over crowds with speed not wit – it was all his distinctive delivery and manic pace, because if you slowed it down nothing was very funny. Maybe there’s something in that. I have a feeling his fans – and there are many of them – will have to deal in the future with trying to find him funny knowing what his private demons were.
Now I am an admirer of much of his film work. He was a solid, sincere, gifted actor and his list of films includes any number that will be around for a long time. One that is under-appreciated is the Robert Altman-directed POPEYE. As it happens, I met Williams after a concert in San Francisco (I was attending a Bouchercon and I’ll bet Jerry Healy was too). Paul Reubens had arranged for me to see a show starring Rick and Ruby from the original Pee-Wee Herman Show. It’s possible Terry Beatty was with me, but I’m not sure why he’d be at a Bouchercon. (It’s not so much that my memory plays tricks on me as it refuses to perform.) Anyway, I was able to go backstage, and Williams was there schmoozing with a hip comedy crowd.
I was doing DICK TRACY at the time, introduced myself as such, and we had a conversation for maybe five minutes. He was low-key, very modest and gracious – a very sweet man. We talked about POPEYE, which had received something of a rough welcome from critics and audiences, and I told him how much I loved it. How cool it was that Altman had done the E.C. Segar comic strip version of POPEYE, and we agreed that this merit of the film hurt it with an audience expecting strictly the animated cartoon version. He said he was grateful to hear from someone in the comics business who “got” the film. Anyway, it was a nice, warm moment between a couple of guys in related professions. I’ve always looked back at that exchange with fondness. Now I’ll treasure it.