With the sudden passing of John Heard this weekend, I felt compelled to write a few lines about one of the finest American actors to have graced us with his talent.
My first memory of John Heard was staying up late one night to watch a film called Heart Beat. Heard played the writer Jack Kerouac. It was my first exposure to Kerouac. Up to that point, my general understanding of the Beat generation had been Maynard G. Krebs on Dobie Gillis and Dick Miller's Walter Paisley in Corman's Bucket of Blood. I remember Heard's Kerouac sitting a hallway with a huge roll of paper typing furiously because the words had to come out. I recall wanting that kind of passion. The need to do something so intensely the world around me simply ceased to exist. Sadly, I have to pluck the words out of my head; I have a passion for words although the always seem to fail me.
Not long after that, my Dad took the fam to see the remake of Cat People. Now, that movie made an indelible impression on me for about ten thousand reasons. But, among those reasons was the fine work of John Heard. I didn't see one of his finest films, Cutter's Way, however, until about a year after I saw the film C.H.U.D. But, what a stunning performance (and not just from Heard...the entire cast of Cutter's Way was brilliant).
Then, one night I saw this trailer and knew I had to see this film.
And see it I did - and, it was a trip to the movies I'll not soon forget. I'm sure those of you who read this blog with any regularity understand I cut certain films a lot of slack. But, when I was in high school, my ability to be critical of any film was, let us say, under developed. So, when I sat my butt down in the theater with a couple of chums (I seem to recall John and Rich, but, in my old age I hate to admit there may have been others and I've simply forgotten) I was "all in" for this movie.
As you may have discerned, living in the bowels of New York City are...Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers. In this mix we have Heard's character - George Cooper, who was once one of the top fashion photographers in the business and has turned his back on the money to pursue something of more value...documenting the homeless of New York City, called "Undergrounders" by many. However, a large number of these people are starting to go missing and this concerns A.J. "The Reverend" Shepherd, played wonderfully by Daniel Stern, who runs a homeless shelter and soup kitchen.
Now...from the opening scene of this movie I was all in (like I do). My buddies...not so much. And, like an early 80s version of MST3K, they began riffing (brilliantly I might add) on the movie...loudly. Of course, it wasn't like the theater was crowed but 1. I actually wanted to watch the movie, and 2. they were being loud enough that I became a bit concerned, since the other members of the audience were not as entertained by the riffs as John and Rich were, that we were going to get tossed from the movie. In that instance, it was going to be highly unlikely I was going to get to see the film that week because I had used the better part of my allowance that week for the new copy of Fango...so I was was mostly broke by the time we got to the movies.
I seem to recall changing seats so, in the event they got kicked out, I could still see the end of the picture (because walking home was not a big deal - Cape Girardeau was a moderately safe town then. Even the part I lived in. Although I recall being told by a former classmate the street West End Blvd only existed so "my kind of people" knew what part of town to stay in. Yeah - a lot of respect for that town *wink*.
So, although, as I've mentioned, I recall a number of brilliant Heard performances, that night in my youth, it was his performance in C.H.U.D. that has resonated.
But, I have to mention the stellar cast of this film. Including Heard, it stars Daniel Stern and features John Goodman, Jay Thomas, Sam McMurray and even has former Home Improvement star Patricia Richardson. I mean, let that sink in for a moment.
Of course, he went on to be a staple in film and television and was always spot on. I won't lie though, I was distressed to see him in a Sharknado picture. But, even in the flick, he was all in. John Heard never balked.
I have to mention, if you have the early 2000s DVD, not only should you watch the movie, but, be certain to listen to the commentary. One of the funniest, and clearly alcohol
fueled commentaries I've ever listened to.
I'm sad to see him go...and I'm sadder still to have lived long enough to watch much of my youth die away. It puts things in perspective and reminds you that the clock is ticking. It always has been, but, sometimes you just need a reminder.
In any event - thank you Mr. Heard for all your work - thank you for teaching me about Jack Kerouac and about cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers. And - thanks to my friends for making that trip to the theater one I'll always remember (mostly).
Miss you Pops