Charlie Rocket is dead
Oh I am so sad. I am at work at Universal Studios, and it's a rainy day. And I'm very depressed. Because Charlie Rocket is dead. I just heard today that he killed himself on Oct. 7th. He was a fellow actor in It's Pat and he became a friend.
I would see him a few times a year, he'd come to parties at my house. I always loved to be around him. I am so shocked and sad. I was thinking about the last time I saw him. I think it was coming out of some Hollywood party and we were both waiting for our cars fromthe valet. Was it at Kathy Griffin's house? A year ago? It must have been two years ago. Oh dear, how time flies.
We gave each other big hugs and stood (if I remember correctly) in the rain, (just like today) waiting. I liked how tall he was, he could engulf you in a hug. He was wearing a tweed overcoat and he looked British -- a chimney sweep -- a Dick Van Dyke with a sinister side.
He always seemed so happy. His wife, Beth, was always warm and conversational, a real glow by his side. I can hardly concentrate on work, I'm just so depressed about this. And it makes me think that maybe I didn't know him all that well, that he could have killed himself. And it makes me wish I'd spent more time around him.
We had this one big scene in the Pat movie, where his character, Kyle, tries to seduce Pat with wine and music. We laughed so hard that day, we could hardly shoot the scene. He was so hilarious in that scene, and every take he had something new and it would take me by surprise. I remember thinking it was the most enjoyable day I had ever spent on a set -- and that movie had plenty of great, memorable, funny days -- Dave Foley playing Chris and Kathy Griffin playing Pat's neighbor. Julie Hayden, a friend of mine, played Charlie Rocket's wife in the movie and they were just great together. Later, Julie got cancer at the exact same time as me. When I went for radiation, she was getting chemo and we would sit together. Once we called Charlie up from the hospital to just chat.
And now both of them are dead. Come to think of it, my brother Mike and my Dad were also in the Pat movie. For some reason this all makes me want to move back to Spokane. Like that's going to slow down time for some reason. Or that Spokane will allow me to just digest everything. Or something.
Anyway, I can't imagine what pain Charlie Rocket's family must be in at this time. I just remember laughing around him, always laughing. He was so clever and dark and his voice was soothing and disturbing at the same time. He always looked so dashing. He always seemed so genuinely happy to see me. And I always lit up around him.
There's another moment in the "It's Pat" movie where Charlie's character, Kyle, hacks the code to Pat's secret computer diary. He's so happy, he grabs a Pat doll he has in his room and kisses it on the lips saying, "We're in! We're In! We're in" as his voice gets deeper and more sexual. And then he tosses the Pat doll behind him and starts to read the diary. And it was so funny to me, his take on that. And whenever I hear those words, "I'm in, I'm in" - I think of him. And I laugh again.
Anyway... It's still pouring rain. I wish I were home. I wish I were making cookies. I want to be quilting and a fire in the fireplace. I heard around the office that the electricity was out in my neighborhood, but I just called home and they have power. But still, I feel like fleeing home, rushing in the door and just grabbing Mulan, like it's a natural disaster. Like -- yeah, she's alive. It's so weird how this is effecting me. Or maybe typical or appropriate.
Another thing about Charlie. I loved how he talked about his wife. Beth is an artist and he always spoke about her with such admiration. And they had been married for a long, long time. And I just loved that about Charlie. How much he loved his family. How he would tell funny stories about his son, Zane, and things that happened in his house with such enthusiasm. The mundane twists of everyday life were so amusing to him. Oh. I am just so sad. I've got to just go home.
My dear friend Jim Emerson, who co-wrote "It's Pat - The Movie" with me, wrote something about him for RogerEbert.com that I will reprint here.
Charles Rocket, R.I.P.
Jim Emerson / October 17, 2005
Actor, comedian and musician Charles Rocket had roles in such films as Robert Altman's "Short Cuts," Kevin Costner's Oscar-winning "Dances With Wolves" and the Farrelly Brothers' hit "Dumb and Dumber."
But the Associated Press article about his death (he apparently cut his own throat and was found October 7 in a field near his home in Connecticut) began: "Actor and comedian Charles Rocket, who had roles in a variety of movies and TV series and briefly gained notoriety for uttering an obscenity on 'Saturday Night Live,' committed suicide, the state medical examiner ruled."
AP devoted nine paragraphs to Rocket, and four of them referred to "the incident." The first line of his IMDb entry is: "Once uttered the "F" word live on "Saturday Night Live" (1975)." In some way, I think he must have known that would be the stupid piece of trivia that followed him to his grave.
It's so strange and unpredictable the way a person's "public life" can be encapsulated for mass consumption. I worked with Rocket briefly on a little "SNL" spin-off movie ("It's Pat," 1994), and he was a genuinely funny guy. (He played Kyle, the obnoxious neighbor so obsessed with the bizarre sexual "mystery" of Pat that he fell in love, not knowing or caring if Pat was a him or a her; the not-knowing both fed Kyle's fantasies and drove him crazy.)
There's a surfeit of "down time" for the actors on a set, even a low-budget, tight-scheduled studio picture like this one, and I remember one afternoon in particular that could have been dull if it hadn't been for Charlie Rocket. He kept a group of us (Julia Sweeney, Dave Foley, Kathy Griffin, among others) laughing with his stories -- including, eventually, his definitive account of the notorious "f-word" incident. He didn't do it on purpose, and didn't even remember saying it; they had to show him the playback before he was absolutely sure he'd said it. And, the record will show, he was neither the first nor the last "SNL" cast member to have made this particular mistake -- but because he was on the show in 1980-81 (with Eddie Murphy, Joe Piscopo, Gilbert Gottfried), just after the now-legendary original cast had left, the profanity struck many as a deliberate, desperate act on an unfunny, dying show. Charlie Rocket, who died at age 56, deserves better than that.
An obit in _Variety did feature a few interesting tidbits:
Rocket appeared in feature films including "Earth Girls are Easy," "Dances with Wolves," "It's Pat" and "Dumb and Dumber." His last film role was in the 2003 Sylvester StalloneSylvester Stallone film "Shade." On TV, he appeared on shows including "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," "Cybill," "Touched by an Angel" and "thirtysomething."
Rocket played accordion in many bands, performing (with Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie) on a tribute album to Fellini composer Nino Rota. And I was happy to find a personal appreciation in the Providence Phoenix. It mentions the "f-word incident" only in passing -- but it does note that the group he co-founded, the Fabulous Motels, was virtually the house band at the influential Road Island School of Design for a time in the 1970s: A news anchor job lured him to Colorado Springs, and when he later moved to Nashville, the network affiliate insisted Claverie [his real surname] was too weird a name. Picking from a number of suggested monikers, he chose "Charles Kennedy."
Then came what we all hoped would be the big break. Charlie was selected to star on Saturday Night Live for the 1980-81 season. He would anchor "Weekend Update." He would finally get the type of audience that his talent demanded and deserved. But this was the year that Lorne Michaels left in a disagreement with NBC. Jean Doumanian took over and hired some very bad writers. Charlie was stuck in the middle, trying to do his best in an increasingly untenable situation. Those who knew Charlie were not surprised to find that his best SNL moments were the "Rocket Reports," filmed skits of his own design. Before the season ended, he blurted out the f-word and was tossed off the show.
Moving to Los Angeles, Charlie appeared in dozens of films in supporting and starring roles, and
more than 50 episodes of different TV shows.
But that’s just the "Hollywood career" stuff. To his thousands of friends and fans here in Rhode Island, Charlie was the kindest and most generous type of person. We loved him without reservation, and he gave us that love back. He was a towering figure in the underground arts scene in the Providence of the 1970s. He heavily influenced Talking Heads, the Young Adults, and dozens of other bands. Those who were active then will tell you that Charles Rocket, in many ways, helped create the template for the underground/hipster/bohemian art scene here and elsewhere. We love you, Charlie. Our hearts are with Beth and Zane, and the rest of Charlie’s family and family of friends. He was our hero.