The most jarring experiences that I remember from my youth were the early morning phone calls. I would hear my father scurrying to get the phone. I would shut my eyes tight, knowing that it couldn't be good news. I'd hear a muffled "Oh no...," followed by a "When did it happen?" The Grim Reaper visited our house riding not a black steed, but the wings of Pacific Bell and always at early dawn.
It's different today. In an age where your online friends teeter at the 1,000 mark, death comes in the ether -- in the guise of an unanswered post or in a tersely-worded instant message: "Did you hear that Chris has died?"
Chris Jackson was more than an online friend. He was a confidant, a comrade in arms and an example. He was both political and apolitical -- an archetype of the actor who pays it forward. His sudden death left me in shock, strangely experienced in the one-dimensional ether that is the internet. I felt that the void had a new void. Never again would I be able to comment on his political posts, or plan on meeting him for Shabbat (he had an affinity and love for Rabbi David Baron of the Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills).
We would never again gossip about the celebrities who joined us in our fight for the motion picture industry's elderly. We would never have that oft-planned and more often canceled lunch with our "third amigo," Fred Zaidman. We would never do anything, except write about how extraordinary this man was, as I feel him next to me now.
Chris was a big dude. We would sit together at the Saban Theatre during the annual Gospel Shabbat -- our asses barely fitting in the seats and our bellys nudged together. We'd look at each other and laugh. He was always laughing. He had the unusual looks of a man totally without hair. If you remember the King Pin from Spider-Man comics -- that was Chris. His figure was more clock than hourglass, he was boxy but springy, he moved quickly, and his smile competed with any light source in the room.
And he was funny. Eddie Murphy recognized his talent at an early age when Chris made an appearance in the movie "Harlem Nights" and gave him his break by bringing him out on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show."
Chris was part of the writing team for "Men in Black II," both "Rush Hour" films and "The Original Kings of Comedy." His impressive girth and visage made an impact in movies like "Men of a Certain Age," "Hollywood Shuffle," "National Lampoon's Vacation," "Police Academy 2," "Ghostbusters" and "A Kiss Goodnight."
What you might not find on IMDb or in the trades was Chris' huge capacity for charity. He was always working to elevate the underdog. That is about as basic and generic as I can get without listing the numerous programs and charities that he was involved with. He was a philanthropist of the heart, and gave when others advised him he had no more to give. Chris reminds me of this quote from Martin Luther King:
"True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring".
That was what Chris Jackson was about. He wanted to cure the ailment, and not just put a salve on the symptom. Chris got down to the nitty grittym and when he put his mind to something, he took no prisoners. Chris was political, but not in a disarming way. He understood the political landscape, and he was used as an advance man by Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Boxer, Al Gore and others. Chris was an offensive tackle who knew the art of defense.
Chris, what the hell are we going to do without you?
Chris was with us when we rallied for elder-care rights. I remember at a nighttime rally, I couldn't look away from him. Not to sound even remotely racist -- but the dude's eyes shown in the dark like the headlights of an oncoming Mack Truck. He was dark like obsidian, his head polished like a mirror, and his eyes focused on you like high beams. They could be seen for miles. They were a beacon, they were The Light.
He was also a guy you didn't mess with. Warner Bros. tried, and it got bitch-slapped in court. Well done, Chris. You not only walked the walk, you talked the talk. I can hear his voice, right now -- his fast, almost gurgling tone, like rapids made of maple syrup, telling me "Don't stop, tell them about this, and this, and this." I wish I could Chris. There's so much more to you than these words express.
If you'd like to leave a condolence message, please do so here.
If you believe in God, please say a prayer for Chris. If you don't, please donate to a cause that uplifts the underdog, or give a homeless guy a sandwich, or open the door for someone.
I'm sorry that you, Fred and I never got together for that corned beef on rye at Canter's Deli. Maybe in another life, my friend. I love you, bro.