Saturday, November 24, 2012

Requiescat in Pace, Mr. Hagman

So, Larry Hagman died yesterday--81 years old.  Guy was an ex-smoker, struggled a lifetime with alcohol, and even underwent a liver transplant almost twenty years ago, and still made it to 81.  That's pretty impressive.

Now we won't get into the "should hard-drinking folks get liver transplants when there are plenty of people out there in need of organs who didn't booze themselves into cirrhosis?" argument.  Maybe another day.  I'm here to talk about why I absolutely hated Larry Hagman for years (I mean HATED),  and why it's so strange to find myself mourning him now.

I started smoking at the age of 11.  Not really smoking, mind you--I didn't inhale.  That came when I was 14 years old--a boy I liked offered me ten bucks to actually inhale.  I both needed the cash AND wanted to impress the boy (who went on to break into my best friend's car and steal her stereo . . . dang), so I did it.  After that?

It was all over the  but the weepin' and the wailin'.

I smoked for another 26 years.  No pussyfooting around, no quailing, self-hating smoker bull.  No, I smoked 2 1/2-3 packs a day, loud and proud.  I never was one to half-ass anything.  Not even self-murder.

When I was in college (where, at times, I came dangerously close to FOUR packs a day during mad cramming sessions at Village Inn), I first learned of "The Great American Smoke-out" and Larry Hagman's enthusiastic involvement, I was pissed.  I was angry almost beyond words. 

How dare they?  Where do they get off targeting me and mine?  Get off my back, my smoking's not hurting anyone, and besides, your research is flawed, this study didn't control for this, that study didn't control for that, and besides, my Grandpa lived to be 89 and smoked from the age of 10, blah, blah, blah! 


Oh, I was a bitter, bitter woman.  In the finest tradition of cutting off my own nose to spite my face, I made a special effort to smoke as much as humanly possible on "Smoke-out" days.  Yeah!  I sure showed them, didn't I?


Anyway, you get the point--I was an idiot, and I was very angry at Larry Hagman for wanting to help me not die prematurely.  I pointed fingers at his own past as a smoker (Oh, he got HIS, but now he wants to complain about MINE), his alcoholism (Yeah, Mr. Hagman--you can be a lush, but you're going to hassle me about being a smoker--at least my smoking doesn't cause car accidents, huh?), and anything else I could find in hopes that impeaching the spokesman would neutralize the message.

What a dolt I was, huh?

The funny thing?  I quit smoking 7 years ago next month.  Never been gladder of anything except the birth of my son.  Yet my anti-Hagman feelings never went away.  That grudge held, even though I completely understand now why he spoke up, and the good he was trying to accomplish.  I still found myself edgy and disdainful when I'd see his face on my TV or his name in print.  It wasn't until last night, after I read he'd died, that I went out on the web and dug up Mr. Hagman's biography.  Guess what?

He was kind of a cool guy.  His politics?  I'd always imagined him politically conservative because--well, because that's what we do, right?  If we don't like someone, we ascribe feelings and positions to them that better pigeonhole them in the "I don't like him" category.  But it turns out he wasn't a "winger."  In fact, he spoke quite strongly against G.W. Bush.  He was a huge proponent of alternative energy and conservation.  He was married to the same woman for almost 60 years.  In Hollywood!

He dropped acid and smoked weed.

Holy cow!  I didn't know anything about him, did I?  He didn't like smoking, he tried to inspire folks to quit, and from that, from my angry, fear-biter/addict perspective, that was enough to make him a monster.  An awful guy who wasn't in any way anything like me or anything I might admire. 

I'm not proud.  No, in fact, I'm embarrassed.  I know, it's human nature, it's what we do, but that doesn't make me happy.  Not only was Mr. Hagman right about smoking, but the rest of it had no bearing.  I'm constantly telling my son that someone else's bad behavior doesn't excuse or mitigate your own.  So Mr. Hagman drank too much--doesn't change the fact that MY smoking was horrid.  So Mr. Hagman had smoked himself--wasn't I the one always complaining when people refuse to benefit from my experience, choosing instead to disregard me and rush out there to screw up on their own? 

I think I've learned something here.  I really do.  In fact, I think I've learned a whole bucket of lessons here.  I feel bad.  I feel like I missed out on liking a pretty cool guy.  I'm wondering how many other people and things I've shuffled off into the "no, you suck" pile when they actually have a lot to offer?

I'm sorry, Mr. Hagman.  Larry.  I was wrong, you were right, and, while you weren't perfect, who is?  If we all sit around waiting for the perfect messenger, we'll be waiting forever.

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