Happy Birthday, Brother
It’s human nature, I guess, but I often can’t help but wonder what Howard would be doing now, had he lived. Howard was born on May 17, 1950. So today he would have been 62 and the cold, hard fact is that it’s tough to be a boy wonder when you’re no longer a boy (I could give you a list a mile long of boy/girl wonders who hit late middle age only to flame – or worse, peter – out, but I’m being nice).
So, Howard would no longer have been a boy, or even a middle-aged wonder. And he wouldn’t have that beautiful and terrible biography that ends in his last three years. That time of illness and stunningly lyrical creativity that so intrigues people.
Howard spent three years in film and at least thirty in theater. So I’m guessing, and hoping, that he wouldn’t have left the world of live theater behind. In fact, I can’t imagine that he would have done that. Yeah, he was sore and bruised after Smile but theater was in his blood. I can’t imagine he would have stayed away forever.
I can imagine, though, that he might have stayed away from Broadway, though even that, too, is up for grabs.
I think he would have kept working in movies, too. Because he would have had the offers and he would have been excited by the possibilities and he couldn’t have said no.
But that’s the professional stuff. The life stuff is harder to guess at and more painful to think about. Howard was the only person I’ve ever known who got better with success. He actually calmed down (well, he calmed down a little). And he was particularly generous – with both the money that started to dribble and then roll in, and with his time. More importantly, at least to me, Howard was generous with his emotions.
The reason he could do those demos so believably wasn’t only that he was a great mimic – he was also empathetic. He really did, “feel your pain” and it didn’t matter if your pain was that of a Mermaid who longs for legs or, back when we were young, the pain of a kid sister who thinks she is friendless and alone. I think that was maybe his best trait, the one I appreciated and miss the most.
Howard didn’t often wear his heart on his sleeve, he could be tough and prickly as the best and worst of them, his humor could sting while it sent you rolling in the aisles. No, he didn’t wear his heart on his sleeve but those of us who knew and loved him and felt the warmth of that heart never had to look far to find it.
Professionally, I don’t know what path Howard would have chosen. But personally, I can only imagine that the warmth and humor and grace and empathy I, and those who loved him knew, would have grown and thrived with the passing years.