Yesterday, we all got the sad news that Ryan Dunn died.
I should tell you that prior to yesterday, I didn't know who he was. Bam Magera and Steve-O I knew, but all of that Jackass stuff? I could never stomach it. Could not watch it. While I saw a few pieces of the shows when it was first on, that was it.
What struck me was how young Ryan was. We are, were, the same age. Being obsessed with all things celebrity I got right on TMZ. Hours before he killed himself and a friend in his Porsche, he tweeted a photo of himself drinking.
Most of us are a little guilty of that. Just a few weeks ago I was at my girl Jules' birthday having fun, drinking, posting our photos on Facebook. The difference though? I was not getting into a car to drive myself home. And I was not getting into the car with someone who had been drinking more than they should have. Looking at the photos of the twisted wreckage took my breath away. How could that have been a car.
Brought me right back to junior year of high school. 1994. Drivers Ed. The Book of the Dead.
In high school we had a drivers ed teacher named Mr. Aubin. He was the kind of teacher kids thought they could walk all over, and sometimes it sure seemed like they could. Years later, I think he really did know what he was doing. He was not oblivious to what was going on. He might let you think so, but he was going to get his most important points across. Surely it worked because 17 years out of drivers ed I really only remember 2 things. How the thought of a 'clover leaf interchange' frightened me...and the Book of the Dead.
Mr. Aubin kept a book he made himself, and frequently added to. If I remember right it not only contained local stories about those killed drunk driving, it also included celebrities who lost their lives before their time due to drugs, alcohol and otherwise being reckless. I will never forget him opening the pages in front of the class.
"River Phoenix. Book of the Dead."
Powerful stuff then. It was just a few months before we started drivers ed. October 31, 1993. River Phoenix died outside the Viper Room. Overdose. And there he was. In the book. He may not have died in an auto accident, but it was still such a waste of talent. A waste of such a young life. 23 years was all he had and it was over like that.
A celebrity death would not hit me that hard again until 2008 - Heath Ledger. He was by far my favorite actor. I had seen nearly everything he was ever in. Accidental overdose at 28. So incredibly sad. I found myself listening to one of my favorite old Natalie Merchant Cd's Tigerlilly some time after that. She wrote a song for that album 'River'. It was about River Phoenix, but could just have easily been about Heath Ledger now.
That song immediately came to mind yesterday - along with the Book of the Dead. The speculation, the finger pointing... Roger Ebert firing off a statement. Bam Magera firing back. It's all just horrible. Drinking and driving. Ryan made a poor choice to get in that car. And that's all it took. One decision. And he not only ended his own life, but that of his friend. I don't know if Mr. Aubin is still teaching drivers ed all these years later, but I picture him adding Ryan Dunn and standing up in front of a class of high school kids.
Ryan Dunn. Book of the Dead.