My wife, Sunni, and I have had the great pleasure of getting to know Dan O’Bannon and his wife, Diane, and their son Adam. The first time we met was at the Egyptian Theatre showing of Return of the Living Dead. Sunni and I were in the middle of the theatre, and had a blast watching the movie on the big screen (which she had never done). Unbeknownst to us, the actor that played the Tar Man was sitting directly behind Sunni!
After the showing, there was a Q&A with the cast and crew. It was excellent, and O’Bannon was in fine form. After the Q&A, people were allowed to get autographs. We went up with a copy of the Tartan re-issue of ROTLD and had everyone sign it. As I was chatting with Dan, I mentioned that I was doing a film about Forrest J Ackerman, and wanted to know if he’d be interested in being a part of it. He looked at me a second, smiled, and said “Why not?”
It was the start of an intense relationship that lasted until his premature passing last night. In that interval, we became great friends: he was a mentor to my writing aspirations, a confidante, a supporter (along with Diane, I might add) of our films (Charles Beaumont: The Short Life of Twilight Zone’s Magic Man; The AckerMonster Chronicles; Image, Reflection, Shadow: Artists of the Fantastic) and someone whose thoughts and advice I not only admired, but cherished as well. I know that the love and feelings were mutual.
Earlier this year, Dan was the recipient of the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival “Howie” Award, something that meant a great deal to him. I am so glad that we got to see him that night, as always, but now it’s bittersweet: no one thought it would be the last time that we would see one another. We were planning a script together (that I am determined to finish), and he let me have a copy of a book of his that he had been working on for 20 years. Not only that, but I wound up writing an article for the magazine that I am the Managing Editor/Art Director for (Dark Discoveries), detailing some of his upcoming projects. He was also a key contributor to my first anthology (co-edited with William F. Nolan): The Bleeding Edge. His piece, an excerpt of his screenplay “Omnivore” is one of the best in the book. I know that he was excited about the being involved, and in the last talk we had on the phone (a very warm and wide-ranging discussion about both of our plans going forward, just like always) he was extremely enthused to be a part of his first book signing.
Now, suddenly, he is gone: Sunni and I have had bouts of sadness and weeping off and on for the past 12 hours or so. I got calls and e-mails from friends all over the world. It has been hard (for everyone). I dreamt of Dan, and the times that we went into his little alcove in his house in L.A. and talked story, Lovecraft, movies. O’Bannon was a brilliant intellectual and scholar, and I learned a lot from him. My personal writing mentors have been O’Bannon, Matheson, Johnson, Nolan and Bradbury. I am lucky, and I know it. I value and respect my good fortune. Sunni does as well. We love Dan, Diane and Adam. They will all always be a part of our family. The last couple of years were tough for Dan physically, but his mind was always sharp as a razor. His passion was still there. His creativity never flagged. He was just getting a much-needed second wind in his career when Fate snapped off the lights. I can’t forgive Fate for doing that, just as I can’t forgive the same process for taking my father away at 62. Too young. Too young.
Diane said on the phone that he was out of pain now, and for that — and that alone — I am grateful. But as I replied to her, I wish that we could have him here, wave a wand, and have him without pain. Sometimes the world sucks: this is one of those times. We are all in shock and deeply, profoundly saddened. Things will never be the same without Dan here.
Dan, we love you, and will always do what we can to further your legacy and support Diane and Adam.
–Sunni and Jason