The Greatest Blog In the World

Thursday, October 23, 2003


Obituary Dept.*

Wherein a Harried Fact Checker, a Copy Editor on Deadline, and the AP Newswire Meet With Predictably Wacky Results

Singer-Songwriter Elliott Smith Dead at 34

LOS ANGELES -- Elliott Smith, the critically-acclaimed singer-songwriter whose dark, folk-tinged songs from the film "Good Will Hunting" were nominated for an Academy Award, died from an apparently self-inflicted knife wound Wednesday. He was 34.

Smith was frequently referred to by the nickname "Rerun," after the character he played on the late 1970's television sitcom "What's Happening?" His trademark red beret and high-spirited, hopping-and-knee-slapping "Rerun dance" belied a lifetime struggle with drug and alcohol addiction and clinical depression. He was fired from his guest-starring role on the pioneering urban sitcom "Good Times," where he portrayed the janitor/troubadour known only as "Bookman," when he "inappropriately touched' a teenaged Janet Jackson (then a regular on the series) while in the throes of a manic episode. A subsequent blacklisting because of his addiction problems left Smith unable to find acting work until he served a stint replacing Nell Carter on "Gimme a Break" while she secretly battled her own dependency demons at a recovery facility in rural Colorado.

Close friends and associates of Smith revealed that he had recently returned to his small apartment in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles after a tumultuous marriage to the entertainer Liza Minelli disintegrated. The cancellation of a reality TV show based on their relationship put a strain on their fledgling marriage, resulting in a physical altercation in which Minelli reportedly struck Smith following one of his L.A. club dates, friends said. Smith filed divorce papers and a $10 million suit against Minelli, alleging a pattern of abuse which left him unable to record a follow-up to his critically-heralded album "Figure 8." A source close to Smith revealed that the versatile musician planned to represent himself in the legal proceedings, even claiming to have seen his rambling opening remarks on the nature of "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

Smith was found collapsed among hatboxes full of red berets and a pile of promotional photographs signed "Love, Rerun" by longtime friend and "What's Happening?" and "What's Happening Now?" co-star Haywood Nelson shortly after Smith had filed the lawsuit.

Despite the urging of this reporter, Nelson declined to offer "Hey, HEY, hey" as a comment, explaining that "passing off marginally famous sitcom characters and catchphrases as humor in a time of great sorrow is tasteless, unimaginative, and perhaps worst of all, hacky." Nelson shook his head somberly and continued, "You're probably dying to slip in a 'ghost of' joke, unless you've already managed to work in Nell Carter before this point. Or how about a pointless, nonsensical, reaching-feebly-at-surrealism-to-justify-your-parents-overpaying-for-private-school reference to Charlemagne?"

Bunsen: Oh, now, that's really unfair.

Nelson: Does the truth hurt, "funnyboy?"

Bunsen: I can totally hear the quotes around "funnyboy."

Nelson: Well, I was doing the air quotes with my fingers.

Bunsen: Fair enough.

Nelson: Maybe you'd be better off with a nice list of things based on a flimsy comic premise that goes on way too long.

Bunsen: Sounds like you read this site frequently.

Nelson: My publicist sends me clips.

Bunsen: Surely you realize that this very conversation is indulging exactly the type of imagined dialogue with a kitschy semi-celebrity that inspired your righteous anger.

Nelson: And it's not helping with your self-deprecating, meta-posturing commentary as a substitute for an original or funny thought.

Bunsen: Hey, HEY, hey.

Nelson: Stop that.

Bunsen: Hey, HEY hey.

Nelson: Fuck it. I'm off to pretend that I'm having sex with just about every halfway attractive actress in Hollywood. Oh, wait. That's you.

Bunsen: I know Harrison Ford. Harrison Ford is a friend of mine. And Haywood, you are no Harrison Ford. (A long pause) Hey HEY hey.

Nelson: This conversation is over.

[*We all mourn in our own ways, so I don't want to hear it. And people just keep on dying', you know?]

About this site

This is the internet home of Mark Lisanti, a Los Angeles writer sometimes known as Bunsen. He is the founding editor of Defamer, a weblog about Hollywood, where he now serves in the nebulous capacity of "editor-at-large."
If You Like Bunsen, Then You'll Love Bunsen