Oct 21 2013

Paul Williams

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Friendship, The Right Stuff

I NEED TO CALL EDDIE BACK

I NEED TO CALL EDDIE BACK

“I need to call Eddie back.” I remember having that distinct thought the last time he left a message a few weeks ago. Ed Lauter was a close friend, but I was up to my ears in work. We’d been pals for almost forty years so I knew he’d understand if I didn’t get back to him for a day or two.

Returning his call was soon forgotten and a day or two turned into ‘never’. Eddie passed away last week. Some form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. Only Eddie had never lived or worked in that kind of an environment. He leaves us with that mystery.

All this I learned second hand from his grieving wife Mia. We had a long tearful conversation the day after he died. I didn’t know he’d been ill. Almost no one did. He wanted it that way. A courageous soul.

Knowing Eddie, I’d guess he had a second motive in keeping his secret. News that he was sick might cost him a job and he loved his work. Ed Lauter was an actor. He was a wonderful actor and while you may not have known his name I’d bet you recognize his face. I tweeted that ‘you knew his face. I knew his heart. ‘ It was large and full of love. He loved my music and his favorite song always made him cry. I’d sing Rainbow Connection and when that predictable first tear rolled down his cheek we’d both laugh. “There I go again,” he’d say. His sentimental heart always wide open.

Ed was a character actor. A great villain, totally believable cowboy or gangster. Beyond versatile, he’d have been at home in the forties at Warner Brothers alongside Cagney, Bogart and Pat O’Brien. Hollywood’s golden age was a time when character actors were stars too. I remember their names but most people won’t. Actors like Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet were highly regarded, well respected and well paid.

Ed was the first two. I think in the world of film we operate in today it’s a very different scenario. Union scale plus ten percent for agency fees is common among supporting actors who are often far more talented than the names above the title. He never complained.

Eddie loved his work. Probably best known as Captain Knauer, the brutal prison guard in “The Longest Yard’ he can be seen in hundreds of film and television performances. Most recently in The Artist and Sea Biscuit.

For five decades he remained excited about acting. Usually smaller roles but stamped with his indelible humor and talent. In a recent blog I described Jim Henson as having ‘the elegance of kindness’. The description fits Ed Lauter as well.

‘”I need to call Eddie back.’” Only it’s too late.

There’s a big lesson for me here. A calendar filled with meetings, delivery dates and travel has had a tendency to push family and friends into smaller corners of my life. I’m ashamed to admit that. I’m going to fix it. ‘Something Needs To Change and It’s Probably Me!’ is the first affirmation in ‘Gratitude and Trust, Recovery Is Not Just For Addicts’, the book Tracey and I are writing. I need to listen to our own advice.

Work, career, ambition and life’s big attention getters, finance and romance keep us focused on specific goals but, we need to be cautious. Look around. Who are you leaving behind? What magnificent human asset have you begun to ignore.

Because we have no greater asset than the friends and family we know and love. Forty years of kindness, consideration and loyal friendship on Ed Lauters part deserved better from his pal Paulie. It’s how his messages always began. “Paulie! Edward Mathew Lauter. How’s Paulie?”

I’ll miss those calls. And I promise you I’ve learned a sad lesson. I hope I never take a loved one for granted again. At least I’ll try not to. I’ll make that part of my daily inventory before sleep. Who did I shortchange today? Who needs to hear from me first thing tomorrow? If I do that on a daily basis my world will spin a little sweeter and I will live my life lovingly in gratitude and trust.

For Ed Lauter. You should have known him.

Paul Williams

Paul Williams is a singer, songwriter, actor, recovery advocate and has been a fixture on the American cultural scene since the seventies. His book Gratitude and Trust is now available.