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Looking Closer Into The Past

By Jocelyn Geboy in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 12, 2006 6:23PM


After we posted about our little ditty about finding out that Del Close's skull never really ended up at the Goodman like he had requested, we got an interesting comment from someone who knew Del and Charna. Jay Friedheim (who now lives in Hawaii, and apparently is running for Congress?), told us he had a picture of himself, Del, some friends and Timothy Leary all hanging out in Del's apartment. We thought that was a piece of Chicago history and asked if he would send it on.

He did, and through some emails and his comment, shared some history from that time:

"I have a picture that was taken at the apartment behind the Earl back in about 1982. This was the night I introduced Del to Tim Leary. Tim is also gone but not forgotten.

I lived with Del in the early 1980's behind the Earl of Old Town on Wells street across from the Second City Theater. I started sharing his apartment about a year after the Blues Brothers Movie was filmed. At the time, I had a job at the Demonstrators Association of Illinois. A remarkable place, if you are not familiar with it. It is the facility that bodies are brought to when a person donates their body to science and the body is to be used in medical schools. My job was to embalm the bodies and to take their brains out with the cranial nerves intact.

More about Jay and Del's plans after the jump...

Photo from Jay Friedheim -- from l to r: Jay Friedheim, Del Close, Justin Pomeroy, Cindy (?), and Timothy Leary

"This was when Del started to talk about wanting to have his head used to play Yorick in Hamlet performances. I took Del down to the Demonstrator's Association by Taylor Street and I showed Del how I did what I did and what would have to be done to accomplish this.

As part of the effort to get Del's skull on stage, I even went to Manhattan, Kansas, and spent the day with Del's mother who would have had the final say had she still been alive, because I wanted to make sure that she was okay with it. That afternoon was an amazing experience, having tea with her and talking about Del and what he wanted me to do and why. She was okay with it. At one point she said, "Oh, that is so Del!".

Del and I stayed in contact over the phone and regularly he reminded me of my commitment, a promise, in fact, that I would do this for him. Del was absolutely commitied to this plan of action. Del called me a couple of weeks before he died and told me to be ready, he made a lot of jokes about how he would have taken better care of himself if he had thought that he was going to live this long. He said that the arrangements for my getting to his body were in place.

I think that the focus on the "joke" aspect of most of the coverage of Del's plan misses the point that Del seemed to care the most about. I believe that for Del it was about a sense of immortality, living on after death in your work, your deeds, your craft.

When I was told Del had died, I flew out to Chicago with my tools ready to do as I had promised my friend. When I arrived, I went to Aaron Freeman's house, contacted Charna and she told me she had already had him cremated. The rest of the story has been clouded with a lot of illusion. But what I had agreed to do for Del was not a stunt. It was not a joke, though we thought it had an independent basis that was kind of funny. That we failed to accomplish his goal which I know was a noble endeavor is quite tragic. Not only is there the personal sense of failure in my commitment to my dear friend, but Del lost something more than just the use of his skull in the theater."

And he also leaves some words of wisdom:
"Please be kind to Charna. When our loved ones die, people do the strangest things. No one deserves to be judged by what they do in their most difficult moments, but alas it is what each of us is judged for. Cynicism is easy, forgiveness is hard and comedy is the most difficult of all to accomplish."

Quotes compiled from e-mail correspondence and comment on previous post.