Sunday, October 15, 2006

R.I.P. Sid Adilman (1937-2006)

Sid Adilman, one of the most gracious gents I’ve ever had the privilege of calling a friend, passed away Saturday after a long battle with heart and kidney ailments. A long-time entertainment journalist for The Toronto Star, and one of the Great White North’s most impassioned champions of Canadian cinema, he…

Excuse me, but I think I hear Sid trying to contact me from the other side:

Sweetheart, what are you doing? You’re not going all soft and sentimental, are you? I mean, come on. "A long battle with heart and kidney ailments"? Why don’t you just go ahead and say "a valiant and courageous struggle" while I was walking on water or something? And what’s with this "Great White North" business? I wasn’t a star of SCTV, eh?

Sorry, Sid. After nearly a quarter-century of knowing you, I should know better than to write something that might fuel your prickly wit and acerbic mischievousness. That’s the way you’ve always been – equal parts Addison DeWitt and hectoring mentor – even as you opened your home and heart to me, even as you, your beautiful wife and your extraordinary sons made me feel like a member of your family for two weeks every year while I covered the Toronto Film Festival. Literally: For the past several years, I was your houseguest during the fest. And we remained in contact during the months in between each event, through phone calls and e-mails that, alas, will continue no longer.

I know you’ll accuse me of sappiness…


But I can remember the first time we met, when I covered my first Toronto Fest back in 1982, when you expressed equal measures of shock and amusement that “some kid from Texas” had come all the way to your city to cover what you affectionately called “Ca-nay-dian movies.” You made a special point of recommending all the right films – including a few that actually weren’t Canadian – and demonstrated uncommon professional courtesy while introducing me to all the right contacts. But, hey, you did even more during my first year at the Cannes Film Festival, when you took time to walk me up and down La Croisette to introduce me to every publicist I needed to know, every contact I wanted to meet.

But are you going to tell them the story about You Know Who?

Well, I wasn’t going to, but since you insist…

Sid and I permanently solidified our friendship at the ’83 Toronto Festival, when we shared an interview with a certain actress who had appeared in some classic films during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, but had deteriorated badly – mentally if not physically – due to excessive substance abuse. Very early in our shared conversation, it became painfully obvious that the poor woman was too skittish and confused – hell, too freakin’ brain-fried – to be entirely coherent. You allowed me to take command of the situation by simply reaching across the restaurant table and caressing her shaky right hand as I calmed her down by gently asking the most innocuous of questions. You took notes, but never used them. I recorded the interview, then destroyed the tape. Neither of us wrote a story, because both of us knew it would be bad form to quote the poor woman.

But, of course, the conversation was a private joke we shared for decades afterwards.

Just like we shared Neil Young, eh?

Yep. When I arrived for the 2003 festival, your health had already begun its slow and steady downward spiral. You’d already quit working for the Star on a full-time basis and, truth to tell, even your family feared you no longer were your chipper and scintillating self.

Chipper? Moi?

Well, you did seem pretty damn morose as you moped around the house. So, naturally, the first thing I did when I hit Toronto was take you to a rock concert. Thanks to Jeff Dowd, the real Big Lebowski, I was able to score great seats for the concert Neil Young gave during the first weekend of the festival. (Did I blow off movies screened that night? Sure. Life is short, and one must set priorities.) And even though you needed a wheelchair to traverse some of the concert site, you had a great time once you were able to sit down and let Young work his magic. Rejuvenating magic, actually. Because just a few days later, I saw you wandering around the hotel that served as the festival’s headquarters.

With a cane, sweetheart, remember?

Sure. But the important thing was, you were up and around again – much to the delight of your family and friends. So right before I left that year, I gave you a couple of Neil Young CDs. And right before I took the cab from your house to the airport, I told you: “Look, man, you’re going to go through all kinds of treatments and take all sorts of medications to get through this. And there are going to be times when you get down again, get morose again, and you’re going to want to quit. So whenever you feel that way, I want you to play one of these CDs really fucking loud and get over it. Because, that way, if Death knocks at the door, you won’t hear him.” You laughed so loud that I feared you might have a heart attack then and there. But you didn’t. In fact, you recovered to such a degree that, at the 2004 festival, you were around and about, reviewing films and interviewing filmmakers for the Star, and giving me insider tips about what movies to see. Thank God for the healing powers of Neil Young, eh?

And keep rockin’ in the free world.

I have many acquaintances, but very few friends. And it greatly pains me right now to know I have lost a friend who gave me much more than I could ever repay. On the other hand, I am immensely grateful that I had him as a friend for as long as I did. Because, after all, no one belongs to you. You only get to borrow them for a while.

And I leave you, blog readers, with this: I had planned to see Sid again a few weeks ago at the 2006 Toronto Film Festival. Indeed, he had, as usual, extended another invitation to stay in his home during the event. But I wound up having to decline his offer, because – for various reasons – I couldn’t make it to Toronto this year. I had intended to call him to get an after-the-fact report on the festivities but – well, one thing came up, then another, and I never got around to making the call. And then I got a call last night with the bad news. So please: Take this as an object lesson. There may be someone in your life you really should call – not tomorrow, not next week, but right now – because you won’t get a second chance. I was lucky in this respect: Throughout the years, every time we’ve talked, I’ve always remembered to tell Sid how much I love him, how grateful I am for what he’s done for me as a friend and colleague.

Oh, puh-leeze, sweetheart.

Hush, Sid, I’m not talking to you.

Anyway: I’m just upset that I wasn’t able to tell him how much he meant to me one more time. One last time.

Don’t make my mistake, eh?


ThinMe said...

Darn it, Joe, this made me cry and I didn't even know the man.
I am so sorry for your loss.

Anonymous said...

Everyone is touched by what you wrote, Joe. Thank you.