There was a time in this country when Dudley Moore was en fuego.
For a few years beginning in the late 70s, the multi-talented Moore was one of the biggest comic box office draws, as well as an acclaimed concert pianist, performing at some of the world’s most prestigious venues.
The diminutive (5’ 2”) Moore was born in 1935 in working-class London and first came to prominence in the early 60s in a ribald pub-circuit comedy team called Beyond the Fringe. He later teamed up with fellow Fringer Peter Cook to form one of the UK’s most popular comedy teams.
After Cook’s drinking ended the partnership (but not the friendship), Moore came to the States where in 1978 he first commanded the attention of American audiences playing a hilarious would-be “ladies’ man” in Foul Play.
The following year, Moore became the envy of short guys everywhere after he bedded Bo Derek in the film 10, earning the tabloid nickname “Sex Thimble” in the process.
In 1981, Moore was hysterical in the original Arthur, playing a drunken middle-aged womanizer who has to decide which he loves more – Liza Minnelli or his family’s fortune. His performance earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
This would prove to be his high point in Hollywood as poor role choices eventually ended his career with a whimper, and not a roar.
He continued to play the piano publicly and to score movies for several years before noticing that his fingers were losing their muscle memory, and he was having trouble remembering lines.
He had become famous playing boozers, and now many feared that Moore had a drinking problem of his own. Instead, he had developed a rare degenerative brain disease called PSP, which would claim his life on March 27, 2002.
Nearly a decade before his passing, I received a letter from Dudley Moore.
I had written him, along with hundreds of other famous people, to ask about his beliefs on the afterlife. My motivation was curiosity, coupled with the desire to eventually write a book on the subject called After California.
Here is what I found in my mailbox in the Fall of 1993:
Dear Mr. Stephens,
Many thanks for your letter of September 3rd, 1993.
I only have a couple of things to say about death … or as you say more specifically, “what happens after death.” They are as follows:
I think the afterlife is non-existent. I think what happens to us is that we fade away rather like flowers that bloom and die … and I have no concept at all of an afterlife. I don’t believe in one, but rather NOW is life and death together. There is nothing more. It is tempting to believe in something after death, but I don’t think anything happens. God, I wish it were so(!), but I’m afraid that …
Hope this response helps you in your search for people’s views on death.
All the best, Dudley Moore
At the time of his letter, Moore was currently in the news, unfortunately not because of a career comeback, but for marital problems with his fourth wife. This may have contributed to the somewhat melancholy tone of his epistle.
I’ve always imagined that he wrote this letter in the middle of the night, when the big questions are more apt to take center stage in our minds. He obviously put a lot of thought into it, and graciously took time away from his many other pursuits to write a letter to a total stranger that revealed both his honesty and vulnerability. Because of this, I have always held a special place in my heart for Dudley Moore.
Moore may not have believed in an afterlife, but his beloved Arthur character will be reborn next month when a refashioned version of the film debuts on April 8.
And Dudley, wherever you are, we wish you all the best.