My nephew found himself with some free time during a business trip in London the other day, so he stopped in to Highgate Cemetery, snapped a photo of Douglas Adams’ snow-draped tombstone, and then fired it off to my email address. (Sometimes family and the Internet can be so cool!)
The photo came at a good time, because I’ve been missing Douglas Adams a lot lately. I usually do this time of year when I mentally “auld lang syne” the heroes from my youth who have moved on.
Adams, who died suddenly of a heart attack at a gym in Montecito in 2001, is most famous for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, a hilarious six-book science-fiction “trilogy.” The story is centered around the character Arthur Dent who escapes the planet Earth along with his alien friend Ford Prefect moments before the planet is demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass. My teenaged stepson now shares my Adams addiction, ever since we started listening to recordings of the Hitchhiker’s BBC radio shows on the way to his school every morning.
I usually read the entire Hitchhiker’s series every year of two to re-calcify my funnybone. This year I’ve added And Another Thing … to the list, which is the latest offering in the series, penned last year by Eoin Colfer, the creator of the fantastic Artemis Fowl books. Although critics have claimed that the Colfer book is “almost, but not quite, entirely unlike Douglas Adams,” I have thoroughly enjoyed it so far.
I was lucky to meet the great man once back in October 1992. It was at a book signing at Book Soup in West Hollywood on the Sunset Strip. I got to the store early and was able to secure a seat right next to the podium. Adams arrived late (he always had an aversion to deadlines) and read from one of the Hitchhiker’s Guide books, acting out all of the voices as he read along. We all ate it up. When he went to read from his book Last Chance To See – a rare bit of non-fiction he wrote about vanishing species – the store had none in stock. I gladly offered him my copy, which I had brought along for him to sign. I remember he flipped through it and said, “Wow, it’s marked up!” commenting on my habit of making notes in books. Afterwards, he pulled me to the front of the line where he shook my hand, signed my copy, and stamped a bright red “42” on the front (the answer to the question of “Life, the Universe, and Everything”).
A couple of months ago I got the chance to host my own signing at the same venue for my book Early Warner Bros. Studios, which I co-wrote with Hollywood historian Marc Wanamaker. It was weird standing at the same podium where Adams had once voiced the part of Marvin, the Paranoid Android to all of us nerdy fans all those years ago. The unworthiness I felt reminded me of Adams’ computer Deep Thought’s comments about a superior machine: “A computer whose operational parameters I am not worthy to calculate.”
I heard once that if you want to change your life, you must first change your heroes. A couple decades ago my life changed for the better, becoming a lot funnier in the process, when I first discovered Douglas Adams. The laughs ended far too soon.
I’m not bringing you down, am I?