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More Del

 

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I’ve been thinking about Del Close a lot recently. This was the week he died back in 1999, and also the week he was born (in 1934). Also, ironically, this is the time of year that some of his prominent students passed away as well, students like John Belushi, John Candy, and, now, Harold Ramis.

But I’d rather dwell on his life and what he accomplished while he was with us. One of his accomplishments was a role in Ferris Buehler’s Day Off, where he portrayed Mia Sara’s teacher. The day he filmed this, he showed up at Crosscurrents, where we were then taking classes and performing The Harold, and told us about his day. He also told us “I snuck in a little commercial for us, in John Hughes’ big blockbuster comedy.” And he told us where to look for it when the film came out.

Sure enough, we were still performing Harolds about a year later when the movie opened. And, just as Del had promised, if you look on the blackboard, he left us a little commercial just above the word “prison.”

 

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Happy Birthday Del

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 It was 80 years ago, March 9, 1934, that Del Close was born in Manhattan, Kansas. During the nearly 65 years he was with us, he taught us, directed us, appalled and entertained us, amazed and enraged us, enlightened us, and, most of all, made the world a better place for his having been here.

Del could be a walking contradiction, capable of surprising even those closest to him. He was a contrarian, a philosophy that informed much of his work and his life. He was also one of the few true geniuses I’ve ever known, with the ability to process information and observations and present them in new ways.

His life story has taken on legendary proportions, in part because Del believed that legends were often more truthful than facts. He was traveled the country with Dr. Dracula’s Den of Living Nightmares, knew L. Ron Hubbard before Scientology, appeared in The Blob remake, cavorted with the Merry Pranksters, used aversion therapy to recover from alcoholism, kicked a cocaine habit with the help of a coven of witches, became a very talented stage and film actor, helped to develop and became the greatest champion of long form improvisation, and bequeathed his skull to the Goodman Theatre for their productions of Hamlet.

Del directed John Belushi, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, John Candy, Chris Farley, Tina Fey, Mike Myers, Amy Poehler, Stephen Colbert, and many others. He was co-creator of the Harold, director for Second City, San Francisco’s The Committee, and the ImprovOlympic (now iO), and “house metaphysician” for Saturday Night Live. His students went on to found the Groundlings in Los Angeles, the Upright Citizens Brigade in both New York and Los Angeles, and the Annoyance Theatre in Chicago.

I researched all the claims and rumors about his life while I was writing his biography The Funniest One in the Room. And although I discovered were some exaggerations and fictions, I learned that the most unbelievable stories were the true ones.

His ashes, along with a few photos and other memorabilia, are on display at the iO Chicago, and I’m sure he’ll be making the move when the iO moves to a new building later this year. Stop by and say hello. Del would like that.