Josh Shaffer

Shaffer: Saying goodbye to entertainers with friends, pizza

Alan Rickman as Professor Snape in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Alan Rickman as Professor Snape in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." (Warner Bros. Pictures) TNS

Not yet a month old, cruel winter has collected a depressing number of beloved artists, delivering their obituaries with icy fingers. First Lemmy from Motorhead. Then David Bowie. Then Alan Rickman. Finally, in a cold-blooded blow to our already weak hearts, death came for Grizzly Adams.

I needed some release valve for this grief, some place to publicly mourn the strangers who so enriched my life. So on Thursday night, I followed the advice of a tweet from Trophy Brewing & Pizza, and I joined them for an Alan Rickman wake – an event that featured a pie named for Hans Gruber, his notorious bad-guy character from “Die Hard.”

“It was a smoked bison, onion, Manchego and drunken goat cheese,” manager Topher Fulton said. “It sold out in one and a half hours.”

I hoped I’d find a barroom full of Harry Potter zealots decked out in Professor Snape robes, knocking back butterbeer and making potions out of bar salt and creme de menthe. But even though this tribute was decidedly more subdued – an N&O colleague and I were chief members of the grieving party – it rubbed some much-needed balm on my pop culture wounds.

“Everyone is so heartbroken,” Fulton told me. “We just got over David Bowie. Same age. Cancer.”

As embarrassing as it sounds, I will confess that news that these famous people had shaken off this mortal coil came as a sharper blow than the deaths of some of my own kin. I say embarrassing because we are a culture obsessed with celebrity, and as a humble and sincere newspaper columnist, I feel obligated to stress friendship with real people rather than devotion to distant stars accessible only via television and – in my case – scratchy vinyl records.

But man I spent so many hours listening to songs off Bowie’s “Hunky Dory,” and my cassette copy of Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” ran so many times through the Honda Accord I drove in college that the lyrics show up on my transcripts.

And even if they didn’t dye their hair Snape’s shade of shoe-polish black, the good people at Trophy jumped at the chance to rhapsodize over Rickman. Bartender Richie Reno switched “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” onto the television and launched his eulogy, name-checking his favorite roles.

“We should do shots when Alan comes on,” he said. “Most of these kids just know him as Snape. He’s the Voice of God in ‘Dogma,’ right? ... ‘Galaxy Quest!’ Where they’re making fun of ‘Star Trek’ ... ‘Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy.’ He was the voice of the robot!”

As Snape appeared on screen, upbraiding Harry Potter, Reno played the entire “Hunky Dory” album at my request, and suddenly I was 22 with long hair and no real idea how I’d finish journalism school.

“It’s on America’s tortured brow,” Bowie sang, his lyrics warm and yet obscure, “that Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow.”

When I take an inventory of personal heroes, they’re almost always musicians or writers or actors – entertainers of some kind. I’d like to tell you that I take inspiration from the selfless few who feed the poor and comfort the afflicted and stand up to oppressors, but really I just like a good song or a good book or a good movie.

The best thing about the passing of such people, Reno noted, is we can visit with them whenever we want, as easily as pushing a button or turning a page.