Time and tide wait for no one, and, once again, the wheels of time have moved forward, bringing us 31 years since we lost an amazing and talented actor. It’s sadly ironic that, two years ago, in 2012, I was composing a memorial post for Simon while still reeling from two additional celebrity deaths that year---Davy Jones and Richard Dawson, and now, in 2014, once again, two additional celebrity deaths are in my immediate consciousness. Ladybug already spoke about James Garner, who Simon acted alongside in The Rockford Files; she’s already discussed that very eloquently. The two recently passed I am referring to are Casey Kasem and Robin Williams, both of whom had prominent roles in my childhood---a sentiment which, I am sure, many others can relate to. Both deaths led to a massive outpouring of love and support and tears from fans; everything from fanarts and fanfics of the characters they brought to life to just general appreciation posts filled the internet---exactly what Ladybug and I have been doing for Simon since we realized just how much he meant to both of us.
A celebrity’s passing can be jarring; if an actor’s role reaches you in a way that you never forget, of course, you’ll feel sad at losing them. But what if they were gone before you even heard of them---before you were even born? There’s no shock moment, save for the moment you check their biography and realize, “Oh… they’re gone.”
Ladybug and I had that moment with Simon of course, with each of us discovering this wonderful character actor, only to be followed with disappointment that he had passed before either of us had been born. It is disappointing, no doubt about that---disappointing that we can’t send him fan mail to let him know that his “trick” (as he called it) of creating multifaceted characters worked, and that we can’t help but marvel at them all---from the despicable Mel Barnes, to the unearthly Empyrian, to the loveable Tony Vincenzo.
Those characters intrigued us, and made us feel things. We wanted to see Mel Barnes get his comeuppance. We wanted to believe Jim Nation was telling the truth, and we cheered when he proved his character. And we wanted to see Tony’s reaction to Carl’s latest monster story. And that certainly says something about an actor who is able to make people feel things even 31 years after his death. I have no doubt in saying that Simon’s characters will continue to live on, just as Casey and Robin’s are sure to, as well.
That “Oh… they’re gone” feeling is a terrible one, no doubt. But what helps in dealing with it is that while the actors are gone, their characters are not. And when those characters live on---when they still find a way to reach us---it means that an actor has, in a sense, achieved immortality. Even 31 years later, Simon’s trick of giving characters hidden depths is still working---Ladybug and I noticed, and it’s not even just us. Just yesterday, TVLand aired “The Clarion” episode of Bonanza, the third of Simon’s guest appearances on that show (purely a coincidence that they happened to air it on Simon’s birthday, but a great coincidence, indeed), earlier this week, Encore Western aired the “Miguel’s Daughter” episode of Gunsmoke, and TCM always seems to have at least one of Simon’s movies listed in their “Upcoming Titles” if you go to his TCM profile---all of which serve as a testimony to the longevity of his many and varied characters. They’re still relevant. They still make us feel things. And no matter how enamored I get with other fandoms and actors, and no matter how hard Patrick Troughton tries to run off with my heart, there’ll always be one heartstring that leads back to Simon’s hand, ready to give a little tug to remind me.
The wheels of time will continue to turn, but the name of Simon Oakland will never be forgotten.