On Thursday this week, I read the sad news that film writer and director John Hughes died suddenly. He was only 59.
I was at work. I actually had to stop what I was doing and go talk with some of my coworkers who are about my age. They were also stunned and saddened.
And it wasn't just those of us who were teenagers in the 80's. The woman in the office next to mine is, to put it delicately, not as young as I am. At first, she wasn't sure who I was talking about. That is, until she started hearing the names of movies John Hughes brought the world. Once she made the connection to films like Vacation, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off, she joined in the weeping.
For me, it was especially tough to hear. Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago's North Shore at the height of the "brat pack" era, I associate John Hughes with my entire teenage experience. His movies were set in the fictional "Shermer High School," inspired by his own high school experience. I lived on Shermer Road. He hired local teens to play as extras in his films. My high school football team was hired to lock a then unknown John Cusak in the trunk of a car in Sixteen Candles. While he never filmed a scene in my high school (that I know of), he used the campuses of several local schools for his films. The Breakfast Club was filmed in the library of our arch-rival, and Hughes' alma mater, Glenbrook North, just minutes from home up Shermer Road.
Every teenager I knew growing up could have been plucked from the script of a John Hughes film. I could have passed for Farmer Ted. The girl two houses down dreamed of being Andie Walsh. My best friend was a carbon copy of Bender. And she never knew it, but I was desperately in love with a clone of Allison Reynolds. We all thought our big brothers were Chet. Every boy dreamed of being Ferris Bueller. Every girl dreamed of snagging Jake Ryan.
Hell, to this day, the Gullybabe (and millions of other women) holds Jake Ryan up as the prime example of who all young men should aspire to be.
It wasn't just the great characters. His movies truly represented the zeitgeist of the time, through drama, humor, dialogue, and music. Everything about life as a teen in the 80's can be summed up in his work.
The news of John Hughes' passing is particulary tough because he was so young. He was actually young enough to be, not even my father, but a big brother. It really hits close to home not just because his work was such a moving part of my teen years, but because if he can die at 59, so can I. My parents are already well beyond that, and have a history of frightening medical problems. Other celebrities die young - from accidents or stupidity - and we shrug it off. Won't happen to us. We know better. We don't abuse drugs or live dangerously. When the rare young celebrity death is from something more mundane, we think it was a one in a million shot - like poor Natasha Richardson who died from a mere bump on the head. But this one makes us think. And worry.
I am mortal!
I was also surprised to learn - too late - that Hughes had a bit of a closet political streak. Over at National Review, they have made a lot of posts about Hughes and some of the material from his scripts that he was unable to get into the final production. These deleted scenes from Ferris Bueller are brilliant. I wish they had made it to the big screen.
Hughes more or less retired in the early 1990's, still young and in his prime. He had already made millions, and left show biz on a high note from the Home Alone series. One of his last movies was his adaption of the brilliant fairy tale Just Visiting, one of the best fantasy movies I have ever seen. He spent most of the last two decades living well with his family, only working on a handful of family films. He will be missed by a "family" of millions who grew up with his work.
John, we will not forget about you.