Sunday, September 07, 2008

Funny Things in Vegas... Saying Goodbye

When entertainers gather together for one big party it isn't always in celebration of a film release, or an opening. It's bound to have free food, but it doesn't mean the occasion is a joyous one. Yet, even when artists and entertainers are brought together to say goodbye to one of our own, it can be a day for resounding fulfilling happiness. Such was the day spent today, in memory of John Thompson, Jr., a writer whose work is still giving people reason to laugh even though he has left after only 41 years on the planet.

John's dad is known to many fans of the Tonight Show, as the Great Tomsoni, a spectacular stage magician who still inspires the likes of Penn & Teller, Lance Burton, and thousands of kids who battle with card tricks, pigeons, and rabbits with hats. His son was uniquely gifted with words, sought out by script and screenwriters, and freelanced as a reporter for nearly every periodical in Las Vegas, and many in the entire West Coast.

He was inspired by the magicians and entertainers who crossed his path as son of Magic Royalty. Today, several of his friends spoke eloquently of the firm beliefs, the wild humor, and the downright goofiness of the kid they knew. In fact, as a many sat there, we were in awe- it was very clear that the people in John's life were not the ones who would normally fit into society. They are the geeky, strange, weird, fun people whom you always wonder about, but never quite get to meet in person. They are the Crispin Glovers, and the Pee Wee Hermans, but not quite famous as that.

One is a disc jockey whose love of amusement parks took them to Knott's Berry Farm on an adventure that included food poisoning, and a far more dangerous ride home to Las Vegas. Another is the socially awkward man who didn't quite seem to fit into any particular group of people, and yet, managed to say hello to everyone who crossed his path. Another was a country music radio jock who met John in high school, when the pair shared inside jokes, and constant cut-ups as boys often do. They did so up until the end. And, for every person who spoke, there was a common element- these are people who just don't fit into the society that appears on sitcoms, or in fairy tales- these were the odd ducks that only seem to know other odd ducks, and as such- they were perfectly suited to John.

This is one of John's charms. He was able to bridge the world between the guys who giggle in corners at Rocky Horror showings, and those who study at MIT, or are the celebrities of the day, or have jobs dancing for millions. He never let anyone be anything other than who they were. As such, he made friends with everyone he met, and rarely had a reason to dismiss any person- as he or she was a potential long-time friend. From the producers of the largest shows on the strip, to lowly writers and artists, we all stood in tribute to the man.

Today wasn't a memorial as much as it was a time for Las Vegas to appreciate the young man who left behind people to become friends with each other. Had he not died, many of us would still be unknown to each other. In that, he had another gift- he introduced the world to ideas he always knew as fact. Each of us has purpose- and therefore reason to be part of one another.

Brain cancer. It didn't see a guy- at 41 years old- and think- "NOW I will Get YOU!" Disease is simply a random process, and it took a man who loved words, loved to write, loved to laugh, and loved people. It brought a few dozen people together, to giggle stories, to share in the happiness of knowing him, and to admire his family's ability to bring a darling doggy wherever they went. The day ended with a song of "Happy Birthday", which both Pam Thompson, John's stepmom, and her little doggie, Gracie, did as a duet. They used to sing it as a family at least twice a week.

Happy Birthday John, Jr. February is to long to sing happy birthday to you.

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