Beatle fans lost a dear friend. Yesterday, on Paul McCartney’s 70′s birthday, Victor Spinetti passed away peacefully, in good spirits up to the end. He was in hospice after battling cancer for the past year. He was 82 years old. He was already a famous actor in England when those young upstarts, The Beatles, requested that he get a major role in their first film, A Hard Days Night. It was George Harrison who suggested they recruit Victor so their mothers would go see the film. They were all in love with the dashing actor. The Beatles loved him too. After playing the neurotic TV director in their first film, the Beatles got him to play the mad scientist in Help!, and a military officer in Magical Mystery Tour. Victor also co-authored John Lennon In His Own Write, which he directed at the National Theatre. He was great friends with John.
He was a true renaissance man. Actor on stage and screen, serious and comedy, director, poet, and marvelous story teller. I had the privilege of working with Victor. He was a guest at The Fest For Beatles Fans a couple of times. It was not difficult to get him to come up with fantastic stories. That was performance art! He was funny, deep, radical, sweet, and mourned deeply the loss of his friend John Lennon. One of those years, two lucky WXRT listeners won the grand prize of our Fest giveaway, which included dinner with Victor and myself. That’s a night I’ll never forget. What a witty and insightful man. When they remastered and rereleased A Hard Days Night, they did a special showing at the Vic with special guest Victor himself, who I was to interview on stage along with John Junkin, the man who played Shake, the road manager. John was a very sweet man as well, and like Victor, had a successful career without the help of The Beatles. John died in 2006, also of cancer. We had a great time that night, but the real surprise for me was when Victor showed up in the company of Studs Terkel. Seems the two gentlemen were longtime friends, and spent some time having dinner together before Victor’s program. I wasn’t the only one surprised. Studs and Victor were both unaware that I had connections with both gentlemen. Small world.
One of the things I find most interesting in getting to meet so many people that worked with the Beatles or were close to them somehow, is that all of these people are interesting in their own right…and not just because of the Beatle connection. I have found them to be bright, sweet, funnier than you-know-what, not just living in their past. But when you’d get them talking about The Beatles, the affection, respect and loyalty they felt for those four guys, was inspiring. They all, Victor included, felt like their times with “the boys” was magical and memorable. It’s been a real joy for me to get to know them and hear their stories. Especially Victor. What a special man. As long as there are Beatle fans, we’ll watch those films, and he’ll make us laugh. A lot.
And one more connection. Yesterday, Roger Ebert celebrated his 70th birthday. Roger and Paul, born on the same day! And Roger has always praised A Hard Days Night. In fact, a few years ago he called in on Breakfast With The Beatles to discuss an anniversary of AHDN.
John’s song In My Life is my favorite song…ever. He sang about his friends, some dead and some living, and about how he’d never forget. While we mourn the passing of Victor, and miss John and George and our other Beatle friends and heroes, let’s also celebrated and cherish those that are still with us. I hope both Paul and Roger had a great day yesterday with the people that know and love them most. In my life, I’ve loved them all.