One of my oldest friends has died. I am heartsick, but know that he is finally released from his pain and suffering. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer almost 3 years ago & fought it with every fiber of his being. Now he is at peace . . . and his loved ones left behind are mourning and hurting.
I first met Pernell Roberts in 1966. By 1969 we had forged a friendship and, after I moved to California in 1973, we ended up virtually neighbors (1 mile apart . . . which is essentially next door in California parlance). His wife & I became close friends & allies. And when I had problems or quandaries, it was to them I went for solace. Many an issue was discussed over Chinese food and pizza (not at the same time). He taught me to appreciate bleu cheese and anchovies. He also taught me to love myself and seek out the right paths for me, regardless of what others might think. I remember more than once, visiting a book store with him while he selected texts that would have particular application to me and my life.
When I met Butch & knew I was going to be serious about the guy, I took him to meet Pernell (to get approval?). In fact, as I have made many changes and adjustments throughout life, I have talked them over with Pernell. He was a mentor as well as a friend. Pernell's interest in my own father's past and Dad's involvement in the field of mathematics at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study gave me greater appreciation of my own roots.
Our last visits took place in 2008, after his surgery. We sang, shared stories, I shared some of his genealogy with him (showing him a census record that had his name on it - something not everyone gets to see in his/her life), and cried together. A few months later I returned with a friend, who insisted on taking a photo of me with him - I think we all knew it would be the last (I have many photos taken of the 2 of us together, but this one I will cherish as it was taken on our last in-person visit).
(photo, above, by Kim Marlow - 2008)
Though we spoke on the phone many times since that day (42 years after we first met), being 100 miles apart and having schedules that never seemed to be in sync meant that I was not to see him again. I have come to grips with that because the last visits were so positive and he, also, expressed pleasure in having good days at those times (as anyone who is familiar with cancer knows, some days are better than others).
Yesterday I received the phone call I had been dreading - my friend of so many years had passed away. A short while later the information was released to the media. I have met many wonderful folks who have been long-time Pernell Roberts fans, falling in love with young Adam Cartwright on Bonanza, but I met him after he left the show and, though I first was "introduced" to him as Adam on that show, I became far more impressed with his performances as Padraic Madigan (The Big Valley), Jim Boyer (The Virginian), Joey Celeste (The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.), Hezekiah Horn (The Young Riders), and so many other characters that it would (and does) fill pages. I was blessed to have visited the set of Trapper John, M.D. on many occasions and get to watch him as he developed that memorable character after the M*A*S*H years. And I was fortunate enough to have seen him on stage numerous times in 6 different plays, seeing him as the King in The King and I, Rhett Butler in the musical version of Gone with the Wind, Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man, and others. But the "character" I came to love the best was the story-telling, song-swapping, advice-giving Pernell Elven Roberts, Jr. That's whom I will miss every day for the rest of my life.
As I state on my website, I believe that who we are is largely a result of the people we have connected with in our lives. I believe that the biological connections can be instrumental in forming who we become and developing what talents lie within our genes, but I also believe that the personal associations we engage in can be just as influential. Pernell Roberts has influenced my life since I was in my early teens and that influence has led to various choices I have made. We shared a love of words and their origins (frequently introducing each other to another "find" in the etymological field) and the folk music genre (swapping songs and reminiscing about favorite performers). While he did not introduce me to either of those interests, his fueling them has caused me to explore both arenas that much more. And he has been an example of what an ethical human being should be: his efforts on behalf of those less fortunate and those in minority groups have been tremendous, though not publicized as some celebrities do.
I remember when I got a small guest part as a square dance caller on the short-lived TV show with Madeline Kahn - Oh! Madeline! - I called Pernell and his wife to tell them. Pernell got on the phone and bellowed, "Welcome to the big time!" He and his wife recorded my appearance (Butch & I had not yet entered the techy age of VCRs) so that I could remember that "big time." When I was in high school, I wrote a song for him; the chorus goes: "Thank you for just being you;/ No one else could ever do What you've done for me/ Can't you see? Because of you, I'm a better me." Pernell, I guess now, someone else is saying to you: "Welcome to the big time!"