Some years ago the Southern humorist Lewis Grizzard put together a book titled Elvis is Dead and I’m Not Feeling Too Good Myself.
I know what he meant. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that I picked up a wretched bad cold the day after my hero, John Updike, died, but I don’t think so. I’ve just felt oddly diminished by his death, which has hit me harder, I believe, than the death of anyone I didn’t personally know. Perhaps we don’t realize how much we are sustained by someone or something until the parting comes. Anyway, the bug, combined with the giddy stress of spending two hours onstage each night in my current play, has me longing to crawl into bed with a bottle of Nyquil, which I plan to do tomorrow night after the final curtain.
I was going to tell “my” Updike story, a minor tale of two meetings separated by more than 25 years, but the alternating chills and sweats are pulling at my attention. So I’ll just chip in this quote from Jeffrey Eugenides in The New Yorker, which has gathered Updike tributes from a number of leading writers:
There’s some idea that Updike’s mandarin style and bearing distanced him from certain demographic slices of the population. But you have only to witness the outpouring of grief in the last two days to see how far this is from the truth. When a writer dies, a vote comes in. It usually takes a while, but not in this case. Updike’s death has revealed how many people, how many different kinds of people, felt a strong connection to his work. He was our great American writer. There won’t be another like him. How fortunate we were, and how lucky he was, to have come along in our democracy at the time he did.