In the Arena

Ron Silver

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He slipped away from us early Sunday morning. He was my closest friend. There is so much to say–and yet, I find myself speechless. We argued about politics and, especially, foreign policy, all the time. Over the last two years, as he struggled with this obscene disease, which devoured him at the end like a witless, ravening vulture, I would provoke him on purpose, to divert him. So we’d fight about whether to negotiate with Syria for an hour. We’d argue about Obama (for whom he eventually voted). These weren’t real fights, of course. They were entertainments, even though we both took our positions very seriously.

We did have a real fight in 2004, when he endorsed Bush and spoke at the Republican Convention. “The speech was bad enough, you had to sit in Cheney’s box?” I asked. But, of course, he did. Ron was like that–no punches pulled, no corners cut. The list of directors and playwrights and fellow actors and political leaders he told to go screw themselves represented a who’s who of the bien pensant entertainment world. “You don’t want to ask me what happened with Nelson Mandela,” he said when he came home from filming Ali in Africa. (He didn’t like the fact that Mandela embraced Yasser Arafat, who killed innocents. Apparently Jamie Foxx has the videotape. “It isn’t pretty,” Ron admitted.)

But I digress. Our fight: We yelled at each other for two hours until finally I told him to go f*** himself and then I started to laugh. “I just realized,” I told him. “That there are no limits. You can’t do or say anything that will make me stop being your friend.” He said he felt the same way about me, even if I was mortally soft on the Arabs.

That was important. It was the moment that we really became friends, after calling ourselves “friends” for nearly twenty years. And it opened the door for the past two years, as Ron battled this thing–an experience I’ll always cherish, believe it or not. He taught me how to leave. He did it gallantly, with unceasing grace. I’d say to him, “It’s okay. You can kvetch about it a little.” And he’d say, “Ok. Cancer sucks. What else do you want to know?…Meanwhile, how bad do you think Karzai really is?”

He was among the best read people I know–voracious doesn’t begin to describe it. He never took a position on an issue that he hadn’t studied front-to-back. He spoke Spanish and Chinese. He was president of the Actors Equity union. He was a co-founder of the Creative Coalition, even though he pissed off most of his fellow members when he turned to the right after 9/11–and, in truth, well before that, with regard to Israel. He was, as everyone must know, a splendid actor. He loved my family as I love his. He was incredibly loyal to his friends–especially those who stuck with him when his politics caused Hollywood, a town as shallow as Ron was deep, to turn its back on him.

I can’t tell you how empty I feel whenever the thought occurs–intermittantly, since I still can’t believe that he’s gone–that we won’t be getting together for dinner next week, as we did most weeks, or talk on the phone, gossiping, arguing. I mean, he was my friend.