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This story first appeared in the April 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
You know your friend has lived an interesting life when you hear the cause of his sudden death was advanced lung cancer and you are relieved. “Oh, thank God!”
I met David Carr 32 years ago in Minneapolis and for the last 27 years, we haven’t done drugs or alcohol together, which is fricking impossible if you knew either of us in 1983. David was a big deal writer locally and he came to The Comedy Gallery to do a piece on Roseanne and me. Mostly Roseanne, I’m sure, since the night I met David was also the first time I’d met Roseanne. David and I hit it off right away, and for the next five days straight. I loved his writing, he liked my comedy, we both loved music (the Minneapolis music scene in the ’80s was awesome) but mostly we were kindred spirits.
David was three years older than me, but they were light-years. He seemed cool, intellectual and cosmopolitan, at least to a guy who’d just spent three years slaughtering pigs at an Iowa meat-packing plant. He was always ahead of me. I did drugs. David sold them. I snorted stuff and David smoked it. We were both large guys back then so we made people nervous, and many, many nights we were the last two guys in the room.
Some people think addicts are lazy and unmotivated, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. How else could you explain how two fat guys without money or coats could leave Uptown Minneapolis at 4 a.m. in 10-below snowstorm weather because one of them thinks he might know where a dealer, whom we’ve never met, of course, lives “somewhere on Lake Minnetonka, maybe”? Eight hours later we head back to town with a fifth of whiskey and an eight ball. Actually, the booze and drugs didn’t make it all the way back, so we turned around and did it again. That journey took blind faith, fear of failure, creativity, abject curiosity and balls of steel. All the things that made David a great writer …
“My friend David is a legend. But I really had no idea until the night he died,” writes Arnold of Carr, seen here in New York in 2008.
Another was compassion. When you’ve lived that life, you’d be an asshole if you judged others. I always felt that’s what made my friend special. He didn’t judge, well, not too much … and if he did, he made amends. And he was fearless, but like me he had that voice in his head that said, “You are a lucky bastard so don’t f— up your career.” That from a guy who invited me to his newspaper office at midnight to smoke crack after interviewing homeless street kids. We lived like two guys who were just about to go off the rails but were arrogant enough to believe that we, unlike the people who were dropping like flies around us, were special. We were special and very, very lucky. I wonder how many deals we made with God from the back of a squad car or leaving a boss’ office for the final time: “Lord, please get me out of this one and I’m all yours.” Then we’d smooth-talk our way back in and it was f—ing game on again.
Until the end of 1988. David had taken sole custody of his beautiful twin daughters and I was writing Roseanne in L.A. Since I didn’t have my running brother and everyone else was on my ass, I was partying lone star. I called David and asked him to mail me the drugs I thought he owed me. He told me he had been through rehab and was sober and with the girls. Also I owed him drugs (our 32-year running argument, although I’m 95 percent sure he was right). David Carr was the first person I knew that had gotten sober and I remember thinking, “If that crazy bastard can do it, anyone can” — and then I called my L.A. dealer.
During 1989, even though he was sober, David was still my late-night go-to guy. “I f—ing met Richard Pryor tonight also doing coke and I think I’m having a heart attack.” David was a drug savant and always knew the right thing to do: “Chug a bottle of Baileys.” I did and 20 minutes later, I was good as new and back to the drugs.
One night I called my friend because my nose wouldn’t stop hemorrhaging. “You should call Roseanne and go to the hospital.”
“No way, then she’ll know.”
“Tommy, she knows. Everyone knows.”
Tom Arnold was on live TV joking about his Twitter haters when he saw the news about his best friend — on Twitter.
I called her and was on the way to Van Nuys psych and my own sobriety. From that point on, even though we both had a couple bumps in the sober road, we never did anything around each other. Never lied, stole, cheated or used. We loved and respected each other too much. We were 100 percent honest about our screw-ups after we were back on track. We spent a lot of time reaching out to other guys who were struggling. We’re both compassionate that way. We’d be assholes not to be.
David’s career chart looks like the price of Apple stock. Straight up. From the Twin City Reader to the f—ing New York Times. It’s crazy but from the moment I met him, I never had any doubt about his career being amazing — but The f—ing New York Times? That is the kind of madness a crackhead talks about when you’re the last guy in the room with him, but rarely, if ever, comes true.
As David’s profile grew, he moved a bit toward Hollywood and that gave us another excuse to hang. I knew David (and his column The Carpetbagger) had made it when Harvey Weinstein came up to me at the Vanity Fair party and said, “Your friend David Carr is an asshole!”
David had cancer a couple times and that took a toll on his good looks. The first time my wife Ashley met him, when he was out promoting his stellar book Night of the Gun in 2008, she said, “I’m worried about your friend. He doesn’t look so good,” and I’m like, “No, he’s fine. That’s actually how he looks.” In a very un-Hollywood way, the worse David’s appearance and posture and the scratchier his throat, the more he wanted to appear on camera and people loved it. He was the star of the great doc about The New York Times, Page One, and he loved it. He loved doing press for it. He loved the video chats he did with A.O. Scott. He loved being David Carr.
David passed away at 58. Usually when people go at that age, everyone says, “I’m sad I never got to see him as an old man.” I think we did. He was that weird/cool old uncle we all wanted. The cool uncle that lives in New York and dies, and I’m not making this shit up, at his job at The New York Times right after hosting a live video interview with Edward f—ing Snowden.
Carr, in the mug shot from his 1988 arrest, which he detailed in his memoir, ‘The Night of the Gun.’
My friend David is a legend. But I really had no idea until the night he died. I was filming a live TV show in New York and I’d made a joke onstage about checking my Twitter feed to see who was dogging me and there it was: “David Carr, writer for The New York Times. Dead.” I froze because I had to go back onstage and be funny. I looked around the room and saw all those smiling faces, smiling because obviously they hadn’t heard the sad news, and I texted my wife: “David just died and my heart is broken, and I have to run out of here but the show’s not over.”
“Finish the show. You’re a great actor.” (Usually she says this to be sarcastic, but not this time.) “By the way, what would David Carr do?”
I knew David would put on his “cup” and finish the job. I finished but was still alone in New York with all these damn feelings and then a miracle happened. People from all over the world started tweeting nice things about my friend. Really nice, well-written things. I had two thoughts: “Wow, my friend touched a lot of people’s lives,” and “If you’re going to die, you want to be beloved by the writer/media community because these folks are beautiful poets even with 140 characters.”
I immediately tracked down his beautiful wife, Jill (I was in their wedding; Carr was in several of mine). I knew I couldn’t console Jill or their three daughters, but I needed to show up for whatever was next, and what are the odds I’d already be in New York? David’s wake was on Monday. I figured it would be a lot of smoke, a few drunk guys and an open casket (been to a couple Irish wakes in the Midwest that went a little sideways, if you know what I mean). Jill asked me to speak after someone from the Times. I could talk about the old days, so I scribbled some war stories and steeled myself to be strong when seeing his face.
I decided I’d stay until David and me were the last two guys in the room one last time, but this was not your typical Irish wake. The place was packed. There were people weeping all the way out to the sidewalk and there was an actual priest onstage doing the whole Catholic thing. I immediately tried to redo my trashy notes and make them more appropriate for this solemn crowd, many of whom I recognized from TV and newspapers. I could no longer open with “After last night’s SNL 40th show, leave it to my friend David to make sure I was once again the most famous person in the room.” I probably was, but definitely not the most respected. I mean, I know the wonderful Lena Dunham was there and spoke eloquently about David, but way more old people know me, right????
As person after person spoke about their “friend” or “mentor” or “father figure, David Carr,” I was able to match bylines to faces. These professional writer cats had typed up speeches with beginnings, middles and ends. Damn them! I saw people David worked with and loved, and others who’d lost their jobs and remembered how brokenhearted David was about it. I stared down at my fistful of notes. Very humbled but I got up (what would Carr do?) and rambled on, told a few stories and referenced how pissed I was to turn on CNN and see someone named Jake Tapper speak about “his friend, David Carr.” “F— Jake Tapper. David Carr was my friend.” Of course, during my speech, I failed to notice the very sweet Jake Tapper in row two. David’s funeral was even bigger. Sold out one of those huge New York cathedrals.
David Carr’s family are Minnesota people but David was born to live in New York. Us addicts spent way too much time in our heads deciding how we feel, but New York will not allow that. The city starts kicking your ass as soon as you walk out the door. Tourists stand there in shock but residents move fast and furious, and the city is like running the gantlet through a high school football tackling drill. The energy of New York and the crowds and the weather just beat on you so you can’t stay in your head ’cause you’re getting your ass kicked. The night David died, it was dreadfully cold in New York. I actually thought, “Well, at least my friend doesn’t have to limp through this shit on his way to the subway tonight.” Carr limped, but everyone who lives in New York eventually limps.
The last time David visited me, we did the usual: ate, talked, ate, 12-step meeting and ate again. Things were great with David. He seemed very satisfied with his life and he was, as always, running headfirst into whatever was next. The man’s zest for life put me to shame, but I promised him I would try to enjoy things at least 10 percent as much as David did.
We also trusted each other enough that we could brag: “Did you see how many Twitter followers I had?” “Went to SXSW and young people love me.” “My teaching job in Boston is amazing and will help with the kids’ college bills.” “My kids … brilliant, all of them!” Or the biggest brag a man can have: “I gave my wife career advice and she took it!”
Carr (left) moderated a conversation with filmmaker Laura Poitras and journalist Glenn
Greenwald about their film ‘Citizenfour’ on Feb. 12, hours before he collapsed in the Times newsroom. He was pronounced dead that night at Manhattan’s St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital.
On his way out of town, David insisted on stopping by the house to see Jax, my baby boy. Jax [now 2] is my first child, and he’s a miracle 25 years in the making … and David’s been with me through the ups and downs of this journey. Also, I always felt that David’s girls not only saved his life but they saved his life every day. His family kept him tethered to this planet, and I think he needed to see my son to know that I was tethered now, too.
After he played with Jax and took pictures, I caught him looking at his phone and giggling. “What is that about?” “Oh, just texting with Harvey Weinstein.” “I thought you guys broke up.” “Oh no.” I don’t know who was working who but I’m sure David and Harvey both thought they were running the show. That is so David Carr. You can f— up. You can call him an asshole (Harvey), owe him drugs (me), even knock him to the ground with your thumb in his eye socket because he wouldn’t stop saying you owe him drugs (me), and he’s probably going to forgive you. And if you are really lucky, he’s still going to love you. I don’t know for sure if David knew this was his last visit with me because he treated every visit and every phone call like it might be the final one.
“I adore you, Tommy.”
I adore you, too, David Carr.
Mourners packed the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in New York on Feb. 17 for Carr’s memorial.