How J.J. Abrams Granted My Dying Husband's Sci-Fi Wish (Guest Column)
With only weeks to live, Daniel Craft and his wife Paige Barr appealed to the Internet in the hopes of seeing 10 minutes of 'Star Trek: Into Darkness.' Instead, they got a call from the future 'Star Wars' director and a private screening.
On Nov. 5, Daniel Fleetwood became one of the first people to see Disney's Star Wars: The Force Awakens after a social media campaign brought him to the attention of the film's director, J.J. Abrams. Fleetwood, 32, had spindle cell sarcoma and was not expected to live until the movie's Dec. 18 release date. (Indeed, his wife confirmed his passing on Nov. 10.) Disney and Abrams are tight-lipped about how they make such decisions. Here, another widow of a man named Daniel describes how Abrams granted her own husband's dying wish three years ago.
It's Christmas 2012 and I'm listening to a message on my phone from J.J. Abrams: "I heard about Daniel," he says. "We want to do this for him. We know we have to act fast."
One week earlier, doctors had decided to end my husband Daniel Craft's treatment. After four years of fighting leukemia, another rare cancer had begun crowding his healthy liver. It was so aggressive it did not respond to treatment. He was jaundiced, slim and exhausted. He was 41 and he wasn't going to make it to 42.
A few days after that devastating news, I overheard Daniel talking on the phone to a local movie theater. He was hoping to find out which movie would be playing a 10-minute preview of the new Star Trek film, which was eagerly anticipated by Trekkies everywhere like Daniel.
But they weren’t showing it. No one was. And Daniel was heartbroken he wouldn’t get to see it. We knew the stark reality — that he certainly wasn’t going to make it six more months to see the full film. He didn’t make a big deal out of it, but Daniel was clearly defeated. Facing his own final frontier, this trailer became essential for him to see.
I couldn't cure cancer, but a movie trailer? That was something I could do for him. Daniel introduced me to his love of sci-fi, to pop culture, to his love of Asian cinema, love of comics. I was 22 when we met, right out of college. He felt lost and I showed him anything was possible. He was a voracious reader, his vocabulary unparalleled. He had vast knowledge of film, TV, history, comics, business, you name it. His knowledge was epic, his memory enviable. He had a wicked, silly sense of humor.
Because it was the holidays most people were out of town. I started asking around to his friends who shared his love of sci-fi. Then on Christmas Day — our 17th anniversary together — one of his social media-savvy buddies posted the request to Reddit. Daniel had been a director at the New York Asian Film festival for 10 years, and one of his partners and good friends, Grady Hendrix, commented on the Reddit thread, saying the plea was real. Grady wrote, "Over the years, Daniel has done a lot for film. Let's let film do something for him."
The plea went viral in 24 hours. It’s kind of a blur (I think I was shown at least 50 news articles about it). The story was touching hearts all over the world. Daniel did not wish to be an inspirational cancer story, but he became one nevertheless.
And so we arrive at that voicemail from J.J. Abrams. Shortly after that one came another from a Star Trek producer who said he'd come to our apartment and personally show Daniel not just the trailer, but the whole freaking movie.
For almost five years, he had been poked, tested, scanned, prodded and monitored. When we rushed back to the apartment to tell Daniel the exciting news, he was clearly drained. We tried hard to keep our voices down and movements minimal. When we played the message for him, there it was: wide eyes and a smile. Overwhelmed, he went to lay down. We couldn’t believe J.J. Abrams' grace in giving us the gift of two hours of normalcy.
The screening day arrives. We're holding hands, lights are dimmed, a bowl of popcorn is on our laps. Daniel explained the in-jokes and references to me. This joy was taking so much out of him, but it was epic. J.J.'s kindness was a light in a very, very dark time.
At 10:14 p.m. on Jan. 4, 2013, Daniel died in the hospice we had arrived at only hours before. In his last few days, I sat by his bed through the night. Because his liver was failing, his bilirubin (the harmful substance that the liver normally filters out of our blood) rose rapidly. With his brain soaked in toxins, it became difficult for him to communicate. He became increasingly confused and incoherent.
At around 4 a.m. the day before his death, he turned to me, smiled and said: “I’m going into the future.”
Paige Jennifer Barr is an actor, writer and casting director living in New York City.