Director-writer James Toback and I were talking about the best and worst ways of dying, and he said something like the following: “We all imagine ourselves dying peacefully in bed…gently going to sleep with a wife or husband or family member holding your hand and a fire going in a nearby fireplace, and with your cat lying next to you or your dog licking your hand. But the truth is that most of us are going to die painfully, perhaps as a result of an accident or due to some kind of shock or trauma or disease, probably in a hospital or in a damaged car or a taxi or lying on a sidewalk, and without very much preparation and probably not enough pain medication.”
It is therefore soothing to report that according to F.X. Feeney, his friend Michael Cimino, who was found dead last weekend, just went to sleep and that was that.
“Many thanks to your readers for responding so movingly to what I offered about Michael the other day,” he writes. “What I wrote, near the end — ‘I don’t know what he died of, and prefer to honor his privacy,’ was an expression of caution, not lack of curiosity. I didn’t know many facts that first day and was wary of busybodies wanting some hint of Babylonian self-sacrifice. What I’ve since learned is worth sharing.
“For all that he might have had premonitions which lent an aura of conscious elegy to our last get-together, Michael was not ill. He’d recently visited a physician about a mild respiratory complaint, but as near as anyone could tell was in steady health. He was 77 years old and his heart simply stopped while he was asleep.
“When other friends discovered they couldn’t reach him by phone on the 28th of June, caution and persistence (for loved ones always knew to respect his privacy, first and last) gave way after several days to sending in police. The officer who found him, tucked safe in his bed, described him as ‘peacefully deceased.’ I can’t imagine a more perfect end for the journey of this turbulent, lifelong seeker after perfection.
“Asked when he was alive what year he’d been born and Michael would never give you a straight answer. Now, if we ask: What day did he die? The answer is a divine punch-line, a secret between him and the Infinite, as if life itself is now protecting his privacy.”