I have a complicated relationship with public displays of grief. There are times when it can feel real and visceral and healing, and there are times when it can feel performative, especially when dealing with the loss of a well known public figure. While taking a couple of days to process my own sorrow about the untimely death of my friend Lance, I’ve thought a lot about collective grief and the ways that it manifests in online spaces. I know that Lance was an incredibly talented human whose work and life entertained and inspired people all over the world, and I also know how strange it feels to have real grief for someone you didn’t know personally. All that light that a star like Lance has, it doesn’t get stuck in the film it was captured on, it seeps into the lives of the audiences who watched him, who played his video games, who listened to his gorgeous, resonant voice. I know that others who didn’t have the pleasure of knowing him personally are hurting, too, and it feels selfish not to help paint a more nuanced picture of him, to breathe a little more life into the man we’ve admired on tv and film for decades. I think this is how we heal, together, after such a great loss.
I watched Lance on “Oz” with my mom when I was a teenager, admittedly missing most of what was going on in the intense drama, but being intrigued by the story anyways. Lance was certainly a stand out, but I became a huge fan of his when I watched him on “The Wire”, marveling at his ability to play such fundamentally different characters with such breadth and power. Getting to work with him on “Fringe” was such a win for me- just my proximity to him made me feel like I had accomplished something big. But never in a million years would I have imagined that we would become such good friends over the years. Of all the people I worked with on the show, he was my closest confidante, never judging me or questioning my feelings or experiences. just listening thoughtfully, and sharing in turn. This was one of my favorite things about Lance- he played all these rigid, tough, hard-nosed characters because that was what his physical appearance communicated, but in real life he was sensitive, thoughtful, compassionate, sincere. He wasn’t a people pleaser, and he didn’t hesitate to let you know how he was feeling, even if it made you uncomfortable. But if you were in his circle, if he trusted you, he would invite you into his world with warmth and kindness.
Lance is the only person from our show that I remained good friends with after we wrapped, and once we were away from the toxic dynamics of that production, our friendship blossomed even more. He was a huge old movie buff, carrying an encyclopedic knowledge about black and white films that me and my partner had never even heard of. I got really good at imitating him when he would slowly turn his head to me, his brow furrowed in disbelief and earnestly ask “You mean to tell me…that you’ve never seen ___insert obscure 1920’s film title here___??” To which I would scream with laughter, exclaiming “of course I haven’t, who do you think I am, YOU??!” As intense as he could be, on and off screen, we had such an easy connection and he was always someone I felt at home with. We confided in each other about our dreams, our legacies, our complaints about the industry and the work we still wanted to do. We fantasized about being able to play father and daughter in a project one day. His career was focused on dramas, but his comedic talents were unmatched, and making him laugh hard is still one of my most prized accomplishments.
Losing him has been an absolute shock, and I have tried so hard not to focus on all the things I did wrong (I didn’t visit with him enough since the pandemic, I didn’t text him enough to say “hi, thinking about you”, I didn’t congratulate him enough on all the incredible work he had been doing in his career). Instead, I am trying to make space for every single good memory I have of him over the years, of which there are plenty; late nights joking around on set, gossiping about people in the industry, lazy dinner parties that lasteed for hours, movie nights, his beautiful wedding and marriage to a woman who became just as good a friend as he was. I keep telling myself that wherever he is right now, he knows exactly how much all of us adored him, not just for his amazing work, but for the intelligent, capable, strong black man he was. I have to cling to this hope, because without it, my sadness could fill up this whole city with tears.
I am so glad we all got to be on this earth at the same time as him.
I am so glad that when I go online, I see his beautiful face everywhere, and read the sweet sentiments that so many are sharing.
I am so glad that his light transcended the screen and touched so many people in small and big ways.
I am so glad that he is being remembered so lovingly by a whole world of mourners right now.
Yesterday I found a picture of us in my keepsake box, an actual picture that I could hold, taken of us at a Comic Con many years ago. We are both smiling, bright eyed and happy. I framed it and set it on a little shelf in our living room, lit some candles around it. I have felt so desperate to be able to do something, anything, with this pain. But in the wake of a loss as unexpected as this, there is nothing to do, there is only to feel. Every time I walk by his picture, I whisper to him how much I love him, how much I miss him.
RIP, Lance. we will remember you forever.