CNN reporter Anderson Cooper was the son of Gloria Vanderbilt, an heiress to a fortune at 18 months of age (75 million in today's terms). Instead of coasting through life on her money, Gloria became an artist, actress, and designer. She was married four times and had four sons, one of whom committed suicide by jumping out the window of her apartment while she was there. She lived to be 95, and to the end was a devoted mother. “The last few weeks, every time I kissed her goodbye, I’d say, ‘I love you, Mom,’” Anderson said, after her death. “She would look at me and say, ‘I love you, too. You know that.’ And she was right – I did know that. I knew it from the moment I was born, and I’ll know it for the rest of my life, said Anderson Cooper, what greater gift can a mother give to her son?” I hope my son is sure of the same.
I recently read the letter singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen sent to the grievously ill Marianne, the woman he loved and lived with on the Greek island of Hydra during the 60’s; the letter is perfect for its brevity.
Dearest Marianne, I’m just a little behind you, close enough to take your hand. This old body has given up, just as yours has too. I’ve never forgotten your love and beauty. But you know that. I don’t have to say any more. Safe travels old friend. See you down the road. Endless love and gratitude. Your Leonard.
Leonard Cohen died four months after Marianne.
Most people don’t make much of an impact on the world, except to the family and friends who love them, but then there are others who educate us, and change the way we see things. And when they leave the table forever, the world is a smaller place for them having gone.
Today I was thinking of the singer, musician, and actor Levon Helm because as I drove the forty-five minutes from my house to West Chester to see my grandchildren, I blasted the amazing Good Night Irene on my car radio. It’s from the Live at the Palladium NYC New Year’s Eve 1977 album. Actually, it wasn’t exactly on my car radio; it came through it onto my blue- toothed hearing aids, which made it feel like Levon was sitting next to me in the car. In case you don’t remember it, Levon played Loretta Lynn’s father in Coal Miner’s Daughter in 1980. Before this, of course, he was the drummer for The Band. I would have killed to attend a concert in his Woodstock barn, where he did his Midnight Rambles with great artists of the day.
Levon left the table in 2012 at the age of 71. He died of throat cancer. Bruce Springsteen said of him, “We get so used to hearing versions of the thing. Levon is the thing.” Once in your life, drive alone on a country road with your car windows open, playing Good Night Irene. With or without hearing aids.