When the great actor David Garrick died in 1779, Samuel Johnson said of his friend and pupil, “I am disappointed by that stroke of death that has eclipsed the gaiety of nations, and impoverished the public stock of harmless pleasure.”
When Winston Churchill died in 1965, William Connor, the great columnist for The Daily Mirror, wrote that “a petal has fallen from the English rose.”
Both great evocations of loss come to my mind as I mourn the recent death of my great friend and collaborator Grant Stockdale. He was an adventurer, an artist, a boulevardier, a businessman, a comedian, a musician, a novelist, a sailor and an intense family man. Together we raged around the world on and off for more than 30 years. We partied in Washington, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, London, Paris, Helsinki and Doha.
You did not meet Grant. He burst into your life. They say his line with women, by whom he was adored, was “You haven’t met me yet.”
I first became aware of Grant’s talents when he followed me across Dupont Circle in Washington, making me laugh so hard I had to sit on a bench, which gave him a further chance to press the case he wished to make: I should hire him. I refused to do so.
The next morning, as I walked to my office in the National Press Building, Grant was lying in wait at the circle and we went through the same routine. I had just started an energy newsletter, but Grant was not a reporter. He had worked as salesman and had moved from his native Miami, via Hollywood, to Washington. I do not remember how such a charismatic and entertaining a figure as Grant had settled on Washington: a company town, if ever there was one. Happily, on fourth day, I succumbed.
Grant looked like no one else I have ever met. Enormously attractive, he had a round face and a compelling smile. He was in his mid-twenties and his hair was bright white; it looked as though it had been stripped of its color, but it had always been white.
Grant’s sister, Susan, said that when he was a teenager, it was “cool” to hang out with him. I thought it was pretty cool for 35 years. He was the best company.
And Grant was so funny; funny as a raconteur, funny as a mimic and sometimes wordlessly funny. One day, in the lounge of a club, he started wrestling with his tie as though it were a bewitched, unruly serpent. He mimed for minutes. A crowd gathered. People asked me whether he was a professional. No. Just a funny man.
His way with words was funny, too. Dawn, a friend of mine from South Africa, instantly became “Daybreak.” A Cuba Libre made with Diet Coke was a “thin Cuban,” a Manhattan was a “skyscraper.” Champagne was the “French friend,” Bordeaux was the “French tribute.”
We adored the movie “Becket” and its stars, Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton. We went often to Downey’s Steak House in New York in the hope of watching the two great thespians drink together. They were never there when we were there, so we did the drinking for them. One night, this was going so well for us, reciting Shakespeare and parts of “Becket” to one another and many bystanders, that I turned to Grant and said, “Have you booked the bridal suite at The Plaza?” “Twenty minutes ago,” he replied.
So he had. In the morning I awoke to find a large man, Grant, lying in bed beside me. I protested. Grant opened one eye and gave me a look that might have passed for disdain. “I think you forgot that bridal suites only have one bed,” he said.
In the 1970s, we played hard and worked even harder. We sold newsletter subscriptions, held conferences and tried many things, which were not always successful.
Grant started many businesses of his own. Always the ideas were wonderful, but they required too much capital. One was The Sergeant’s Program, a physical fitness business that he sold; another was Ocean Television, in which remote cameras watched interesting oceans, producing a kind of white noise for the eyes. There was a fashion publication for which he would photograph well-dressed, ordinary women, walking in parks or boarding buses and would list what they were wearing, where they had bought their clothes and how much they had paid for them. His final business venture was the online EnergyPolicyTV, a kind of C-SPAN for energy.
Maybe Grant was too much of a multi-talent to succeed at just one thing.
He worked with President Clinton to make it possible for District of Columbia children to go to college and benefit from in-state tuition rates at universities across the country. The program compensates for the restricted choices for students in Washington. They met at the Sidwell Friends School, where Grant’s children and Chelsea Clinton were students.
Grant shared a gift with Clinton. He would find and comfort those hurting. He was the best friend in adversity; the big shoulders thrown back, the big smile holding fear at bay.
His last e-mail to me, shortly before colon cancer carried him away at 61, said, “Damnit, I miss you.” Aye.