I recently found out that an actor friend had died over 4 months previously. In truth I was only really in contact with him through faceybook. Nevertheless hearing about him has made me very sad, as well as, (probably very irrationally), depressed at the impersonal world we all enter into on social media and how isolating it can be, in spite of often sharing, intimate personal aspects of our lives. I've been musing about the fact that despite the myriad ways of being virtually sociable available to us these days, that we can still find ourselves more distant than ever.
I first met Mike Goodenough guiding on the Original London sightseeing tour, (or 'Orrible Tour' as I er playfully described the company), 8/9 years ago. Most often we'd chat while sat on the back of stationary sightseeing buses just off Leicester Square, while on standby, covering any of the guides that might blow out. I don't know maybe it was only 2 or 3 whole days over a couple of different years, but it always seemed like a short, out of season, Autumnal day, no guide had phoned in ill, no extra tours, and it was just us two sat on the bus, putting the world to rights, and having a bloody good laugh as it got darker outside and colder in!
We talked a lot about Manchester, and our separate memories of it. He'd gone to drama school at Manchester Met, now Manchester school of theatre, and we agreed how Manchester had the best theatre in the Royal Exchange, as well as a mutual love of Morrissey and the Smiths. The only thing about Manchester we didn't agree on was his love of Man United!
I'm sure i remember him telling me that one day when he was there, Manc Met old boy David Threlfall had come back to the school to do a talk and for effect to make a point about how tough the acting business was, singled out 2/3 people, "You, you and you will get work, the rest of you haven't got a chance!"
We both were doing tour guiding between acting jobs, and it was much more a case of between for Mike, as he worked a lot, and had done some good, high profile work.
But he too had struggled with work and money, and was still struggling too, but in a way I couldn't have guessed.
We didn't want to be there, we were just two of the many actors doing a fill in job while pursuing the dream, but we tried to make the best of it. He had this kids wooden ruler with all the dates of the Kings & Queens on it and although I never heard his tour guiding performance, seeing the way he brandished it to me with kid-like enthusiasm, could tell it must have been fun and funny.
I was with him when he heard from his agent that he'd got a part in Cirque du Soleil's Beatles Love show and was going off to Las Vegas! That big, big smile, the look of pure deep joy that painted his whole face, was a joy to behold.
He later joked that he wasn't allowed to lose any weight for the part of Mr Piggy, far from it, he said playfully patting his not inconsiderable stomach. Not long after that I didn't see him tour guiding again, and when he returned from Vegas it seemed he was on a roll of working, television, pantos.
Oh I admit that his joyful Faceybook statuses showing pictures of his various dressing rooms and rehearsal room shots, together with anecdotes, sometimes rather than make me happy for such a lovely guy, instead reminded me what a failure I was still tour guiding, and a little jealous, but one of the last statuses he shared suggests that despite his great successes, he'd encountered negativity and was feeling depressed.
"True confidence has no room for jealousy and envy, when you know you are great, you have no reason to hate."
I have since found out that Mike suffered from bipolar, which although there is a greater awareness of now than ever before, is still not really understood.
I'd talked to him about the highs and lows of acting and how you coped, but didn't really got an inkling from him that he suffered so.
I do remember when he kindly offered to get me a comp to go see him when he was in The 39 steps at the Criterion, Piccadilly Circus, and I got a message at the eleventh hour from Mike to say he was suspended from the show, but offering no explanation, which I thought at the time was odd. Now in retrospect I wonder whether this was something to do with his illness.
I suffer from depression I realise, and am reticent enough about admitting it to myself never mind friends for fear of appearing weak, but the extreme highs and lows you read about that are direct manifestations of what used to be called manic depression seem hard to fathom to me, even if this appears to be only just a grander, more terrifying stage to find yourself on.
When heroes like Robin Williams take their own life apparently as a result of this it affects you deeply enough, but when someone you know is so engulfed by it that they take their own life, as I now know happened with Mike. It brings it all home terribly.
I can only imagine what those who loved him closest have been through and are still going through to come to terms with this, it has shocked me, and I only knew him a little.
I remember worrying a couple of times that I hadn't heard anything from him in ages, as the very last Facebook status he'd put was an RIP for David Bowie in early January 2016. I'd lost his phone number on a lost phone, and anyway I have to say that remembering an earlier status he'd put saying "Facebook I want a divorce", I honestly just thought that he was having a long sabbatical from it.
I did this once, and didn't bother with faceybook for over 6 months, as I recall no one seemed to notice! :)
I don't mean to have a go a faceybook, it's put me back in contact with people I'd lost contact with and is the only way I can keep in contact with many, nice people I have worked with.
Anyway most acting jobs often mean that you become become very close friends with people for only a short space of time, then afterwards perhaps never get to see them again, no matter how close you may have become. That's not to suggest shallowness, but more the nature of the often lonely and frequently self centred business that it is! And of course you can't really be good friends if you only keep contact on faceybook. I'm very sad to have only found out about him dying over 4 months later, as are I know a lot of friends Mike made guiding will be. I was chatting to a good friend of Mike's from when he was in youth theatre years ago in Croydon, and he didn't know Mike had worked on the London tours. He's connected to a circle of Mike's oldest, closest friends who were informed on faceybook about his death, and the reason news is only now filtering through to those of us who knew him tour guiding, is that of course, none of us were.
Most actors I think share the desire to be well loved and Mike on top of achieving an impressive body of work, certainly was well loved. His dad told me that more than 40 of his acting friends attended his funeral and they sang "On the trail of the lonesome pine" a touching tribute in honour of Mike having played Ollie, both in the BBC film about Stan Laurel, as well as on stage.
I'll really miss seeing you again Mikey, even if our paths did only cross occasionally. In my minds eye you are on that bus that day you found out you were going off to star in Love in Vegas, all that excitement in front of you, with that big smile which will always be my biggest memory of you, the biggest smile I've ever known!