The Oscar nominations were just announced, and I am delighted that Toy Story 3 was nominated, but disappointed that Julianne Moore wasn't. (Show As The World Turns' Frannie some love!) Yet I was also disappointed by the fact that one of my favorite movies wasn't nominated for Best Documentary. It's called Who Is Harry Nilsson (and why is everyone talking about him?) It's a movie that like Nilsson's music, stays in your head.
Harry Nilsson was the American Dream come true: a blond-haired boy who worked at a bank and at nights wrote songs. One of them, "Cuddly Toy," was covered by The Monkees (and resulted in a lifelong friendship with Mickey Dolenz). Then when The Beatles listen to his album, they declare in an interview he is "their favorite band." Of course in the sixties this is The Best Compliment Ever.
Suddenly Harry was everywhere. Harry's version of "Everybody's Talking" was featured in Midnight Cowboy. Another song "Best Friend" becomes the theme song of the TV show The Courtship of Eddie's Father. He was hanging out at Playboy After Dark with Hugh Hefner, Barbi Benton, and Otto Preminger, singing "Good Old Desk." If Simon Cowell heard him, no doubt he would've told American Idol hopefuls "Listen to this bloke. He has it."
Then Harry makes Nilsson Schmilsson, with the help of famed music producer Richard Perry, a hit album that has the sublime "1941" the story of his abandoning him and his alcoholic mother; "Without You" the epic ballad later covered by Mariah Carey, and "Coconut." Sing it with me: "You put the lime in the coconut..."
Yet even though he had Grammys, gold records, and fame, he had a self-destructive streak. He broke off with Perry over creative differences. He broke up with his wife, leaving behind his son Zack, with history repeating itself. And then after making a album produced by John Lennon, he screamed so much that he damaged his precious vocal cords.
When I saw that part in the movie and hearing his once golden voice now raggedy, I thought oh Harry, why? Yes it was self destructive. But why? I know there have been times I've shot myself in the foot, times I thought, "I don't deserve this."` Yet never to his extremes.
Even if he self-destructed, he managed to be a Phoenix in his own right. Maybe not musically, but he did meet Irish lass Una O'Keefe in New York. (The story how they met is so lovely I won't spoil it here.) They had six children. He adored them. He also started to have a good relationship with his oldest son Zack. Fought for handgun control after John Lennon was killed. He did his best to keep his demons at bay. Yet at age fifty-three he died of a heart attack at home with Una at his side. He died way too young, and too soon.
Yet he isn't gone. With this documentary, people are listening to Harry Nilsson again. His daughter Annie wrote a beautiful essay about him. His music lives on when Sandra Bullock does a conga line to "Coconut" or Adam Sandler falling for Emily Watson in Punch Drunk Love with Shelley Duvall singing "He Needs Me" in the background. (Nilsson wrote the lyrics.) He left behind the silver-haired Una, and seven children who adored him. And when one thinks about it, maybe that legacy is better than an Academy Award.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries