Bannon

Posted on | January 20, 2023 | No Comments

After 27 years of pot smoke seeping through the tenth floor hallway of the Wilshire Royale, the stoner in 1012 is dead. As new owners incrementally zhuzhed up the Beaux Arts building at Wilshire and Rampart, formerly a Howard Johnson’s, and a number of hotel and assisted living iterations before that, my friend David Bannon joked that he would only leave his corner unit feet first. That he did on January 11th, aged 77, after electing medically-assisted suicide in lieu of cancer treatment. Surviving relations, for whatever reasons, have so far left his obituary to a two-line death notice issued by the cremation company. This may have been Bannon’s instruction. His erasure only underscores the sense of loss. Eccentricity is dead. Movies have had their day. Reading is over. David Gerard Bannon will no longer live to watch movies and read books and talk about them with his fractured network of cineastes and people who read. 

None of the mutual acquaintances from our time in New York, when he was an executive of Time Life’s video division, questioned his choice of a move West in the early 1990s, first to San Francisco, then to Los Angeles. (Show me a New Yorker and I’ll show you a Californian in waiting.) Though I knew him socially in New York, the most I can tell you about his work during that phase is that his tastes ran foreign and high-minded, toward what is now the Criterion Collection. He returned one year from Cannes with a beautiful German woman who he described as “a Fassbinder producer,” and whose jealous ex-lover kept cropping up in scary ways. Even Bannon’s choice to move to a down-at-heel residential hotel in gang-plagued Westlake barely raised eyebrows among us veterans of 1970s New York. Rather, in 1995, it was Bannon’s decision, aged 50, to become an actor that was remarked and ridiculed. A tremor in his right hand and arm — the product of a stroke suffered during a childhood tonsillectomy — was so forceful that if you handed him a bottle of wine, a sudden involuntary jerk might send the contents in a bright red arc over his shoulder. One of the cruelest observers made “Heil Hitler” jokes.

It’s unlikely that anyone reading this will have seen Bannon’s work in a series of showcase plays as he took acting classes and volunteered with experimental troupes. Attending his showcases after I moved to Angeles in 1998 became routine, though the programs with titles and parts etc. have been long lost to time. To my astonishment, he wasn’t half bad, and to my even greater astonishment, the young members of his company from play to play and part to part thought nothing of the tremor. They weren’t hiring a sommelier. Did they know he submitted himself to an early trial for a deep brain implant designed to help qualm Parkinson’s tremors? Or that his increasing reliance on pot and alcohol was, at least at first, driven to still his restless limb? When the implant became infected and had to come out, the use of pot and alcohol redoubled. An actor who took classes with him tells me that he had trouble remembering his lines.

After leaving Los Angeles in 2015, I saw Bannon less but spoke with him more, every week or so. He’d tell me what he was reading, and endure but ignore my recommendations. He had his own preferences, all of which he bequeathed to me. After a Labor Day scare, which (good news) wasn’t cirrhosis but (bad news) was bile duct cancer,  he prepared to exercise his right to die and began giving away his belongings. From the smoke-coated contents of suite 1012, I received his Kindle, with his headshot (above) attached, along with instructions. Of the more than 750 books that I should read, he said, I should start with Patricia Highsmith’s notebooks and proceed to “What’s the Matter with Kansas?

Bannon’s trajectory from Time Life vice president to unemployed actor, from living in a house in Connecticut to a down-at-heel residential hotel in a stubbornly gritty artery of downtown Los Angeles, could easily be dismissed as a failure. No, it was not, not unless you imagine that movies watch themselves, books read themselves and attitudes about able-ness shift on their own.

David G. Gannon, born February 26, 1945, died January 11, 2023

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