Ho. Lee. CRAP.
It’s hard to believe now, as I write this, but just two months ago, when we were allowed to roam free, when we could board planes and alight from them and wander into rental cars and check into hotels — when we could chase down and replenish the beauty and wonder our very cells need to survive — I went to Los Angeles, where I was asked this question by Val Kilmer:
“Do you think South by Southwest will be canceled?”
But Val Kilmer no longer sounds like Val Kilmer, the movie star of the ’80s and ’90s who has mostly vanished from screens. He hasn’t since his tracheostomy. He can still squeeze air up through his windpipe, however, and past the hole that was cut into his throat and the tracheostomy tube, in a way that makes him somewhat understood — not very, but somewhat. The sound is something between a squeak and a voiceless roar. He says the fact that I can understand him is a result of the endless vocal exercises that he was trained to do when he went to Juilliard after high school, that he was taught to work his voice “like it was a trumpet.” He hated the authoritarian rule at Juilliard while he was there; he hated those stupid vocal exercises. Now look at him, still using his most beloved instrument when really, by all rights, it should be useless. See how it all turned out for the best?
All Val Kilmer’s stories are like that, told with that same dash of preordained kismet. He was traveling in Africa in 1994 when he decided to spend a morning exploring a bat cave; later that day, literally seriously that day, he was inspired to call his agent, who had been trying to contact Kilmer for weeks to see if he was interested in playing the role of Batman, now that Michael Keaton was hanging it up. Another story: In the days before he set eyes for the first time on his (now ex-) wife, Joanne Whalley, he dreamed that he met the woman he was destined for and woke up and immediately wrote a poem called, “We’ve Just Met but Marry Me Please.” Then right after that, he went to London, and while he was there, he saw a play, and Whalley was in it. He was so taken with her that he followed her to the pub after-party just so he could look at her. This was crazy even for him, so he made no move. But two years later, in 1987, she would be randomly coincidentally serendipitously cast opposite him in “Willow,” and they would end up married. So yes, he can talk, and it’s such a miracle that he has these abilities, because if you have enough faith, you’ll see how every part of your life is just a piece of a bigger part of your life, and nothing is an accident, and everything is good.
Tragic, just tragic, and strange as he’s always been, you can’t help but feel awful for the man. The pic accompanying the article is just…well, it’s just grotesque, frankly. Just wait till you see it; there’s almost no resemblance to the classic matinee-idol hunk you most likely remember. Remarkably, though, Kilmer seems to be maintaining a pretty positive attitude for a guy in his current straits. So that’s something.
Whatever else he may have been along the way, Val Kilmer is undeniably a gifted actor. Which is all the excuse I need to put up one of my verymost favorite scenes, from another of my verymost favorite westerns: Tombstone.