We Lost Ernest Borgnine: A Man Who Was Able To Keep It Real
We lost Ernest Borgnine today. I didn't know him personally (obviously) but I am a little broken up by his passing. I suppose over the last year or two I have become more sensitive to the reality of death. Death has come by and visited (we had tea and a few biscuits the last time) and taken people I love away. I don't hate Death for such visits as I know it is all a part of our experience on this planet and in this universe.
But, Ernest Borgnine - I thought this guy would live forever. He was a rock throughout my life. When I first encountered him, he was in a film called The Black Hole. The character he played was a funny guy who just wanted to make sure everything on his spacecraft was working properly. He was cautious and interested in his survival. Unfortunately, he was also scared of dying and tried to escape from the situation he found himself in. But why did this film stick? Why did Ernest Borgnine stick? The Black Hole always stuck with me because I experienced it both on video and in comic book form. It became real somehow. Even when I was nine years of age I related to the character Ernest Borgnine played. He seemed like an average guy lost in extraordinary circumstances. He acted like he could handle it and adapted to his adventures but, in the end, he cracked under what were some really insane realities in the movie. He was human. He wasn't the hero of the film. He wasn't the love interest. He wasn't the evil crackpot who brought them to his lair. Borgnine played me. He played you. He was the one in the film who got it. He was the Every-man who knew when to cut out when the getting was good. The choice changed the whole direction of the story as well. Sound familiar? I guess it is true that even the smallest person can change the course of history.
Beyond the character he played in that 1979 film, I learned about other characters he performed. He was a military boat captain, a nice guy just back from the war, and the crazy grandfather. Ernest always seemed to play his characters as real human beings even when they were evil and loathsome types. I don't know how else to describe him. He was just the guy next door who found himself in bizarre situations. I always suspected that I could walk into a bar and meet one of his evil characters and say:
"Hey, I noticed you wiped out an entire colony of people the other day to put that space highway through."
"Oh, yes. That was a hard bit of business. Want me to tell you about it?" He would reply.
"Sure. How about I get us a drink." I would say.
I guess I am trying to express is that Ernest Borgnine was always a real guy to me. I don't have any hard evidence to point out why. I've just felt that way for years. His family must have loved this guy madly. Of course, he did have four failed marriages but I can't fault him for that. It takes two to tango and all of that. But what I really liked about him was that he always seemed to "get it". He always seemed to get what life is about. I always had this odd suspicion that Borgnine had lived a full life by a young age. It always felt that his real-world experiences leaked through in his performances. His performance spoke to me at some darker level of myself.
I imagine him saying: "The shit has hit the fan. I saw it hit the fan. I got some shit on me and I don't want to see it again. There is a lot of other things I need to do."
For some reason, I thought he would make it all the way to 100. Or maybe even 200. I hate to use this phrase but he was able to "keep it real". Which makes me wonder what that means. What does "keeping it real" mean? I have seen this phrase in many films and have heard it a billion times - but mainly the phrase is used to indicate that the character using it doesn't "quite get it".
But I think Ernest got it. I know he got it. I saw it. I don't know why but I did.
And then, a few years ago, I was happy to find his interview on (gak) Fox News. If you haven't seen it, the interviewer asks him what his secret to living to the age of 91 was. Ernest was animated and smiled a lot during the interview. Ernest says he doesn't dare tell the interviewer but then he leans in close to the guy and says:
"I masturbate a lot."
I watched that clip a dozen times, over and over. I realized, at the age of 91, did "get it". My suspicions were now proven. We are here on this planet not to save the world. We are here to do what we can. We are here to enjoy the time we have. We are here to make a difference, if not for the world, for ourselves and for those we are close to.
Dammit, Ernest Borgnine got it. He knew what was important. Do check out the video. It will make you smile. I am sorry to see you go, Mr. Ernest Borgnine. You will be missed.