Thursday, February 17, 2011

Smoking Legends Lost Too Soon Part One: Humphrey Bogart

Humphrey Bogart.  As an teenager reaching towards manhood, I discovered Bogie.  As a child I remember hearing of him, seeing Bugs Bunny imitate him and Elmer Fudd playing his waiter but it wasn't until I developed this blooming curiosity for all things 1920's to 1940's that the real fascination fired up.

In my book, How To Stop Smoking Without Killing Anyone, I touch on the impact Bogie had on me and my life and most importantly, my decision to be a smoker.  It worked out quite well.  Bogie was the man, I wanted to be the man, the man smokes, therefor, so should I...  right?

Never mind the fact that "The Man" died of esophageal cancer just 20 days after he turned 57 years young.  The cancer had withered my idol down to 80 pounds.  Yes, 80 pounds.

The picture at the top is of Bogie at a young and youthful age.  Born on December 25, 1899, Humphrey DeForest Bogart rose to stardom and then to legend.  Now, immortal, due to films like Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, To Have and Have Not, The African Queen, Key Largo and many more, Humphrey Bogart became an icon to millions.  Including myself.

Bogie was hard.  Strong.  Witty.  Me?  I was...  well maybe witty.  On a good day.  I remember studying how he smoked.  How he held the cigarette, how he took a drag, how he lit it, every little nuance.  I loved how he stood, the way he would glare. 

Then there the cars, the clothes, the nightlife.  I had definitely found a connection and an affinity for all things 1920's to 1950's.  There in those eras existed a certain glamor that is long gone.  A romance the is somehow missing from modern life.  My love affair with Americana blossomed thanks to Humphrey Bogart.

When I decided to stop I looked at how Bogart died.  It was one of those harsh realities that was waiting in the wings.  His esophagus was removed, a few lymph nodes, and even a rib.  But it was too late.  The cancer had spread.  For Bogart, it was a matter of "if" anymore, it was a matter of "when." 

Having witnessed first hand the withering affects of cancer first hand, my mother passed away in 1998 from cancer, and my aunt passed later the same year, I quickly put two and two together.  Bogart's smoking and drinking lead to throat cancer and he had withered to 80 pounds of his former self before he died.

The reality of death is one of those things that is very hard to look at, but when you do, it can also be quite liberating.  We're all going to die sooner or later.  Me?  I choose to do it as later as possible and I'm not all that interested in withering down to 80 pounds of my former self nor do I want to die in intense pain. 

The tragedy of Bogart's death is that it hasn't been used to the fullest to educate people...  actually, no.  Never mind.  Sometimes I forget that tobacco, cigarettes and nicotine are as powerfully addicting as heroin and most addicts need to find their own way home or die trying. 

Bogart has inspired me in life and in death and continues to teach me from beyond the grave what it means to be a man.  His strengths far outweighed his weakness.  He is a teacher.  When you look at his body of work, what he stood for, how he lived and how he died, you are left, as always with Bogie, wanting more.  That is the real tragedy.  Gone too soon.  I know for me, that his tragic untimely death will not be in vein as I have stopped smoking and will never again pick up the habit. 

And now, I find it vital to spread the word to all that it's time you too kicked the habit...  schweet hart.