I first met W. Shawn Murphy on the set of Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2. We’d just recently moved to the Atlanta area, and as I’d been working from home, I had been rarely leaving the house. After about a year-and-a-half, I desperately needed to socialize with someone besides my wife and my pugs. So I started going to the Plaza Theatre, mostly to check out the Splatter Cinema and Silver Scream Spook Show film series. Shawn was a fixture there, and I’d seen him a bunch of times, but had never met him proper. One night, the Plaza had a sign-up sheet for people to be extras in H2. So I signed up. I worried that work would conflict with it, so I was planning to take that day off. Turns out that immediately before the day we were to shoot, I got laid off. Solved that problem.
So I still didn’t know a whole lot of people there. At the time, I knew a couple of the guys involved, but not that well, and they were off getting things set up for the sequence to be filmed. So I was sitting around eating and playing some zombie shootout game on my iPhone. Shawn came up and introduced himself. He was going to be dressed up as Ro-Man from Phil Tucker’s amazing Robot Monster. Amazing. That’d always been one of my favorite movies, I said. We talked about how accurate vs. inaccurate his costume was, and that I thought it was astounding that he’d gotten as close as he had on next to no money. We talked for a while, and then he went off to get his stuff ready, and I went off to get costumed by the wardrobe department because I was lame and didn’t come dressed up as anything.
After the shoot was over, Shawn sat with me on the interminable ride back and we talked some more. We had a ton of stuff in common, turns out. We liked the same movies. We liked the same music. We hated people as a general rule, but the folks we loved, we loved (though he was always a little more curmudgeonly than I am). We loved Tiki. We loved drive-ins. We loved tourist traps and roadside attractions. Side shows and carnivals. Poster art and Japanese toys. Mad Magazine and Dr. Pepper (which we both would stockpile). Pinball and Elvis. Bacon and liquor. Tattoos and pin-ups. Monsters and Redd Foxx. Regional soft drinks like Kentucky’s Ale-8-One and Chick-Fil-A Dwarf Houses. Our birthdays were a day apart — he was exactly one day younger than me. From one bus ride, I felt like I’d known this guy my entire life. And when I overslept the next day and missed the bus to the next day’s shoot, I was disappointed. Not that I had missed the shoot, but that I wasn’t going to get to hang out with Shawn again.
He found me on Facebook after that day, and we ended up constantly going back and forth on topics both there and whenever we’d get together. Which wasn’t as often as I’d have liked — I live outside the city, and it made getting together more difficult than it should have been. He always took pains to introduce me to whoever it was he knew when we’d see each other, and he knew *everybody.* And this was kind of unique for me. I’m a generally shy person by nature, and it’s hard for me to meet people. I just never mastered that talent. As a result, most of my friends have always been people I’ve worked with. Shawn was the first person in a fairly long while to be my friend just because he wanted to. And most of the friends I have now, I have because I met them through him, or because we were at the same events at the same time. One of the last times we got together, he introduced me by saying, “this is my buddy Aleck. His birthday is one day before mine, so we agree on pretty much everything.” It meant a lot to me that he considered me to be that close to him in mindset.
Just over a month ago, November 4, we were supposed to meet up to see Ghost Riders Car Club play at a local Vietnamese noodle house, Pho Truc. He never showed. I texted him from the show, asking him where the hell he was; that the band was great, and the pho was insane. I asked a friend of his at the show if he’d seen “the Professor” (Shawn’s nickname) around. Someone else at the counter with us said, “The Professor? Where is he? Wherever he is, he ain’t happy. He’s complaining about it.”
Saturday, November 7, people started posting on his Facebook wall, saying that they were going to miss him. I immediately grabbed my phone and texted him again; asking what the fuck was going on, and was he leaving town or something without telling me. Then someone posted a message ending in R.I.P. And I felt my brain disconnect from my body, and I broke down like a little girl. Like I’ve done regularly ever since. Like I’m doing now.
Shawn took his own life. I didn’t know he was in pain. I don’t think any of us really knew. I knew he’d gone through a lot of shit this year; stuff that would have wrecked anyone less superhuman than he. but he seemed to be coping exceptionally well with it all. My wife Jenn, though, could see through it. She told me long before anything happened that Shawn was putting on a “tough guy” act to cope with it all. I wrote it off. He couldn’t be putting on *that* good an act, surely. Fucker deserved an Oscar.
The memorial service was this past Sunday. It was held at the Plaza, which was appropriate. He’d have complained about it. He’d have been a smart-ass about the technical goof-up with the slide show. He’d have scoffed at how emotional everyone was being. He’d have gone off a bunch of times to get more liquor out of his car. I swear, I saw the bastard twice walking up the Plaza’s aisle to the exit, because if you were at the Plaza and Shawn was there, that’s what you’d see. I will probably always see him out of the corner of my eye, striding up that aisle, heading to the exit. Just now, I know he won’t be coming back.