Subject: I would hope he had some fullfilment in his life, considering he was surrounded by those who seemed to love him, in the end. I know life is messy ...but with hope. Here's more on the things that filled his life, and the people in it ...
Guilt Over a Friend's Passing: An Editorial;
When an old friend passes away after being out of touch for some time,
it is common for guilty feelings to take over. ...
By Tim Jensen
July 29, 2017
In more than 30 years as a journalist, I very rarely have written editorials, particularly first-person accounts. However, some recent sad news has totally occupied my mind for the past few days, and I feel the need to express some thoughts about a very sensitive subject.
Late Thursday night, I received word that a dear friend, Paul Carney, had passed away at the young age of 64. Being a cancer survivor for the past eight years and having suffered a "mild" heart attack two months ago, I immediately began thinking about my own mortality, but soon became consumed with feelings of guilt about not having done enough to help my friend.
Paul was born into a show business family; his dad was legendary TV and film star Art Carney, who won six Emmy Awards for his television work and an Academy Award for Best Actor for the 1974 film Harry and Tonto. However, being the son of a famous actor does not necessarily mean everything in life will be fine and dandy.
A talented piano player and songwriter, Paul landed a recording contract with Mercury Records in his late teens and released the Threshold album in 1971. However, despite a favorable review in the June 12, 1971 issue of Billboard magazine ("a well-produced package that tentatively and somewhat naively explores love lost...remembered...and shared"), the album sold poorly and he was dropped from the label.
He assembled the Paul Carney Band, and became a well-known performer along the Connecticut shoreline in the 1970s and 1980s, entertaining tens of thousands of people with his music and bringing the house down with songs like "Night Time Fun" and "Bring it to a Blaze." But, with a life in entertainment, also came struggles with addiction that, ultimately, took over his life.
Art Carney had admitted being an alcoholic since his late teens, a problem which plagued him until he finally quit drinking during the filming of Harry and Tonto. Paul battled similar demons, ultimately becoming sober in the early 2000s. It was shortly after that we met through a mutual friend, and in a short period of time, I felt as though I had acquired another brother.
Occasionally when I would bring a girlfriend with me to visit Paul at the family's oceanfront home in Westbrook, she would be shocked when I would just walk into the house, rather than ringing the bell. When Paul and I had first become friends, I rang the bell on my first visit and he told me, "From now on, just walk right in without buzzing."
His mom, Jean, was as adorable as could be into her 90s. Whenever I would call the house, she would always answer and ask who was calling. When I said Tim, she'd say, "The Tim that lives down here?" and I'd say, "No, Jean." She would inevitably reply, "Oh, then it's the one with the blue eyes!"
Paul would always cave in to my request to hear him play "Classical Gas" on his piano, which he did with gusto each and every time. In fact, when I was at my lowest point in 2009 during cancer treatment, Paul drove all the way to Enfield to perform that one tune in front of 400 people at a benefit fundraiser that was held for me.
He was a genius at re-writing song lyrics on the spot, leaving us in stitches due to his hilarity, and had one of the most spontaneous wits of all time. One night, we were with a large group of people in the middle of Nowheresville, Pennsylvania, in one of the worst restaurants in the history of food poisoning, when he noticed a long empty table backed by a mural of some bizarre sort. He immediately dropped to his knees and held out his hands, as though he were at an altar praying for his very being.
Paul and I had become such pals that I was asked to officiate the wedding of his daughter Shaine a few years ago. He was a totally proud dad, just as he was when his son Devin was elected to the Connecticut House of Representatives.
Unfortunately, he fell off the wagon a few years ago, and spiraled to the point of no return. I remember I was enjoying a gorgeous lakeside afternoon when I got a call from him, telling me he had started drinking again and his life was falling apart. He ultimately checked into a rehabilitation center, but I do not know much more than that.
This is where the guilty feelings come in. During our last extensive phone conversation, he left me with the impression he wanted to deal with his problem by himself, and he would get back in touch with me once his life had gotten back to normal.
Of course, life never did return to normal for Paul. A considerable period of time went by without me hearing from him, and at one point I tried calling him, but his cell phone had been disconnected.
When I received word of his death, I recalled having contacted Shaine fairly recently to get his contact information, which she did provide me. Upon pulling up our online conversation, I discovered to my horror that time had really slipped away - it was more than two years ago that she gave me his number at the Stonington Institute, but I never called there.
I totally regret not making the call at the time, and for permitting so much time to pass by - indeed, until it was too late. Maybe I wouldn't have been able to help Paul, but doing nothing certainly was not going to benefit him.
With all that has happened in recent months, I guess the old saying is true - tell the people you love how you feel about them today, because tomorrow is never a guarantee. I only wish I had the chance to tell Paul I loved him, and he was a true friend who was there for me in my lowest moments. I regret not having done the same for him in return, and I fear that guilt will stay with me the rest of my days.
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