The Time I Shared a Death Scene with Ian McKellen

No, really. I am not making this up. I once shared a theater stage in London with Ian McKellen (yes, that Ian McKellen) for a wrenching death scene. And me with so much to live for! Allysen died, too. It was tragic. I was reminded of this occasion by a panel I was on recently at Boskone, talking about The Lord of the Rings film.

This all happened long before Ian McKellen was Gandalf. In fact, until that evening, I had never heard of Ian McKellen. I think the year was probably 1986 or 1987, not too long after Allysen and I were married. We were visiting with her parents in London, and they treated us to a one-man show by some fellow named Ian McKellen, a Shakespearean actor of some note, we were told, but you couldn’t prove it by me. I remember almost nothing about the show, except that it was surprisingly good. I think he acted scenes from various Shakespeare plays he had been in. And then…

For a close, he invited members of the audience—anyone who wanted to come down—to join him on stage for one final performance. Allysen was out of her seat before he’d finished the invitation, and I said, “You’re not leaving me behind.” I think about thirty of us joined him on the stage. He gave us very explicit acting directions: We were to stand still and do nothing until his monologue came to a certain phrase (which I no longer remember). This we did, quite ably, I think. (Damn, we were good. It was a fight scene, too.) And when he spoke that phrase, we swung into action…

And fell down, dead. All of us.

To thunderous applause. Mr. (not yet Sir) McKellen thanked us graciously for our service and sent us back to our seats.

Little did I know that I had just shared the stage with Gandalf!

 

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