The first time I ever saw John Morgan was on stage in Taming of the Shrew. I was looking at USAO and considering a transfer and decided to check out this show they were producing. The minute I heard his voice I sat up straighter in my chair and thought….duuuuuude. That guy…I’m going to watch him.
Fast forward through the summer to the first day of Fall classes. I was sitting in Shakespeare, not knowing a soul and trying to just be quiet and small. Dr. Franklin was calling roll and John answered something to the tune of “I know you are but what am I” and I just cackled. That was the dude with the voice. During the class he recited some bit of a sonnet that should have sounded like…ya know…Shakespeare. It came out sounding like “Hey little girl, ya want some candy?”
We looked at each other and laughed and instantly became best friends. It was more than that actually. It was more than best friends, and deeper than family. It was something…who even knows what it was.
We were partners in crime. Benedict and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, Mayor and Eulalie Shinn in The Music Man, Bottom and Flute/Pyramus and Thisbe in A Midsummer Nights Dream and we were Walter and Phyllis Gold in Twilight of the Golds. Onstage and off we were a team. We were one word. Johnandmisti.
I appeared on campus the semester after Judy had gone to grad school. I just kind of fit seamlessly into this vacated space, and John became the best husband I never married in a totally just friends kind of way and Judy my sisterwife before we even had the term sisterwife. It was this crazy amalgamation of family. And it was perfect.
When word spread that we had lost one of the best voices ever heard on the planet, I watched comments pop up on the internet.
“John Morgan was the kind of guy that could make you laugh when you felt like crying or even make you laugh when you felt like you couldn’t laugh anymore. “
Today I laughed and wept thinking of John Morgan One of the wonderful USAO Troupe. A little piece of sunshine just went home — and now he shines brighter in heaven
he explained so much to me about the concepts of the play. He was so kind and patient with this crazy kid!
Oh man I loved that dude.
John made it his mission to come into the booth when I was on headseat to either a) fart and leave without saying a word or b) tell me a joke and try to make me laugh. He made everything more fun, and never trusted me with power tools. A wise man.
John was always willing to take a moment to teach and tell a joke no matter how busy he was. He also had the most appropriate response to being told that he was stealing a moment from other actors: “Well, maybe they should act harder.” John was a hell of a human and he left a gap that can never be filled.
Over and over accolades were published in this brave new world that is social media and it became very evident very quickly that teaching was a cornerstone of the legacy John leaves behind.
Patti said that he taught her about true, authentic and unconditional love. She said, he taught me so much. I didn’t know I was funny until I met him.
When she asked the question What did Johnny L Morgan teach you ? Again I watched as people posted their answers and really, they were brilliant.
He taught me…
To find humor in everything and to laugh at the silliness in life
Take a step back, so you don’t get lost in the details. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Speak from your heart.
He taught me you’re never too old to try new things, never too young to participate or be relevant, and if you’re too uptight to laugh, you’re doing it wrong.
Sharla said, He taught me many things, One of my favorite was to offer grilling dinner for your kid and her friends then after they arrive tell them dinner will be served AFTER the kids raked the yard. It worked…we raked the yard!
Emily said one of her favorites was “Never let anyone live rent free in your head”
Amanda said, “He taught me to not take shit from anyone. He taught me its ok to be yourself. He taught me love as much as you can. He taught me its okay lose your basket every once in a while, it builds character’
And finally, don’t we all know The rule of 7 p’s because of John? … Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Production
Isn’t that a wonderful thing to do? To leave everyone he encountered with a lesson and a laugh? That was our John.
That awesome voice of his, the outrageously twisted sense of humor, the actor voted most likely to moon you from stage right…these are all significant pieces of he persona that come up time and time again.
And yet there was so much more.
John was an accomplished musician, playing drums in various phases of this epic life he lived. He was one of the smartest people I’ve ever met and he could remember absolutely everything unless it was his monologue in Twilight of the Golds. He was never at a loss for something to say, and on the rare occasion he was, he filled the silence with a giant fart. I think really he was just happy being happy and that gave everyone a reason to smile.
The people that made him smile the most were his family. John loved with a depth that was off the charts. And while there’s a very real chance that he didn’t communicate those thoughts as well as he should have, or as timely as he could have, it didn’t change the fact that Patti, Misty, Sharla, JL, Sara, Amanda and Emily were the best things that ever happened to him. Ever.
We would talk about you all the time.
One of the first things he ever said to me was ,” I have a daughter named Misty. Misty with a Y. You’re Misti with an EYE. “
JL and Sharla I felt were my pseudo siblings before I ever actually met them.
When he spoke of “his girls” Amanda and Emily and Sara…you could hear the laughter in his voice. The last conversation I had with him was full of details about JL and his Ann Taylor, and of Milla. The newest princess in the castle.
Patti, you brought light and joy into these last years that had been missing from his life. You told me this week that when you could make him laugh, it was a winning moment. He had a giggle in his voice that he couldn’t contain when he spoke of you. I remember doing everyone’s hair for your wedding day, and the joy was palpable. I will never forget his face as you walked down the aisle. Joy. We know that his third act was not nearly long enough for our liking. But you know what it WAS? It was filled with joy and laughter and companionship and romance and love. What more could anyone have wanted for him?
Family was another piece of his legacy. Be it his kids, his wife or co-workers, his driving buddies or child hood friends or our theatre group, it didn’t really matter who was actually related…if John came into the picture then you were part of the family.
John and I spent many minutes together here on this campus, in this theatre. . We would sit on the loading dock behind this theatre for the hours between school and rehearsal and talk. Talk of our day, of what we thought about Mindwalking, and the cool new thoughts between thoughts that we were thinking. He and I would discuss the big issues of life and love and loss and gain. We talked of our belief system and what we knew to be right and true. We often spoke of Faith. We discussed the Bible and Joseph Campbell and Shakespeare and it was a beautiful thing to discover that at the end of the day we didn’t have to subscribe to a particular flavor or specific genre, but believed that Faith is walking out into all of the darkness and aloneness you can imagine, and taking that first step into the unknown and knowing without a doubt that someone would catch you or you would be taught how to fly. His faith and his beliefs were based in love and respect and being kind. And it showed. So I would say to his family today, which includes all of us, Be Encouraged. On those moments where we find ourselves mired down in the gross and the sad, be encouraged. This man has a great and magnificent story. Psalms Chapter 30 verse 5 says “weeping may endure for the night, but joy cometh in the morning.”
Be encouraged because Joy. Joy cometh in the morning.
One of my favorite Joseph Campbell pieces says:
“We’re in a freefall into future. We don’t know where we’re going. Things are changing so fast, and always when you’re going through a long tunnel, anxiety comes along. And all you have to do to transform your hell into a paradise is to turn your fall into a voluntary act. It’s a very interesting shift of perspective and that’s all it is… joyful participation in the sorrows and everything changes.”
So again I say to you, if you’re walking through that dark night of the soul, you aren’t alone. We are all in this together. I have discovered a long forgotten truth this week and that is I can talk about John Morgan day in and day out, and never tire of it. We can lean on each other, joyful participation in the sorrows changes everything.
Those were some of my most favorite talks. We would get to going and talking and ideas flowing and before you knew it I’d be crying. And he’d be laughing at me for crying. Every feel that I have is out for the whole world to see. John wasn’t quite as much of an open book, and he would tease and make fun and mercilessly but he always knew when it got real.
“oh God, you’re about to have a comeapart aren’t you?”
Usually it was about two days before we opened a show or during finals week.
He would let me comeapart, and then we would go get a diet coke and motor on.
I’ve had several comeaparts this week, figuring out how to balance the grief with the manic laughter that always follows a John memory. Thinking holy crap how am I ever going to get through Saturday. How are we all going to just get through this stupid ridiculous stupid thing?
Sitting in the living room floor the other night, with Sharla and Patti and Emily and Amanda, going through boxes, we found so many photos and memories and we were once again reminded of those that went before him, Judy, Patsy, Kathy, Chris…and we would imagine the reunion and the dirty haiku’s being written and that brought both more laughter and more tears. It was like a mash up between One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest and Steel Magnolias, but we always wound up laughing.
We remembered this poem that John wrote. The LIT Club published a book of poetry and stories sometime in 95 I think and John had several and we all agreed that we should for sure have one read today.
In my head, I had this running scenario going of me at the podium, trying to keep it together and read the poem and John being all Star Wars see through ghosty sitting out in the audience directing.
I would tell you that this poem is called SKIN, and I would start by saying that all of our emotions and feelings are valid and that this crazy laughter through tears is something that John totally understood. He understood and wrote about the good and the bad stuff and trying to navigate the roller coaster of it all in this poem. And John would just be all floaty out there listening shouting out directions now and again.
SKIN-By John Morgan
The trouble with skin
Is some is thick
And some is thin.
If it’s thick
Nothing gets out,
But nothing gets in.
If it’s thin then,
What gets in
Won’t stay in.
I wish I could adjust my skin
To let the bad stuff out
And keep the good stuff in.
And the scene would play out like this…Actually since we don’t have an actual special effect ghosty thing I’m just going to…Sharla may I borrow Fozzie*** please? Thank you.
Ok. The scene would go like this:
Misti: Well, whatdja think?
John: you should take some water up there. You have cottonmouth from the nerves and you sound all smacky.
Misti: Right. Duly noted. Water. Anything else?
John: No. I pretty much wrote a perfect poem. You can’t screw that up.
Misti: I don’t know if I’ll be able to do this John.
John: ahhh sure you will.
Misti: No, I’m serious. I’m a hot mess this week.
John: Just close your eyes and imagine that the audience is nekkid. N-E-K-K-I-D.
Misti: That’s not it. I don’t know if I’ll be able to DO this.
John: do what?
Misti: say goodbye.
John: oh hell I’m not going anywhere. You know better than that. You know–
Misti: –ummm beg pardon but you kind of did…
John: –Sigh. The first law of thermodynamics. ??? duh???
Misti: You know I don’t remember stuff like that. I have to google it.
John: The first law of thermodynamics states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed although it may be changed from one form to another.
Misti: yeah. Yeah. And if anyone is energy, it’s you.
John: we are all energy. All of us. Starstuff n shit.
Misti: yeah. Ok. I love that. So this whole eulogy thing? Thoughts? I’m sorry I wasn’t able to do it without cracking or getting the dry mouth.
John: I’ve told you time and time again, Sorry is found between shit and syphilis in the dictionary.
Misti: Right. Right. It’s just…it’s not fair—
John: Nope. The Fair is in the Fall.
Misti: I should really write something fabulous to end this with, like a grandiose finale that will make everyone smile. Do one last I love you or something to wrap it all up.
And then he would say:
John: Nah. This was good. Let someone else have a turn to talk about me. Besides…grandiose finales give me gas.
***The above scene was played out with a Fozzie the Bear handpuppet that John had with him while he was in the hospital.