… John Waters’ describes an “extraordinary moment” between Michael Douglas and David Letterman.
“You don’t sound like you have throat cancer,” Letterman said. “Because,” replied Douglas, “I’m on stage.” But at the end of the interview there occurred an extraordinary moment. Letterman asked Douglas if there was anything, he, Letterman, could do. It did not seem planned. “You can give me a hug,” Douglas replied, beginning to rise from his chair. Letterman rose too and embraced him. It might have been a sentimental moment, but it went much deeper.
Douglas clung to the other man as though to speak to him of what had happened in a different way than they had just done for the audience.
In the commentaries that followed, the main theme has been to applaud the actor’s “courage” and to say that the openness of his approach to his disease is constructive for those who suffer in the same way.
Yes. But in this moment, we saw something else: the vulnerability of the human being in the face of the ineluctable mysteries of life and death, which must be faced alone by the famous as well as by those who encounter similar moments anonymously. The embrace said many things: “Me too? I can’t believe it!”; “It will be ok, won’t it?”; “So, this is what it is like?”; “Am I really alone?”…
Douglas’ request came across, in the culture in which it occurred, as ironic. He was laughing. But the hug itself was not ironic at all: it spoke profoundly of his human need in the face of his ultimate fate. He needed to be embraced by another. It is a moment each of us must be ready to experience, and from which anticipation a new sense of being flies backwards to meet us. Even in this brave performance, Michael Douglas was crying out to be reassured by something beyond what is immediately evident.”