I’m finding myself deeply affected by the passing of Christopher Dennis, the Hollywood Superman. His story is a reflection of something we are missing. That is not a judgment of the man, himself, but of the malaise of apathy that is part of society. Maybe it has always been a societal norm to look the other way, or to numb ourselves to harsher realities, but in this day and age, with myriad networks of communication, it seems odd to be moving farther apart.
I’ve been looking for biographical information about Christopher Dennis, but haven’t found anything concrete in terms of where he was from. Suffice to say, Christopher came to Hollywood as a young man with the dream of becoming a star. He waited tables like so many of us have, and then one day someone noticed his resemblance to Christopher Reeve. Seeing an opportunity to make some money and to have a flexible schedule to audition, he donned a Superman suit and took to Hollywood Boulevard making tips from tourists taking his picture.
That also made him vulnerable. One day as he carried hundreds of dollars in tips he was mugged, beaten and left for dead.
I’m not sure when in the mid 90s that I had my own picture taken with Christopher, but he was one of many super hero characters and Hollywood icons in front of the Chinese Theater one hot sunny day when I strolled with friends from out of town. I’ve passed those performers many times since, taking them for granted each time as just part of the colorful scenery.
They were part of, I thought, “delusional Hollywood” where people go to become someone else and to seek the mythical success of fame. They were the pageantry and touristy attraction to celebrity; they were the pretend side of pretending.
I didn’t feel sorry for him at the time, in fact, I felt glad for myself for never choosing what appeared to be a desperate route. Yet I, and countless others, participated in the show they were providing at great expense to themselves. The expense of which led to Christopher’s unexplained demise, found in a dumpster at only 52 years of age. His lonely death was an illustration of a life that itself had been discarded. A discarded person longing to be recognized, to be loved, to be heroic.
Today, I am ashamed for not having paid attention. I am ashamed that I could not see past my frivolity or to recognize the good fortune I have been given so that I could afford such obstinacy. I am sorry Christopher Dennis that only today am I discovering your story; your battle with meth addiction, your homelessness, the attack on your person. Only today am I feeling the hot pavement on that boulevard of broken dreams where you walked day after day, hoping your struggle might one day reward your effort.
You did bring joy to others. You brought excitement to children. You brought memories to folks who came to see the Metropolis of Hollywood. You succeeded and I failed.
I failed to see your reality. Advocacy for the homeless is not new for me, but this story serves to show how even activists can become inured and confine the cause. I could have looked closer. We all can look closer.
No one can assume to know why a person is broke. Christopher Dennis should remind all of us to look upon others with an open heart and an open mind. No one wants to walk the streets without shelter. No one wants hunger to dictate how a day unfolds. No one wants to die in a dumpster.
Don’t toss pennies at a dirty blanket. Don’t chastise the story of those who are struggling to survive. Don’t stand in the way of programs and people trying to give sustenance, health, a warm bed, and hope to those who are on the street.
Superman lives. He is any one of us when we stop to look at everyone we encounter and realize they are a human being.
Thank you, Christopher Dennis, for showing me the light from your star on Hollywood Boulevard.