The Life of Alan Bates
by Donald Spoto
First published in 2007
ISBN 978-0-09-179735-5 (Hardback, 320 Pages)
As of this writing, renowned biographer Donald Spoto has successfully authored twenty-one books including biographies of Audrey Hepburn, Tennessee Williams, Jackie Kennedy, Marlene Dietrich, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Ingrid Bergman and two books about Alfred Hitchcock.
This volume documents the life of the late actor Sir Alan Bates who passed away in 2003 aged nearly seventy and represents a particularly classy piece of writing, authored as it was with the full support of Bates' own brother and also his son Ben - a former friend of River's.
In March, Alan was in New Mexico, filming Sam Shepard's Silent Tongue, with the twenty-one year old actor River Phoenix. A curious combination of revisionist Western, Greek tragedy and old-fashioned ghost story, the picture certainly had nobly uncompromising themes: the destructive power of blind adherence to the self-glorifying American myth of the Old West, and indictment of the white man's treatment of the Native American, and a savage critique of atavistic materialism. Playing a boozy Irish showman and vendor who sells his own daughters for a profit, Alan came perilously close to slicing ham, but there were depths of remorse in his watery glances, and his scenes with Richard Harris and River Phoenix gave unusual poignancy to the often bewildering narrative.
Upon publication this biography was well-received and has become somewhat highly regarded amongst the many people who followed the career of this veteran actor. River, and the film in which he stared alongside Bates is discussed on two occasions in the book. During the second occasion, the author reprints a letter that Bates wrote to the Phoenix family upon the loss of River.
Amid the haze of pain that enshrouded him from 1991 through 1993, Alan spontaneously reached out to those in similar emotional turmoil. While filming Hard Times, he was informed that twenty-three-year-old River Phoenix (his co-star in Silent Tongue), after taking Cocaine, heroin and marijuana, had dropped down dead outside a Los Angeles nightclub. To the young man's family Alan at once wrote:
My son Benedick and I were deeply upset to hear of River's death, especially having worked with him so soon after my other son's death, Ben's twin, Tristan.
River and Ben developed an immediate rapport, and River was enormously sensitive about what had happened to us, so I am able to understand your grief very fully, and know exactly what you are going through.
Your son was unusual, extremely gifted, compassionate, and Benedick and I just felt very fortunate to have known him.
I know from your statement to the press how proud you are of what he achieved in so short a life. He had a real burst of glory and seemed to be a shining light for so many people. I find now that nearly four years have passed since Tristan's death, [and] however often the actual loss and grief may strike, my pride in his lovely nature and potential, and the influence he spread among his contemporaries, give me a huge strength, and I know that you will also be able to feel that.
I met your daughter, Summer, very briefly during the filming of Silent Tongue. I hope I see her again and meet all of you some time.
God bless you all.