October 16, 2009
This clip is from the Sesame Street Episode entitled “Farewell, Mr. Hooper.” It is the single most daring, artistic and beautiful piece of television ever produced.
The actor who played Mr. Hooper, Will Lee, died unexpectedly in 1982. Rather than gloss over the fact that the fictional owner of the local bodega was no longer around on Sesame Street with some clichéd explanation (ex. He moved away), the people at the Children’s Workshop took a more direct approach. In a shocking display of integrity and courage, the show’s plotline followed real life and children watching at home were told that Mr. Hooper was dead. There was no beating around the bush either. They didn’t say, “he passed on” or “he’s in a better place.” The cast members explicitly tell a confused Big Bird that Mr. Hooper died.
This clip is from the very end of the episode. Earlier, Big Bird is shown walking with his head threw his legs. When Winston asks, “Big Bird, why are you walking like that?” Big Bird replies the way a child would. “Just because.”
The actors were very much in the moment as they were dealing with the death of their friend and colleague.
Watch this clip.
They first tackle the permanency of death. Big Bird does not understand the concept of someone dying. He needs to be told that it will be forever. That Mr. Hooper will never be alive again.
Big Bird becomes understandably frightened. A person in his life whom he depended on wouldn’t be able to perform his duties any longer. But as in real life, his friends decide to step up and assume the roles that Mr. Hooper played. But still, it won’t be the same.
So what can we do then? Appreciate and remember the time that we had with Mr. Hooper. Relive the love for as long as you can. But despite the effort Big Bird immediately has trouble remembering Mr. Hooper’s name, calling him Mr. Looper. Even if we try our hardest to remember and remember, we may still forget over time.
And when Big Bird’s emotions finally get the better of him, after being told what has happened with no explanation of the actual reason, he finally demands an answer: “Why? Why does it have to be this way?”
Gordon stands up, and in the most concise and perfect explanation of death I have ever heard, lays it out.
“Because. Just because. “