Wednesday, June 22, 2011

On the death of Ryan Dunn

The first business day of the week got off to a horrendous start when Jackass/CKY star Ryan Dunn and passenger Zachary Hartwell died a violent single-car wreck early Monday morning in Eastern Pennsylvania.
CNN's Alan Duke sums up what we know so far:
"Jackass" star Ryan Dunn was drunk and speeding up to 140 mph when his 2007 Porsche 911 GT3 crashed and caught fire on a Pennsylvania highway early Monday, police said Wednesday.
Dunn and Zachary Hartwell, a 30-year-old West Chester, Pennsylvania, man who once worked in one of Ryan's movies, died from "blunt and thermal trauma" in the fiery crash, according to the autopsy report released Tuesday.
"The initial crash reconstruction investigation determined that Mr. Dunn's vehicle was traveling between 132-140 mph at the time of the collision," West Goshen Police Chief Michael Carroll said in a statement Wednesday.
Toxicology testing by the coroner indicated Dunn's blood alcohol concentration was 0.196%, which is more than twice the legal state limit of 0.08, Carroll said.
My first emotion was deep sadness and loss, but not surprise. In high school I taped episodes of Jackass off television on VHS whenever they came on. My friends passed around tapes of underground Jackass forerunner Camp Kill Yourself like they were a drug we weren't supposed to be taking. Through all of this, Dunn remained amongst my favorite of the crowded crew. Never the instigator, always the reluctant participant, Dunn provided a needed balance to Bam Margera's fevered ego. Where Bam was ever torturing his long-suffering parents April and Phil, Dunn exuded genuine niceness.
He didn't want to hurt anybody, all he ever wanted was to roll of your roof in an open-topped barrel.
On a side note, like so many people who have been forced to report on this story for various news organizations who obviously have no idea who they're writing about, Duke consults IMDb oracle and manages to completely mangle the title Minghags.
The red-bearded Dunn, 34, was famous for his pranks and dangerous stunts on the show, which evolved into a successful film franchise.
Hartwell worked as a stunt car driver on "Minghads," a 2009 comedy directed by "Jackass" star Bam Margera and featuring Dunn, according to the Internet Movie Database.
Dunn teamed up with "Jackass" co-star Steve-O for an episode of the NBC game show "Minute to Win It" that aired on June 8.
He also hosted "Proving Ground," which premiered on the G4 channel on June 14.
Possibly the only good to come out of any of this is straight-laced journalists having to write the word Minghags in a hard news story. It reminds me of when Ol' Dirty Bastard was in the news every five minutes and Dan Rather had to pronounce Russell Jones' stage name without breaking character. I'd like to think Dunn would have found the humor.
In any event, people have been reverse engineering signs that Dunn's fiery auto wreck was all but inevitable. Dunn's Wikipedia page is currently little more than a collection of these mentions:
Dunn took part in the characteristic stunts that made Jackass famous. While taping a skit for Jackass: The Movie, Dunn was driving a golf cart with Johnny Knoxville as his passenger. The idea was that he would launch the golf cart over a sandtrap and into a plastic statue of a giant pig, and the statue would be crushed. However, the statue did not crush, but instead forced the golf cart into the air and it landed upside down. Dunn was thrown from the cart, and Knoxville landed on his neck with the cart on top of him. In the commentary for the movie, Bam Margera noted Dunn's bad driving.
Another skit in Jackass: The Movie featured Dunn placing a toy car into his rectum. The car was placed inside a condom and was covered in lubricant. He then visited a doctor and complained of pain in his tailbone. An x-ray session revealed that a small car was lodged in his body bringing surprise to the doctor. Dunn was also featured in Jackass Number Two.

In a classic case of "too soon" (also known as "when keeping it real goes wrong"), Roger Ebert got into quite a bit of hot water lately for suggesting via Twitter that Dunn's death might, in some way, have been caused at least in part by alcohol abuse. (This was yesterday before the toxicology tests came back.)
Dunn was rewarded most of his life for taking outrageous risks. He was rewarded with friendship, fame, riches, love. Why wouldn't his brain's rewiring change to suit this new reality?
It's hard to see myself ever driving drunk at 140 miles per hour in the middle of the night, but I can see how he got there.
Circumstance aside, there now are two people, who were by all accounts high-quality individuals, who are now dead.
And they don't need to be.
And I don't know what else say because chiding someone who's already paid the ultimate price for their own carelessness seems redundant.
While I was writing this piece a strangely prescient song came on the Cake Radio station on Pandora which I happened to be listening to: Johnny Cash's "God's Gonna Cut You Down". I think I'll end with that:

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