I doubt those who saw it will soon forget the final TV appearance of actor Paul Eddington (see obit, page 52), who appeared on BBC2′s prerecorded latenight interview program “Face to Face” Oct. 30 and died four days later, age 68, the victim of a rare form of skin cancer that had been slowly invading his body for the better part of four decades.
At first, the program seemed potentially voyeuristic, as the camera tracked the severely discolored, sore-ridden face – his head long ago gone hairless – of one of Britain’s most fondly regarded TV and stage actors. Then, as Eddington spoke, all doubts were dispelled: Not only was the actor unusually lucid about topics ranging from his fractious family background and his embrace of both Quakerism and pacifism to the bewildering course of his disease, but his utterly unaffected modesty and eloquence began to exert a power all their own.
Asked by interviewer Jeremy Isaacs what he wanted for an epitaph, Eddington replied, “I think I would like it to be,” He did very little harm’ – and that’s not easy, because so many people do.” One approached the program wondering whether one could watch without looking away, and ended up mesmerized.
I don’t know how Eddington survived the ravages of an illness whose ongoing effects were at every moment apparent during the program. (“There is no alternative,” was Eddington’s own comment on the topic.) But I do know that something about his shining, clear eyes spoke of a humanity beyond the pain, which must be the most eloquent bequest this much-loved actor- indeed, anyone- could leave behind.