Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Singer

It was with a dreadful sadness that I heard this morning of the passing of Andy Hallett, who starred as Lorne the singing demon on the US TV series Angel, at the appallingly young age of just thirty three. Andy died last night at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles after a tragic five-year battle with heart disease. I had the good fortune to meet Andy and interview him twice when I was writing my book on Angel, Hollywood Vampire in 2004 and 2005. I found him, on both occasions, to be one of the most pleasant, genuine and decent people I've ever met - in any walk of life. Andy was the epitome of the classy New England gentleman - charming, sharp, witty, the very life and soul of the party. He was, I think, wholly unaffected by finding himself thrust, somewhat unexpectedly, into the spotlight on a hit TV show in what was his first acting role. But, by the same token, he was someone who seemed genuinely thrilled by this and amazingly grateful to the show's fans for whom he always seemed to have a lot of time and who, in return, showered him with much love and affection during his public appearances. The feeling, one always felt, was entirely mutual.

Andy, from the Cape Cod village of Osterville, Massachusettes, appeared in more than seventy episodes of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer spin-off between 2000 and 2004, being a series regular for most of the final two seasons of the show. He developed, quickly, into an accomplished actor, particularly good at dry comedy sequences and pithy, acid-tongued one-liners. But he was also a superb singer and fans of the show will fondly recall his belting renditions of songs like Stevie Wonder's 'Superstition', Tony Bennett's 'I Left My Heart in San Fransisco' and, his "theme song", LaBelle's 'Lady Marmalade' in episodes of Angel. The character he played, Krevlornswath of the Deathwok Clan (or just plain Lorne for short) was, of course, the owner and host of a demon karaoke bar, Caritas, which gave Andy plenty of opportunity to display his musical talent. One of the finest moments in Angel is in the last episode - Not Fade Away - where Lorne sings a truly heart-tugging version of 'If I Ruled the World' before going off on one, final (unwanted) mission for his friend, Angel. He based it, he said, on James Brown's rendition of the song and blew everyone on-set away with his one-take performance.

According to legend, Andy didn't even begin singing until he was well into his twenties when Patti LaBelle herself invited him onstage at a gig in the late-90s. It was, as he would subsequently note, 'a life-changing experience.' He was working as a runner for a publishing agency during the day and singing in a Universal City blues review at night when Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt, Angel's co-creators, saw Andy's stage-show and were instantly captivated by his presence and the power of his voice. They became friendly with him and, allegedly, conceived of the character - an anagogic demon who reads people's souls when they sing karaoke - pretty much there and then. Charmingly, Andy was unsure whether he would last more than a couple of episodes and so carried on with his day job for a while, until ultimately convinced to quit by Whedon and others on show. 'Once the makeup is on, it's fine,' Andy told Horror Online concerning the green-face-and-horns look that his character became known for. 'The contacts lenses [can be] irritating. I've never even worn regular contacts and these are much thicker. But I can't emphasise enough how extremely professional everybody is on the set, in every single department.' Always a generous man towards his fellow actors, Andy was especially fulsome in his praise of his co-star Alexis Denisof: 'He's so focused and dedicated to his craft,' Andy noted. 'I turn to Alexis for guidance on just about everything from memorising my lines to turning them into a real conversation.' Andy certainly made a deep and lasting impression on many who met him, including guest star Adam Baldwin who fondly recalled 'The person who made me laugh most was Andy Hallett. He's so gregarious and outgoing.'

In a 2005 magazine interview, Andy revealed that shortly after filming the last episode of Angel the year before, he had suffered what had seemed at the time to be a relatively minor tooth infection but which quickly spread and eventually led to cardiomyopathy being diagnosed. His health never fully recovered. He did not return to acting thereafter (except for a voice-part in Geppetto's Secret), but instead pursued his musical career and frequently appeared at Angel and multi-media conventions where he was always a welcome and very popular guest. In particular, I recall at our second meeting he expressed his extreme fondness for London, a city that he loved and experienced to the full when attending the Nocturnal 3K convention at Heathrow in 2001 along with many of his Angel and Buffy co-stars. 'That place is a bomb!' he told me gleefully. 'I might end up living here one day.'

Tall, handsome (albeit - charmingly - somewhat embarrassed by the shape of his nose, something that he mentioned in both interviews with me!) Andy was the kind of guy that you'd really rather like to simply have a beer with and talk about music to. We spent probably twenty minutes of the first interview, at a coffeeshop in Marina Del Ray - which was supposed to last half-an-hour but eventually went on for the best part of two hours - talking about Motown and a shared love of Brenda Holloway's voice and the bass playing on What's Goin' On? I am as saddened by Andy's passing as much for the fact that the world just said goodbye to somebody who put some unequivocal joy into it as anything else.

We lost one of the good guys yesterday and we shall miss him terribly.