His wacky turn as Frankenstein's tap-dancing monster in a Mel Brooks movie led the obituaries, along with his role as the curmudgeonly father on a hideously popular sitcom.
When I heard the news, however, I pulled out one of my old issues of magazine. The cover also hymned a new technology: “Cassette TV: The Good Revolution.” The date of the issue was October 16, 1970, a time when rage at the bad revolutions–Black Panthers forcing shootouts with police; students burning down ROTC buildings; fornicating hippies like Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, whose deaths by overdose were also covered in that issue–was what made Spiro Agnew cover-worthy: He was on the road campaigning for the Republican slate by pretending Democratic senators were gobbling acid right alongside the fornicating hippies. He was 34 years old then, and had just scored his breakthrough success as an actor.
It is something the media prefers to repress: the fact that Americans often hate each other enough to fantasize about murdering each other, in cold blood, over political and cultural disagreements.
Sitting in front of his apartment, he felt a sneeze coming on; it was tear gas, wafting down from Lincoln Park.
In interviews when the movie came out, Boyle agonized about his portrayal of Joe: “Sometimes I worry we were too hard on him.” He'd talk about how guys like Joe were living on the bubble, how their horror of disorder, their racism, had its roots in economic anxiety: “He's got every penny he ever made sunk into his house, and a black family is moving in on the same block. It's a real problem that most liberals never encounter.” This was a wise observation–wiser than Slater's, or the makers of Joe, who fantasized the left-wing reaction to bourgeois alienation was purely innocent. A perverse pleasure can be had in seeing the characters one identifies with depicted as enlightened apostles of peace and love, then watching as they are mowed down as the victims of sadistic know-nothings. I get scared when I meet people like Joe.” But he was scared of Joe's symbolic victims, too.
But instead of bringing him joy, it forced on him a dark night of the soul. It tells us so much more about the man and his times.
The movie Boyle had just starred in was described as an “ape-like, dese-dem-and-dose type,” who strikes up a conversation with a businessman in an East Village bar.
They started berating the police: why weren't there flags on the flag poles in front of Federal Hall? (Actually, per federal regulations, flags were not flying due to inclement weather.) The hard hats then burst through the line of police, who didn't seem particularly anxious to stop them.