The first time I saw him, he was striding toward me out of the burning Georgia sun, as helicopters landed behind him. His face was tanned a deep brown. He was wearing a combat helmet, an ammo belt, carrying a rifle, had a canteen on his hip, stood six feet four inches. He stuck out his hand and said, "John Wayne." That was not necessary.
Wayne died on June 11, 1979. Stomach cancer. "The Big C," he called it. He had lived for quite a while on one lung, and then the Big C came back. He was near death and he knew it when he walked out on stage at the 1979 Academy Awards to present Best Picture to "The Deer Hunter," a film he wouldn't have made. He looked frail, but he planted himself there and sounded like John Wayne.
John Wayne. When I was a kid, we said it as one word: Johnwayne. Like Marilynmonroe. His name was shorthand for heroism. All of his movies could have been titled "Walking Tall." Yet he wasn't a cruel and violent action hero. He was almost always a man doing his duty. Sometimes he was other than that, and he could be gentle, as in "The Quiet Man," or vulnerable, as in "The Shootist," or lonely and obsessed, as in "The Searchers," or tender with a baby, as in "3 Godfathers."