Curtain Call

Denver mourns the loss of its favorite bipolar, one-armed comic/poet/playwright.

Having recently finished it, he was experiencing the doubt and sense of emptiness those close to him say always came with the completion of a major project. Did I do a good job? Is it actually done? What's next?

"He worked the last three years on it pretty steadily, and he was really relieved to be done with it," says Denise, whom Don considered his personal manager and who was helping him find a publisher. "And yet he didn't know what to do with himself after he was done with it. I think he expected that it would get published immediately.

"I think he was also concerned that the book would define him. Just like he didn't want to be the mentally ill, one-armed comic, I think he was worried about becoming the mentally ill, one-armed writer. Plus he really wanted that book to be something that would give people hope — that I've been to the darkest place you can go and I'm on the path to healing. But he was still really nervous about what was next," she says.

Portrait of the artist as a high-school graduate (above); a more recent photo of Don Becker.
Portrait of the artist as a high-school graduate (above); a more recent photo of Don Becker.
Don Becker lost his hand in 1986.
Don Becker lost his hand in 1986.

"He talked to me about his 'postpartum' depression with the book," Baxendale concurs.

But then he stopped talking to anyone. In the last few weeks of his life, those who were around him agree that he had definitely entered a valley. Phone contact fell off. He was drinking heavily, taking a lot of drugs. He and Denise got into the first fight they had ever had in their eighteen-year friendship.

"In some ways it was a relief, because he had been really wanting to talk a lot about the book," she says. "So he kind of got into a fight with me a little at the end and said, 'Don't call me, don't come by.' And I was a little hurt, but I said I would let him get over it and give him a couple of days to come around."

"I told her to just enjoy the break," Brent says with a laugh.

But Denise caved and left her friend a voice message. Sensing that he was feeling paranoid, she made her words simple and sweet: "You know, Don, you're a friend of mine, you've always been a friend of mine. I love you, and you know that."


Don never returned the call. A few days later, Brent got a call from Don's mother, who'd been phoned by a resident at Don's apartment building and informed that something was wrong. Brent headed to the apartment and found the police and a coroner already there. They told him that Don appeared to have been dead for two to four days. It was May 15, 2008.

After Don's body was removed, Brent went into the apartment and found a blood stain on the kitchen floor. One of the residents in the building told him that the medic had said Don had a wound on his head. There was also a lightweight wooden TV table found near Don's body. It had been splintered into pieces.

At the Comedy Works, news of his passing was met with shock but not surprise. No one had ever expected Don to live to one hundred.

When I told some of the old-time staffers there, they all expressed sadness over the loss of a great comic they hadn't seen in many, many years, then immediately went into Don stories as though he had just headlined the night before.

While some people speculated about suicide, Brent says Don had been complaining of dizziness for months, had written poems about it, and even had an appointment at Denver Health to be examined the week he died. He believes Don simply fell. The results of an autopsy won't be released until toxicology tests come back in the next few weeks. "At this point the cause of death is pretty speculative," Brent says. "It could be all kinds of things."

Don's mother is more direct. "I was just stunned when somebody called me and said that there were some problems that made them think something had happened to Don," Marion Becker says. "It's really a hard thing to deal with, losing a child. It's been very hard on his sister, too. We're both just working on being strong."

But no matter what factors led to the death of Don Becker, creative genius and Denver icon, it's not lost on his many friends just how prescient his final moments may have been. Don kept a MySpace page with 21 friends and general descriptions of himself. And, as was always the case with Don, his own words seem the most fitting.

His "About Me" section reads as follows:

My first memory is my infant baptism — I remember looking at the ceiling and thinking 'here we go again' — I was a pre-Ritalin ADHD kid — if somebody had sought to hook me up with some Dexedrine back then I might've been somebody — I was an underachiever and I REALLY WANTED PEOPLE TO LIKE ME — then the universe dropped me on my head and I gained a clearer understanding of what friendship is — I write for love and money — local celebrity status — I hope the world is automated soon — I want to give away my writing for free — I'm no longer a spring chicken.

I think about death a lot — I am trying to program myself to die from a fall — I think it would be great if my last word was 'oops.'

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