Book Of The Dead – Alan Park

Alan Park and I met in Toronto in the late 1980’s. That, as it turns out, is a long time ago. 

We were part of the third wave of Canadian stand ups. Alan was handsome, fun-loving. He was kind and compassionate. It’s a toss-up between Alan and Paul Smith as to who had the most joyful smile, so its no surprise they were pals. 

Alan was funny and fun to be around. He was always doing something interesting. The two of us shared a love of music too, so we often spoke about our fav bands and tracks. Usually while getting very, very high.

When I look back on those days now I recall them as eternally sunny, and full of promise. There was no stopping us. We were all destined for great things.

Rose-coloured glasses. 

In reality, life as a professional stand up comic was a constant struggle – whether for gigs, rent, or recognition. Usually all three. Simultaneously.

A bit more introspection will also recall the fiercely competitive environment we were all subject to, the strange mixture of insecurity and confidence, creativity, and relentless drive. 

But we had each other.  And that meant a lot in a world where you often found yourself away from home and in need of a place to crash for the night. Comics took care of each other then. I don’t know if they still do that now. We fed each other. Housed each other. We shared a lot of what we had – and we didn’t have much.

In the early 90’s, my ex and I relocated to L.A., and then – rather unceremoniously – to Vancouver. It ended up becoming my home for the next decade. Alan, too, made the move from Toronto to Vancouver, though I can’t recall exactly when that was. 

And then we lost touch for a bit….

That is not unusual for comics. It doesn’t mean anything. It certainly doesn’t mean you fell out with each other or that you aren’t friendly anymore. It’s just how things are when you earn a living on the road; you’re on tour, they’re on tour, from one town to the next. One of you relocates to a new city. One starts to hang with a different group of pals. Someone gets married, or has a child. It’s an organic disconnect.

Then you meet up again, and pick up as if nothing has changed. Physical separation means nothing. It’s just ‘the life.’ Time is elastic for comics.

Unless you’re onstage.

But in my case, the disconnect was a big one. 

I left stand up in 2001. I left my whole life.

I walked away from my 14 year common-law relationship with another comic. I left my family, my cats, my friends, my home and most of my possessions. I even left my country. I left everything. Everything that meant anything to me. I felt I had to.

But it was traumatic. So much so that I have remained in exile ever since. That’s 22 years now.

For a time, I also cut ties with almost all of my comedy family. I suppose I needed to regroup and recover. When both you and your ex do the same thing for a living, and share the same circle of friends and business associates, it’s hard to avoid each other. I solved that by leaving the business completely and crossing the Atlantic.

Then slowly, tentatively, I began to reconnect with my past life. I had remained close to a very small and select few, but most people who wanted to re-establish contact had to actively seek me out. I was endlessly surprised by who those people were, and deeply touched by their efforts. It’s humbling to be missed. A dramatic change of life really reshapes your relationships. It makes you reassess a lot.

Alan, was one of the people who sought me out. 

It happened, oddly enough, through Facebook.

In August 2010 Alan sent me a friend request, followed quickly with a catch-up message. It was in response to an old blog post of mine, where I spoke about how menopause had affected my memory. He was typically modest and tongue-in-cheek at the same time.

‘I read your blog,’ he said, ‘Do you remember me?’

“Lol, of course I remember you,” I responded, “but do I have recall issues from time to time.’

“Well, I have no immediate pond crossing in my future, but if I do come over, I’ll be sure to introduce myself….’

So we reconnected, and our exchanges continued right up to his birthday, this past week.

Like I said, time is elastic. 

Here’s the ironic part: Alan – who would go on to become a well-known medical cannabis activist – had quit smoking pot by the time we reconnected. He wasn’t drinking much either.

During our early days in Toronto, we had both indulged in grass regularly. But now, settled and working as a writer and performer, he had decided to give it up. He was working out, physically active, eating well, trying to stay fit and take care of himself. 

In fact it was while he was exercising that, unbeknownst to him, his world began to crumble.

While lifting weights one day Alan ‘popped a rib.’ Broke it, sprained it, whatever. Or pulled a muscle. Maybe both. He wasn’t sure. But over the following weeks, that seemingly innocuous injury worsened, and set off a medical investigation that culminated in the worst type of news anyone can get…

It was the end of Nov 2013. Just a few short weeks after his 51st birthday. Alan was called into a top consultant’s office and told simply to “put his affairs in order.” 

Advanced, aggressive, stage 4 prostate cancer, that had already metastasized to his bones.

Dumbstruck, Alan asked about treatment options. Nope. Too late.

“You are too far gone, ” the doctor replied. He went on to explain the numbers.

“Your PSA – prostate specific antigen – indicates problems related to the prostate, like infection, prostatic hyperplasia or prostate cancer.

A questionable PSA might be between 1-4, with up to a 10 indicating a serious problem….”

“What is mine?” asked Alan.

“700,” said the doctor.

Too late for surgery, for chemo, for radiotherapy or anything else.

“You’ve got a month – maybe two.” the doctor said simply.

Reeling from the horror of it all, Alan floated home in a fog of confusion and fear. What the fuck? And yet, in the midst of the terrifying haze, he clung to a thought that had occurred to him during an incident almost a week and a half earlier.

He had been laying in the emergency department in agonising pain, waiting on test results he knew instinctively would be dire, when he had an epiphany.

“The thought just came into my head, ” Alan said later, “Like someone was in the room saying it to me. Medical cannabis.”

Now, with his diagnosis confirmed, Alan didn’t hesitate.

‘When there’s only one option, you take it. So I turned to cannabis oil…’

By the time his consultant confirmed the worst twelve days later, Alan had already started on Rick Simpson cannabis oil. He continued with it now, refined it, learned more about how to make it properly, when and how to take it. And he started to feel better. He started to feel a change.

When he returned to the same specialist five weeks after his initial diagnosis, the doctor was stunned.

‘Your PSA has dropped to 374…”

Alan knew he had been feeling better since he had begun using the oil. But to hear that the numbers reflected this, was all the confirmation he needed.

‘I knew I was onto something.’

All the same, he did not share the fact that he was using cannabis oil with his doctor until many months later. When he finally did, it was Alan’s turn to be shocked.

‘He actually advised against it! I couldn’t believe it. He had empirical evidence, proof it was making a difference. He could see it, right on his chart, reflected in the numbers. And yet here he was, refusing to even consider that cannabis oil was making a difference.

The doctors hubris, his inability to admit that there might be real validity to Alan’s experience – even scientific merit – led Alan to question both the man’s motivation and competence.

And it infuriated him. How many sick and dying people were being denied a chance at survival? At pain management? At complimentary treatment? All because of…what? Arrogance? Legal restrictions? Ignorance? Greed?

What, Alan wondered, was really going on here….?

An activist was born.

Alan would go on to create his own podcast about the medical benefits of cannabis, called Green Crush. He travelled around the world telling his story, and attending lectures and conventions on the uses and benefits of medical cannabis.

And yes, he survived way longer than the two months he was initially given.

Nine years longer.

He beat back the disease at least three times before it finally claimed him. Cancer did not define him. But the story of how he fought to reclaim his life tells you the kind of man he was.

Alan and I disagreed on a lot. Like, I mean, a LOT! But he never judged me for my views when they differed from his own.

When Covid arose and began to consume the world, Alan came down firmly on the anti-vaxx, anti-restriction side of things. Little wonder, considering his own past experiences with the established medical and pharmaceutical machine. I got that. I really did.

But I lost three friends during the first wave of Coronavirus; one of whom was very close to me and one of the strongest men I ever knew. So I did not doubt that Covid was a potentially lethal killer.

Additionally, over a year earlier I had been seriously ill myself, fighting a mystery virus for three months that was never fully identified. My immune system never recovered, and additionally, my partner was vulnerable due to a heart condition.

So yeah, ignore the mask and social distancing thing if you want, but I am suiting the fuck up like I’m a forensics specialist heading into a bloody crime scene.

But that was the thing with Alan. It was ok that we disagreed. It was not that he needed to be right. There was no condescension. No judgement. He just wanted to share what he had learned. He wanted people to question what they were being told, rather than accepting what he saw as false information. His need to challenge was not born out of ego. It was genuine concern.

So although I didn’t agree with him, he never stopped trying. His heart was always in the right place. It became a bit of good-natured banter between us. Witness one of our recent zoom sessions:

‘Hello Nut-job!’ says me, ‘How’s the tinfoil hat brigade today?’

“Hello sheeple,’ he would respond, with a grin, “Don’t you know only an idiot would put aluminium foil that close to their brain…? I bet you still cook with it, right?”

Although Alan and I joked about our differences of opinion, some of his friendships had suffered as a result of his beliefs.

“…Who knew the carefree days of the 90’s in Vancouver were as good as they were? ” he wrote to me once, “I’m trying to feel that way in the present….

…There are already enough people who think I am nuts…lol. Be well. I want you to know I have always thought of you fondly…”

“Seriously old friend,” I wrote back, “I am very glad to hear from you, and am open to any conversation you want to have. Big hug. And I adore you too…”

I know the loss of some friendships hurt him, but he was able to soldier on. He had the courage of his convictions. He just kept going….

Alan had many battles in his life. Aside from his physical health, there was a rather severe incident around 2019 that I never really got the full story about.

His cancer had returned but as usual, he was confronting it. He was living in the hills of St. Mary, Jamaica now, and messaged to tell me of an upcoming tour to the UK he was planning. He and his pal Mike Sheer were already working on the poster art. He was very pleased with it.

He was using a lot of speech-to-text messaging then, and thinking out loud in a sort of stream of consciousness, so it was often hard to understand what he was actually saying. Plus, he was usually high. The app would mis-hear him and spew out some random non-sequitor words, and you had to play detective to figure out the actual meaning.

Anyway, at some point all hell broke loose.

Somewhere between Canada, Jamaica and the UK, Alan ended up arrested and then committed to a mental institution. At least that was what he later told me:

“heyyyyyyy I was waylaid, arrested, mental home’d – they laid it to me – oh well, check me out for updates….” Then he directed me to his new FB page.

There was a very big drama. I never got the full story of what happened, but figured at some point he would tell me.

“I have faith in you,” I wrote, ‘You will come back from this.”

“Thank you,” he responded, “I can use the faith. A well run dry pretty much, and stigmatised to fuck. Whatever. Its all bonus since the end of 2014…”

He was still planning to come to the UK. But it never did happen. Cancer, life and Covid happened instead. Even our planned meeting in Toronto just before lockdown didn’t happen.

“I knew not catching you in T.O would bite me in the ass, “he would later write. “Next time I’ll be sure to show up. Be well.”

He always closed with ‘Be well.’

Missed opportunities.

Our lives are littered with them.

But we never lost contact. That remained a constant. And I am grateful for that.

According to his closest friends and family, Alan was at peace and not in any pain at the end.

I’m grateful for that too. He had already had more than his share. But it sure was a wild ride.

Alan was Resilient. Defiant. Pro-active. Curious. Questioning. An agitator.

He was a comic, writer, actor, satirist, podcaster, musician, father, son, brother, husband, and friend. And he was compassionate, generous, supportive and kind.

He genuinely cared about other people. He was passionate about the state of the world, and driven by his thirst for understanding and knowledge. He wanted this to be a better place.

The news of his loss came on the heels of several hard passings. It has been a pretty shit year in the world of comedy. But at least I know my friend is in very good company.

Part of me still can’t believe it. He was just such an unyielding presence. But how can we begrudge his leaving? He earned this rest. He really did. He fought the good fight. He deserves some peace.

I’m told he passed in his sleep. I can imagine him dreaming about some warm and joyful green place, in the sunny hills of Jamaica. I can see some old friends waiting there to greet him. And I can imagine him smiling as he wanders off into the embrace of that universal light.

So yeah, it hurts.

But I will not mourn his death.

I will hold his memory dear, with the others I already carry. I will remember the man and friend he was.

And I will celebrate his defiance.

Be well, my friend.

Until we meet again.