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Candle in a Hurricane

Stina Thor’s family and friends said goodbye to her, September 14, 2002, in Malibu. She was born in 1958. When I met her in 1968 I would have bet she was going to live forever.

Stina had everything. Brains, beauty, humor, an infectious enthusiasm for life and she really cared about people.

Her father, Larry Thor, was my professor at UCLA.

The Thors were the perfect family. Each one was better looking than anyone deserved to be. Both Larry and his wife, Jean, were successful actors and both were great raconteurs. Stina and her two younger brothers (Cameron and Leifur) seemed to have lucked out in the DNA draw.

I took a series of photographs of Stina. She was an incredible subject.

Living in Malibu and splashing in tide pools, Stina was a magnet for the guys. I can still see her sun-drenched hair as she bounced on her family’s beach trampoline. I can still hear her laughter above the surf.

She had it all. But lurking in her magical DNA was a troublesome strand of chromosomes…a tiny twist of genetic information that, if you could read the code, would have screamed:  “Watch out for drugs.”

It was a warning that Larry didn’t know about in his youth. After too many hazy years, he joined Alcoholics Anonymous and soon became the poster boy for AA in California.

After nearly two decades of sobriety, Larry developed back pain and his doctor prescribed Valium. Larry was lost, back into the booze and the family fell apart.  That’s one story of his fall from grace.  Another is that the only way he could deal with back pain was grass.  He took the family on a vacation to Mexico and was worried about its drug laws and started in on beer.

About 45 years ago, I watched the sunset from the Thor’s salt-stained porch in Malibu. Larry said he thought he was going to die soon. His mother had just died and he was drinking heavily. He asked me to keep an eye on his kids.

I said sure, no problem and don’t worry, you’re not going to die. A month later he was gone – massive heart attack.

The months glided by and about the time Stina might have been the toast of Hollywood, she took the wrong drug and passed out…under a hot shower. When she came to, her face was like a melted candle.

Overnight, Stina went from having the kind of face men stared at, to the kind of face men looked away from.

Stina had an indomitable spirit and she sobered up and managed to patch up her life. She spent a lot of time helping others. Sometimes she fell off the wagon. She called me a few years after the shower accident and asked if I had the negatives from our shooting session.

She said she had a friend who could print the photos — would I lend her the negatives? I said sure but be careful, I don’t have copies. A few months later, before her friend could make a print, she lost all the negatives.  I found a single negative and made the print from it at the bottom of this story.

I met her occasionally over the years — usually she was sober. You never realized her face was scarred. The plastic surgery helped but it was her attitude. That was all you saw. She was just so full of life and enthusiasm.

Then last month she died at 44.

Cameron and Leifur arranged for her friends to say goodbye in Malibu on a hilltop, overlooking the Pacific Stina loved.

During the service many of her friends from AA showed up. Someone would stand up and say, “My name’s Bill, I’m an alcoholic.” And everyone would say “Hi, Bill,” and he would talk about Stina and what a special person she was.

Everyone spoke of how Stina was there for them, how she helped them become better and deal with their own pain.

I thought about standing up and saying, “Hi, my name is Jaron, I’m not an alcoholic but I have a lot of other vices that almost compensate for my lack of drinking.”

I thought about saying that after I met the Thors so many years ago I was relieved to find out they were almost as dysfunctional as my family. (Dad was an alcoholic but he never admitted it. Killed himself.)

I’ve got Dad’s ashes in the closet.

I think, when I go back to Canada, I’ll sprinkle them along the Saskatchewan River. And I’ll let a white balloon filled with helium rise in the sunset.

My Dad liked sunsets. He would have gotten a blast out of Stina’s shindig on Saturday.

Cameron and Leifur had a white balloon for her. Right before sunset, the two brothers released that white balloon.

It wiggled up to heaven and caught the final sunlight….

  thor 2015

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