Ryan Dunn, Eulogy for a Stranger
Last month, on June 20th, we lost Ryan Dunn in a fatal car accident.
Ryan Dunn was a recognizable member of the Jackass crew, the twisted bunch of guys made famous on MTV and the follow-up hit movies for their daredevil stunts, gross-out potty humor and ridiculous pranks. I never knew Ryan, but I’ve known guys like him and have maybe even followed some of the same questionable paths that he did during wild and disordered parts of my own life. Do you need to know someone to offer a eulogy? I don’t think so. Besides, I feel like I did know him, or at least part of him.
Ryan represented the crazy kid in all of us, the kid who refuses to grow up and shave his face every day. The kid who chooses not to jump off his skateboard and into the company car, who refuses to cover his tattoos with dress shirts, who stays late at the bar instead of heading home to brush his teeth and set his alarm clock. Ryan was that kid we couldn’t be, the kid who never sold out to adulthood, and now that kid is gone.
Sure, there are other kids left on the playground, other Jackass guys who can keep the fun going. But it will never be the same now that they’ve lost a member of the club. Now there is a scar, an absence, a gaping hole that’s left when a tight group of buddies loses one of its own. Where once there was only silliness, now there’s the serious, sober, gut-punch of reality, there’s danger and mortality laced into the mix. The survivors have to look at the stakes differently.
Over the years I’ve seen many of those Jackass episodes and parts of the movies. Trying to recollect certain stunts that featured Ryan are tricky—in my mind, those shows offer a parade of indistinct, blurry images with faceless guys wiping out on their skateboards, rolling port-a-potties, bullfighting, diving into excrement, and ritualistically vandalizing their own bodies, all to hilarious effect. Somehow. But Dunn always stood out to me as a normal guy surrounded by loons and wild men. Of someone thoughtful and sincere behind the zany act. Like, I don’t know—someone nice.
Yet, let’s chew on the bitter truth for a moment. Ryan survived a wild youth and made it to a place where he should’ve known better. He was 34 years old. Out closing the bar on a Tuesday night. According to eyewitnesses and bar receipts, it is estimated that he had 11 drinks prior to getting in his car. His blood alcohol content was 0.19, twice the legal limit for Pennsylvania, drunk no matter where you live. Less than a mile from the bar, Ryan’s Porsche skidded out of control and launched from the road into a bank of trees. Police have estimated that the car was going upwards of 130 mph at the time of the crash. Upon impact, the vehicle caught fire and Ryan and his passenger, friend Zachary Hartwell, died there in the engulfed vehicle.
A few days after his death, costar and best friend Bam Margera provided some haunting background information. He admitted that Ryan Dunn was considered the front runner in a “death pool” that the gang had created to place probability on who would die first. He also had an eerie on-air premonition where he mentioned that Dunn would die in a car accident. Coincidentally, Ryan had been involved in a car accident with Bam Margera at the very same spot in 1996, where he flipped a car 8 times. But everyone survived.
Maniac driver–high blood alcohol content—late night on a curvy road. Replay those variables enough times and bad news is sure to happen sooner or later. These variables and calculations are gauged by drunk drivers every night. Am I OK to drive? I think I’m OK. I know this road. Many of us have done it, and we’ve all been lucky. There is unanimous consternation that someone with apparent compassion and intelligence could make such a foolish lapse in judgment. But no matter the intelligence level, alcohol muddies what we consider right and wrong and how we calculate risk.
Alas, Ryan Dunn is gone and we’re left to ponder the loss. The Jackass crew gets to mourn in public and face the self-righteous critic in all of us. And ultimately, the kid inside of us grows up a little more and turns affectionately to the relative safety that he is still learning to embrace.