Hollywood Book of the Dead 

An excerpt from Bruce Wagner’s novel, Still Holding

Illustration by Tra Selhtrow

It was Thanksgiving time, and a whore was at Kit Lightfoot’s Benedict Canyon home. That used to be his thing, but he hadn’t been with a whore since the early nineties. And he’d never cheated on Viv.

They were coked up in the living room, and he laughed as she held the dog’s head between her legs. It kept trying to break free, and that made the whore laugh too. “Jus’ like his master,” she said. “Real picky.” She laughed again and released him, then stood up to go pee. When the whore came back, she knelt by the Buddha at the fireplace and lit a cigarette. There were flowers and incense and tiny photos of enlightened men. She asked about the altar, and Kit said reflectively that it was a gift from Stevie Nicks. Then he gave her a little flash-card intro — Zen 101. Stillness. Sitting. The Power of Now.

“You meditate every day?” she said.

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“Every day. For fifteen years.”

Kit’s career as an actor had barely been launched when a friend turned him on to Buddhism. He took up meditating and, a short while after, visited a monastery on Mount Baldy. It was freezing cold, but there was wordless beauty and a stunning quietude that pierced him to the core. That was the week, he used to say, where he got a taste of stillness. Monks and dedicated laypersons came and went like solemn, dignified cadets amidst the ritualized cadence of drums, chanting, and silence — his unthinkable siren and dangerous new friend, for silence too had a cadence. (The hard poetry of silence, his teacher once said.) He watched a man being ordained and later found out he had once been a powerful Hollywood agent. Kit grooved to that kind of convert. He loved having blundered into this magisterially abstract Shangri-la of the spirit, a flawless diamond-pointed world that might liberate him from the bonds of narcissism, the bonds of self.

He got deeper into his practice. Between theater and film gigs he traveled to far-flung countries attending monthlong sesshins, awakening at four in the morning to sit on a cushion eleven hours a day when not immersed in the meditation of food preparation, tea ceremonies, groundskeeping. He was glad to be young and strong while learning the art of sitting in stillness. Older initiates had a hard time with zazen’s physical demands.

It became well-known within the show business community, and outside it too, that Kit was a serious practitioner. He rarely discussed his thoughts or beliefs with interviewers unless the venue was a magazine like Tricycle or Shambhala Sun. He didn’t want to trivialize something so personal or, worse, get puffed up in the process. There were enough celebrities talking about yoga and Buddhism anyway. He gave generously to the Tibetan cause and funded clinics and ashrams through an anonymous trust. That satisfied him more than any public discourse ever could.

In those 12 years of practice, Kit Lightfoot, the celebrity, was often the People’s Choice. He’d finally been snagged by James Lipton (Hoffman and Nicholson were among the remaining holdouts) and photographed in Vanity Fair’s Hollywood issue with the simple caption “The Man.” He even won Best Supporting for a remarkable, artfully thrown-away performance in a fluky, borderline indie lark filmed just before the death of his Buddhist teacher, Gil Weiskopf Roshi. After the fact, it seemed so perfect. It was Gil who had said: Throw it all away.


He flipped through the paper. Viv was still getting ready. The driver waited outside to take them to the benefit.

Kit was always looking through articles in the Times for movie ideas. Maybe there would be something to develop that he could direct. Shit, his friend Clooney had done it. Nic Cage and Sean, Denzel and Kevin — name the film and the chances were that some actor had “helmed.” There was an item about a woman accused of feeding her young daughter sleeping pills and shaving her head in an effort to convince the community she had leukemia and was worthy of multiple fund-raisers. She even put the kid in counseling, to prepare her for death. Another told of two Wichita brothers who broke into a town house and forced a bunch of twentysomething friends to have sex with each other before staging executions on a snowy soccer field. At the bottom of the page was the story of a pole vaulter who had freakishly crashed to the ground and died during his run. The last thing he said before jogging to his death was, “This is my day, Dad.”

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