John and Alicia

I just heard the tragic news that John and Alicia Nash were killed yesterday in an automobile accident. The obituary in the NY Times is already on-line.

I got to spend some quality time with the two of them at the 2012 Hamptons Film Festival, where I introduced and interviewed them as part of a screening of A Beautiful Mind. They were both among the most fascinating, yet enigmatic, people I’ve ever met.

They couldn’t have been more different from each other, and they fit together perfectly. Both were brilliant, but there the similarity stopped. John was the consummate gentleman, quietly polite, diffident and deeply thoughtful, more than a little awkward in a charming way. Alicia, on the other hand, was a real hoot, a total force of nature. She was clearly aware of the somewhat out of control media whirlwind going on around the two of them — she seemed quite protective of her husband — and you could tell that she missed nothing.

There was, in fact, a lot of odd energy at the festival. I think it was partly because when people think of John and Alicia Nash, they usually think of the actors in the Ron Howard film, and many festival attendees were seeing these two brilliant and elegant and rather private people as some sort of connection to Hollywood glamour.

Which was, of course, not quite accurate, but that is the nature of these events. At one point the three of us were discussing this strange energy between the film and the reality. I told them that one of the festival organizers had at first wanted me to interview only John, but that I had insisted on interviewing them both together. The film was, after all, essentially a love story, based on their own astonishing real life romance.

Alicia smiled at her husband, aware that people at the festival were somehow conflating him with Russell Crowe, and her with Jennifer Connelly. “Yes,” she said, “After all, I was the one who won the Academy Award.”

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