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Charles Rocket a Suicide

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Multi-talented actor, musician and comedian Charles Rocket will sadly largely be remembered by posterity for two things: he created a firestorm on Saturday Night Live by saying “fuck” on the air in a Dallas spoof in February, ’81, which, along with low ratings, led to the entire cast being canned and the remainder of the ’80-81 season cancelled.

And he killed himself.

It was announced today that Rocket, 56, killed himself on October 7 in a field near his home in Canterbury, Conn., by apparently slitting his own throat. “An investigation determined there was no criminal aspect to this case,” State Police Sergeant J. Paul Vance said.

Charles Claverie was born in Bangor, Maine, and attended the Rhode Island School of Design where he was active in the RISD arts scene. A skilled accordion player, he formed the band the Fabulous Motels in his Rhode Island days and much later played with with Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie on a tribute album to composer Nino Rota.

Rocket became a newscaster in RI under the name Charles Kennedy and also worked in Colorado Springs (see KOAA video on Rocket here) and Nashville before heading to SNL to do the Weekend Update.

After the SNL fiasco, Rocket worked steadily in TV — Moonlighting, Max Headroom, Cybill, Touched by an Angel, thirtysomething, Law & Order: Criminal Intent — and also provided voices for cartoon series. His movie credits include Earth Girls are Easy, Dances With Wolves, It’s Pat, Wagons East, Dumb and Dumber, Murder at 1600 – his last film role was in the 2003 Sylvester Stallone film Shade.

We just saw Rocket last week in a minor role as the lead kids’ dad in ’93’s Hocus Pocus on the Disney Channel and I told my wife the SNL story – she said, “Oh, he’s that guy.”

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About Eric Olsen

  • Susie

    What sadness did Charles have that made it necessary for him to make it all go away?

    My son (then a child) had the fortune to work with him on two different projects. The first, “Quantum Leap,” was how we first met Charles. But the real joy was when they both had lovely roles in Robert Altman’s film, “Short Cuts.” I especially recall the day that my son, Frances McDormand and Charles Rocket shot a scene in a moving open convertible, and all the fun they had (not only when the camera was rolling, but especially between takes, as Charles would drive them back to their starting point).

    Charles was brilliant. He was sweet, soft-spoken, modest, clever, funny as all hell, talented, and a dear, dear man. I liked him immensely.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    I always thought he was an actor who never got the recognition he deserved for the roles he played.

    I do have to wonder about how he killed himself. Slitting your own throat is such a difficult way to do it. Takes a great deal of willpower and determination. Usually not feasible for those in a desperate state of mind.

    Dave

  • http://journals.aol.com/vicl04/THESAVAGEQUIETSEPTEMBERSUN/ Victor Lana

    Rocket was at the wrong place at the wrong time. In our current climate, he probably would have been made into a BIG star despite the slip-up.

    I never watched SNL in those years (1980-1990), so I only remember a big deal being made about it after the fact.

    Too bad about Charlie Rocket. He joins the list of SNL tragedies: Belushi, Farley, Chase (oh, he’s not dead, is he?), Gilda, and Phil Hartman.

  • Mihos

    Its physically impossible to slit your own throat.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    That’s what I’ve always believed, Mihos. When throats are slit they generally look for someone else to have done the deed. I won’t go so far as to say it’s dead impossible to do, but it sure is an imlausible method of suicide.

    Dave

  • Eric Olsen

    I agree the method seems odd

    thanks for sharing your memories Susie

    and SNL has had more than its share it seems, Victor

  • http://rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    Susie — I’ve always known who Charles Rocket is, and I’ve seen Short Cuts many times, but only with your post did I make the connection that he was the guy playing Frances McDormiand’s lover. So your son played that pooor kid she dragged around? Nice work! Great film too.

  • http://blogcritics.org/author.php?author=Cerulean Cerulean

    It sounds like an unlikely or impossible method. I hope they’ve investigated thoroughly. It would help if the authorities would say how they came to their conclusion, which they don’t seem to.

    I’m sorry that happened.

  • Eric Olsen

    I added the official statement above:

    “An investigation determined there was no criminal aspect to this case,” State Police Sergeant J. Paul Vance said

  • Linda

    I adored Charles & his work-then & now. I ALWAYS recognized him. He was brilliant as Max, and I still have the Christmas music video, “Merry Christmas, Santa Claus(You’re a lovely guy).” If anyone knows of links to his video, please share them. My kids aged 5 to 25 know his work and are saddened too.

  • Jon Doe

    He was a friend of my fathers, im very close with some of his close friends, and i can tell you it was a suicide.

  • Eric Olsen

    Very sad – thanks Jon, any idea why?

  • Jenna

    I feel so sorry for his wife and of course his child. How can youexplain that to a Little person?

  • Eric Olsen

    not easily, that’s for sure

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com/ Eric Berlin

    I know Rocket most from the random SNL repeat. That season really does exist as an odd pocket in time, a breath between the great early days and the equally great days that would come.

    Sad news…

  • ginger

    Charles Rocket has been one of my favorite actors for years. So sorry .

  • Eric Olsen

    it’s interesting but or course sad that so many talented people make a living in showbiz and contribute much but fly below the radar until something random and/or tragic happens

  • http://gratefuldread.net Natalie Davis

    I have been a Rocket fan for years. So tragic. So sad that he never got the recognition his talent merited. It is so easy to fall into despair (assuming that the cops are correct and he did kill himself) when one’s talent is largely ignored; rock guitarist Danny Gatton comes to mind. After he killed himself — and I have to note how amazingly talented DG was, and a sweetheart too — he finally got a mention in Rolling Stone, with all kinds of rock stars saying how gifted an artist he was. Too little, too late, I thought. I wonder if Charlie Rocket knew there were so many of us little people who appreciated his talent, that he was known for more than droppiog that ill-timed F-bomb. My guess would be probably not. I can’t imagine slitting one’s own throat. It would have to take a lot of despair mixed with rage and laserlike focus.

  • Eric Olsen

    exceptionally well-put Nat – it’s all quite disturbing

  • The Duke

    I saw the SNL show when the mighty “F” word was pronounced. It was during the sign off, when the cast was collected and some asked Charles how he felt, or something similar and he blurted out the “word” I turned to my lady friend, and asked “did he say what I thought he said” she answered in the affirmative.

    I also remember where I was and what I was doing when JFK was assassinated and when the Challenger blew up.

    Epic moments in my short life.

    I wonder if Rocket was in ‘Nam? Sounds like something one of those Nam vets could pull off.

  • JR

    I never heard of the F-bomb episode. I remember him from Moonlighting and maybe a couple of other shows I can’t remember off the top of my head.

  • R. August Croen

    Yeah. Like The Duke, I saw that episode of SNL. The press keeps reporting that he dropped the F-bomb during a “Who Shot J.R.” skit, but that’s not what I remember.

    What I remember is that the cast was gathered on the stage at the end of the show, as always, and as The Duke said, and Rocket quipped (paraphrase), “A lot of people think we’re on drugs when we do this show. Well, we’re not: live television requires too much concentration. But it’s quitting time now, baby, and we’re about to go do whatever the fuck we want! YEAH!”

    I wonder if reporters ever check their facts, or just repeat what other reporters wrote.

  • Eric Olsen

    a little of both:

    “An episode hosted by Dallas star Charlene Tilton featured an ongoing joke in which different cast members would vow revenge on him for some reason, in a parody of the famed ‘Who Shot J.R.?’ episode of Dallas. Rocket was then shot in the chest by a sniper in the final sketch. At the end of the show, a wheelchair-bound Charles audibly mumbled that he’d like to know ‘who the fuck did it,’ followed by the cast and audience reacting with shock and embarrassed laughter.”

  • http://www.formikafilms.com jacob

    I just wanted to chime in to your posting as Charles acted in my short film Bleach. It was a short, it was shot over a weekend, but charles had an important role. He was so sincere and so full of stories and knowledge, he taught me a lot about working with actors and told us a lot about himself. He was an ordained minister, he studied religion furiously and was one of those people who knew a lot about a lot of things. This week, I compressed my short into a smaller file so that people could see Charles at work in something that people wouldn’t normally see. I think he tapped into something deep with the role, but that may be because it was my film and I was happy with what he did. There are some spooky things about it that make his suicide ironic with some imagery from the film; particularily some takes we didn’t use. Nonetheless, I think Charles was a special person and I feel fortunate to have worked with him. If you want to check it out: (charles comes into the short about 4 minutes in) http://www.formikafilms.com/bleach/bleach_37meg.wmv

    Jacob

  • Eric Olsen

    thanks so much Jacob, fascinating – any thoughts on his motivation? I haven’t heard anything about that at all yet.

  • http://www.formikafilms.com Jacob

    I have no idea as to his motivation, I hadn’t spoken to him in years. There is a true sense of sadness that charles conveyed when playing the reverend, there are a couple of moments where you can see that in his eyes. I really don’t mean to make too much of it, but it’s hard not to see those things when you have a new perspective. I was talking with my friend who wrote the short and we were talking about conversations we had with him about religion and all that and it’s just a surprise that his suicide would be so brutal. I could only think maybe he was diagnosed with something terminal (that is not based on any knowledge, just speculation), but even then, there would be an easier and less painful way to check out.

  • Eric Olsen

    thanks for your thoughts, it is quite shocking

  • rocketfan

    Like everyone else on this board, I was quite sad to hear of Charles Rocket’s death. The early 80s SNL was a little bit before my time, but I remember Charles clearly from MOONLIGHTING. He had a key role as Bruce Willis’ brother. He was funny in a low-key way, and I always thought he was a good actor. It is a shame every one of his obituaries starts out with “that guy from SNL who said the f-word.” He was obviously much more than that. I had no idea, before reading several stories on him, how much he influenced bands like the Talking Heads and how involved he was in the arts.

    Why did he kill himself? Who knows? I suspect career disapointment, but I could be wrong. If he was upset about his career, I wish he could have realized that Hollywood is an empty place to be any way, and what he was doing (indie film) was more interesting anyhow.

    The throat slitting thing is odd, I agree. Not to get too gory, but it probably could be done. You probably couldn’t slit your throat all the way, but you could partially, and that would probably be enough to kill you. It is an odd choice, but it’s reflective, I suppose, of the deep emotional pain he was in.

    The whole thing is very sad. I was recently reading Nick Hornby’s new book A Long Way Down, and there’s a part in the book where they talk about a real-life news story, where a guy tried to kill himself (lived) and later said, he realized all his problems were solvable, right before he almost killed himself. I only wished Charles had has that revelation. He was still young, talented, with a family that loved him. He had so much to live for.

  • Mary – An L.A., California Rocket Fan

    Wow – it is so sad to hear about Charles Rocket dying. I probably saw a lot of him on t.v. over the years, but I finally had a chance to really appreciate his talent when “Dumb & Dumber” came out and when “It’s Pat” came out on video – I don’t care what anyone says, “It’s Pat” was one of the best “bad” movies of the 90’s, and it had a very sweet message. While it seems doubtful, at least to me, that Mr. Rocket/Claverie could have done this to himself, he is nonetheless gone, and I really feel very sadly for his family and I will really miss his w.a.s.p.-y, zany acting style. He really was very talented.
    Also, in response to “rocketfan” saying Hollywood is an empty place to be… well, that’s partly because “Hollywood the business” is mostly in Santa Monica and Burbank now, and Hollywood the city is mostly just a tourist attraction. “Hollywood the business” is a hard business to get into, sure, unless you have a relative in the business, but L.A. the town, the whole town, is just about as friendly as any other town. It’s just that people here are careful, maybe a little too careful, about getting into friendship committments too quickly. It’s probably because too many people use this town either as a “last chance” place to start a new life or as the place where they try to jump on the showbiz trampoline. Most people involved in showbiz here are very picky about who they socialize with, and the start-over people are doing just that, starting over and trying to make better social decisions. And just the sheer number of people here raises the odds of meeting a kook or two, which can make people overly wary. But most Angelenos are pretty friendly. You can go to towns like Atlanta or Seattle and some people can be just as standoffish when you get just past the “friendly” veneer. So I don’t think L.A. is any more empty or unfriendly than a lot of other places. A lot of it is a matter of luck and perseverance when it comes to meeting good people here – and a matter of having realistic expectations. A lot of the people living here, even ‘regular’ people, are more hard-working & tough-edged because they feel they have to be to get ahead, since it’s so expensive to live here now. Also, the traffic problems, crime, and overflowing melting pot make the people here edgy too. Maybe people just visiting here don’t take all of these things into account, but these are some of the reasons people here aren’t always as friendly as they themselves would like to be. Also, there are lots of other cities with the same social problems and “unfriendliness” issues as L.A., so how about if people stop dumping on L.A., or Hollywood, for a while? If there wasn’t any film, t.v., music or video game business in L.A., we would still have just 3 t.v. networks, no multi-plexes, a very small indie movie industry, a stifled music industry, and no dvd or video game stores, and a noticeable chunk of our n.g.p. would just not exist, at the risk of sounding like a conservative. So if you live in a town that’s a zillion times better than L.A. in every way, tell us all where it is so that we Angelenos can visit & act like cold, unfriendly snobs.

  • Eric Olsen

    Mary, your comment went in an unanticipated direction. As an LA native I think a lot of your observations are correct, and outside of the actual showbiz circles, it isn’t particularly different from any other town, albeit with better weather

  • Sally Mayson

    I just want to comment on suicide. Although I don’t know Charles Rocket personally or on TV, I think he may have mental illness: depression. People with mental illness often tried to hide their illness. We cannot understand their pain that’s not only cause by outside factors such as disappointments in life but also inside factors like depression. As to the method that’s shocking but if a person has depression, they can do any method if they are determined to do it. Where do I come from with all of this? My mother suicided almost one year ago on Oct 26 by hanging. Isn’t that horrific? I feel and understand the sadness of the family he left behind. Nobody wants to talk about suicide. Do you know that more people died from suicide than war deaths and homicides combined? Go check the statistics, I was surprised when I found it.

  • pd

    Suicide by cutting one’s own throat? Come on, that’s ridiculous! Someone as obviously talented as this man would choose something a bit less gruesome than this. A deeper investigation into the circumstances of his death is warranted . Who was he hanging out with prior to this event and who found him? Was he depressed? How many people commit suicide this way anyway?

  • Eskew

    Sad to see such a talented guy like Charles Rocket end his life. I sure would like to know more details about the supposed suicide. It just doesn’t make any sense. Can’t anyone get info on whether he was feeling depressed or something before he died?

    I love the parts he played in “Dumb And Dumber,” “Earth Girls Are Easy,” and “It’s Pat.” Great stuff.

  • Kylee

    When I read about Charles Rocket’s suicide, I was deeply saddened. I am a big fan of his work. Again, his method of suicide is odd, perhaps psychotic. He may have suffering from depression or more likely schizophrenia. Eleven percent of schizophrenics commit suide and temd use bizarre methods such as the slitting of their own throat. Is there any one who can varify if he was suffering from schizophrenia?

  • http://www.publish-me.com Stephen Huff

    Stephen Huff’s
    TOO BURNED (TO BE QUIT OF THE FIRE) (For Charlie Rocket)
    Friday, December 09, 2005

    come to the end of a long, knotted rope
    I dangle from the tangles
    an aged actor performing a last, sad role,
    I play the part of the man I most hated
    I play the part of the fiend I least admired
    I play a worn-out, washed-up has-been
    too desperate to know his time
    here at the butt of a long, running joke
    I strangle in the angles
    a weary bone digger digging his last, sad hole,
    I play the part for which I am most fated
    I play the part of failure perched on a high wire
    I play an unknown, unloved, un-nothing
    too burned to be quit of the fire

  • Eric Olsen

    powerful and sad Stephen, thanks

  • Megan Loretz

    I didn’t know Charles Rocket personally but my uncle’s sister was married to him and hearing the news that her husband had commited suicide was heartbreaking. I couldn’t imagine how hard it is for a woman to have to experience that. I didn’t really know who he was except the small roles he had in some films such as Dumb and Dumber. But he had a great talent and it’s sad that he had to leave this world not knowing what he was really worth to everyone, his family and friends until he was gone.
    I really don’t like the fact that he was known for saying fuck on national television which lead to him being fired from SNL. He should be known for not only his acting but his kind heart and intellect that he has brought to everyone he has known. From what I’m told he was a great guy and I know that he will be greatly missed.
    Rest In Peace Charlie Rocket

  • kcassity

    commitimg suicide via slitting ones own throat is definitely NOT impossible! all you need to do is slit the corotid artery. you don’t need to slit from ear to ear as some seem to suggest. you only need a very sharp instrument. a very sharp box-cutter,razor blade,straight-edge razor or knife. Along with determination. trying to figure out a quick and relatively painless form of suicide can be difficult. slitting ones own throat does NOT mean that you were psychotic(reference to schizophrenia mentioned above). it merely means that for whatever reason, you were desperate. bleeding out from a slit throat would be rather quick and painless. i really, really liked charles rocket a lot! i am greatly shocked and saddened by his death. i wish he could have thoght of some other way to resolve whatever drove him to such an end. perhaps it WAS an illness. or, disappointment with work(although, i doubt that), perhaps marriage problems? only, his inner circle can possibly know.and, they may never let us know. not that they need to or should. I wish them comfort and peace. for charlie,too.

  • Morrighan

    The other day I was watching the last thing Rocket supposedly ever filmed, an episode of L&O CI called “Pas de Deux” where oddly enough he plays a terminally ill man who wants to commit suicide via cop.

    I’ve seen it several times now and it always strikes me how deeply troubled he looks during it. Yes, the character is angry and suicidal, but Rocket was definitely using his own pain to create the character’s.

    Yes, I believe he did take his own life.

    He was in real pain, and I do think you could see it sometimes.

    Why I don’t know, but I feel for him, I really do.

    It was a sad waste of talent that’s for sure…

  • yasmin, Birmingham, UK

    When I found out on 30th October 06 about Charlie’s death no-one seemed to know why he had killed himself.

    I had to know. This sent me on a quest, which lasted 6 weeks. It’s way too long to explain but eventually I came into contact with a writer called Josh Karp. He had the answers that made everything I’d been researching fall into place. He had been researching since early this year

    Basically we both agree that Charlie committed suicide because of what his parents did to him.

    He suffered horrendous abuse at their hands. physical, mental & emotional. He was tortured. It’s too shocking to put into words & too long a story for here. What happened on SNL didn’t help either.

    Everything got to him & all his anger & pain became all-consuming. He killed himself in the way he did because of his rage against his parents, snl & some other stuff.

    I thought you should all know.

    yasmin
    Birmingham. UK

  • http://www.myspace.com/132501307 yasmin, Birmingham, UK

    For a fuller conclusion on the death of Charles Rocket ( known as Charlie to his friends ) click on my name above & you’ll find a report in a blog on “myspace” & I have also posted separately the evidences used. General warning: some of you may find it a little disturbing.

    My intention is merely to put forward a good theory on why Charlie committed suicide.

    But I will say this I had some strange experiences whilst doing this. On the 6th Dec 06 I just totally lost it whilst watching Charlie Rocket & broke down & because I was desperate for answers I did pray for them, 2-3 days later I got them.

    After getting the answers, words just came to me out of nowehere & after 3 days I stopped writing. I trully didnt want to believe it was suicide but all the evidence points to the fact that it was suicide & why he felt he couldnt live anymore.

    I’m usually a very logical person & prefer the scientific method to explain things but in this case well I would have to say I was somehow guided…… ( I was never good at writing)

    yasmin
    Birmingham. UK
    2nd March 07.

  • http://uk.pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/yasmin_anjumuk/my_photos yasmin, Birmingham, UK

    for some pictures of Charlie from his work click on URL above.

    yasmin
    2nd Mar 07.

  • http://www.myspace.com/132501307 yasmin

    Sorry folks
    i’ve had to move Charlie’s pics from yahoo photos.

    they can be veiwed in myspace.

    yasmin
    never let go
    in memory of Charlie Rocket

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzrMgLI4-gc Mike
  • john

    Such a beautiful man he touched my life with his smile his voice and his presense.I miss him every day