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November 21, 2006 | 17 Comments

It is with great sadness that we learned of our dear friend Robert Altman's passing. Here, then, is a note from Garrison.

Mr. Altman loved making movies. He loved the chaos of shooting and the sociability of the crew and actors — he adored actors — and he loved the editing room and he especially loved sitting in a screening room and watching the thing over and over with other people. He didn't care for the money end of things, he didn't mind doing publicity, but when he was working he was in heaven.

He and I once talked about making a movie about a man coming back to Lake Wobegon to bury his father, and Mr. Altman said, "The death of an old man is not a tragedy." I used that line in the movie we wound up making — the Angel of Death says it to the Lunch Lady, comforting her on the death of her lover Chuck Akers in his dressing room, "The death of an old man is not a tragedy." Mr. Altman's death seems so honorable and righteous — to go in full-flight, doing what you love — like his comrades in the Army Air Force in WWII who got shot out of the sky and simply vanished into blue air — and all of us who worked with him had the great privilege of seeing an 81-year-old guy doing what he loved to do. I'm sorry that our movie turned out to be his last, but I do know that he loved making it. It's a great thing to be 81 and in love.

-Garrison Keillor


Let the light from the lighthouse shine on him......

Goodbye Mr Altman

After I saw the movie, I often wondered about that line, "The death of an old man is not a tragedy." It resonated with me because my father, a very long time PHC fan, died the summer before the film came out, so I've tried to wrestle the wisdom of that line with the tragedy that he never got to see the movie.

The line sounds wise in my head but in my heart the tragedy feels eternal. Mr. Altman will be missed.

And thank you Mr. Keillor for posting this lovely tribute here so soon.

Driving home from work tonight, I learned of Mr Altman's death while listening to NPR. My first thought was of the incredible experience you and he shared recently during the making of 'the movie'. I enjoyed reading your caring words on the PHC website tonight. What an awesome moment it must be to know he chose to share the 'Prairie Home Companion' with everyone; your fans are forever grateful that he did. Consider it a once in a lifetime opportunity to have someone such as Mr Altman cherish what you do so well as much as those who faithfully listen do.

Garrison and All,

Like so many others I was moved by the film you wrote and Robert Altman directed... each of the two of you doing what you love to do best. You say that you are sorry that PHC was Mr. Altman's last film, and on one level I certainly agree. But on another level, maybe this film does begin to sum up at least parts of his life.

Now perhaps we know who the angel was really coming to see in the diner. She has very good company now.

Bob Altman. Thank you for the images. Rest in peace in the palm of God's hand.

Mr. Altman was from Kansas City, which is my hometown, as complex and yet simple a place as Lake Wobegon, I imagine. But the quiet and powerful grace that I associate with the best of the city resonated through all of Robert Altman's films. I connected with that feeling so much in A Prairie Home's an unspoken directness of spirit that I often miss living so far from there. He was, and is, the spirit of that feeling, and I thank him, and Mr. Keillor, for creating such a beautiful testament to such basic and honest emotion.

A big loss for Hollywood creativity since Altman carved his own path through the bureaucracy, the focus groups and the "stuff" that sadly is becoming part of the tinsel town legend.

Mr. K, you should not apologize that your movie was his last. It was one of his most commerically successful properties (money wise) and carried with it perhaps his most gentle portayal of the ways of life. He will be missed, but please keep in mind he did die doing what he love and the PHC movie was definitely a labor of love for you both.



Robert Altman made small films and big films like MASH and in between films like McCabe and Mrs. Miller which deserves more praise if only for the Leonard Cohen songs and the beauty of the town and period it evoked. That one of his last efforts was to collaborate with Garrison is special considering they both had heart surgery although Garrison's was not as extensive and maintained their creative instincts and integrity after recovering. You might check for a fine interview they both did at Charlie's table when PHC was being released.

We live in a time when so many icons are fading away be it Ed Bradley,Charles Kuralt,Bob and Ray. We who have listened to Garrison through his ups and downs of the program,the novels,the endless MPR gift items related to the program of which I own several are grateful that he has continued to write and create and hang with great artists be they Chet Atkins,Johnny Gimbel,and a nice old movie director with a big relatively new heart.later,mark in neptune,nj

I never really quite understood Robert Altman's movies (with exception to M*A*S*H and A Prairie Home Companion), but I knew he was a quite a unique director and am glad that I got to see his last creation in theatres. It was a delight to watch and will cherish it always.

Thank you, Mr. Altman

Amen to your remarks re: Robert Altman, his life, loves and passing.

The Death of an Old Man is not a tragedy?

I disagree. The death of a happy old man is not a tragedy.

Altman led a good, rich life. And he made good movies. He'll be missed.

I believe it was on an episode of News from Lake Wobegon that Garrison said, "When an old woman dies, a whole world dies with her." I used the quote in my grandmother's euology. We have lost and the saddest part may be not knowing just how much we have lost. Thank you, Mr. Altman, for making your artform a little bit better.

The film "A Prairie Home Companion" was a paradox, a joyous, life affirming and extremely funny movie about death and the passing of a way of life. Perhaps this is the spirit in which we should approach Rober Altman's death, not so much regret that he's gone but joy in what he gave us.


Altman's last few movies seemed extremely autobiographical to me, especially "The Company" and "Prairie Home Companion". I think he found a kindred spirit in you.

Doing PHC must be very much like making an Altman movie. You have your script (the blueprint), but there are last minute inspirations, improvizations and improvements that must happen along the course of rehearsal and performance. Just like life!

Anyhow... Mr Altman was a great film-maker and a true lover of performers and their art. He left an inimitable body of work, and he will be missed.

Dean Eaton

"The death of an old man is not a tragedy." - Seems Mr. Altman understood the wisdom.

"Aeschylus wrote: 'In our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.'" - Senator Robert F. Kennedy

To those of us who remain it is a great loss, but to those who now continue the journey, an adventure not to be missed. And I say that as I think back upon my own father who left this world as an 'old man'. Thanks for the wisdom of the aged. - brian

Garrison, your words on the passing of Mr. Altman were a beautiful tribute. I agree with that poetic idea "The death of an old man is not a tragedy" yet, 81 seems to me, at age 73, to be not quite old enough. He was a great talent.

I further picture Director Robert Altman paraphrased so,"An old man's death might not be as tragic as it seems, unless he is extremely humorous. Then what a loss that tragedy is for all of us who love to laugh. As for myself, I ran away from home to join the circus, but then the circus ran away from me. I followed after, filming. I now have a fabulous new home, movies, until death do us part."

Hearing that phrase for the first time today I sit here trying to conceive of my father's death as anything other than a tragedy, though he is already 90. He is my best friend and we still make plans for the future. When I heard them I was compelled to write them down, to enter them into the computer to see if I was the only person who had ever noticed them spoken in a movie that was mindlessly running on television as I was busy doing something else in the room. And now, to my surprise, they are going to be words that stay with me. Words that may be spoken some day at his funeral or at least run through my mind. Perhaps words of comfort, perhaps not. Too early to tell. Thank you Mr. Altman. You're still reaching new audiences.

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