That Old Feeling: You Know Dick

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'Movies were a little difficult,' Kleo told Sutin. 'The Roxy Theater near University and San Pablo was an artsy theater that showed strange foreign films we wanted to see, but we didn't always have the money. So we would go into the lobby — the manager ran the candy counter but went upstairs a few minutes into the second feature — and we'd sneak in. But every once in a while our timing was off and Phil would be acutely embarrassed and make a big show of saying good-bye to me and buying my ticket and going home — he didn't think it would look right for me to go home too.' This at the time when he was writing many of the stories that Hollywood would option four or five decades later.

It can be said that these stories were not science fiction to Dick; they were snapshots from the lives of people and other creatures he observed. ('Roog' was inspired by a noisy neighborhood dog who barked at trash collectors; Phil imagined the dog assuming these sanitation trucks were aliens who fed on the refuse in metal 'offering urns.') As Dick put it in 1980: 'I want to write about people I love, and put them into a fictional world spun out of my own mind, not the world we actually have, because the world we actually have does not meet my standards.'

In the 70s, reality did not meet Dick's standards. Drinking deeply of the drug culture in then Bay Area and then Orange County, he had severe hallucinations and attempted suicide. He eventually straightened out a bit, but the impact of the 1974 visitation and visions never left him. In a 1977 speech called 'If You Find This World Bad, You Should See Some of the Others,' he made this solemn announcement: 'Often people claim to remember past lives; I claim to remember a different, very different present life.... I rather suspect that my experience is not unique; what is perhaps unique is the fact that I am willing to talk about it.'

By the late 70s he had achieved a measure of fame. Playboy finally published one of his stories, though, Sutin reveals, Dick expressed his disdain for the magazine's editorial content by donating the four-figure check to Cambodian famine relief. Dick's annual income had risen to $70,000 or so, but the money allowed him little financial security; a man with five marriages and three children has a sieve for a bank account.

He also heard mortality knocking. He felt exhausted by the creation of his latest book, 'The Transmigration of Timothy Archer.' And in September 1981 he learned of the deaths or near-fatal heart attacks of several Berkeley-area writers. In a letter to Victoria Schochet, he described its literal impact on him: '[I] drove to the grocery store, drove home and rammed a support column in our underground parking area. My unconscious was saying Enough. I knew I was going to hit the support column and even after I hit it I kept on moving. I wanted to hit it. I wanted to protest the two heart attacks.... I wanted to protest my enslavement to two decades of writing in order to pay spousal support, child support, send my older daughter to Stanford, my youngest boy to a private school, buy my ex-wife Tessa a $150,000 house — meet deadlines, rent a tux for the gala premiere of 'Blade Runner,' all the long-distance phone calls, all the answering letters from readers who plan to commit suicide and want me to talk them out of it, because I wrote about my own suicide attempt in 'Valis' and they know I'd understand. I do understand. I understand that the payoff for writers — and editors as well! — who work day after day, 16 hours a day, seven days a week ... is not happiness but sudden death or total disability; they are, as Jesus said, like 'your ancestors who ate manna in the wilderness; they are all dead.'' Within six months he had suffered a stroke and died. March 2, 1982.


'It [the script for 'Blade Runner'] was terrific. It bore no relation to the book.... What my story will become is one titanic lurid collision of androids being blown up, androids killing humans, general confusion and murder, all very exciting to watch.... They're not called movies for nothing. I have no complaints.' — PKD, 1981

For most of his life, Hollywood showed as little interest in Dick as he did in it. The only pre-'Blade Runner' adaptation listed on IMDb is a 60 minute TV version of 'The Impostor' for the 1962 ABC series 'Out of This World,' hosted by Boris Karloff. 'We Can Remember It for You Wholesale' was optioned in 1979; it would become 'Total Recall' 11 years later. By 1981, when 'Blade Runner' was filmed, Dick had become a warm property. That year he attended a producers' party for 'Claw,' a project based on his short story 'Second Variety.' (It became 'Screamers' 14 years later. Everything takes too much time in Hollywood.) A 1968 biographical note had said Dick 'considers his best work to be 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?'... because it deals with the misfortunes of animals and imagines a society where a person's dog or cat is worth more as a status symbol (and costs more) than a house or car.' When Dick managed to get a 'Blade Runner' script, he found that the animal motif was gone. (The title came from a novel by Alan Nourse that William S. Burroughs had adapted as a screenplay in 1979.)

While 'Blade Runner' was in production, Dick wrote about it with the novelist's standard wounded cynicism — until he saw part of it and was wowed by the density of the world Ridley Scott's team had created. 'You would literally have to go five times to see it before you could assimilate the information that is fired at you,' he said in a late 1981 interview published as 'What If Their World Is Our Heaven?: The Final Conversations of Philip K. Dick.' 'The human brain craves stimulation. And this movie will stimulate the brain, the brain will not be lulled.... The book and the movie do not fight each other. They reinforce each other.'

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