By Ken Rohrer
The week Ben died was a difficult one. When Merrilee called me with the news that Ben had passed, I was stunned. It was hard to respond verbally because my voice was almost gone due to bronchitis.
I talked to Ben shortly before he took a severe turn for the worst and I could tell he knew his time was soon. He spoke of the fact that everyone will meet their maker one day and that God would take him home when his day was up. He said he had no regrets with his life and that he was ready to see God when it was time. That was the first time I ever heard him speak of spiritual things and of God. He also told me some of the health problems he was having but he didn't want me to post any bad news on the website. He just said, "put on there I had a hernia operation and everything came out OK."
When I got home from my day job, I began the task of changing Ben's website to tell of the news of his death. Working on the website and replying to many e-mails and phone calls has helped take my mind off his death and only now is the news beginning to sink in. No more will I hear Ben's voice on the phone saying, "Kennnnny Rohrerrrrrrr!"
I first "met" Ben Chapman online in 1995. A friend of his had been on my Universal Monsters fan website and told me he had been trying to talk Ben into having his own website. He gave me his contact information and told me to give him a call. He was enthusiastic about having his own website, so I put up something for him. He sent me photographs to include on the site. Later I talked him into having his own domain name and although creaturefromtheblacklagoon.com was available, he preferred the-reelgillman.com.
It was through this website that lead us both through a fantastic journey. He told me it put him in touch with thousands of fans and got him involved with many conventions and interviews through the years. It also allowed me the chance to hang around Ben at conventions where he would introduce me to many celebrities.
The most memorable convention was the Spookenanny convention in Defiance, Ohio. A grand total of six people attended this convention! The host of the convention was distraught because Papa John's pizza was supposed to put advertisements for the convention in all their pizza boxes in the Fort Wayne area and they didn't do it. Thus hardly anyone knew about it. For about six hours it was just Ben, Dick Durock (The Swamp Thing) and I sitting at a table with nothing to do but chat. It was on this day that I learned many details about Ben, his life, and the making of the movie. I also was pleased to get to know Dick Durock. He gave me a free autographed picture for my son. The best stories involved what went on in the bar across the street from Universal Studios during the filming of the movie. Many stars hung out there and some of his stories were fascinating. He made me promise not to tell anyone about some of the stories because it might embarrass the actors involved.
|Ben and I clowning around at Chicago Flashback. Click on the image to see the movie.
The closest convention Ben attended to me was the Chicago Flashback weekend on August, 2002. We had a lot of fun at this event. I sat at his table the entire weekend and got to see how he handled all of his fans. He made sure he took all the time the fans needed to chat with them. This made him stand out from most other celebrities, who were sometimes aloof and didn't want to make conversation. When a fan left Ben's table, they always had a smile on their face. Many were baby boomers bringing their kids with them to meet Ben. Ben was very friendly with kids- including my son, who is also named Ben. He would often call him "my namesake" and end his phone conversations with, "give my best to your family and my namesake." The extra time he spent with kids helped create a new generation of fans.
At one of the conventions, Julie Adams was in attendance. He had talked her into having her own website and made arrangements for me to design her website. This was Julie's second convention. It took a little prodding from Ben for her to join him at conventions. I know she has been thrilled to have the chance to meet many fans. Without Ben I would have never met her. Ben invited me to many other conventions, but my wife is not supportive in this area of my life and even my monster collection is hidden away. I chuckled during one of the lines of the movie Juno. In it Jason Bateman mentions how his wife was not understanding of this part of his life. He said, "Vanessa gave me my own room for all my stuff." The only problem was it was the attic.
When Ben broke his hip and developed back trouble, I noticed he was in pain much of the time. During one convention, I shared a hotel room with Ben. Following a day of signing autographs, he layed on his back across the width of his hotel bed in exhaustion. He spoke of his new pacemaker and while laying across the bed, he jumped and told me that his pacemaker had just given him his first "jolt." Although in pain, he would still try to attend as many conventions as he could to be faithful to his many fans. Whenever he was having trouble, he never wanted me to go into much detail on the website or tell many people because he didn't want anyone to worry.
Ben has been very generous to me over the years. He has sent me chocolate covered macademia nuts, a large box of Hawaiian shirts, Gillman momentos, and some of the many convention shirts he got when attending conventions. Ben gave me 18 years of pure adventure and joy. The rest of my life will surely not be as exciting. I will miss that man.