This coming Wednesday, May 27, would have been my dad's 104th birthday.
In 2011, his hometown of St Louis hosted a two-month celebration of his 100th birthday, which some clever person decided to call the Vincentennial. On his actual birthday night, I had the privilege of giving a talk at the Missouri History Museum to an enthusiastic overflow audience, who joined me in celebrating the life of this man I and they adored.
Here is a short video from that evening in St Louis. . . which launched me on the journey that brought me here. . .to my Daily Practice of Joy.
Not wanting to be left out of the fun, other cities and festivals around the world joined in the celebration. The Vincentennial continued throughout 2011 -- from LA to the UK, from Toronto to Chicago!
I had so much fun, met so many amazing people, and felt reconnected to my father in such a profound way that I have continued to tour the world in celebration of my father’s extraordinary legacy.
But I'll be honest. For a workaholic, adding a heavy touring schedule on top of what is already a more than full-time job has been like handing a blowtorch to an arsonist. At times the candle I have been burning at both ends has felt more like a stick of dynamite. My dad kept up a similar schedule, but somehow he managed to do it differently. He never let work, schedule, and obligations overtake his love of life. He never lost his joy.
The more time I spent following in his footsteps, the more I recognized that something had to change in my own life to bring in back into balance. And, as those of you have been accompanying me on this journey know, my first step has been finding my way back to what I now know to be my father's true legacy to me: Joy.
So I thought -- what better way to celebrate my dad’s birthday than by writing this week’s blog about my dad's “Lessons in Joy”:
Celebrate! Celebrate life. Celebrate the rising of the sun. Celebrate the stars at night. Celebrate being with friends. Celebrate being alone. Celebrate meeting strangers. Celebrate discovering new places. Celebrate coming home. Celebrate adventure. Celebrate a quiet moment with those you love. Celebrate change. Celebrate the familiar. Gratitude + Joy = Celebration. Joy is our celebration of our gratitude for being, for feeling fully alive!!
Laugh. Laugh. Laugh. My father was never afraid to appear silly, to have fun, to play the fool, to laugh at himself. When we take ourselves too seriously to laugh -- no matter what situation we find ourselves in -- it's like sitting on the rim of the Grand Canyon with a paper bag over your head complaining you can't see the view. Laughter will always break the mesmeric lie that we can lose our joy. Joy can never be lost! It's always in us.
Remembering joy is always just a laugh away!
Love something with all your heart. Share it! My father's great passion was art. He shared that passion with the world in myriad ways -- by buying and selling fine art for Sears, writing a syndicated art column, serving on the Indian Arts & Crafts Board and the White House Art Committee, and by starting the Vincent Price Art Museum. He did this because he believed that loving art had saved his life, and he wanted others to have the experience the same life-saving joy. He hated the idea that people were intimidated by art, that they were afraid that what they liked wasn't "good enough" or believed that they didn't know enough. He never thought that art should be the province of the rich or the intellectual elite. For him, art was pure joy -- whether it was watching his daughter color, meeting an artist, or visiting a museum. He used to say that, whenever he felt down, art gave him faith in humanity. Sharing his passion gave his life purpose . . .and it brought him and others joy!
People who need people are the luckiest people in the world. This is a line from one of my father's favorite songs sung by Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl. My father genuinely loved people. He loved talking with them, but he loved listening just as much. Lately I've been realizing how little most of us connect with others. We exist in our own little bubble, forgetting to listen -- really listen -- to others. We keep our exchanges safe and terse. After my dad died, I would receive calls at my business when people came into Santa Fe, because they were "friends" with my dad. When I asked them how they knew him, they would often say things like, "Oh, we went to the same dentist." At first, my cynical self thought -- Right. Everyone wants to say they knew a celebrity. But gradually, as I chatted with these people, I realized that my dad so genuinely connected with everyone he met (even in the waiting of his dentist's office!) that it felt like friendship should feel -- joy-filled, interested and interesting, a true exchange. I know that my dad truly believed that one of the great gifts of his life was that it gave him the opportunity to meet so many people from all over the world. When we remember to share of ourselves, listen to others and create a meaningful exchange with other people, it lifts us out of the bondage of self that can make our lives seem small and meaningless. That, in a nutshell, is what joy is all about.
Never ever lose your sense of wonder! I just found this photo of my dad and me looking up at the stars. I love it! I so remember him teaching me the names of all the constellations, and always always exhorting me to look up at the night sky. Where’s the Big Dipper he would ask? To this day, I look for the stars he taught me every night. It’s my little way of saying hello to him. But it really wasn’t that he loved astronomy. To him, the night sky was all about awe and wonder. When we looked up together, we both knew we were glimpsing infinity. To me, that’s really what joy is — a little foretaste of the infinite cosmos within each of us.
If you are always curious, you will never be bored. As I’ve been going through our family photo albums, I’ve noticed that there are quite a few shots of my dad and me looking at rocks. Rocks! It’s not that my dad had a particular “thing” for rocks per se. He had a “thing” for everything! Wherever we were, he was curious about his surroundings, eager to see. If we were on the beach, he often took me hunting for moonstones. Finding one — and that’s exactly what I’m holding up in the picture on the left — was tantamount to finding the Hope Diamond! The excitement I felt at the prospect always kept me looking, and it made me really take in my surroundings — the dried kelp pods I loved to pop, old pieces of driftwood shaped like fantastical animals, smooth stones for skipping! The other photo was taken in Arizona, where we were hunting for petrified wood. Sure the curio shops all sold it for cheap, but how much for fun to find it in situ, and really understand why it was there, how old it was, what a special place we were in. My dad used to say, "Boredom was the eighth deadly sin. Life is far too interesting to ever have an excuse to be bored!" Lately I’ve come to realize that curiosity is one of the keys to joy. When we are really present wherever we are, engaged with our surroundings, or other people, we feel connected. Joy = Connection = Joy. My dad’s lesson has always stood me in good stead. I have been a lot of things in my life, but I’ve certainly never been bored!
Joy is spontaneous. One August day in 1949, Vincent Price took the woman he was dating, Mary Grant, and his friend Perry Rathbone down to one of his favorite places -- Tijuana, Mexico. This is their wedding picture!!! This spontaneous joy-filled moment produced a 23-year-year creative partnership full of great joy, adventure, and giving. My dad was the most punctual man I’ve ever met. He kept a rigorous schedule and met every obligation in a 65-year career. But that never stopped him from being spontaneous — whether it was starting an egg fight on the set of Batman or impulsively decided to show me Paris for the first time when our plane was diverted there because of London fog. Our road trips were legendary. We stopped everywhere just for the pure fun of it — the biggest, widest, tallest, deepest Whatever. . .we saw it! Deep-fried pickles, cactus pie — of course we tried them! When I am in one of my terrible bouts of workaholism, as I was this past week, spontaneity is the first thing to go. Plan, do, list, plan, plan, do, list. . .This lesson is probably the hardest one for me, and the one I need most to remember.
You're never too old to have as much fun as a kid!! When he was 70 years old, my dad starred in a one-hour TV special in which he rode all of America's best rollie coasters -- as he called them. It was pretty much his dream gig. Wherever we went, we were never too busy to go to an amusement park. One summer, I spent a few weeks with him in Dallas, where he was performing as Fagin in a stage production of the musical, Oliver. On his day off, he arranged to take most of the cast and me to Six Flags, where we could all ride the rollie coasters and play games of chance. How many 65-year-old actors keeping up a demanding schedule do you know who would have done that? He piled us all the a station wagon and off we went on a marvelous fun-filled adventure! I love these pictures of him, because they remind me of some of our favorite times together. But I particularly love the one at the top, taken at one of my birthday parties at Disneyland. I mean seriously -- who's having the most fun in that teacup?!? My dad is having way more fun that all of my friends put together! I cannot see that photo without grinning. Let it be a reminder to us all -- that we never become too old, too busy, too stodgy, too proud, too stuck in our ways, too serious to have as much fun as my dad did!!
If you limit your interests, you limit your life. My father was famously called a Renaissance man. So, I could have put any number of pictures here -- of my father cooking or acting or writing or traveling or looking at art or reading. He had myriad interests that he loved to share with others. But his most private passion -- his meditation, as it were -- was gardening. He loved color — riotous color. When I was about fourteen, he pulled over to the side of Laurel Canyon — a busy four-lane canyon road — handed me a pair of scissors, and told me to climb the fence of a random house in front of which we were parked, to get him a clipping of a deep purple geranium. Of course I did it, all the while frantically practicing excuses in my head in case I got caught. He replanted my purloined cutting and nurtured it for years with great joy. Now how many people do you know would have seen a deep purple geranium in someone's yard while driving on a busy street?! Many people tell me that they idolized my father for his omnivorous approach to life. I chose this photo of my father’s garden because, at the end of his life as he grew more frail, he had to keep his garden more simple to care for, by planting mostly in pots. These pots were placed directly outside his bedroom windown, where he could look at them all the time. When he felt most unwell, those flowers were his connection to joy and to life. To me, more than all his “accomplishments”, this photo illustrates how his unlimited interest in life proved an immense gift when he needed it most.
Say YES to life!! Take a close look at the caricature of my dad in this photo of me at Sardi’s Restaurant in New York. OK, it’s true, the first thing that will probably strike you are his lips. But what I want you to see is what he wrote just above his autograph. He wrote, “Yes!” You know, my dad might or might not have called what he did a daily practice of joy. I'm not sure he ever needed to remind himself to feel joy. It constantly bubbled to the surface of his life for all the reasons I have listed above. But I think I can safely say that his philosophy of life can be summed up in that one word — Yes! My dad said yes to life, to other people, to love, to adventure. . .every single day. There might have been other actors who wouldn’t have said yes to reciting something called a “rap” in an album by a young singer who recently had gone out on his own, or to a young director who wanted to make some low-budget movies based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. There are certainly other actors who wouldn’t have dedicated 60 days a year to lecturing on art around the country, or to renting a van to take a play he loved on the road for two years. But that Yes! meant everything to him. He might not have been the wealthiest actor or won any Academy Awards, but boy did he have an incredible life! As I said in the clip at the start of this blog, I’ve come to realize that it’s not what we accomplish in our lives but how we live them that matters. My dad lived a joy-filled life of Yes! I, for one, intend to keep trying to remember my own joy. . .by saying Yes! And I can't help but think that all of our lives and the lives of everyone we meet would be immeasurably better if we ditched the "I don't thinks so's", the "yeah but's", the "what if's" and just opened our eyes, our arms, and our hearts with my dad's joy-filled life-loving embrace of Yes!
That's what my dad taught me every joy-filled moment I spent with him. So, Happy Birthday Dad! Thank you for showing me what a joy every day can be. I hope I can continue to honor everything you taught me by living -- more fully every day -- your life-affirming legacy of YES!