Rocky Wood passed away yesterday after a long battle with ALS.
Beyond being arguably the greatest living Stephen King expert– famously possessing such acumen that King himself hired Wood as a fact checker– and beyond his tireless efforts as President of the HWA, I will remember Rocky as someone who inspired others while challenging preconceived notions about living and working with an incapacitating medical condition. On a personal level, Rocky’s leadership really made me reevaluate how I think about what’s possible– like, say, being the head of an international arts organization– when one’s physical functionality no longer comports with traditional norms.
Many of today’s remembrances will be posted by people who were more closely acquainted with Rocky than I was. Indeed, I’m one of many who knew him only from his appearances at the Bram Stoker Awards and from his endless work on behalf of the HWA. But the fact that, even in these strictly administrative capacities, he was still able to have such a powerful impact on my received ideas about people living with conditions like ALS. . .
Well, you see, that’s kind of my point.
My favorite illustrative “Rocky moment” might be at the 2011-2012 Bram Stoker Awards in Salt Lake City when he accepted the Stoker for Stephen King: A Literary Companion. Physically unable to speak by that point, Rocky had an assistant join him on stage to read a prepared acceptance speech. Yet– obstreperously and wonderfully– before his helper could start reading, Rocky began to gesture as though he intended the entire acceptance speech should occur through his playing charades with the audience. (First word… Two syllables…) He then flashed a wry smile. The audience– myself included– loved it and laughed.
To have lost one’s voice permanently. . .and to still choose to use such an occasion to bring delight to others. Egad! What bravery and awesomeness! Yet, for Rocky, this seems to have been typical.
He lived with ALS for about 5 years, and seems to have used all of that time not only to grow the HWA, but to do some of his very best critical work. While, again, I did not know Rocky as a close friend, I suspect I’m not alone in having been deeply impressed and influenced by this extraordinary leader and powerful champion of horror fiction.
Rest in peace, gunslinger. There are other worlds than these.