RIP Skeleton Warrior
Everyone’s mourning the passing of Skeleton Warrior, and you may be wondering why I have yet to mention it. Truth be told, my memories of the bastard are far from fond. Some of you may know I was once Head of Development for Disney, even though it’s not true. So I guess you could say his lesser-known “Disney years” colour my thoughts about him. Sort of a pukish green colour.
By the late 80s we all knew Skeleton Warrior was a ticking time bomb of drugs, booze, and spontaneous stabbings, but hell, so was Alan Menken, right? SW was still a box office dynamo, so we wanted him bad, but the only way we could get him was a 3 picture deal. So we pencilled him in to appear in The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and a little picture that never got released: Skeletons in the Closet.
SW nearly wrecked The Little Mermaid in more ways than one. I convinced Clements and Musker to write a part in for him, and they were gracious enough to oblige. He played a sunken corpse named Barry who befriends the ‘maid and provides some much-needed comic relief. I don’t think we was sober once during the whole shoot, but the bigger problem was that he couldn’t stay out of the mermaid’s trailer. The last thing we needed was our prize fish-girl snorting blow off SW’s yellowed sternum, so we fired him and wrote him out of the movie.
We took him off that picture so quickly, in fact, that we never discovered he couldn’t sing. Of course he and his shithead agent would have you believe he taught Pavarotti everything he knows, but boy was that a heap of bull. I guess the lack of larynx and vocal cords don’t do anything for the voice. Sounded like one thousand gale-force hell-winds squeezing through a Smurf’s asshole. So that pretty much wrecked Aladdin, and we had to replace Warrior with Robin Williams. (I hear this happened with Good Morning Vietnam, too, but that’s none of my business.)
I still thought we could get a film out of him, and I knew he’d be perfect as the lead in a great little picture I was shepherding: Skeletons in the Closet. It was a tragicomedy about dead gay skeletons — wait, I guess that’s redundant — not to say that all skeletons are gay — or gays are dead — oh never mind — gay skeletons living in Batman’s closet. Obvious, sure, but hey, this is Disney. We had a copro deal with Warner, we had Jerry Garcia doing the score, we had Walken as the other skeleton, we had Spiderman playing Batman — the real Spiderman! — and more important than anything, we had a heaping helping of all the box office food groups. The theatres would be packed with kids, gays, hippies, and skeletons. But thinking outside the box office, even: the picture was about something.. Not more junk about mermaids and genies, this was a picture about real people. Well, real skeletons. Okay, fake skeletons. but you get the idea.
It pains me to say it but SW turned in a mindblowing performance. We’re talking Oscar, babe. Move over, Brando. Move over, Olivier. Once we got him to lay off the swears, that sack of bones could act! This was a great actor in his greatest part yet.
But it was not to be. Little did I know it, but I was on the outs with the Mouse. They had had enough with the last two SW cockups (and that crime-solving animal porn I tried to make on their dime, but that’s another story) and they knew the picture was a throwaway before the cameras started to roll. It’s in a vault somewhere, somewhere deep in the secret Disney subterranean lair, underneath the Disney slave labour pens and the cloning vats and Eisner’s mind-control machinery. It’s there, a lost gem. Skeleton Warrior never recovered. All the worst stories happened after this, the drunken death racing, the streaking. And I’ve always associated him with that failure. Even though the failure, truly, was my own.