People around the world knew him as a respected physician, an eyelid and facial expert who attended to patients of all kinds in delicate matters of plastic surgery, from Joe and Jill Sixpack in the far corners of Utah to foreign royalty and dignitaries in the far reaches of the globe.
You knew him as the crazy doctor who for so many years sat under one of the baskets at Utah Jazz games, holding up signs disparaging visiting teams and swinging rubber chickens meant to distract them. He wasn’t just a Jazz fan cheering for his favored team. He was a performing artist who regularly hauled in his bag of tricks, drawing the ire of opposing players whom he bothered and of referees who disallowed some of his antics.
Dr. Richard Anderson died on Sunday after battling an aggressive form of one of the monsters of our time — cancer. He was 78, but before falling ill, he had the acumen of a medical specialist of great renown, the energy of a teenager, and the rooting fanaticism of a lunatic.
I loved the guy.
Before I got to know Rick, other media members, when many of us sat court-side with a clear view of his shenanigans, noting his wacky behavior, would say something like, “Would you let that dude perform surgery on you?”
The answer back then was always not just, “No,” but, “Hell no.”
But that was judging a kook by its cover.
And what he demonstrated at Jazz games was a cover. Sort of.
I mean, the man had a crazed creative side to him. And that’s what everyone saw in his famous role as Jazz fan of the first chair.
But there was much more to the good doctor.
By way of mutual friends, I had the fortune to spend a week in Hawaii with those friends, along with Anderson, his wonderful wife, Sue, and others in his family.
I expected to see the same demonstrative behavior out of the man as I’d seen from the fan. Yes, there was some of that. Rick was a wild soul, often doing the unexpected, like a shock jock set loose on the general public. He said and did things designed to embarrass, like standing up in the middle of a restaurant and singing the AC/DC classic, “You Shook Me All Night Long.”
He couldn’t sing a lick. But he could put on a show. He was a one-man band.
Behind the antics was something, someone completely different. A friend who might pull a prank on you here and there, but a loyal, trustworthy person who cared deeply about the people around him. When a few of us informed him that we had waded through murky water in a hidden cave near the house at which we were all staying, he told us we may have picked up a dreaded parasite that was known to inflict substantial pain that would slowly manifest itself in the weeks ahead. Sure enough, when we circled back to check out the site, we found an old, dilapidated sign warning visitors about a potential health hazard.
It’s one thing for a new friend who’s an office-supply salesman to tell you such a tale, it’s another when it’s an accomplished medico.
Later, after the joke was spent, he revealed that he was just pulling our legs, not diagnosing an infection in them. Decades earlier there had been some issue of some kind, but there, apparently, had been no such hazard reported in years. He was just yanking our chains. It took a moment or two to forgive him for that, but afterward we had a good laugh.
And it was afterward that I saw Anderson in action, caring for the people around him, such as myself, when I fell on a hike and had some superficial wounds that needed some attention. That’s when I saw the crazy doctor morph into a caring physician looking after someone in minor need. There was nothing minor about the way he treated me.
That week at the beach, spent under swaying palm trees and in the good feel of warm Pacific breezes, didn’t reveal every aspect of the man’s life, but I saw enough to gain new appreciation for Anderson’s sense of humor, his depth in matters of discussion, his intelligence, his energy — his physical endeavors were nonstop, from swimming to snorkeling to paddle boarding to biking and hiking — his kindness and, most memorably, the way he treated his family members. It was impressive.
The good doctor is gone now, taken away to wherever the good go in the great beyond, but he isn’t and should not be forgotten. And he should be remembered for much more than for what many will remember him.
He wasn’t a perfect man. There is no such thing. But he was a good one, an interesting one, a caring and giving one, a friendly one, an accomplished one, a memorable one.
Would I have allowed him to perform surgery on me? The answer isn’t just, “Yes,” it’s, “Hell yes.” And if you knew him, every Joe and Jill Sixpack, every king and dignitary, from Tooele to Timbuktu would have said the same thing.
Rest in peace, Doc.