The death of actor Anton Yelchin is one of Hollywood’s all-too-common tragedies of talent gone before its time—a loss that stings all the more for the senselessness of its circumstances. At just 27, Yelchin left behind a small, yet powerful body of work and many friends and admirers, some of whom gathered yesterday for a ceremony at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Jennifer Lawrence, J.J. Abrams, Simon Pegg, Demi Moore, and Jon Voight were on hand as Zoe Saldana and director Fred Parnes each gave moving speeches about keeping Yelchin’s spirit alive.
Yelchin’s mother, Irina, spoke as well of how her son would live on through the Anton Yelchin Foundation, which helps young artists challenged by disease or disability, as well as in a forthcoming collection of his photography. Finally, she said, they would immortalize him with a bronze statue of his likeness, so Anton Yelchin would be forever “surrounded by the people he admired... in the middle of the city that he loved so much.”
That statue, created by sculptor Nick Marra and FX artist Greg Nicotero, was then unveiled. It looks like this.
Look, I’m no sculptor. My clumsy, baby-soft hands have never known the rough heft of a chisel, nor wrested anything from clay beyond the grotesque parade of mangled, Cronenbergian “pencil holders” I made in junior high art class. For me to pass judgment on the work of two skilled craftsmen such as Marra and Nicotero—the former a master of creating lifelike silicone busts of the famous; the latter one of Hollywood’s most in-demand special effects artists—would be like them telling me how to wring petty op-ed content out of showbiz news. Their hearts, too, were clearly in the right place: Yelchin’s mother says she commissioned the statue so that future generations might see it and say, “Who is this handsome young man, Anton Yelchin?” And if this statue gives her comfort, then it really doesn’t matter what I or anyone else thinks of its merits, whether as tribute or work of art.
On the other hand, this thing looks like Grease star Jeff Conaway, circa his stint on Celebrity Rehab. It’s Jesse Eisenberg suffering from adult-onset progeria. Charitably, it’s a youngish Willem Dafoe. It’s not just future generations who will ask who this “handsome young man” is, or whether he was that guy who played Scott Baio’s friend on Charles In Charge. Even today’s Anton Yelchin fans might be left wondering who, exactly, they’re looking at. Why the hell do we keep turning celebrities into statues? They’re always terrible.
Our nation’s cities and slideshows are scarred with these noble monstrosities: Scary Lucy; the Bronze Fonz; the Left-In-Hot-Car Cristiano Ronaldo; Mary Tyler Moore, triumphantly tossing her latest victim’s face into the Minneapolis air; Kurt Cobain, crying because his statue resembles a super-bummed Elias Koteas. Celebrity statues are near-uniformly bad, in shades ranging from “just sad” to “vaguely insulting” to “comes alive at night to stalk children.” They are lasting testament to the impossibility of capturing more than a vague, blurry smear of a star’s face, and the fact that bronze inherently makes you look like Robin Williams in Bicentennial Man. The bronze statue is arguably the worst medium in which to memorialize a famous person, short of back tattoos and those editorial cartoons where St. Peter welcomes them to heaven.
And yet, we just keep right on cranking them out and demanding more. There are currently plans to turn the late Chris Cornell into a statue, which, best-case scenario, will probably look like Benicio Del Toro in a Sammy Hagar wig. A petition is circulating to erect a statue of Tom Petty, so fans can lay wreaths at the feet of a goateed Sarah Jessica Parker. Amid our current fervor for tearing down America’s most shameful monuments to its biggest losers, some have now even called for replacing them with beloved local stars like Missy Elliott.
If those Confederate statues offer stark reminders of America’s racist past (and present), then these celebrity substitutes would similarly, silently warn us to never get famous, because someday you’ll die and someone might make you into a bronze statue. It won’t look anything like you; birds will shit on you and teenagers will laugh at you. Eventually some hedge fund-type guy will get drunk and Instagram himself pretending to hump you. You’ll look down from Celebrity Heaven and wish you’d been granted the dignity of being completely forgotten.
So: If you are a celebrity, consider putting a “no statues” clause in your will. If you are a sculptor who’s been asked to turn a celebrity into a statue, consider making a riderless, sad-looking horse instead. Everyone likes those! And let us work together to put a stop this—for celebrities, for ourselves, for those future generations. For Anton Yelchin.