I am grateful for the opportunity to pay tribute to my friend and colleague Ian Liston, and to tell you some “behind-the-scenes” things about him.
I first met Ian in the 1970s, pre-Star Wars. Yes, believe it or not, there was life before Star Wars! As typical young actors, we did many different temporary jobs in between acting engagements. Ian and I met at a market research company, compiling questionnaires. It was boring work but paid the bills till the next acting jobs came along.
We bumped into each other over the years after that, and became firm friends when I started doing conventions in 2003 – the year Ian discovered he had prostate cancer, as I learned later.
We were together at Celebration III in Indianapolis in 2005, just after he had a course of chemotherapy. I remember meeting him one morning and he told me his hair had started falling out – a result of the chemo – and he was having awful sweating spells. But the old showbiz saying, “The show must go on” was uppermost in Ian’s mind, and his show did go on: he met fans, signed autographs, and posed for photos with great enthusiasm and friendliness throughout CIII, as he always did. I doubt that many (if any) fans knew he was ill. His big fear was that he would lose all his hair during CIII. Luckily that didn’t happen. We had dinner one night in Indianapolis, and I was glad to see that his illness hadn’t affected his appetite! He liked his food, did Ian! We both had giant steaks, the size you only get in America!
He was his usual upbeat self in 2007 at Celebration IV in Los Angeles. I remember seeing him one evening after he returned to the hotel, as bubbly and excited as a teenager after a fan had taken him on a car tour of LA.
We met at many other events in the following years, and each time we met, Ian would tell me about the latest treatment he was on for his cancer. Eventually, all the conventional treaments stopped working, and then he volunteered to take part in experimental treatments. He had several of those. Very brave.
I was thrilled earlier this year when he told me he had been given the “all clear”, meaning the cancer was gone. He was made a “patient advocate” and travelled to (I think) San Francicso and New Orleans, talking to patients and organisations. He was as passionate about this work as he was about everything else he ever did.
Here’s an article about him, after his recovery, that was in Britain’s Daily Mail earlier this year, which I hope you can see in every country:
Around that time, the organiser of Movie Con Chile, which I’m going to at the end of this month, told me he had been given sponsorship funds to invite a second guest, to accompany me to Chile, and asked me to suggest someone, another Star Wars actor. By then, I had agreed a “deal” with the organiser, so my co-guest would have to be someone who would agree to the same deal, as well as be someone who was good at general public, family type events, as well as good with Star Wars fans. I suggested 3 of my SW friends who all fit that bill: Garrick Hagon, Alan Ruscoe – and Ian.
All 3, in turn, were very excited about the prospect of going to Chile. Who wouldn’t be?! But all 3, as they looked into the prososal, had to turn it down, for various reasons…it would have taken nearly 2 weeks out of an actor’s work life…and then there’s the travel. Direct flights from London to Santiago don’t start until next year, and the trip to Chile will involve a long flight to Argentina, then a change of plane to Santiago, making about 17 hours flying time. Unfortunately, Ian had to face the fact that he couldn’t handle the flights. You see, as a side-effect of one of his treatments, he broke his sacrum (bone in his lower spine). Though this had healed, he still felt uncomfortable sitting for a long time – and therefore would need a bed when flying in future. He was heart-broken that he couldn’t accept the invitation, but said he’d try to make it next year, which, I firmly believe, he thought possible. He asked me to send him a postcard from Santiago, I said I would, and I have a label ready with his and his wife’s names and address, to go on the postcard I planned to send them…
Please don’t think I’m giving away Ian’s secrets, telling you all this. I’m not. He was very vocal about his cancer and treatments, so I know he wouldn’t mind me telling you. I remember at Indianapolis Airport, waiting for our flight back to London, he was very loud, talking about details of his illness! That was his way of coping – talking about it, no matter who was listening. Everyone has their own way of coping. My way of coping with my prostate cancer was to keep quiet about it until I’d had treatment, and then tell people. I know Ian would approve of me telling you this.
The Force dot Net people were kind enough to post a message from me on December 21, 2010, to talk about my experience. In it, I talk a bit about a couple of films I had worked on – then I talk about my adventure with “Mr C”, cancer. I’m going to give you a link to that article – and repeat what I said in it: that all you Star Wars guys (especially those over 40) should have regular PSA blood tests. I know Ian would cheer me on, urging you to do that. The fact is, the PSA test is the ONLY thing we men have to show there MIGHT be something wrong “down there”. A high PSA reading doesn’t mean cancer – it might just be an infection that could be cured with antibiotics – but it does mean the blood should be tested regularly, and there might be cancer. Isn’t it better to know than not to know?
I had no symptoms, none at all. Nor did Ben Stiller. You may have read about him recently when he announced he had had treatment for prostate cancer. His doctor gave him the PSA blood test at age 46, as a precaution, even though the guidelines in the US say testing isn’t necessary till age 50. Wrong. If Ben Stiller had waited till he was 50, his cancer would have had 4 years to grow.
So, don’t wait until you have symptoms, guys. The earlier cancer is caught, the easier it is to treat. A simple blood test could save your life. That’s my message to you, as it was Ben Stiller’s this week – and Ian would agree. And, as I say in my article from 2010, gals/ladies, you know how bad we men are at taking care of ourselves, so you should urge the men in your lives to have regular tests. Here’s my heart-felt plea on The Force dot Net:
The last time I spoke to Ian was in July, concerning Celebration Europe. Many potential guests didn’t know whether or not they were going, and that included Ian. I won’t go into the details, so I’ll just say that Ian desperately wanted to go to CE, and thought he was going at one point, but in the end, he didn’t go – through no fault of his own. Nothing to do with his health. Even in July, he was still enthusiastic about everything. So sad that he missed what would have been his last signing event, and so sad that Star Wars fans didn’t have the opportunity to meet him one last time.
Finally, here’s an obituary from The Stage, our industry’s newspaper. I hope you can all access it, wherever in the world you are, because it details Ian’s amazing career, acting and producing. I bet you guys didn’t know he had such an incredibly impressive career:
I’d like to see more recognition of Ian’s passing and achievements in the media, so if any of you know anyone in the news agencies, do alert them to this sad news, please.
Thanks for reading this.
Farewell to a fearless, determined, life-loving man.
Rest in peace, my friend.