*Karolyn Ali passed away the other day. Even if you don’t know her name, you may have seen her work. Karolyn was one of the few woman of color nominated for an Oscar as a producer, for the 2003 documentary, “Tupac: Resurrection.”
Before that, Ali, who got her start in entertainment working as assistant to Benny Ashburn (a man who, in managing and developing the Commodores, became one of the first blacks to manage a pop super group) and later worked as an executive at Dick Griffey’s Solar Records, in 1984 founded Renge Films with filmmakers Bill Parker and Peter Allen.
There she produced commercials for Coca-Cola and McDonald’s and more than 200 music videos, including Stevie Wonder’s 1985 hit, “Part Time Lover” and video productions with Sinbad, Steele Pulse, Ziggy Marley, Dionne Warwick and Burt Bacharach. In 1994, Karolyn produced with Carolyn Pfeiffer “Kla$h,” her first feature film, starring Jasmine Guy and Giancarlo Esposito.
I hadn’t seen Karolyn in years. We last ran into one another not long after her Academy Award nomination and before I swore off fake food, at a McDonald’s in L.A.’s mid Wilshire district. I told her chances are damn good she was the only Oscar nominee to set foot in this McDonald’s, ever. She chuckled at the thought, heading toward the counter to order.
Earlier this month, on August 7th I came across an acquaintance who mentioned that Karolyn-—who since 2013 had been working as executive assistant to her longtime friend and fellow trailblazer, Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs–was looking to launch another production project. Twelve days later I was told that Karolyn was gone, having suddenly passed away August 18 at a vibrant age 70 of natural causes. She was found at home after she hadn’t returned calls and texts.
To those who knew her, Karolyn’s departure was a shock simply because she wasn’t on our radar for such a thing. In our presumptuous way, humans often decide who we believe is not long for this world.
The reasoning often has to do with our perception of one’s lifestyle or the unfortunate hand one has been dealt. And yet, thankfully, Bobby Brown is still here and Stephen Hawking might just outlive us all. The unsparing truth about death is that we just never know when.
In any case, when someone passes, whether they are family, friend or simply an enduring famous face, once again we are faced with our own mortality. To ward off our ultimate fear, immediately we seek details that might aid our nervous rationalization: What happened? How old were they? What was wrong with them?
The idea is to separate ourselves from this fate as much as we can (“What? He wandered into a bear’s den during a winter hike in the forest? Oh, well, there you go. That won’t happen to me because I’ll never do something like that.”). There can be guilt: why them and not me? And morbid speculation—who’s next? In the aftermath of one’s departure, quite often we don’t know what we can do.
The answer, in all its complexity, is simple: we can live.
It’s just my belief that no one, regardless of their situation or station in life, leaves this planet one second before their purpose here has been served. With this in mind, revel in the fact that as long as you are alive, no matter your circumstance, you still maintain an all-access pass—there is a distinct reason for your being here.
Nothing makes the blessing of life clearer than death. Forget that at the moment things may not be exactly as you wish. Put your failed romantic relationship, your dire need for money or that failed diet in lucid, tangible perspective: you’re alive. And as long as you are alive, you have the luxury of doing what the living are supposed to do–live.
No matter your hardship, find a way to savor your existence. Depending on what you are going through and your outlook, that can be difficult. Regardless, think often about that fact that you are here. Ponder this especially in what you deem “good times,” for those are the times in which it is easiest to take life for granted.
Work at living with purpose and direction. You’ll know when you’re doing that, because moving forward, even at the pace of a snail, always feels good.
And when you’re busy living the best and fullest life that you can, it is harder to be spooked by the notion of death. You can’t be worried about that if you’re truly busy living. Thus, more than flowers and memorials and statues, all of which are wonderful, I’d say the best way to honor the passing of someone—beyond fond, joyful, sentimental recant of their life–is to live.
Not recklessly, and not in hurried haste, as if today is your last day, but in gracious, gratitude of being alive. I doubt anyone who has gone before us would disagree with this, especially Karolyn, who loved her life.
Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]