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Excelsior! Stan Lee Tribute goes onward and upwards for a super sendoff 

By Adam Pockross
Stan Lee Press Photo

Stan Lee’s catchphrase, Excelsior, means a lot of things to a lot of people, but loosely translated from Latin, it means “onward and upward.” After Wednesday night’s Stan Lee Tribute at Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theatre, it’s safe to say that Stan the Man’s spirit is soaring even higher in that direction.

Stars of comics, film, television, music, and politics, as well as some of Stan’s fellow veterans, gathered to pay tribute, and to get some sense of collective closure after Lee’s passing at the age of 95 last November. Seemingly everyone at last night’s event — aptly titled Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible & Uncanny Life of Stan Lee — has a personal memory of The Man, and SYFY WIRE was on the red carpet to hear some of those memories firsthand.

“I think everybody’s here tonight because we’re celebrating the astonishing accomplishments, and the way this guy created these characters that manage to be transferred into so many different media, to be reborn … I just was watching Miles Morales, and just the fact that it sustains that says so much about what he did creatively,” Clark Gregg (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) told SYFY WIRE. “It’s a huge part of American pop culture.”

Clark Gregg Stan Lee Tribute

“Excelsior means to me inspiration, and quality. It represents Stan, because he did more than write stories. Stan, working along with Jack [Kirby] and Steve [Ditko] and all of the co-creators that he had, they created a modern-day mythology for us, and they taught us valuable lessons,” said super producer Michael E. Uslan, the man behind pretty much every Batman movie since 1989. “Since I was a kid, the adventures of Spider-Man and others really did help form my own moral and ethical code. And everybody I talk to, it doesn’t matter what generation, it had that kind of impact on them."

“Accelerating excellence. That’s what it says to me. I know it’s not verbatim, but that’s what I took away from it. Being around him was excellent,” said Black Eyed Peas member Taboo when asked what Excelsior means to him. “It was an excellent feeling of a person who inspired us through imagination, through creativity, the fact that he always stayed young with his mind, he continued to see what the pulse of the youth was with his writing. And that’s exactly what we do with our music. It’s a direct reflection of us being creative, and always wanting to hone into our craft. Stan Lee showed us that; he was a mentor, but also a great friend.”

“Stan Lee is like the universal hero. He got every culture together by storytelling. He gave every community their own hero to follow, in fiction and actually in factual life,” said fellow Black Eyed Peas member “And Stan Lee shaped our imagination, especially coming from the ghetto, it gave us the freedom to imagine and create, and to be accepted around the world.”

And yes, Stan had a favorite Black Eyed Peas song, which they performed in his honor the night the legend passed. “We paid homage to him, and we sang his favorite song, ‘Where’s the Love,’” said Taboo. “It was definitely there, and it’s here too.”

Stan Lee Tribute Poster

Clare Grant (The Guild) and husband Seth Green (Robot Chicken) were definitely feeling the love too. "For me working with Stan was absolutely incredible. I got to do it a few times, and each time he was wonderful, and giving, and it’s incredibly validating as a person in this business to work with him,” said Grant. “He knew the way that everyone felt about him, and he leaned into that. He let everyone feel that way, and he never let anyone feel foolish for loving him,” added Green.

Wesley Snipes had a good time saying all four syllables of Ex-cel-si-or himself, and relayed to us the advice Stan gave him while playing Marvel’s first cinematic superhero, Blade. “Have fun, be creative," he said, while noting, "He liked the coat.”

“Excelsior means imagination. Excelsior means seeing into the future, a future that is unknown, but is full of promise,” said Matthew Modine (Stranger Things). “Stan Lee has an impact on all our lives. And not just Stan Lee, but all those people that worked with him, and the world of imagination that they created. I mean, we often dismiss people that work in science fiction and comics, because it’s some kind of children’s fare. It’s through science fiction that things become science fact. … It’s important that those people that write science fiction inspire scientists to make those things become a future that is beneficial to all. I know that Stan Lee would like nothing more than to see a world — having fought in the second world war — that was full of peace and cooperation, and finding peaceful, logical solutions to problems between people rather than using violence.”

Flava Flav at the stan lee tribute

“Stan Lee meant the world to me. I always been a fan of Stan Lee, since I was a kid,” said singer/hype-man/actor/comics collector Flava Flav (Public Enemy). “I got to meet Stan Lee last year at the Comic-Con. Oh man, it was such a great moment for me, one of the most amazing moments of my life.”

“He was a great improviser, we had like one take to improvise that he crushed. I would love to have a Stan Lee energy in everything I do,” said Ariela Barer of Lee’s cameo on Runaways. “He was a limo driver, and they were like, ‘One take, what if you know who he is?’ And I was like, ‘Do I know you?’ And he just made some quip that made everyone laugh too hard to keep the take.”

“I wasn’t in that era with Kirby, when Stan was in the office every day. So when he would come in, it was really a special occasion. I mean, everyone would stop,” said comics all-star Bill Sienkiewicz (The New Mutants). “It’s like that old expression: 'Elvis has left the building.' Well with Stan, it was like, 'Elvis has entered the building.'”

“Stan’s whole thing was he just wanted to bring joy and happiness and love to everyone. He wanted to do away with prejudice, and insecurity, and ignorance, and I think he’s done it. And we’re all here to pass that on to the next generation,” said Emma Dumont (The Gifted).

The well-produced evening — which continued with A-list speakers, testimonials, slideshows, and clips inside the famous theater — was put on by Stan Lee’s POW! Entertainment, Agents of Mayhem, and Legion M, the “world’s first fan-owned entertainment company,” according to CEO/co-founder Paul Scanlan.

“This is really a tribute that’s a celebration of his life, and it came together rather quickly; we were surprised and enthusiastic about how many people wanted to participate in this, and we also wanted to make sure it became a fan event, equally, as well,” said Pow! president and co-founder Gill Champion.

The entire evening — with all net proceeds going to the Hero Initiative — was a show of love for every true believer’s superhero, the legendary Stan Lee. And it was an opportunity for all of us to yell Excelsior to the heavens in his honor.