Stan Lee died today at 95. Everyone who loves comics is mourning. I’m not sure why it seems like a shock. He wasn’t young. He wasn’t in the greatest health. But that doesn’t matter. It seemed like Stan would be around forever.
I’ve felt like this since the first day I met him. I was a lucky woman. I got to work with Stan on a web series called Cocktails With Stan. We co-hosted together, and interviewed celebrities over drinks. He was kind enough to write the foreword for two books I contributed to. We got to do a number of panels together. I always knew this day would come, and that it was coming soon, but I’m still not ready.
There is something odd about meeting your heroes. It’s something I get to do a lot in my job, and sometimes it’s not so great. With Stan, it was different. He was exactly what you’d expect him to be, and exactly what you dreamed. I remember the day I met him on set. I’d interviewed him before, and he was lovely to me, but this was different. I walked in, and he said, “Jenna! I know everything about you!” You cannot imagine what that did for a girl who started reading comics as a tiny kid. As it turns out, he’d read a ton of my writing, quoted my articles to me and knew that I’d written for a comics anthology. He told me he wanted a copy and that he wanted me to sign it for him. I will never be over that moment, and I still tear up when I think about it.
That’s the kind of guy that Stan Lee was. He never pushed himself forward. He made everyone he ever met feel special. When we sat down to interview Elvira, he hugged her and told her she was the coolest ever. Well, she is, but he just kept praising her and talking about how much he loved her work. I will never forget talking with the two of them about how she dated Elvis and his stream of questions to her about it, and his disbelief that someone could be a bad kisser. (These two things were not related.) He might have been tired on certain days, but as soon as you walked into a room with him, he lit up.
Shortly after he had a pacemaker put in his chest, I hosted a panel with him and he was visibly tired. However, when I asked how he was feeling, he told me that he was now Tony Stark! That was classic Stan. He made the best of everything. He spent that panel telling everyone how wonderful the people he worked with were. We never did a panel without him telling the audience something nice about me. This man was a legend, and I am just a writer. Words like this from a man like that changed my life. His work changed lives. His mere presence did the same.
We’d shoot four shows a day, sitting in a restaurant that was closed for the event. Celebrity after celebrity came in and fangirled over him. People who would have fans yelling out at them on the street were brought to tears in his presence. I’ve never seen anything like it. They’d come in and choke up as he said hi to them. He’d smile and hug them, and make them feel comfortable right away. Still, these actors and writers would stammer over their words and gush about how much they loved him. These people who have the industry at their feet would lose their minds because they were in the same room with Stan “The Man” Lee. I lost mine as well, here and there, when it would hit me how odd my life was. I remember when I did a panel with Stan at a convention, and he insisted on sitting next to me so I could repeat the audience questions in his ear for him. (He was losing his hearing.) We joked around and it seemed almost normal for a bit. Then, in the middle of a question, I had this out-of-body experience. In my head, I heard, “Stan Lee is having you whisper in his ear. He knows who you are.” How could that possibly be? He didn’t hesitate when I asked if he’d do intros for our Psych Geeks book series. He didn’t hesitate when fans asked him to sign comic books, pictures or even body parts. He told me that he thought it was hysterical that anyone got tattoos of his signature. I asked him if he knew who he was, and he just laughed.
I also got to see another side of him. When the camera was off, he talked about his wife. I tell people this story all the time, but he would regale me with stories about how she would rearrange furniture in the house all the time, and how lovely that was, because it felt like he was in a new place all the time. He told me how wonderful she was, and how much he loved her. I wasn’t dating anyone at the time, and he told me that I would find someone wonderful like that, and that he was sure of it.
I don’t think I’ve ever met a kinder man. I don’t think I ever will. For all of his accomplishments, he was just a good man that made everyone else feel like a superhero. He made things that will live for as long as humanity exists, and that is just great. He was also my friend. And there is little else in my life that is or ever will be cooler than that.