I have so many memories of Dunn. And all of them immediately bring to mind a smiling, laughing Ryan, always that mischievous sparkle in his eyes. It’s hard not to smile thinking of him as I write this. Here’s one that’s always been really personal and significant for me, now even more so.
A little over nine years ago, on a weekend in the spring of 2002, we were shooting the open to jackass the movie. Dunn was nursing a bad wrist, having had a pin inserted not long before to help heal a few bones. We took what precautions we could to help him protect himself, including building a fruit stand for him and everyone else to leap into to help break the fall. (For his part, Ryan didn’t seem too worried.) The launch from the shopping cart went off great—a little too great, considering all the guys actually flew over the fruit stand and landed in the crash boxes behind it. As everyone untangled themselves, Dunn emerged holding his wrist in obvious pain.
We immediately put him in an ambulance. I jumped in with him and headed off to the nearest hospital, which happened to be in a somewhat rough part of downtown Los Angeles with an ER that was understaffed and overflowing people. After checking in, I asked Dunn when the nurse came out to evaluate him to please not be a hero, to tell her exactly what he was feeling so they could get him proper care. Not to mention the fact I knew from experience ERs tend see people on an as needed basis, so if he brushed off the injury there was no saying when we’d actually get in to see a doctor. Soon after, the nurse appeared. I briefed her on what happened, and when she turned to Ryan he basically said, "It’s nothing, I’m fine, these people are worse than me, I’d just like some ice.” Not really how we rehearsed it. They brought the ice, and it would be seven hours until we’d finally get to see a doctor.
A dingy ER in downtown LA is not usually the place friendships are born, but that day I got to do what any of Dunn’s friends will tell you was the best way to spend a day with him: for the rest of the day and well into the night, we sat around, swapped stories, told each other dumb jokes, lit each other’s cigarettes and just shot the shit. We talked about pretty much anything and everything you can think of—everything except work—effortlessly the way old friends would. He asked as many questions as he answered. As so many people mentioned at his memorial in West Chester, Ryan had the ability to make you feel like you were the most important person in the room. He was always disarmingly present when you talked to him, looked you in the eye and really listened. Hanging out together, the hours flew by. So it was almost an unwelcomed interruption when the doctor finally came out to see him and take X-rays. By that point his wrist was swollen badly and his fingers were turning into little grey and purple sausages. When we left the ER, somewhere around midnight, I felt like I had known Ryan my whole life.
In the months and years and movies that followed, we developed our own silly little ritual greetings. Whether it had been months, days or just hours since we last saw each other, we’d give each other a not very manly hug and peck on the cheek (I’m a lot taller, so mine was usually on the side of his head, his somewhere on my neck), followed by something like, “How the hell are you honey?” … “Awesome sweetie, good to see you” … “Can I bum a smoke dear?” … “Of course darling.” Just silly banter with genuine affection that meant the world to me and made every day a little better.
So many of my other memories are just as simple: driving in the van talking about relationships and his beloved Angie, telling jokes over lunch, hanging out at my house and sipping a beer during the Super Bowl when, as others have mentioned, he was so happy, so together, so excited about the present and future. The truth is it didn’t take much to create a fond memory with Dunn; he was one of the most genuine, unaffected, decent people I’ve ever known and just being around him made you happy.
Still, I can’t say how important that one day in the ER was for me, then or now. Because back then, in the early days, I still felt like the new guy in the jackass family. I was still getting to know everyone, and even though I appreciated and respected and was even a little in awe at how unique it was—a brotherhood that goes so much deeper than making a TV show or movies—I couldn’t presume to be part of it. Ryan changed all that that day; knowingly or not, he invited me in, made me feel right at home, genuinely appreciated and a real part of the family. And it’s been my home and family ever since and I wouldn’t trade a day of it, not even a day as heartbreaking as this. Without Dunn, I’m not sure I’m ever here. Without Dunn, I’m sure it won’t ever be the same.
With all the good fortune we’ve had, I’ve often half-joked that jackass has convinced me that God exists … and that he must be a fan. Even with this tragedy, I’d still like to think that’s true … and that Ryan must be his favorite.
I’m going to miss you more than words can say, honey.