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RIP, Dean Jones: the man who stopped running from God

Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 09/02/15

The celebrated actor from countless Disney films in the ’60s died today at age 84, from Parkinson’s. You may know him best from this:

But his life was far more interesting and complicated, according to Christianity Today:

For years he had deceived himself into believing that the Hollywood lifestyle would satisfy him, but it had only left him depressed and suicidal. He addictively sought the comforting roar of audience approval, but such pursuits had only shattered his first marriage (which ended in divorce) and alienated him from his children. He began to see life as a pointless exercise in futility, to be managed by copious amounts of alcohol and a parade of affairs.

According to his autobiography, Under Running Laughter, Jones heard a voice in his spirit one evening, saying his lifestyle “will never satisfy you.” He started thinking: Could I continue to deceive myself into believing that whatever vacuum existed within me would be filled in the future by more and bigger portions of that I’d consumed in the past?

Later, after a drunk-driving accident almost claimed his life, Jones reached his breaking point. Though he’d grown up in a religious home and even briefly attended Asbury, a Christian college in Kentucky, Jones had rejected the faith of his family. After his near-death accident, he was ready to stop running from God, crying out, “I’ve done everything in this world I thought would make me happy and it doesn’t work. I have everything and I have nothing. I have no choice but to believe. If you don’t exist, then I’m a dead man.”

After his conversion, Jones felt a peace he’d never known before, and he felt whole for the first time. He righted his blighted relationships, remarried (he and Lory have been together 36 years), and began seeking out projects on and off screen that he could do for the glory of God.

Late in his career, he took on stage roles with a religious bent:

In 1986, Jones…starred in Into the Light, a musical about scientists and the Shroud of Turin, which closed four days after it opened. He had far more success touring in the one-man show St. John in Exile as the last surviving Apostle of Jesus Christ, reminiscing about his life while imprisoned on the Greek island of Patmos.

But one of his most famous roles—and something of a legend in theater circles—was the character of Bobby in the Stephen Sondheim musical “Company” in 1970. “Company” is a cynical musical comedy about the challenges and pitfalls of modern day marriage in New York City. Jones played the musical’s centerpiece, the story’s sole bachelor, dealing with his married friends and neighbors. He created the role at a time he was undergoing a painful divorce; shortly after its first performance, he asked that he be let out of his contract. The producer and director, Harold Prince, agreed, on one condition: Jones would have to record the cast album.

He did, and the arduous process was captured by acclaimed documentary filmmakerD.J. Pennebaker.

Here is Dean Jones recording the definitive rendition of “Being Alive” 45 years ago, in what some would argue was the performance of his life. I wouldn’t disagree.

Eternal rest, Mr. Jones.

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