John Callahan: biography, creativity, cause of death

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John Callahan: biography, creativity, cause of death
John Callahan: biography, creativity, cause of death

Video: John Callahan: biography, creativity, cause of death

Video: John Callahan: biography, creativity, cause of death
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August 23, 2018, the world premiere of the film "Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far", filmed by director Gus van Sant based on the autobiographical book of the same name by cartoonist, animator and just an extraordinary person John Callahan, took place as a result of an accident on confined to a wheelchair all his life.

Childhood and youth

The future prototype of the protagonist of the biopic "Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far", the role of which was brilliantly played by the famous Hollywood actor Joaquin Phoenix, was born on February 5, 1951 in a provincial town in the USA called Dulles and located in the state of Oregon.

The biography of John Callahan from his very birth was devoid of the slightest predisposition to well-being. The identities of his mother and father are unknown. The newborn baby was left at an orphanage where he was seen by David and Rosemary Callaghan, a married couple from Portland. They adoptedboy and gave him a double name - John Michael.

In Portland, the Callaghans owned grain elevators serving a large grain company. Subsequently, God gave them five more children, John's half-siblings.

The boy's childhood was quite stormy. He grew up as a big troublemaker and fighter, inventive for various nasty things. When John was only eight years old, he, a student of a Catholic school, was seduced by a forty-year-old nun-teacher, holding the boy in a secluded corner. So John Callahan suddenly became a man.

It is not known whether such an early injury affected his further development or whether it was the transitional age and lack of attention, but when John was twelve years old, he was already drinking alcohol and, of course, skipped school.

His adoptive parents gave up on him, and the early grown-up boy, left to himself, spent all subsequent years in bars and suspicious companies. After leaving school, John worked for some time as an orderly in a psychiatric hospital, after which he got a job at an aluminum plant. Callahan himself later described the days of his youth as a generally pointless pastime of drinking, interrupted by hours of work in an alcohol haze.

John Callahan
John Callahan


Misfortune befell John Callahan in 1972. He, a hard-drinking twenty-one-year-old guy, was returning home by car from another bar with his friend. A friend, who was driving, lost control and crashed into a car at high

From the blow, John received a concussion, multiple fractures and, worst of all, serious damage to the spine. Callahan became an invalid, permanently chained to his chair.

All John could do now was just somehow hold a glass or a pen in his hands. By the will of fate, it was the glass and the pen that became the key objects for him for all subsequent years. From the fact that his whole life finally collapsed, John began to drink even more. At the same time, remembering that, while still a student of a Catholic school, he portrayed teachers quite well in his first children's cartoons, he, having nothing to do, began to somehow try to take a pen in his hands that had become naughty and draw. He had to hold it with both hands, with which he diligently led the little men who, by the will of John, fell into strange and gloomy situations full of black humor.

Gradually drawing cartoons - almost the only thing he could afford to do other than drink - completely took over Callahan. For him, the prospects of his new life surprisingly opened up.

The life of a man confined to a wheelchair.


John Callahan's alcohol addiction continued for another six years after the accident.

All his attempts to go to rehab failed. Only drawing cartoons helped. One day, one of his acquaintances, who saw John's original and witty drawings, advised him to try to sell them to someone. At first, Callahan was very skeptical about this idea, but after sometime, nevertheless, he sent his work to the local newspaper Willamette Week, attaching a note to them as follows:

I am a cripple, an alcoholic and an excellent illustrator, and I urgently need a job to completely stay awake…

Both the cartoons and John's sharp humor were appreciated by the newspaper, and some of his works were soon published. After some time, the editor-in-chief went to his house to get acquainted, and at the same time to make sure that the author of the drawings was really a cripple. He later recalled this meeting at John's house as follows:

We really saw in front of us a well-groomed man in a wheelchair with a handle in his crooked hands. I've never seen a person so charming, drunk and depressing at the same time, yet mischievous at the same time…

In 1983, John Callahan was hired by the Willamette Week as a staff cartoonist.

One of John Callahan's cartoons
One of John Callahan's cartoons

The style and themes of his work were ambiguously perceived by the readers of the newspaper. Someone admired Callahan's drawings, others only annoyed. But for John himself, who essentially describes his life in his sharp and filled with black humor caricatures, the main thing was only the reaction of other disabled people. And they really liked his drawings.

Year after year, Callahan's work gained more and more popularity around the world. By the end of the 90s, the number of print publishers, magazines and newspapers publishing John's drawings exceeded two hundred.

SampleJohn's black humor
SampleJohn's black humor

In 1989, Callahan wrote the first volume of his autobiography Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far, the film rights to which were immediately bought by the famous and beloved by millions of viewers actor Robin Williams, who dreamed of embodying the image of John on the screen. However, unfortunately, he did not have time to do this…

Ten years later, the second volume of the artist's autobiography "The Real John Callahan Please Stand Up" was published.


In 2000, Nickelodeon became interested in John's work. The poignant and sometimes violent content of Callahan's cartoons was not suitable for the children's cartoons that this channel specialized in, but their concept and style could be very appealing to an adult audience.

Nickelodeon management has made the decision to adapt Callahan's fictional works into animated television series. So John Callahan became the executive producer of the animated series Pelswick, the release of which lasted from 2000 to 2002, and since 2001 he took part in the creation of the series "Quads!".

Pelswick was dedicated to the life of a boy in a wheelchair, despite everything set to a normal full life.

Animated series "Pelswick"
Animated series "Pelswick"

The series "Quads!", intended for viewers of the older generation, was a kind of menagerie of characters as close to life as possible and also having various deviations in mental or physical development. chiefthe character of Riley O'Reilly became the hero of this animated series. And he, despite the fact that he is a paralyzed alcoholic, is doing well.

Animated series "Quads!"
Animated series "Quads!"


In 2018, famous director Gus van Sant, inspired by John's autobiography he read, made the film Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot. The incarnation of the image of the hero himself on the screen was taken over by the famous film actor Joaquin Phoenix.

On the photo - John Callahan and Joaquin Phoenix.

John Callahan and Joaquin Phoenix
John Callahan and Joaquin Phoenix

In order to get as close as possible to his hero, Joaquin not only read both volumes of his autobiography, but also really studied them. He also watched all the existing videos of John, went to a rehabilitation center, which Callahan got after the accident, talked with his doctors and friends. The actor spent many hours over his drawings, thinking over every joke and trying to understand the very essence of this infinitely interesting, intelligent and talented person.

Joaquin Phoenix as Callahan
Joaquin Phoenix as Callahan

Released on August 23, 2018, the film deservedly won the Palme d'Or and was repeatedly nominated for an Oscar film award.

Also, John Callahan has a namesake well-known in the world of cinema and comic book lovers - Nancy Callahan, the fictional heroine of the graphic story "Sin City", created by the artist and peculiar colleague of John Frank Miller, according to which in 2005 the famous film directors RobertRodriguez and Quentin Tarantino made a film of the same name. One of the main characters of "Sin City" was also private detective John Hartigan, the eternal protector and patron of Nancy, whom he met in her childhood. The story of Nancy Callahan and John Hartigan is loved by millions of viewers around the world.


In 2009, John underwent another operation, but there was no improvement in his he alth. On the contrary, complications arose after some time.

July 24, 2010 Callahan passed away before he was 60.

It is not known exactly how and exactly what John Callahan died of. The official cause of his death, doctors called breathing problems, aggravated by quadriplegia.

Shortly before his death in an interview, Callahan admitted:

I like everything that is extreme, longing or suffering in life. Everything is very intense - religion, politics, disease. The real soft things in life don't interest me…

Callahan was one of the most extraordinary, dark, ironic and powerful contemporary artists. At the same time, John Callahan was distinguished from all the rest by the fact that, despite the obvious blackness, his work always remained truly funny …