Remembering George A. Romero: The Day I Hugged a Legend

Losing someone… anyone… is always hard. George A. Romero had more to do with my upbringing than my very own parents. I grew up amidst dysfunctional family circus. My parents were constantly fighting… furiously… unrelentingly so. As a result I, like many of you, grew up in front of my television set.

Night of the Living Dead was the cause of my first spanking, and it set me on my way at just three years old to becoming who I am right now. I was up late and watching TV without my parents’ knowledge. I saw the newscast portion of the film. I thought it was real. They thought I was nuts but were even more furious when I dragged them both into the living room, pointed at the TV, and of course what was on was NOTLD. I remember lying in bed that night, my butt pounding, but so excited. I was scared to death, but also safe as could be. It was that rush I’ve been chasing my whole life since.

When I was like 11, it was time for me to get my first job. It was 1983, and like most Italian kids from Brooklyn, it was some form of weird right of passage to have your first job be in a pizzeria. I worked an entire summer to save up for the first video cassette I ever bought… the Media Home Entertainment copy of Night of the Living Dead. It was $99.99 plus tax and worth every damned penny.

Night of the Living Dead

Romero and his many movies dictated in which directions my moral compass would lead me. I learned right and wrong from movies like Dawn of the Dead, The Crazies, etc. George A. Romero, through film, became my idol. My absolute mentor. Without ever even knowing it.

Years later I got my first interview with him. It was 8:00AM in Maryland at the HorrorFind convention. George’s manager, and another close friend, Chris Roe, had actually given me his room key. There I was… in his hotel room. The legend. My idol. The icon. I was bad. I went and peed in his bathroom. Didn’t even hold it. Let it go free. Thankfully I have great aim. From there I went and hugged his pillow. Then I went and sat in every possible seat in his room just to know my butt had sat in the same spot in which greatness had. I sat down, heart throbbing, sweating, waiting… I looked at his ashtray brimming with cigarette butts. I made sure I took the seat right across from it. The doorknob began to jingle, and in walked this giant of a man… larger than life… I shook his hand… immediately welled up… He saw I was nervous… His first words to me… “Relax, man. Let’s bullshit.

That right there is the epitome of George A. Romero. He never considered himself the legend that he was and remains to be. He was the nicest, warmest man I’d ever met. He immediately put me at ease and was listening to me jabber, I’m sure much to his own amusement. That was the beginning of one of the greatest relationships I’ve ever been lucky enough to have. I told him about my spanking. He said, “Hey, sorry about yer ass, man!

Through the years I’ve kissed this man every time I saw him. If I couldn’t be where he was, I asked others to kiss him and tell him it was from Uncle Creepy. He always got a kick out of that. I’ve watched him at conventions… he would sit down and not leave no matter how long it took to make sure everyone got their stuff signed. He rarely even took a break. George was genuinely as happy to meet his fans as they were to meet him. He took his time with every single person. It was something to see. Something special. Someone special.

I even went to Universal Studios with him and the then Horror Channel crew including Sean Clark, George’s lovely wife Suz, Debi, Knetter, Eileen Dietz, and of course Chris Roe. I cannot ever forget riding Spider-Man with him. Is this real life? What the fuck did I do to deserve this?!? We e-mailed a lot when we couldn’t see each other. He’d taken to calling me Ramirez for some reason, and I would refer to him as Whit Bissell. It didn’t matter why, and we never ever thought to even try to explain it. It was just a thing, ya know?

Universal Romero

Years later George asked me to be a zombie in Survival of the Dead. You can read all about that here if you wish. My bucket list is over. That was it. A few months later I recorded a commentary track with him that was for BD-LIVE. During it we both got profusely shit-faced. There I was on his couch recording a fucking commentary for George A. Romero. I’ve never stopped feeling honored. Unfortunately it’s not available anymore. Michael Felsher, another dear friend, just sent me a copy of it. Maybe I’ll post it. You have no idea how happy I am to have it. I told George after the commentary about the pizzeria story. He immediately put his hand in his pocket and offered to give me my money back. I told him to go scratch his ass. We both laughed endlessly, continued drinking, and then went for sushi.

Muppett Romero

Today came news I was dreading my entire life. At this point I’m at the 854-word mark and haven’t stopped crying yet. George… thank you for who you were. Thank you for accepting me and welcoming this fucking idiot street kid with no common sense into your life. I love you so very much and will miss you every single time I draw a breath. I love you. I love you. I miss you already.

God… I have no more words.

– Ramirez

George A Romero

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Steve Barton

You're such an inspiration for the ways that I will never, ever choose to be.

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