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Bam Margera's Life Makes Me Terrified of Death

The Jackass star hasn't been the same since his best friend Ryan Dunn died, and now he's on reality TV again, trying to fix what was broken.

by Joe Bish
04 April 2016, 12:15pm

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_q0fb8LtfpA

Most of us get to a point in our lives where we start to thinking about our loved ones dying. Mother, father, brother, sister, boyfriend, girlfriend – they're all going to die. You start to think about what you will do when this happens, how will you deal with the sadness, what will your life become without them in it. Bam Margera, a man who earned his millions by debasing himself and the people he loved, had seemingly not considered it. Last week, a clip from Bam's appearance on a TV show called Family Therapy with Dr Jenn surfaced. As far as I can work out, it features celebrities in a house with their loved ones trying to get the help they need. Among them is Tiffany 'New York' Pollard, Dina and Michael Lohan, someone from Teen Mom and of course, Bam with his mother April.


When Jackass started in 2000, Bam was a promising young pro skater and the central figure of a crew of friends in his hometown of West Chester, Pennsylvania. After Johnny Knoxville and perhaps Steve-O, Bam was the most popular member of the Jackass crew, and was certainly the most prone to having his life constantly filmed: Viva La Bam, Bam's Unholy Union, Bam's World Domination, Bam's Badass Gameshow... His was the brand of the miscreant that became so popular, an endless stream of footage with Bam and his pals causing trouble. It, much like Jackass at first, made you want to be part of it, part of the jokes, part of the chaos. But it was always centred around his rousing spirit of mischief. Though there would often be semi-severe implications of this constant, unending barrage of pranks, gags, stunts and whatever else, it was all quite light in tone. It had an edgy fratboy feel, not a torturous Saw vibe. Bam Margera was born to be on TV, but perhaps not to the extent that he now finds himself.

Bam's boyishness died with his best friend. In 2011, the much-loved bearded goofball Ryan Dunn crashed his car into a tree at high speed after drinking heavily. The crash killed Dunn and Zachary Hartwell, a production assistant on Jackass Number Two. Dunn was 34. At the side of the road, where flowers were being laid by shocked and aggrieved friends and family, Bam Margera was interviewed on camera in near hysterics. Standing in total confusion and anguish, as if he was trapped in a film, this intimate moment of incredible loss available for the world to consume. A man who spent his life on reality TV getting you to watch and love him and his friends, cornered in the same medium when the closest one to him dies.

Bam was not the same after that, and how could he be? In the short clip made available of his newest TV venture, he says that he had never considered someone close to him dying, and that the shock of Dunn's passing sent him into a drinking spiral. He says it all wild-eyed, slurring, hand bleeding from punching a car window in. His boyish confidence had been transformed into an anxious confusion. The life of Riley he'd built from slapping his dad while asleep and filming it now became broken and unfamiliar, pointless. He began to gain weight, and the sprightly young skater morphed into a bloated, weeping mess.

And now once again he finds himself, along with his, I'm sure, long-suffering mother on reality TV, trying to find help for his addictions, his problems. Many would say that this is no way to help someone, in front of cameras, constant judgement from pernicious viewers. But this is his home, this gives a sense of stability, of familiarity. After Viva La Bam, his shows gradually decreased in popularity. His last TV effort, 2014's Bam's Badass Game Show, was a far cry from the extreme stunting of his Jackass days. Gone were stunts like jumping head first into a trashcan, or getting a wedgie from dropping out of tree. That great format people loved was now transformed into a chintzy game show, with lame gags, ill-fitting cast members, and irritating contestants.

In Family Therapy, Bam is, presumably, allowed to be what he actually is, which is an emotionally troubled and very sensitive man - and that side of him came out even on Jackass. His extreme fear of snakes, used by other cast members to elicit terrified reactions, showed vulnerability. Him being trapped in a trailer with a cobra is probably the only time anyone cried on Jackass not as a result of intense vomiting.

It's horrible and heart-rending to see how the death of one young man ruin the life of another. But it goes to show just how destructive it can be. Bam Margera had everything, but without Ryan Dunn, what did it all mean? It must have been compounded by the conviction of his uncle Vincent 'Don Vito' Margera as a sex offender, and his subsequent death from alcoholism in 2015. Bam created a brand around him and his family and friends on reality TV, but when actual reality stepped in an over him, he couldn't cope.

Bam's descent into alcohol-fuelled malaise is terrifying. It shows that the people who are most important to us could leave us in a state of total disrepair if something were to happen to them. How we deal with a cataclysmic tragedy is dependent on the individual. Some of us might fall apart in the futility of life; some may be more resilient. Bam Margera does not appear to possess that resilience. Still, tune into VH1 to see a broken man cry in his mother's arms.

@joe_bish

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