I want to tell you about my friend, Steve.
I’ve known some pretty nice people in my life, and Steve DeCuir ranks towards the top of that list. He has never failed to greet me or leave me with a smile. He exudes an aura of Kindness.
Steve is a mountain of a man, but he epitomizes the phrase, Gentle Giant. And he is not just a giant in stature; he is a giant of a human being.
I met Steve when we both worked on various TV projects in the Coachella Valley. On the day we met, he greeted me with the warmth of an old friend. And I don’t want you to think I instantly liked him because he always insisted on carrying all of the gear! But he was unrelenting on that! And there’s a lot of gear for a TV interview! But he always said, “Here, you go in and meet the doctor and I’ll grab this…” But it isn’t that he’s such a strong and great worker; I like Steve because he is a likeable guy. He is so easy to be with and is one of the most positive guys I’ve ever met.
Plus he’s knowledgeable about the TV business. Whenever I have a question about a lighting kit or a camera or how to “do something,” I call Steve. He’s always got the answer.
I had a great week in Phoenix a few years ago, shooting interviews and Broll for a PBS series on Naturopathic Physicians. Steve and I had an intense schedule; back-to-back interviews for ten hours for two consecutive days. There were roughly 20 interviews each day; fifteen minutes of interview, 15 minutes to reset the lighting and backdrop to make it look different, then repeat 19 more times. Then do it again the next day. Plus some of the people were only there for the half hour so Steve left me to adjust the lighting and he went with the interviewee to get Broll footage and came right back.
It was a rough schedule, but having Steve with me made it possible. He was terrific for those two days and the following two when we went all over the city getting more Broll of various doctor’s offices and hospitals and the college where we were staged. Heck, the only hitch in the whole week was when the Executive Producer showed up one day and started “helping” us. (Luckily he only stayed one day.)
Another time, Steve and I drove to San Francisco to interview a Qi Gong master. On one of the days we had an early morning call at Pan Pacific Park. I didn’t have to give Steve any instructions. I told him the concept for that particular segment and let him go. He returned with the most creative shots! The Exec of the show always bagged on Steve, and I never understood why. Steve is a hardworking, talented artist with a heart of gold. And he shared what he knew. He’s not secretive. Whenever he executed a creative shot, he shared with me how he did it so I’d have the knowledge, too.
We’d arrived early on Friday afternoon on the San Francisco trip and weren’t scheduled until the next morning. Steve said, “I think the Giants are in town, let’s go to a game!” So we got into a cab and went to the ballpark. Now Steve is a life-long Dodgers fan and I am a fan of an American League team. But both of us love baseball and we had a great time, freezing our asses off on a July evening at AT&T Park.
I told you he’s as big as a house. One day when he and I were interviewing doctors at a hospital, we got a break for lunch and went to the cafeteria. I had roughly three dollars on me and chose to quench my thirst with a bottle of water instead of buying a candy bar or something. Steve bought a small sandwich and insisted that he could only eat half. He told me he’d squash me if I didn’t take the other half. I knew he was lying about not being hungry. Steve could eat another human being in one sitting. But I wanted to accept his kindness and I was hungry. Steve’s aura, his spirit is so kind that I felt the love with which he was sharing his meal. I’ve never forgotten that lunch.
And talking about “love” between two guys isn’t something that comes easily to many of us. But I love that guy and I got the chance to tell him in a few ways.
Steve came down with cancer a few years ago. The news shocked all of us. But Steve, the eternal optimist took it in stride and said, “We’ll just take it one step at a time. We’ll deal with the surgery and then see what happens after that.”
Of course, what usually happens is chemotherapy and the traditional side-effects. He suffered, but he never let on that it wasn’t anything more than just another small thing to deal with before he moved on with his life. I haven’t had my hair short since I was in second or third grade, but when he began losing his hair, I had mine buzzed down to a quarter of an inch and sent him a goofy picture of me, telling him I was thinking of him.
He replied, “Come on over. I’ll get my razor and we can finish the job!”
As his health declined, he continued to brighten the lives of his friends. One day, immediately following an early round of chemo, he called the office to make sure everyone would be in so he could “stop by and say hello.” When he stopped by, he brought Subway sandwiches and salads and drinks for everyone.
A few years ago I had a corporate video project in Orange County and I immediately called him and asked if he was able to help. He not only ran camera and lighting, he arranged for me to rent a half-ton grip truck and another guy to help out. I directed. Steve unloaded gear, shaded the intruding sunlight, set up lighting, ran camera, added useful and creative options to the scene and then tore down everything.
Then he realized he’d lost his car keys.
The three of us searched for two hours. We each went over the entire room where we shot. We each went into every stall in the bathroom and reached into our pockets for those keys at least a thousand times. Finally he called a local dealer to see how much a new key would be. (Hundreds.)
We let the Grip leave with the truck so he could get on his way and Steve and I stood, by the right rear door, exasperated and unsure of how to proceed. Steve said he knew he had not followed his normal procedure when he got out of the car that morning, so that’s why he knew he hadn’t placed the keys in his front pocket. But damn! We could not find them!
As we stood there, one of the VP’s of the company at which we were shooting came out to his car. He thanked us again for a professional job and wondered as to why we were still there. We told him we’d lost the keys.
He pointed past Steve’s head and said, “Those keys?”
Steve turned his head and I looked where the man had indicated. Sitting on top of his car, about six inches from Steve’s head, were the keys. They’d been sitting there since he placed them there that morning—not part of his normal exit-my-vehicle-routine. We’d looked under the car. Inside every room we’d been in that day. Reached into our pockets thousands of times to check for the keys that we knew weren’t there. But we never once looked up.
We’ve laughed about that one for a few years now.
I never saw Steve mad or cross. He’s always positive. Steve has probably been more positive in five minutes of his life than I’ve been in all of mine. It’s inspiring to spend time with him.
When I was shooting a short film, Dessert Duel, Steve came over a lit the kitchen and shot the entire film for me and would only take twenty bucks for gas. He had trouble eating lunch that day and I could see that the cancer or the chemo was affecting him, but he never say a word about it.
When I went to interview my friend, artist Snake Jagger, about a new abstract style he was trying, Steve asked me if he could come along and help. He told me he wanted to do “something more creative” than he’d been doing. He worked with me all day, shooting with a second camera, lighting the inside shots and, of course, adding to the creativity of the project. I tried to offer him what little money I had and he, in Big Steve fashion, turned it down and thanked me for letting him help.
About six months ago, he called me to see how I was doing. I’d missed his call and was able to return it while I was sitting in traffic on the 91 freeway. I’d heard he’d been having more difficulties with his treatments but he acted as if it were just another thing with which to deal and then things would move ahead. At one point I found myself just blurting out to him how much his friendship meant to me. I got a little choked up but kept on with my gratitude towards him; telling him what a great guy he was. And he got choked up, too, telling me that I was a good friend. Again, that’s not something that we guys do. But I was glad I said it and didn’t feel embarrassed. Then he began telling me about another idea or two he had for projects. I left the call that day with tears on my face and thinking that no matter what Steve faces, he’s always positively looking ahead.
I thought of him again this Monday morning and called his cell. He didn’t take my call but I left him a message telling him I was thinking of him and hoped he was well.
He’d died the day before.
I found out the next day and, as you may expect, felt guilty about not calling him sooner. But the last time I’d spoken with him, I’d gotten to tell him I loved him and thought my life had been enriched by his friendship.
And I believe he got my message on Monday.
In my opinion, Steve’s life was about being kind to others. Even to strangers. In airports, Steve would just start talking with the person next to him and when they parted, the other person was smiling. Kindness and compassion is what he did best and did most often. What better way is there to spend a life?
I don’t know what I’ll do when I have a technical video question, but when I do, Steve will be the first person I think of. And I know I’ll smile.