Well into his forties he kept swinging between the poles of his double life as only a true Manichean can, a rock star buried in a pile of cocaine one minute and a sadhu renunciant fingering his beads the next. But by his fifties he had abandoned the pretensions of stardom altogether. He had married a formidable but endlessly forgiving woman. (“People sometimes say to me, ‘What’s the secret of a long marriage?’ ” Olivia says in the movie. “And I’m like, ‘You don’t get divorced!’ ”) He became a devoted father and accomplished gardener.
“I don’t listen to much of today’s music,” he said. “Most of it leaves me shell-shocked.” He immersed himself in the standards of the American songbook. “I would rather listen to ‘Lady Be Good’ by Grappelli [and Django Reinhardt] right now than almost anything,” he wrote in a brief autobiography. Hoagy Carmichael became a hero. His last albums each contained at least one old pop standard: Cole Porter’s “True Love,” Harold Arlen’s “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” Carmichael’s “Hong Kong Blues.”
When the cancer finally carried him off, his family’s formal statement insisted that he had never feared his own death, and even welcomed it, so sure was his faith in an afterlife and in God. The claim is repeated emphatically in the documentary. But this has the feel of a white lie—another bit of Beatle mythmaking. His last months were, in truth, a frantic scramble around Europe and North America in search of experimental cures that might keep his spirit housed in his body a few months longer. None of them worked.