The unbearable, devastating loss of Alan Kirschenbaum

By Dave Briggs.

That Alan Kirschenbaum readily shared his time, profound talent and genial soul won’t surprise anyone who knew him. What you don’t know is that to us at The Sportsman, he was also a verb.

He once told me the secret to good writing is not giving away the ending or the best part. Ever since, when one of us wants to share the juiciest parts of an interview or an idea for an ending, the other would inevitably say, ‘don’t Kirschenbaum it’ as encouragement to save the surprise for the finished story.

As a man who loved the written word and was particularly deft at stringing words together, I like to think he would have been touched by that and laughed about it. Alan had a generous spirit and spent his life trying to make others laugh. I would have liked to have returned the favour.

So, apart from being our part-time blogger, lone Hollywood connection and a dear friend to me and us and all of harness racing, I will immortalize him as a verb — albeit, now with both a smile and a sadness I doubt I’ll ever shake.

Reports are that Alan took his own life. He was 51. He leaves behind his wife, Vicki, their teenage daughter Molly — whom Alan loved beyond measure — his parents, a sister and scores of friends who, like me, are stunned and angry and empty.

Why? We’re all struggling with that one. Friends say he had been battling depression, but pinpointing a cause for his death would be conjecture at best.

A New York native and the son of comedian Freddy Roman, Alan was also an active owner, breeder and noted amateur driver who tried his hand at training a stable at the Meadowlands for three years in the mid- 1980s before moving to Hollywood in 1988 to become a sitcom screenwriter. His  riting, producing, directing and creator credits include: “Yes, Dear”, “Coach”, “My Names Is Earl”, “Raising Hope”, “Everybody Loves Raymond”, “Dear John”, “Stark Raving Mad”, “Down The Shore”, “The Gregory Hines Show”, “Center of the Universe” and a new sitcom called “Friend Me” he co-created that is  urrently in production at CBS.

That he died a day before the Breeders Crown was, I would imagine, unintentionally symbolic. Alan wrote the series’ mission statement, helped with early advertising copy and will forever go down in Crown lore as the man who elicited Bill O’Donnell’s famed “no s—“ comment during a live television interview on ESPN in 1987.

Alan had many passions — family, friends, comedy, music, hockey — but harness racing was as big as any of them. He took that passion to California where he was a strong advocate for racing in the state, becoming president of the California Harness Horsemen’s Association and standing his beloved stallion, Little Steven, there. In recent years, Alan even waived his stallion fees to help the standardbred population survive.

He also had strong ties to Ontario where he had horses with Dr. John Hayes, Ron Waples, Jr. and Blair Burgess in recent years and maintained a close friendship with driver Randy Waples from the other side of the continent.

While I am honoured a photo Dave Landry took for us of Alan standing trackside at Mohawk (below left) has been widely circulated on the Internet with the obituaries and tributes, I prefer to see Alan as we had him on our cover in 2008 (below right) — in his colours, as a great friend of harness racing. I’ll cherish his friendship and writing advice and hope the sting and bitterness over his senseless death doesn’t linger and spoil my memories.

The truth of the matter is, we’re blessed he chose us, even for such a relatively short time. We’re better for knowing him and we’re definitely better for his practical, tough-love advice (read his blog Tongue Tie Off on our website: www.canadiansportsman.ca). For love was always part of the relationship. During the Hollywood writers’ strike in 2008, Alan even wrote a movie script about harness racing with a friend. That’s all he would tell me. He didn’t want to Kirschenbaum it. I would love to see it one day.

Funny, I never told Alan he had become synonymous with never giving away the end of your story. I just wish with all my heart I could have changed the ending of his.

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