Back in 1980, Charles Rocket was set to be the next big star to come out of ''Saturday Night Live,'' a combination of Chevy Chase and Bill Murray. It didn't quite work out that way. Instead, to the extent that he is remembered at all, he is remembered for saying the f-word on live TV.
Rocket died recently. A report on his death is here. That story notes his ''SNL'' notoriety; it's also in several histories of the show, including Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad's fine book ''Saturday Night: A Backstage History of 'Saturday Night Live.' ''
I wasn't crazy about Rocket in his brief ''SNL'' tenure, although I saw him in later works where he proved he was a reasonably funny actor. You have to look at him first of all as being hugely unlucky.
He joined the ''SNL'' cast after the last of the original players had departed, and their accomplishments had already moved from acclaimed to legendary. As the ''Saturday Night'' book notes, the show's new producer, Jean Doumanian, saw Rocket as ''the performer most likely to become her first major star.'' (In fact, Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo would eclipse Rocket and the other new performers.) But the comparisons to Chase and Murray ''had an ominous undertone,'' Hill and Weingrad wrote. Comparisons to the old cast would not always prove favorable.
The show is widely considered to have been a disaster that year, mostly badly written, ineptly produced and -- Piscopo and Murphy aside -- lacking in star power. The experience appeared to unhinge Rocket, ''Saturday Night'' notes; then, at the end of one show, he dropped the f-word into an ad-lib. Although an apology eventually followed, Rocket's run on ''SNL'' basically ended in that moment. And so did any chance he had of becoming a big TV star, let alone one in the movies.
I won't pretend to know what Rocket knew or felt at that time, but it had to be extraordinary. You're presented with a glorious gift, a rope to climb to even greater success. Then the rope starts to slip through your hands, until you let go entirely -- and fall.