In the wink of an eye
Amanda Scheer Demme can’t sit still. She’s walking from room to room, trying out sound bites, changing her clothes, primping in front of the mirror. In a few minutes, a film crew will interview her about her late husband, filmmaker Ted Demme, who died at 38 of a heart attack after a charity basketball game two years ago.
But the mood inside her Hollywood Hills home is anything but somber. The Who is on the stereo and her friends are wandering in, some of them carrying bottles of champagne. It feels as if Ted himself will be making an appearance. And in a way, he will be.
The documentary, a project for the Independent Film Channel produced by Amanda, Denis Leary and Richard LaGravenese, “kind of brings him to life again,” she says. “It makes it feel like he’s not gone.... I know he’s watching. I know he’s laughing.”
Indeed, Teddy is all around Amanda. He’s kissing her cheek in a black-and-white photo next to a poem that says “death is nothing at all.” He’s in the half-bottle of Patron tequila she finds in a cabinet. He’s in the name of her company, AD Entertainment, short for “after death.” He’s in her dreams every few months, so vivid and alive that when she wakes up, her body tingles. He’s in that look their 2-year-old son, Dexter, gives sometimes, the one that makes Amanda laugh so hard.
Teddy is also, quite literally, in the next room. His ashes lie inside a one-of-a-kind urn that sits on a shelf in the children’s playroom, a framed photo of their 6-year-old daughter, Jaxon, balanced on top of it and toys strewn on the floor below. The rock-and-roll strongbox is stained black and studded along the sides, the creation of designers at Chrome Hearts. “It’s hot,” Amanda says. “It’s sexy. He’d be proud to be in it.”
The urn plays a key role in the film, “In Search of Ted Demme,” a documentary with a mockumentary subplot written by LaGravenese and Leary.
In it, Amanda “lends” the urn to friends so they can spend “quality time” with Ted’s ashes. Natalie Portman goes ice skating with it, reprising her scene from Demme’s 1996 film “Beautiful Girls.” Colin Quinn plays basketball with it. Robert Patrick straps the urn to his Harley and takes it for a ride. Balthazar Getty boxes with it.
“It’s how death should be,” says Amanda.
From the outside, friends acknowledge, this approach might seem morbid. But to those who knew Ted, the tone suits him perfectly. He was a prankster, they say. “It wouldn’t do him justice to do a sentimental piece,” says LaGravenese. “Teddy always had a wink in his eye.”
Judging from the caliber of celebrities that lined up to appear in the film -- Johnny Depp, Don Cheadle, Robin Williams, Matt Dillon, Jon Stewart, Billy Crudup, Cameron Diaz, Ben Stiller, Paul Thomas Anderson, Gina Gershon, Kirsten Dunst -- the appropriateness of it wasn’t a concern.
“There was nobody who wasn’t almost in love with him, man or woman,” says Getty.
Friends explain Ted this way: Some people leave bigger impressions than others. At the Golden Globes, just days after Ted’s collapse, Kevin Spacey choked up on the red carpet as he explained why he was wearing an image of his friend on a T-shirt. Greg Dulli had nearly completed an album with the Twilight Singers when Ted died. He ultimately scrapped it and started over. “The day my friend died, that record just meant nothing,” he said.
It was Jan. 13. Amanda learned of her husband’s collapse in a phone call. One minute, Ted was playing basketball at Santa Monica’s Crossroads School. The next, he was lying on the ground. An ambulance was called. He was rushed to the hospital. By the time Amanda arrived, her husband was dying. She was there when the time of death was called out. “They all left me there with him,” she says. “I was trying to situate him and cover him and make him presentable. All I could think about was how much I loved him and wanted him back. Then I had to think about how I was going to tell my daughter.”
The next day, her girlfriends came over. They piled onto her bed and let her cry. Most of them spent the whole week at the house. Amanda created what she calls “the greatest sort of shiva/wake environment, fit for a pharaoh.” There was a tent, a DJ and a bartender who served hundreds over the next seven days. A memorial was held at The Lot soundstage on Formosa Avenue; it had a tropical theme because Teddy loved Jamaica.
“You don’t want to believe it,” Amanda says. “Then you go through all the super spiritual things, wanting them to talk to you ... and they don’t ....And you think of all the times you didn’t go on vacation with him or on location with him or all the times you didn’t go to dinner with him and you think of all those moments you didn’t share.”
Four months after the funeral, Amanda moved out of their rented place in West Hollywood into a midcentury modern home off the Sunset Strip. She cast off their Gothic decor for a minimalist one.
She put everything Ted owned, “down to his underwear,” in a vault for their children, then meticulously cataloged everything, his cameras, his clothing, every roll of film he ever shot. She lost a lot of weight in the first few months and joked with her girlfriends that “there’s nothing like the widow’s diet.” She planted a treadmill next to her bed and now, she says, strives to stay “in the best physical shape of my life.”
“Want to see something?” Amanda asks. She walks into her tidy closet, balances one stiletto on a suitcase to reach an upper shelf, and pulls down a vintage chenille-covered cosmetic case. Inside are a series of small velvet bags. Inside each bag is a memory. Two small black coral rings that Ted bought them during their Jamaican vacation to signify their engagement. A solitaire diamond set in platinum, his grandmother’s, that he gave Amanda later. Handfuls of rings, studded with jade and lapis and coral, all of them gifts from Teddy.
Amanda dips her hand into another bag and pulls out the jewelry Teddy wore every day: his watch, his heavy silver bracelet and his silver necklace. She gently arranges them on the bed. “Those’ll be for his kids,” she says quietly. The jewelry sits on the bed, a small memorial to the man. Then the moment passes, and Amanda packs up the case and puts it back on the top shelf.
At first sight
Ted and Amanda met in L.A. in the late 1980s on the set of “Yo! MTV Raps.” Ted was the show’s producer, and House of Pain, the subject of that day’s interview, was managed by Amanda’s company.
“We were two incredibly interesting white people in hip-hop,” she recalls.
Amanda, then the co-owner of Immortal Records and Buzztone Management, had established herself as a hip-hop entrepreneur with the New York club Carwash. There, she hosted DJ contests and rap shows with stellar lineups: Leaders of the New School, Afrika Bambaataa, Digital Underground, De La Soul. Eventually she helped launch the careers of House of Pain, Korn and Cypress Hill.
“I was really hard-core,” she says. “I walked, talked and dressed the part of, like, the queen of hip-hop back then. I was so tomboy.”
Ted had helped create “Yo! MTV Raps,” one of the first mainstream TV shows to acknowledge the hip-hop audience. He was soon producing and directing for the network, including comic spots for Denis Leary. That led to the creation of his production company, Spanky Pictures, and directing credits on “The Ref,” “Beautiful Girls,” “Monument Ave.” and “Blow,” among others. In 1999, he won an Emmy for producing HBO’s “A Lesson Before Dying.”
“Everybody knew who Teddy was,” Amanda says. “And when I met him -- oh my God! I fell madly in love. At first sight. I knew he was it.” Six months later, they got engaged. They were married a few years later.
Amanda is the first to acknowledge her strong personality. She calls herself a “rock-and-roll mom,” which means she’s changing diapers and shuttling her kids around as often as she’s out networking at the hippest parties. Among friends, she’s the planner, the facilitator, the people-connector.
“She just makes things happen,” says novelist Carol Wolper.
Since Ted’s death, however, Amanda has revealed a softer side, says her friend Tracey Ross, the boutique owner. “I like her even more now,” she says. “She’s much more approachable, I think. She’s opened herself up more.”
At AD Entertainment, which encompasses a record label, TV and film production, artist management, music supervision and the high-profile events firm Supermarket Events, Amanda is the boss who tells it like it is and takes care of business. “If we were in a bar fight, I know she’s got my back,” says her business partner Dominique Trenier.
She is a tireless multi-tasker. For years, she worked as a music supervisor on film and TV projects, from “Erin Brockovich” to “Freaks and Geeks,” while managing musicians and a record label. After Ted’s death, she started AD Entertainment while overseeing the completion of his documentary, “A Decade Under the Influence.” This year, she’s launching a beauty line and taking over management of the three bars in the Roosevelt Hotel (including one, coincidentally, named Teddy’s).
In the first interview for this story, last summer, Amanda wanted attention focused on her company, not on her loss. She asked that there be no sentimentality, no pitiful tales of life after Ted. And please, she said, no use of the word “widow.”
Yet when she walked into her office, she opened the interview by handing over a copy of the invitation to Ted’s funeral. It was a simple black-and-white card that featured happy family photos and a poem inside selected by Quincy Jones. After a 20-minute pitch on her company -- “It’s rock ‘n’ roll. It’s fashion. It’s lifestyle in general” -- the talk turned tentatively to her late husband.
“We talk about Teddy like he’s still there,” she said. “He is not forgotten. He’s just in another room. That’s it. We talk about Teddy like he’s right next door. But, um, that’s it on him.”
Five months later, Amanda is ready to accept her “widowhood,” but is struggling with the rest of her identity. She has moved again, to another rented house not far from the one she shared with Ted.
“I’m in my next phase,” she says. “I’m really trying to figure out who I am, because I sunk my entire persona into the backbone of that man .... I was happy to be Mrs. Demme. Now it’s like: Well, he’s gone now. Move on.”
Friends as a life force
After the filming is done, everyone sits around the living room sipping champagne and swapping stories about Ted. There was that Valentine’s Day when he treated Amanda and all her girlfriends to a romantic dinner. And the night of the funeral, when Leary and a few others took a limo to Fatburger for cheeseburgers and fries. When someone mentions the World Series, Amanda says, “The Yankees are Ted’s team.”
She’s energized by having so many friends around. “My girlfriends are my life force,” she says. And then, Amanda starts talking about acceptance and wisdom. She’s learned something from Teddy’s death, something powerful that needs to be shared. “Live life to the fullest,” she says. “Because I can tell you, it can go away like that.”