One less Crank[e] amongst us: On the passing of Ken Hanke

Ken Hanke (in front) and Justin Souther in 2011

The inimitable Ken Hanke died yesterday evening. He had been ailing from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease for some years and was feeling ill in the last few days.

Ken informed, entertained, challenged, irritated and enthralled readers for years with his movie reviews, thousands of them. He was also an inspiring force behind the Asheville Film Festival in its heyday in the 2000s. He wrote textbooks about movies and he had an astonishing knowledge of film history inside his mind. And at the foundation of Ken’s views, one would always find humanism, kindness, as well as general curiosity and amazement about human behavior.

Ken began reviewing films for Mountain Xpress in 2001 and continued nonstop until the day he died. Vacations failed to alter the flow. His last post about the movies was made earlier in the day he passed away.

Yesterday, he had difficulty getting enough oxygen, his wife, Shonsa, said. “He had no problem with his heart. The fact he had heart failure was due perhaps to the strain of trying to get enough oxygen.”

“We have a daughter, Elisabeth Hoffman. She will be here this evening,” Shonsa noted. “She’ll be a big help. Fortunately, she was here last week and got to spend time with him.”

“That was his life — movies,” Shonsa said. “I’ll miss having his constant prattle about films as we watch TCM. Whenever I had a question about film history, he was always able to answer my questions.”

Ken’s passion for movies probably kept him going through his COPD, she allowed.

“When I sit at my desk … it’s just like Ken is still back there in bed,” she said over the phone this morning.

Fellow Xpress movie critic, Scott Douglas, said, “I didn’t have enough time … I wish I could have said goodbye. [But] Ken never would’ve allowed something so hackneyed to make its way into one of my reviews. Ken was a kind and gracious man who gave me his guidance, support and friendship.

“While ‘Cranky’ may not have been an outright misnomer, Ken was much more than that designation would imply. It was his deep love and knowledge of film that led to his intolerance for mediocrity. And his integrity in assessing every movie that crossed his path endeared him to his readers and colleagues in a way that few critics are ever able to accomplish,” Scott said.

“Ken’s death has left an irreparable hole in the Asheville film community. He more than earned his place in the pantheon of great film critics, and was an even greater human being,” Scott added.

Ken was planning next week’s movie coverage just hours before his passing. His last email to us at Xpress, as we were trying to get next week’s reviews done early to accommodate the Fourth of July weekend, reads, “If I were younger and in better health, I’d just do them myself, but I’m not.”

As usual, Ken was right on target.

About Jeff Fobes
As a long-time proponent of media for social change, my early activities included coordinating the creation of a small community FM radio station to serve a poor section of St. Louis, Mo. In the 1980s I served as the editor of the "futurist" newsletter of the U.S. Association for the Club of Rome, a professional/academic group with a global focus and a mandate to act locally. During that time, I was impressed by a journalism experiment in Mississippi, in which a newspaper reporter spent a year in a small town covering how global activities impacted local events (e.g., literacy programs in Asia drove up the price of pulpwood; soybean demand in China impacted local soybean prices). Taking a cue from the Mississippi journalism experiment, I offered to help the local Green Party in western North Carolina start its own newspaper, which published under the name Green Line. Eventually the local party turned Green Line over to me, giving Asheville-area readers an independent, locally focused news source that was driven by global concerns. Over the years the monthly grew, until it morphed into the weekly Mountain Xpress in 1994. I've been its publisher since the beginning. Mountain Xpress' mission is to promote grassroots democracy (of any political persuasion) by serving the area's most active, thoughtful readers. Consider Xpress as an experiment to see if such a media operation can promote a healthy, democratic and wise community. In addition to print, today's rapidly evolving Web technosphere offers a grand opportunity to see how an interactive global information network impacts a local community when the network includes a locally focused media outlet whose aim is promote thoughtful citizen activism. Follow me @fobes

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42 thoughts on “One less Crank[e] amongst us: On the passing of Ken Hanke

  1. Keely K

    Saddened to hear of his passing, I enjoyed his reviews immensely! Condolences to his family and friends.

  2. Condolences to Ken’s family and to all of his faithful readers. Ken’s deeply knowledgeable criticism and wit have long been an inspiration to me.

  3. William Maynard

    Ken was a very good critic and a great friend. Words fail to convey his loss. He was not the curmudgeon he played so well, his heart and generosity were boundless.

  4. Kriss

    I’m so sorry to hear of Ken’s passing. My deepest sympathies go out to his family.

  5. boatrocker

    Condolences all around. I think we’ll all miss his work, by Clapton.

  6. Richard

    Mr. Fobes’ article nailed it. A major loss for Asheville. Looked forward weekly to his entertaining and reliable reviews and comments.

  7. T.rex

    Feeling quite marose today. I will miss talking/arguing about film with Ken.

  8. Teleri

    Very sorry to hear of Ken Hanke’s passing :( He was always informative and knew so much about films. Sad sad loss :(

  9. Fran

    I will miss Ken. We have been friends since the first grade. I feel bereft to have lost someone who holds so many memories. I will also miss his weekly reeler and critiques that he sent along each week. My mantra was, if it’s Tuesday, it’s Ken. I still can’t take this in.

  10. Xanadon't

    Ken was a man of remarkable generosity and passion. His love for beauty was boundless. His passion for the connecting power of cinema through art and storytelling bespoke of his love and empathy toward his fellow man. What a great guy. He is deeply missed.

  11. bsummers

    Ken was a very good guy, and a great asset to Asheville’s cultural scene. He’ll be missed.

  12. I wish I could adequately express how devastated I am to learn that The Crankster, as my husband and I affectionately called him, is gone. But of course I can’t. I could never write as eloquently as Ken Hanke. My only hope is that he’ll run into his friend and idol Ken Russell somewhere out there where all his favorite flicks will play forever and ever. It was a great privilege to know you and read your words every week. Thank you.

  13. Bill Curtis

    I hate to admit that I took for granted his movie reviews would be in your paper every week. Part of what makes this town. A great loss for the community.

  14. luluthebeast

    As others have mentioned, this is still hard to process. When you communicate with someone almost every day for over 15 years and you share both good times and bad it just kind of leaves a big hole in your heart.

  15. James Cassara

    I worked with Ken as a judge for the 48 Hour Film Project and saw several previews as his guest. Always cordial, knowledgeable as hell, and a lot of fun to disagree with. He’d defend his position, argue with yours, and it was all in fun and shared love of film. RIP

  16. I just can’t believe he’s gone from us.

    Farewell, my friend. For 23 years, Ken has been my mentor, confidant, and one of my very best friends. The world is a far less interesting place today.

    I’ll never forget you, buddy. Thanks for every single thing.

  17. Chip Kaufmann

    I concur with what James Cassara said. I’ve known Ken for 13 years (he hasn’t been gone long enough to say “knew”) ever since we were judges for the very first Asheville Film Festival back in 2003. He was knowledgeable as hell, and fun to disagree with (ah, the arguments over Francis Ford Coppola’s TETRO). He did love defending his position and challenging or confirming yours. I will especially remember him when Ken Russell was in town and was so warmly received by the filmgoers of Asheville. I will miss exchanging films with him and the conversations that ensued. I just hope that the AFS and THPS will continue in remembrance of him. How appropriate that his last AFS choice would be a Ken Russell film (SALOME’S LAST DANCE). It’s the perfect sendoff for an irreplaceable personality who will be sorely missed. my deepest sympathies for Shonsa and Elisabeth.

  18. Benxpete

    Rest in Peace, Ken. A professional with a head full of knowledge that was terrific at sharing it. Not getting to read your reviews, see you introduce the Asheville Film Society’s screenings, tell a story, have you professionally defend horror films, and overall be an outstanding critic, curator, and person will be our loss, because you were the best. You were the show that brought me to the screening – regardless of what film you were screening. Hearing you talk about it was worth an hour plus drive from TN every single time. Hitchcock said people like to see people be good at their jobs (on screen). That’s true in real life also, and you were the best

  19. luther blissett

    This is a heartbreaking loss. Condolences to Ken’s friends and family.

    MountainX, Asheville and Ashevillians were fortunate to have his knowledge and wit and critical acuity close at hand for the time we did, but it’s still way too soon and too sudden.

  20. Matt McClure

    Oh no! I totally took his presence in the xpress for granted. He was such a gift to our town. I already miss his reviews, and from the way he conducted his conversations in the comments section, he seemed like a really thoughtful man. I regret deeply not getting to meet him. My condolences to his loved ones.

  21. Barry

    I am shocked and saddened at Ken’s death. Not only did I admire him as a writer, but very much appreciated his generous responsiveness to anyone who wanted to join in the discussion of the art form he loved so much, even someone, like me, writing in from the Midwest. I never met him in person, but I will miss him very much.

  22. Abby mcdonough

    First page I turned to every week to see what ken had to say about a film starting that Friday ! I greatly respected his opinion and at times either saw a film he recommended that I wasn’t planning on or would do the opposite and pass on a film I had intended on seeing that he panned !
    So sorry for his family !

  23. rod murphy

    I didn’t know him too well but he was very open and nice to me in our infrequent interactions. H was definitely one of a kind. The first time I met him he was smoking 2 cigs at the same time up in the projection room of the Carmike where he held court! Only person I ever saw do that my entire life. He was just about to review my documentary film for the Xpress in 2 weeks just before our Fine Arts screening and I was on pins and needles awaiting his reaction. I just spoke to him on Monday afternoon and was happy to have the chance to talk, he told me all about his new and strong relationship with the Grailhouse and all the screenings he was planning there. My family and I will miss reading his one liners and seeing him out and about. I hope his family is doing well with the sadness. Kudos to the Xpress for giving him the forum for all these years.

  24. Barry

    I’m grateful for the treasury of reviews on hand in which we can repeatedly hear Ken’s voice again. I hope the Xpress maintains that.

    • Marcianne Miller

      Dearest Cranky, You leave a big hole within the small community of local film critics. I’ve argued with you since we were doing movies at Mountain Express back in the days. And there’s another big hole in the film community of Asheville which you largely helped create. No one can ever fill your shoes, but we will try to carry on your legacy. Thanks for being with us as long as you could. Our condolences to dear Shonsa and Elisabeth. I miss you. Marcianne

  25. Paul LaDue

    I really really liked Ken. He always had time for your questions/comments and you ALWAYS learned something when you talked to him.

  26. Gareth Higgins

    After I moved to Asheville four years ago, Ken quickly offered his collegiality, conversation, and support, one writer to another. He made space for me as a transplant from northern Ireland, championing my favorite film from home, and providing space for me to screen both it and another dearly beloved favorite at two of his unique AFS nights. He was kind to me, wearing his curmudgeonly reputation lightly. I wish we had spent more time together. I send my deepest sympathies to Shonsa, Elisabeth, and all who knew and loved him.

  27. Bradd

    Condolences to Ken’s Family. While I did not know Ken personally, I always looked forward to his reviews in MountainXpress
    and by reading them weekly (that will be missed!) I felt…. informed… and certainly his passion for films of quality.

  28. Steve Millard

    …’shocked at the sudden news. I’m a movie junkie (and horror/sci-fi fan like Ken) and enjoyed his reviews, writings… it was the first seciton I turned to with each issue. So sorry to hear – – – -sm

  29. Todd Robbins, Asheville

    I am still stunned at the sudden passing of Ken Hanke. I eagerly pick up my copy of Xpress every week for the reviews from Ken and his colleagues. It won’t be the same without him…my sympathies to his family and the Xpress staff.

  30. cmchangery

    Last weekend, while I was editing Ken’s reviews, he informed my that he was “very under the weather,” and I replied that I was under the influence of a high-end painkiller due to an infected molar. His response: “Together we may attain maximum incomprensibility.”

    A lofty goal that I’m not sure we attained, but we certainly did our best. Miss you, my friend.

  31. misterbill

    I learned about Ken’s passing yesterday and still feel heartbroken about it. Ken didn’t know me, except from a brief exchange we had years ago over whether Dr. Strangelove deserved 4.5 or 5 stars (eventually he gave it the extra 1/2 point), but I felt like he was a close friend. His knowledge of film and film history was off the charts, but it was his humanity and authenticity that I was so attracted to and will always remember. He obviously will live on in many hearts.

  32. Will Lugar

    I’ve read Ken’s articles occasionally for nine years, though haven’t commented in quite some time. I just found out he passed away. Very sad and surprised to hear of it.

  33. Bernhard Platzdasch

    My deepest sympathies. I haven’t seen any new review lately and just found out. I loved to read his work. From Germany.

  34. Lydia

    Just found out. I’m so sorry to hear it. Praying for continued comfort for his loved ones.

  35. Alden

    Only just heard of Ken’s passing.
    I knew him from the River Hills theater.
    He was a really good (if sometimes dour) guy, & the world is poorer for losing him.
    My deepest sympathies & heartfelt condolences to his family.

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