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.