Modern Family co-creator Christopher Lloyd is paying tribute to his late wife, Arleen Sorkin.
The actress, best known as the original voice of DC Comics character Harley Quinn and for her role on Days of Our Lives, died at 67 on Aug. 24 following a long battle with multiple sclerosis. Now, Lloyd, her husband of 33 years, has penned a moving tribute to his "big-hearted" wife, published in Variety on Saturday.
Lloyd began by recounting a memorable evening when he returned home to discover that an orangutan was sitting in his chair because Sorkin had hastily thrown together a fundraiser for a South African human and animal rights organization. It wasn't the first time his wife had organized a fundraiser for someone in need, he noted.
"Arleen's charitable streak had been known to me since literally the day we met, as staff writers on a sitcom," he wrote. "At lunch she approached me. 'My name is Arleen and I'm an empath. I hear a clicking in your jaw that may be TMJ. Here is the number of a dentist who can help.'"
David Livingston/Getty Christopher Lloyd and Arleen Sorkin
Over the following weeks, Lloyd said, "the two of us clicked" as he came to learn more about Sorkin and her background. "But that first day I was equal parts enchanted and mystified," he recalled. "She'd already been the center square on The Hollywood Squares. Why was she worrying about a stranger's TMJ? I came to learn that she worried about everyone."
Lloyd added that as Sorkin's career gained momentum, she remained grounded. "She once had a business card made for her wallet that just said 'What's her name…from that show,'" he recalled. "She continued to act, produced an Off Broadway play, and co-created the sitcom Fired Up as well as co-writing the Jennifer Aniston feature Picture Perfect, among other credits. And the panoply of special guests occupying my chair as I arrived home never ceased."
The screenwriter remembered several more instances in which Sorkin made efforts to take care of others, including the time she purchased seven funeral plots from a saleswoman who came to their door because "I never spend money on jewelry and we might need these for people." He also recalled her hiring a man to fix a cracked Emmys statuette she had obtained for her father, a co-producer on the 2004 made-for-television drama Something the Lord Made, after she learned that he would not receive a trophy.
"One of the final times I sat with her at that dining table was for brunch last Father's Day during which, rest assured, an Uber driver who'd recently taken her to a medical appointment was making his calypso singing debut as our accompaniment," Lloyd wrote. "By this time, the disease she'd already fought for a dozen years had taken much of her strength. I don't know by what celestial accounting fate had decided to reserve the worst possible disease for one who, upon hearing that our boys' tap dance teacher had been shot, got him urgent medical care, away from danger, and a place to recuperate for two months (he lived to tap again, and called her every day on Mother's Day). Hadn't she earned fairer treatment, this woman who had once pulled off a Solomonic trifecta when she solved a school holiday dispute among parents by having the fifth-grade class appear in costumes she'd made that were Christmas-themed on one side, Hannukah-themed on the other — and gave the job to an old costumer friend who needed the work? But so it was. She was, this force, weakened."
Despite her illness, Lloyd explained, "her spirit never flagged," no matter what. "She loved people, believed in them. I'm not sure Harley Quinn, the now world-famous character based upon Arleen and whose original voice she provided, wasn't defined by that very quality, that achy loyalty, an unwillingness not to lead with her heart, come what may."
"Two Sundays ago we gathered to say goodbye to our dentist, doctor, friend, spouse, and mother to so many," he concluded. "Amid the tears, there was a last surprise. She had purchased not seven, but nine burial plots. There could be no doubt as to where she'd go. The middle. Our center square, once and forever."
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