How can Shane Warne be dead?
That’s what they were saying all morning – on social media, group chats, in the hairdresser, the Saturday morning stretch classes – where we took our places, rolled out our mats and murmured to one another, “Oh my God, how about Warnie?”
How about it?
He was still very young at 52. But more than that – his death, at least in these fresh hours of the news, seems surreal.
He can’t be dead because he was ridiculously, abundantly alive. Despite smoking, drinking and, at times in his career, not following the ideal diet – he exuded a vitality that is missing from even the most professionally trained, honed, healthy, mindset-coached and nutrient-enriched athlete.
He just seemed to fizz with life.
This life force found its way everywhere; he transcended cricket as easily as he played the game. There he was pashing Sharon Strzelecki in Kath and Kim. There he was in the British tabloids, caught in grainy photos in some long forgotten sex scandal. There he was in the glossy magazines, smooth of brow, filled of face, dating Liz Hurley, and seeming deliriously thrilled at his luck. There he was having a cheeky smoke in breach of his contract. There he was – entire mouth round a pot glass of beer, drinking with no hands (he needed hands to hold his ciggie).
Even of late, there were no signs of a gentlemanly, subdued retirement to a private island or a country estate. He was Shane Warne – and he was going to keep amusing, annoying and appalling us forever.
The shock is in part that Warne is mortal. Celebrities that populate the media landscape for decades, as Warne has done, can appear to exist in a different realm – one where they never die. To die is to end their story that we have been consuming for decades – but it also shakes us out of thinking that our story too will roll on without end.
Speaking to a cricket-mad friend this afternoon, he said Warne’s death was his “Princess Diana moment”.
He was drunk when he found out, on a dancefloor in Sydney when the news alert came through at 2am.
“I guess I was like many cricket fans in their 30s and 40s. We were out dancing properly for the first time since lockdown lifted, and you get the news when you are a bit drunk and [the] sense of your mortality just hits you in the gut. It does feel a bit like the death of Diana. You remember where you were.”
When the sun was up, the texts started flowing. “Warnie is dead!”
“It’s not just my particular generation [who is upset],” said my 41 year-old friend. “My mum was really sad – she’s been texting me today. He had his flaws but we all loved him. We grew up with him – everything that they say about him he true, he was a genius, flawed, a strange funny man child … he revived an esoteric skill … no one bowled leg-spin. It was an uncool skill that looked like it was going to die out and he single handedly brought it back.”
Warne, as many have said, was more than the sport he played.
“It is not just the cricket – he was always in the news. He has this charisma and strange eloquence – it was very arresting,” continued my friend.
And yes, he was always in the news – in his own words “in the front pages, the back pages and the middle pages” – always in the public eye. A place he put himself.
He was a man of flaws but not so flawed he was unable to recognise them.
In one of the many clips of interviews doing the rounds today, he said: “We are all human, we all have feelings, we all make mistakes. Some of us have made more than others. It doesn’t mean we are bad people. We are just trying to learn.
“I’ve had some pretty tough times that I have to live with for the rest of my life through some poor choices.
“Sure there’s a few things I’d like to change along the way – but you can’t so you’ve got to learn to live with them and confront them and try and learn by them.”
In a way Warne’s untimely death is the end not just of an individual life but an entire era of a personality type – an older version of Australia that is now performed ironically in the inner city, if iat all. Warne was the sort of cheerful, beer-drinking, ciggie-smoking, pub-going, pie-eating larrikin that is rarely found in the ranks of professional sport these days. The PR machine couldn’t touch him – he was so authentically himself.
In a week crowded with news – devastating and apocalyptic-seeming events (the floods, the war), Shane Warne’s unexpected death at 52 knocked so many of us for six.
He will be terribly missed.