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Deadwood's David Milch reveals that he's been diagnosed with Alzheimer's

Milch in 2014.
Photo: Craig Barritt (Getty Images for New York Magazine)

Though it seemed like it would never happen, and even when it started happening it seemed like it could easily be taken away at any moment, a Deadwood movie is actually set to premiere on HBO in May—more than a decade after the show ended its original run. Vulture has shared an extensive on-set account of how production is going on Deadwood: The Movie, but it’s clear from early on in the piece that something is up, with writer Matt Zoller Seitz noting that Milch—who was infamous for writing and rewriting new scenes on the fly in the original run and would order extensive reshoots on a whim—was there “to watch, not interfere.” On the movie, Milch has apparently handed off the “day-to-day execution” to other people like director Daniel Minahan and former Deadwood writer (and now executive producer) Regina Corrado. The reasoning for this change in his approach is simple: Milch has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

He told Vulture that his friends and family began to notice something was up a few years ago, when he began to have episodes of “imperfect recall and tardy recall and short temper.” He said that writing became more difficult, along with a “generalized incertitude and a growing incapacity.” Eventually, he got a brain scan and discovered that—as he understands it—there’s a “deterioration in the organization” of his brain. “And it’s progressive,” he added, “And in some ways discouraging. In more than some ways—in every way I can think of.” Milch has apparently begun reading poetry to his cast and crew from Robert Penn Warren, his mentor at Yale who went through a similar deterioration and “was not well toward the end of his life” but went on with “an unflinching dignity in the way that he carried himself and a bravery and kindness.”

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It sounds like this attitude—and the change in Milch—will be reflected somewhat in the actual movie, with Vulture referencing a sequence where Ian McShane’s Al Swearengen can’t remember what day of the week it is. The movie is also apparently “suffused with a melancholy acceptance of the passage of time and the certainty of aging and death,” which is probably to be expected since it does take place a decade after the original final episode. After the movie is done, Milch says he’s going to keep writing “because that’s what he does,” though his only upcoming project that has actually been announced is an autobiography.

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