Milwaukee musician Mike Schank, ‘American Movie’ co-star, has died

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Musician Mike Schank, best known for his role in the critically acclaimed 1999 Milwaukee-based documentary “American Movie,” has died.

A number of friends, fans and admirers began posting messages on social media in tribute to Schank.

‘Lord of the Rings’ star Elijah Wood called Schank a “legend”, adding “Mike Schank forever”. Comedian Patton Oswalt tweeted a simple “RIP”. Rainn Wilson, best known for playing Dwight Schrute on ‘The Office,’ tweeted, “So sad. Loved this wonderful human.”

In 1999, Schank gained national notoriety by starring in the documentary “American Movie”. The cult film chronicles the life of Mark Borchardt as he embarks on a journey to direct a short horror film. Schank was Borchardt’s best friend and a co-star in the film. He also composed all the music.

Mike Schank pictured with his friend and filmmaker Mark Borchadt

Schank went on to appear in the 2001 film “Storytelling” alongside Paul Giamatti, and also had a TV credit as himself in a “Family Guy” episode in 2006.

According to Milwaukee Recordin recent years, Schank could be seen on the east side of Milwaukee “walking around the neighborhood and offering a friendly hello to passers-by”.

A close friend of Schank announced his death on Facebook. Jackie Bogenberger told the Journal Sentinel that she met Schank at Milwaukee Alano Club while struggling with his own addictions.

“He was just always there, every day,” Bogenberger said. “Ultimately, it brought me comfort and security knowing that I would see his face when I walked through those doors at a seemingly frightening time in my life.”

In August, Schank announced the Twitter that he had been sober for 27 years.

About three months before Schank’s announcement, Schank began telling friends and family that he had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, Bogenberger told the Journal Sentinel.

“They kept doing all these tests to try to figure out what type, but in the end they just decided it was super rare,” Bogenberger said.

“It spread rapidly all over his body within weeks, affecting almost everything but his brain. He did chemo and radiation. One of the last things Mike said to me was, ‘Hey Jackie , I feel really bad for children who have cancer. They should never have to.

Bogenberger said throughout his battles with drug addiction and cancer, Schank remained “one of the kindest, most selfless human beings this earth has ever been blessed with.”

“American Movie” fans around the world have seen Schank’s cuteness for themselves. In the documentary, he is portrayed as a devoted friend, supporting Borchardt’s cinematic dreams through trials and tribulations.

Schank’s deadpan humor and quiet sweetness in ‘Movie’ made him a beloved and unforgettable figure, whether he hilariously provided a bloodcurdling scream for Borchardt’s short. “Coven,” or that he’s awkwardly laughing because he won a $50 lottery ticket and didn’t’ I don’t want to tell anyone, lest he ask to borrow some money.

“Add Mike Schank to Milwaukee’s list of simple pleasures,” former Journal Sentinel film critic Duane Dudek wrote in a 2002 profile of Schank. pretension. And like much more familiar institutions such as George Webb, the Allen-Bradley Clock or the Sausage Race, it has a distinctive regional quality that is easier to recognize than explain.”

Schank’s likability played a key role in the success of “American Movie.” Directed by Chris Smith, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee alum who later directed Netflix’s “Fyre” and produced the streamer’s hit series “Tiger King,” “Movie” won the Grand Jury Prize for Directing of documentaries at the Sundance Film Festival in 1999. A decade later, the New York Times proclaimed it one of the 1,000 greatest films ever made.

He developed a cult following over the decades that followed, and Schank amassed his own. Alongside Borchardt, Schank appeared on “Late Show with David Letterman,” where he also met one of his musical idols, Gene Simmons of KISS. The ‘Movie’ DVD also revealed Schank’s real phone number, and he spoke to fans around the world, including England, Australia, Israel, Canada and Scotland, said Schank to Dudek for the 2002 Journal Sentinel story. Some famous people have come to call it “The Mike Line”, including filmmaker Edgar Wright; actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost; and musicians Steve Vai, former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted and AC/DC’s Angus Young.

But Schank was most proud of his music. Picking up the guitar at the age of six, he told Dudek in 2002 that he’d rather “scare somebody at a party at Mark’s house how good I can play guitar” than play in bands. movies.

His sobriety was another point of pride. As funny as he was in “Movie,” Schank in the film also shares a heartbreaking near-death experience after an overdose. The fact that he survived, found sobriety, and maintained such a positive attitude made him, as Dudek wrote in his 2002 article, “a role model of Rust Belt recovery.”

“People don’t realize the willpower it takes to not do it when you’re surrounded by friends who do it all the time,” his mother Rita told Dudek. “Because he was really bad. I know he has willpower.”

Famous fans hail the ‘sweet funny soul’

And Schank has a massive wave of admirers who have paid tribute on social media since Thursday, including many famous ones.

“RIP Mike Schank,” tweeted filmmaker and “The Morning Show” actor Mark Duplass. “Watch it in American Movie and learn to be a good friend.”

Wright, director of ‘Scott Pilgrim vs The World,’ ‘Baby Driver’ and ‘Shaun of the Dead,’ posted several tweets about Schank, calling him ‘the sweet, funny soul at the heart of the extraordinary doc’ American Movie “.”

Taika Waititi, actor and director of the last two “Thor” films, tweeted “I didn’t know this guy but man he was a cool friend.”

And Schank’s best friend Borchardt simply tweeted, “Stay strong forever Mike…”

Contact Drake Bentley at (414) 391-5647 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @DrakeBentleyMJS.

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