Kevin Smith on seeing the funny side of his ‘widow-maker’ heart attack: ‘I wasn’t emo about it, but I was OK with dying’

A Sunday evening in 2018: Kevin Smith was sweating profusely. The director had been feeling nauseous, too, but he’d put that down to the fact he was in the middle of filming two stand-up sets for a special. And then, in his dressing room at the Alex Theater in Glendale, California, he collapsed on the floor and vomited all over the tiles. At Glendale Memorial Hospital, Smith learnt he’d suffered a massive heart attack known as the “widow-maker”. Smith’s doctor put his chances of survival at 17 per cent. (The special, by the way, was titled Silent But Deadly.) “I know I’m lucky,” says the 52-year-old director, down the line from Chicago. “For the last five years I’ve been meeting people who’ll say: ‘Oh, my brother had your widow-maker.’ ‘How’s he doing?’ ‘He’s dead.’ It really just comes down to chance.”

In fact, as heart attacks go, Smith’s didn’t turn out so bad. “They got me in and out of the hospital in 32 hours, and I was never in pain,” he recalls. There can be common symptoms, such as a shooting pain in the left arm, but he never experienced them. “I had it easy as hell, man, believe me.” Nevertheless, the experience forced him to contemplate his mortality in the most immediate terms. He became vegan, started exercising more and lost a lot of weight. He also found a renewed desire to make Clerks III, a second sequel to his 1994 breakthrough Clerks, the black-and-white slacker masterpiece. (He’d already made bigger-budget follow-up, Clerks II, in 2006). “Post-heart attack, I was like, ‘I’m living on borrowed time now,’” says Smith. “I’d better act accordingly, so if there’s some dream of mine that I’m trying to accomplish I better get moving. Clerks III was a dream.”

Smith had been trying to get a version of Clerks III made for several years, but decided to completely rewrite the script to focus on his heart attack. “It was a movie that was obsessed with death, written by somebody who hadn’t tasted it yet,” he says. “Now that you’ve tasted the immortal you have something to say, motherfucker.” Originally, the story had taken place entirely in the parking lot of a movie theatre while the characters waited to see Ranger Danger And The Danger Rangers. “It was complete artifice,” says Smith. “It was Waiting for Godot, not Clerks III.”

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