The Percolative Effect of Mike de Gruy


Mankind in Nature
Mankind in Nature

“Self-knowledge comes from knowing other men.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Oft times I will awake with my soul in what could be described as a jumble.

Ever use one of those old percolating coffee pots? The type which, when the water boils, it spews forth, on to fresh dark ground coffee, and the rich aroma of it will fill an abode with such a heady fragrance, that it pulls you from sleep? Well of course you have. That is where the social axiom arose from: “Wake up, and smell the coffee.” Well my position, is that our soul grasps the scent and composition of a thing while our bodies are in repose.

Today was a good example of the percolative effect. I woke with this in my heart. 5 am. Percolating. Effervescing. I could not rest. Out it came, onto the ground as dawn broke.

Yesterday was the Memorial Service for a colleague. Mike De Gruy.

Watch this TedX talk.

The phone in my little MS3 rang through the car’s bluetooth as I wound down Coast Hwy 1 on a stunning Santa Ana late afternoon recently. I was on my way to do a camera test of a recent repair by Canon on my 5DM2. Dr. Andrea Neal’s pleasant voice echoed out of the car’s speakers as I rounded Mugu Rock and saw the plate blue glass of the Pacific, extending forever in a windless, haze free, rare gem moment.

“David, Mike DeGruy died in a helicopter crash in Australia today”. My immediate response was: “Oh shit!”. The words hung in the air. It was as if I were a cartoon illustration, and the bubble scrawled on paper with the words, stared back at me. We rung off.

As I nosed the car down the sweeping turns made famous by a myriad of films and commercials, I rang my former Film Commissioner, and dear friend, Martine White, who was now back in the field working production as a Locations Manager.  When she picked up, the first thing that she asked, was if I had gotten her e mail? “Nope dear, on the road. Just back from Hawaii, and running a camera test before a Motion Picture shoot in SB tomorrow with Misa (My sister, a Santa Barbara Choreographer). Mike?”

I could hear the  sorrow in her voice. All of us in Production are close. We are soldiers in the battle of making a living in the field of content creation, which defines so much of what popular contemporary culture is. When one succeeds, we rejoice. When one suffers, we offer comfort. But when one dies….

Well, death is a process. We each as creatives need to figure out how to be. Because sure as the sun rising, someone will ask the question of us: “What do you think-feel about….”

“Mike died on a scout in Australia David” He and a pilot. The helicopter went down on takeoff. I am very sorry.” ” Ah yea, me too Martine. I just heard a moment ago. I am doing some work at the moment. I will get back to you in a bit.”

And there it was. A pebble had dropped into the creative blue pond of our lives, and the ripple created by metal to tarmac was spreading throughout the world. Mike DeGruy was dead. I had no words really. No feelings. Just a numbness. I have lost friends and colleagues to Helos before. It happens. As in much of what we do, there is an imminent signature of great danger beneath the facade of safety when we work. All of us recognize the potential risk. We prepare for it. Some of us train diligently.

I hate Helos. My aerial vehicle of choice is an overhead wing Cessna. I had a test pilot from the company explain to me how to ditch one at sea before. Unless you hit something, you will likely walk away from most incidents in a fixed wing small plane, or swim away. But sometimes, a Helo is the only tool for the job.

I did my camera test, and late that night I began my online research into the incident. A short search and I found a crash site photo which told me what I needed to know, professionally. This is what occurred to me on examination. I am guessing that both Mike and the Pilot thought that they could make it.

A chain of events occurred, which created a moment, that took their lives. All of us have those. Life is precious in it’s frailty, really. But in an incident filming, you plan, and never stop in your focus, till you return home, crew and yourself, safely to friends and family.  I was pretty sure Mike would have been expecting to pull it off, even as they hit the ground. I would.  None of us ever loses that focus. Ever. And Mike was good at this survival stuff.

Camera Test
Camera Test

My insides had begun to move regarding this.

Last night we all met in Santa Barbara at the Fess Parker Double Tree resort in a huge rotunda.

Donna and I were late of course. But we got there in time to hear one of Mike’s brothers tell Mike stories. De Gruy was one foking bright light. There was not one of us there in what was likely a crowd of multiple hundreds, who had not been touched by his passion and love for the Oceans, Mankind, and Community.

As the rotunda service ended, I stopped to speak with one of the guys wearing a mic doing security, who had asked me about the camera I held, as we walked in. They wanted to make sure no one was photographing. We had a funny moment when I had looked up at him and said, “We are at a service for a dead camera man” . He got it, and as Donna assured him we were not there to film it, he and I shared a laugh, in an intense instant of sorrow. THAT was de Gruy.

I shook his hand and thanked him for serving that day, it turns out he was a fan of Mike’s as well, and said he had really enjoyed Mike’s work. My response was this. “We all did. He made a lot of it. And it will be around forever.”  With a faint smile to each other we parted, and Donna and I walked to the beach where a soliloquy of sorts would occur.

In the course of all of us making a concentric circle around a big sand castle Octopus, and baskets of flower petals, I shot a bit and observed. What happened some may see as happenstance and a natural occurrence.


My relationship with Nature and God does not allow me that perspective.

As family and friends adjourned to the surf line, and a Santa Barbara Harbor Patrol boat sped near shore and let fly with it’s water cannons, and we all bid farewell to one of our own, I watched something develop almost instantaneously in the sky above. As the sun set behind the Santa Barbara Mesa and afterlight blossomed, I watched as one cloud became two, and a massive red exclamation point expanded over the Western Horizon.


In my native culture, we believe that the soul leaves here for the next plane in the West, it sort of follows the sun.

Some things and people never really change, but they do evolve. That cloud meant a lot to us all.

I would imagine he had seen friends and family gathered, and just then had caught a glimpse of what lay ahead of him. He was just like that. A living, glowing, exclamation mark.

Possibly one of the most remarkable things I have ever seen, that cloud. I think we all knew what he was saying.

Aloha oe.



6 Responses to The Percolative Effect of Mike de Gruy

  1. Dear David,
    Beautiful essay here on our friend Mike.
    thanks !
    I saw that exclamation point in the sky too even tho I was not at the circle, I was in my car alone trying to make sense of the loss.
    Love you

  2. Thanks for the beautiful essay, words, and photos. My uncle mike left behind an incredible legacy, and a whole lot of people who were and will continue to be inspired by him. It’s incredible the exclamation point formed in the sky. Just a few days before this shot was taken, in Mobile, Ala. we held his hometown memorial service and during one of the eulogies, the man said that my Uncle Mike was “a walking exclamation point of a man.” Indeed, he was.

    • Mike to me was a living “explanation” mark. “Hey look at (insert something he was inspired by)Then came the exclamation ! One of those things I will never forget about: his enchantment with the Sea and his love for his fellow man. He enjoyed taking us there probably as much as we did viewing his world. Thank you for this note.

  3. Thank you for the lovely and poignant pictures at Mike’s memorial. I am from the old Mobile crew and would have dearly loved to have been there with y’all to send Mike off. In lieu of that, I would really like to get the last picture as it is just a perfect remembrance of Mike and who he was. You have my e-mail so please let me know how to go about this. Again, thank you…

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