You know the action movie character John Wick? The assassin who avenges the death of his dog? Well, did you know the real John Wick lives in Wisconsin? Matt Geiger introduces us to him.
I’m sitting in a roadside diner in Arena, Wisconsin, when John Wick walks through the door. The John Wick.
The John Wick you may be better acquainted with is an assassin in a black suit with matching hair and beard. Over the course of three movies, he has killed somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 bad guys. Played by an earnest Keanu Reeves, he uses a pencil and a dusty book of Russian fairy tales, among other things, as lethal weapons. The films earned nearly universal praise from movie critics and thrill-seeking audiences alike.
Back at Grandma Mary’s Café, the man next to me is 96 years old, deaf, and uses a walker to get around. He eats here six days a week, and shortly after he arrives a tall glass of cold milk and a bowl brimming with fruit are placed on the table in front of him.
Wick has lived in Mazomanie since 1955. He wears a baggy, blaze orange sweatshirt featuring the logo for a nearby shoe store. He also wears a wedding ring in remembrance of Helen, the woman he married in 1947.
How did this John Wick and the movie “John Wick” come to share a name? Screenwriter Derek Kolstad happens to be the real John Wick’s grandson.
“And he wrote a movie called ‘Scorn.’ And in that movie, he named the assassin John Wick, for his grandfather. And the assassin’s wife, Helen, for his grandmother,” said Wick. “It was Keanu Reeves, who in a desire to create a series of movies, removed the name ‘Scorn’ and gave it the name ‘John Wick.’”
So, what does he think of the movies that bear his name and have racked up more than half a billion dollars at the global box office?
“No, I haven’t seen them. And Derek knows I haven’t seen them. But on the internet I followed them and kept track of the numbers — the showing,” said Wick. “I don’t go to movies, because I can’t hear them. I don’t have a television, because I can’t hear it.”
Despite not seeing — or hearing — them, he has enjoyed the movies’ success.
“Oh yeah, it’s been a lot of fun,” he said smiling.
In the movies, Wick fights against villains who killed a puppy that was a gift from his recently deceased wife. As I sit here with Mr. Wick, it occurs to me just how important Helen, who died five years ago, is.
The real John Wick grew up on a farm, joined the U.S. Navy, and had a long career in construction. He proudly points out the size of his family — his “clan” as he calls them — which includes 58 people.
Despite all the fun, outlandish aesthetics and action of the film, perhaps what makes these movies so popular is how they capture the bond between two people.
When someone we love is taken in real life — usually simply by time rather than assassins — we are left to go on without them. But we refuse. We hold on, and in our memories, in the stories we tell, we keep them here in our world, just a little longer.
“Over the years, Helen and I often went into Madison, to eat and go to a movie. Just the two of us,” reminisced Wick.
John Wick’s grandson told a story that’s been seen and heard by millions of people. Here in Grandma Mary’s diner, surrounded by clattering dishes and far from Hollywood, the original John Wick tells his own story. They’re not about the movies that bear his name, but of the films he used to see, all those years ago, and the person with whom he saw them.