Goodman's father, a mail carrier, died of a heart attack in 1954, when Goodman was two. John spent his boyhood watching his mother toil in a string of low-paying jobs. At Southwest Missouri State University, where he studied drama, he subsisted on food stamps. It wasn't until he met Anna Beth at a party in Louisiana at age 35 that his life had some much-needed emotional ballast. They married soon after, and her family quickly became his. Goodman would hunt ducks with her father. "Her father and I were meant for each other," Goodman says. He grew close to Anna Beth's brother, too, a professional boxer who died suddenly of a rare disease at the age of 27. "Big, goofy bastard," Goodman says, his voice suffused with tenderness. Goodman and Anna Beth even made it through Anna Beth's foray into boxing promotion, which Goodman supported – until he didn't. "It was interesting and expensive," he says drily. Twenty years ago, Goodman and Anna Beth left California, where they had been living with their daughter, Molly – now a filmmaker in L.A. – and moved to New Orleans.
Photograph by Mark Seliger
Walking down a crowded Manhattan street, as we do later that day, is enough to unsettle Goodman. He despises being recognized. "It could be anybody," he says with disgust. "It could be Lassie." As if on cue, an attractive young woman interrupts us.
"That's John Goodman!" she says, and then addresses him directly. "It's nice to see you." She continues walking. I look over at Goodman. He has moved toward the curb, cringing.
"Was that necessary?" he says. For a moment, it looks as if he will be undone by this small encounter. But then he pulls himself together, perhaps drawing from those depths of gratitude, and that unmistakable face, which strikes an emotional, psychological chord in so many people, softens. He grins.
"She had to interrupt our conversation just to let me know who I am?"