When I learned that Earl “DMX” Simmons had fallen into a coma from which he would never emerge, the film Never Die Alone was the first thing to come to mind—as it has always been the first thing to come to mind any time I’ve heard anything about that man. This time, however, the connotation was almost chillingly fitting, because Never Die Alone begins with an image of King David, a fictional drug dealer and serial murderer portrayed by DMX, lying lifeless in a coffin. The film is centered on this character’s death, with every scene and every happenstance either catalyzing or resulting from his death. Such a relentless fascination with such a gloomy subject is probably the single biggest reason why I enjoyed the film so thoroughly when I first watched it at the age of twelve.
The unfortunately predictable question follows: “Why was a twelve-year-old white boy watching this movie in the first place?” I remember wandering the cul-de-sacs near my rural home in New Hampshire, probably fantasizing about my own suicidal demise, when I noticed that my neighbors were hosting a yard sale. Among the collection of DVDs that they were offering for two dollars apiece was a battered, weathered copy of Never Die Alone—which I had heard about, but never really thought about, when it was released to theaters a few months before. I returned to my house, found eight quarters in my piggy bank, and hurried back to the yard sale, sincerely concerned that someone else might have already taken advantage of this bargain.
Had the events of that day unfolded differently, I would have joined humanity’s effective entirety in forgetting, or involuntarily disregarding, that film altogether. Never Die Alone grossed less than six million dollars at the American-Canadian box office and almost nothing in foreign markets, where there is no discernible interest in films about the African-American criminal subculture. The so-called professional film critics in the United States watched it, but they didn’t find much value in it; I remember one writer, in a review that has long since been lost, making the rather unoriginal remark that describing its premise was “like eating tomato soup with a fork. It can be done, but God knows how.” Even Matt Cale, the single greatest influence on my adolescence, wrote a vicious review upon the film’s home media release, to which we will link here:
To a teenager—not even a teenager—Never Die Alone was fascinating because of its deliberate immersion in the seediest details of life in the American ghetto. The unglamorous depiction of illicit drug use and sale, desperate prostitution, and vengeful murder was downright dazzling, even if, like one of King David’s victims, I couldn’t understand the difference between cocaine and heroin. Come to think of it, Never Die Alone might have been my introduction to both substances, and while the film adopts a tone of moral criticism towards both of them, it also suggests that it is possible to enjoy them more than once without succumbing to a fatal overdose—which was very different from what my fearmongering teachers had been telling me for years.
The film also presented a method of homicide that I had never seen before, have never seen since, and, for all I know, may not even work: when King David’s ex-girlfriends become insatiable for drugs and money, he kills them by lacing their heroin with the calcified acid of a car battery. When these gullible girls inject this concoction into their veins, they succumb to a violent seizure. This was endlessly amazing to me at the time, but I mention it today only because DMX said before his death that, as a fourteen-year-old boy, he smoked a blunt that, he later discovered, had been laced with crack cocaine. Although he did not write the screenplay (or the forgotten novel upon which it was based), one cannot help but wonder if performing in this production might have been cathartic.
At the very least, it might have been cathartic to the people who actually live in a world not unlike David’s. When I was working in the restaurant industry, many of my colleagues were convicted African-American felons, including some former federal inmates, and while they had seen Never Die Alone several times, they were quite amused that I, as a white guy, had watched it, too. One of my coworkers actually resembled DMX, not least of all in his sense of dress, and when I learned that he was spending his early parole reintroducing sober girls to Suboxone, well . . . suffice to say I wasn’t surprised when the police raided his room at the flop house.
If Never Die Alone was produced for such an audience, then suffice to say that it is not a very thoughtful film, nor is it an especially good one. It has a curious ambition, perhaps even a sense of integrity, more so than one would expect of such a production, but its emotional resonance and cultural statement are far less impactful than the filmmakers might have hoped. At the very least, it presents the opportunity for a stronger story to be written in the future. Perhaps now the political climate would be more accommodating for a serious film about the so-called hood, and with the news of DMX’s death still commanding our attention, it might not be a terrible idea to use Never Die Alone as a model. Unfortunately, this wasn’t even DMX’s most well-known film, and far from inspiring a collective reevaluation of the movie, this review will likely be no more than the final flickering of the flame of memory.