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Shadyac: ‘There’s no accident that Memphis has this kind of energy’

Tom Shadyac — acclaimed filmmaker, boldface Hollywood name, University of Memphis instructor, philanthropist, de facto Memphian — received yet another award Tuesday night. But his acceptance speech wasn’t about Hollywood’s glitz or his career’s fame. 

Instead, he talked about Memphis.

“There’s no accident that Memphis has this kind of energy, I hope you all feel it,” said Shadyac, recipient of the College of Communication and Fine Arts’ 2019 Distinguished Achievement Award for the Performing and Creative Arts. “Martin Luther King died here. The belly of the beast of slavery was here. A new vision of the world was born here through the most strange, impossible, divine, connected circumstances — a hospital that doesn’t charge, a hospital that will treat kids of the most incurable diseases at the time, cancer, for free, regardless of race, creed, or color in the segregated South.

“That just doesn’t happen by accident. You just don’t pick Memphis, Tennessee, by accident. This is maybe the new Egypt of a new way, and St. Jude (Children’s Research Hospital) and ALSAC (St. Jude’s fundraising organization) are leading the way.”

Before more than 100 people at the Fogelman Executive Conference Center, Shadyac used his 20-minute speech to praise those he credits with helping him teach at the UofM, learn invaluable life lessons and use his Hollywood fortune to transform young people’s lives in the South Memphis community of Soulsville.

It was a Tom Shadyac speech, but not a speech about Tom Shadyac, who in 2017 was named an honorary alumnus of the UofM Alumni Association. Self-deprecation trumped personal hype.

“None of y’all are getting off the hook. You think it’s about me. (But) I’m gonna turn it around here and make it about you,” he said.

Shadyac praised UofM President M. David Rudd, who agreed to allow the brother of ALSAC’s president and CEO, Richard Shadyac, to teach a class in the Department of Communication and Film, “Storytelling and Life.”

Shadyac pointed at Rudd, sitting in the front row. “He’s a leader,” Shadyac said, “and as a leader the most import thing to you are your students. I don’t find that at other schools, other schools that are sitting on the cushion of advantage. When I came here, you guys recognized that there was a possibility that we might be able to serve your students and you opened the door for me. That’s really hard to get the educational system to open the door. You were creative enough, you were bold enough, you were daring enough to say, ‘Let’s give it a try,’ and then you listened, which is what all education is about — listening to students.”

Shadyac also praised his brother and the ALSAC team; Chris Dean and Josh Cannon, his associates; the leadership at Memphis Rox, the rock-climbing gym he built in Soulsville; and several others. Attendees may have wanted to hear stories about directing Liar Liar, Patch Adams, Bruce Almighty, Ace-Ventura: Pet Detective, and Nutty Professor, or tales about working with comedian Jim Carrey.

Shadyac unleashed his characteristic humor and grace, but he never strayed far from his love of Memphis, the UofM and the people who’ve helped him along the way.

“It’s never about the person getting the award,” Shadyac said. “It’s about the community that built the award, and we’re all here to see the values we hope we support reflected somewhat imperfectly in myself, they are all the values you have.”

— Phillip Tutor, CCFA media coordinator,

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Published inCollege of Communication and Fine Arts

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