Most people have no idea who was Lari White. Past tense, because she just died recently. Born into a gospel singing family, the young artist was playing in college bars and cover-charge clubs in the late 1980s when she made a fortuitous appearance on a Nashville Network talent contest show–a sort of a country music precursor to America’s Got Talent. A first place showing on the program landed her a contract with Capitol Records, launching her on a twelve year odyssey of D-level fame in country music. Several of her singles charted and her second album was certified gold during this period. Although she never won a Grammy for her own releases, she was recognized three times for ensemble and soundtrack albums that included her songs.
It was shortly after she released her fifth album in 1998 that she made what was arguably her most famous performance–as an actor and not a singer no less. Appearing in the movie Cast Away (released in 2000), Tom Hanks’ seminal film on survival, relationships, and loneliness, White played a welding artist in Texas who is unwittingly the focus of Hanks’ attempts to maintain a grip on his humanity while holder on to some longer term objectives beyond his immediate terrible plight. The beautiful, slightly crunchy-granola, White crosses paths with Hanks at the very end of the movie and the film ends right afterwards on an intentionally ambiguous note.
Every red-blooded male who has seen the movie remembers the scene, despite the passage of eighteen years. White poses with her dog and pickup truck, welding gear in the back, smiling at Hanks with the breeze blowing her red locks askew. This is the woman Hanks has just delivered a package too after his three year ordeal, and in person she is even more amazing than what he could have possibly imagined while clutching his face-painted volleyball on that damned island. She represents–possibility–any possible future, or direction. But whichever direction Hanks takes, it means he is moving forward, without a backward glance at the past, and with so much live for.
The Cast Away role turned out to be the apex of her career, and she fell back into relative obscurity in spite of a few more appearances in movies and theatre and a couple of producing gigs. Still, White labored on, and her schedule was full of show and music business comings and goings. Tragically, her efforts were cut short by an abdominal cancer diagnosis ate in 2017, and White’s once-bright star extinguished with her death this month.
White is gone, but then again she really isn’t. While certainly her music will live on, it isn’t really as a songstress that she will remain remembered. She was fortunate to be at the right place at the right time in the movie industry, where one small role fixed in the minds eye of every viewer her aspect forever. It is a pleasure that will be lived through again and again as Cast Away is replayed in the future, eventually as part of a classic rotation of films on an enthusiast channel like the current-day TCM. And those viewers will fall in love with her all over again.