Raconteur, humorist, actor, writer, world traveler, all-around smart guy: Stephen Fry, who turns 60 on Aug. 24, has been busy over all his years, getting into trouble here, breaking a limb there, always accumulating adventures and knowledge that he happily shares by means of a range of media: podcasts, Twitter blasts, blog posts, books, newspaper articles, television appearances—the list goes on, and Fry shows no signs of exhausting the possibilities as he moves into a new decade.
Fry has been an adept and enthusiastic early adopter of technology; he has written of his friendly rivalry with Douglas Adams, of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame, over who could assemble the coolest toys. (Adams bought the first Macintosh computer sold in England, Fry the second.) But, as was Adams, Fry is also a noted devotee of the printed book‚ and he has added several to the store of English literature. In 1991, he published the first of them, a novel called The Liar. Six years later, when he hit 40, he added a memoir, Moab Is My Washpot, to the list, showing the many ways in which that first, aptly titled novel was autobiographical while recounting the terrors of growing up bipolar and brilliant in an English boarding school, packed off at the tender age of 7 to an imposing school in a town that produces, he writes in Moab, “almost all the baize that Britain and her dominions ever thought to use.”
Fry was smarter than the system, even if a common rebuke by the masters was “Don’t be stupid,” and he learned the fine arts of dissimulation—and literature, history, geography, and theater, all the things for which he would become famous as a grown-up. He has since added several other volumes to his ongoing autobiography, most recently More Fool Me (2014), which prompted our reviewer to call the author “a gifted writer with a perfect sense of comic timing and anecdote-spinning.”
The description is true. I have long thought of Fry as the closest thing we have to Oscar Wilde, whom he portrayed in a 1997 biopic. The parallels are many, not least in their layers of outsiderdom. Fortunately, though, Fry’s time in jail—for a misadventure involving bad faith and a credit card not his own, as he recounts in Moab—came early in life, while, not long ago, thanks to a social evolution that was far too long in arriving, he was able to marry his longtime companion, Elliott Spencer, rather than be castigated for his love.
Like Wilde, Fry has also been an insistent champion of freedom of expression, twitting prudes, censors, and trigger-warners on all sides of the aisle: “It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that,’ ” he has remarked. “As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more than a whine: ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well, so fucking what.”
Indeed, and we wish Stephen Fry the happiest of birthdays and look forward to many books to come.
Gregory McNamee is a contributing editor.