Poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou passed away today at the age of 86, and it immediately brought me to the most memorable moment I have of her: An incredible episode of the great IFC show "Iconoclasts," featuring Angelou and comedian Dave Chappelle.
This was in 2006, when Chappelle had left $50 million and his Comedy Central show behind only the year before. The whole thing was fascinating (and really funny at times), including a lot about why Chappelle quit the show, the process of a comedian vs. and author and the power of laughter, but the key moment was when Chappelle asked Angelou about Malcolm X.
She was quick to point out that she not only was friends with Malcolm X but with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She described their similarities and their differences. And she talked about courage, which she called "the most important of all the virtues, because without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently."
They also discussed the danger of "celebrity" and icons, in the context of the civil rights movement, but also as it relates to celebrities and icons today.
"This is why it's dangerous to make anybody seem larger than life," Angelou said. "The truth is, those men and those women were in the right place at the right time and got hold of something, and something caught hold of them."
Angelou also explained why its okay to be anger, but you shouldn't be bitter: "Bitterness is cancer — it eats upon the host. It doesn't do anything to the object of its displeasure."
See that part of the "Iconoclasts" episode (starting around 5:20):