Over the course of a decade, from 2004 to 2014, he appeared in more than two dozen movies, and a handful of music videos. He was “that guy”: the middle-aged businessman, the veteran detective, the preacher, one of those older guys in the crowd. He was “everyman.”
On May 7th, 2019, Don Lincoln passed away, succumbing to an infection he contracted in the hospital, just as he was poised to get a replacement for his failing heart. Yet if not for his big ol’ heart, he likely would not have been “that guy” in a music video that has received nearly 2.7 billion views online.
“It Isn’t Going Away”
It began February 23nd, 2003, a Sunday night.
Up and down from his customary seat in the living room, he kept pacing the floor and occasionally pressing a fist to his chest. Ultimately he said, “I think I may need to go to the hospital. I thought this was just bad heartburn, but it isn’t going away.”
It wasn’t indigestion. It was a heart attack. The diagnosis? Dilated cardiomyopathy with congestive heart failure, likely brought on by several years of undiagnosed (and therefore untreated) high blood pressure.
Also known as an “enlarged heart,” it had a grim prognosis. Medication could slow the deterioration of the heart muscle, but the only “cure” was a heart transplant and qualifying for that would not occur until his quality of life had severely diminished. And less than 50% of those diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy live longer than five years.
He was 49 years old.
By March of 2004, he could no longer work at his usual job, managing a retail home improvement store. Each burst of adrenalin – his body’s reaction to any customer complaint – would cause angina. He would have to “pop a nitro” (take a nitroglycerin pill), struggle to finish out the day at work, and – increasingly frequently – take the next day off, because he still felt so bad.
At the age of 50, having worked and paid into Social Security for 36 years (since he was 14), he quit working and reluctantly applied for Social Security disability.
It took less than a month for that application to be denied, with no reason given. It would be another 29 months before he finally got a different answer – a ruling of permanent and total disability.
While he waited for a hearing on his disability application, he was fretful and restless. What could he do with his time – and limited physical endurance? Thanks to an aggressive tax credit program, Louisiana’s film industry was starting to bloom. A Disney production issued a casting call for lots of extras, for scenes being shot in Baton Rouge.
It didn’t pay a lot – less than a hundred dollars a day. But the work itself required only brief bursts of “Action!” in between the majority of time spent sitting and waiting for the cameras to roll on the next scene, and Don thought he ought to have the stamina to do that.
He kept a journal of his early experiences. Here’s some of what he wrote:
#1 Glory Road Oct. 11th – 20th, 2004
Played a photographer. Great gig. I got to stand on the court between the Texas Western cheerleaders and the basketball team. Was able to spend a lot of down time talking with the guys on the team. Many of them knew nothing about basketball: they were mainly fairly new actors. The most well-known of them is Derek Luke. He just made a big movie called “Friday Night Lights” with Billy Bob Thornton.
Jon Voight played the Kentucky Coach Rupp. He was great with everybody. One of the people on set told him that their 5th grade son loved him to death. Jon told that person to bring the kid on set to meet him. A couple of days later, it happened. Jon walked right up to the kid, called him by name, and gave the kid a bag, which had one of Voight’s fake ears and noses in it. How kewl would that be to get?
The highlight of my time was getting to watch Nevil Shed (playing Al Shearer) go over his lines and actions for a scene he has with his coach. I was standing at the reporters’ table watching him, and before I knew it, he was making me part of the scene with him, acting it out as if I were the coach. When we finished, I asked him to explain the scene to me, which he did, and then thanked me for helping out. Right after that, I got to watch him do the actual scene with Coach Haskins (Josh Lucas).
The scene that took the most time with the extras to film was a crowd scene out in front of the arena (Parker Coliseum at LSU). Here we have a team of mostly black players coming into an arena in the South during the early 60s. They did several scenes with rednecks protesting the blacks playing at all.
But the scene that sent chills up and down my spine was when blacks in the crowd were trying to get to the front, next to the wood barricades, to greet the players. The reporters at the front of the barricades (me included) were being crushed by the enthusiasm of the crowd trying to see this team with an all-black starting lineup. In the background was a singer, singing the old blues song “Glory Road.” WOW – what an awesome scene! Can’t wait to see it on the big screen.
#2 Dreamer Nov. 8th – 9th, 2004, 2 nights shooting at old Evangeline Downs in Lafayette.
Mainly crowd scenes at the horse races, but did get a kewl moment with Kurt Russell. I was walking by and stopped to look at the replays from the 3 cameras they had just shot the horses coming around the final turn, down the stretch to the finish line. On one camera, as the horses came around the last turn, you could see something (a cat or a possum) running from the inside track, crossing in front of the horses. As we were watching and laughing, trying to figure our what the critter was, I heard this voice raised above everyone else’s: “Look, how great is that? Here we’re supposed to be at a hellhole of a track, and how appropriate that an animal runs out in front of the horses from the inside of the track! We’ve got to keep that in the movie.”
I turned around, and there, about a foot and a half from me is Kurt Russell. He just couldn’t believe something like that had happened. Only in Louisiana.
Then on the second night, I got picked to be in a scene with Elizabeth Shue and Dakota Fanning. We are in the stands cheering on our horses. They are in the front row, and I’m two rows behind them, in great view of the camera.
#3 Last Holiday Dec. 8th, 2004, 1 day shooting in N.O.
The scene is the last scene in the movie, when Queen Latifah and LL Cool J open up their own restaurant in New Orleans.
They sent me and about 7 other people down the sidewalk to be walking to the restaurant. Queen and Cool J are out front greeting people as they come in. A car with Queen’s “kids” pulls up at the curb and the valet lets them out, then a limo with the mayor and his wife, then one with Emeril Lagasse. After about 5 takes, the PA Ryan calls to me to follow him. I’m thinking he’s cutting me from the scene, as we walked toward the extras holding area. Instead, he tells me to get in the cab lined up behind Emeril’s limo. We roll to the curb, the valet opens the door for me and I walk up behind Emeril to shake hands with Cool J. And then I walk right up to Queen, with the camera right there in my face.
She’s the most beautiful woman I have ever met, and I told her so. She hugged me.
#4 Elvis TV miniseries: filmed Jan. and Feb. 2005 (aired on CBS May 8th and May 11th, 2005)
Day one: a courthouse scene, shot in Algiers. Elvis has gotten into a fight with a guy, who then pursued charges. I’m playing a reporter trying to get sound, with three photogs in front of me trying to get their pictures.
After the shoot, I got a chance to talk to Johnny, who plays Elvis (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). He’s from Ireland – really nice guy.
Day two: I was supposed to be a background player, sitting in the diner when Elvis meets Col. Tom Parker for the first time. But they picked me (because I was the biggest guy there) to do the stand-in work for Randy Quaid, who was playing Col. Tom Parker. The guy who was supposed to do it simply hadn’t shown up. I stood on the mark, sat in the booth while they set the lighting and mic placement, and the camera positioning, for each scene. Really cool!
While they were shooting the scenes inside, I was outside, talking to people on the street. One lady, a friend of the diner owner, was all excited because she grew up loving Elvis, and to have them filming at this place she knew so well was so exciting to her. All she wanted was “to get a good look at this guy” playing Elvis.
Well, one of the P.A.s overheard us talking, and when Johnny came back on set, the PA told him about it. Out comes Johnny, and walks right over to meet this lady. She was beside herself, and Johnny was so gracious to her thanked her for coming around, and hugged her before he left.
Day three: I had gone to the Louisiana Actors’ Social in New Orleans, and Christopher Gray of LA Actors & Talent walked by me. He was on his phone, but he turned back and told me to “stay put.” When he finished his call, he came back and said the production needed somebody to play the landlord the next day, and asked if I was interested. Of course I said yes.
When I arrived on set, they gave me a script and walked me through the scene. Then they took me to wardrobe, then to the dressing and makeup trailer. Once I was ready, they called me to the set for my scene, and I stood around while they set the lights and the mics. Then they called “Action!”
I stood at the door while Vernon Presley (Elvis’ dad, played by Robert Patrick) begged me to give him two more weeks to pay the rent.
After the scene was over, Allen (the director) thanked me. Camryn Manheim (playing Elvis’ mom Gladys Presley) also said thanks, and Johnny came through to day thank you, as well. He did a double-take, and laughed, saying, “You were Randy’s stand-in the other day! You look so different this time!”
Robert Patrick, who had been joking around during the whole shoot, was telling another guy how good I was, keeping a stone face, and making it easier to deliver his lines. The guy came back with, “That’s amazing! You never have anything good to say about people!” They both laughed, then Robert hugged me and said thanks again!”
And they called me back to stand in for Col. Parker. In fact, they made me the official stand-in for Randy Quaid through the rest of the film.
May 6th, 2005 “Louisiana Live” radio talk show
I had a 30-minute segment with host Don Grady, talking about my experiences as an extra in movies. This was the Friday before part one of “Elvis” aired on Sunday. I was plugging that mainly, but also getting the word out that anyone could be an extra in movies.…
He kept on working as an extra, featured and background, and was tapped to be James Gandolfini’s stand-in for the filming of “Welcome to the Rileys.” The following year, he was the stand-in for John Malkovich in “Secretariat.”
Don became one of the leaders of the Baton Rouge Film Industry Meet-Up Group, and soon casting directors started calling him for referrals, when they were seeking certain types or ages or numbers of actors for various productions. Even if it wasn’t a role for him, he was always glad to connect other actors with gigs.
On the other hand, he deeply disliked any hint of wrongdoing that might tarnish the state’s burgeoning movie industry. And when it became clear to the local film industry workers that Malcolm Petal’s L.I.F.T had positioned itself to control the business and take a cut of every production, Don spoke to the FBI.
L.I.F.T. was supposed to stand for “Louisiana Institute of Film and Technology,” and it was supposed to be a school to train camera and sound people, set designers and costumers, makeup artists and actors. Instead, you “had to go through LIFT” to expedite your approvals for shooting locations, transportation needs, catering services, and – most especially – your okays for the state tax credits. Malcolm Petal was ultimately found guilty of bribing the state’s top film official and sentenced to five years in prison. Due in part to the controversy and in part to the drain on state funding, lawmakers began tweaking and scaling back on the film tax credit programs, ultimately driving the industry away to other states.
The FBI hadn’t forgotten Don, though. As Louisiana’s film industry was shrinking, law enforcement found the problem of “active shooters” was growing. Using cops to play the bad guys in training exercises wasn’t optimal, since cops think and react like cops, not like unhinged gunmen. With grant money available for training purposes, the FBI, in cooperation with city and parish law enforcement agencies, decided to hire actors to play the bad guys. They contacted Don, and he helped put together the “Louisiana Renegades” – a group of actors who played school shooters and bank robbers, hostage takers and distraught individuals setting themselves up for “suicide by cop.”
Don’s last big gig – before the film industry and his health dwindled away– was playing the preacher in OneRepublic’s “Counting Stars” music video. It’s been viewed nearly 2.8 billion times since its release in May 2013.
Five years ago, with his heart function declining, Don decided he would prefer to go with an artificial heart pump, known as a Left Ventricular Assistance Device (or LVAD), rather than opting for a heart transplant when he reached the point of eligibility. Since a transplant would require taking anti-rejection drugs that would essentially eradicate his own immune system, he wouldn’t be able to be around people or around his grandkids, for fear of the germs and the sniffles that could snuff out his new lease on life. On the other hand, he could keep his immune system with the LVAD, and therefore continue with a social life and family life – to have a life.
Beginning in August 2018, increasing irregularities in his heartbeat and recurring bouts of congestive heart failure sent Don to the hospital repeatedly. After five admissions, it was clear it was time to shift into the LVAD program at Oschner in New Orleans.
On April 2nd, 2019, his health insurance plan said no.
Three weeks later, they relented, agreeing to cover a consultation at Oschner on May 8th.
Hospitalized in Baton Rouge on April 29th, he passed away May 7th.
Louisiana’s Legislature honored his contributions with a commemorative resolution, SCR 136. And Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a statement, commending Don’s “life well lived.”
You can still watch him in those movies and videos.
His family — his children, grandchildren and I — miss his hugs.
“Everybody’s just waiting to hear from the one
Who can give them the answers
And lead them back to that place in the warmth of the sun
Where sweet childhood still dances
Who’ll come along
And hold out that strong and gentle father’s hand?
Long ago I heard someone say something ’bout Everyman.”
– Jackson Browne, “For Everyman”