Ryan Dunn Forever: The Legacy Of Jackass' Craziest Member

I had two margaritas at my "Jackass Forever" screening, so you know I was dying to hit the bathroom by the time the credits rolled. But before I sat down in the theater on a rainy February 4th in New York City, I promised myself I would stay until the last person was thanked or acknowledged. There was just something I needed to see.

You see, this franchise means a lot to me. I watched the original show at a tender age I definitely shouldn't have (about 8-ish or so) and it stuck with me; I became a fan for life, probably too quickly for my own good, and I'm not afraid to say the "Jackass" franchise has framed my formative years. It connected me with my first real love, and it's something my mom and I have a mutual affection for when we don't have a mutual affection for much else. With the fourth movie in the series, it was like meeting up with a best friend you haven't seen in a long time, years and years after things have changed — which is why I needed to make sure of one thing.

At the end of "Jackass Forever," the slapstick footage becomes archival as the final block of the credits roll through, bringing us back to the early days of the group and their antics. Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Chris Pontius, Wee Man, Dave England, Ehren McGhehey, Preston Lacy, Bam Margera — they're all there, they all make appearances. And then, all of a sudden we're watching footage of core crew member Ryan Dunn, running over his friends with an electric scooter inside a building, and it nearly feels like a dream. The footage is slipped so subtly into the mix, and it quickly becomes clear how the film will end. "Ryan Dunn Forever," is the final message we are left with, as the camera pans up to the late daredevil's face. I had been nervous, but I know my guys, and I should've known this was the way the crew would choose to go out.

11 Beautiful Years of Ryan Dunn

Any "Jackass" die-hard will agree: to watch the late Ryan Dunn was to love him. A Pennsylvania transplant from Ohio, he met Bam Margera on their first day of high school, and the rest is beautiful, messy, and wild history. Dunn was in 21 of the 25 episodes of the initial MTV run of "Jackass," and went on to be part of every single film thereafter (except "Bad Grandpa," of course), as well as his part on the spin-off show "Viva La Bam" and its successors. He had "Jackass" top billing, was in every powerhouse opening credits bonanza, and was crucial to the operation. Hell, he would even do stuff none of the other guys — not even Steve-O, known for his laissez-faire disregard for his own body — would even go near.

When I think of quintessential Ryan Dunn, I think of the final stunt of the first "Jackass" film, "The Butt X-Ray." It's a historic one, because it starts with Steve-O pleading his case to why he refused to take part. Despite saying he wanted "nothing more than for this to happen," he wasn't going to let himself be the one to insert a toy car up his own ass. But Ryan Dunn, he was going to let himself be the one. It was a heroic act in the "Jackass" world, and honestly, it still registers to me 20 years later as legendary. I mean, the scene where he goes to the radiologist and plays dumb? For lack of a less cliché term, chef's kiss.

The sketch is a double-pronged electric shock, a gorgeous mess of masochism, hilarity, absurdity, and near nihilism. We could always count on that from Dunn in his many almost-cynical stunts. He took a beating with pride, even if it didn't seem like it in the moment, and he was never afraid to look back on it fondly. He assumed every scratch, cut, and scar with passion, and he was in the perfect company to do so.

How We Move On

It isn't easy to reminisce when the whole crew isn't around anymore. How do you do that, let alone pick a project back up when a part of it has literally left this Earth? That was a little of how I felt when "Jackass Forever" was announced, the memory of Dunn's death hitting me like a sharp, cutting wind. It was hard to imagine there being more of "Jackass" when it would now always be incomplete. What does moving on after grief look like in this weird and wild world these guys have built? 

Well, in "Jackass Forever," it looks like bringing eager, charismatic, and, frankly, stupid young bloods in to join the ranks. It's a move I think Dunn would've embraced, just like the rest of the guys do. It's really moving (yes, I said moving) to see how much affection and admiration there is between the newbies and the vets in the film. That's what's always been at the heart of "Jackass" — an unhinged joy wrapped in a daredevil's thrill tied with a bow of pure love. It's something we miss without Dunn, without his dedication to the bit and unwavering support of his homies. He would've been a good mentor, in that screwed up "Jackass" kind of way.

When I saw the words "Ryan Dunn Forever" on screen as "Jackass Forever" came to a close, there was no way I could hold back the tears. It's been nearly 11 years since he died, and it's hard not to think of the TV career he could've had (he was an excellent presenter) or even the stunts he might've done this time around. No one will ever know those things, but that doesn't mean we're done imagining. I don't think I'll ever be. And it doesn't mean we'll stop remembering. One thing is for sure about our fallen "Random Hero:" There was no one like him. 

Well, scratch that. There were eight guys just like him, and thanks to their ridiculous, disgusting, and unwavering friendship, we were able to have 11 beautiful years of fun with him. He was fearless in his own way, and looking back on the years past, it was a great run. Not one thing would I change about it. Not one thing. Except the time.

"Jackass Forever" is in theaters now.