Last year I wrote a long and emotional post for Jared Padalecki’s birthday, remembering (fondly) some of my favorite moments with him over the years. That was his last birthday as Sam Winchester, so I had all sorts of feelings about that fact – and so did he. Nobody knew what 2021 would bring, either in terms of Supernatural being at an end or whether or not we’d still be living in a pandemic-impacted world. They hadn’t yet started filming the final episodes of Supernatural, and we didn’t know how Jared or Jensen or Misha would do afterwards, or how any of us would feel about that big transition. It was frightening, to be honest, to think of giving up these fictional characters that have meant so much to so many of us for so long. And for them, to make such sweeping changes to their lives after being in a routine that worked for so long, working together to film the show and traveling from city to city on weekends for conventions.
(No, this is not just an excuse to put some of Kim Prior’s gorgeous photos of equally gorgeous Jared at conventions in here…)
Fast forward to now – 2021 and the show did finally manage to wrap up, in a way that felt satisfying to its cast and crew despite the pandemic’s restrictions. We’re still living in a pandemic-impacted world, unfortunately, but the other unknowns are clearer now. Jared isn’t Sam Winchester, though it’s very clear that Sam will always be in his heart, but it’s been wonderful to see him thrive on a new show and create a new character in Cordell Walker.
When I wrote a birthday message for Jared Padalecki last year, I had no idea that this year’s birthday would take place in a world that is completely different. I thought Supernatural would be wrapped and over, and Jared would be on to his next project (which we didn’t know at the time will be Walker). I thought Jared would have celebrated the last birthday on which he was still Sam Winchester. Instead, Supernatural is in limbo with production stopped just short of the series finale, and the actors and the fans are all in limbo too until they film those last two and air the remaining episodes.
That’s a tough thing for all of us. As Jared posted a few weeks ago, being Sam Winchester and a lead actor on Supernatural has been a huge part of his identity for more than fifteen years. Having all that yanked out from under you unexpectedly is even harder than having a planned ending that you can anticipate and prepare for, surrounded by the support of the people you’ve been close to for all that time. His post was heartfelt, but there’s always mixed response when a celebrity posts something personal online. There was also speculation about why Jared has grown out his hair and his beard (during this time when he doesn’t have to step in front of the cameras). All that discussion about hair and beards made me remember some of my earliest chats with Jared, so I thought for his birthday this year, I’d throw it back to some of my favorite moments with him. Like most of us, I don’t know him well. We don’t know any of them well, even though it can seem like we do if they’ve made themselves accessible and enjoy interacting with fans like this cast does. I’ve been lucky to spend a little time with him when he’s not on a stage or at a convention over the years, so I thought I’d share just a few of the little glimpses I’ve gotten in those times of the person Jared Padalecki is – thoughtful, warm, emotional, intelligent. And a very good writer.
I first met Jared in 2007, shortly after my friend Kathy and I fell in love with Supernatural and spontaneously decided to fly across the country to see Jensen Ackles in a community theater production of A Few Good Men in Fort Worth, Texas. (Yes, our families did think we’d lost our minds) There was no fandom twitter, so fandom was connected through sporadic posts on Live Journal mostly. We happened to read that someone had spotted Jared and then girlfriend Sandy on a flight to Texas, along with speculation that maybe he was going to see his costar perform. So when we saw a very tall man in the lobby candy line trying to be inconspicuous (by putting on a hat), we knew who it was. The audience for the play was mostly the regular community theater-goers, so nobody else went over to say hello other than us. Well, me. Kathy refused to budge from the corner. I don’t know what I was expecting as a brand new and extremely passionate Supernatural fan, but Jared’s warm welcome was not it. I said it was awfully nice of him to fly all the way down here to see his friend in a community theater play.
Jared brightened, that now familiar white-teeth smile making his whole face light up.
“Of course I would, he’s my bud!”
Jared was so nice, I felt protective of him immediately.
Me: Are you sure we should take photos, right now nobody knows who you are? But if we take pictures, they probably will come find out.
He waved my concern away and posed for photos and went on his merry way, standing in the refreshments line like the rest of us and greeting Jensen’s dad with a joyful “Papa Ackles!” and a big hug for Danneel – also in the candy line.
Wow, I thought, what a nice guy. Also? He was a baby! Look at those bangs!
The first time I got to spend more than a few minutes with Jared was on our first set visit, which took place the next year, in 2008. There’s a whole chapter devoted to that in the book Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls. But what told me more about the kind of person Jared is was not the interview we did that day, but the moments in between. Kathy and I sat there rapt watching them film for an entire day, and came away with a little bit of understanding about what makes that set so special. Jared and Jensen seemed to set a tone that kept everyone from getting stressed out, from crew to guest actors, with constant jokes in between takes and then a lightning fast snap into professionalism when the cameras rolled. It was clear to us, as nobodies from the outside, that everyone making the show loved it – because everyone kept coming up to us eager to tell us about the part they played in that, with obvious pride. Every single member of the crew also had glowing things to say about “the boys”. The same thing has happened every single time I’ve had the privilege of being on that set over the years.
We soon had our own proof of how nice “the boys” are. As midnight approached, the PA who was watching over us told us that shooting had run too long, there was no way we could do interviews with Jared and Jensen as had been planned. She apologized profusely but we were fine with that – we had already had a day that was beyond our wildest fangirl dreams. Jared and Jensen, however, had other ideas. One after the other, as they wrapped, they came to find us.
“Come on, we’ll just do this on the fly,” Jared said, and we jumped down from our chairs to follow him out of the studio and onto the lot. It was pouring rain and Jared’s legs are ten times longer than ours, so we essentially ran after him as he helpfully carried our little primitive audio recorder and did the “interview” as we hurried to the makeup trailer. He kept right on answering our (rather breathless) questions in the makeup trailer, and then instead of saying goodbye, invited us into his own trailer to keep right on going! It was late at night, he was exhausted and wet and must have just wanted to go home, but he was a lovely host anyway, introducing us to his dogs Harley and Sadie and generously answering all our questions.
Here’s the part of that interview that I was reminded of when all the discussion of Jared’s hair (facial and otherwise) happened.
Lynn: It reminds me of what Eric Kripke said about this [looking at fan reaction online]. He said he likes to hear what the fans are saying, but not so that he can follow it and do it, because then he’ll lose the vision and what they love in the first place.
Jared: Exactly, exactly, and I’m lucky because I’m able to avoid the internet and opinions. I remember when I started Gilmore Girls, I was 18, fresh out of Texas, just graduated high school, pretty naïve — and the 5th episode they cut my hair. The internet was kind of new and I was like oh, weird, they write about that? Cool! And so I read about it and it was like ‘oh Dean has a different hairstyle’ and a girl was like ‘he looks ugly, he looks like a girl’, and I was like, that hurts! … I don’t know where it comes from but not only is the bad, bad, but the good is bad, even if it says ‘he looks hot, he looks better than he used to’. Even that’s bad… you get false confidence or arrogance and you know, just start focusing on vanity, which I don’t want to do. My job is to flesh out Sam Winchester how I can, not to take from a billion people, but to play it my way, otherwise all these shows would be CGI – but there’s nothing interesting in that, they would make it exactly like choose your own adventure novels, but that’s not fun. It’s like choose brown hair, etc, but that’s not interesting.
Lynn: And then you’re devoid of emotion and reality.
Jared: And history and experiences.
Lynn: That’s a really good recipe for staying grounded.
Jared: I’d like to take credit for it, but it’s nothing more than – it’s once bitten twice shy kinda thing, you know? I’m not a masochist, it hurts so I stay away. And it’s stupid that I’m hurt, but still, I am hurt.
Once again, I was struck by what a nice person Jared is, and this time also by how thoughtful and sensitive a person he is too. That conversation happened twelve years ago, which seems unbelievable now. The world has changed a lot, but what he said that day still makes a lot of sense.
He contributed to that first book for us, and then to another, and another, and another. He even read them all.
Fast forward to 2015 at a convention. Jared casually asked if I was working on another book and I said yes, I’ve heard so many powerful stories from fans about how this show and fandom has changed and even saved people’s lives, so I want to put all those personal stories together in a book so everyone will understand just how special Supernatural is. Jared considered for a minute and then said that he had a story to tell too – and that’s how Family Don’t End With Blood ended up being written by both the fans and the actors. (If Jared wanted to write a chapter, I thought, maybe the other Supernatural actors did too. They did.)
Working with Jared for the two years it took him to write his chapter in that book let me see some other sides of him. I was blown away that he wanted to share a story that was so personal in a book. He had already started the Always Keep Fighting campaign and had spoken out about his own mental health challenges, but it’s different talking about them in an interview and actually sitting down and writing the story of your own most difficult and hopeless moments, in the first person, with all the details that actually happened. It was a tremendously courageous thing for someone who is a ‘celebrity’ to do, opening himself up for judgment and ridicule – and that hurt we’d talked about so long ago – but he wanted to do it. I think there were a few times I asked, ‘are you sure?’ He was. He wanted to make a difference. He wanted to give back.
In the three years since Family Don’t End With Blood was published, I’ve heard from hundreds of people who say that Jared’s chapter did make a difference, sometimes a life saving one.
I learned about Jared’s determination too as I worked with him on his chapter. I learned that he was someone who wouldn’t get annoyed when I sent him lots of follow up emails, and that he would still smile when he saw me at conventions even though he knew I was going to ask how his chapter was coming along. I learned that he doesn’t do things half assed – I was not the one asking him to make most of the revisions that got made, that was mostly him. And I never once asked him to say more. That was him. He wanted to tell his story in a way that was real and genuine, and he kept pushing himself until he did, until his chapter was thirty pages long.
I knew, when I started putting together the final book about Supernatural last year (There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done, which came out in May), that I wasn’t going to ask Jared to write another chapter like that – he had written his heart out in Family Don’t End With Blood. He once told me it was one of the hardest things he’s ever done. But he still had some important messages to get across in the new book – things he’d said at events and interviews over the past year about the show and about being Sam, that he wanted fans to know and remember. Even though he was incredibly busy trying to film the last season of the show, he also included some new thoughts about the legacy Sam Winchester leaves behind in his chapter for that book.
And he was, once again, still smiling after my many follow up emails trying to meet the nearly impossible May publication deadline. Sometimes when you work with someone, your view of them changes, and not always for the better. In this case, working with Jared on those two books made me appreciate him even more.
I’m sure Jared, like all of us, has changed quite a bit in the thirteen years between that first meeting in the candy line and now. But I think that capacity for honesty (and admission of not being perfect), innate sensitivity, and thoughtfulness about himself and the rest of the world are still what shapes him. There are so many fan-written chapters in Family Don’t End With Blood and There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done that talk about how Jared has inspired someone else. How his openness and affection have enabled change for someone, or his portrayal of Sam has given someone the strength to always keep fighting. That says alot.
I hope, on this last birthday on which he’s still Sam Winchester (for real this time), that he can continue to hang onto all those things and know that they make a difference.
That he makes a difference.
Happy birthday, Jared Padalecki! Thank you for Sam Winchester – and for being you.
I’m at San Diego Comic Con right now, on the day of one of my favorite people’s birthdays – Jared Padalecki. But that’s okay, because he is too! Last year I got to give him a birthday hug the day after his birthday, also at Comic Con. This year, who knows if I’ll be that lucky – but either way, I wanted to tell him how much he means to me and to so many others.
It’s been an emotional year for the SPNFamily, for the fans and for the cast. As Season 14 was nearing its wrap, Jared, Jensen and Misha announced that the next season would be Supernatural’s last. To say that the news sent shock waves through the fandom would be an understatement. But it was a complicated decision for the actors as well, and one that left them almost as emotional as we all were. I’ve talked with all three of them a bit about it since, but even that day, it was clear that – like with so many complex and sweeping decisions – there was ambivalence and mixed emotions. Sometimes even when you’re the one making a difficult decision, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a painful one to make.
So, as the actors head back to work for the final season, I think this will also be an emotional birthday for Jared (and for the other actors as theirs come along). It will be the last birthday that happens while Jared is still Sam Winchester. The last that happens when Supernatural is still filming and still on the air. The last time Jared’s birthday will happen in the midst of the actors holding court in giant Hall H for thousands of fans or being shuttled back and forth from press room to press room and party to party. Like most of the things that will change with the Show ending, that means some things will be better next year. He can spend his birthday at home with the kids, or halfway around the world on an exotic vacation, or anywhere he damn well pleases. He can take the time to kick back and enjoy what he has and what he’s done, and plan for what he’s yet to do. There won’t be PR to do and make up to wear and clothes styled for him; he can wear jeans and bare feet and however much facial hair he wants.
At the same time, there’s a lot of loss associated with the ending too. Because the show – and the fandom – the SPNFamily — has changed these actors’ lives. Not just a little, but a lot. It’s what so many of them, including Jared, wrote about in Family Don’t End With Blood. I honestly didn’t realize, before I put that book together and read what the actors wrote about how important this Show and this fandom has been to them, not just us. Those changes won’t be erased, but the unique and powerful symbiotic relationship that allowed them to happen will change. Losing Supernatural will be a major loss for all of us, on both sides of the fence.
I’ll still be a Supernatural fan, because that’s part of my identity now that I cherish, and I’m sure many of you will too. But Sam Winchester’s life will be put on pause (this is me being optimistic). If the character really is gone, that means we won’t find out anything new about him. We won’t be able to follow his evolution and argue about whether or not it makes sense or does the character justice. We can look back, but we can no longer look forward. And that’s different. Similarly, Sam will be frozen in time for Jared too. Always an important part of his life and his identity, but Sam himself won’t have a [fictional] life to live out. He won’t get any older; he won’t grow and change. He’ll be frozen in time at 38 while Jared moves forward, instead of the two of them evolving in lockstep all these years. He’s so right, he’ll always have Sam, but it will be different.
(Of course, since I’m an optimist at heart, I’m hanging onto the hope that we WILL get more of the Supernatural universe at some point. Maybe there will be a Supernatural movie….or a Netflix mini series… we’ll have to wait and see. And cross all our fingers and toes. And keep telling Warner Bros how badly we want it. We’re good at that.)
For the actors, the changes as a result of the Show ending are if anything even bigger than for the fans. I don’t know about you, but every time I’ve left a job that I loved, it was traumatic to say goodbye – even when I was moving on to something that I’d chosen, something that in some ways at least was better. They are all so close, such a supportive little community, working together and traveling together and experiencing the world together. They’ve quite literally grown up together. I have no doubt they will stay close, but it won’t be quite the same as having morning coffee together every day and running lines and making incredible television.
Things will change; it’s part of life, but some years bring more change than others. So I hope that this birthday is one that Jared can cherish – that he can relish the craziness of Comic Con and the phenomenon that is Supernatural taking over the gigantic Hall H one more time this weekend. I look back on the darkest time in his life, the one he wrote about in his chapter when he almost gave up and didn’t keep going, and I look at how far he’s come and who he is now. Running marathons, facing his demons, unashamed – proud even – to seek help when he needs it and to encourage others to do the same. What he wrote, and what he has said in panels, has inspired so many people. What a legacy he’s built in 37 short years!
I hope he knows that the fan support that he wrote about in his chapter, that helped get him through those tough times and shaped the man he’s become, isn’t going anywhere. It may not feel as immediate or as all encompassing after next year, but it will be there. None of us who have been changed and inspired by this little Show and this SPNFamily – and by Jared Padalecki – are going to forget that.
There’s something very special about the birthday of someone you care about – someone who changed the world you live in just by being born into it. That might be a child or a partner or a good friend, and in some cases it might be a person who plays a character you love on a television show you adore. I can’t imagine Supernatural without Sam Winchester, and I can’t imagine Sam Winchester being played by anyone other than Jared Padalecki. There are many things and many people who make Supernatural the special show that it is, but from the start, the actors who brought Eric Kripke’s Sam and Dean to life so vividly ensured that it would be a show with the potential to change lives. And it has. That alone makes Jared a special person in my book.
But there’s so much more. When Jared had the courage to start talking about his own battles with anxiety and depression, he validated countless fans who had also struggled with their mental health. He made it okay to open up and be real, refusing to allow his ‘celebrity’ status to keep him silent. I still remember that Comic Con panel in Hall H when we all sat there holding up the Always Keep Fighting candles to honor his bravery and show our support for his fight, just as he has unfailingly showed his support for ours. The Always Keep Fighting and other Represent campaigns have not only contributed to charities that exist to help people in their fight, but they also gave fans a way to ‘speak out’ as well and to support each other.
All that is enough of a reason to make Jared special. But there’s more. When I wanted to write a book that pulled together the stories of all the fans whose lives had been changed by Supernatural and the SPN Family, it was Jared who was brave enough to say that he had a story to tell too. It’s one thing to talk about your battle with depression in a brief interview or as part of a tee shirt campaign. It’s entirely another to write a 30 page chapter that gets as real as you can get about that battle – that takes you right down into the trenches with Jared in the midst of his most difficult moments ever. When he sent me the first draft, I sat there with tears streaming down my face and then replied to him with just a few words: Are you sure? He was. Because he knew that only by being that open and that real would he really be able to make a difference. Since Family Don’t End With Blood was published, I have heard from hundreds and hundreds of fans who have read Jared’s chapter and decided that they would keep fighting too. I’ve cried countless times reading their stories of bravery and battle, and I’ve shared some of them with Jared so he’ll know too that his courage is making a difference.
Those are the big things, the things I think of right away when it’s Jared’s birthday. There are little things too. The way I’ve seen him kneel down to hold the hand of a young fan overcome at trying to talk to him. The way he soldiers on even when he himself is feeling close to overcome with emotion, empathic person that he is. The way he cares about his costars and crew members and everyone on set and works so hard to create the unique and supportive atmosphere there is. The way he cared so much about writing his chapter that it took two years, because he so wanted to get it right. Who he is with family and who he is with friends – and who he is with fans.
We wanted to do something to celebrate Jared’s birthday that would make a difference, so we asked him which charity he’d like the proceeds of the project to go to. He chose the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, which is so important and so needed. An original design ‘Always Keep Fighting/Never Give Up’ tee shirt by artist Angie Siketa raised money for the Hotline in Jared’s honor. Thank you to everyone who contributed! We also auctioned a copy of Family Don’t End With Blood signed by Jared, Jensen, Misha and many more, with all proceeds going to the Hotline. The auction ended at $1,975.00!! And as always, every day, every copy of Family Don’t End With Blood that’s sold raises money for Random Acts and Attitudes in Reverse, two charities that are constantly making a difference.
So today I’m smiling, because it’s Jared Padalecki’s birthday. He’s not perfect, because Chuck knows, no one is. But he’s one of the good guys, and I’m tremendously grateful that Fate chose him to portray Sam Winchester. I can’t imagine how differently this wild ride of the past thirteen years would have gone if someone else had. I’m so very glad to know you, Jared – I hope on this birthday you know just how special you are.
I have always admired Jared Padalecki. For the awesome acting, the depth and heart that he puts into his portrayal of Sam Winchester on that Show I’m so obsessed with, bringing the character to life so vividly. For the way he allows himself to be genuine and vulnerable in his interactions with others. For his desire to give back and make a difference in this world whether it’s with charity tee shirt campaigns or standing up at the Austin state house and fighting for laws that need to be passed. For the unique and heartwarming friendship he has with his onscreen brother and his loyalty to all his friends and his great love of family.
But I have never admired Jared as much as I do after working with him for the past few years as he wrote his chapter in Family Don’t End With Blood. I was blown away by his courage, his willingness to “go there” in what he wrote – to tell his own personal story without censoring it, in such powerful and compelling language that everyone who reads it knows exactly what he was feeling, exactly what happened, in every moment of that story. I witnessed firsthand his determination to “get it right” – even though I repeatedly told him I thought it was very nearly perfect already! And I witnessed firsthand just how much he cared about telling his story in a way that would be genuine and real. So that other people can see themselves reflected in someone we look up to, and understand that it’s not just words – you really are Not Alone.
I met so many people at the Chicago con this past weekend who told me how much Jared’s words meant to them – how much his writing inspired them, comforted them, validated them. How much it kept them going, let them always keep fighting. I’ve heard the same from so many people online, from all over the world where the book has traveled, who felt the same. I hope Jared knows how much of a difference he’s making with his words. I’ve told him, and I know some of you have told him too. I hope he believes it, and that on his birthday he can feel proud of all the things he’s accomplished.
Happy birthday, Jared.
If you’d like to read Jared’s story in Family Don’t