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"End scene, with love" | Beloved UT film professor passes away

Dr. William Larsen passed away on Sept. 7, 2021. For many at the University of Tennessee, he was more than a teacher.
Credit: Candice Brand

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Fade from black. Interior. Classroom. In the scene, a beloved professor talks about the impact of cinema and helps refine their scripts. For many students at the University of Tennessee, it was a routine scene with beloved professor Dr. William Larsen, 73.

On Tuesday he passed away. He was a major figure in the university's English department who taught screenwriting and film analysis. Information about his cause of death was not immediately available. However, he wrote his own obituary and left behind a lasting legacy.

"It all comes down to this, whatever you do to help others is all that really matters," he says at the start of the obituary.

He started his teaching career at John Marshall Middle School in South Bend, Indiana. It would last for 51 years and more than three decades of that time would be spent at UT. Over that time, he says he fell in love with teaching.

And in his obituary, he left a message for all his colleagues he met throughout his career: "Thanks for the memory."

Larsen impacted thousands of students over his career, inspiring them with lessons about character constellations, cinematography and the definition of film (which some of his students sometimes struggled to remember).

Across Knoxville, people left messages mourning his loss. His name was painted on The Rock, and the Bijou Theatre left a message on its marquee: "Rest in Peace Dr. Bill Larsen."

A group on social media also shared stories about his career and his classes, the Bill Larsen Fan Club. In it, they posted photos of the detailed comments he would leave on assignments and the comedic ways he would enhance each class.

According to the obituary, Bill requested not to have traditional services or a celebration of life. He says anyone who wants to honor him could light a virtual candle at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. They can also wear blue on his birthday, or consider a donation to Friends of the Smokies.

Instead of flowers, the obituary also asks for donations to either of the following organizations:

  • Paulist Fathers Office of Mission Advancement, 415 West 59th Street, New York, NY 10019. Phone: 212-586-2074. Website: Paulist.org Click on Make a Donation – in memory of Dr. William Larsen.
  • Cinema Studies Enrichment Fund (CINEM) S010020957. Please note on the check that the donation is a gift in memory of Dr. William Larsen. Make check payable to UT Foundation and mail check to: UT Foundation, 137 Alumni Memorial Building, 1408 Middle Drive, Knoxville, TN 37996.

Most of all, he says in his obituary that he wants to be remembered with joy, laughter and just a little exasperation thrown in. He also said he wants to people see a movie or read a book, escaping into them to learn life lessons.

"It all comes down to this, whatever you do to help others is all that really matters," he references at the end of the obituary.

He also ends it with a simple line, "End scene, with love."

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