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In Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter play Platonic ideals of ’80s suburban California youth. They love Van Halen; they use the word “dude” as punctuation; they sound like surfers but don’t surf. But the first face you see in the beloved film is older, and wiser. Legendary comedian George Carlin costarred in Excellent Adventure (and the 1991 sequel Bogus Journey) as Rufus, a deadpan time traveler.
It’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the role — which makes it even funnier to imagine how different Rufus could have looked. “Rufus was originally a 27-year-old sophomore,” says Ed Solomon, who co-wrote the Bill & Ted movies with Chris Matheson. In early versions of the story, Rufus was a friend of the titular duo, “who had a van that inexplicably traveled through time. We never explained it initially.”
At some point, Solomon and Matheson conceived the idea of a utopian future where the music of the Wyld Stallyns fixed all the problems of the world. Rufus would now travel back from that future, with a chrono-hopping phone booth.
“We were really afraid that whoever they were going to cast as Rufus was going to literally ruin the whole movie,” remembers Winter. “When we found out it was Carlin, we were honestly kind of blown away. Then he shows up, and he’s this larger than life, beautiful, spiritual, incredible human being.”
“He was super soft spoken,” says Reeves. “Quiet. Reserved. He was not one of those guys who wants to take over a room. “
“Bill & Ted, I think, was one of the first movies he did just sort of acting,” says Winter. “I remember him really kind of finding Rufus, playing with a couple things, just being very modest.”
“‘Was that okay? Was that okay?'” Reeves recalls the comedian asking his starstruck costars. “‘It’s okay, George.'”
Reeves also remembers, with great fondness, of his final interactions with Carlin on the set of Excellent Adventure. “When I asked him for an autograph at the end, he wrote: ‘Hey Keanu, f— you.'”
“That takes a beautiful spirit to do that,” says Winter.
“It’s so awesome,” Reeves agrees.
Does he still have the autograph?
“You know what happened,” Reeves says. “It was on a rainy day, and he did it in blue maker, and it got water on it.”
“Even better, though” says Winter. “It’s just the ethereal nature of life.”