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Godzilla before I die: Drive-in owner hopes to grant fan's last wish

UPDATE: George Root III has died, his wife wrote on Facebook on March 6.

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George Root III lifted the oxygen mask from his face in the intensive care unit at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center Tuesday and whispered three words:

"King of Monsters."

He meant the long-awaited blockbuster film "Godzilla: King of the Monsters" set to hit theaters in May. The stage 4 cancer that started in Root's kidney four years ago and spread through his body has now attacked his lungs.

A devoted Godzilla fan since childhood, he has been waiting to see the film since before he was diagnosed.

Now, he likely won't live to see it.

That is, unless, his friend and owner of the Transit Drive-In Rick Cohen can pull some major strings.

Cohen and Root met 20 years ago through Root's affection for the drive-in. Root was president of the Western New York Drive-In Movie Society.

"There's only one thing George loves more than the drive-in, and that's Godzilla," Cohen said.

Root, a Lockport resident and former newspaper reporter, was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma in December 2015. As his prognosis got worse, he had hoped to hang on until the movie's original release date, scheduled for June last year. Delays pushed the release back to May, but Root likely has days to live, not months.

"He was hoping he could hold on for just a couple more months," said Cohen. "He really wanted to see it before his time is up."

Cohen doesn't have any big movie industry connections, he said, but he started where he could: with his movie booker. That's the guy who sells him the movies that he shows on the big screens at the outdoor theater he owns in Lockport. But he only deals with movies that are already released. Still, the booker reached out to the contact he has in distribution at Warner Brothers. But even Warner Brothers won't have its hands on the movie until Legendary Studios releases it.

Cohen also reached out to the president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, a cinema trade organization of which Cohen is a part.

"There are probably three or four degrees of separation between me and the people who can make this happen," Cohen said. "The people who are really going to make this decision are going to be the director and the producer."

The film has been completed, according to a tweet from director Michael Dougherty. It's just a matter of whether the studio will allow the screening.

If Cohen does pull it off, it wouldn't be the first time a studio bigwig made a benevolent exception to their release schedule. In 2015, a terminally ill Texas man was allowed to see "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" after friends and fans started a viral social media campaign to grant his dying wish.

"Star Wars" stars Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker, and Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca, lent their support. A screening was also later arranged for the dying fan of the movie "Avengers: Endgame."

Godzilla fans consider the newest film nearly as important as the 1954 original. This time, with director Dougherty, a $200 million budget and a star-studded cast, the godlike monster is finally getting the full Hollywood treatment he deserves, according to Joshua Rizzo, a film studies student at the University at Buffalo who administers the Kaiju Krew, a Godzilla-themed chat room on Discord. The film will also feature such fan favorites as Rodan, Mothra and King Ghidorah.

"For years, we've known and loved these creatures because we've sought them out. They were never uber popular. Now they're entering the mainstream," he said. "It's hard to describe, but it's a proud feeling."

Cohen had hoped to do a private screening for Root, his wife and 20-year-old son on the big screen at North Park Theatre but realizes it would have to take place in Root's hospital room because of his condition, if it takes place at all.

"They may say they're sorry they can't accommodate our request and wish us the best. At this point it's out of my hands," Cohen said. "I've done what I promised George I would do, and that's try. We'll see what happens."

Root just wants "to hear Godzilla roar one more time before he is gone," Cohen said.

"It's not going to fix anything. It's not going to save him. But it's going to give a dying man a few hours of happiness before he's gone," Cohen said.

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