Of the many bits of trivia about the rapturelike Sudden Departure that haunts the characters in The Leftovers, perhaps the oddest is the list of celebrities who departed, including J.Lo, Anthony Bourdain, nearly the whole cast of Perfect Strangers (but not Mark Linn-Baker), and most importantly, Gary Busey. By season three, nearly seven years after the show’s catalyzing event, Busey has become something of an idol to a group of bro characters who believe the actor will return on the anniversary of his disappearance. In last night’s season-three premiere, the group inflates a giant Gary Busey balloon in order to help the actor know where to land.
In case you were wondering, the balloon was real, and it was spectacular. After seeing Billy Eichner’s send up of the Thanksgiving parade, Leftovers creator Damon Lindelof decided his show should get its own damn celebrity inflatable. “There was a Billy Eichner bit for ‘Billy on the Street’ where he and Katie Couric did the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but all the balloons were random celebrities like Mila Kunis instead of Garfield the Cat,” Lindelof told Indiewire. “And I was like, ‘I think those are real balloons!’ And they were huge! So if Billy Eichner can afford a Mila Kunis balloon, and it’s not a visual effect, we gotta get Busey.”
What’s more, Busey originally didn’t make the cut. “Originally, we wanted to do an Anthony Bourdain balloon because of the idea that celebrity chefs had disappeared en masse,” Lindelof explained. “We got Bourdain’s photo in the pilot, but [when he was approached about Season 3] Bourdain was like, ‘No! No Bourdain balloon!’ … So we went to Busey, and Busey was like, ‘Sure, bring it on! G.A.B.: Gimmie a balloon!’” Apparently Lindelof put on a Gary Busey accent for the last part of that quote, so imagine what Damon Lindelof’s Gary Busey sounds like at your own risk.