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Lin-Manuel Miranda’s life appears to be a happy success story. His musical Hamilton was a Broadway smash and led to his movie career as an actor and continuing as a songwriter. Miranda recalled a sad time from his childhood though, and it turned out to be an incident that inspired some of his life’s work. 

Hamilton: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Lin-Manuel Miranda | Disney+

Miranda was a guest on NPR’s Fresh Air podcast on June 29 discussing the Disney+ movie of Hamilton. He told host Terry Gross about the theme in his work that derived from a childhood tragedy. Hamilton is on Disney+ July 3.

Alexander Hamilton got a lot done before he was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s age

Miranda based Hamilton on Ron Chernow’s biography, Alexander Hamilton. Reading Chernow’s book illuminated Miranda on all the Founding Father accomplished. 

He grew up in the Caribbean with a Dickensian childhood, and then wrote his way to the mainland, wrote his way into the American Revolutionary War, wrote his way into the first Cabinet, wrote his way into trouble, wrote his way into his duel… He founds the Coast Guard, he founds the New York Post, he founds so many things and I think my feeling when I was reading his biography was like why is the only thing I know about him that he died in a duel?

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Fresh Air podcast, 6/29/2020

Miranda likened Hamiton to another Broadway legend. Jonathan Larson wrote Rent but died before its first preview show. 

L-R: Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Anthony Ramos | Disney+

“What I keyed in on was the relentlessnes,” Miranda told Gross. “How is there three lifetimes of work coming from this one guy who died in his 40s? I’m drawn to those. I’m drawn to the Jonathan Larsons of the world who hear the ticking clock louder than other folks.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda is trying to cram a lot of life in like Alexander Hamilton

By 40, Miranda has accomplished a lot too. A hit musical, writing the music to Moana, playing a role in Mary Poppins Returns and having a movie adaptation of In the Heights is a lot. 

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Phillipa Soo | Disney+

“I think I feel that ticking clock very acutely,” Miranda said. “I think that part of that’s just being a New Yorker, I think part of that is an early awareness of mortality which I had at a pretty young age.”

The incident that gave Lin-Manuel Miranda a sense of mortality 

Gross followed up on Miranda’s comment about his awareness of mortality. Miranda told the story about the incident that taught him life was fleeting at a very young age.

“When I was about three or four years old, my best friend drowned,” Miranda said. “[It was] one of those sort of horrible stories that is no one’s fault. I have like this sort of six months of gray in my childhood memories that is just her being absent at the nursery school uptown that we both attended.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda: Hamilton
Lin-Manuel Miranda | Disney+

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Miranda attributes that with the affinity he feels towards Hamilton and other people who had limited time to accomplish a lot. 

“So I think that weirdly works its way into everything, that notion of what we leave behind and what we do with the time we’re given,” Miranda said. “I think that incident probably works its way into a lot of my subconscious.”