You don't have to be a parent to understand that there's probably no greater tragedy than the death of a child.
That's why "Alex: The Life of a Child" (at 9 tonight on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42) is such a heartbreaking two hours, an ABC movie so painful you may have difficulty sitting through it.
It is also a beautiful and honest story and not a manipulative tearjerker, with no trace of false sentiment in Robert Markowitz's direction of this version of Frank Deford's moving book about the life and legacy of his daughter, Alexandra. She died of cystic fibrosis in 1980 at age 9.
Craig T. Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia are outstanding as Deford and his wife, Carol, and Gennie James is a vision as Alex, who seemed to touch everyone around her in a very special way. She was aware that she was dying and worried about leaving her older brother without a sister. And, as would any child who had spent her life amid family, she feared facing death alone.
Nigel and Carol Evan McKeand's script is true to the Defords and reminds us all of life's fragility. We are spared the real Alex's skin-and-bones look, but none of the torment. Alex is shown bravely enduring her disease and her treatment, and her family is shown enjoying her and their lives together, yet ever aware of her death sentence.
The Defords adopted a girl after Alex's death only after Frank, a gifted writer for Sports Illustrated, overcame feelings of guilt and betrayal about "replacing" his "dear and noble" daughter.
Alex was a loving child, a wise child, a special child, recalled here in a tough story, but also a rewarding one.