She laughs now about the origin of an introductory image of Death sitting on some steps near a fountain. She says it was based on an image Dringenberg captured of her after she’d begged fifty cents to buy a hamburger and sat down on some steps to eat it, grinning in delight about her meal. In the comic, Death is grabbing the sides of her sunglasses, but it’s easy to imagine a hamburger in her hands instead.
It was, she says, a boost to her confidence and self-esteem. Asked if being Death has changed her life, she smiles and says it gives her a reason to meet people and has opened up social avenues. “People either want to meet me [because they admire the character],” Hadley says, “or they don’t … they think I’ll be stuck up.” She notes that even her girlfriend (now her fiancée) didn’t want to meet her at first. “She said, ‘I figured you were going to be so self-absorbed.’”
Like Death, Hadley says she is upbeat and perky, and like Death, she comes across as surprisingly down-to-earth despite her appearance. She makes it a point to stay positive, especially when she meets people who know her as “the model for Death,” or someone asks her to sign comics or merchandise. She says she wonders sometimes if Dringenberg used her just for her look, or if it was deeper, if he saw Death’s ironically happy attitude in her. “[Death is] strangely innocent in a way, and that is so me. I’ve always been an innocent person. My motto is ‘Happy, happy, joy, joy.’ I’ve just got to be happy. She even says ‘peachy keen,’ in one of the comics!”
Indeed, Death offered an effervescent contrast to her brother, Sandman’s titular Morpheus aka Dream, whose sad and sometimes angry persona was revealed in the comic through his black speech bubbles and dark expressions. In her first appearance in the story The Sound of Her Wings, Death takes Dream along on her sad route, escorting the souls of a newly departed SIDS baby, an electrocuted comedian and a young car-crash victim to the afterlife. However, despite her morbid job, she pronounces things “fantabulous” and, as Hadley mentions, “peachy keen,” and tries to cheer up her morose sibling.
Fans immediately fell in love with Death—as the letters to the editor showed—and her popularity quickly outstripped that of the rest of The Endless. In issue #21, a series of portraits and character studies of the siblings offers a few paragraphs about each and concludes with simply, “And there is Death.” Nothing else was needed—everyone already knew her.
While generally positive, being popularized as such a beloved character hasn’t always been a good experience. In addition to taking care to be nice to people who know her only as “Death,” Hadley occasionally has to clear up some rumors that get circulated on the Internet. In one case, a man claimed to have shared “a psychotically wonderful romance and an efficiency co-op apartment” with her before she ran off with a heroin dealer. It is telling that this man spelled her name wrong despite “loving her deliriously.” Hadley laughs in mock-horror about this now. “I was so angry!” she says of reading the bizarre blog post where this alternate history was revealed, to which she offered a scathing reply. Now she is kinder, although no less insistent that he was lying. “He was sweet, but kind of a sad soul. Maybe he was searching to be somebody ... He latched onto me because of the comic book.”