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That was his job, he said: to help me make a living." At 20, he landed his first record deal and, shortly after, was cast in the film adaptation of Roddy Doyle's The Commitments.The film was an international sensation, and in its slipstream the fictional act became real, touring the UK and America to packed houses. So he grew a beard, and refocused his sights on The Frames.

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People told me later that he might have been aiming for me." Vedder read about the incident, which reminded him of a similar accident that had affected him.

In 2000, during a Pearl Jam performance at the Roskilde music festival near Copenhagen in Denmark, eight fans were crushed to death in the crowd (a ninth died later in hospital).

Hansard had been reluctant to repeat his experience on The Commitments - "Nothing wrong with acting, it's just not for me" - but eventually agreed.

The film was shot in three weeks on a shoestring budget of €135,000 and, if the finished product was rough around the edges, it was also quite lovely, seducing all who saw it.

"He knew I had a brain, just that I wasn't engaging it." The headmaster encouraged him to leave school.

"He told me to go and busk; he guaranteed me that, while I might not become a rock star, if I stuck at it, I'd likely make a living from it.

"I'm grateful for that." Hansard and Vedder became friends in unlikely, and tragic, circumstances.

A while after the Oscars, Hansard was playing an outdoor auditorium near San Francisco.

We spoke for an hour each night for a week." The two have subsequently recorded music together, and toured. There is no wife yet, no children, and sometimes he pines, "But I've essentially a brilliant life; I'm exactly where I want to be." Once, he concedes a little awkwardly, has made him a rich man.

"But I'm happy to say that the money that has come in my direction has been a healthy figure; I've not been overwhelmed by it." He has tried to use it wisely, helping his mother, stricken with emphysema (his father died five years ago), and looking out for various family members.

In the crowd was a young man who had been spurned by his girlfriend (also in the crowd, and a huge fan of Once).

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