In Passing

Breaking: Otto Warmbier Has Died

From ABC News yesterday:

Over and over, Otto Warmbier apologized and begged — at first calmly, then choking up and finally in tears — to be reunited with his family.

North Korean officials seated at long tables watched impassively, with cameras rolling and journalists taking notes, as the adventuresome, accomplished 21-year-old college student from suburban Cincinnati talked animatedly about the “severe crime” that had put him there: trying to take a propaganda banner for someone back home, supposedly in return for a used car and to impress a semi-secret society he wanted to join, and all under the supposed direction of the U.S. government.

“I have made the worst mistake of my life!” he exclaimed as his formally staged Feb. 29, 2016, “confession” to anti-state activities ended in Pyongang.

More than 15 months later, he has finally been reunited with his parents and two younger siblings.

Whether he is even aware of that is uncertain.

“His neurological condition can be best described as a state of unresponsive wakefulness,” said Dr. Daniel Kanter, director of neurocritical care for the University of Cincinnati Health system. Doctors say he has suffered “severe neurological injury,” with extensive loss of brain tissue and “profound weakness and contraction” of his muscles, arms and legs. His eyes will open and blink, but without signs of understanding verbal commands or his surroundings.

Warmbier, now 22, remains hospitalized at the UC Medical Center immediately after his arrival late Tuesday aboard a medevac flight following North Korea’s decision to release him for what it called humanitarian reasons — and under strong pressure after the Trump administration learned of his condition in a special U.S. envoy’s June 6 meeting in New York with North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations.

His parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, were told he had been in a coma since shortly after being sentenced March 16, 2016, to 15 years of prison with hard labor.

If life had gone to plan, he today would be in his first month as a new graduate of the University of Virginia.

So basically, the DPRK tortured and murdered a US Citizen for allegedly taking a propaganda poster off a wall.  Will this become an international incident?

RIP Jonathan Demme

“Stop Making Sense” and “Swimming to Cambodia” are just two of the great documentaries he directed, but of course, he will always be known for “Silence of the Lambs” and “Philadelphia”.  Dead at 73 of cancer complications

RIP Everybody — How 2016 Became A Year Of Dying Dangerously

Pat Harrington died on January 6, 2016.  He played Dwayne Schneider, the nosy superintendent in the 1970s sitcom “One Day At A Time”.  I remember reading about his death.  I may have even blogged about it.  But it wasn’t altogether startling.  I had barely given the actor any thought since that series was cancelled.  And he was 86.  So, it was another celebrity death.  You read about it, you say “awwwww” and reflect for a moment how another small icon of your life has moved on.  It doesn’t really affect you, but it serves as another marker that time is marching on and as the props of your youth disappear to dust, so someday shall you.

Then came David Bowie’s death on January 10.  This was different.  This was a huge celebrity death because Bowie, unlike Harrington, influenced culture (Sorry, Pat).  Everybody had a Bowie song they liked.  Or maybe they liked how he was an androgyny pioneer, way before anybody knew what androgyny even was.  Everybody was hit by Bowie’s death.

But even then, these things happen.  Superstars die every year.  And Bowie’s wasn’t even a surprise.  Not like, say, Michael Jackson’s sudden death.  Bowie had been fighting cancer for years.  He had been recording music and videos that anticipated his death.  We hoped his death wouldn’t happen, as I’m sure he did too.  But even when the Star Man’s light went out at the relatively young age of 69, we thought — well, all things must pass.

Only four days later, Alan Rickman died.  Now that was disconcerting.  Not that Rickman had the same iconic cultural impact as Bowie, but it was so sudden.  Another 69 year old, and only a short battle with cancer.

By then, the jokes were already starting about how 2016 was taking so many people from us unexpectedly.  For some that was confirmed when Glenn Frey of the Eagles died.  Only 67 years old, from complications of arthritis, ulcer and pneumonia.  What the hell?

But maybe that was it, right?  Celebrity deaths come in threes, the old adage goes.  And Bowie, Rickman and Frey — those were the three.  All under 70.  All in the same January.  Just a bad month.

If we were paying attention, we should have known that celebrity deaths were on 2016’s agenda, when Death ignored the old joke about Abe Vagoda never dying, and He came to collect Mr. Vigoda’s lifeless body in January 26.  We should have paid attention and buckled ourselves in.

February saw a slew of surprising-but-not-really deaths:  Justice Antonin Scalia, Harper Lee, Bud Collins (the tennis announcer), the veteran actor George Gaynes (from “Tootsie” and the Police Academy movies), the veteran actor George Kennedy….

And then Nancy Reagan on March 4.  Well, okay.  She was due.  94, for crying out loud.  This is normal.  This is expected.  Same with Sir George Martin (Beatles producer), Ken Martin (“The White Shadow”), Frank Sinatra Jr., Garry Shandling….

Wait… what?  Garry Shandling?  His death on March 24 caught me VERY off guard.  He was only 66.  A heart attack.  He was, like Bowie, an innovator — but for comedy television.  And kind of close to MY generation.  What the hell is HE doing dying like that?  Something uncool is happening.

March 29 — Patty Duke, age 69 — there’s that 69 again.  From a ruptured intestine? DEFINITELY something uncool is happening.

Doris Roberts.

On April 21, Michelle McNamara died.  In front of me practically.  I didn’t know who she was.  But I was reading Patton Oswald’s tweets.  He was prolific and funny that day.  Then his tweets stopped.  Then came the news: Patton’s wife, Michelle (a writer for TrueCrimeStory.com) was dead.  Just died in her sleep at the age of 46.  The cause of death is still unknown.

Okay, not a celebrity death.  But for Patton.  Oh my God.  I hate it when comedians die, and when their loved ones die, you just want to break things.  People who make you laugh are supposed to have good lives.  That’s my rule, and I hate to see it broken.

Same day as Michelle McNamara?  Prince.  Age 57.  REALLY close to my age.  Accidental overdose.  Okay, now — this wasn’t a huge shock.  There’s something about people who live fast and die young.  It happens, it just does.  I mean, it would not have been a shock if he lived to be 95 either.  But with superstars — well, we’re used to them not growing old, aren’t we?  But somehow, coming after Bowie and Rickman and Frey and Shandling…. now now just a few, but almost everybody was saying the same thing: 2016 is is coming after our cultural icons.

Or maybe not.  Madeleine Lebeau (of “Casablanca” fame), age 92; Morley Safer, age 84…

Muhammad Ali, age 74, on June 3.  Sad, but not unexpected.  What a full rich life.

Then we got a slew of deaths from — well, not superstars.  But tragic because they were at the beginning of their careers.  Cristine Grimme, age 22 — shot while signing autographs at her concert on June 11.  Anton Yelchin, age 27 — Star Trek’s new Chekov run over by his own car in a freak car accident outside his home on June 19.

But then things kind of got into a normal groove — as deaths go, that is — and it looked like 2016 might return to normalcy.  You had a lot of “oooooh, THAT guy” deaths.

Elie Wiesel, age 92, on July 2.

Garry Marshall, age 81, on July 19.

Character actor David Huddleston, age 85, on August 2.

R2-D2 actor Kenny Baker, age 81, on August 13.

But Death’s summer vacation came to an end.  And he hit the ground running on his return.  Gene Wilder on August 29.  That one hurt.  It hurt everyone. maybe not a surprise, but it was just plain MEAN.

Then, for some reason, Death took a swipe at the trans community.  The Lady Chablis, age 59 on September 8.  Actor and trans-activist Alexis Arquette, age 47, died on September 11, singing David Bowie’s “Starman” as she passed.  Very meta.

Charmian Carr (Liesl in “Sound of Music”), age 71 on September 17.

Arnold Palmer, 87, on September 25.

Kevin Meaney, on October 21.

Maybe things are going to be okay.  Maybe.  Maybe no more tragic young and/or iconic celebrity deaths.

Janet Reno, 78, on November 7.

Leonard Cohen, 82, on November 10.

Robert Vaughn, 87 on November 11.

Maaaaaybeeee.

Gwen Ifill, 61, on November 14.

Pow!!  Florence Henderson, 82 on November 24.

And to join “Barney Miller” castmate Abe Vigoda, Death grabs Ron Glass on November 25.

And speaking of sets, having taken Keith Emerson on March 11 this year, Death grabbed Greg Lake on December 7.  (Carl Palmer, the surviving member of Emerson, Lake & Palmer is still alive, but the year is not over).

And December 2016 becomes an echo of January 2016.  Iconic deaths.

Godspeed John Glenn, 95, dying on December 8.

Alan Thicke, another 69 year old, on December 13

Zsa Zsa Gabor, on everybody’s death list for ages, finally succumbs at age 99 on December 18.

Which brings us to this week.

George Michael, age 53.  That’s MY AGE!  On Christmas Day.  Of natural causes!  What the hell?!?

Carrie Fisher, age 60, on December 27 of a heart attack, and then her mother, Debbie Reynolds, age 84, the next day, of (no doubt) a broken heart.

Insanity.  And honestly, everybody is on edge.  As I am typing this, there is THIS:

… but it is a hoax (that’s not a real BBC news site).

The Queen is fine.  But we’re primed for this.

So here comes the question:  ARE there more celebrity deaths this year?

The answer is yes.  In fact, the BBC reached that conclusion back in April! They did this by counting the number of pre-prepared BBC obituaries that had run in the first three months of each year from 2012 to 2016.  They found that there had indeed been a spike in celebrity deaths: twice as many “famous” people (defined as having a BBC advance obituary) died in January, February and March of this year as had done during the corresponding period of 2015 – and five times as many as in the first three months of 2012. However, the BBC’s obituaries editor Nick Serpell reported that things began to level out somewhat after that, and that the second half of the year was not especially unusual. But still, in the whole of 2016, the BBC has used 30 per cent more pre-prepared obituaries compared to the previous year.

What is going on?  Why is this happening?  Well, this is the new normal, says the Independent:

What we now call celebrity culture probably kicked off with the rise of Hollywood and of professional sport in the first decades of the 20th century, and things began to resemble the modern day with Frank Sinatra’s “bobby soxers”, and, a few years later, Elvis. But it was in the first few years of the 1960s, when four mop-topped chaps from Liverpool took the world by storm, that the cult of the celebrity really got into gear.

It was the decade that promised a classless, meritocratic future, when young working class people could rise to stardom fuelled by talent and ambition alone rather than by privilege and breeding. The Beatles were rapidly followed by the Stones, the Who and the Kinks, and by a stampede of rising stars from other metiers: Muhammad Ali, Michael Caine, Terence Stamp, Julie Christie, George Best, Davids Bailey, Frost and Hockney… modern popular culture as we know it took flight.

Those people who came to fame in the ’60s are now in the autumn and winter of their years, so there’s bound to be an increase in celebrity mortality. And in the case of musicians, death comes sooner: a 2014 academic study in Australia which looked at 13,000 rock and pop stars found that they die on average 25 years younger than the rest of the population (Keith Richards, still hale and hearty a few days after his 73rd birthday despite a lifestyle to fell an elephant, is clearly the rule-proving exception).

Then there’s social media: the rise of Facebook – which grew by 250 million subscribers during 2016 – and of Twitter means that each notable death becomes known about and commented upon around the world within seconds of an announcement. Outpourings of grief go rapidly viral, and celebrity deaths seem to mean and matter far more than they ever did.

For these reasons, I don’t see any change on the horizon: there are more famous people than ever before, and they’re all on the Grim Reaper’s to-do list. I suspect that this time next year we’ll be telling ourselves that in celebrity-death terms, 2016 wasn’t so unusual after all.

In other words, get used to it.

RELATED:  Oh fuck you 2016!

 

 

 

RIP Charmian Carr

Charmian Carr passed away at 73 after complications from a rare form of dementia, her representative said.

Remarkably, she is known for a single movie role: that of Liesl, in The Sound of Music. 

Carr wrote two books on her experience – Forever Liesl and Letters to Liesl – and frequently appeared at events commemorating the movie.

Her only other major role was in the Stephen Sondheim television musical Evening Primrose.

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RIP Gene Wilder

Gene Wilder, who regularly stole the show in such comedic gems as “The Producers,” “Blazing Saddles,” “Young Frankenstein,” “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and “Stir Crazy,” died today at his home in Stamford, Conn. His nephew Jordan Walker-Pearlman said he died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 83.

He had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1989.

He had been looking frail recently

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Here’s a long biography doc:

RIP John McLaughlin

His show, the McLaughlin Group, was a stable in political programming for three decades.

He worked right up until the end. McLaughlin was 89 years old, and the cause of death was prostate cancer that was diagnosed some time ago and that had spread. The last show he presided over was taped the Friday after the Republican Convention, and it was clear to viewers that his health was declining

It would be his last appearance.

The following week, his show was a re-run.

And this past week, the August 12 show, he did the voiceovers but was too weak to actually appear (as the opening title says).  It was the first time he missed a broadcast in 34 years.

He was a Jesuit priest, and the first Roman Catholic priest to run for political office in the U.S.  He lost.  But he later became a part of Nixon’s speechwriting team.

From its debut in 1982 “The McLaughlin Group” took on the flavor of a barroom debate, pitting a largely white, male cadre of columnists and political insiders against one another as they gave vent to views from the hard right (Mr. Novak and Mr. Buchanan) to the center-left (Morton Kondracke of The New Republic and Jack Germond of The Baltimore Sun). Ms. Clift, a Newsweek correspondent at the time, and the Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page, who is black, later joined the group as more liberal regulars.

His program, broadcast on select CBS and PBS stations, inspired a generation of pundits, although few quite adopted his self-exaggerated, blustery persona.

Regardless of the panelists’ political persuasions, Mr. McLaughlin, whose own politics leaned decidedly right, would often fire off questions and cut them off, shouting “Wronnnng!”.  He was satirized by SNL

McLaughlin died Tuesday morning (the 15th) from pancreatic cancer.

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                                                      “Bye-bye”

RIP Anton Yelchin

Checkov from the “Star Trek” reboot, died in a freak car accident at age 27.

“The victim was on his way to meet his friends for a rehearsal and when he didn’t show up, his friends went to his house where they found him deceased by his car,” Houser told CNN. “It appears that he momentarily left his car, leaving it in the driveway. He was behind the vehicle when it rolled backward and pinned him to the brick pillar causing the trauma that led to his death.”

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RIP Gordie Howe

Dead at 88.

I’m not much of a hockey fan, but you gotta hand it to a guy who started playing professional hockey in 1946 and stopped in 1980.  Yup, that’s a span of 34 years, although he actually played 26 seasons.  And in 21 of them, he was the high scorer in the NHL.

(He actually played for one day in the 1990s with the Detroit Vipers — a one-day contract — so that he can claim to have played professional hockey for six decades).

RIP Muhammad Ali

Ali’s life was
so brassy and daring, so filled with wonders and adventure and so enlarged by the magic of his personality and the play of his mind, that no one remotely like him has ever been seen on the sporting scene.

Although Parkinson’s had silenced the Champ for decades, those of us who experienced him in his heyday will scarcely forget him. The world still resonates with his talent, his beauty, his bravado, his compassion, his convictions, and his largeness. Still, as George Foreman said, the world without Ali seems horrible.

Breaking: RIP Prince

Shock.

Prince was 57.  Police are investigating the death at his estate in Carver County, Minnesota.

Earlier this month, he said he wasn’t feeling well, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and canceled at least one concert in the city. Some days later, he took the stage in Atlanta to perform. After that concert, the singer’s plane made an emergency landing, the singer’s spokesperson Yvette Noel-Schure told CNN. At the time she said, “He is fine and at home.”

Prince Rogers Nelson owned the year 1984 — in fact most of the mid-80s — in many ways more so than Michael Jackson.  During the week of July 27, 1984, Prince’s film Purple Rain hit number one at the box office. That same week, the film’s soundtrack was the best-selling album and “When Doves Cry” was holding the top spot for singles.

He also wrote songs for other people: “Manic Monday” for the Bangles, “I Feel For You” for Chaka Khan, and “Nothing Compares 2 U” for Sinéad O’Connor.

Here are Prince’s 40 biggest Billboard Hot 100 hits:

Rank, Title, Hot 100 Peak Year, Position (Weeks Spent at No. 1)
1, “When Doves Cry,” 1984, No. 1 (5)*
2, “Kiss,” 1986, No. 1 (2)*
3, “Let’s Go Crazy,” 1984, No. 1 (2)
4, “Cream,” 1991, No. 1 (2)**
5, “Batdance,” 1989, No. 1 (1)
6, “Raspberry Beret,” 1985, No. 2*
7, “U Got the Look,” 1987, No. 2
8, “Purple Rain,” 1984, No. 2*
9, “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” 1994, No. 3
10, “Sign ‘O’ the Times,” 1987, No. 3
11, “Little Red Corvette,” 1983, No. 6
12, “Diamonds and Pearls,” 1992, No. 3**
13, “Thieves in the Temple,” 1990, No. 6
14, “Pop Life,” 1985, No. 7*
15, “Delirious,” 1983, No. 8
16, “I Would Die 4 U,” 1985, No. 8*
17, “7,” 1993, No. 7**
18, “Alphabet St.,” 1988, No. 8
19, “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man,” 1988, No. 10
20, “1999,” 1983, No. 12
21, “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” 1980, No. 11
22, “Partyman,” 1989, No. 18
23, “Gett Off,” 1991, No. 21**
24, “Mountains,” 1986, No. 23*
25, “Take Me With You,” 1985, No. 25***
26, “The Arms of Orion,” 1989, No. 36****
27, “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night,” 1992, No. 23**
28, “I Hate U,” 1995, No. 12
29, “LetItGo,” 1994, No. 31
30, “America,” 1985, No. 46*
31. “The Morning Papers,” 1993, No. 44
32. “Anotherloverholenyohead,” 1986, No. 63*
33. “Let’s Pretend We’re Married/Irresistible Bitch,” 1984, No. 52*
34. “My Name Is Prince,” 1992, No. 36**
35. “Hot Thing,” 1988, No. 63
36. “Pink Cashmere,” 1993, No. 50
37. “Controversy,” 1981, No. 70
38. “Call My Name,” 2004, No. 75
39. “The Greatest Romance Ever Sold,” 2000, No. 63
40. “New Power Generation,” 1990, No. 64

Forget the eccentricity and vanity. Fantastic guitarist and writer and showman.  Like the late David Bowie, he was another gender-bender and barrier breaker.

Prince sold 100+ million records, won 7 Grammys and destroyed “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in 2004 at a tribute to George Harrison.  Some call this the greatest live guitar solo performance of all time (it starts around 3:25)

For my money, his best song was Raspberry Beret, and the video was awesome.  The long version.  Which hard to find.  But here is the link.  The part where he coughs up a furrball within this shiny production number gives me pure joy.

Prince’s unreleased catalog is nearly as expansive as his official discography.  Because of his protectiveness, plus ongoing copyright and distributor disputes, there’s not a lot of Prince stuff out there.  But here’s a rarity — a Prince cover of Honky Tonk Woman:

UPDATE:  Poor Wolf Blitzer on CNN.  I guess he’s thinking Hendrix died (again).  Keeps referring to “Purple Haze” instead of “Purple Rain”.

NEXT DAY UPDATE:  All the tributes…

RIP Patty Duke

Another 69 year old dies.

As a teen, she won an Oscar for The Miracle Worker.  Duke became best known in later life as an advocate for mental health issues, after she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1982

Her last two tweets:

RIP Garry Shandling

This one hurts.  And it is very sudden.  TMZ:

Comedian Garry Shandling died at an L.A. area hospital on Thursday … TMZ has learned.

The 66-year-old star was not suffering from any illness … as far as we know … so, it appears this was sudden. A source connected to Shandling says he was healthy and speaking to people on Thursday morning.

Yeah, I saw this tweet recently too

UPDATE: This was a nice tribute

RIP George Martin

Dead at the age of 90.  And don’t kid yourself — he’s the only one who can rightfully claim to be the so-called “fifth Beatle”.

Times obit:

George Martin, the urbane English record producer who signed the Beatles to a recording contract on the small Parlophone label after every other British record company had turned them down, and who guided them in their transformation from a regional dance band into the most inventive, influential and studio-savvy rock group of the 1960s, died on Tuesday. He was 90.

***

“God bless George Martin,” Ringo Starr, the former Beatle,wrote on Twitter. In a reminiscence on his website, Paul McCartney, the other surviving former Beatle, said Mr. Martin was “like a second father to me.”

 

RIP Nancy Reagan

I was not a fan.  I thought her “Just Say No” campaign was dumb at best, counter-productive at worst.  Still, she brought Ronnie to the left and that was a pretty unusual love story, so there’s that.  She died yesterday at the age of 94 of congestive heart failure.

P.S.  I almost put her in my dead pool this year.  I’m doing well so far — Abe Vigoda and Harper Lee.

RIP Harper Lee

“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” – Harper Lee

She has been ailing for some time and may have been taken advantage of with “Go Set A Watchman” (I suspect she didn’t want it published), but thankfully, she left the American conscience with one of the best books ever written.

She was 89.

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Breaking: Scalia Dead at 79

Just coming over the news. Found dead at a West Texas “luxury ranch”, whatever that is.

UPDATE: Very quick initial thoughts (I will “eulogies” him later.)

The political implications of this are huge. For one thing, this Supreme Court term had many important 5-4 issues in front of the Court, or… what would have been 5-4. Immigration, climate change, even abortion… big issues. These become 4-4… which means the lower court stands (for better or for worse).

More importantly, this is the first time since Clarence Thomas 25 years ago that a President will attempt to nominate an Associate Justice with the Senate (who needs to approve) in the majority of the other party. And even with Thomas, Bush still had two years left. Obama is in his last year. Will the Republican Senate try to “run out the clock”? You bet. Will that itself be controversial? Yes, and expect that itself to be a campaign issue about weekday is wrong with Washington.

And speaking of the campaigns, this becomes a huge issue, guaranteed to motivate voters on both sides.

The political landscape, and in many ways, the future direction of the country have changed, although nobody knows which way.

For the first time in maybe ever, this election will control ALL THREE branches of government. Think about that.

R.I.P. Abe Vigoda

The actor who never dies, has died:

180px-Abe_Vigoda_1975Legendary actor Abe Vigoda — who starred in “The Godfather” — died under hospice care at the age of 94 … TMZ has learned.

Abe’s death had been falsely reported countless times, dating all the way back to 1982.

Abe played Tessio in “The Godfather” and also “The Godfather Part II.” In fact, he was still doing the voice for Tessio in ‘Godfather’ video games as late as 2007.

His most famous role on TV was as Detective Phil Fish on the ’80s sitcom “Barney Miller” … which once worked the infamous hoax reports of Abe’s death into a storyline.

He’s been in my dead pool for many years, except this one I think.

Abe Vigoda was old when he starred in Barney Miller (which wasn’t a 1980s sitcom — it was the 1970s).  I mean, he seemed REALLY old, and he played a very old one-foot-in-the-grave character.

The website www.abevigoda.com exists for one reason, and one reason only.  To report whether Abe Vigoda is dead or alive.  Looks like they need to do an update.  Here’s a screen cap:

abe vigoda status

 

Wrong.

RIP Alan Rickman

Unbelievable.  Like David Bowie only a few days ago, Rickman was 69 and died from cancer.  Another great talent with a great legacy.

This is among my favorite Rickman things.

2016 Dead Pool

Link to 2015 Dead Pool

Link to 2014 Dead Pool

Link to 2013 Dead Pool

Link to 2012 Dead Pool

Link to 2011 Dead Pool

It is unfortunate to be doing this on the day that David Bowie’s death was announced, but this has to b done.

First, the usual blah-blahs.

There are two “dead pool” lists.  One is just a random list of people who I think will pass in the upcoming year. The other is a competitive list where you pick ten (and only ten) people-to-die, and you score your points by subtracting their age-at-death from 100.  For example, Amy Winehouse was in my 2011 Dead Pool list, and she indeed did die that year.  Since she was 27, I received 73 points (100 minus 27).

We’ll look at my competitive list.  First the scores from previous years:

2011: 113 (thanks to the deaths of Amy Winehouse and Jeff Conaway)
2012: 38
2013: 13
2014: 16

So, let’s see how I did with my 2015 Dead Pool(s).  First, my generic list of people who I thought might die in 2015:

  • Zsa-Zsa Gabor – still alive
  • Olivia de Havilland – still alive
  • Billy Graham – still alive
  • Leonard Nimoy – died 2/27/2015
  • Muhammad Ali – still alive
  • Fidel Castro – still alive
  • Nanette Fabray – still alive
  • Dick Cheney – still alive
  • Michael Douglas – still alive
  • Pele – still alive
  • Stephen Hawking – still alive
  • Dick Van Dyke – still alive

Wow.  I suck at this.  Dick Van Dyke was just on the Jimmy Fallon show singing and dancing.  He is NEVER dying.

And now for my 2015 Competitive Dead Pool list:

  1. Billy Graham (born 11/7/1918)
  2. Abe Vigoda (born 2/24/1921)
  3. George Bush (born 6/12/1924)
  4. Harper Lee (born 4/28/1926)
  5. Fidel Castro (born 8/13/1926)
  6. Roger Moore (born 10/14/1927)
  7. Jim Nabors (born 6/12/1930)
  8. Valerie Harper (born 8/22/1940)
  9. Pele (born 10/23/1940)
  10. Muhammad Ali (born 1/17/1942)

They are all still alive.  That’s right — none of them died in 2015. I scored zero.

So now it is time for my 2016 Dead Pool list.  I’m going to keep some of what I had:

I’m just going to keep what I had, minus a couple of names.  And this year, unlike other years, they can only be on ONE list.

  • Zsa-Zsa Gabor
  • Olivia de Havilland
  • Billy Graham
  • Nanette Fabray
  • Kirk Douglas
  • Pele
  • Stephen Hawking
  • Nancy Reagan

Now, as for my competitive list, I am taking some people off.  Yeah, sure Billy Graham is more likely to die than any of these others, but he’s only 2 points now.  After my humiliating zero of this year, I need a rebound.  Here are my picks — I’m sticking it to game show hosts this year:

  1. Abe Vigoda (born 2/24/1921)
  2. Monty Hall (born 8/25/1921)
  3. Bob Barker (born 12/12/1923)
  4. Harper Lee (born 4/28/1926)
  5. Fidel Castro (born 8/13/1926)
  6. Prunella Scales (born 9/22/1932)
  7. Glen Campbell (born 4/22/1936)
  8. Mary Tyler Moore (born 12/29/1936)
  9. Tommy Chong (born 5/24/1938)
  10. Roger Daltrey (born 3/01/1944)

RIP David Bowie

84892073Stunning news this morning.  The world is reacting to the news which came out only a few hours ago: David Bowie died yesterday at the age of 69 after an 18 month bout with cancer.  They’ll be a lot of talk and ink spilled about his flamboyant and “chameleon” looks, and how he was a pioneer of “glam rock”, but I prefer to think of him as the musician and singer over the past four decades.

His last album, “Lazarus”, which is also the name of his off-Broadway (and possibly Broadway bound) musical, was release just two days before his death and was an intentional goodbye to his fans, according to Bowie’s producer.  It opens with the lyrics: “Look up here, I’m in Heaven!”  The video (below) has him in a hospital bed and retreating into a dark closet.

His earlier albums, especially after his 1972 breakthrough “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars,” were treated as events. His songs, including “Changes,” “Fame,” “Heroes” “Modern Love,” “Golden Years,” “Under Pressure” (with Queen), “Let’s Dance”, “Blue Jean” and “Never Let Me Down.”were anthemic hits, played constantly on the radio and inspiring generations of musicians.

Then there was this:

… which, although strange, is somehow fitting within the Bowie canon.

Here’s his latest video, release a few days ago:


Even though the 80s were probably the best to Bowie, I remember him from the late 70s:

So long, Major Tom.

UPDATE:  His response to his first fan letter from America:

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More Bowie:

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This is today’s New York Times page C3, which obviously went to press before the news happened: “It’s a good time to be David Bowie.”

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RIP Elizabeth Swados

06swados-obit-1-master675Songstress and Broadway composer Elizabeth Swados died yesterday at the age of 64.  She was a bit of a hippie after the end of the hippies, or a new age artist before the advent of new age artists — depending on how you looked at it.

Swados first made a splash with  “Nightclub Cantata,” a revue produced at the Village Gate in 1977, based on texts by Sylvia Plath, Pablo Neruda and other poets. Clive Barnes, in his review for The Times, called it “the most original and perhaps the most pleasurable form of nightclub entertainment I have ever encountered.”

In 1978 she had a breakout hit with “Runaways,” a musical revue about runaway teenagers that originated at the Public Theater’s Cabaret and made the move to Broadway, personally earning four Tony nominations. Ms. Swados wrote and directed the play, whose cast was made up of 18 troubled young people she had interviewed while researching broken families. She also composed the music, contributed the lyrics and played guitar offstage.

After Runaways, she soured on Broadway as a welcoming place for her eclecticism, calling it “a museum that’s not moving forward.” And yet Swados as much as any theater artist helped lay the groundwork for such shows as Rent, Bring In ‘da Noise/Bring In ‘da Funk, Spring Awakening and Hamilton. She never stopped being a revolutionary.

She had a profound impact on me musically.  Not only what music could be, but what musicals could be.

Not for nothing, but a young actress named Meryl Streep first walked the New York stage in a Swados musical, Alice in Concert.



RIP Meadowlark Lemon

The ringleader of the Harlem Globetrotters, Meadowlark was the perfect combination of athlete and clown.  He chased referees with a bucket and surprised them with a shower of confetti instead of water. He dribbled above his head and walked with exaggerated steps. He mimicked a hitter in the batter’s box and, with teammates, pantomimed a baseball game. And both to torment the opposing team — as time went on, it was often a hired squad of foils — and to amuse the appreciative spectators, he laughed and he teased and he chattered and he smiled.

He died yesterday at the age of 83.

RIP Gonorrhea

Age 90.  Immortalized in Band of Brothers:

  • William Guarnere was part of Easy Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne Division
  • He fought in some of the fiercest battles in World War II, from 1941 right until the war’s end in 1945
  • He lost a leg trying to help a wounded soldier during the Battle of the Bulge
  • Guarnere’s exploits featured prominently in Band of Brothers, the award-winning 2001 miniseries by HBO
  • He died at Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia on Saturday from a ruptured aneurysm
Pictured here witth actor Frank Hughes (who portrayed him in "Band of Brothers"

Pictured here witth actor Frank Hughes (who portrayed him in “Band of Brothers”

RIP Fred Thompson

Actor, lawyer, senator, and even presidential candidate.  This guy did a lot of cool things.  He died yesterday at the age of 73 in Nashville.

I first noticed him way back during the Watergate hearings in 1974.  Back then, when there was a congressional investigation, Congress was smart enough to hire lawyers to ask the questions and get information, rather than ask the questions themselves. A young Roy Cohn asked the questions for McCarthy.  And so on.  Thompson was Watergate council for the Republicans back then, and he was interested in getting to the truth — not covering Nixon’s ass.

The leap from lawyer to actor was relatively simple.  In 1977 Mr. Thompson found himself representing the whistle-blower in one of Tennessee’s biggest political scandals. In her role as a parole administrator, Marie Ragghianti refused to release inmates granted pardons after paying then-Gov. Ray Blanton. Mr. Thompson successfully represented Ragghianti in a wrongful termination case, helping her win a settlement and a return to her job in 1978.

That case eventually became the subject of a book and launched Mr. Thompson’s acting career. Mr. Thompson played himself in the 1985 version of the movie “Marie.” Critics praised his performance, and more roles soon followed.

Five years later, Mr. Thompson had roles in three of the biggest films of 1990: “Days of Thunder,” “The Hunt for Red October” and “Die Hard 2.”  He also enjoyed a five-year run on NBC’s “Law and Order” as District Attorney Arthur Branch from 2002-2007.

Though he took a break to run for the Republican nomination for president in 2008.  Failing that, he returned to acting, including the role of Judge Noose in a Broadway production of “A Time To Kill”.

RIP Yogi Berra

“It ain’t over ’til its over” – Yogi Berra

Well, it’s over.  Yogi Berra is dead at the age of 90.

A dropout in the 8th grade, and looking a lot like a caveman, Yogi Berra was an odd duck within the glamorous 1950s New York Yankees organization.  Often outshown by superstars like Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio, Berra was actually the powerhouse of the 1950s Yankees — it was Berra, not Mantle or DiMaggio — who lead the Yankees with the most RBIs for seven consecutive seasons.

He holds several World Series records, including most games by a catcher (63); hits (71); times on a winning team (10); first in at bats, first in doubles, second in RBIs, third in home runs and walks; and he hit the first pinch-hit home run in World Series history in 1947.

Favorite Yogi quote: “Baseball is 90% physical.  The other half is mental.”

Of course, nobody is ever sure if Yogi made all these silly quotes.  “I never said half the things I said,” Yogi once said (supposedly)

RIP Julian Bond

Yet another person that #blacklivesmatter could learn from (but won’t).  This man was a legend.  He moved from militancy to a moire pragmatic (but equally passionate) means of reform.  He died at the age of 75 this weekend.

Here is the NY Times obit, and here is President Obama’s statement:

Statement by the President on the Passing of Julian Bond

Julian Bond was a hero and, I’m privileged to say, a friend. Justice and equality was the mission that spanned his life – from his leadership of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, to his founding role with the Southern Poverty Law Center, to his pioneering service in the Georgia legislature and his steady hand at the helm of the NAACP. Michelle and I have benefited from his example, his counsel, and his friendship – and we offer our prayers and sympathies to his wife, Pamela, and his children.

Julian Bond helped change this country for the better. And what better way to be remembered than that.

Speaking of coalition-building, here is Bond six years ago speaking at the Human Rights Campaign, connecting the dots:

The Hubbub About Cecil

Seems like the Internet went absolutely bonkers yesterday about how a policeman killed a completely innocent black man dentist killed a completely innocent lion.  It’s important to understand exactly what he did.  He didn’t merely shoot and kill a lion who was iconic to the region and the center of a research study; he poached it:

ciceldentistWalter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who killed Cecil the Lion, closed his practice and went into hiding after a worldwide firestorm erupted over him killing Cecil. Palmer claims he misunderstood the rules. The circumstances around Cecil’s death, Palmer’s barbaric past, and the fact that he has gone into hiding tells the story.

Palmer’s hunting guides, Theo Bronkhorst and Honest Ndlovu, appeared before a court in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and were charged with receiving a $50,000 bribe to help Palmer stalk and kill the animal. The operative word is “bribe.” Just the basic definition of the word alludes that Palmer had prior knowledge that he was committing an illegal act. Although Bronkhorst and Ndlovu have been charged, Palmer hasn’t even received a court summons for this atrocity.

Palmer used illegal hunting tactics to track and kill Cecil. During night hours, Palmer and his guides used a dead animal tethered to their vehicle to lure Cecil out of the park because they thought doing that would make the kill legal. Not so much. Baiting animals while hunting in the region is illegal, as is night hunting. Nothing about this “hunt” was legal. Hell, it’s unethical even from a sporting perspective.

Once they lured Cecil out of the park, they flashed a spotlight so Palmer could shoot the lion full of arrows. Palmer tracked Cecil for 40 hours, and then found the lion weakened from his injuries. Palmer finished off this slaughter with a gunshot.

“This is much closer to assassination than hunting,” said hunter and journalist Jonny Miles. “The trophy aspect is subordinate to the experience, to the knowledge required and the knowledge gained, to the very ancient relationship that you are experiencing with an animal that you are hunting for food.”

Miles added that, even by hunting standards, Palmer falls short of being ethical. Palmer has a past of unethical and illegal hunting practices. In 2008, he pleaded guilty to a license violation regarding the illegal killing of a black bear in Wisconsin. He killed the bear in an illegal location, similar to Cecil’s killing. He was charged with a felony but was only given a $3,000 fine and one year of probation.

Since being identified, Palmer has gone into deep hiding. He closed his dental practice, deleted any social media account associated with him, and is avoiding the press. He may be hiding from the public, but his silence is as telling as an admission of guilt.

His dental office:

The dentist is being condemned and rightly so, although perhaps the more healthy response is to donate to the researchers that had been tracking Cecil. These guys.

RIP Theo Bikel

Broadway’s original Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music; also Teyve in Fiddler on the Roof.  Also a good folk singer.  He was 91

RIP: Roger Rees

He was 81.  Became well-known after starring in the epic stage production of  “The Life and Times of Nicolas Nickleby”.  He was also Lord John Marbury in “The West Wing”.  I saw him many years ago in.London in “The Real Thing”.  A phenomenal actor and a huge loss.

RIP Confederate Flag (In South Carolina)

After a contentious and often emotional debate in the SC House, with a lot of political wrangling (and attachments of bill-killing amendments, all of which failed), Governor Nikki Haley signed the bill yesterday, and the flag came down today

Well, that only took 5+ decades.

Here in North Carolina, they took down the Confederate flag from inside the state capitol building after complaints from civil rights leaders…. back in April 2013.  There wasn’t a lot of hullabaloo about it.  A couple of weeks ago, the NC Governor urged the legislature to pass a law to end the official designation of “civic club” for the Sons of Confederate Veterans organization and to stop issuing plates with the C.S. flag emblazoned on them.

But as of now, you can still get a license plate with the confederate flag on it.  Well, not RIGHT now.  There’s been a rush in the past couple weeks and the DMV is sold out (for the moment).

And there are other movements in other Southern states.

Alabama

Gov. Robert Bentley ordered that four Confederate flags be removed from a monument on the state’s capitol grounds last week — a move that came after a Democratic lawmaker filed a bill that would have done just that.

But 1,000 flag supporters rallied at the Statehouse on Saturday, flying hundreds of Confederate flags and claiming its removal is an affront to their southern heritage.

Georgia

Gov. Nathan Deal’s administration late last week halted the use of specialty license plates created by the state for the Sons of Confederate Veterans that featured the Confederate flag.

Mississippi

State House Speaker Philip Gunn said last week that the state’s current flag — which features the Confederate stars and stripes in its upper left corner — should be changed. But Mississippi voted in a 2001 referendum to keep the Confederate flag in place as part of its state flag. Lawmakers are unlikely to change it until a new legislative session begins in January.

Tennessee

Gov. Bill Haslam has said the Confederate flag should be removed from Tennessee’s Sons of Confederate Veterans specialty license plates. But proposals to end the specialty plates, at least, won’t be discussed until the state legislature meets again early next year.

Haslam has also called for the state to remove a bust of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Ku Klux Klan founder and slave trader, from the Capitol.

Virginia

Gov. Terry McAuliffe ordered an end to Sons of Confederate Veterans specialty license plates that, like Georgia’s and Tennessee’s, featured the Confederate emblem.

RIP Omar Sharif

He just died from a heat attack.  He was 83.  “Doctor Zhivago” and “Lawrence of Arabia”.  Not to be confused with Maximillian Schell, who is still very much alive [UPDATE: no, he’s not] and did “Judgment at Nuremberg” and “Deep Impact”.

RIP James Horner

I liked him way better than John Williams. Oscar-winning film composer James Horner died in a plane crash yesterday near Santa Barbara, Calif. He was 61.

Check out his scores:  The Wrath of Khan, Cocoon, Aliens, Willow, Field of Dreams, Glory, Sneakers, Looking For Bobby Fischer, Braveheart, Apollo 13, Titanic, Deep Impact, A Beautiful Mind, Avatar… and on and on and on.

My personal favorites are the scores to Sneakers and A Beautiful Mind.

RIP Jack King

To those of a certain age and a certain geekdom, his voice was iconic.  Jack King was the Chief of Public Information and Public Affairs Officer for NASA.   Considered the dean of aerospace journalism, he was the voice of the Apollo missions.  He died at 84 yesterday.  Enjoy some of his greatest hits….

P.S.  Yes, he grew up in Boston.  You can hear it in his voice.

Catching Up

The merry month of May is a busy one.  Fortunately, not a lot is happening news-wise upon which I feel the urge to pontificate at length.  However, I few tidbits are worth at least a passing mention:

  • Yay, Ireland for the feckin’ landslide to legalize same-sex marriage.  Significant, I think, in light of the strong Catholic sentiment there.  Seems that Rome is really out of lockstep with much of the flock.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road is everything people say it is, for better or worse.  It’s adrenaline, which means that even if you don’t like it, you’ll enjoy the incredible effort that must have gone into making it.  Steampunk Mario Brothers, as they say.
  • RIP John Nash:

    John Forbes Nash Jr., a mathematical genius whose struggle with schizophrenia was chronicled in the 2001 movie “A Beautiful Mind,” has died along with his wife in a car crash on the New Jersey Turnpike. He was 86.Nash and Alicia Nash, 82, of Princeton Township, were killed in a taxi crash Saturday, state police said. A colleague who had received an award with Nash in Norway earlier in the week said they had just flown home and the couple had taken a cab home from the airport.

  • The Josh Duggar apologia from the Christian right has been pretty sickening.  The speed with which they “forgive” and pray for Josh Duggar is alarming.  Almost no mention of praying for his victims.  I’ve read so many articles that say, “Josh Duggar was wrong, BUT…..”.  And yes….. technically, he was an underage teen, but I don’t find that to be an excuse — at 17, you’re old enough to know not to molest your sisters and their friends in their sleep.  More importantly, we are learing more about the Duggar’s “purity culture’, and what it does to silence its victims.  And of course, all the forgiveness overlooks the ugly cover-up where the Arkansas Republicans worked to get the police record of the investigation into Josh’s assaults expunged.
  • This will probably develop into a more full post at some point, but I can’t quite get on board with the objections from some womens’ groups about the “gratuitous rape” scenes in HBO’s Game of Thrones.  First of all, anyone who has watched the series at all knows that the show doesn’t pull any punches on a number of fronts.  Incest, horrific and bloody murders, rapes…. they are all in there.  I don’t quite understand why, in Season 6, some people are suddenly finding one aspect of this dark dark show to be objectionable.  Secondly, speaking specifically of the rape of character Sansa Stark two weeks ago, it was not (compared to other GoT scenes) very graphic.  There was no nudity nor was it violent.  It was tame by Game of Thrones terms.  But it was a rape.  And notably, everyone agrees that the scene was exceedingly disturbing…. as depiction of rape should be.  To me, a gratuitous rape scene would be one which was clearly thrown in just to thrill and titillate the audience.  This was not that.  I recall many years ago when Edith Bunker was raped on an episode of the 1970s hit comedy All In The Family.  It was, to my knowledge, the first depiction of rape on television (although the actual rape was not shown).  There was the same sense (in some corners) of outrage — what is rape doing on the entertainment box?  Well, I understand that people don’t want their comedies, or violent medieval dramas, sullied with real-life horrors.  But rape happens, and it is ugly.  I don’t mind that ugliness in my fiction, as long as it is not glorified, and especially if it gets people talking about it.

RIP Yeoman Rand

Grace Lee Whitney, who played Yeoman Janice Rand in the original “Star Trek” series and a handful of movies based on the series, died Friday. She was 85.

rand

Man, there’s so few of that crew left.

RIP Gertrude Weaver

Gertrude Weaver made international news six days ago, when, at the age of 116, she inherited the title of being the world’s oldest-known living person, following the death of 117-year-old Japanese woman Misao Okawa.

Gertrude died yesterday.

She was born on July 4, 1898, according to the Gerontology Research Group, which validates ages of the world’s longest-living people. There are only three people alive on the planet with birth records showing they were born before 1900, according to the group.  With the death of Gertrude Weaver, there are no people alive now who were alive in 1898.

The world’s oldest known person is now Jeralean Talley of Inkster, Mich (pictured below with some catfish she caught in 2012), who was born on May 23, 1899 and will turn 116 next month, according to the group.

talley-2012-fishing

King Richard III Buried

Richard III's coffin processes on a gun carriage through Leicester, central EnglandEngland’s slain King Richard III, exhumed from an undignified grave under a car park, was finally buried with honor today, 530 years after his death on the battlefield.

In a ceremony filled with pageantry and poignancy, a coffin containing his bones were lowered into the ground at Leicester Cathedral in central England as thousands of well-wishers gathered outside.

“We return the bones of your servant Richard to the grave,” Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the spiritual leader of the Church of England, said in a prayer.

Many of those outside the cathedral, which was draped in Richard’s personal standard, were clutching white roses, the symbol of the former king’s House of York dynasty.

“I feel he was badly treated at the time of his death and all through history,” said May Doherty, a 62-year-old pensioner from Coleraine in Northern Ireland who was dressed in full medieval costume.

“We believe he was innocent and this is the burial he deserved. This is a once in a lifetime occasion. It’s brilliant to be here and be part of history.”

The last English king to die in battle, Richard will now lie in a new tomb inside the cathedral, across the street from where his remains were located in 2012.

After the coffin was lowered into the grave by six soldiers in uniform, Oscar-nominated actor Benedict Cumberbatch read a specially-commissioned work by the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

Cumberbatch, who is due to play Richard in an upcoming BBC television series, is also the king’s third cousin 16 times removed.

Identified by his DNA, radiocarbon dating and his distinctive curved spine, the discovery of Richard’s skeleton has triggered a revival of interest in his reign.

The last of the Plantagenet dynasty, Richard ruled from 1483 until his death at the Battle of Bosworth near Leicester in 1485.

It was the last major conflict in the Wars of the Roses and changed the course of English history.

Richard’s defeat saw the crown pass from the Plantagenets to the Tudors, with his victorious opponent ending the blood-soaked day as king Henry VII.

Richard was hastily buried with minimal ceremony in Greyfriars monastery, which was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538.

His exhumation has encouraged scholars to look again at his record of social reform, rather than rely on William Shakespeare’s Tudor-era portrayal of him as a scheming murderer.

Richard’s closest living relatives, all direct female line descendants of his eldest sister Anne of York, were at the service.


2015 Dead Pool

Link to 2014 Dead Pool

Link to 2013 Dead Pool

Link to 2012 Dead Pool

Link to 2011 Dead Pool

There are two “dead pool” lists.  One is just a random list of people who I think will pass in the upcoming year. The other is a competitive list where you pick ten (and only ten) people-to-die, and you score your points by subtracting their age-at-death from 100.  For example, Amy Winehouse was in my 2011 Dead Pool list, and she indeed did die that year.  Since she was 27, I received 73 points (100 minus 27).

So, let’s see how I did with my 2014 Dead Pool(s).

First, the generic list of people I thought might die:

  • Zsa-Zsa Gabor – still alive
  • Olivia de Havilland – still alive
  • Billy Graham – still alive
  • Eli Wallach – died 6/24/2014
  • Norman Lear – still alive
  • Yogi Berra – still alive
  • Lauren Becall – died 8/12/2014
  • Mickey Rooney – died 4/6/2014
  • Fidel Castro – still alive
  • Pete Seeger – died 1/27/2014
  • Nanette Fabray – still alive
  • Sid Caesar – died 2/13/2014
  • Rose Marie – still alive
  • Don Pardo – died 8/18/2014
  • June Lockhart – still alive

Not too bad, certainly compared to other years I’ve done this.  I guess I was due.

But I did pretty bady in my 2014 Competitive Dead Pool list:

  1. Eli Wallach (born 12/07/1915) – died 6/24/2014 at age 98
  2. Zsa Zsa Gabor (born 2/06/1917)
  3. Billy Graham (born 11/7/1918)
  4. Abe Vigoda (born 2/24/1921)
  5. Bob Barker (born 12/12/1923)
  6. George Bush (born 6/12/1924)
  7. Fidel Castro (born 8/13/1926)
  8. John McLaughlin (born 3/29/1927)
  9. James Garner (born 4/7/1928) – died 07/19/2014 at age 86
  10. Valerie Harper (born 8/22/1940)

So, two points for Wallach and 14 for James Garner, meaning I scored a total of 16 points.  That’s terrible, but not as bad as last year.

2013 points: 13
2012 points:  38
2011 points:  113 (thanks to the deaths of Amy Winehouse and Jeff Conaway)

Let’s see if I can do better.  For my 2015 general list, I’m just going to keep what I had, minus a couple of names:

  • Zsa-Zsa Gabor
  • Olivia de Havilland
  • Billy Graham
  • Leonard Nimoy
  • Muhammad Ali
  • Fidel Castro
  • Nanette Fabray
  • Dick Cheney
  • Michael Douglas
  • Pele
  • Stephen Hawking
  • Dick Van Dyke

And as for my competitive list, I’m tweak it a little and go a little younger.  I mean, even if Zsa Zsa Gabor dies, she’s only going to get me 2 or 3 points now.  So she’s off the list.

  1. Billy Graham (born 11/7/1918)
  2. Abe Vigoda (born 2/24/1921)
  3. George Bush (born 6/12/1924)
  4. Harper Lee (born 4/28/1926)
  5. Fidel Castro (born 8/13/1926)
  6. Roger Moore (born 10/14/1927)
  7. Jim Nabors (born 6/12/1930)
  8. Valerie Harper (born 8/22/1940)
  9. Pele (born 10/23/1940)
  10. Muhammad Ali (born 1/17/1942)

A Transgender Suicide

A transgender teenage girl, Leelah Alcorn, died of suicide yesterday by jumping in front of a semi on I-71 near the South Lebanon, Ohio exit.  She left a note on her Tumblr:

leelahalcornIf you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue.

Please don’t be sad, it’s for the better. The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in … because I’m transgender. I could go into detail explaining why I feel that way, but this note is probably going to be lengthy enough as it is. To put it simply, I feel like a girl trapped in a boy’s body, and I’ve felt that way ever since I was 4. I never knew there was a word for that feeling, nor was it possible for a boy to become a girl, so I never told anyone and I just continued to do traditionally “boyish” things to try to fit in.

When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.

My mom started taking me to a therapist, but would only take me to christian therapists, (who were all very biased) so I never actually got the therapy I needed to cure me of my depression. I only got more christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help.

When I was 16 I realized that my parents would never come around, and that I would have to wait until I was 18 to start any sort of transitioning treatment, which absolutely broke my heart. The longer you wait, the harder it is to transition. I felt hopeless, that I was just going to look like a man in drag for the rest of my life. On my 16th birthday, when I didn’t receive consent from my parents to start transitioning, I cried myself to sleep. I formed a sort of a “fuck you” attitude towards my parents and came out as gay at school, thinking that maybe if I eased into coming out as trans it would be less of a shock. Although the reaction from my friends was positive, my parents were pissed. They felt like I was attacking their image, and that I was an embarrassment to them. They wanted me to be their perfect little straight christian boy, and that’s obviously not what I wanted. So they took me out of public school, took away my laptop and phone, and forbid me of getting on any sort of social media, completely isolating me from my friends. This was probably the part of my life when I was the most depressed, and I’m surprised I didn’t kill myself. I was completely alone for 5 months. No friends, no support, no love. Just my parent’s disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.

At the end of the school year, my parents finally came around and gave me my phone and let me back on social media. I was excited, I finally had my friends back. They were extremely excited to see me and talk to me, but only at first. Eventually they realized they didn’t actually give a shit about me, and I felt even lonelier than I did before. The only friends I thought I had only liked me because they saw me five times a week.

After a summer of having almost no friends plus the weight of having to think about college, save money for moving out, keep my grades up, go to church each week and feel like shit because everyone there is against everything I live for, I have decided I’ve had enough. I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.

That’s the gist of it, that’s why I feel like killing myself. Sorry if that’s not a good enough reason for you, it’s good enough for me. As for my will, I want 100% of the things that I legally own to be sold and the money (plus my money in the bank) to be given to trans civil rights movements and support groups, I don’t give a shit which one. The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.

Goodbye,
(Leelah) Josh Alcorn

First of all, way to go parents for trying Christian-based therapy which, apparently, made this kid feel worse about who she is.

Secondly, it could have been better.  She just never stuck around to find out.  You can never say things like “I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say ‘it gets better’ but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.”.  Each one of those statements is false, if only because they predict the future and the future is unknowable.  But a depressed person, of course, they lose sight of that.

But she is right about society being broken, especially when it comes to people who are different.

RIP Joe Cocker

3952_2Well, the website here seems to be functioning.  Bummer that this has to be the subject of my post.  Joe Cocker dead at 70.  He could barely sing a lick but he always did so with great enthusiasm, so that makes him aces in my book.

RIP Tom Magliozzi

One of the Car Talk brothers (the one with the laugh):

Tom Magliozzi, one of public radio’s most popular personalities, died on Monday of complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 77 years old.

Tom and his brother, Ray, became famous as “Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers” on the weekly NPR show Car Talk. They bantered, told jokes, laughed and sometimes even gave pretty good advice to listeners who called in with their car troubles.

If there was one thing that defined Tom Magliozzi, it was his laugh. It was loud, it was constant, it was infectious.

“His laugh is the working definition of infectious laughter,” says Doug Berman, the longtime producer of Car Talk. He remembers the first time he ever encountered Magliozzi.

“Before I ever met him, I heard him, and it wasn’t on the air,” he recalls.

Berman was the news director of WBUR at the time.

“I’d just hear this laughter,” he says. “And then there’d be more of it, and people would sort of gather around him. He was just kind of a magnet.”

The Magliozzi brothers grew up in a tough neighborhood of East Cambridge, Mass., in a close-knit Italian family. Tom was 12 years older, the beloved older brother to Ray. They liked to act like they were just a couple of regular guys who happened to be mechanics, but both of them graduated from MIT.

RIP Don Pardo

He was on my short list dead pool, but not my competitive list.

But I remember him well from Season 1 of Saturday Night Live.  Hard to believe he announced that show every year except one.  Even after he retired to Arizona in 2006, he still did the SNL intro.  Amazing.

RIP Robin Williams

The mental illness of depression claims another.  The irony of someone so gifted in humor could be felled by depression.  This is how I'll remember him:

 

As for the nature of his death, let me borrow the thoughts of another blogger on what suicide isn't

But I felt compelled to write this article because like any mental illness-related accident or death, there by the grace of God go I. And it’s not only in poor taste to deride a man who by all accounts, was going though severe depression at the time of his death, it’s also just plain wrong. Suicide isn’t “giving up” or “giving in.” Suicide is a terrible decision made by someone whose pain is so great that they can no longer hold it, and feel they have no other option in life but to end it. It’s a decision you can’t take back, and a decision that will affect your friends and family forever. It is not taken lightly.

Losing a person to suicide may feel like a waste. And I think it’s fair to react to it that way, especially in the first hard days of grief. For someone looking in, it does seem like a waste—especially in the case of Williams, who was a brilliantly funny man and a talented actor. But imagine, if you will, feeling so desperate, so desolate, so incredibly sad and hurt that you honestly cannot see a way out. The feelings leading to suicide are the darkest a human mind can fathom. It’s like being shut into a dark tunnel with no point of light to guide your way. You can hear voices on the outside, but the walls are too thick to get in. And feeling like it’s closing in, like there’s no way out—well, suicide, for that person, is a blessed release. Life, however, is never wasted. Williams did things in his life that touched people to their core. It is a sad, sad loss, but it is not a waste.

Suicide is not a weak decision. It is a decision that takes an incredible amount of strength to make, actually. Someone isn’t weak if they end their life. They are desperate. There is a difference. It’s okay to feel angry at the person for dying. It’s okay to question, to rail against the forces that caused this. But it isn’t weakness. Mental illness isn’t weakness. It’s a disease, a pervasive, sometimes awful disease. The person doesn’t deserve anger and skepticism forever. They deserve compassion. Their family deserves compassion.

Ending a life is incredibly, incredibly tragic. It represents a lost battle with mental illness. In that, it is no different than cancer, or diabetes, or a heart attack. Where it is different is that suicide is a choice. Whether it is the right or wrong choice for that person is solely the business of that person who commits suicide. But for the family left behind, it is devastating.

Don’t rail against Robin Williams, or anyone else, for committing suicide (if indeed, that is the cause of his death). Instead, reach out. Let people know you’re there for them. Find a crisis line in your area to call if you are feeling desperate and like you want to do something you can’t take back. Support the family and friends left behind in the best way you can. Let the people you love know that you love them and that you are thinking about them. Let them know that they are not alone.

Robin Williams taught me innumerable things about how to reach out to people and bring out the best in them. Through his characters, he taught me to seize the day, to make them laugh, to find everyone’s sense of humour, to be a friend. I will miss his work and his bright light in the world. I am so sorry that he felt like there was no other option. I send my love and my compassion to his family.

RIP Eli Wallach

On my dead pool list since forever (a mere 2 points at 98), but more than that, one of my favorite actors.

Eli Wallach, who was one of his generation’s most prominent and prolific character actors in film, onstage and on television for more than 60 years, died on Tuesday. He was 98.

His death was confirmed by his daughter Katherine.

A self-styled journeyman actor, the versatile Mr. Wallach appeared in scores of roles, often with his wife, Anne Jackson. No matter the part, he always seemed at ease and in control, whether playing a Mexican bandit in the 1960 western “The Magnificent Seven,” a bumbling clerk in Ionesco’s allegorical play “Rhinoceros,” a henpecked French general in Jean Anouilh’s “Waltz of the Toreadors,” Clark Gable’s sidekick in “The Misfits” or a Mafia don in “The Godfather: Part III.”

Despite his many years of film work, some of it critically acclaimed, Mr. Wallach was never nominated for an Academy Award. But in November 2010, less than a month before his 95th birthday, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded him an honorary Oscar, saluting him as “the quintessential chameleon, effortlessly inhabiting a wide range of characters, while putting his inimitable stamp on every role.”

RIP Maya Angelou

She died just before 8:00 am this morning at her house on Bertram Road (about 5 minutes from my house).

Everyone in town has a Maya story.  She had a lot of house parties for people in the arts and Wake Forest.  I only met her a couple of times.

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

RIP Philip Seymour Hoffman

Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead on Sunday in his Manhattan apartment. He was 46.

Hoffman was steeped in his profession — in film, on stage, in the spotlight and behind the scenes.

In 2005, he won the Oscar for best actor for his portrayal of Truman Capote. The movie focuses on Capote's interviews with two murderers on death row for his novel, In Cold Blood.

He was, to me, the greatest charactor actor of all time.  Astounding performances in Truman and Doubt.  I saw him off Broadway in 2007 in Jack Goes Boating, and even then – a memorable performance.

A big loss to both stage and screen.

RIP Pete Seeger

A name that has been appearing in my dead pool the past few years (although not in my "select" list this year).  He was 94.

I grew up with Pete Seeger.  He may have been the first singer I could identify.  A good old-fashioned "red", he was the father of folk music, inspiring everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Peter, Paul & Mary.  I had the fortune of knowing his half-sister, Peggy, a little bit, who wrote and recorded this tribute to her half-brother noly a few months ago:

 

The Guardian's tribute:

On the first Friday of the month, in fine weather and sometimes foul, you will find Pete Seeger, the folk-singing legend and pioneering environmentalist, in a small wooden clubhouse by the Hudson river, 70 miles north of Manhattan.

At 87, and only slightly stooped by age, he looks much as he did 40 years ago, when he was the voice of the left, and an inspiration to young folk singers like Bob Dylan. Here at his beloved Beacon Sloop Club, in jeans and with shirt sleeves rolled up, he is still the driving force for a weekly dinner that draws a few dozen similarly conscientious folk at the river's edge.

"The town gave us use of the building 45 years ago," recalls Seeger. "My wife suggested we call it a pot-luck dinner and we've been busy ever since."

Seeger has won many awards, including the National Medal for the Arts, but his main concern these days is teaching children about the natural life of the Hudson. Ecology is so much his passion that sometimes he likes to be called a river singer. Indeed, along with raising anti-war consciousness in the 1960s, he played a key role in the movement to clean up the Hudson, which forced General Electric to pay half a billion dollars for the removal of toxic substances.

"I still call myself a failed communist," says Seeger, preparing the club's stage for a late afternoon sing-song. And it's true that his most famous compositions, Where Have All the Flowers Gone? (adapted from an old Russian song about Cossacks going off to war) and Turn, Turn, Turn (a big hit for the Byrds) don't sound as revolutionary as they did.

Seeger's banjo once sported the message: "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender" (an echo of the message on Woody Guthrie's guitar: "This machine kills fascists"). The anti-fascist, union anthems he sang with Guthrie and later with his own band, the Weavers, placed him at the forefront of the action. He was targeted as a communist sympathiser in the 1950s (he was called before the McCarthy hearings after being warned that If I Had a Hammer would go down badly with the authorities, found guilty of contempt of Congress and sentenced to a year in prison). During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, he led a crowd, with Martin Luther King, in a rendition of We Shall Overcome.

Nowadays, Seeger doesn't play before large audiences, partly because he fears his voice is no longer strong enough. But he'll spend hours in the club, mischievously giving out bumper stickers reading "Gravity – it's just a theory" and encouraging people to send them to anyone in Kansas, heartland of the anti-Darwinism, creationist movement. He'll sing along at the club and tell stories for hours – but his best story is his own.

Born in 1919, and immersed in music by his teacher parents, Seeger got his big break in 1940. His parents were helping famous folk team John and Alan Lomax to transcribe songs recorded in the south. Woody Guthrie was persuaded to come to Washington to record them and Seeger accompanied him in the studio. The results were eventually published as a book: Hard Hitting Songs for Hard Hit People. "I went out west with Woody," says Seeger. "He taught me how to sing in saloons, how to hitch-hike, how to ride freight trains. Then I went out on my own."

Guthrie, he says, taught him how to busk. "He'd say put the banjo on your back, go into a bar and buy a nickel beer and sip it as slow as you can. Sooner or later, someone will say, 'Kid, can you play that thing?' Don't be too eager, just say, 'Maybe, a little.' Keep on sipping beer. Sooner or later, someone will say, 'Kid, I've got a quarter for you if you pick us a tune.' Then you play your best song." With that advice, Seeger supported himself on his travels.

Last year, Bruce Springsteen – a friend since the 1990s – released an album of songs Seeger had performed over the years. We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions put Seeger back in the spotlight. "I wish he hadn't used my name," says Seeger. "I've managed to survive all these years by keeping a low profile. Now my cover's blown. If I had known, I'd have asked him to mention my name somewhere inside."

While he likes Springsteen's renditions ("They're not my songs, they're old songs, I just happened to sing 'em,"), he says the renewed attention has added to the admin work that falls to his wife of more than 60 years, Toshi. "Most men chain their wives to a sink. Mine is chained to a table covered with correspondence. 'Oh, Mr Seeger, won't you listen to my record? Read my book, come over here and accept this award …'" He refuses almost all such requests.

The business of the mighty river comes first nowadays. He's the enduring, seemingly ageless, folk-singing socialist-ecologist, and a fervent believer in thinking globally and acting locally. And down by the river, after the monthly pot-luck dinner, there's always time to take out the old five-string banjo and sing a song. "The real revolution will come when people realise the danger we're in," he offers in parting. "I'm not as optimistic as people think I am. I think we have a 50-50 chance of there being a human race in 100 years".

This is Pete Seeger singing an anti-Vietnam song on The Smothers Brothers Hour, which landed him and his hosts in hot water.  It was one of the first songs I ever learned to sing (not knowing at the time what it meant).

 

RIP Nelson Mandela

This is one of those passings when all the superlatives coming out of the radios and TV and on the Intertubes are fitting.  Not only did Nelson Mandela live an incredible life (although 27 years of it were in prison), but he touched literally billions.  I was one of them.  In my college years, there were two political issues which rocked the campuses — in the early 1980's, it was nuclear proliferation.  In the mid-1980's, it was Mandela's cause: apartheid.

As leader of the African National Congress, Mandela himself had been languishing away in prison since 1964.  His cause was taken to the United States in the ealry 1970s.  Few paid attention.  Then, slowly, some did.  In the late 70's and early 80's, certain municipalities in California made sure they none of their pension plan money was invested in businesses that did business in South Africa.  The idea took on.  In San Francisco, dock workers — most of whom most assuredly had no relatives or connection to South Africa — refused to unload cargo from ships that came from South Africa.

By the mid-1980s, andti-apartheid was everywhere.  Campuses erupted in protest — not like you saw in the 1960s, but protest nonetheless, as students urged (successfully) that their schools divest in South African businesses.  Musicians vowed not to play Sun City.

 

The idea was to let the white power minority in South Africa know that they would suffer as a result of their official policy of apartheid.

Reagan and the conservatives were, as usual, on the wrong side of history.  While giving lip service to evils of apartheid, Reagan steadfastly refused to impose sanctions against South Africa.  Mandela was a terrorist, Reagan would say (which was true, Mandela was on the terrorist list and the African National Congress was deemed a terrorist group).  But of course, Reagan's policies had a lot to do with who was on that list.

When Congress voted for sanctions against South Africa, Reagan vetoed the bill.  Then, for the first and only time in the 20th century, Congress overrode a veto on a matter relating to foreign policy, and sanctions were imposed.  South Africa's power brokers began to see the end.

Mandela wasn't released from prison until 1991, and became President of South Africa in 1994.  He will long be remembered for what he did as President — rather than seeking punishment or (some would say) justice against his former oppressors, including those who committed human rights violations against him, Mandela adopted a policy of forgiveness.  Anyone who confessed to their crimes given amnesty.  This helped heal South Africa after the end of apartheid.

Many in the media are comparing Mandela to Martin Luther King, Jr.  Inapt, I say.  Apartheid was segregation on steroids.  It is one thing to oppress a minoirty, as in segregation.  It is quite another for whites to suppress blacks when blacks outnumber whites 7-to-1.  That was apartheid.

Mandela served only one term as president.  After that, approaching his 80's, he was still active in fighting poverty and AIDS, and an advocate for children's education.

He died yesterday at the age of 95.  I think he was the last great leader for many centuries to come.  Presidents and other world leaders come and go, but I don't think any come close to the worldwide impact of Mandela.  He was Washington.  He was Chruchill.

Note: Lot of hypocrites out there right now eulogizing Mandela.  Let's not forget that the warbloggers and Tea Partiers (and their followers in the UK) were vilifying him when he criticized US policy under George W. Bush or said something on Palestine that deviated from the standard US-media line.