Noting Passings of Note

by Peter Wallace, © 2007

Each year at this time, it’s good to look back to see who we lost. There are so many, of course, that it’s hard to pick which people to acknowledge. And, many of the very best people who died last year weren’t famous, but lead lives of great value, and only their friends and family can properly celebrate those lives.

Each year I wonder what a band of the musicians who departed would sound like. This year, Lou Rawls and Wilson Pickett could lead the band. Billy Cowsill of the Cowsill family could play guitar along with Syd Barrett – one of the founders of Pink Floyd. Billy Preston, who can be heard playing keyboards on Abbey Road and Let It Be by the Beatles can do that with this group, and June Pointer of the Pointer Sisters can sing back-up. The opening act can be Buck Owens and Freddie Fender, along with Gene Pitney. Maynard Fergusson, who I saw perform 30 years ago, can play the theme from Rocky on his screeching trumpet.

Actors live on forever on film and video tape, but the earthly run of Maureen Stapleton is now over, along with Paul Gleason, who played the principal in The Breakfast Club, Jane Wyatt, who I’ll remember as the mother in Father Knows Best, and Glenn Ford, who was the husband in The Farmer’s Daughter. I’m dating myself with these early 1960’s shows, I guess.

Also no longer performing are Jack Warden, Shelly Winters, and her one-time husband, Tony Franciosa. Chris Penn – brother to Sean and Michael died this year, as did the man who played Tom Willis on The Jeffersons – along with the guy who played Lionel – they were Franklin Cover and Mike Evans in real life. Eddie Albert of Green Acres died, as did James Earl Jones’ father, Robert.

Interestingly, within a day or so, Don Knotts and Dennis Weaver both died. Both played side kicks, but both were also serious actors. Jack Palance, a scary guy, is gone, as is one of my favorites, Peter Boyle, who was great in Young Frankenstein and Everybody Loves Raymond.

President Gerald Ford died in December, former cabinet member Caspar Weinberger in March, and Senator Lloyd Bentsen, who knew John Kennedy, in May. Ann Richards, outspoken former Texas governor, moved along, and also economist Milton Friedman and activist/widow Dana Reeves.

The Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin handled one too many wild animals, Red Auerbach watched his last Celtics game, and Emmett Kelly put on the red nose for the last time.

The oldest living person isn’t anymore. Lizzie Bolden was born in 1890. Director Robert Altman was a wrap, and it’s safe to go back in the water with the passing of Peter Benchley. Susan Butcher’s dog team has no musher, and Betty Friedan, who wrote The Feminine Mistique is also gone.

There are many others, of course. Kirby Puckett, whose baseball career was ended by Glaucoma, died too young. Cut Gowdy, Aaron Spelling, Jan Murray, Mickey Spillane, Red Buttons… among many familiar names that won’t be heard much anymore.

I guess that as we get older, it becomes more shocking that so many of the stars or personalities of our youth are on the end-of-year obituary page, but it stands to reason. And, for every one of these people who died, somebody else remarkable was born. Won’t it be interesting to see who they are, and what they accomplish in their lives on earth?

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