Last Year’s Departures

Each of the past several years I’ve commemorated people who died the previous year. Before January is gone, it’s time to tackle the list from 2008. This is obviously not a comprehensive list, but these are people who struck me as important.

It was a year of politics, so it was interesting that Studs Terkel, a working class liberal and William F. Buckley, an upper class conservative both died. Both had deep convictions and communicated them vigorously.

Tim Russert was regarded as the best political interviewer on TV. He was an equal opportunity tough questioner, and seemed like a nice guy. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was not pro-American as much as he was anti-Communist. He wrote “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” and other books about torture and oppressive government behavior in the Soviet Union. He spoke from first-hand experience.

George Carlin was a comedian who tweaked us on many topics, including the famous seven words. Laugh-In’s Dick Martin said goodnight for the last time, and Bernie Mac did too, America. Harvey Korman from “The Carol Burnett Show” died, and the woman known as Elvira wore black one last time. Estelle Getty of “The Golden Girls” shuffled off to her room.

Charlton Heston went back up the mountain, Roy Scheider was done with “All That Jazz,” and Suzanne Pleshette – the woman who made average looking guys have hope, due to her on-screen marriage to Bob Newhart, left us. Van Johnson’s familiar face won’t be seen any longer, except in the 100 films he was in.

Heath Ledger’s role in “The Dark Knight” was his last completed role. Don LaFontaine was a voice over legend who played himself last year in a GEICO commercial, and then died. Paul Newman, who went from actor to corporate philanthropist, and Estelle Reiner, married for 65 years to Carl, passed away. She famously wanted what Meg Ryan was having for lunch.

Bill Melendez was Snoopy’s voice, and the director of the Peanuts shows. Eartha Kitt was a cat on TV’s Batman. Betty Page wasn’t a pet, but was a Playboy pin-up in the 1950’s.

Country musician/actor Jerry Reed sang, “When you’re hot, you’re hot,” and Eddie Arnold wanted to “Make the world go away,” and for him it did.

Isaac Hayes sang about John Shaft (shut your mouth), Bo Diddly inspired the Beatles and Michael J. Fox’s ”Back to the Future” character. Levi Stubbs was the lead singer of the Four Topps who first performed, “Baby, I Need Your Lovin’.”

Bobby Fisher ended in a stalemate, Jim McKay experienced the agony of defeat, and Gary Cygax – co-creator of “Dungeons and Dragons”– lost the game. John Archibald Wheeler coined the term “black holes,” and Richard Knerr co-founded Whamo, and sold us Frisbees, Hula-hoops, and Super Balls.

Albert Hoffman synthesized LSD, Sir Edmund Hillary got high… up on Mount Everest – the first white guy to top it, with the help of his native Sherpa, and Michael Crichton gave us “Jurassic Park,” “ER,” and “The Andromeda Strain.” Sir Arthur Clarke wrote “2001, A Space Odyssey,” but more importantly invented the concept of geosynchronous satellite communications, which is why we have Dish Network and such today.

Harry Truman’s daughter, author Margaret, passed away, and Mark Felt, aka Deep Throat, who helped take down a different president, whispered his last whisper.

There are others, of course. Maybe someone you knew. It’s easy to dwell on people who have left us, but perhaps it is smarter to focus our thoughts on those who are still with us. Life has a funny way of ending when we’re not really ready.

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