A Better Place — Probably

Long-time readers may recall that at the start of each new year I like to reflect on people of note who have gone along to their great reward — being optimistic, since the warmer place is a possibility. This year I’m starting with show business sorts – mostly actors and musicians.

As I have somehow managed to survive into my sixth decade, I’m finding that too many of the people who passed away last year were either much younger than I, or were fixtures throughout my life. Both groups lead me to consider my mortality, which I’d rather not. The young ones tend to die of lifestyle-related factors, while the older folks just got old. Their lifestyles may have been factors too, of course, but not as dramatically.

For instance, young Paul Walker, who made a fortune starring in movies about driving recklessly, died in a car that may have been driven recklessly. Cory Monteith of “Glee” fame succumbed to drugs or depression or both. Lisa Robin Kelly, who played the older sister on “That 70’s Show” was freed from her life of substance abuse while at a rehab facility.

Country singer Mindy McCready ended her life after deciding she couldn’t live without her boyfriend, who had ended his life a few months prior. She left two kids under ten.

Some people who were important to me, each in their own way, included Marcia Wallace (no relation) who was Carol the receptionist in the “Bob Newhart Show,” and Edna Krabapple in “The Simpsons.” Jean Stapleton was a great actress, known best for her portrayal of Edith Bunker in “All In The Family.”

Annette Funicello was a teen hottie, but before that, a Mouseketeer. In the beach movies she was always sexy, but not sexual, and drove Frankie Avalon crazy. Bonnie Franklin drove me crazy, but not in a good way. Her claim to fame for me was starring as Valerie Bertinelli’s mother on “One Day At A Time.”

James Gandolfini was Tony Soprano on screen, but apparently a warm and wonderful man in real life. Allan Arbus played Sidney Freedman the psychiatrist on “MASH.” His character is what every therapist should be. Dennis Farina was a detective on “Law and Order,” taking over for Jerry Orbach who died just a few years ago.

In the music world, in addition to Mindy McCready, Richie Havens passed away, as did “Doors” piano player Ray Manzarek, who – in my opinion – was the musical soul of that group. His playing on the song “Riders on the Storm” holds up very well.

Patty Andrews of “The Andrews Sisters” died last year, as did Jeff Hanneman, guitarist from “Slayer.” I don’t imagine they were friends. Lou Reed was a rock sub-culture icon, and Bobby Bland was a blues artist who played in a group with B.B. King back in the day.

George Jones was a long-time country star. Phil Ramone was a music producer who worked with many greats, including Madonna, Barbara Streisand, Frank Sinatra, and Paul McCartney.
Comedian Jonathan Winters also passed on last year. Many comedians of his era and since say he was the funniest human ever born, and virtually invented comic improvisation, working without a net on live TV.

Check here later for parts II and III.

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