Each New Year I take a look at people of note who passed away during the previous 12 months. That list is subjective, of course. The main web site I refer to is unceremoniously called dead people server (www.dpsinfo.com), and they list around 50 people this year, which is too many to comment on here, so I’ve picked some, and you can look at the rest, if you want. This week I’ll focus on entertainers.
Betsy Palmer meant different things to different people. To me she was a panelist on “I’ve Got A Secret,” the game show hosted by Gary Moore in the late 50’s and early 60’s. To others she was a talented stage and screen actress. More people, sadly, know her from “Friday the 13th” movies, where she played Mrs. Voorhees.
Marjory Lord played Danny Thomas’ wife on “Make Room for Daddy” on television. Dick Van Patten was a daddy of eight on “Eight is Enough,” along with dozens of other TV and movie roles.
More iconic television personalities from my youth passed into the next realm last year. Among them were two “Laugh-In” regulars: Gary Owens, the legendary radio host and emcee, and Judy Carne, the British hottie, and one-time wife of Burt Reynolds.
Elly Mae Clampett headed back to the hills as Donna Douglass passed away. Al Molinaro, who played a cop on “The Odd Couple” and the proprietor of Arnolds drive in on “Happy Days” died of gall stones, which I didn’t know could be fatal. That’s Al for you.
Leonard Nimoy of “Star Trek” fame lived reasonably long and prospered. Martin Milner was the wiser partner in “Adam 12,” and one of two main characters in “Route 66,” among dozens of other roles. Here’s something: He was married once, for 58 years, until death did they part.
Speaking of which, you know Ben Stiller? Well, his mom and dad were a great comedy team, called Stiller and Meara – and Jewish guy and an Irish gal. Funny, right? Well, they were. Jerry Stiller is still with us (he was the dad on “King of Queens”), but Anne Meara died last year.
Marty Ingels is somebody you might not have known. He was married to the beautiful Shirley Jones of Marion the Librarian fame. But I mention him because he was in an odd but wonderful TV show with John Astin (later to play Gomez Addams) called “I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster.” It was a bit ahead of its time.
Dean Jones was the protagonist in about 300 Disney movies in the 1960’s. Melody Patterson was “Wrangler Jane” in the wonderful “F-Troop” TV series. Yvonne Craig was “Bat Girl,” the only secret Alfred seems to have kept from his boss.
Finally, the original British “Avengers,” featured John Steed and Emma Peel. John, played by Patrick McNee, always had an umbrella for rain and for a weapon. Emma, played by Diana Rigg, had wit and great beauty. Well, McNee has left us to fend for ourselves.
Sawyer Sweeten, who played one of the twins on “Everybody Loves Raymond” committed suicide last year due to career, social, and money problems. He was 19. “MASH’S” Trapper John, otherwise known as Wayne Rogers, died on New Year’s Eve, as did Natalie Cole, daughter of Nat King Cole. Both were great singers who died too young.
Lesley Gore was not concerned about global warming, but was concerned about crying at her party, and sang a pre-feminist anthem written by John Madara and David White called “You Don’t Own Me,” which is one of my favorite songs from that era. She was 69.
Ben E. King and B.B. King died a month apart. Ben was best known for “Stand by Me,” which was a great song. B.B. was a blues icon. Our older daughter heard B.B perform live before she was born in Duluth, Minnesota.
Country singer Lynn Anderson never promised us a rose garden, and James Horner’s Heart Went On, but only until his small plane crashed last year. He wrote the “Titanic” soundtrack, but also the music for “Apollo 13,” “The Wrath of Kahn,” and “Avatar.”
Omar Sharif was a dashing actor in Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago, and less dashingly an internationally known bridge expert. The card game, not the structures. Louis Jourdan was another dashing actor, as was Rod Taylor. They are dashing no more.
Anita Eckberg starred in “La Dolce Vita,” so I hope her life was sweet. Stan Freberg made life fun for a lot of people through his radio comedy and his many decades of funny commercials. Wes Craven was a gifted director who seemed to think about death a lot. Now he is seeing it first-hand.
James Jude invented CPR. He died July 28th. Two days later Louis Sokoloff died. He invented the PET scanner. Three days later Howard Jones died. He and his wife did the first in vitro fertilization of human babies.
Next week a few more, and some observations about the changing of the guard.
Meadowlark Lemon was a fabulous basketball player and an even better clown who entertained millions with the Harlem Globetrotters over 25 years.
Two other African Americans of note died last year. Edward Brooke was the first post-Reconstruction black person elected to the United States Senate. He was a Republican from Massachusetts. Julian Bond was a civil rights activist, and founder of the Student Non-violence Coordinating Committee and chaired the NAACP. He lived for 100 years.
You have never heard of Charles Townes, have you? He was co-inventor of the laser. Zap. Who is John Nash? He had a Nobel Prize in economics, but he also had a movie made about him. It was called, “A Beautiful Mind.” It was about him going, um, nuts.
Rod McKuen was a very popular poet, which means academic poets didn’t much like him. Here’s a stanza from one of his poems:
“It’s nice sometimes to open up the heart a little and let some hurt come in. It proves you’re still alive.”
Colleen McCullough wrote “The Thornbirds” in which a beautiful woman kept having affairs with a handsome priest. Jean Nidetch didn’t write a novel or have an affair with a priest, as far as I know, but she did found Weight Watchers which has helped a lot of people over the years.
Jack Carter was a comedian who was one of the first to bridge the gap between joke telling and storytelling. He always had a cigar. Paul Prudhomme always had a crawfish. He was one of the early celebrity chefs, making New Orleans cuisine. He was quite round.
You know, millions of people died last year. Some were famous, some weren’t famous at all. Some were our friends and family. Some had no friends or family. Some were killed because of their religion or ethnicity.
We tend to mourn some deaths more than others, either because the people are close to us, or because of their fame or newsworthiness.
Who will we be mourning next year at this time? It’s impossible to tell. Maybe someone will be mourning us? Either way, I guess it won’t hurt to spend some of our time in the next year making things right with the people we care for, and most importantly, if what we’ve been told since childhood is true, we should be sure to wear clean underwear.