(Three posts written the first three weeks of the new year, and combined as one)
A cast of actors and comedians died in 2016, and I’d like to say a word or two about some of them, not because they were more important than others, but because they were some of my life’s influences.
First, the Garrys: Garry Shandling was one of my favorite stand-up comedians, though he did much more than that. To paraphrase one of his routines, “I went out with this girl, and everything had to be all about her. The candle lit her hair on fire, and she was all ‘I’M on fire, put ME out!’” Garry Marshall, in addition to being Penny Marshall’s brother, created “Happy Days,” “Laverne and Shirley,” “Mork and Mindy,” “The Odd Couple” TV show, as well as directing “Pretty Woman,” “Runaway Bride,” and much more.
Zsa Zsa Gabor was an icon my whole life, darling. Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds shocked us all twice, dying only a few hours apart. Debbie was an old-time star, and Carrie was a space-age star.
George Kennedy was in more than 200 films and TV shows, including “Cool Hand Luke,” and “Airport.” George Gaines was in “Airport,” but most known as Punky Brewster’s dad.
After years of rumors of his death, Abe Vigoda actually died last year. He was most famous for playing Fish on “Barney Miller,” but had many other roles, including in “The Godfather.” Ron Glass of Barney Miller also died in 2016. Grizzly Adams, or Dan Haggerty, went into permanent hibernation.
Alan Rickman appeared in “Die Hard,” “Harry Potter,” and many other roles. My favorite was his portrayal of a man who gave in to temptation in “Love Actually.”
Alexis Arquette was part of a show-biz family, along with brothers David and Richmond, and sisters Rosanna (yes, the one from the song), and Patricia. She had a great nickname: Eva Destruction. She was born a he named Robert Arquette.
Doris Roberts will always be Raymond’s mom, Marie. But she was lots of people’s moms over the years, along with other roles. I remember her in the series “Angie” (created by Garry Marshall) with Donna Pescow, and “Remington Steele.”
Alan Thicke was one of the last actors to die in 2016. He starred in “Growing Pains,” hosted beauty pageants, and did commercials. A TV mom, Florence Henderson (Mrs. Brady) seemed ageless, but wasn’t. Millie (Ann Morgan Guilbert), Rob and Laura Petrie’s nosy next-door neighbor died, as did James Noble, who played the sincere but goofy governor on “Benson” and “The Governor and J.J.”
Noreen Corcoran was John Forsythe’s niece in “Bachelor Father” in the late 50’s. Patty Duke played a niece and a daughter on “The Patty Duke Show” after winning an Oscar for her portrayal of Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker.” Her TV dad, William Schallert, also died last year, as did Richard Harrison, who played a school buddy in the show.
Frank Sinatra Jr. played a son in real life, but was a good performer in his own right. Some of his last sightings were playing himself on “Family Guy.”
We saw Mash’s William Christopher (Father Mulcahey) on stage in Madison as a minister in “The Church Basement Ladies.” He turns up now and then in re-runs of “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Gomer Pyle, USMC,” and others.
Pat Harrington Jr. was Schneider on “One Day At a time,” among many other roles. Hugh O’Brien was Wyatt Earp on TV. Noel Neill played Clark Kent’s colleague Lois Lane on the TV version of “Superman.”
Stephen Hill was a cranky D.A. on “Law and order.” Larry Drake portrayed a developmentally disabled mail-room worker on “L.A. Law.” John Santos played Jim’s cop friend on “The Rockford Files.”
Bob Elliott was half of the legendary radio comedy team of Bob and Ray, but also the father of weird, but funny Chris Elliot.
Remember Miss Paulifficate from “Mr. Rogers?” She was Audrey Roth, a Pittsburgh philanthropist. Nancy Davis was a movie star, and later became First Lady Nancy Reagan.
Here are some music industry folks I forgot to include earlier. Lennie Baker was in “Sha Na Na,” Pete Fountain was a star on the clarinet, which isn’t easy to do. Toots (Jean-Baptiste Frédéric Isidor) Thielemans was the greatest jazz harmonica player ever. Oh, and he wrote and performed the theme for “Sesame Street.”
Rod Temperton wrote lots of songs for pop artists, including Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” “Rock With Me,” and “Off The Wall.” Glenn Yarbrough was a folk star. One of his hits was “Baby, The Rain Must Fall.”
Less known, but important music figures who died included Rudy Van Gelder, a wonderful recording engineer, and Klaus Ogermann — a prolific producer and arranger who won a Grammy for his work with singer Diana Krall.
George Martin? Oh, he produced for “The Beatles,” among other things.
Robert Vaughn was Napoleon Solo in “Man From U.N.C.L.E,” which I never missed. Gene Wilder was a comic genius, and star of one of my favorite movies, “Young Frankenstein.” Mr. Ed’s friend Wilbur, known as Alan Young, also passed away.
In 2016 we lost UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. Fun name to say. Rob Ford was Toronto mayor who struggled with drugs and being ridiculous.
Janet Reno and Wisconsin’s own Melvin Laird both served presidents who faced impeachment. She was attorney general and he secretary of defense.
Antonin Scalia was a constitutionalist on the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, most justices aren’t. John Glenn was an astronaut and a senator, and during one trip to space he was both.
Fidel Castro was a brutal dictator and killer who became a folk hero to people who don’t read history.
Four true giants of sport died last year. Mohammad Ali was the greatest, Arnold Palmer had his own army, Gordie Howe was a hockey icon, and Pat Summitt was the greatest women’s basketball coach.
Nate Thurmond was a great basketball player who once got 42 rebounds in a game. Joe Garagiola was a baseball catcher, but best known as a sports and Today Show announcer.
Robert A. Hoover was an incredible pilot. I saw him do amazing acrobatics in the 1970s. He had been a combat pilot, prisoner of war, test pilot, and aviation teacher.
Some musicians not noted earlier: Julius La Rosa was fired on-the-air by host Arthur Godfrey for being too popular. Bobby Vee was a 50s pop heartthrob. Robert Stigwood was a music producer and director. “Saturday Night Fever” was his.
Futurist Alvin Toffler wrote a best seller called “Future Shock,” about the difficulty in dealing with a lot of change in a short amount of time. That was before the internet.
W. P. Kinsella wrote “Field of Dreams” which made a lot of men cry a little. So did Elie Wiesel, who survived and wrote about the holocaust. He won a Nobel Prize.
Peter Shaffer wrote plays. Some made into movies – most notably the story of Mozart called “Amadeus.” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe” belonged to Edward Albee, who also died in 2016.
Nelle Harper Lee wrote “To Kill A Mockingbird,” and helped friend Truman Capote in his research for “In Cold Blood.
Morley Safer joined “60 Minutes” in 1970, and only retired the week before he died. Gwen Ifill wasn’t with PBS News for that long, but was much valued.
John McLaughlin and Phillis Schlafly were conservative writers, and Tom Hayden was a liberal congressperson and once husband of Jane Fonda.
As always, these New Year columns only scratch the surface on the notable people who died last year. And, if anyone close to you died in 2016, none of these folks I’ve noted matter much.
Now, as our state slogan proclaims, “Forward!”