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People Who Are No More II

As promised, here are some of the notable passings of the second half of 2011.  To see the January through June folks who are no longer with us, check the previous post.

Substance abuse isn’t funny, but it is at the very least ironic that former First Lady Betty Ford and troubled singer Amy Winehouse, whose biggest hit was a song called “Rehab,” would die in the same month.  Mrs. Ford made it okay for famous people to admit to their addictions and seek help.

Trivia fans know the name Sherwood Schwartz.  He produced TV shows like “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Brady Bunch,” and wrote their theme songs.  I think we should forgive him.

In August two important musicians passed away.  Nickolas Ashford performed with Valerie Simpson, but also wrote great songs for Ray Charles, Diana Ross and others.  “Reach Out And Touch Somebody’s Hand” was their song.  Jerry Leiber wrote with partner Mike Stoller.  Among their hits: “Jailhouse Rock,” “Stand By Me,” and “Is That All There is?”  That’s all there was.

Cliff Robertson died in September, 88 years and one day after he was born.  He won an Oscar for his role in “Charly,” and also appeared in “Spiderman,” with many dozens of film and TV roles in-between.  Bob Hope’s wife Delores lived to be 102, recording albums in her 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.

Steve Jobs of Apple Computers died in October.  He had pancreatic cancer, which seems to take many celebrities for some reason.  He apparently decided to forego conventional treatment in lieu of alternative medicines until the cancer had progressed too far.

November’s roster of deceased people is quite varied.  Andrea True, who was both a disco diva and a porn star died, as did physicist Norman Ramsey who worked on the Manhattan Project and also invented the atomic clock.  CBS commentator Andy Rooney died just after he retired.  Some people wanted to punch him, which is also true for Joe Frazier, former heavyweight boxing champ.

Bill Keane entertained us for a long time with his cute characters in “The Family Circus.”  Lee Pockriss wrote “Itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, yellow polka-dot bikini,” “Teen Angel,” and others.  It was a simpler time.

It seems that a lot of people – famous and regular – die in December each year.  I’m not sure why, but they do.  Harry Morgan died at age 96.  He was in lots of movies and even more TV shows, including “M.A.S.H.” and the classic Jack Webb program, “Dragnet.”

Christopher Hitchens wasn’t a household name in most households.  He was a brilliant intellectual and an avowed atheist.  Vaclav Havel was a writer and the first president of the Czech Republic.  He was a true champion for peace and freedom.

If you lost someone close to you in 2011, I’m very sorry.  Famous people’s friends and families don’t suffer any more or less than the rest of us.  It’s interesting, though, to observe their passings as markers for our own lives.

Here’s hoping I’ll be around to write next year’s summary of those who have left us, and that you’ll be around to read it!

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People Who Are No More

For the past 10 years or so, I’ve provided a recap of famous or semi-famous people who had expired in the year just ended.  Before February gets here, I guess it’s time to review the 2011 cohort.  There are too many to include, so as always, I’ll pick and choose from the list, starting with last January.

Gerry Rafferty was a rock musician who performed the iconic “Baker’s Street,” and “Stuck in the Middle With You.”  Don Kirshner was also a rock music icon, but as a record publisher and producer.  He hosted “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert” on TV, and helped form The Monkees.

Dick King-Smith was a writer/farmer who wrote the book “The Sheep Pig” which became the movie “Babe.”  For those ancient ones among us, David Nelson, Ricky’s brother on “Ozzie and Harriett” died this year.  His brother died in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve 1985.

Pete Postlethwaite was an actor, appearing in “Inception” and “The Town” in 2011. I include him because it’s the most interesting name of the year.   Susannah York was in “Superman” and “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”  Charlie Callas was a frenetic comedian who made funny faces and noises for a living.

In February Maria Schneider died.  I had an enormous crush on her from her role in the movie “The Passenger” with Jack Nicholson.  She appeared nude in sex scenes with Marlon Brando in the infamous “Last Tango in Paris” which I’ve never seen.   Jane Russell was also an actress, but sadly best known for advertising Playtex bras.

George Shearing was a great easy-listening jazz pianist and composer.  Three interesting things about George: He was blind, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth, and my dad had several of his records.

William Christopher was Bill Clinton’s secretary of state.  I don’t often quote Bill Clinton, but I liked what he said about Christopher: “He has the lowest ego-to-accomplishment ratio of any public servant I’ve ever worked with.”  Christopher died last March.

Michael Gough was Alfred in some of the “Batman” movies.  Elizabeth Taylor was probably the only person ever to have spent time with Richard Burton, Eddie Fisher, and Michael Jackson.

Hugh Martin wrote “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”  Thanks to him for that.

In April Sidney Lumet the director passed away.  He directed “Twelve Angry Men” and “The Verdict.”  He was once married to Gloria Vanderbilt.  Michael Sarrazin acted in “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They” with Susannah York.  Bad year for that cast!

Phoebe Snow was a great talent.  “Poetry Man” was her best known song, but there were many others.  She died in April after having suffered from the results of a stroke for more than a year.  Something I hadn’t known about her: She gave birth to a severely disabled child in 1975, and cared for her until her death in 2007.  She chose not to institutionalize her daughter, and her career was greatly limited because of that decision.  I am in awe of that level of devotion.

Jackie Cooper died in May.  He had been a child star, and ultimately a director, including 14 M.A.S.H. episodes.  Jeff Conaway of “Taxi,” “Grease,” and “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew” fame was also a child star on stage, and succumbed to pneumonia after struggling with drug abuse for over 40 years.

Golfer Seve (not Steve) Ballesteros of Spain passed away in May, having won many major championships in his career.  Clarice Taylor probably didn’t win any golf titles, but had the distinction of playing Cliff Huxtable’s mother on “The Cosby Show.”

“Now, let me see if I have this straight.”  Peter Falk, as Columbo” seemed to say that in every episode.  He died last June.  So did Marshall Dillon, played by Peter Arness.  Jack Kevorkian, a vilified advocate for assisted suicide, needed no help in dying.  Clarence Clemons played sax for Bruce Springsteen for many years.  He was 69 when he was taken down by a stroke.

Hey; do you mind if I finish this next week?  Good.  See you then.

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