Category Archives: Dead Folks

Dead Folks 2011: World Affairs/Newsmakers

Dead Folks 2011: World Affairs/Newsmakers

January 26, 2012

Moammar Gadhafi

For 42 years, dictator Moammar Gadhafi survived numerous coups and assassination attempts to rule Libya with a brutal fist. In 1969, the 27-year-old military officer led a bloodless rebellion to take control of the country. Libya’s rich oil deposits became Colonel Gadhafi’s trump card, a resource that gave Gadhafi a global importance he otherwise would never have achieved. President Reagan called him “the mad dog of the Middle East.” Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat referred to him as “that crazy Libyan.”

Gadhafi lived in a huge white tent that he took everywhere. He financed terrorist groups, including the Irish Republican Army and guerilla outfits in Africa. His tyrannical government was responsible for the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 passengers. Interrogations and executions were telecast nationally to instill fear in Libyan citizens. Gadhafi usually inflicted violence on the terrorized populace every decade to insure his control. The Libyan army consisted of soldiers imported from Sudan, Chad, and Liberia. A 2011 Libyan uprising finally deposed the tyrant. An intense manhunt for Gadhafi highlighted daily news programs before he was finally located and shot to death.

The dictator had his particulars: He renamed the months, changing February to “Lights” and August to “Hannibal,” for example. Anyone with more than $3,000 in their bank account was considered excessively wealthy and had to surrender the excess to the state. Gadhafi once banned sport utility vehicles, then lifted the ban, only to later reinstate it, forcing those who had purchased SUVs to hide them. He once demanded that all Libyans raise chickens to promote self-sufficiency—even those living in apartments.

Gadhafi had a unique sense of fashion; his colorful robes and funky matching caps established his own ethnic style. One of his more fascinating indulgences was a unique bodyguard squad. Though Gadhafi preached that women were not equal to men, he was personally guarded by a group of machine gun-toting women sporting camouflage fatigues, high-heeled sandals, and red nail polish. (69, killed by Libyan rebels) —ER

David Broder

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For four decades, Broder was a political reporter and columnist for The Washington Post who could frequently be found on political news shows such as “Meet the Press.” Reflecting his belief “that not all wisdom resides in Washington,” Broder often reported on state and local politics. He was the first to reveal that Senator Edmund Muskie, after growing weary of attacks on his family, cried during a press conference. Muskie denied crying but the image of him as emotionally weak cost him the Democratic presidential nomination to George McGovern in 1972. (81, diabetes) —ER

Dr. Jack Kevorkian

A medical pathologist dubbed “Dr. Death” by his detractors, Dr. Jack Kevorkian assisted more than one hundred terminally ill people in ending their lives by suicide. A fearless rebel in the face of lawsuits and public outcry against his deeds, he was finally convicted of second-degree murder in 1999 for the last assisted suicide in which he was involved. He spent eight years in prison. Regardless of their feelings for Kevorkian, critics and supporters agree that his efforts created improved hospice care and better pain management for dying patients.

Kevorkian was prompted to devote himself to helping the terminally ill after he received national attention for a 1984 speech. He addressed the California Legislature in support of a bill containing his proposal that death-row inmates be given the choice of dying by anesthesia if they allowed their organs to be donated. After visiting the Netherlands in 1987 to learn how the Dutch performed assisted suicide, Kevorkian came back to Detroit to open a clinical practice that included “death counseling.”

Beginning in 1990, Kevorkian began assisting the dying, estimating that some 130 patients used his procedure over the next eight years. Kevorkian continued his efforts despite having his medical license revoked and state legislatures passing laws forbidding assisted suicide. Frequently arrested for short periods of time, he would leave jail and go immediately to assist in another suicide. While incarcerated, he went on hunger strikes. He could be quick-tempered in defending his beliefs and on occasion fought with arresting officers. In 1995, the American Medical Association referred to him as “a reckless instrument of death” who “poses a great threat to the public.” Kevorkian lived a simple life, often wearing second-hand clothes purchased at a Salvation Army thrift store. He rarely dated and never married.

The first person to use Dr. Kevorkian’s “suicide machine” was an Oregon teacher suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The procedure took place in Kevorkian’s rusting 1968 Volkswagen van at a campground near his home. The doctor called police immediately after the woman’s death and was briefly detained.

As for Dr. Kevorkian’s exit from this life, his final hours were spent listening to Bach in a hospital where he had been admitted for kidney and respiratory problems. (83, blood clot) —ER

Betty Ford

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Haunted by a condition that most families in such high-profile positions would prefer be kept under wraps, former first lady Betty Ford went public with her battle with booze and pills in the late ’70s. Her successful fight inspired Ms. Ford to open The Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California—today one of the best-known substance-abuse rehabilitation facilities in the country. The rehab hospital has attracted its fair share of celebrities, including Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minnelli, Mary Tyler Moore, and baseball great Mickey Mantle.

Ford’s addiction to painkillers began in 1964 while recovering from a neck injury. She later began drinking heavily. Her family finally confronted her in 1978, forcing her into treatment.

Ms. Ford never shied from expressing her political opinions, which included staunch defense of the Equal Rights Amendment and legalized abortion. One of her most memorable moments came on the day after her husband was defeated for the presidency by Jimmy Carter in 1976. President Ford had lost his voice, so the First Lady read The President’s concession speech for him. (93) -ER

Lana Peters

The only daughter and last surviving child of brutal Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, Peters defected in 1967, 14 years after her father’s death. Born Svetlana Stalina, she became Lana Peters after getting married in America. Peters moved frequently, seemingly unsettled and desperate, and sampled religions from Hinduism to Christian Science. In 1984, she moved back to the Soviet Union but returned to the U.S. two years later. She reportedly spent her final years in poverty, living in a cabin with no electricity in Wisconsin, though there were rumors she was in a Roman Catholic convent in Switzerland. (85, colon cancer) —ER

Ed Zigo

A veteran New York City detective, Ed Zigo helped track down serial killer (and postal worker) David Berkowitz, also known as Son of Sam, through a parking ticket. For one year beginning in July of 1976, terror gripped New York City when six murders were committed by an unknown assailant who called himself “Son of Sam.” The killer began correspondence with authorities, writing long letters that referenced vampires and monsters, warning that he would strike again. The night he murdered his sixth victim, a woman walking her dog noticed an officer ticketing two cars.

Zigo and other detectives searched every parking ticket issued in the area near the time of the murder. When they came up with a license plate number registered in the name of Berkowitz, Zigo felt he had a solid lead. Zigo remembered thinking “What is a Jewish guy from Yonkers doing parked in an Italian neighborhood at two in the morning?”

Zigo checked out Berkowitz’s address, where he found the ticketed car with a rifle in the backseat and a note in the glove compartment threatening to attack a disco. Zigo noticed that the handwriting on the note was similar to that of the threatening letters sent by Son of Sam. Berkowitz was arrested and immediately confessed to the crimes. (84, cancer) —ER


The most despised dog in the world, Trouble was an irritable Maltese that inherited Leona Helmsley’s $12 million fortune. Trouble’s yearly expenses were reported to be $190,000, of which $100,000 was spent on security due to numerous death and kidnapping threats. When the dog traveled, it flew under the alias “Bubbles” to shake off those tempted to dognap her. Helmsley demanded that everyone call the dog “Princess” instead of “the dog.” Trouble was a notorious biter, and even left a few scars on Helmsley. The dog lived on a diet of crab cakes, cream cheese, and steamed vegetables with chicken, fed by hand, when Ms. Helmsley was alive. After Helmsley’s death, Trouble ate canned dog food. (12) —ER

Singrai Soren

Few will argue that Singrai Soren didn’t have it coming. Soren raised and trained cockfighting roosters in India. Combat roosters are usually given at least an hour between bouts but Soren forced his bird back into the ring only minutes after its first fight. The rooster tried to escape the fighting pit repeatedly, only to have the owner place it back into the ring. The angry bird finally attacked Soren, slitting his throat and killing the man with the razor-sharp blade that all fighting roosters wear on one leg when in battle. —ER

J. Paul Getty III

It wasn’t just bad luck that Jean Paul Getty III was kidnapped at Rome’s Piazza Farnese in November of 1973. The 16-year-old heir to the Getty Oil fortune had also been recently expelled from boarding school, and had joked about faking his own kidnapping for money. The postmen of Italy were also on strike, which made it difficult for Getty’s father to eventually receive the ransom demand for $17 million. Jean Paul Getty II couldn’t get that kind of money together himself, and his own father thought it was a bad idea to negotiate with kidnappers. Things became more urgent when the criminals finally sent a human ear to an Italian newspaper. It was November, and the kidnappers were running out of patience. The accompanying letter announced that J. Paul III would be losing his other ear in 10 more days, to be followed by other body parts.

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Getty Sr. decided that he’d be willing to give the kidnappers $2.2 million for his grandson. That was the maximum amount he could pay and still claim a tax deduction. Anything more than that was to be considered a loan to Getty II at 4% interest. A deal was finally negotiated to have Getty III released for $2.9 million. Payment was made and the teenager was released in Southern Italy that December.

The kidnappers were later caught, and revealed to be a mix of local lowlifes and some crime bosses. It was Italy, so the crime bosses were acquitted and very little of the ransom money was found.

Meanwhile, things would get even more tragic for Getty III. He was pretty much disinherited after marrying his pregnant older girlfriend shortly after the kidnapping. He had a son—who would grow up to be the actor Balthazar Getty—but Getty III would soon develop some serious drug problems. His penchant for mixing whisky, cocaine, and heroin put him into a coma in 1981. He lost oxygen to his brain and ended up as a nearly blind paraplegic. J. Paul would later have to sue his billionaire father to get assistance for medical bills. (That was particularly sad since Getty II had spent plenty of his own young years in a drug-induced haze.) Getty III would eventually live (so to speak) off his own very comfortable inheritance, but always seemed like a one-man Getty curse. At least he didn’t pass the curse on to his kid. The worst that’s happened to Balthazar was that he was caught sleeping around with Sienna Miller. (54, undisclosed but inevitable) —JRT

Dead Folks 2011: Film and Television

Dead Folks 2011: Film and Television

January 26, 2012

Anne Francis

A perfectly proportioned, leggy blonde with a beauty mark just to the right of her demure smile, Anne Francis was the go-to gal for the roles of ingénue, bobbysoxer, and sweet young thing at MGM, circa late 1940s and early 1950s. Stardom remained elusive until Francis landed a supporting role in the now legendary science-fiction classic Forbidden Planet, loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.


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That was fitting, as the producers correctly cast this living doll as such stuff as dreams are made on. While younger viewers were captivated by Francis’ mechanical co-star Robby the Robot and various spectacular special effects, all others had eyes glued to the willowy blonde’s unbelievably short, skimpy dresses (racier versions of the “futuristic” costumes had been ruled out by the studio, so who knows what might have been). In any case, Francis’ Altaira merged the pin-up girl with sci-fi movies a decade before Jane Fonda’s Barbarella was orbiting planets in her birthday suit.

That’s not to suggest that the lovely Francis was merely an empty image. Before Forbidden Planet, she had viciously parodied Hollywood’s femme-fatale, man-eating vamp stereotype in Susan Slept Here, and she was clearly at ease portraying a dungarees-and-ball-cap tomboy for Bad Day at Black Rock, in which she exhibited no small skill at driving Jeeps or fending off bullies. Someone must have noticed that Francis, if called upon, could be one of the boys, to say nothing of her sly smile that more than hinted at her worldly wisdom. She was a honey who could handle herself, and so it was destiny that Francis would wind up in “Honey West,” a private-eye thriller with a female lead.

The TV show lasted for a single 29-episode season, but the thirty-something, ridiculously fit Francis made a lasting impression as a private eyeful. Sometimes clad in a leopard-print leotard and fishnet stockings (or perhaps a solid black bodysuit for stealth work), the tough-as-nails Judo expert drove a Cobra convertible, hid a two-way radio in her lipstick case, and enjoyed downtime at home with her pet ocelot Bruce.

Despite Francis earning an Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe award, executives somehow concluded that there wasn’t room in television land for two female crime fighters. Honey West vanished when Emma Peel of “The Avengers” hit American shores. In the long run, that hardly mattered for Francis, whose five-decade career of guest appearances landed her a role (or roles) in almost any television drama or crime thriller you can name. (80, pancreatic cancer) —DP


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Dana Wynter

The quietly pretty brunette appeared in fewer than two dozen motion pictures, but like many minor stars of the 1950s, she was rescued by regular gigs in TV series and movies during following decades. Nonetheless, she has a permanent slot in movie lore, as it was her good fortune to play Becky Driscoll alongside Kevin McCarthy in the Cold War science-fiction thriller Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). She was on the lam from the alien invaders, desperately attempting to remain awake lest the pods take over her brain. She looked like a million dollars throughout the struggle, which she ultimately lost. In fact, the moment of her change in the story leaves Wynter the brunt of an unintentional punch line for modern audiences. When Wynter opens her soulless eyes after a brief kiss, McCarthy narrates, “I never knew the real meaning of fear until I kissed Becky.” (79) —DP


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Tura Satana

Nobody had to hurriedly write a tribute song to Tura Satana after she passed away. The legendary stripper and hipster sex symbol already had plenty of rock songs written about her during the past decades. The Japanese-born exotic dancer had gone from a daring nightclub act to being a legendary tough gal in Russ Meyer’s cult classic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Satana had actually enjoyed a surprisingly mainstream career, though. She made her proper screen debut in Billy Wilder’s 1963 classic Irma la Douce, and also showed up that year in the Dean Martin comedy Who’s Been Sleeping In My Bed? Faster, Pussycat! became an instant classic amongst the adult theater crowd, but Satana didn’t cash in too quickly off of Meyer’s epic tribute to Amazonian femmes fatale.

She was still working as a dancer when she showed up in the 1966 spy spoof Our Man Flint. She later popped up in B-movies like 1968′s Astro Zombies and 1973′s The Doll Squad. Satana finally began to enjoy long-delayed cult stardom in the 1980s as Meyer’s films became available on VHS. Faster, Pussycat! soon became a legend of home video, and Tura was ready to emerge from her retirement as a Los Angeles housewife. (The savvy lady copyrighted her name and image.) She was a little shapelier than expected, but her personal appearances lived up to Meyer’s descriptions of her as a whip-smart gal who’d ad-libbed plenty of his movie’s best lines. (76, heart failure) —JRT

Jane Russell

Howard Hughes knew a lot about design, and few women were designed for stardom like Jane Russell. The curvy drama student was discovered by the millionaire while he was scheming to take over Hollywood, and Russell was soon set to star in her motion picture debut. Unfortunately, Hughes was almost too visionary for his own good. The producer/director would showcase his favorite talent’s cleavage a little too much in 1943′s The Outlaw. Russell’s skimpy costumes were tough to get past the censorship boards. (Her measurements were 36D-26-36 at the time.) The Outlaw wouldn’t see general release until 1946—when Hughes’ leering vision paid off as the mediocre western did boffo box office. The advertising would become legendary for the image of a gun-toting Russell leisurely spread out in some hay.

Hughes remained intent on casting his leading lady in cheesecake roles. Fortunately, Russell would show off her other talents with Bob Hope in The Paleface and a sequel. That would lead to Russell pulling off another great comic turn in 1953 for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Russell would ultimately form her own production company, and began to gracefully retire as her audience dwindled toward the end of the ’50s. She worked very sporadically after 1960, but made a striking appearance in The Born Losers—which would launch the screen career of Tom Laughlin as Billy Jack. Russell also stayed in the widening public eye when she hit her fifties and became the spokeswoman for Playtex Bras. She always remained wholesome at heart, describing herself in later years as a “mean-spirited right-wing conservative Christian.” She kept Hollywood looking glamorous for more years than the place deserved. (89, respiratory failure) —JRT

Ken Russell

Director Ken Russell started with all the potential of a Stanley Kubrick or David Lynch, and ended up the modern equivalent of Orson Welles pitching bad wine. He had spent the ’60s creating a series of brilliant documentaries for the BBC, and made his feature film debut with the 1969 romantic drama Women in Love. The film had some daring scenes—including a notable naked wrestling scene between Alan Bates and Oliver Reed—but Russell was only starting to push boundaries. He persuaded Richard Chamberlain to play a very gay Tchaikovsky for the period drama The Music Lovers, and then threw in plenty of kinky imagery while chronicling sexually oppressed Renaissance nuns in The Devils.

Russell created the retro musical The Boyfriend, but the 1971 bomb briefly derailed Russell’s career (and put a halt to the showbiz aspirations of leading lady Twiggy). Things worked much better when Russell was hired to envision the rock opera of The Who’s Tommy in 1975. Russell mistakenly took that critical success as his cue to hook up with Roger Daltrey for a sex-crazed biopic of Franz Liszt. Lisztomania wound up as a glam-rock disaster destroyed by an overdose of phallic imagery. Russell next bombed with a bigger budget while working with Rudolf Nureyev in the 1977 biopic Valentino.

Russell would score another hit with Altered States in 1980, where he kept the storyline fairly coherent while mixing sci-fi and New Age psychedelia. He was a real pain while making the movie, though, and he was soon back to making documentaries for the BBC.

His first real comeback was the artsy 1984 thriller Crimes of Passion, with Kathleen Turner being stalked by Tony Perkins as a deranged street preacher sporting a deadly sex toy. There would be another deadly dildo in 1988′s Lair of the White Worm, which played several weeks in Birmingham after the local high-school kids discovered the film was an absurd comedy. By the start of the ’90s, Russell was enough of a survivor to always find low-budget work while continuing to be one of England’s finest documentarians. Sadly, he’d also become enough of a joke to end up alongside Leo Sayer and Dirk Benedict in the UK reality series “Celebrity Big Brother.” His last film was also a real clunker, as he wasted time in the horror anthology Trapped Ashes with a tale about a young woman with blood-sucking breasts. (84, natural causes) —JRT

Maria Schneider

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She was doing okay as an aspiring counter-culture figure, but then French ingénue Maria Schneider became a porn-chic figure without making a porn film. Instead, she simply gave her all when offered the chance to co-star with Marlon Brando (fresh from The Godfather) in a film from renowned director Bernardo Bertolucci. 1972′s Last Tango in Paris certainly has its moments as a touching drama about damaged people in an anonymous relationship. Unfortunately, the press couldn’t resist sensationalizing the film’s simulated anal-sex scene. Schneider instantly became a dirty joke just as she was entering her twenties. Film executives were mostly interested in Schneider as a candidate for the casting couches. Those didn’t hold much interest for the outspoken young lesbian.

Schneider would return to European productions, making her first legitimate follow-up to Paris in The Passenger with Jack Nicholson. She was once again cast as an anonymous girl, though, and she followed up that 1975 production with a tawdry thriller released in the States as Wanted: Babysitter. Schneider would be starring in films like Diary of a French Whore and Mama Dracula by the end of the ’70s. A slight drug problem didn’t improve her reputation, although it was understandable when she walked off the set of the X-rated Caligula. (It didn’t help that she went off to commit herself to the mental institution where her girlfriend was staying.) Her bigger mistake might have been walking off the set of Luis Buñuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire in 1976—although that inspired Buñuel to replace her with two actresses, which helped to make the film an art-house classic. Schneider wouldn’t get another chance to make an important film, but she’d go on to work steadily in Paris. (58, cancer) —JRT

Marie-France Pisier

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One of France’s brightest young actresses in the ’60s, Marie-France Pisier caught Hollywood’s eye in the ’70s with international hits such as Celine and Julie Go Boating and Cousin Cousine. Unfortunately, Pisier would make her American studio debut in one of the worst movies of 1977. The Other Side of Midnight (based on a Sidney Sheldon novel) pretty much killed the career of everybody in the film who wasn’t Susan Sarandon. Since it was the ’70s, it wasn’t enough for Pisier to be embroiled in a vintage potboiler. She also had to update the melodrama with ludicrous sex scenes. Pisier recovered by returning to France to work with François Truffaut in Love on the Run, and then had another American art-house hit with the comedy French Postcards. That gave her another shot in the States, but she just ended up in a trashy TV miniseries based on Judith Krantz’s Scruples. The French were probably having a good laugh about all that. Pisier finally went back to France to enjoy a long and distinguished career. Her unexpected death prompted a public statement from President Sarkozy. (66, drowning) —JRT

Michael Gough

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A lot of British actors had careers like Michael Gough. They’d tread the boards as Shakespearean actors and make classic English films at home, while also appearing in American drive-ins as the stars of films like—in the case of Gough—Horror of Dracula, Horrors of the Black Museum, and The Skull. Gough also made it to Broadway a few times, too, and won a Tony Award in 1979. Tim Burton was probably thinking of the Gough who starred in the caveman epic Trog when he cast the aging actor as Alfred the Butler in 1989′s Batman. Gough would continue to serve a changing line-up of Bruce Waynes throughout the 1990s. Burton kept Gough acting into his nineties as the voice of the Dodo Bird in 2010′s Alice In Wonderland. (94, undisclosed) —JRT

Jackie Cooper

Hollywood has given us plenty of child actors, but Jackie Cooper died while holding an 80-year record as the youngest actor ever nominated for an Oscar in a leading role. He was nine years old when he got a Best Actor nomination as the title character in 1931′s Skippy. Of course, Cooper was a showbiz veteran by then. He’d made his film debut in 1929, and had made plenty of “Our Gang” comedies for the Hal Roach Studios. Cooper had even been around long enough to be swindled by a studio. Hal Roach was paying the kid $50 a week while pocketing $25,000 for loaning him out to Paramount to star in Skippy.

At least Skippy made Cooper a star, and his contract was promptly sold to MGM. He made a few classics there, including The Champ in 1931 and 1934′s Treasure Island (both with Wallace Beery). Cooper went into adolescence playing the lead in what became a popular series of movies about bumbling teen Henry Aldrich. Except for a three-year hiatus spent fighting in WWII, Cooper worked nonstop in film and television until 1964, when he took a corporate job with Columbia Pictures. He returned to regular appearances in TV shows and TV movies at the end of the ’60s, and was just as likely to be behind the camera directing sitcoms and cop shows (plus 13 episodes of “M*A*S*H”).

He returned to the multiplexes as Daily Planet editor Perry White in all the Superman films made between 1978 and 1987. That kept him from sailing “The Love Boat,” although he did show up on the inevitable episodes of “Murder, She Wrote.” Cooper finally retired from showbiz in 1989. That was after 64 years of acting. He made sure that none of his four kids went into showbiz, and explained why in his autobiography Please Don’t Shoot My Dog—titled after the threat used by his director uncle to get him to cry in a scene for Skippy. (88, natural causes) —JRT

Michael Sarrazin/Susannah York

It’s gotten tougher to get a DVD commentary together for 1969′s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Oscar winner Gig Young pulled off a murder/suicide back in 1978, and Jane Fonda is the only lead left now that Michael Sarrazin and Susannah York are both dead. The Depression-era drama got Sarrazin’s career off to a sudden start, but the Canadian with the dreamy eyes never found another role to get his stardom rolling. The biggest problem was his tendency for offbeat roles that matched his bizarre good looks. That could’ve worked out for Sarrazin if Universal had allowed him to take the role of Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy. The role in Horses was offered to him as a consolation prize.

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Sarrazin never really got another showcase role. He kept seeking out weird small films, and was stuck taking the typically thankless role of Barbra Streisand’s male co-star in 1974′s For Pete’s Sake. Then his career came to a screeching halt with the underrated thriller The Reincarnation of Peter Proud in 1975—although he managed one more cult hit as part of an ensemble cast in that same year’s The Gumball Rally. He spent the rest of his career working from his native Canada, where his presence in low-budget genre product would guarantee at least one compelling performance.

Susannah York would end up on a similar career path, although she was an international star when she joined the cast of Horses. The enigmatic British blonde had her break in the sexy 1963 period piece Tom Jones, and went legit in 1966′s A Man For All Seasons. She’d also stoked some controversy as the young object of desire in the X-rated 1968 lesbian drama The Killing of Sister George. York actually suffered for getting an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress for Horses. In a then-fashionable move, York’s response was to complain that the Academy didn’t ask her if she wanted to be nominated. (She’d lose to Goldie Hawn.)

York then moved on to a career-killing trilogy of weirdness. The stage-bound version of Kurt Vonnegut’s Happy Birthday, Wanda June barely got a release in 1971, and she started out 1972 starring in the painfully mod X, Y & Zee—where her bisexual romantic triangle with Michael Caine and Elizabeth Taylor was too silly to ever get sexy. That same year had her playing another nutcase when she reunited with Sister George director Robert Altman for the hallucinatory horror film Images. (The role was brooding enough to win York the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival, and she didn’t seem to mind that.)


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York actually seemed comfortable with indie films, and would make much better ones throughout the ’70s—including The Shout and The Silent Partner. She’d remain shut out of the multiplexes until 1978, when she was cast as Christopher Reeve’s Krypton mom in Superman. She’d be in the sequel, too, but would end up on an episode of “The Love Boat” by 1985. Like Sarrazin, she’d spend the rest of her career providing a classy touch to (mostly) bad international productions. That was probably another reason that everyone assumed she was related to Michael York. They weren’t, but the two would compete to see who could fabricate the most elaborate blood ties when giving interviews. (Sarrazin: 70, cancer; York: 69, bone marrow cancer) —JRT

Diane Cilento

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Brit Ekland still gets a lot of love for her role as Willow, the oft-naked pagan minx in the 1973 cult classic The Wicker Man. Yet for brooding sensuality, perhaps top honors go to Diane Cilento’s Miss Rose, a schoolmarm who specialized in the birds and the bees, with a special emphasis on the male anatomy. By the time that picture was made, the Australian actress had already enjoyed a decade of fame for her turn as the bawdy, wild-haired wench Molly Seagrim in Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones. That portrayal alone should have earned her more roles during the 1960s, but Miss Cilento was also known as Mrs. Sean Connery, and her husband had some old-fashioned notions about wives working in the picture business, i.e., they don’t. She had some minor roles in minor films, but after Cilento’s high profile turn in The Agony and the Ecstasy with Charlton Heston in 1965, Connery declared that two stars in the household was one too many. That didn’t stop Cilento from stealing scenes opposite Paul Newman in Hombre, an ahead-of-its-time western based on an Elmore Leonard story. Cilento, playing a jaded widow making ends meet in a desert town, offered more raw sex appeal than any Bond girl ever did. Perhaps Connery recognized that, because the abusive relationship escalated to spectacular levels until Cilento filed for divorce in 1973. (78, cancer) —DP

Walter Seltzer

The former studio publicist didn’t produce a lot of films, but Walter Seltzer made a few classics by having the right friends. Marlon Brando would bring him along for the actor’s directorial debut with the offbeat One-Eyed Jacks, which remains a classic western despite plenty of studio interference. Seltzer then hooked up with pal Charlton Heston for one of the weirder stretches in a leading man’s career. Heston was coming off his cynical lead in Planet of the Apes, and wanted to keep aging ungracefully onscreen. The team got off to a fine start with the jaded 1968 western Will Penny. Seltzer and Heston then kept Penny director Tom Gries for the gritty sports drama Number One, where Heston went full anti-hero as a drunken fading football star.

Then it was time to get really dark with Heston’s vision of the future. 1971′s The Omega Man had its star trapped in a world where evil mutants—led by a former network anchorman—wanted to wipe out Heston as the last remnant of Western civilization. Heston’s response was to brag of destroying the mutants with his “100% Anglo-Saxon blood.” The Omega Man still had a more depressing ending than Will Smith’s remake of I Am Legend—but was a feel-good epic compared to 1972′s Soylent Green. Seltzer and Heston presented the Earth of 2022 as Al Gore having ultimately been proven right. The air is polluted, the cities are overpopulated, and only millionaires can afford to chew on fatty cuts of gristly steak. Heston plays a hardened cop who discovers that things are even worse than they seem, and Soylent Green‘s ending—despite lots of spoofs—remains one of the bleakest finales in sci-fi history.

Seltzer and Heston—who were always at odds politically—wrapped up their partnership with some traditional Western heroics in 1976′s The Last Hard Men, which was Heston’s last great leading role. Seltzer then retired to concentrate on fundraising for the Motion Picture and Television Fund for aging industry veterans, and would pass away in the organization’s retirement home. (96, natural causes) —JRT

Farley Granger

In most ways, Farley Granger enjoyed the typical career arc of a Hollywood leading man. He landed starring roles in a few classic films, and had his screen immortality ensured early on with lead roles in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope and Strangers On A Train. Then he did a lot of television work from the ’60s onward, including the inevitable appearances on “Hawaii Five-O,” “The Love Boat,” and “Murder She Wrote.” There was also the usual cheap European film productions and token appearance in an ’80s slasher movie. (Granger’s was the underrated and atmospheric The Prowler.)

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The big twist to all this was that Granger turned his back on Hollywood by choice. He was interested in film and television only as the means to finance his busy theater career. The closest he came to a definitive role on Broadway was the 1980 lead in Ira Levin’s “Deathtrap,” but the dashing Granger was always part of New York’s theater scene. He was less interested in being a gay icon. Granger wasn’t closeted, but his 2007 memoir Include Me Out made a point of refusing to dwell on his sexuality. Probably the most interesting thing about his love life was that the homoerotic underpinnings of Rope were scripted by his then-boyfriend. Granger’s biggest sex scandal turned out to be fairly innocent. He travelled to Italy in 1972 to make a (pretty good) murder mystery called So Sweet, So Dead. The producers later inserted hardcore sex scenes into a different cut of the film called Penetrations. While strolling along his beloved Great White Way, Granger found his name on a theater marquee as the star of an X-rated film. (85, natural causes) —JRT

Dolores Fuller

There was a lot wrong with Tim Burton’s biopic about legendary bad director Ed Wood, but the 1994 film did especially wrong by Dolores Fuller. Sarah Jessica Parker portrayed Fuller as the worst actress in history, when the blonde beauty had actually done pretty well while co-starring with Wood, the writer/director/star of terrible cheapies like Jail Bait, Bride of the Monster, and—in Fuller’s most notorious role—the cross-dressing saga of 1953′s Glen or Glenda. Burton’s biopic has a frustrated Fuller finally denouncing the losers of Wood’s inner circle, as she breaks up with her longtime boyfriend and misses out on the chance to star in the kitsch classic Plan 9 From Outer Space. In truth, Fuller regrettably left Wood as he was indulged by sycophants who encouraged the director’s alcoholism and eventual sad demise.

Fuller, meanwhile, went on to a stellar career. While Wood was shooting Plan 9, Fuller started out as a songwriter by reworking an old folk song for teen idol Rick Nelson. He performed it in a little western called Rio Bravo. She then began to contribute songs to the films of Elvis Presley. Fuller got her start with “Rock-A-Hula Baby” in 1961′s Blue Hawaii, and would appear on the soundtrack of all his films throughout the decade. (Girl Happy‘s “Do The Clam” may seem like a joke, but she followed that up with the swinging title tune to Spinout—which was so good they changed the title of the film.) Fuller would stay busy between films by launching her own record label and placing other tunes with Nat King Cole and Shelley Fabares. She also kept a good sense of humor about her past, and later showed up in a cameo for 2000′s The Corpse Grinders 2 for legendary bad-film director Ted V. Mikels. She didn’t need the money. (88, complications after a stroke) —JRT

Bert Schneider

All the young talents who auditioned for “The Monkees” were surprised to find themselves meeting with executives who were hipper than any hippie. Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson would secure their place in the counterculture by putting together all the right elements for what would become an unexpectedly influential rock band. Then they hooked up with screenwriter Jack Nicholson to blow the whole thing up with the big-screen Monkee business of 1968′s Head. Schneider went on to nail the counterculture zeitgeist again by producing the surprisingly successful Easy Rider in 1969. The huge hit came out of BBS Productions, where Schneider hooked up with Rafelson and new partner Steve Baluner to make anti-hero epics both big (Five Easy Pieces; The Last Picture Show) and cultish (Drive, He Said; The King of Marvin Gardens). Schneider also produced Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, and a lot of folks give the producer credit for taking over and shaping the director’s most concisely classic film. Schneider retired after dealing with Malick, though, and lived long enough to see BBS Productions honored with an acclaimed 2011 DVD box set as part of the prestigious Criterion Collection. The box includes Head, of course. (78, natural causes) —JRT

Charles Napier

Even in his 70s, Charles Napier was still approaching women with the line, “You’re a superDUPERvixen!” That was a pretty good line for an old character actor who had, in fact, starred in Russ Meyer’s legendary 1975 nudie Supervixens. Napier would approach only those women hip enough to appreciate his nudie legacy, of course. He had earned the right, since Napier’s nude appearances in Meyer’s softcore classics were a threat to his mainstream television work in “Hogan’s Heroes” and .” Napier had even begun to be recognized by name after a beautiful turn as a space hippie in a 1969 episode of “Star Trek.” Napier tagged along when Meyer went legit with 1970′s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, and then worked steadily on the small-screen through the ’70s before becoming a major character actor in the ’80s.

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That career revival began when director Jonathan Demme—himself a veteran of drive-in films—cast Napier in 1977′s CB radio craze cash-in Handle With Care and then in his critically-acclaimed Melvin and Howard and Something Wild. Napier also scored a memorable scene in The Blues Brothers where he threatened John Belushi by explaining the difficulties of eating corn-on-the-cob without any teeth. Napier enjoyed even more big-screen success as an evil intelligence officer in 1985′s Rambo: First Blood Part II. (Lee Marvin recommended Napier for the role after dropping out of the production.) Demme then cast Napier against type as a gay hairdresser in Married to the Mob, but also made good use of the actor as a doomed cop in The Silence of the Lambs. Napier bounced between major studios and indie filmmaking. His strangest appearance turned out to be an appearance on a 2003 episode of “Dr. Phil,” where Napier discussed his continuing quest for fame. It always seemed like he’d stumbled upon stardom. (75, unrevealed) —JRT

Charles E. Sellier, Jr.

Some aspiring filmmakers looked at the drive-in circuit and saw an opportunity for gore and sexploitation. Charles E. Sellier, Jr., saw an opportunity for family fare with an exploitive edge, and he became the Roger Corman of movies most likely to be played in a church auditorium. His first success was The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams. Sellier wasn’t surprised by this hit. He’d done extensive marketing tests even before making the film. Grizzly Adams cost $140,000 and generated more than $65 million at the box office.

Sellier then brought back star Dan Haggerty for more outdoorsy big box-office with The Adventures of Frontier Fremont. Haggerty would later team with the producer for the 1977 “Grizzly Adams” TV series, and complain that he never got a love interest because Sellier’s test marketing wouldn’t approve of it. Meanwhile, Sellier had found a hot new angle for his Sunn Classic Pictures. He launched a series of films that quickly became the most-discussed documentaries in the schoolyards of suburban America. 1976′s The Mysterious Monsters brought in Peter Graves to narrate the exploits of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. In Search of Noah’s Ark and The Lincoln Conspiracy would also draw big crowds, although Sellier would concentrate on TV fare by the end of the decade—but not before finishing big on the drive-in circuit with 1970s’ The Bermuda Triangle and In Search of Historic Jesus.

Sunn Classics went into the ’80s with two genuine drive-in cult classics: the pioneering Area 51 sci-fi film Hangar 18, and the modest horror of The Boogens (which remains unavailable on DVD, despite being a personal favorite of Stephen King). Sellier also made a strange detour into adult fare by directing the controversial Santa-slasher Silent Night, Deadly Night in 1986 (followed by the bloody revenge flick The Annihilators.) He would spend a lot of the ’80s working with NBC—including helming the popular “Desperado” TV-movies—and returned to his roots in the ’90s with inspirational programming such as George W. Bush: Faith in the White House and The Case for Christ’s Resurrection. Sellier was still the CEO of Grizzly Adams Productions when he passed away. (67, undisclosed) —JRT

G.D. Spradlin

The prolific character actor will be remembered as The Senator from Nevada in Godfather II, making the huge mistake of telling off Michael Corleone, mocking the family name, and disparaging the Godfather’s couture. That’s also Spradlin in Apocalypse Now, as the philosophical General Corman, giving Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) the bad news about his mission into Cambodia; “Well, you see, Willard, in this war things get confused out there.”


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Entering film and television during the 1960s, Spradlin easily found roles as stern, corrupt, and/or dangerously determined authority figures. His Oklahoma twang, and a tendency to look as though he were perpetually swallowing some bitter medicine, provided a distinctive screen presence. His cocky demeanor and cowboy attitude allowed Spradlin to convey the confidence of a Texas politician or oil baron. That was no stretch, anyway, as the actor had been an extremely successful independent oil producer long before Hollywood noticed him. Spradlin also ran for mayor of Oklahoma City a short time after serving as the state’s campaign boss for John F. Kennedy. (90) —DP

Leonard Stone

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A “familiar TV face” is the shorthand description of the insanely busy character actor with long jowls, prominent nose, and the ability to convey polar opposites: a brash demeanor born of unearned confidence or a put-upon “worried man” countenance of dread. In outlining his film and television career, it would be far easier to list programs on which he did not make an appearance, starting in the 1950s and running through the mid-2000s. One generation of fans will recall Stone as Judge Hanson in “L.A. Law,” while legions of moviegoers will remember him from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory as Sam Beauregard, father of the bratty Violet, who was transformed into a blueberry. (“Violet! You’re turning violet!”) (88, cancer) —DP

Polly Platt

Motion picture designer, producer, and screenwriter Platt was an immensely gifted art director, as the amazingly convincing, thoroughly evocative designs for The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon indicate. Numerous tales of Platt’s “do everything” work ethic in Hollywood further indicate that Platt was the walking embodiment of the key elements in filmmaking: collaboration and problem solving. Doing the impossible was sort of Platt’s specialty (the commentary track on the Paper Moon DVD reveals how Platt consistently—often ingeniously—found the means of transforming locations into the Midwest of the Great Depression. It can inspire a career in the movies).

During the early 1970s, when Platt was working with husband Peter Bogdanovich on his best films, her position as production designer was especially difficult in the boys club of filmmaking that still defined Hollywood. Things were even more awkward after Bogdanovich, who had fallen in love with his female lead in The Last Picture Show, left Platt for Cybil Shepard. Astonishingly, Platt was nonetheless on board for Bogdanovich’s following pictures, What’s Up Doc? and Paper Moon.

By all accounts, Platt absorbed the numerous aspects of film production with each new job, so it was no surprise that the former costume designer was soon working as a producer on such pictures as Broadcast News, Bottle Rocket, Say Anything, and Pretty Baby (for which Platt wrote the screenplay). (72, ALS) —DP

Edward Hardwicke

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The son of legendary English character actor Sir Cedric Hardwicke and actress Helena Pickard, Hardwicke was perhaps destined for a career in films. After a few motion picture roles, he wound up on the stage, ultimately establishing a seven-year stint with Sir Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre during the 1960s. Hardwicke then launched a steady career in British television dramas, supplemented by excellent turns in motion pictures (Shadowlands, Enigma, Love Actually). All of that is a mere sideline, however, for fans of Granada Television’s Sherlock Holmes series starring Jeremy Brett as the definitive sleuth. When David Burke, who played Dr. Watson in the first series (“The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”), left the production, Hardwicke took the role for subsequent installments and stand-alone television films from 1986 to 1994. (78, cancer) —DP

Madelyn Pugh Davis

Along with her co-creators, Madelyn Pugh Davis co-wrote every episode of the 1950s television sitcom I Love Lucy—a total of 179. Rather than writing jokes for the leading lady, Davis provided ridiculous, unexpected dilemmas for Lucy that usually involved physical situations: hanging from hotel balconies, posing as a sculpture, and many other harebrained schemes designed to manipulate Ricky Ricardo and best friends Fred and Ethel Mertz. Davis had to try some of the more precarious stunts first to be sure that Lucille Ball could perform them. “Black Stuff” was typed in capital letters in the script so that Ball would know what she was about to get into. (90) —ER

David Nelson

He didn’t become a teen idol like brother Ricky, but David Nelson grew up famous as the real-life son of the Nelsons on all 14 seasons of “The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet.” He tried to shake up his wholesome image with a role in the 1957 melodrama Peyton Place, but Nelson’s only other important film was a nice turn in Jack Webb’s 1959 newspaper drama -30-. After the Nelsons’ television adventures finally ran their course, David mostly limited his acting work to fun turns embracing his status as a baby-boomer icon. That included cameos in Cheech & Chong’s Up In Smoke and John Waters’ Cry-Baby. (74, colon cancer) —JRT

Harry Morgan

Henry Morgan had already enjoyed a 15-year film career before changing his name to Harry Morgan for the debut of the TV series “December Bride.” The now-forgotten series was one of the bigger hits of the 1950s, with Morgan frequently stealing scenes in a supporting role. He’d learned that trick while appearing in film classics such as High Noon and The Ox-Bow Incident. Morgan had also become friends with Jack Webb, and showed up uncredited in the writer/director/star’s Pete Kelly’s Blues during the run of “December Bride.” Morgan began to divide his time between the big and small screen.

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Morgan signed on as a co-star when Webb decided to update his successful 1950s “Dragnet” TV show for the late-’60s. The police procedural relied on Morgan’s work as Officer Bill Gannon to provide some fun quirks that played off Webb’s “just-the-facts” demeanor. “Dragnet” went off the air in 1970, and Morgan—now working into his sixties—joined the cast of “M*A*S*H” in 1974. His portrayal of Colonel Sherman Potter would last an unlikely nine seasons on the long-running show. The attempted spin-off of “After MASH” only lasted one season, but Morgan kept working as Bill Gannon in a big-screen 1987 Dragnet comedy and a 1995 episode of “The Simpsons.” (96) —JRT

Sherwood Schwartz

He created only two successful shows, but Sherwood Schwartz provided timeless pop-culture references for both baby boomers and Generation X. “Gilligan’s Island” wasn’t even that big of a deal when it first aired in 1964. The show lasted only three seasons, but then rediscovered an audience as it began to appear in reruns on local stations. As that show began its second life, Schwartz was about to launch a new sitcom called “The Brady Bunch.” That one would run for five seasons, and would go on to define the 1970s for both its original audience and the kids who’d watch it in reruns before heading to college to become Nirvana fans. —JRT

Edie Stevenson

One of the most popular television commercials in 1973 starred a little boy named Mikey who was a finicky eater. Edie Stevenson wrote the spot for Life cereal. The boy’s two older brothers shoved a bowl of Life at him, saying, “Let’s get Mikey. He won’t eat it. He hates everything.” Mikey, of course, devoured the cereal as his stunned brothers shouted, “He likes it!” Life cereal celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2011. (81, Alzheimer’s) —ER

Andy Rooney

From 1978 to 2011, commentator Andy Rooney fashioned his role as television’s grumpiest philosopher with witty, barbed observations about the mundane side of life on his weekly segment “A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney” on the CBS news program “60 Minutes.” Though often controversial, he had an “everyman” persona that endeared him to many. Viewers either loved him or loathed him.

Rooney got his start in television in the late 1940s writing for popular personalities Arthur Godfrey and Victor Borge, among others. In 1964, he told CBS that he could write about any subject imaginable for television, proving his point by writing an essay on doors that was narrated by newsman Harry Reasoner. The collaboration proved a success as the pair went on to create critically acclaimed specials about such subjects as bridges, hotels, and women. One of the few politicians Rooney admired was President Dwight D. Eisenhower, primarily because Eisenhower refused to censor The Stars and Stripes—a G.I. newspaper for which Rooney worked during World War II.

Controversy dogged his career, spurred by disparaging remarks about Kurt Cobain’s suicide (for which Rooney later expressed regret) and an interview in 2002 in which he stated that women could not grasp the game of football and therefore had “no business” being sideline television reporters at games. More hullabaloo followed in 2007 when he complained about the current state of baseball: “I know all about Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, but today’s baseball stars are all guys named Rodriguez to me.” The comment that drew the most complaints was a 2004 essay in which he said that God told him that Rev. Pat Robertson and Mel Gibson were “wackos.” (92, complications from minor surgery) —ER

Dead Folks 2011: Music


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January 26, 2012

John Barry

Technically speaking, composer and five-time Oscar winner John Barry scored 111 motion pictures, most notably 11 of the James Bond movies, starting with Dr. No and ending with The Living Daylights. But from a larger, cultural perspective, it’s fair to say that Barry—like Burt Bacharach, Herb Alpert, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and several others—helped write the soundtrack to the 20th century.

That may be because Barry was composing engaging, infectious melodies for movies at a time when radio stations had theme songs and film scores in regular rotation. No one needed to see Midnight Cowboy in 1970 to memorize its haunting, lonesome theme. And for better or worse, the theme from Born Free was in the mix as well. At the top of any John Barry playlist, of course, would be the composer’s personal favorite, the theme from Goldfinger. The most famous of the Bond themes boasts an unmatched brass attack with the last three of the melody’s first six notes (wah waaaah wah!). That was a trademark device in many of Barry’s scores, and a method he learned from his big band idol, Stan Kenton.

The bold, brassy sound colored numerous scores, but Barry added some key elements that came to define the international-man-of-mystery music associated with Cold War-era spy thrillers. Omnipresent in themes for The Quiller Memorandum, The Ipcress File, the James Bond pictures, or the television series “Vendetta” and “The Persuaders,” was the gloomy twang of zithers, dulcimers, and other Eastern European stringed instruments, the chilling blast of a few off-kilter notes, and sometimes the futuristic timbre of the Moog synthesizer. All those elements blended into what might be called the music of espionage, or perhaps the ultimate score for international intrigue everywhere, for all time. Did Barry know anything about the KGB, the CIA or MI6? Probably not, but he essentially composed for each agency a theme song in case they needed one.

In many instances, Barry’s scores were also excellent pop music. The title track for You Only Live Twice was understandably a huge hit for Nancy Sinatra (and later, thanks to a portion of the melody, for Robbie Williams with “Millennium”). Shirley Bassey made a career from the title track for Goldfinger. Yet apart from Barry’s success with the Bond series, he was also laying down innovative, sometimes bizarre, but decidedly cool scores for The Knack and How to Get It, Séance on a Wet Afternoon, The Wrong Box, Boom, The Appointment, and dozens of others. Today, young music enthusiasts might think they haven’t heard much of Barry’s music, but if they listen to Sneaker Pimps, Portishead, Grantby, Pulp, Broadcast, or countless electronica acts, then they have actually heard a lot of John Barry.

As if providing a distinctive sound to a certain era were not enough, Barry was equally prolific in the late 1970s through the late ’80s, creating memorable scores for films that often didn’t deserve them (Somewhere In Time, Night Games, The Black Hole, Dances With Wolves, Jagged Edge). He’ll be remembered for the spy stuff, no doubt, along with the cool, jazzy touches in his music that he matched with a lifestyle. Barry drove a Jaguar E-type, married swinging sixties icon and actress Jane Birkin, and wore expensive tailored suits. He was available for photo shoots—anytime, anywhere. Today you can’t find many people who might recognize Barry, but everybody knows that sound. (77) —DP

Don Kirshner

The legendary songwriters working out of New York City’s Brill Building during the ’50s and ’60s included Neil Sedaka, Carole King, and Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil. They were all working for Don Kirshner. He ran Aldon Music with his partner while also producing and promoting young talents such as Bobby Darin and Neil Diamond. Kirshner might have continued behind the scenes if he hadn’t begun consulting for television series in the mid-’60s. He contributed some classic rocking scenes to “Bewitched,” but Kirshner really raised his profile when he helped launch “The Monkees” in 1966. Kirshner oversaw the song selection for the band’s first two albums and helped give the pre-fab band a slew of genuine chart-topping singles.

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Kirshner, however, would soon find himself at odds with the genuinely talented Monkees as they began to insist on selecting their own songs and playing their own instruments. The Monkees would go on to make some of the best albums of the ’60s, but they never regained the record sales after Kirshner was kicked out of the Monkee machine in 1967. (His final fireable offense was releasing the hit “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” without corporate permission.)

Among other conflicts, Kirshner couldn’t convince The Monkees to record a pop tune called “Sugar, Sugar.” He then ditched the human element by forming a pop group out of the cartoon characters from the Saturday morning hit “The Archie Show.” “Sugar, Sugar” would become the The Archies’ huge debut single in 1969, and the fictitious band would go on to record plenty of hits. Some other animated acts bombed, but Kirshner would become a real-life cartoon as the leisure-suited, deadpan host of “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.”

YouTube is full of vital clips from the show’s 1973 to 1982 run—including performances by Kansas, who enjoyed their ’70s success on the Kirshner label. (Paul Shaffer would famously parody his old boss in a few classic “Saturday Night Live” skits.) Kirshner essentially retired at the end of the ’80s, and it was hilarious when his son and daughter took over the “Rock Concert” hosting duties with the same stiff demeanor. Kirshner retired in style, too, since his publishing company had picked up everything from classic Broadway musicals to the Beatles catalogue. Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, however, seems to have extended his Monkees vendetta to also keeping Kirshner out of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Kirshner still got to enjoy one final bow when the Songwriters Hall of Fame stretched their usual qualifications to honor him in their 2007 induction ceremony. (76, heart failure) —JRT

Nick Ashford

Nick Ashford liked to stroll the streets and pick up the latest lingo—which made him different from most millionaire songwriters. He was easily recognized while walking around New York, too. As performers, Ashford and his wife Valerie Simpson scored plenty of R&B hits on their own. As songwriters, they were a constant presence on the R&B and pop charts with hits such as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Reach Out And Touch Somebody’s Hand” for Diana Ross, as well as Chaka Khan’s anthemic “I’m Every Woman.” Ashford & Simpson also wrote the biggest hits for the duo of Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell. “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing” is the enduring classic, although “Ain’t No Mountain” was mostly known as a Gaye & Terrell tune before Miss Ross’ version came along.

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And then Ashford went out walking one day and heard a familiar word becoming modern slang. He went home to Valerie and they began to write what would become their own big crossover hit. “Solid” would go to #1 on the U.S. R&B charts, fall just short of the Top Ten on the pop charts, and land the duo a big hit in the UK. Ashford & Simpson made only two more ’80s albums, though, and spent the ’90s indulging themselves as NYC bar owners and DJs. The couple also hit the local cabaret circuit to showcase their timeless pop instincts in a stripped-down setting. Ashford would pass away the same day as his fellow hitmaker Jerry Leiber. Plenty of obituaries paired the duo, and the Grammys will do the same for a tribute on February 12. (70, throat cancer) —JRT

Jerry Leiber

In 1950, Jerry Leiber teamed with Mike Stoller when someone suggested that he find a piano player to put his words to music. The pair penned classics such as “Stand By Me,” “On Broadway,” and “Hound Dog”—the latter for blues singer Big Mama Thornton in 1952. The song later became Elvis Presley’s 1956 signature hit. “Hound Dog” took 12 minutes to write, Leiber said. In the late ’50s, Leiber and Stoller moved to New York City to join the Brill Building songwriting factory. Their contributions to popular music, and even the cheesy, hip-shaking 1960s pop classic “Love Potion No. 9,” are legendary. (78, heart attack) —ER

Clarence Clemons

As sax player for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, Clarence Clemons’ imposing frame and dynamic horn playing made him a popular onstage personality. Clemons began playing with Springsteen in 1972. His melodic hooks and powerful blasts were a highlight of Springsteen’s sound, especially during the early phase of their career. As a 6 foot 4 inch, 250-pound college football star, Clemons tried out for the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns until a knee injury ended any pro football dreams. One of his finest musical moments is his dramatic solo on “Jungleland,” the closing track on Born to Run. According to Springsteen’s manager Jon Landau, Clemons spent 16 hours perfecting the part. (69, stroke) —ER

Andrea True

Tennessee-born Andrea True was enjoying the glamorous life of a ’70s porn star when she found herself stuck in Jamaica with money she couldn’t take out of the country. She called in a record producer from NYC, went into a local recording studio, and invested her stalled cash in the making of a disco anthem called “More More More (How Do You Like It).” Suddenly, the star of Deep Throat Part II and Psyched For Sex was topping the charts with a dance anthem. The frontwoman of the Andrea True Connection was singing about what she knew, too. Anyone paying attention to the song’s lyrics would find that Andrea was dedicated to entertaining you as more than just a disco diva—explaining that “if you want to know/how I really feel/just get the cameras rolling/get the action going.”


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Not too surprisingly, True decided to retire from porn in 1977. The Andrea True Connection would go on to make three albums and just a few horrible songs. Her sneering take on Lou Reed’s “Sally Can’t Dance” remains neglected, although her attempt at reggae was pretty painful. True would later end up in Florida as a drug counselor with a sideline in astrology. She continued to get royalties from “More More More,” though—and even had a career revival when her hit was sampled by the band Len for the 1999 hit “Steal My Sunshine.” (64, heart failure) —JRT

Andrew Gold

He wasn’t a one-hit wonder, but Andrew Gold would have been a lot better off as one. “Lonely Boy” certainly stood out as a bizarre piano-driven pop tune in 1977. It was an overdue breakthrough for the longtime session musician who had become best known for backing Linda Ronstadt. The showbiz scion (son of Oscar-winning composer Ernest Gold and vocalist Marni Nixon) had established himself as a potential Elton John when Leo Sayer covered his “Endless Flight” in 1976. Unfortunately, the What’s Wrong With This Picture? album didn’t muster up a second single—although “One of Them Is Me” would later be rediscovered as a haunting fern-bar classic.

Gold then went full-tilt cornball for on 1978′s All This and Heaven Too, which featured the hateful giddiness of “Thank You for Being a Friend.” The song would keep paying off for Gold as the theme to “The Golden Girls.” Not many people recognized Gold singing the opening theme to “Mad About You” for most of the ’90s. He spent his later years fooling around in his home studio and creating elaborate power-pop homages to his main influences. (59, cancer) —JRT

Ferlin Husky

Ferlin Husky was the first of three country music giants to emerge from Bakersfield, California. (The other two were Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.) Husky’s silky voice perfectly complemented the new “Nashville Sound” that caught on in 1956 with his record “Gone.” Husky pioneered the revolutionary style, which featured a smooth, orchestral approach to country music that boosted the genre’s record sales at a time when Elvis Presley had unleashed a new sound called rock & roll. (85, poor health for years) —ER

Marshall Grant

As Johnny Cash’s original bass player from 1954 to 1980, Marshall Grant joined guitarist Luther Perkins in the Tennessee Two to create Cash’s distinctive “boom-chika-boom” sound. A non-drinker, Grant was often required to babysit a drug-fueled, out-of-control Cash to make sure that he arrived at gigs on time. Cash fired him in 1980 after a series of disputes. Grant retaliated with a lawsuit for wrongful termination and embezzlement of retirement money. It was settled out of court. He and Cash made up in 1999 when the bassist rejoined him on stage. (83) —ER

Ralph Mooney

Pedal steel guitar great Ralph Mooney played with Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings for years. His gushing steel guitar lines on Buck Owens’ hits defined the Bakersfield, California, sound that Owens perfected along with Haggard. Mooney also wrote the Patsy Cline classic “Crazy Arms.” (82, cancer) —ER

Lee Pockriss

As co-writer of the 1960 pop hit “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” Lee Pockriss was a component of the cultural upheaval that resulted when sexual mores retreated amid an onslaught of bikinis and mini-skirts. The song title alone was titillating. Pockriss had earlier written “Catch a Falling Star” for Perry Como in 1957. He also wrote “My Polliwog Ways” for Kermit the Frog. (87) —ER

Gladys Horton

In 1961, Gladys Horton of the Marvelettes sang “Please Mr. Postman”—the Motown label’s first number one hit. Horton started the group with classmates Georgeanna Tillman and Katherine Anderson, among others. Horton was often credited as only a co-founder but original Marvelette Anderson says Horton deserves all the credit. “We only started singing together because Gladys asked us,” she recalled. “Usually we’d go to Georgeanna’s house and play canasta.” (65, poor health for years) —ER

Eddie Burris

Tulsa native Eddie Burris played drums for Merle Haggard’s band The Strangers from the early ’60s until 1970 when he quit to become a truck driver. Credited as co-writer on Haggard’s love-it-or-leave-it ode to America, “Okie from Muskogee,” he said the song originated on Haggard’s tour bus in 1969 as a reaction to the turmoil gripping the country at the time. “Merle had seen a signpost that said ‘Muskogee: 17 miles,’ and he already had the first two or three lines wrote,” Burris told the Tulsa World. “I was in bed. He woke me and we finished it in about 10 minutes.” (79, failing health) —ER

Roger Williams

Mr. Easy Listening was a target of ridicule by many music critics. Pretentious yet pedestrian, pianist Roger Williams nevertheless created gorgeous, irresistible music that, by osmosis, snuck into the heads of listeners who loathed him. Williams’ renditions of classics were labeled “lush” and “elevator music.” The sentimentality of his piano arrangements were well evident in his two most popular recordings—”Autumn Leaves” and “Born Free.” He “virtually transformed the piano into a harp,” noted music historian Joseph Lanza in his book Elevator Music, writing that Williams “cultivated a flair for making dramatic sweeps from classical to jazz to country to soft rock & roll.” Beginning with Harry Truman, nine presidents invited him to the White House to entertain guests. (80, pancreatic cancer) —ER

Charlie Louvin

Born in rural Alabama, The Louvin Brothers—Charlie and Ira—are revered as one of the great country music vocal duos of all time. Singing in a slightly updated Depression-era style inspired by the Blue Sky Boys, the Louvin Brothers’ lonely Appalachian sound and intricate harmonies influenced a generation of country rockers, pre-dating the Everly Brothers by several years. Their songs ran the gamut from religious numbers such as “The Christian Life” (which was covered on The Byrds/Gram Parsons collaboration Sweetheart of the Rodeo) to horrifying murder ballads like “Knoxville Girl.” They even sang a Cold War-anthem, “Great Atomic Power.” Declining record sales and Ira’s drinking ended their act in 1963. Two years later Ira was killed in a car accident. Charlie reportedly kept a photo of the wreckage on his mantel for years. He went on to further success, placing 16 singles on the Country Top 40 over the next ten years.


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His real name was Charlie Elzer Loudermilk. He and Ira were first known as the Radio Twins, and then changed their last name to Louvin because they thought Loudermilk sounded too awkward. Discussing his brother’s absence after so many years singing together, Charlie Louvin once told NPR’s Terry Gross: “When it comes time for the harmonies to come in, I will move to my left because my brother and I always used to use one microphone,” he said of performing solo. “Even today, I will move over to the left to give the harmony room, knowing in my mind that there’s no harmony standing on my right.” (83, pancreatic cancer) —ER

Dobie Gray

We can still only guess at his real name, but the man who became Dobie Gray spent the early ’60s in L.A. as the typical sharecropper’s son looking to make it as a soul singer. He had already gone through a host of aliases before meeting Sonny Bono. Thatwhen the unknown began recording regularly as Dobie Gray, with the name sticking when he finally scored a hit with “The In Crowd” in 1965. “See You at the ‘Go-Go’” was a strong follow-up, but Gray was floundering again by the ’70s. Then he went to Nashville to record an album with Paul William’s brother Mentor, who also did a little songwriting on the side. Mentor had a tune called “Drift Away” that would return Gray to the top of the charts in 1973.

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Gray’s next few albums drifted toward country music, and he enjoyed much more success internationally than in the U.S. In another unexpected move, Gray—who never had a hit with something he’d written himself—ended up in demand as a Nashville songwriter. He continued to tour all over the world (including an apartheid-busting concert in South Africa) and recorded into the ’90s. Uncle Kracker brought Gray back to the pop charts with a duet on “Drift Away” that gave the old-timer one last hit in 2003. (probably 71, cancer) —JRT

Gerard Smith

In 1995, there was a gutter-rock band in NYC called Surgery who had an album out on Atlantic. The lead singer died suddenly from what turned out to be an asthma attack. That taught a lot of people not to assume that a musician is always dead from a drug overdose. It would then take a while before Gerard Smith came along as a particularly tragic reminder. The bassist and keyboardist for TV On The Radio—which had played Bottletree the same year they were filling theaters in NYC—had lung cancer, and the band had actually announced Smith’s medical condition about a month before his death. (In a particularly classy move, TVOTR noted that Smith had a fine health plan and was getting good care.) Smith’s death still came as a big surprise, since TVOTR continued to book shows. It was both a personal and artistic loss, since anyone who saw Smith play live could understand how the band had finally managed a cohesive mix of their heavy psychedelia and hip-hop beats. (36, lung cancer) —JRT

Gerry Rafferty

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Gerry Rafferty was one of the music biz’s biggest unknowns when he emerged as a solo artist with 1978′s “Baker Street.” The Scotsman had already enjoyed success in England as Billy Connolly’s partner in the Humblebums, and had international success with Joe Egan when “Stuck In The Middle With You” became a hit for Stealers Wheel. That band had a tough breakup, though, and it took a lot of legal maneuvering before Rafferty could strike out on his own. “Baker Street” helped City to City top the charts as his U.S. solo debut, and the entire album had lots of catchy tunes. (“Right Down The Line” instantly prevented Rafferty from being a one-hit wonder.) Rafferty then promptly derailed his career momentum by refusing to tour America. He’d chart with two more singles (“Get It Right Next Time” and “Days Gone Down”) from next year’s Night Owl album, but a reputation for being difficult soon had Rafferty bouncing from label to label.

The closest Rafferty would get to a comeback occurred when Quentin Tarantino used “Stuck In The Middle With You” for a memorable scene in Reservoir Dogs. He make the UK papers after becoming the subject of a missing persons report in 2008, but Rafferty eventually reemerged in fine—if not exactly sober—shape. It wasn’t too much of a surprise when he passed away at the start of 2011. (63, liver failure) —JRT

Gil Scott-Heron

He gifted hack writers with the phrase “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” but Gil Scott-Heron’s career also provided the gift of harsh perspective. Scott-Heron was barely in his 20s when he emerged from the Bronx as a beat poet bringing soulful melodies to black bohemia. His early ’70s work paired him with musician Brian Jackson on gorgeous, jazzy funk tunes that could, fairly enough, establish Scott-Heron and Jackson as the true fathers of hip-hop and neo-soul. Scott-Heron certainly deserves credit for his quick transition from spoken-word artist to dynamic soul man, and he was initially fearless about confronting the failings of the black community as part of society’s downfall.

Scott-Heron was set to stay relevant into the ’80s when he recorded the lovely “Angel Dust” and “The Bottle” after splitting from Jackson in 1978. He was pretty much unable to get a record deal by 1985, though—partly due to an obsession with Ronald Reagan that didn’t translate into smart ideas. Sadly, Scott-Heron wasn’t just falling prey to political simplicity. He had also fallen into a deadly culture that he had once so eloquently warned against.


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An attempted comeback album with 1993′s Spirits soon demonstrated that it wasn’t just Heron’s voice that had become ravaged with time. He would go on to spend several years as Manhattan’s most high-profile crackhead. A second comeback in 2007 was interrupted by yet another drug bust—and accompanied by the announcement that Scott-Heron was HIV-positive. He managed one last album with 2010′s I’m New Here, which was Goth folksiness mixed with sad mutterings.

Scott-Heron still had enough of his old spirit to begin to wonder whether it was a good thing to be credited as a forefather of rap. It’s certainly understandable that this year’s posthumous memoir The Last Holiday conveniently ends with Scott-Heron enjoying his artistic heyday. There was never an official cause of death released after he passed away at the start of last summer, but you certainly have your choices. (62, probably pneumonia but maybe drugs or some other HIV-related thing . . . seriously, take your pick) —JRT

Joseph Brooks

Anyone who endured the 10-week stretch in 1977 when Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life” topped the charts was wishing songwriter Joseph Brooks a particularly miserable death. Some wishes come true. Brooks was already established as a jingle writer (including some classic work with Pepsi and Maxwell House) when he decided to follow Barry Manilow’s path into showbiz. He wrote and directed the dopey romance film You Light Up My Life, in which a young female ventriloquist learns to embrace her true destiny as a popular vocalist. That realization comes about when she belts out the treacly title track for a film audition. Brooks got really lucky when his vanity project—which he originally booked into theaters himself—led to Debby Boone (a daughter of Pat) recording her own version of the title tune. The huge success of the sappy ’70s hit helped to launch a punk backlash even while winning Brooks a Grammy, a Golden Globe, and even an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Brooks followed up by casting himself as a romantic lead in 1978′s If Ever I See You Again, and put together a few other bad movies along with the notoriously awful 2005 Broadway flop “In My Life”—which, like If Ever I See You Again, was about the fascinating love life of a songwriter. As it turned out, Brooks’ love life was more fit for an episode of “Law & Order.” A police investigation in 2009 showed that Brooks was regularly putting ads on Craigslist and then flying gullible, would-be actresses across the country to Manhattan so he could rape them. He ended up facing charges of raping (or sexually assaulting) over ten women between 2005 and 2008. That added up to more than 90 counts of criminal acts when he killed himself via asphyxia last May. Brooks left behind more than just a sappy pop legacy, though. His son Nicholas still awaits trial for the December 9, 2010, murder of fashion designer Sylvie Cachay. (73, suicide) —JRT

Lamar Fike

As a member of Elvis Presley’s “Memphis Mafia,” Lamar Fike often dressed in black mohair suits and wore sunglasses at night while protecting, baby-sitting, and scoring girls and pills for Presley. The gang was the King’s “buffer zone,” as Fike once explained. He was one of Presley’s closest confidants, but he noted that they often fought and that Presley fired him “about 500 times.” Lamar Fike introduced Elvis to 14 year-old Priscilla Beaulieu in Germany, who became Mrs. Elvis Presley seven years later. About the couple’s early courtship, Fike was quoted in Britain’s The Independent: “When I found out their relationship was more than just necking, I was afraid we were all going to prison without a trial,” Fike recalled. “Elvis told me he had the whole thing in control. I said, ‘I hope you do, otherwise they’ll ship us home in a godd*** cage!’” (75, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) —ER

Dead Folks 2011: Sports


Dead Folks 2011: Sports



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January 26, 2012

Joe Frazier

Boxer Joe Frazier was the perfect foil for Muhammad Ali. Unlike Ali, the blue-collar Frazier was a man of few words. The fighter was the perpetual target of Ali’s taunts and insults, calling Frazier ignorant and saying he resembled a gorilla. Ali even labeled Frazier’s black supporters as “Uncle Toms.” Unable to forget the humiliation, Frazier remained angry at Ali for most of his life.

Frazier got a job at a slaughterhouse in Philadelphia at age 16. He stayed in shape by punching slabs of beef while on the clock. Known as Smokin’ Joe Frazier, the fighter’s style was to stalk opponents around the ring, staying close to them to relentlessly throw jabs to tire them out. After retirement, he had a brief career as a bad singer, and could often be seen on TV struggling through the national anthem at some ball game.

But he’ll be forever linked to Ali. Frazier won their first fight in 1971 and then lost to Ali in 1974 and 1975. The only other two losses in Frazier’s career were to George Foreman. Frazier was keenly aware that he and Ali needed one another to captivate the American public. The two warriors were the giants who put heavyweight championship bouts back in the realm of popular sports. Frazier once told the New York Times, “Ali always said I would be nothing without him. But who would he have been without me?” Their third meeting, “The Thrilla in Manila,” is considered by many as the greatest boxing match in history. Immediately after winning the grueling bout, Ali said the fight was “the closest you can be to death.” (67, liver cancer) —ER

Dan Wheldon

Despite being one of the Indycar Series’ top drivers and personalities, 2005 Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon found himself without a sponsored race team in 2011. The cheerful, charismatic British racer quickly landed a couple of other jobs in the meantime, however. Wheldon was an engaging and insightful commentator on TV broadcasts of Indycar races. His other job was that of primary test driver for the revolutionary and purportedly safer 2012 Indycar, which features fenders covering the rear tires—a design that might have saved Wheldon’s life.

Dan Wheldon finally found a team in time for the 2011 Indianapolis 500, where he stunned the racing world when he captured his second Indianapolis 500 victory when rookie and race leader J.R. Hildebrand hit the wall 2,000 feet from the finish line. It was Wheldon’s first race of the season. Five months later he was killed in a 15-car wreck on the 12th lap of a 200-lap race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the last event of the Indycar season. One of his front tires ran over a rear wheel on Paul Tracy’s car, sending Wheldon’s racecar airborne for 300 feet before his car caught the catch-fence and his head hit a supporting fence pole. Starting from last place, he would have won $5 million had he won the Las Vegas race. There had been apprehension from veteran drivers about fielding 34 racecars on the high-banked oval track (usually the field consisted of 20 to 25 cars.). Drivers with little experience at such speeds were also to be feared. Wheldon was the first open-wheel driver killed on a track since Paul Dana crashed in 2006 while warming up for the season opener in Florida. Wheldon went on to win that race.

The afternoon Wheldon was killed, however, the race was never resumed. Drivers slowly drove five laps as “Danny Boy” was played at the speedway. In a blog he was writing for USA Today, Wheldon had predicted the following: “It’s going to be a pack race, and you never know how that’s going to turn out.” He added that it would be “an amazing show” with “pure entertainment.” (33, auto racing crash) —ER

Bubba Smith

Bubba Smith finished his NFL career in 1976 and soon learned that was a great time for a massive football star to move into popular culture. The former number one draft pick found lots of showbiz work as a 6’7″ punch line. He easily stood out amongst the slew of pro players drafted into the Miller Lite Beer television commercials, where Smith tore the top off a brew while declaring his love for the “easy opening cans.” Smith also made the rounds of sitcoms and detective shows. He got his biggest break just as other pro athletes saw their ’70s fame begin to fade, providing and imposing presence in 1984′s Police Academy as Cadet Moses Hightower; he would continue as Officer Hightower in five of the six sequels. (66, heart disease and diet pill overdose) —JRT

Randy “Macho Man” Savage

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Savage was one of professional wrestling’s most flamboyant stars during the 1980s and ’90s, sporting oversized sunglasses, sequined robes, and neon spandex. Known as the “Macho Man,” Savage’s real name was Lanny Poffo. The wrestler often entered the ring to the strains of “Pomp and Circumstance.” His signature move was a flying elbow drop off the top rope as he hurled himself onto an opponent. As a spokesman for Slim Jim snacks, Savage wore cowboy outfits away from the ring. He was as adept at playing a “heel” (bad guy) in the ring as he was a “face” (good guy). His colleagues said that the secret to being a good pro wrestler is the art of improv as an entertainer and the ability to read a crowd. Savage was a master at both. (58, car wreck) —ER

Dead Folks 2011: Inventors, Entrepreneurs, & Trailblazers

Dead Folks 2011: Inventors, Entrepreneurs, & Trailblazers


January 26, 2012

Milton Levine

Levine started hawking silly mail-order products (fake shrunken heads, potato guns, plastic soldiers) just after WWII, when toys were reported to be in short supply. By the mid 1950s, his successful company was in Hollywood, at which time Levine happened upon an idea for a new item. According to the story—possibly marketing apocrypha—during a July 4 picnic Levine noticed an anthill, recalled collecting ants as a boy, and decided that a mail-order “ant farm” was the educational toy American youth were craving.

Uncle Milton’s Ant Farm, in its first inception, was a 6″x9,” one-inch-thick plastic “antarium” filled with sand (later white volcanic ash) topped by a three-dimensional plastic farm scene. There were no ants in the kit; the customer mailed in a coupon after which a vial of ants arrived in the mail weeks later. They were red harvester ants, gathered by “rustlers” in the Mojave Desert. Almost instantly, once the tiny insects were carefully dropped into the farm, they began building a network of tunnels, storing food, and even burying their dead.

Uncle Milton Industries, as it is now known, was officially established in 1965. The ant farm was expanded in size at that time, and the company began to also create and market other nature-focused educational items for kids. Some twenty million Uncle Milton’s Ant Farms have been sold since 1957. Last June, according to the Los Angeles Times, Transom Capitol Group purchased Uncle Milton Industries, which was valued in the $30 million to $40 million range. (97, natural causes) —DP’


Rev. David Wilkerson

Street preachers became fashionable in the 1960s, but David Wilkerson was one of the first—and he was square enough to be portrayed by Pat Boone in the movies. Wilkerson was pastoring in small towns when he felt called to Times Square after reading a Life magazine article about New York City’s troubled youth. He arrived in the city in 1958, and launched youth ministries that still survive in NYC. He then became a national figure after publishing his story in The Cross and the Switchblade. The best-selling book was turned into a Hollywood production in 1970, with Boone as Wilkerson and Erik Estrada as Nicky Cruz—who was a real-life former gang member who continues to work as a preacher today. Wilkerson would later divide his time between New York and Texas, where he began a worldwide gospel organization. He also began to get regular visits from God that warned of various end-of-the-world scenarios. Wilkerson remained uniquely inclusive in his preaching, though, and dedicated a lot of his teachings to the importance of supporting Israel. Sadly, he didn’t believe too much in wearing a seat belt while driving through East Texas. (79, car crash) —JRT

Harry Coover

While working at Eastman Kodak Laboratories during WWII, creating new plastic optical materials for gunsights, Coover and fellow chemist Fred Joyner determined that their early experiments with cyanoacrylates just weren’t working out. The stuff stuck to everything, including itself—and usually forever. Later, during the early 1950s, similar experiments at Kodak under Coover’s supervision yielded similar results, but by then the chemist recognized that, with a few minor tweaks, C5H5NO2 would make a dandy adhesive for almost any application. Thus was applied patent number 2,768,109, also known as Super Glue.

The glue was marketed as a wonder product, most famously with television ads depicting an automobile attached to a crane hoist with a single drop of Super Glue. A decade later new products made from various types of cyanoacrylates were on the market, Instant Krazy Glue being the forerunner with its own iconic marketing image: the construction worker dangling from a beam onto which his hardhat is attached with a drop of Krazy Glue.

Coover, a Cornell graduate with a Ph.D. in science, didn’t make his fortune from any of these sticky items; his wealth resulted instead from some 460 other patents under his name, most having to do with innovations in research management policies and systems. (94, natural causes) —DP

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Jack LaLanne

Gym owner Jack LaLanne became a TV pioneer when he purchased time on a San Francisco station to host a morning exercise program. The show became popular enough to be picked up by the ABC network in 1959. LaLanne’s simple exercise show—emphasizing work-outs using household items—would stay on the air until 1989, with LaLanne also building a national chain of gyms and promoting electric juicers and exercise equipment. His long stint as a pop-culture figure would make him one of the few celebrities able to spoof himself on both the original “Batman” TV series and an episode of “The Simpsons.”

LaLanne was already in his mid-30s when he began his TV show, and he made good use of his age for marketing purposes. He retired from public stunts after marking his 70th birthday by towing rowboats for a mile at sea. LaLanne still always found some way to stay in the public eye. He kept looking good enough to be the best advertisement for his businesses. He also knew death was the ultimate bad marketing move. Fortunately, his wife Elaine—who was working out with Jack back in the ’50s—is still around and looks ready to live forever. (96, pneumonia) —JRT

Arch West

As the developer of Doritos corn chips, Arch West no doubt would be one of the first inductees into the Junk Food Hall of Fame. Currently Frito-Lay’s second-best seller (behind Lay’s Potato Chips), West’s original notion was to create a Southwestern-inspired alternative to traditional salted potato and corn chips. Doritos were first produced in 1964 using corn tortillas cut into triangles with cheese and chili flavorings added. West’s wife of 69 years died last year. When the couple’s ashes were buried together, mourners were allowed to toss Doritos into the burial site. (97) —ER

Wilson Greatbatch

Wilson Greatbatch’s genius for tinkering (he held patents on more than 325 inventions) led to extended, normal lives for millions through his invention of the heart pacemaker. The invention was an accident of sorts. In 1956, Greatbatch was working on a heart rhythm recording device and grabbed the wrong-size resistor to complete the circuitry. The circuit it produced discharged intermittent electrical pulses. He immediately associated it with the timing and rhythm of a heartbeat and thought about the electrical activity of the heart. At that time, it was not believed that electronics could be packed into a stimulator for continuous functioning, much less in a tiny, reliable apparatus. Doctors demonstrated in 1958 that Greatbatch’s device—which he developed in his barn—could take control of a dog’s heartbeat. The first human implants were made in 1960. (92) —ER

Paul Baran

As an engineer who created a vital component at the heart of a government-sponsored advanced communications network called the Arpanet, Paul Baran tried to interest AT&T in the project. AT&T said no thanks, refusing to believe that the project would amount to anything. The Arpanet eventually evolved into the Internet. (84, lung cancer) —ER

Charles Laufer

In 1955, a high school teacher named Charles Laufer was so dismayed that his students had nothing entertaining to read that he started a publication called Coaster for teen and pre-teen girls. Coaster soon became Teen, which Laufer sold in 1957. He printed a one-time only magazine of Beatles photos in 1965 that sold 750,000 copies in two days, inspiring the creation of a teen fanzine called Tiger Beat. Featuring The Monkees on the cover, Tiger Beat hit the big time as the band became a colossal sensation. In addition to an over-abundance of exclamation marks, Tiger Beat was packed with glossy pictures, fold-out posters, and innocuous facts about the personal lives of everyone from the Beatles to Donny Osmond to Bob Dylan to David Cassidy. The magazine’s slogan was “Guys in their 20s singing La La songs to 13-year-old girls.” (87, heart failure) —ER

Murray Handwerker

In 1916, Murray Handwerker’s father, Nathan, borrowed a few hundred dollars from entertainers Eddie Cantor and Jimmy Durante to establish a hot dog stand near Coney Island called Nathan’s Famous. Thirty years later, after returning from military service, Murray finally joined the family business. His first idea: expansion, because Murray figured Nathan’s Famous wasn’t nearly famous enough.

Expanding the business meant expanding the menu, so Handwerker added clams, shrimp, and several deli items, all the while dreaming up publicity stunts to attract customers to the Coney Island stand. By the 1960s, Nathan’s Famous had three full-scale restaurants in operation. In 1968, Handwerker took Nathan’s public, ultimately expanding by the following decade to ten franchises, more than three dozen restaurants, and a line of products sold in supermarkets. (89) —DP

Dead Folks 2010: Innovators, Sportsmen, and Politics

Dead Folks 2010: Innovators, Sportsmen, and Politics


January 20, 2011

Inventors and Innovators

Fran Lee (99)
A fiery consumer advocate responsible for New York City’s adoption of pooper-scooper laws in 1978, Fran Lee initially opposed the ordinance, believing it to be too lenient as she denounced notions of dogs being allowed to desecrate the city. Though dog waste may be her claim to fame, Lee appeared on local and national radio and TV programming from the 1940s through the 1990s, playing characters such as Mrs. Fix-It, Mrs. Consumer, and Granny Fanny as she doled out consumer tips. She once appeared on “The Steve Allen Show,” and she taught Allen how to make a bikini from a tattered sweater. She acted in off-Broadway plays and had a small role as a Macy’s customer in Miracle on 34th Street.

After immersing herself in public health and safety issues, she went all out. Her son told the New York Times: “She had the elevator man in each of her buildings bring her all the medical journals that were being thrown out by the doctors in the building. So she had files on spider bites, ticks, all sorts of diseases.” He added that he could overhear his mother—a staunch atheist—talking to herself in her final years, when she would mutter, “God, when I get to see you, am I going to tell you a thing or two.”—ER

Fred Morrison (90)
Visit the beach in Santa Monica, California, on any given afternoon, and more than likely you will see Frisbees being tossed. That’s fitting, because the flying disc’s inventor was selling “Flyin’ Cake Pans” there before eventually creating a plastic version known as “Flyin-Saucer” with investor Warren Franscioni in the late 1940s. A former World War II fighter pilot, Morrison was determined to improve the disc’s aerodynamic qualities, which he did after parting ways with Franscioni. Specifically noted in Morrison’s U.S. patent is the outer third of the disc, known as the “Morrison Slope.” By the mid-1950s Morrison’s new and improved version, “The Pluto Platter,” caught the attention of entrepreneurs at Wham-O, the toy company responsible for the Hula Hoop, the Super Ball, and other iconic toys. Ed Headrick, (later owner of the Disc Golf Association), further improved the design by adding stabilizing concentric rings at the disc’s edge (known as the “Rings of Headrick”). The new name was coined when Wham-O reps learned that college kids in New England referred to the Pluto Platters as “Frisbies” after the Frisbie Pie Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut. That company’s cake pans were already being used as makeshift toys. The Wham-O legal counsel naturally insisted on altering the spelling to “Frisbee.”

The whole process, instigated by Morrison’s idea to capitalize on the era’s flying saucer craze, made him a millionaire. He wasn’t the only one who got rich. Before selling the name and design for Frisbee to Mattell, Wham-O sold approximately 100 million discs.—DP

Elizabeth Post (click for larger version)




Elizabeth Post (89)
Is it proper to talk about the deceased while comforting a bereaved survivor? Are floral patterns appropriate to wear at a funeral? Is it okay to bring a date? You’ve missed your chance to ask Elizabeth Post, who succeeded her grandmother-in-law Emily Post as America’s leading expert on manners. She enjoyed a long career that included frequently revising the book Emily Post’s Etiquette. Elizabeth also kept a column under her own name that ran in Good Housekeeping for 25 years. Known as “Libby” to her pals, she had a notably relaxed notion about the etiquette industry. She mostly believed in respect and consideration as a way to bring people closer together. She was on the front lines of dealing with things like wedding showers for unwed mothers—so it’s pretty impressive she lived as long as she did.—JRT

Glenn Walters (85)
Many people can curse Glenn Walters as the inventor of cubicles. At the very least, he was a major figure behind the workplace innovation. Back in 1966, his vision was more about the concept of movable walls. Still, it was inevitable that his big idea would be turned into little boxes for office employees. Cubicles made a success of Walters, who started out as a salesman for the Herman Miller furniture company. He retired as the company’s president in 1982.

Walters might not have even noticed how his dehumanizing eight foot by eight foot enclosures (if you’re lucky) became a touchstone of Generation X revolt a decade later—and soon had hip corporations embracing an open office workplace as a fashionable option. You can still thank him for absurdist humor ranging from the “Dilbert” comic strip to the cult film Office Space. He should also get credit for that cute picture of a cubicle dolled up like a gingerbread house that someone emailed you last week.

This is also a good time to salute UAB employee David Gunnells, who was the winner of Wired magazine’s 2007 competition for America’s Saddest Cubicle. Revenge is yours, sir.—JRT

Morrie Yohai (click for larger version)

Morrie Yohai (89)
You might think of them as a trashy Southern tradition, but Cheez Doodles—marketed under the Wise Foods banner in the mid-1960s—originated in the Bronx under the eye of Morrie Yohai. His company was later absorbed by Borden, who promptly moved the product to their affiliate’s potato chip division. The cheese-flavored corn snack was a Cheetos knock-off, but the Cheez Doodles brand has continued to prosper. Yohai did pretty well for himself, going on to work with Borden’s snack food division on (the predominantly East Coast–preferred) Drake’s Cakes and (the universally beloved) Cracker Jack. Yohai always insisted that the invention of Cheez Doodles was a group effort, but he conceded that he invented the name. He certainly embraced his proud heritage—passing away in the New York home that his wife of over 50 years described as “the house that Cheez Doodles bought.”—JRT


Alexander Haig (85)
A veteran of the the Korean and Vietnam Wars, former U.S. Army General Alexander Haig was perhaps best known for wrongly declaring himself to be in charge of the country in the immediate aftermath of the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan. It was the first of several controversial episodes that prompted Reagan to fire him after Haig was appointed Secretary of State. (He pronounced himself “the vicar of foreign policy” after accepting the post.) He took over H. R. Haldeman’s position as President Richard Nixon’s Chief of Staff as Watergate began to unravel and is widely credited with keeping the government functioning during Nixon’s final days.

Alexander Haig (click for larger version)

Noted for his staunch anticommunist posture, Haig readily admitted to feeling that way at a young age in a 2000 interview with Fox’s James Rosen: “I started out as a Cold Warrior, even my last years in grade school. I used to read everything I could get on communism. In fact, the first paper I wrote as a plebe at West Point caused a major upheaval in the faculty, because I predicted that our next enemy was the Soviet Union. . . . It was during the war [World War II], when we were allies. . . . I was viewed with some suspicion by the social sciences department.” Later in the interview, he knocked his old boss Reagan: “There ain’t anybody else in America that I know that has quit three presidents—but I have. And I quit Ronald Reagan for exactly that reason. He’s sitting there, not knowing what the hell was going on, and he had [Deputy Chief of Staff Mike] Deaver and [Chief of Staff James] Baker and Mrs. Reagan running the government!”—ER

James Kilpatrick (89)
Like many Southerners before him, political writer and pundit James Kilpatrick finally realized that the racial discrimination he once championed was simply wrong. As the editor of the Richmond News Leader in the 1950s and ’60s, Kilpatrick was a fervent segregationist who in editorials espoused states’ rights and separation of the races. In 1963, he submitted an article to the Saturday Evening Post titled “The Hell He Is Equal,” writing that the “Negro race, as a race, is in fact an inferior race.” The Post pulled the article out of sensitivity to the deaths of four young black girls in the bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church. By the late ’60s, Kilpatrick began to repent.

James Kilpatrick (click for larger version)

Kilpatrick became a conservative political TV star for his in-your-face debating prowess on the CBS “60 Minutes” segment “Point-Counterpoint.” He verbally jousted with liberal opponents, the most memorable instances being snide exchanges between him and liberal Shana Alexander. Kilpatrick and his colleagues called their debates “a political form of professional wrestling.” The pair was parodied by Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd on “Saturday Night Live” during Weekend Update sketches.

Former Democratic presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy was a neighbor and friend of Kilpatrick’s. “The man is not locked into a mold. He’s not just the curmudgeon you see on TV,” McCarthy told The Washington Post in 1973, adding that Kilpatrick had “kind of a country manor style.”

My favorite things that Kilpatrick wrote were his weekly syndicated columns on grammar and word usage in the Birmingham News each Sunday. He mercilessly scolded, scoffed at, and corrected writers who committed grammatical sins in print. I was once inspired to send him an email praising him after he relentlessly shamed a writer for misusing the word “shimmy” when the scribe wrote of someone who “shimmied up a pole.” Kilpatrick admonished, correcting the mistake with the pointed barbs and verbal skill of a master swordsman when he informed that “shinny” is the correct verb to represent such an action. “Shimmy” is more correctly used to define the intense shaking in the front end of an automobile. I shared with Kilpatrick that I first heard the word “shimmy” used by my father to describe the intense vibrations from the engine of our 1967 Chevelle. The next morning, Kilpatrick had already responded, writing:

Dear Mr. Reynolds,

Many thanks for your note. We have a good deal in common. I’m 84. I learned to drive under my father’s tutelage in a Studebaker sedan, and thus learned all about shimmy. This was in 1934 or thereabouts. Great car, but—

You could do me a favor if sometime, when you’re thinking about my column, you could drop a note to the News editor saying you enjoy my pearls of wisdom. Nothing helps a columnist quite so much as a few letters from readers, writ by hand.

James J. Kilpatrick

I remain forever amused that a writer of Kilpatrick’s prominence asked me to dash off a note to the editor of a newspaper that ran his column to tell them what a great job Kilpatrick was doing.—ER


Don Meredith (click for larger version)

“Dandy Don” Meredith (72)
For nine seasons “Dandy Don” Meredith was quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, later making a name for himself as part of the original Monday Night Football broadcasting team. Meredith was commentator Howard Cosell’s comic foil for 12 years. His ever-present smile, effervescent personality, and down-home humor made him popular with viewers. One of his favorite quips was the night he was working a game in Denver. “Welcome to Mile High Stadium—and I really am,” he said.—Ed Reynolds

George Steinbrenner (80)
Noted for his demanding, outspoken demeanor, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was the first professional sports franchise owner to pay outrageously large salaries to players. Building a baseball dynasty second to none, Steinbrenner was renowned for firing and rehiring managers, with hothead Billy Martin taking five turns managing the team. The revolving door of personnel changes earned the Yankees the nickname “the Bronx Zoo.” During his college years, Steinbrenner flirted with coaching football and was an assistant coach to Woody Hayes at Ohio State the year the Buckeyes were the undefeated national champions. Before acquiring the Yankees in 1973, he dabbled in producing Broadway plays.—ER

Bobby Thomson (86)
Born in Scotland, Bobby Thomson moved to the United States at age two. His game-winning home run—known as “the shot heard ’round the world”—lifted the New York Giants over the Brooklyn Dodgers in a 1951 playoff game to secure the National League pennant. It was later confirmed that the 1951 Giants employed telescopes to steal the pitching signals that opposing catchers gave to pitchers.—ER

John Wooden (click for larger version)

John Wooden (99)
Known as the “Wizard of Westwood,” John Wooden is considered the greatest basketball coach in college history; his UCLA Bruins won 10 national championships in 12 years, including 7 in a row. No collegiate team dominated a sport the way UCLA did basketball with Wooden at the helm, spawning two of the greatest names to play the game: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton. His teams were noted for their merciless full-court press on defense. Wooden always described his job as teacher, not coach. Abdul-Jabbar wrote in the New York Times in 2000, “He broke basketball down to its basic elements. . . . He always told us basketball was a simple game, but his ability to make the game simple was part of his genius.”—ER

Dead Folks: Film, Part 2

Dead Folks: Film, Part 2

Remembrances of notable individuals who passed away in 2009.

January 21, 2010

Patrick McGoohan
Though born in New York City, Patrick McGoohan was raised in Ireland, where his acting career established him as one of the new crop of Angry Young Men storming the stage during the 1950s. Any plans to become the next Richard Burton changed when McGoohan became a TV star on the long-running UK series “Danger Man” (repackaged as “Secret Agent” for the American audience). McGoohan then turned that simple career move into high art. After three seasons of “Danger Man,” McGoohan essentially took his spy character and placed him in the ambitious sci-fi setting of “The Prisoner.”

Patrick McGoohan (click for larger version)

McGoohan produced, wrote, directed, and starred in what became one of the 1960s most subversive TV shows. The title character of “The Prisoner” was only known as Number Six. Each episode presented him clashing with a new Number Two, whose job would be to psychologically break Number Six among the trappings of the luxury resort that served as his prison. Before it was over, “The Prisoner” became a brilliant mix of libertarian politics torn between Cold War paranoia and hippie hysteria.

McGoohan worked infrequently after that success. He gave up on television after a frustrating stint as a diagnostic physician in 1977′s “Rafferty.” He fared better on the big screen, with great villainous turns in 1976′s The Silver Streak and against Clint Eastwood in Escape from Alcatraz. He also appeared in David Cronenberg’s Scanners and Mel Gibson’s Braveheart.

McGoohan also stayed busy working on the “Columbo” TV movies. He played four murderers and directed other episodes. Unfortunately, McGoohan matched only Sean Connery when it came to bad decisions later in his career. His big-screen genre return was a 1996 cameo in The Phantom, based on the popular comic strip. He turned down roles in The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter films. McGoohan’s last big appearance was returning as Number Six in an episode of “The Simpsons.” The AMC cable channel aired a remake of “The Prisoner” this year. Some wondered if McGoohan dropped dead because he saw how badly the network screwed up the concept. (80, natural causes)

—J.R. Taylor

Jack Wrangler
In the midst of 1970s porn chic, only one gay porn star was able to go legit. Jack Wrangler—born John Stillman—came from a showbiz family in Beverly Hills, and started out as a child actor. He took roles in gay-themed stage productions as a young man, before moving to New York. He ended up working on the stages of Manhattan’s gay bars as a go-go dancer. That’s when he became Jack Wrangler. He was soon discovered by gay porn filmmakers and made his X-rated debut in 1970′s Eyes of a Stranger. The proudly out star became a regular in fashionable Manhattan hot spots. Wrangler later moved on to heterosexual porn in the late 1970s—his most notorious role remains his turn as Satan in 1982′s The Devil in Miss Jones 2. By then, he had scored a legitimate off-Broadway hit with his role in the popular play “T-Shirts.”

Jack Wrangler (click for larger version)




He was a heavy smoker, but a lot of people were surprised that Wrangler was outlived by his wife. Actually, a lot of people were surprised that he had a wife. He had first met Margaret Whiting in 1976. That was several decades after her heyday as a popular singer.

Wrangler went on to promote Whiting’s career and ended up as a busy producer on the cabaret circuit. The couple married in 1994, and raised eyebrows one last time in 1998 when they sued the city of New York for $3 million after Whiting (then 74 years old) broke her hip after tripping on broken pavement. The lawsuit included a $1 million claim over the loss of conjugal relations. (62, emphysema) —J.R.T.

Ray Dennis Steckler
One of Hollywood’s worst directors had a promising start. Ray Dennis Steckler made his directorial debut with 1962′s Wild Guitar, which is actually a stylish—and inept—tale of the rise and fall of a young rockabilly star. The nebbishy Steckler then wrote a role for himself (starring under the name of Cash Flagg) as Mort “Mad Dog” Click in 1964′s The Thrill Killers. Steckler also used his pseudonym to direct himself in that same year’s The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!? The title alone made it an instant cult classic. The film became notorious as a touring show that featured real monsters running through the theater and abducting girls from the audience.

Ray Dennis Stecker’s most famous film. (click for larger version)

Steckler never got a chance at a decent script, though, and his reputation went downhill while making notoriously cheap films like the “Batman” parody Rat Pfink a Boo Boo and directing porn in the 1970s.

He made X-rated films up to 1983, and then began to enjoy some notoriety as his earlier films were discovered on VHS. The Hollywood Strangler Meets the Skid Row Slasher (1979) plays more like a nihilistic wallow on the level of Abel Ferrara’s Driller Killer. Steckler had moved to Vegas by the end of the ’70s, which makes The Hollywood Strangler equally impressive as a travelogue of that city’s sleaziest ’70s settings.

Steckler was happy to be rediscovered and had a pretty good attitude about his career. He was still right to be angry when one of his movies showed up as fodder for an episode of “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” Nothing really came of his attempted comeback with 1986′s Las Vegas Serial Killer, but he seemed happy to concentrate on his own Las Vegas chain of video stores.

John Quade

Sadly, the director never pursued his idea of reuniting with cast members from his old films to make Steckler’s 11. He did, however, reportedly finish shooting The Incredibly Strange Creatures: One More Time before his death—and for one-tenth of the original film’s $38,000 budget. (70, cardiac arrest) —J.R.T.

John Quade
From the 1960s until just recently, Quade’s mere physical presence made him a first choice for the role of a heavy in any TV series or motion picture requiring an ill-tempered troll. A thick, balding head (sans neck), slits for eyes, and the torso of a young bull combined to suggest an inevitable encounter with menace and mayhem. Yet in dozens of westerns or crime thrillers, something about Quade’s demeanor hinted that he fell squarely into two bad-guy categories: mean and stupid. While one easily imagines him ambling out of a saloon and crossing the street so he can pummel some victim into dust, one just as easily suspects that Quade will forget why he bothered to cross that street once he reaches the other side. Therefore he represented, in most of his roles as a corrupt lawman, renegade biker, or frontier bully, a kind of dangerous nuisance as opposed to a deadly threat. That’s Quade in High Plains Drifter, Any Which Way You Can, and similar fare attempting to open a can of whoop-ass, but ultimately making Clint Eastwood’s day. (71, natural causes) —D.P.

David Carradine

David Carradine
The star of the 1970s drama “Kung Fu” enjoyed a few legitimate screen roles, including Ingmar Bergman’s The Serpent’s Egg and an Oscar-nominated turn as Woody Guthrie in 1976′s Bound for Glory. There were also plenty of classic drive-in epics, from Boxcar Bertha to Death Race 2000. He was always one of Hollywood’s wildest eccentrics, constantly going barefoot and eager to discuss eating the placenta of the child he had with Barbara Hershey in 1972. (That was back when his Boxcar Bertha co-star called herself Barbara Seagull after hitting a seagull with her car.)

His brother Keith went on to the classier acting career, while Robert Carradine got the Revenge of the Nerds franchise. Carradine spent the 1980s and ’90s making tons of direct-to-video schlock with the occasional classy role—including the classic monster movie Q and working with his brothers in The Long Riders. He also spent 10 years working as the writer, director, and star of Americana. That one is a real lost gem worthy of directors like Monte Hellman and David Lynch.

Carradine also kept the Kung Fu franchise going by playing his own ancestor in a long-running syndicated series. He made a true comeback replacing Warren Beatty in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies. That didn’t stop Carradine from going right back to making schlock—including the Bangkok-set actioner he was filming when found dead in the closet of his hotel room.

The initial reports of suicide were later clarified as autoerotic asphyxiation. That was certainly in keeping with Carradine’s kinky reputation. The indulgent actor left Los Angeles with something to remember. A few months before his death, Carradine participated in a panel discussion after a screening of Bound for Glory. He complained about the evils off labor unions, threw a microphone at a woman in the audience, and berated cinematographer Haskell Wexler for ruining the movie. Wexler won his second Oscar for his work on Bound for Glory. (72, autoerotic asphyxiation) —J.R.T.

Gene Barry
A handsome leading man in some very minor films and two popular TV series, Barry might have been a bigger star if not for an accident of birth. He did have a starring role in one “A” picture. Playing Dr. Clayton Forrester in the 1953 science-fiction epic The War of the Worlds, Barry sported tortoise-shell horn-rim glasses and a debonair swagger. Forrester provided nerds and science geeks everywhere with the best possible pick-up line: when his fetching female co-star mentions the glasses, he removes them, moves into her space, and intones, “When I want look at something up close, I take them off.”

Gale Storm (click for larger version)

By the time he took a starring role in the TV western “Bat Masterson,” Barry was older—and looking older—than most of his peers who were holding positions as ladies’ men. The detective series “Burke’s Law” had him gadding about Los Angeles in a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce, solving crimes and turning away eager dames. The show’s bevy of willing babes and surprisingly frank sexual content were intended to maximize Barry’s potential as a major swankster. But in 1965, he looked like the much older brother of Hollywood’s most dashing lads. (90, natural causes) —D.P.

Gale Storm
The filmography of Gale Storm ends like you would expect from an aging star of the 1950s. Her final credits were “The Love Boat” and “Murder, She Wrote.” Storm was no typical starlet, though. The former Josephine Cottle spent the 1940s making lots of banal films for RKO Pictures. Things suddenly turned around with the unexpected success of the TV show “My Little Margie.” She was 30 years old when the summer replacement for “I Love Lucy” became a hit in 1952. That was ancient by Hollywood standards, but Storm launched a new career as a hit singer and nightclub act—and followed up “My Little Margie” with “The Gale Storm Show,” which kept her on the air until 1960. (87, natural causes) —J.R.T.

Charles Schneer
Serving in the U.S. Army Photographic Unit during WWII alongside John Ford and John Huston, Schneer got a big case of the movie bug and headed to Hollywood after the war. In the mid-1950s, he joined Columbia Pictures and hooked up with Ray Harryhausen, who had learned a few things about stop-motion animation from the experts who had made King Kong. This was especially appealing for Schneer, who was obsessed with the kind of science-fiction and adventure stories known in the movie industry at that time as “creature features.” Harryhausen was already figuring out how to make those creatures come to life, and Schneer knew how to manage a production unit. It was the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship.

Shooting scale-model monsters on miniature sets (one frame at a time) requires an intimidating amount of time and money, and Columbia Pictures was rarely the studio for big budgets. It was Schneer’s particular genius to find the means to make those pictures anyway. For the duo’s first feature film, It Came from Beneath the Sea, Schneer determined that a giant octopus with only six tentacles would take less time for Harryhausen to pose and shoot than would an anatomically correct cephalopod. He correctly gambled that audiences stunned by the sight of a sea creature tearing out portions of the Golden Gate Bridge wouldn’t take time to count tentacles.

A genre was spawned, aided by Schneer’s youthful fascination with H-bomb tests, UFOs, and any story in the newspapers covering a strange new phenomenon. His collection of clippings was the impetus for low-budget, high-impact wonders such as Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and 20 Million Miles to Earth. Nontheless, it occurred rather quickly to both Schneer and Harryhausen that alien invaders and radiation-enhanced creatures were tired subjects by the end of that decade. Maybe they could bring a little class to the joint by making pictures about the original gods and monsters of Roman and Greek mythology.

The idea resulted in a second genre of pictures, coinciding with—and borrowing from—the sword-and-sandal epics being made in Europe. Using Mediterranean locations, Bernard Herrmann’s rousing, brassy scores, and Harryhausen’s visual effects system “Dynamation,” Schneer provided three generations of moviegoers with a series of indelible images. Jason and the Argonauts, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Clash of the Titans, and others each offer at least one unforgettable moment. The sword battle with that skeleton army from Jason and the Argonauts might be the Schneer/Harryhausen masterwork. (89) —D.P.

Maurice Jarre
A list of the most recognizable motion picture scores would probably include Elmer Bernstein’s The Magnificent Seven, Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho, John Williams’ scores for Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Ennio Morricone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and Nino Rota’s The Godfather. Henry Mancini’s theme from The Pink Panther and John Barry’s score for Goldfinger also make the cut. In all likelihood, Maurice Jarre’s compositions for Dr. Zhivago

(specifically “Lara’s Theme”) will appear in any survey of the most recognizable soundtracks in motion picture history; Dr. Zhivago might even belong in the top five.

Jarre himself might belong on another list: the top 10 hardest working composers in show business. He was meeting impossible challenges early in his career and simply never let up. When producer Sam Spiegel called on Jarre to provide incidental music for David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, the plan was to have heavyweights Benjamin Britten and Aram Khachaturian handle all the theme music. The studio then settled on yet another major composer, Richard Rodgers, but the notoriously picky Lean was not satisfied with anything he heard. The entire score was left up to Jarre, who had less than 40 days to compose themes, arrange the score, rehearse with an orchestra, and then conduct that orchestra to synchronize all music tracks with the film. That score, which employed Arabian music for certain motifs, earned Jarre his first of three Oscars. Lean insisted that Jarre work on his next film, Dr. Zhivago, but again the composer was left with the daunting task of crafting a theme and an entire score within a limited schedule. And again, he earned an Academy Award.

His body of work isn’t all lush symphonic music and chart-busting themes. There is often restraint and ingenuity in the orchestration, especially when he is conveying human emotions or signifying key charactters. Witness the off-kilter strains used to suggest madness in Night of the Generals, The Collector, or most ingeniously in George Franju’s horror cult classic Les Yeux Sans Visage. Indeed, there are numerous instances in his career where Jarre’s music outclasses—and out-entertains—the picture itself, certainly in the case of some forgettable westerns. His early scores for Franju, along with those for several French films made before Jarre came to the United States, are essential listening. Highly recommended is a very rare boxed set of Jarre’s early work, “Anthologie-80ème Anniversaire,” released by the French label Play Time in 2005. (84, cancer) —D.P.

Brittany Murphy
A lot of people were shocked when Brittany Murphy died young. Those people hadn’t been following her film career. The former child actress broke big in her late teens, starting with her role as a girl in need of a makeover in 1995′s Clueless. Her next film was the bizarre indie classic Freeway, and Murphy closed out the 1990s with Girl, Interrupted and Drop Dead Gorgeous. The latter was an underseen comedy that still catapulted Murphy into lead roles. She made some bad romantic comedies in the next decade, but Murphy did fine work in 8 Mile and Sin City. She also kept her day job as the voice of trashy Texan girl Luanne Platter on the FOX animated series “King of the Hill.”

By the mid-2000s, though, Murphy was in trouble. Lindsay Lohan made the headlines, but Murphy was going through a similar celebrity meltdown. Her erratic behavior soon had her reduced to crappy direct-to-video productions. Murphy hit rock bottom with 2009′s MegaFault. The disaster movie debuted on the SyFy Channel in a slot usually reserved for films starring Judd Nelson and Coolio.

The biggest project Murphy had going was the upcoming action film The Expendables. She doesn’t star in the Sylvester Stallone vehicle, though. She is part of a kitschy cast featuring faded stars like Eric Roberts and Dolph Lundgren. Sadly, Murphy didn’t leave much to be rediscovered at the end of her career. She had ruined her looks with plastic surgery, and her eyes were as dead as any veteran porn star’s. Plenty of pills were found in her home. Murphy’s husband and her mother, however, insist that their meal ticket didn’t do drugs. They say she died of a heart murmur. “It was hard for anyone to imagine that somebody was so high on life,” explained Mom. She got that right. (32, cardiac arrest, officially) —J.R.T.

Dead Folks: Television

Dead Folks: Television

Remembrances of notable individuals who passed away in 2009.


January 21, 2010

Henry Gibson
Philadelphia-born Henry Gibson moved to New York City after finishing his studies at the Royal Academy of London. The starving actor had trouble sleeping in the Hell’s Kitchen bathtub that served as his bed, so he stayed up all night writing poetry in the voice of a naïve Southern boy from Fairhope, Alabama. He began to perform the poems live—originally with classmate Jon Voight, and then solo after Voight decided to pursue more serious roles.

Henry Gibson (click for larger version)

Gibson was born James Bateman, but chose his stage name because it sounded like “Henrik Ibsen” with a Southern accent. His big break came with a chance to read his poems on the “PM East/PM West” TV show hosted by Mike Wallace. Gibson knew he would never be allowed on the show if the producers knew he was an actor. He recalled his audition in an interview from 1997:

I visited the studio, and they brought in Mike Wallace. He practically exhausted me with questions about my background. I had to create an entire biography, depicting this idealized version of a town I had never even seen. Then Wallace asked me, ‘Henry, can you make up a poem on the spot?’

I nearly died. My entire repertoire had seven poems, maybe eight. The dumber the poems sounded, the more time it had taken to create them. The intricacy and complexity of them wasn’t something that just happened. So I foolishly said, ‘Yes,’ and came up with a poem about sunshine:

There’s sunshine in the mountains
There’s sunshine in the trees
There’s sunshine right here in the office
But, most of all, it’s in me

Well, that did it. He put me on the show the next day. Sad to say—or happy to say—Henry Gibson, the poet, was launched.

That appearance turned Little Henry from Fairhope, Alabama, into a star. He was a regular on the national talk shows of the early 1960s, and Gibson frequently took phone calls from Alabama newspapers wanting to chronicle the exploits of a favorite son. Little Henry became a regular on “The Joey Bishop Show,” and fans like Jerry Lewis and Phyllis Diller encouraged his bizarre stand-up comedy act.

Gibson had moved on to legitimate theater by the time he began reciting his poems on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.” The hit show made Gibson a countercultural icon. His most controversial messages involved peace and environmental causes.

By the end of the 1970s, Gibson had enough clout to publish a poem in the editorial pages of the Washington Post. (“I was especially pleased to learn that President Carter found it offensive.”) Gibson also remained busy as a character actor, picking up new fans with an appearance in 1980′s The Blues Brothers. He could also be found in films such as Magnolia and Nashville. Gibson worked constantly (and Twittered) right up to his death. He never did get to visit Fairhope. (73, cancer) —J.R. Taylor

Edward Woodward (click for larger version)

Edward Woodward
Few Americans know the full career history of this versatile English actor. Blessed with good looks (a blend of Peter O’Toole and Christopher Plummer) and a gentle tenor, Woodward found his way onto the English stage—and for a short time, Broadway—where he rubbed elbows with Noël Coward, Laurence Olivier, and sundry leading lights of the National Theatre. Thanks to numerous BBC radio programs and TV roles, Woodward was a household name in England by the 1960s. During the early 1970s, the long-running spy series “Callan” established him as the go-to guy for international man-of-intrigue roles whenever Michael Caine was unavailable.

Woodward was adept at playing humorless authority figures, which made him an excellent choice as Sergeant Howie, the pious police investigator who encounters a pagan cult on the remote Scottish isle in The Wicker Man. The ne plus ultra of British horror/fantasy films, that picture enjoyed cult status practically from the moment of its release in 1973, by which Woodward became a kind of international cult star. A decade later, several American TV shows offered variations on Woodward’s man-of-intrigue background, the most notable of which was “The Equalizer.” (79, pneumonia.) —David Pelfrey

Soupy Sales
One of New York City’s biggest local stars started out as a Southern boy. Soupy Sales was born as Milton Supman in North Carolina and was one of many comics who got their start entertaining their fellow enlisted men during World War II. Sales worked his way around America as a local TV show host in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Detroit—where he established his weird mix of a daytime talk show that entertained both kiddies and adults with puppets and pie fights.

Soupy Sales (click for larger version)

A (quickly canceled) local show in Los Angeles made a fan out of Frank Sinatra, who signed Sales to his Reprise record label. Sales didn’t hit the pop charts until 1965, though, after finding success with his show in New York City. “The Mouse” became a huge novelty single, and word began to go beyond the East Coast about Sales and his cast of characters—and White Fang (“The Meanest Dog in the USA”) became a true breakout character.

Sales broke through nationally after a live New Year’s Day broadcast in 1965. He instructed his kiddie audience to sneak into the bedroom where their parents were presumably still asleep after the previous night’s parties. Sales told the kids to mail him the “funny green pieces of paper” in their parents’ pants and purses. Enough money came in that the concerned network suspended Sales for two weeks.

He became a popular talk show guest, as well as appearing on (and hosting) several game shows. A lot of his young fans in New York City grew up to work in Hollywood, and Sales could always find employment. He became part of the pop firmament, with his survivors include the legendary Sons of Soupy—that being the ace rhythm section of Tony and Hunt Sales, who have worked with David Bowie’s Tin Machine and Iggy Pop. Sales also lived long enough to see his name become one of the many pop-culture references in the script to Juno. He died in the Bronx, which only endeared him more to his New York audience. (83, natural causes) —J.R.T.

Beatrice “Bea” Arthur
Bea Arthur had a seven-decade career in theatre and TV, but was best known as the tall, rapier-witted “Golden Girl” and “Maude,” both of TV fame. Arthur was a successful stage actress and singer prior to her career in TV. In “Maude,” Arthur broke ground playing a 40-year-old, four-time-married liberal with a tough sense of humor. In the show’s first season, Maude dealt with the realities of pregnancy and abortion later in life (at age 47). The controversial episode aired two months before Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case making abortion legal, was decided. Two CBS affiliates refused to air the episode, and Arthur received a shower of hate mail for it.

Bea Arthur (click for larger version)

“Maude” came about when Arthur’s friend, Norman Lear, convinced her to do a guest spot on “All in the Family.” Lear created a role for her in Maude Findlay, a cousin of Archie Bunker’s wife Edith. Maude’s spunk and sparring with Archie was a hit with viewers, and CBS demanded a new series from Lear, with Maude as the main character.

Arthur’s subsequent role, as Dorothy on the long-running sitcom, “The Golden Girls” (1985-92) was similarly edgy in that its lead characters—three ladies in their “golden years” living together and all actively dating—dealt with touchy contemporary topics such as gay rights and gun control. (86, cancer) —Christina Crowe

Wendy Richard
“Are You Being Served?” was a corny British sitcom that ran on the BBC from 1972 to 1985—and then became a beloved favorite of the PBS audience in America. The beleaguered sales staff at the Grace Brothers department store certainly built a following in Birmingham. Many viewers were admirers of Wendy Richard as the sexy (and oblivious) sales clerk Miss Shirley Brahms. Richard moved on to the long-running “EastEnders” soap opera, where she starred as proud local matriarch Pauline Fowler. She appeared in more than 1,400 episodes between 1985 and 2006. She had become one of Britain’s most familiar faces, and her battle against cancer became a public affair that sadly culminated in February of last year. “Are You Being Served?” fans will be further saddened to learn that Wendy was followed in death by 86-year-old Mollie Sugden, who had played senior saleswoman Mrs. Slocombe. (65, breast cancer) —J.R.T.

Val Avery (click for larger version)


Wendy Richard (click for larger version)


Val Avery
As a longtime friend and drinking buddy of Peter Falk and John Cassavetes, Avery was for all practical purposes a “made guy” in acting circles. The owl-faced, glaring character player usually portrayed some variation of mob enforcer or wise guy, and he was a staple of TV westerns and crime dramas. He appeared at least once (and often several times) in “The Untouchables,” “The Fugitive,” “The F.B.I.,” “Dragnet,” “N.Y. P.D.,” “Ironside,” “McCloud,” “Mannix,” “Police Story,” “Kojak,” “Baretta,” “Columbo,” and “Starsky & Hutch,” among some 140 other shows. From the fall of 1955 to the summer of 2001, Avery portrayed either extremely intimidating mobsters, fairly unpleasant tough guys, or untrustworthy losers getting deeper into some kind of trouble with the authorities—or bringing to some unfortunate soul his own special brand of problem. He also had roles in more than 100 motion pictures, chief among them The Pope of Greenwich Village, Donnie Brasco, The Wanderers, Gloria, and Papillon. Considering his more than 400 TV or movie roles, Avery was an excellent choice for a round of “Hey, it’s that guy!” (85) —D.P.

Gidget the Chihuahua became an advertising icon in the late 1990s by proclaiming, “áYo quiero Taco Bell!” She wowed audiences until she was put out of a job by Hispanic advocacy groups claiming that she perpetuated stereotypes. The protestors actually did Taco Bell a favor. The commercials were popular, but didn’t do anything for restaurant sales. Gidget actually killed creative commercials for a while. Dull clients loved to remind ambitious ad agencies that being clever didn’t do anything for Taco Bell.

Gidget also harmed the reputation of TBWA Chiat/Day. The ad agency gladly took credit for coming up with the idea of the spokesdog, but Taco Bell was later successfully sued for stealing the idea from a small ad agency in Michigan. Oblivious to it all, Gidget remained an untarnished icon. (16, stroke) —J.R.T.

Ken Ober
Before there was reality TV, cable TV offered a different kind of weird new fame. Former stand-up comic Ken Ober was a perfect example as the host of MTV’s “Remote Control” game show from 1987 to 1989. Ober later found success writing and producing TV shows such as “The New Adventures of Old Christine.” (52, natural causes) —J.R.T.

Dead Folks: Music

Dead Folks: Music

Remembrances of notable individuals who passed away in 2009.


January 21, 2010

Lux Interior
Since Cramps singer Lux Interior’s cause of death at age 62 was listed as a preexisting heart condition, anyone who saw Lux in action will forever wonder how he made it past 40. In that context, it’s tempting to paraphrase one of the Cramps’ signature cover tunes, “Rockin’ Bones”: his bones will keep a rockin’ long after he’s gone. That’s superfluous, however, because Lux Interior, front man for legendary rockabilly band The Cramps, was a real gone guy from day one.

Lux Interior (click for larger version)

For decades, writers have attempted to capture the essence of Lux, calling him “the high priest of a pagan rockabilly cult,” or “the maddest bad daddy of all the bad, mad daddies.” He was the mayor of Wig City, Maximum Utmost, USA, a shockabilly shaman of the shimmy and shake, or, as the liner notes to The Cramps’ Gravest Hits intones: “Elvis gets crossed with Vincent Price and decent folks ask, ‘What hath God wrought?’” At the time of his death, all the squares in the major media were making the rather desultory observation that Lux Interior sang rock and roll. They somehow missed the plain fact that he was rock and roll.

No one left it all out there on the stage like Lux. Not James Brown, or Iggy Pop, or Mick Jagger, or Jerry Lee Lewis. The show was the thing, but it was all just a way of losing his mind, that being the ultimate result of finding that new kind of kick Lux had been searching for since his early teen years in Ohio. For most of his life and career Lux Interior was rummaging through the nation’s collective garbage can (trash culture), salvaging elements of American music and reconstructing from the heap what he called “bad music for bad people.” For a complete obituary, see “Lux Interior R.I.P.” at (62, aortic dissection) —D.P.

Ron Asheton
After The Stooges broke up in 1971, Iggy Pop went to Florida and mowed lawns for a living. Ron Asheton hung around Detroit and played in a few more pioneering punk bands. It took a few years before people began to think of The Stooges as one of the great rock bands of all time. Iggy cashed in on the band’s reputation, but he spent his career trying to replicate the primitive rock riffs that Asheton came up with for songs like “T.V. Eye,” “No Fun,” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” Asheton even became a legendary guitarist despite switching to bass after the band’s first two albums. (That move made him part of a brotherly rhythm section with Scott Asheton on drums.)

Ron Asheton and Iggy Pop. (click for larger version)

Asheton made some acclaimed albums with bands like Destroy All Monsters and the (sort-of) supergroup New Race. He still spent most of his life paying the bills with his artwork—and the occasional cameo in low-budget horror films. Asheton enjoyed proper rock stardom later in life when The Stooges reunited to record The Weirdness in 2007. (Ex-fIREHOSE member Mike Watt played bass.) The Asheton brothers were able to keep up with Iggy to become a great live act, and the reunion paid enough for Ron to hire a personal assistant. That’s who discovered his body in his Ann Arbor home. (60, heart attack) —J.R.T.

Jim Dickinson
Memphis-based album producer Jim Dickinson established a reputation as one of the top session players in the music industry, where he hung out with rock ‘n’ roll royalty. Bob Dylan saluted Dickinson as a “brother” in 1997 while accepting a Grammy for the record Time Out of Mind, on which he asked Dickinson to play piano.

Dickinson was a pioneer of the Memphis sound—a blend of blues, country, pop, and soul. He recorded with Sam Phillips at Sun Records and then formed The Dixie Flyers—a house band for Atlantic Records artists such as Aretha Franklin and Little Richard. Dickinson’s reputation for working with difficult personalities included producing the haunting Big Star pop classic Sister Lovers. His sons, Luther and Cody, have achieved success with their band The North Mississippi All-Stars.

He played elegant piano on the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” because Stones pianist Ian Stewart refused to play minor chords. Later that night, while listening to a playback of the song in a Muscle Shoals studio, Dickinson was astute enough to make sure that Keith Richards knew he had the only joint in the room. Richards no doubt stayed close by, guaranteeing Dickinson an appearance in the documentary Gimme Shelter that was being filmed at the time.

Dickinson never pulled punches when critiquing the Stones. In a January, 2002, interview in online publication Perfect Sound Forever, he recalled taking his sons to see the Stones in the 1990s. “I took my kids to see their last American tour, ’cause they’d never seen ‘em, but it wasn’t a real Stones show—the kick drum was so loud, it sounded like a fu**in’ disco band; and I don’t care who that bass player is, he’s not playing the [correct] parts. The keyboard parts—don’t get me started on them. That no-talent, lounge-playing motherfu**er they’ve got playing keyboards is not even coming close.”

The epitaph he chose for himself reflects his awareness of the eternal life of recorded music: I’m just dead, I’m not gone. (67, died while recuperating from heart surgery) —Ed Reynolds

Gordon Waller
Waller was a Scotsman who made up one half of the acclaimed 1960s acoustic pop duo Peter and Gordon. Their number one hit “World Without Love” was one of several penned by Paul McCartney for the pair. (64, heart attack) —E.R.

Dan Seals
There was never anything hip about England Dan & John Ford Coley. Songs like “Nights Are Forever” and “I’d Really Like to See You Tonight” were so forgettable that a picture of the Bellamy Brothers was mistakenly used on the back of their first compilation album. England Dan still went on to a successful solo career as Dan Seals, scoring hits on the country charts that include “God Must Be a Cowboy” and “Bop.” His last studio album was released in 2002, but there will probably be a posthumous release of duets that Seals recorded with brother Jim Seals—who is the Seals of Seals & Crofts. (61, cancer) —J.R.T.

Ellie Greenwich (click for larger version)

Ellie Greenwich
A lot of people were surprised that the co-writer of “Chapel of Love,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” and “Leader of the Pack” was only 68 when she passed away. Singer-songwriter Ellie Greenwich thrived in a time when teen anthems were written by actual teens. She was an early shining light of the Brill Building pop factory, with other credits including “Be My Baby” and “River Deep, Mountain High.” Greenwich also enjoyed some pop stardom as a member of The Raindrops (with her then-husband and frequent collaborator Jeff Barry) and later on as a solo act. She was also a pioneering female record producer while launching Neil Diamond’s career with hits like “Cherry, Cherry” and “Kentucky Woman.” Greenwich made it to Broadway when her work was used as the basis for the 1980s stage hit “Leader of the Pack,” and she passed away while still in demand for both pop tunes and commercial jingles. (68, heart failure) —J.R.T.

Sky Saxon
He was a fraud, but Sky Saxon was a magnificent fake who was ultimately consumed by his own pose. The lead singer for The Seeds was best known for 1960s garage-rock anthems like “Pushin’ Too Hard” and “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine.” The band had a typically short career, but Saxon went on to spend the 1970s and ’80s making catchy hard rock with flower-power themes. His move from young punk to spiritual type was accompanied by a name change to Sky “Sunlight” Saxon. That amused contemporaries who remembered him as a misogynistic creep out to cash in on the Sunset Strip.

Sky Saxon (click for larger version)

Still, Saxon had probably fried his brains on enough drugs to be almost sincere in his delusional insistence on rock stardom. He got lucky when the Los Angeles underground music scene revived 1960s psychedelia in the mid-1980s. That made him fashionable enough to work increasingly erratic live shows right up to his death. (71, heart failure) —J.R.T.

Jay Bennett (click for larger version)

Jay Bennett
Jay Bennett joined Wilco as its bassist in 1994. That was around the time that the band released the A.M. album and became proper critic’s darlings. Bennett was then kicked out of the band during the travails that surrounded Wilco’s recording of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot—as captured in the 2002 documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. He went on to a solo career that was more faithful to Wilco’s country-psych vision than any subsequent album by the band. He was always more entertaining, too. Bennett was frequently complaining about his hip pain, so he might be one of those rare musicians whose overdose was truly an accident. (45, painkiller overdose) —J.R. Taylor

Eric Woolfson and Alan Parsons (click for larger version)

Eric Woolfson
The Alan Parsons Project was always a faceless act, with bearded producer Parsons mattering more than vocalists like John Miles, Arthur Brown, and former Zombie Colin Blunstone. That was partly savvy management by composer and co-founder Eric Woolfson, who wrote the songs for the assorted concept albums that made the band a staple of FM radio. Woolfson stayed behind the scenesfor the early albums like Tales of Mystery and Imagination, I Robot, and Pyramid. The scholarly looking Woolfson finally took over lead vocals on some later singles, including the 1982 hit single “Eye in the Sky.”

Woolfson went on to try his hand at stage musicals, staging “Freudiana” in 1990. (His bid to release the soundtrack album as a Woolfson solo project broke up his partnership with Parsons.) His second musical was “Gaudi,” which revisited an earlier Alan Parsons Project album about modernist architect Antonio Gaudi. Woolfson stayed busy with his stage career but marked 2009—and the end of his life—with The Alan Parsons Project That Never Was, which compiled lost songs that Parsons had rejected as sounding too commercial. (64, cancer) —J.R.T.

Jon Hager
Jon Hager shot to the top of the death pools after twin brother Jim passed away in May of 2008. The Hager Brothers, of course, were best known for their long stint as toothy and wholesome “Hee Haw” stars. Jon racked up one more birthday than his brother, but was one of 2009′s earliest celebrity deaths. (67, heart failure) —J.R.T.

Jim Carroll (click for larger version)

Jim Carroll
Jim Carroll once looked at a bald guy and said, “He looks like Kojak.” That was a typically useless witticism from the lamest punk/poet in a world filled of moronic punk/poets. By the time Carroll was making his Kojak references, he had moved on to shallow celebrity journalism for Interview magazine. That was after years of coasting on the literary success of 1978′s The Basketball Diaries, where he had written about his fascinating adolescence as a young junkie and male prostitute.

That book’s success was followed by Carroll’s attempt to become a rock star with three dull albums in the 1980s. The debut was Catholic Boy, which garnered some attention with a song called “People Who Died.” Carroll’s songs for the 1995 film adaptation of Basketball Diaries weren’t nearly as good. By the time that he released his last rock album in 1999, he was another old hippie complaining about how New York City wasn’t dirty anymore. He compared modern Times Square to Disneyland. Nobody had heard that one before. (61, heart attack) —J.R.T.

James “The Rev” Sullivan
It wouldn’t be a Dead Folks issue without the death of an idiot musician. James “The Rev” Sullivan was both the biggest name and the most talented musician to make this year’s list—even if he did procrastinate until December 29, 2009. Actually, cause of death hasn’t been confirmed for the fine drummer of the crappy metalcore band Avenged Sevenfold. We can only look back fondly at Sullivan’s constant talk of how much he loved drugs, including a magazine article where he boasted of his massive cocaine habit. Sometimes it’s better to be a poseur. (28) —J.R.T.


Dead Folks: The Icons

Dead Folks: The Icons

Remembrances of notable individuals who passed away in 2009.

Walter Cronkite (click for larger version)
January 21, 2010

Walter Cronkite
For two decades, Walter Cronkite commanded the attention of families in homes across America as the anchorman for “The CBS Evening News.” From 1962 to 1981, Cronkite’s calm, reassuring demeanor made him one of TV news’ biggest celebrities in the heyday of network TV. He delivered reports with a dignity rarely found in today’s loudmouth pundits. Lauded by many as “the most trusted man in America,” Cronkite sought objectivity and wanted nothing more than to tell the story. “I am a news presenter, a news broadcaster, an anchorman, a managing editor—not a commentator or analyst,” he told the Christian Science Monitor in 1973. “I feel no compulsion to be a pundit.”

He was hired by radio station KCMO in St. Louis to read news and broadcast football games under the name Walter Wilcox in the 1930s. While reporting for the United Press during World War II, he rejected an offer from Edward R. Murrow to work at the CBS Moscow bureau. In 1954, CBS chose Cronkite to host the short-lived “Morning Show” when the network went head to head with NBC’s popular “Today Show.” From the outset, he irritated primary sponsor R.J. Reynolds by grammatically correcting its popular slogan to “Winston tastes good as a cigarette should.”

The evening news broadcast had been a 15-minute program, but beginning in September 1963, CBS lengthened it to half an hour. Cronkite broadcast from an actual newsroom instead of a studio set, as done by his predecessor. He also coined his famous “And that’s the way it is” sign-off that ended each broadcast. Richard S. Salant, president of CBS News, hated the line, mainly because it used four seconds of air time.

Cronkite’s influence on the nation was well understood by President Lyndon Johnson. After CBS aired a documentary that Cronkite taped while reporting from Vietnam in 1968, Johnson turned off his White House television in anger and said that losing Cronkite—who declared the war unwinnable—meant the loss of support from middle America. (92, complications of dementia) —Ed Reynolds

Andrew Wyeth
“I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape—the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it; the whole story doesn’t show.”

Andrew Wyeth (click for larger version)

So says one of the most famous American painters about his own work, which often conveyed all kinds of wintery moods—and rarely revealed the whole story behind what was depicted. Yet for all their mystery, or their peculiar way of suggesting an emotionally charged story not yet told, Wyeth’s stunningly intimate landscapes and portraits are as instantly recognizable as Georgia O’Keeffe’s flowers or Andy Warhol’s soup cans. His most famous painting, “Christina’s World,” which depicts a slender woman partially reclined in a grassy field and looking toward an aged farmhouse, is an iconic American image on par with Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks,”

and Winslow Homer’s “The Gulfstream.” Using more shades of grays, browns, yellows, tans, and whites than one suspected even existed, Wyeth captured the starkness and stillness of rural Pennsylvania and Maine—more often than not in the dead of winter.

As far as art critics and East Coast cultural elites were concerned, Wyeth was guilty of three almost unforgivable sins. First, he chose to be a representational realist—according to many, practically an illustrator—during the rise of abstract expressionism and other parting-with-the-past movements. Second, he did not engage in progressive politics, going so far as to support Nixon and Reagan. Third, he enjoyed tremendous mainstream popularity and the requisite financial success. Oddly enough, even as his detractors vaguely hinted that he was no more a “serious” artist than Norman Rockwell, Wyeth had no trouble in getting his work into major exhibitions around the nation.

“Christina’s World” by Andrew Wyeth (click for larger version)





That may have been in part due to a kind of cult of personality that developed around the painter, no doubt because his famous father, illustrator N.C. Wyeth, created an intriguing romantic lore concerning the family’s life at their home and studio in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. It was an authentic, larger-than-life scenario, but it had the same effect as a full-scale publicity campaign. Life got even larger when it began to imitate art in 1985, after Wyeth’s “Helga paintings” came to light. The world learned that the artist had secretly painted almost 250 portraits—some of them nudes—of his neighbor Helga Testorf.


Paul Harvey (click for larger version)

The portraits had been done over a period of 15 years, and the secretive nature of this huge body of work led to talk of an extramarital affair. The story made the cover of Time magazine, and the furor and rumors were quietly observed by Wyeth and his wife, Betsy, who had managed almost every aspect of the artist’s career. Allowing outsiders to fuel gossip about the Wyeth family once again had the effect of a publicity campaign, leading to a National Gallery exhibit of the Helga paintings, a national tour, and a massive sale price for the collection. Whether this was a sly business move by the Wyeths remains a topic of speculation. (91, natural causes) —David Pelfrey

Paul Harvey
Conservatives mourned Paul Harvey when he died, but few of them paid much attention to his final years. Harvey was pretty much forgotten as one of the original right-wing voices on national radio—back when he was targeted by the likes of Lyndon Johnson while the Democrats were still scheming up the Fairness Doctrine. By the end of the 1980s, Harvey was just a charming folksy newscaster with long . . . pauses . . . between . . . his . . . words, and a tendency to tut-tut some of America’s more idiotic leanings. He also read his commercials among the news, although those were defined clearly at the top of each page. He’d say, “Page . . . Two,” for example, and then tell us about the great deals at Tru-Value Hardware.

Harvey’s 1952 book Remember These Things—which includes musings from his radio show—is pretty much the right-wing Leaves of Grass. Here are the closing lines, where Harvey shows himself to be a prophet. Also, check out those fine ellipses that re-create the original Harvey heaviness:

Now, my learned contemporaries of high degree . . . I am aware that my recommendations for hanging onto your Republic with both hands circumvent most of your geo-political considerations. You speak for the architects . . . I’ll speak for the builders . . . the men who can straighten rusty nails and build this all over again. Here in the hills and plains are the builders . . . wherever their towers rise. And to know them is to understand why God so often chose the simple ones . . . to confound the wise. (90, natural causes) —J.R. Taylor


Les Paul (click for larger version)





Les Paul
No one is more is responsible for the startling direction music took in the second half of the 20th century than Les Paul. An incredibly talented guitarist and inventor, he backed Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, and the Andrews Sisters, among others. By the 1950s, he and wife Mary Ford had a string of million-selling hits.

His invention of the solid-body electric guitar made his name universal. His first electric guitar was built in 1940 when he added guitar strings and two electronic audio pickups to a wooden board that included a guitar neck. He dubbed it “the log” and once said of its plucked strings: “You could go out and eat and come back and the note would still be sounding.” The Gibson Corporation began manufacturing the Les Paul guitar in 1952.

Not stopping there, Paul’s innovations in recording techniques also revolutionized the music industry. His invention of multitracking and overdubbing allowed musicians to accompany themselves by preserving a previously played track while recording additional instrumentation or vocals on other tracks. In the garage recording studio of his Los Angeles home, Paul modified sounds with the addition of reverberation and the repositioning of microphones at various distances from the sound source. He created the first eight-track recording device in the late 1950s, which launched the era of modern recording.


Marilyn Chambers (click for larger version)

The most often repeated story regards Paul’s permanently bent right arm, the one used to pluck the guitar strings. He and his wife were touring in 1948 when their car slid off an icy bridge, leaving the bones of his right elbow splintered. When his doctor told him that he would have limited mobility in the arm once it healed, Paul requested that his arm be set bent at a 90-degree angle so that he could continue to play, which he did publicly until his death. (94, pneumonia) —Ed Reynolds

Marilyn Chambers
Many a proud American pulled his lever to Marilyn Chambers’ body of work. But if you lived in Utah during the 2004 presidential election, you could have voted for the former porn star as a vice presidential candidate for the Personal Choice Party. It was a typically strange career move for the former Ivory Snow model. The detergent boxes that featured her posing with a baby became collectable after Chambers made her X-rated debut in 1972′s legendary Beyond the Green Door. The savvy young lady—whose previous big-screen role was in the Barbara Streisand comedy The Owl and the Pussycat—received a then-unprecedented $25,000 for her starring role, and even got a cut of the profits.

Chambers followed Linda Lovelace into porn-chic prominence, and beat out Sissy Spacek for the lead role in David Cronenberg’s 1977 Rabid. Porn didn’t get so chic that Hollywood was ready for Chambers, though. She was back on the hardcore scene by 1980, and later produced her own line of videos with an emphasis on older women and—uniquely—older male sexual partners.

She was also the former owner of the Survival Store gun shop in Las Vegas. That explains some of her Libertarian politics. (“I want to be able to shoot [criminals]. I also want to be able to protect my country.”) Chambers was a tough businesswomen, but also a gracious lady who could carry on an interesting conversation for hours. Her legacy has not been followed by today’s porn stars. (56, cerebral hemorrhage and aneurysm) —J.R. Taylor