Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Personal Reflections On Dead Celebrities: 2012 Edition (January To June)

1)  Etta James:  An accomplished singer who transitioned smoothly between blues, jazz, R&B, rock-and-roll, soul, and gospel, Etta James – whose real name, interestingly enough was Jamesetta Hawkins – was probably best known for her classic song "At Last." My sister-in-law (well, she is now) sang this song as the recessional at our wedding. And she brought down the house, let me tell ya! James won six Grammys and 17 Blues Music Awards throughout her career. She was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, the Blues Hall of Fame in 2001, and the Grammy Hall of Fame in both 1999 and 2008 (once was not enough!). Hers was a uniquely wonderful voice, and it will be greatly missed. James was 73 years old.

Etta James

2)  Joe Paterno was the head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions for longer than I have been alive – for 46 years, in fact from 1966 through 2011. I was peripherally familiar with Paterno, but was fairly indifferent toward him as a person or as a coach, never having been a fan of Penn State or any of its rivals. Throughout most of his career, Paterno was recognized as one of the best coaches in all of college football, and his record of success backed up that reputation. In the last few months of his life, he lost his job and his health declined, both in part due to the scandal that had arisen regarding Paterno's former assistant coach and his alleged sexual misconduct involving young boys. Paterno was dismissed from his position when it was determined that he had knowledge of the crime but failed to report it to the university or to the proper authorities. The case against Paterno's former coach is ongoing, but Paterno is not. He died at the age of 85 of complications from lung cancer.

Joe Paterno

3)  John Rich was a long-time director of both films and television shows (but primarily the latter). I have seen his name many times in the credits (yes, I actually read those!) for episodes of some of my favorite classic TV series, including The Dick Van Dyke Show, All In The Family, The Jeffersons, Newhart, and Benson. He also directed episodes of shows which are not among my favorites, including Mister Ed, Maude, Good Times, Barney Miller, The Brady Bunch, and Gilligan's Island. For you Elvis fans out there, he also directed the King in the feature films Roustabout and Easy Come, Easy Go. Rich won an Emmy for his work on The Dick Van Dyke Show as well as two Emmys, two Golden Globes, and an N.A.A.C.P. Image Award for All In The Family. John Rich was 86 years old.

John Rich

4)  Whitney Houston was – and still remains – the greatest singer of my generation. Unfortunately, as talented as she was on the mic, she was twice as troubled away from it. Houston struggled for many years with drug addiction and endured a volatile relationship with longtime husband and fellow musician Bobby Brown. Whitney made several comeback attempts over the year, but she never seemed to be able to get out of her own way in order to move past and conquer her issues. Houston died from an "accidental drowning" (according to the coroner's report), most likely due in part to a combination of heart disease (from years of drug abuse) and her recent use of both cocaine and marijuana. Houston was 48 years old.

Whitney Houston

5)  Gratia Schimmelpenninck van der Oye was a Dutch alpine skier. Schimmelpenninck van der Oye competed at the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, finishing 14th in the alpine combined event. Despite her two falls, this remains the highest-ranking in Olympic skiing ever reached by a Dutch national. After retiring, Schimmelpenninck van der Oye became the first female member of the board of the International Ski Federation. Schimmelpenninck van der Oye was 99 years old. (And yes, I picked her to be on this list due to her ridiculously long name, not because she was one of the more well-known people who died this year.)

Gratia Schimmelpenninck van der Oye

6)  Gary Carter was a Major League Baseball catcher who spent the majority of his 21-year career playing for the Montreal Expos and the New York Mets. An 11-time All Star, Carter was known for both his excellent defense behind the plate as well as his power-hitting prowess. Carter was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003. He died at the age of 57 from brain cancer.

Gary Carter

7)  Davy Jones was a singer and musician best known for his time spent with the music group The Monkees. Having worked at a seafood restaurant for four years during college which played only the oldies station nonstop, I became quite familiar with some of The Monkees' bigger hits, including "Last Train To Clarksville," "I'm A Believer," and "Daydream Believer." I could probably still sing most of the words to all of those songs even today. Oh yeah, and like most everybody else my age and older, I remember the episode of The Brady Bunch where Marcia tries to get Davy Jones to come and perform at her school dance and he actually shows up. Jones was 66 years old.

Davy Jones

8)  Junior Seau (pronounced SAY-ou) was an NFL linebacker and longtime member of the San Diego Chargers. Seau was a 10-time All-Pro, a 12-time Pro Bowl selection, and was named to the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team. Back when I first started watching football on TV, Seau was The Man. No offensive player, no matter how great they were, looked forward to facing him. Seau managed to last 20 seasons in the NFL, longer than most players due to the intense physical strain that the game puts on players. However, his longevity may have also led to Seau's early demise. Having suffered from multiple undiagnosed concussions throughout his career, Seau suffered from severe depression in the years after his retirement from the game. Tragically, Seau died at age 43 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Junior Seau

9)  Donna Summer:  There are way too many classic singers on this list this year. Summer was arguably the Queen of Disco, admittedly never one of my favorite styles of music. But her voice was undeniably good, and the popularity of her hits, including "Hot Stuff" and "She Works Hard For The Money" also can't be denied. Interestingly enough, when I heard that Summer had died, I thought, "Well, the 'I Will Survive' Lady didn't end up surviving after all." I later realized that the "'I Will Survive' Lady" was Gloria Gaynor (who's still alive) and not Summer. Goes to show how much I know about disco! Summer was 63 years old.

Donna Summer

10)  Ray Bradbury:  One of my favorite books growing up – not surprisingly a bleak dystopian novel – was Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. Most kids read this book because they have to – it's often assigned to be read as part of high school English classes (or is it Language Arts now?). I read it because I just wanted to. Go figure! Of course, it's a wonderful book, as is everything I've read by Bradbury – which admittedly, isn't as many books as it should be, considering the volume of this prolific author's work. Bradbury excelled at both science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mystery fiction – which are the main genres I most enjoy reading. He was one of the greatest modern American writers, and he will be greatly missed by his many fans, of which I am one. Bradbury was 91 years old.

Ray Bradbury

Unfortunately, this list has to be capped off with a big TO BE CONTINUED..., as famous people will continue to die, whether we want them to or not. For that matter, a lot of non-famous people will also die over the coming months, whether we want them to or not. But since I have neither the time nor the energy to cover every death of consequence, I'll stick with the notable people with whom I was the most familiar.


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