The economy is a train wreck, the coronation/anointing of B.O. is fast approaching, the governor of Illinois continues his very public "F you!" to just about everyone...and I'm having a real hard time caring. So, lets ignore the As The World Turns soap opera that is our national daily life and consider something else for a little while.
I keep a day planner on my living room coffee table. It's not that my life is so busy I actually need a day planner, I just use it to record the daily comings and goings of my life. It's kind of like a very abbreviated version of a journal. Most entries are mundane; went grocery shopping, paid the bills and balanced the checkbook, watched the game at a buddy's house, cooked ( fill in the blank ) for my dad's dinner. Some entries are more significant; daughter flew in for a weeks visit, son's band signed recording contract, quit job, got a new job, mother died today, took dad to the E.R. for the third time this year.
In my day planner I also record big news events, favorite TV shows for the year, favorite movies, all books read and also the deaths of famous people. I fancy that after my own departure from this Earthly dimension, my children and grandchildren will one day peruse my day planners and think, "Just think what it was like living in those times." It pleases me to imagine that my day to day life will be of some interest to my progeny, if no one else.
My list of famous people who died in 2008 contains 27 names ( somewhat less than the average over the last five years ). Not all famous people who depart make my list. Some are famous enough to merit being mentioned on the evening news, but yet are people I've never heard of, or are not famous enough to me to merit inclusion in my list. Those not included usually fall into two groups; business tycoons and members of the arts community ( which indicate my general lack of interest in the business and arts communities).
My list for 2008 starts with Sir Edmund Hillary, who died on January 10th, and ends with Ertha Kitt, who went to her reward on Christmas day. Sir Edmund made the list for being the first man ( first western man at least) to climb to the top of Mt. Everest. Or, if you're of the X, Y or Z generations, for being the namesake of Senator and former First Lady Hillary Clinton ( even though it turns out that Sir Edmund's climb came after the birth of the lizard queen). Ertha was a member of the arts community, but I knew of her because of her singing career, especially her song Santa Baby, one of my favorite Christmas songs ( or maybe it's an anti-Christmas song, you be the judge).
My list for 2008 includes Bobby Fischer, the American chess genius who went to Iceland in 1972 and whupped up on the commie world champ Boris Spasky of the Soviet Union. Bobby was a flake then, and over the years devolved into a paranoid bigot, but for a few weeks in 1972 he brought chess to the forefront of American attention. The country was riveted, whether you were a chess aficionado or not.
The actor Roy Scheider is on the list. A fine actor with a long list of credits, he deserved to be on my list for no other reason than his portrayal of a small town chief of police out of his depth ( pun intended) trying to deal with a series of deadly shark attacks in the classic movie Jaws. "We need a bigger boat" is one of the great scenes in film.
The father of contemporary conservatism, William F. Buckley, is there. I fondly remember his TV show, reclining in his chair with his clipboard in his lap, espousing the great truths of political philosophy with his locked jaw, east coast dialect and the largest vocabulary of anyone in the 20th century.
Author Arthur C. Clark made the list in 2008. I never cared much for his fiction, but he looked so much like a mad scientist with his long gray hair and 19th century whiskers ( side burns ) he was impossible to ignore. Plus, he voluntarily chose to live in Sri Lanka. What westerner does that?
Dick Martin, half of the Rowen And Martin Laugh-In TV show of the '60s, gave up the ghost in '08. Martin played the punch line to Dan Rowen's straight man. Their show was a landmark in television history. There's never been a show of it's comedic and political influence since.
Comedian George Carlin is there. George went national when I was in high school. His Seven Words You Can't Say On TV was his break out comedy album. Me, by buddies and most of young America thought he was hilarious. Older generations were appalled. Sadly, in his later years, George became a raging cynic, describing with glee the descent of humanity and taking pleasure in the destruction of civilization.
Paul Newman left us last year. His role in Cool Hand Luke is a masterpiece of American cinema. And by all accounts, he was a great human being, raising millions of dollars for various charities throughout his life. That's rare in Hollywood these days.
Other notable passings include Harvey Korman, famous for his multiple comedic roles on The Carol Burnett Show; Jim McKay, who's career in sportscasting spanned decades of the Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat; Issac Hayes, the singer songwriter who's Theme From Shaft may be one of the most iconic songs of the late 20th century; Studs Terkel, who recorded the life of the "working man" from Chicago; Michael Crichton, who's fertile imagination gave us Jurassic Park.
Of all of the names on my list for 2008, the most treasured is Charlton Heston. I love epic movies, and Heston is the king of epic movies. He starred in The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, El Cid, The Planet of the Apes, The Agony And The Ecstasy, The Greatest Show On Earth and Khartoum. He wasn't afraid to take artistic chances either, starring in Sci-Fi classics like Soylent Green and The Omega Man. Perhaps, like John Wayne, Heston can be criticized as only "playing himself". But damn, he was so good at it. In his later years Mr. Heston was the President of the National Rifle Association. As a life member of the NRA, I appreciated Heston's willingness to sacrifice what was left of his acting career for his belief in the whole Constitution and not just the 1st Amendment.
On a more personal level, three people I went to high school with passed away in '08. Their names would mean nothing to you, but I recall their faces and their voices. I may have played some ball with them, or been in the school play with them, or simply remember them for their beauty. I remember them in their youth and vigor and exuberance for life. And that makes me remember when I was like that. It's a good memory.
I used to chide my father for paying too much attention to the obituaries. It struck me as morbid for him to be so focused on death. Now I begin to understand. The deaths of our contemporaries, our beloved family members and our dear friends mark the passing of our own lives and the days when we were immortal and convinced that death would never touch us or the ones we loved.