Monday, July 6, 2020
Ennio Morricone, famed composer of film scores, has passed at the age of 91.
It's hard to measure the impact of Morricone's work. He scored hundreds of films, shows and other works with a seeming endless variety to his work. For American ears, he broke onto the American film scene as he shattered our expectations of what a Western might sound like and created an entirely new aural concept to match Leone's vision of the world of gun slingers and pioneers.
To this day, I'm uncertain what instruments were deployed for some of his most famous music, but he wasn't yoked to a symphony - though he was quick to employ one, and a chorus, or - maybe most famously - a solo singer. While listeners may often pause while watching a film and guess rightly "is this Morricone?", the diversity of approaches from The Thing to Once Upon a Time in America to Days of Heaven can defy categorization. From electronic instrumentation to oboes to you-name-it, he found the sound of the soul of a film, and made them sing.
Friday, June 12, 2020
I am terribly, terribly sorry to report that Dennis "Denny" O'Neil has passed. I am often genuinely saddened when I see someone has gone on to their reward, but sometimes it hits harder.
It is difficult to measure the impact O'Neil had on comics, popular culture and culture writ-large. And I doubt many people outside us comics nerds (and possibly only comics nerds of a certain age) know his name. O'Neil was one of the giants, someone I "liked" as a kid when I'd read his stuff, but as an adult and went back through the history of DC and saw all he'd accomplished?
O'Neil is one of the creators largely responsible for the version of Batman you know and love. He revitalized and solidified Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) and Oliver Queen (Green Arrow), making them relevant as sounding boards for the issues of the day. He updated Superman and took on the challenge of turning Wonder Woman into a secret agent (with mixed results). You may know the long runs on Batman that wound up informing Batman: The Animated Series, or the famous "Hard Travelling Heroes" period of Green Lantern/ Green Arrow. His run on Superman is actually pretty well written, if unsustainable. The run on Wonder Woman is flat out wild and strange, and - issues though it may have - it's a fascinating attempt to try to update (and maybe a good cautionary tale for every time the internet tells DC to update Wonder Woman).
I first learned his name, I believe, on the cover of The Question (along with Denys Cowan), and soon I looked for his name in association with a certain level of storytelling I thought surpassed most of what was on the rack.
O'Neil didn't just tell stories that took DC heroes on new journeys and challenged them in new ways, he invented a large number of characters for DC and more. Those characters were a huge part of comics of my youth from O'Neil and others, and wound up in cartoons, movies and more. Scroll down this page to see a list of his contributions.
It's odd to see the passing of someone who was part of the second generation to enter comics, the folks who were handing off the torch as I was showing up as a reader. But O'Neil in particular is going to be missed. But us comics folk aren't the type to forget a person's contribution or what they did to advance the narratives that inspire and entertain us. And inspired others to create more on the foundations they built.
We'll miss you, Denny.
Saturday, May 16, 2020
Fred Willard has passed at the age of 86.
Willard was one of the funniest people to appear in TV and movies, full stop.
When I was in high school, Nick at Nite sprang into being and shortly thereafter brought on old episodes of Fernwood 2-Night, which, as a kid who could never sleep (or an adult who still won't go to bed), I found myself watching when I'd get a chance. And then, of course, his appearances in Christopher Guest movies of the mid-90's just sealed the deal. The man was hysterical.*
I'm really going to miss knowing he was out there, his guest appearances on shows, his recurring roles on others, and basically just having Fred Willard in this universe.
*those doubters should immediately view Best in Show, and then tell me Willard's role wasn't the inspiration for how today's dog shows on TV are broadcast.
Monday, May 11, 2020
What a career this guy had. If you're going to set out to be a comedic actor, you can't do much better than the lifetime of work Jerry Stiller turned into gold. I can't begin to count the number of times he made me laugh til I cried.
Heck, I watched TV shows I had no real interest in just to see him. But he also popped up in one of the best movies of the 70's, Taking of Pelham One Two Three.
We'll miss you, sir.
Thursday, April 16, 2020
Brain Dennehy has passed at the age of 81.
I've been a fan since first knowing who he was thanks to Silverado, and enjoyed him in a number of films in the years since. As a fellow larger gentleman, it was always nice to know he was out there representing.
But, truly, he was a gifted talent.
Monday, April 6, 2020
Honor Blackman, who starred in Goldfinger and on TV's The Avengers has passed at the age of 94.
For me, Blackman sets the bar for all "Bond Girls", up to and including Diana Rigg and Eva Green, and remains my favorite (she literally saves thousands of lives in Goldfinger while Bond is in jail). Look, Blackman was a stone cold fox who could make a white pantsuit sing, but she also plays the role of Pussy Galore to perfection. She's among the few female costars who ever gave a Bond a run of their money, and there's a reason (beyond the colorful name) that she's remembered so well 50-odd years later.
It was always great to know she was out there, and she'll be missed.
|I mean, purple works, too|
You can hear me wax rhapsodic about Pussy Galore on our Goldfinger podcast.
Saturday, March 21, 2020
Musician Kenny Rogers has passed at the age of 81.
Country music went through a boom in the late 70's and early 1980's, and it's hard to think of anyone who crossed over to mainstream Soft Rock popularity more than Kenny Rogers. For a few years there, Rogers was everywhere on the radio and in my parents' record collection. His stardom rose enough that they put him in movies (see: Six Pack) and even based a series of TV movies on his hit song, "The Gambler".
On the back of a huge duets album, Rogers shared a headline act with Dolly Parton at one of the first concerts I ever attended at age 10 (it seems this was November 3rd, 1985). I mean, we all remember "Islands in the Stream".*
By the 90's, Rogers had settled into veteran star status and continued putting out albums, touring, appearing in movies, etc... but it would probably be a surprise to anyone under the age of 38 or so what a huge deal this guy was for a while.
Anyway, I can't say I kept up with Kenny Rogers much since... 1987 or so. But there's no question Rogers was a huge part of a certain era. At our house, his records spun on the turntable and we were called into the room if he was going to appear on TV (and my mom would exclaim "oh, he's so good!"). Circa 1995 my brother and I treated Jamie to an impromptu duet of "The Gambler" which she first found charming and then alarming as we would not stop.
Here's to Kenny Rogers.
*or, as the kids know it, that old skool Diddy track, "Ghetto Superstar"
Tuesday, March 17, 2020
Monday, March 9, 2020
Max Von Sydow has passed at the age of 90.
How do you talk about someone like Von Sydow? Who worked with Bergman, starred as Ming the Merciless and was in hundreds of roles of all shapes and sizes? I'm not going to. He was Von Sydow, and he's going to be one of those guys we understand on one level now, and in time will stand back in awe at the breadth and depth of what he did.
Tuesday, March 3, 2020
In the 1990's, James Lipton burst onto the basic cable scene with Inside the Actor's Studio, a TV interview show where Lipton interviewed name-actors. It was a fun program, not devoid of talk-show cheesiness, but also occasionally insightful and felt like actors sort of let their guard down, but also basked in the attention of starry-eyed young actors.
Lipton became a household celebrity himself, his mannered approach and just off-center style entertaining on its own.
James Lipton has passed at the age of 93.
I was never an aspiring actor, but I was always fascinated by the 10 final questions Lipton would ask as he closed down an episode. So, here are my answers:
- What is your favorite word? - howdy
- What is your least favorite word? - abbatoir
- What turns you on? - intelligent curiosity
- What turns you off? - lack of empathy
- What sound or noise do you love? - dog feet on the stairs or the crack of a bat on ball hitting a homerun
- What sound or noise do you hate? - beep of medical monitors
- What is your favorite curse word? - Fuck (it's so flexible!), but especially in the context of JFC
- What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? - K9 officer
- What profession would you not like to do? - flight attendant
- If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates? - "all the dogs you ever had are over there with those books you never got around to reading"
Wednesday, February 5, 2020
Kirk Douglas, Hollywood legend, has passed at 103.
As a kid, I knew him from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. And, of course, Tough Guys.
Spartacus, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, Out of the Past, and countless, countless other films, Douglas created innumerable memorable roles - Douglas earned his place in cinema history over and over.
He'll be eulogized and memorialized, and as one of the last of a bygone era (Olivia De Havilland predates him and is still alive) he was one of the last of the era that Hollywood still tries to cling to.
Friday, October 11, 2019
Wednesday, July 24, 2019
I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
Time to die.
This one hit us all hard and never let up.
Monday, July 22, 2019
If you ever get a chance, read up on the amazing history of NASA. It's fascinating today to see some of the unknown stories of the agency's history come to the fore in recent years, bringing to the fore luminaries like Margaret Hamilton and Katherine Johnson. One name we did grow up with was Christopher Kraft.
Truly, no one was more "there at the beginning" than Kraft, who had been a NACA employee before the creation of NASA, and who helped build and shape NASA from the inside up.
Kraft served as Flight Director at NASA during Mercury and Gemini and as a manager of flight operations during Apollo. Kraft's attention to detail and leadership were key to keeping all the moving parts together before, during and after each mission, keeping people alive as they hurled through space in experimental machines strapped to ballistic missiles.
He would go on to run the Manned Spacecraft Center into the early 80's, when he retired from NASA. In the 1990's, he participated in a review of the shuttle program and published an autobiography in 2001.
Mr. Kraft passed this week at the age of 95, having pushed humanity higher, further and farther than anyone ever dreamed. He deserves to be remembered alongside the astronauts and heroes who, themselves, went into space and those new legends of engineering, math and science. The role he took on wasn't the one with the personal glory (although his name did become quite well known), but without the Christopher Krafts out there, you don't get the Apollo missions, either.
A statement from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine on Kraft's passing.
Friday, July 12, 2019
2019 was the year I finally started watching Brooklyn 99, and like everyone else who watched the show, I became a big fan of Cheddar, the pet Corgi of Captain Raymond Holt and the lynchpin of more than one episode.
Sadly, a pup doesn't live forever, and Cheddar performer, Stewart, has merged with the Infinite.
Pouring one out for you, buddy.
Thursday, May 2, 2019
|Peter Mayhew during filming of Star Wars|
Peter Mayhew, actor who brought Chewbacca to life, has passed.
I was just over two years old when I saw Star Wars in the theater, and - like everyone - I loved Chewbacca. How could you not? A giant with a heart of gold, a loyal best pal, a co-pilot and a strong right hand - Chewie was the ideal buddy in a galaxy where you needed someone you could trust at your side, watching your back.
The scene I probably remember best from Star Wars as a kid was realizing how *tall* Chewbacca was when he was in shackles beside Han and Luke in the Death Star, and realizing the man inside that yak-hair suit was pretty much that tall, too. I recall being about seven and measuring out how tall he would be with a ruler against my friend's bedroom wall while we stood on chairs (I have no idea how or where we got the figure for Chewbacca's height).
The other scene I recalled was Chewbacca and pretty much everything about the trash compactor. Even as a wee kid, I found that bit terrific. Ford and Mayhew had their schtick down pat.
In 2000 I saw Peter Mayhew for the first time in person - he was signing autographs in a longline at a Disney theme park where Jamie and I were honeymooning. I didn't stand in line then, and I regretted it later. Flash forward to about four years ago, and the same happened at a comic convention in San Antonio - and as I walked out, regretted I hadn't jumped in line.
That I didn't wait is odd, in retrospect - when The Force Awakens was announced, I was possibly more excited to see Chewbacca and R2 back on the screen than General Leia or Han Solo - they would be the aged versions of themselves, but Chewie could be ageless, walking through these movies, one after another, no silver showing up in that fur.
But, of course, the man who brought Chewbacca to life was now not a kid himself, and I was aware his large frame had aged hard - I'd seen him in a wheelchair, and gravity is a bear for us over-six-foot-humans. I was not surprised when I heard he had a stand-in for all the walking scenes and was mostly the one playing the seated bits. But I still figured Peter Mayhew would be online, a pleasantly upbeat and chirpy presence - that he'd put on a tux jacket for a premier somewhere in LA. and maybe I'd see him at some other con and get his signature this time.
I'm genuinely sorry he's gone, but I am grateful that he spent the last few decades as a genuine celebrity, knowing his face and name meant (almost) as much to Star Wars fans as the fellow he brought to life, and that he got to be a part of it all over again in both the Prequels and the latest trilogy.
My understanding is that Peter Mayhew was an orderly in a hospital before being cast as Chewbacca in Star Wars. It's funny how a single casting call and some luck can change everything.
Tuesday, March 5, 2019
So, Luke Perry has passed and the internet is ablaze with remembrances. And on the face of it, it seems odd so much ink is getting spilled over a guy who had his peak of popularity in about 1993, never really landed any major roles in zeitgeisty Hollywood movies and has been a workman actor in mid-tier TV shows for most of the past twenty years.
I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that the state of shock you're seeing has less to do with a tremendous and still-massive Luke Perry fanbase as it has with two things:
Sunday, February 3, 2019
Tuesday, December 18, 2018
According to numerous press sources, director and actor Penny Marshall has passed.
Like everyone else my age, I grew up with Laverne & Shirley, where Marshall played a working class girl cohabitating with her best pal, Shirley, as they had weekly misadventures for years on network TV.
She disappeared briefly, only to re-emerge as a director of a number of movies I saw and liked in formative years, including Jumping Jack Flash and Big. Honestly, I've thought of her more as Director Penny Marshall for decades at this point, and it's a remarkable two-part career she was able to pull off.
Friday, November 30, 2018
Former President George Herbert Walker Bush, our 41st President, has passed at the age of 94.
From the New York Times.
I genuinely always liked Mr. Bush as Vice President and then as President. When I think of the age in which you may not agree with policies and procedures of a politician, but respected the integrity of the person, I often think of G.H.W. Bush.