Sunday, June 6, 2010

Quick Hits- "In Memoriam" Edition; Five Celebrity Passings

I've been a bit busy the past few weeks, and so has The Grim many celebrity notables have left us in the past week or so. Here's some thoughts on their passing.

Dennis Hopper-  When Dennis Hopper passed on May 29th at age 74, I was of the opinion that he didn't have one life, but the show business sense that is. In the 1950's he had an impressive debut, followed by a period when he was shunned by the Hollywood establishment because of his personality, and then was hailed as a genius for his direction and acting in Easy Rider in 1969. But almost as quickly as he was embraced (again) by Hollywood he was booted (again) with the failure of his next project, the appropriately named Last Movie. Hopper worked as an actor in Apocalypse Now,his hard living and eccentric behavior became the stuff of legend on the set. But he made a comeback in the 1980's with films like Blue Velvet, The River's Edge, and his triumphant role in the alcoholic assistant coach in Hoosiers. He continued to direct and act for nearly two decades until his death, and additionally Hopper became a well known artist and photographer. The man once the embodiment of the Sixties counterculture evolved into a registered (and much married) well to do Republican. And I wonder what else he could have done if he were granted another ten years of life?

Gary Coleman- He was probably THE child star of the late 1970's and into the 1980's. And the ultimate tragedy was Gary Coleman's descent into the pantheon of punchlines in his later years. But let's not dwell on his stormy personal life of his later years, or of the tragedy that befell his Diff'rent Strokes costars. As a young comic actor starting at age 10, Coleman had no peers- he was the best. He was the kind of scene stealer WC Fields warned about when he told other actors to stay away from children and small dogs. With his lifetime of health problems his death at the age of 42 wasn't a shock....but it saddened me just the same. Show business can be a cruel place for children. For the Ron Howards, Kurt Russells, and Jode Fosters who survive and grow there are dozens who are used up before they leave adolescence, and forgotten. And maybe the fact that he was always so diminutive gave him the look of a very old version of lovable little Arnold, and it was a role he couldn't escape, and which we the public would never really let him move on from.

Rue McClanahan- Before she a Golden Girl she was a veteran of stage and TV, and a costar on Maude and Mama's Family. But Rue McClanahan became a star at age 51 as Blanche Deveraux, the man hungry woman who might have invented the term "cougar" on The Golden Girls. Along with older actresses Bea Arthur, Estelle Getty, and Betty White, McClanahan showed that there was life after 50...and 60 and 70 for that an American public that was and is always obsessed with youth. Rue McClanahan made her film debut in 1961 and remained active until last year, when she appeared on an episode of Law and Order, and guested on Meet The Browns. She was 76 years old. And her pal Betty White goes on at 89.

Art Linkletter- If you're under age 50 you probably have no idea who Art Linkletter was or why he was famous. But he was as important a figure in the early days of television as Jackie Gleason, Ernie Kovacs, Red Shelton, Jack Benny, or Milton Berle. In a way Linkletter invented a precursor to reality TV with his daily afternoon show House Party which transitioned from radio to television and ran for a combined 25 years on CBS, and another show People Are Funny that ran concurrently on NBC TV and radio for 19 years in the 1950's and 60's. That's right- he worked for two different networks at the same time. He bacame most famous for interviewing children, and it became the basis for his best seller Kids Say The Darnedest Things. Linkletter had another segment that became popular on House Party- he would go into the audience and ask to see what were in selected womens' say the darnedest things and women have the weirdest stuff in their bags Linkletter was a pitchman for Milton Bradley games, and was a major investor in one of the toys that became a craze in the 1950's, the Hula Hoop. On May 26 he passed on at age 97.

John Wooden- He was called "The Wizard of Westwood", and was Coach of  the UCLA Bruins men's basketball team from 1948 to 1975,  winning 620 games and losing only 147 at the school; including his stay at Indiana State the total wins stand at 664. John Wooden spent 15 good but ordinary years at UCLA until the 1963-64 season, when he was already 53 years old. And then Coach Wooden began probably the most remarkable run any team has had in the history of American sports, either collegiate of professional; his teams at UCLA went on to win 10 national championships in the span of 12 years. With a constantly revolving cast of characters that included Gail Goodrich, Lew Alcindor, and Bill Walton, Coach Wooden patrolled the sidelines with his rolled up program and soft spoken demeanor. But it was more than just wins and losses with this special man; it was about principles, and his "Pyramid of Success" His motto was "Make each day your masterpiece".  John Wooden died on Friday of natural causes at age 99. Perhaps no one can say what this man meant better than his former player and friend Bill Walton.
Click here for Walton's tribute.

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