Real gone, man

I don’t know about you, but I read the obits every day. In my local paper, in the papers from the towns in which I grew up, in the Los Angeles Times, which writes some of the best obits.

The stories of the lives of people well known and little known are equally fascinating.

These are some of the people we lost in 2007. For better or worse, it’s my list. It’s not meant to be all-inclusive.

Yvonne De Carlo, 84, Jan. 8. Lily Munster? Sure. But she also played a supporting role in “McLintock,” a 1963 John Wayne comedy that’s one of my favorite films.

E. Howard Hunt, 88, Jan. 23. His memoir — “American Spy” — was one of the best books I read this year. Sure, he’s spinning the Watergate story his way, but it’s fascinating to see how a man gets to that point in his life.

Frankie Laine, 93, Feb. 6. If only for the theme song to “Blazing Saddles,” the 1974 Mel Brooks comedy I’ve seen dozens of times. Brooks advertised in the trades, seeking someone to sing it in Laine’s style. Laine showed up at Brooks’ office a couple of days later. No one told him it was a comedy, so Laine essentially was spoofing his own image — he was known for singing “Rawhide” and other Western themes — by singing it straight.

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Dennis Johnson, 52, Feb. 22. For most of the ’80s, DJ and the rest of the Boston Celtics routinely crushed my once-beloved Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA playoffs. (Photo from this Flickr gallery by Satdishguy.)

Tom Green, 50, March 1. The one, the only, Elvis tribute entertainer in Wisconsin since the ’80s.

Brad Delp, 55, March 9. I thought I’d never get to see Boston play live, but I finally did in 2004. He was great, his voice soaring over an otherwise muddy sound mix. “Come a day when you’ll be gone” … from “Peace of Mind,” off Boston’s debut album, 1976.

Calvert DeForest, 85, March 19. Larry “Bud” Melman, from David Letterman’s glory days.

John P. Ryan, 70, March 20. A veteran movie bad guy, he played the brutal warden in “Runaway Train” and meets a violent end in “The Cotton Club,” two more of my favorite movies, both from the mid-’80s.

Kurt Vonnegut, 84, April 11. I read “Slaughterhouse-Five” in high school. It was much later before I understood most of what I had read.

Kitty Carlisle Hart, 96, April 17. Singer, actress and grande dame of the arts? Sure. But I remember her as a panelist on “To Tell the Truth.” I used to watch a lot of TV.

David Halberstam, 73, April 23. He wrote fascinating books on sports and wars. He also wrote some of the longest sentences I’ve ever read. Sometimes, they were almost incomprehensible.

Tommy Newsom, 78, April 28. My dad and I watched “The Tonight Show” together for years. Tommy was like one of the family.

Wally Schirra, 84, May 3. One of the original seven Mercury astronauts. You could not be a kid in the ’60s and not know all of the astronauts by name. They were, and are, true American heroes.

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Charles Nelson Reilly, 76, May 25. Another of our constant companions during high school. Many afternoons misspent watching “The Match Game.”

Ralph Stayer, 92, June 24. We love Johnsonville brats and sausages. He founded the company, using family recipes.

George McCorkle, 60, June 29. I saw the Marshall Tucker Band play a show in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, in 1977. I partied so hard before the show that I remember almost nothing about it.

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Charles Lane, 102, July 9. You may not know his name, but you know his flinty face and voice. He played crabby guys on ’60s sitcoms and in older films. (He also looked like my grandfather, who did not live to 102.)

Lane played Homer Bedloe on “Petticoat Junction.” I had no choice in watching that show as a kid. My dad loved to watch the old steam engine and laugh at the railroad men. Worst. Show. Ever. (But I also will entertain nominations for “Green Acres” as worst show ever.)

TV Land honored Lane when he turned 100, and he announced “I’m still available,” meaning still available for acting work. Great line.

Dennis Getto, 57, July 24. The guy who knew every decent restaurant — from white linen tablecloth to burger joint — in Wisconsin. He wrote for the Milwaukee papers.

Tom Snyder, 71, July 29. Another Wisconsin guy. I spent many late nights in front of the TV with him, more so in the ’90s than the ’70s, though.

Hughie Thomasson, 55, Sept. 9. I saw him play with Lynyrd Skynyrd twice. That three-guitar attack was terrific. When I heard he’d left the band to revive the Outlaws, that was a mixed blessing. Glad to hear the Outlaws again, but I’m not sure I want to see Skynyrd with just two guitarists.

Joe Zawinul, 75, Sept. 11. If only for Weather Report’s “Birdland.”

Brett Somers, 83, Sept. 15. See Charles Nelson Reilly.

Marcel Marceau, 84, Sept. 22.

Bud Ekins, 77, Oct. 6. Ekins — and not his pal Steve McQueen — jumped the barbed-wire fence on that motorcycle in “The Great Escape” in 1963 and drove that Mustang in the big chase scene in “Bullitt” in 1968.

Sigrid Valdis, 72, Oct. 14. She played Helga on “Hogan’s Heroes.” If it looked like Helga and Col. Hogan were getting it on, they were. Valdis and Bob Crane were married on the set in 1970. Did you know she was born Patricia Olson in Bakersfield, California?

Max McGee, 75, Oct. 20. The unlikely hero of Super Bowl I? Sure. But we spent Sunday afternoons with Max for 20 years as he called Packers games on the radio. Also like one of the family.

Dick Wilson, 91, Nov. 19. Mr. Whipple from the Charmin commercials. My mom and dad always bought store-brand toilet paper, so damn right I squeezed that Charmin every time I saw it.

Ike Turner, 76, Dec. 12. Too bad it’s politically incorrect to like Ike.

He long was considered an “Evil Man.” (From “Come Together,” by Ike and Tina Turner and the Ikettes, 1970. It’s a gender-flipped cover of Crow’s “Evil Woman” from 1969.)

This is from The Associated Press story on Ike’s memorial service:

“Stop holding this mess — whatever it is — against this man. Even Jesus forgives,” said Little Richard, 75, who left the service early, aided by a walker and several assistants.

I saw Little Richard live earlier this year. He used crutches as he walked on and off stage, saying he had sciatica. Appreciate his greatness, too.

Floyd Red Crow Westerman, 71, Dec. 13. In the early ’90s, I got into “The X-Files.” Westerman had a great supporting role as Albert Hosteen, a Navajo code breaker, in the second and third seasons. What I did not know was that he also was a well-regarded country singer and songwriter.

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4 Comments

Filed under December 2007, Sounds

4 responses to “Real gone, man

  1. “My Mother, The Car.” At least “Petticoat Junction” had the three cute gals (and the hint of them skinny-dipping in the water tank!). And I’ve been wondering: Does anyone know what Marcel Marceau’s last words were?

  2. John P. Ryan died, I had no idea. I loved him in “Death Wish 4: The Crackdown”. When he switched gears to over the top in the third act, amazing.

  3. Eric

    I didn’t hear about Brett Sommers. Dang. That’s a shame.

    The loss of Oscar Peterson dying before Christmas hit hardest, though.

  4. V.E.G.

    Dick Wilson’s real name is Riccardo DiGuglielmo. His mother’s name is Wilson. He is of Italian and English with Scottish and Norwegian origin. Wilson came from Will Gunn from Norway and Gunn came to Scotland in AD 895. Farvel, Dick Wilson.

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