That new adventure

You may know Ernie Harwell. He was the radio voice of the Detroit Tigers for almost 40 years, retiring in 2002. Ernie is 91.

Ernie is dying. He learned this summer that he has cancer of the bile duct.

Ernie is so beloved in Detroit that he had to use his newspaper column to thank everyone who reached out to him after learning of his diagnosis. He’d received 10,000 cards and letters.

On Christmas Day, on the front page of the Detroit Free Press, Ernie wrote:

“This year, I’m not sending [Christmas] cards. Last July, doctors gave me only six months (more or less) to live. That was five months ago. I am still hanging around. But, while getting ready for my new adventure, I’m not dying to send out cards.”

Beautiful.

It wasn’t the first time Ernie had put it that way. When he announced his diagnosis in September, he said:

“Whatever’s in store, I’m ready for a new adventure.”

Beautiful.

For those of us of a certain age, some sports broadcasters — particularly baseball announcers — are part of the family. We’ve spent that much time together.

I’ve been listening to Bob Uecker call the Milwaukee Brewers since I was 13. Bob is still calling the Brewers. He’ll be 75 next month. Nothing lasts forever, so last summer, I listened to more Brewers baseball on the radio than I had in some time, if only to savor Bob’s home-run calls.

When Bob started calling the Brewers in 1971, he worked with another guy who was part of the family. We lost that guy this year.

The smooth Merle Harmon is on his new adventure. So are these folks:

Patrick McGoohan, 80, Jan. 13. I was 11 when they aired “The Prisoner” in the U.S. in 1968. I had no idea what was going on. I still may not.

Ricardo Montalban, 88, Jan. 14. The best “Star Trek” villain ever. That bug-in-the-ear thing still creeps me out.

Billy Powell, 59, Jan. 28. Without the piano player, I think Lynyrd Skynyrd is really gone now.

Martin Lange, 82, Feb. 17. One day in 1958, he took the boss’ idea and ran with it. In just a half-hour, he threw together a couple of 3½-inch radio speakers, some cardboard backing and an old headband and created the prototype for the first Koss Stereophone. I’ve used Koss headphones from Milwaukee forever. I recently wrecked the cord on my old pair, and I found a new, improved pair under the tree on Christmas Day.

Eddie Bo, 79, March 18. A giant in New Orleans R&B. I learned everything I know about Eddie Bo from the music blogs. Thanks, Dan. Thanks, Larry.

Irving R. Levine, 86, March 27. The NBC economics reporter who wore a bow tie. Nice.

Merle Harmon, 82, April 15. Merle read my name on the air during a Brewers broadcast one summer night. I think it was 1974. I’d sent him a fan letter and had forgotten about it until he finally got around to reading it. I was listening on the front porch at my grandparents’ house. A big thrill, even for a high school kid.

Dom DeLuise, 75, May 4. Pals with Dean Martin, then Burt Reynolds. That guy must have had a lot of fun. Great cameo in “Blazing Saddles,” one of my favorite movies.

The Rev. Robert Cornell, 89, May 10. Priest, politician, professor … and rock promoter in our corner of Wisconsin.

Wayman Tisdale, 44, May 15. Good basketball player, good jazz musician. Gone too soon. A tough year for old-school NBA guys. Johnny “Red” Kerr, Norm Van Lier, Chuck Daly and Randy Smith also started new adventures.

Sam Butera, 81, June 3. Can I get some Witnesses? He was the wild sax player behind Louis Prima.

Ed McMahon, 86, June 23 … Farrah Fawcett, 62, June 25 … Michael Jackson, 50, June 25. Man, that was some week. Ed McMahon was another member of the family. Some fathers and sons play catch. My dad and I watched Johnny and Ed. … Do you remember where you were when you heard the news on June 25? … When you remember Michael Jackson, remember the Nicholas Brothers, too.

Walter Cronkite, 92, July 17. To a kid who was 7 when he decided he wanted to go into journalism, it was like going to reporting class every night at 5:30 p.m.

John Hughes, 59, Aug. 6. There are several guilty pleasures among his ’80s films.

Dominick Dunne, 83, Aug. 26. What a second act. Having crashed and burned after one career as a TV and film producer, he became a great crime reporter.

Patrick Swayze, 57, Sept. 14. If only as Bodhi in “Point Break.”

Henry Gibson, 73, Sept. 14. You really had to be there for “Laugh-In.” I wish I would have bought his comic poetry LP — “The Grass Menagerie” — when I came across it while crate digging last year.

Mary Travers, 72, Sept. 16. My dad had a Peter, Paul and Mary record. We listened to it endlessly as kids. Of course, it was the one with “Puff the Magic Dragon.”

Marvin Fishman, 84, Oct. 9, and Wesley Pavalon, 76, Dec. 12. They founded the Milwaukee Bucks in 1968 and presided over their great teams of the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Al Martino, 82, Oct. 13. You know him from “The Godfather.” We know him a little differently over at Ray’s Corner.

Vic Mizzy, 93, Oct. 17. If only for the theme from “The Addams Family.”

Michelle Triola Marvin, 76, Oct. 30. I hear this, and I think immediately of Roger Ebert’s great story about a memorable 1970 interview with Lee Marvin. Not mentioned in that Esquire piece, but told later by Ebert: Lee’s dog walks into the room with a pair of panties in its mouth. Michelle says they’re not hers. “Bad dog!” Lee says.

Carl Ballantine, 92, Nov. 3. He was part of the crew on “McHale’s Navy.” His daughter — who was named for a horse tracktells a great story about his last day. “I gotta get out of here,” he said.

Ken Ober, 52, Nov. 15. Much like those old MTV Christmas videos posted here earlier this month, “Remote Control” seems quaint and innocent now.

Brittany Murphy, 32, Dec. 20. She really could sing, too.

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4 Comments

Filed under December 2009, Sounds

4 responses to “That new adventure

  1. That Lee Marvin anecdote is hilarious, and Carl Ballantine was one of my alltime fave funny people. There are lots of comedians out there, but only a select few are in the root of their soul, truly funny. Ballantine was one of them.

  2. Seems like each year when I read lists like this, I missed someone’s passing. In this case it was Carl Ballantine and Ken Ober; I had no idea either had died.

    I’m about the same age as you Jeff, and most of the folks you listed are people I grew up watching, listening to, learning from, or laughing as a result of and will miss greatly.

  3. Pingback: In Memoriam Vol. 4 « Any Major Dude With Half A Heart

  4. Pingback: Any Major Dude With Half A Heart » In Memoriam Vol. 4

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