I read the obits every day. I read them in my local paper, in the papers from the towns in which I grew up and in the Los Angeles Times, which has some of the best obits. I write them, too.
I wish I would have written this line. It’s from my friend Larry over at Funky 16 Corners. It was a comment on one of my posts earlier this year:
“The first thing I do almost every day is check the New York Times obit page. Therein lie all manner of stories that would otherwise be forgotten, the last stop for really interesting people.”
Looking back at 2008, these folks made their last stop. This is my list. You have yours, and vive le difference.
Lee Sherman Dreyfus, 81, Jan. 2. LSD was Wisconsin’s governor when I was starting out in the newspaper business in the late ’70s. This former speech professor always wore a red vest and had a pencil-thin mustache. He campaigned from a school bus in 1978. I once was part of a panel of journalists … or college students … or both … at which he and the other candidate appeared. I remember nothing about it. Too much LSD, perhaps.
Howard Washington, 98, Jan. 15. The security guard at the Warner Bros. Records parking lot in Los Angeles. No, Madonna, you may not park here. You neither, Prince.
Suzanne Pleshette, 70, Jan. 19. Ooooh, those looks, that sassy attitude and that sultry, smoky voice. I always had a thing for her.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, 91, Feb. 5. Meet the Beatles, expand their minds.
Jeff Healey, 41, March 2. We spent a night with Healey in Memphis in the late ’80s. We were listing to his music. It got fairly drunk out.
Gloria Shayne Baker, 84, March 6. She wrote the modern Christmas classic “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
Ivan Dixon, 76, March 16. Sgt. Kincheloe and so much more.
Bob Kames, 82, April 9. You know you want to do the Chicken Dance, made famous by this Milwaukee organist.
Here then, “The Snake,” from “Searching For the Dolphins,” 1968, (available on “Searching for the Dolphins: The Complete Soul City Recordings and More, 1967-1971.”) and “Show and Tell,” from “Show and Tell,” 1973 (available on “Show & Tell: The Best of Al Wilson,” a 2004 CD release).
Dick Martin, 86, May 24. Sock it to me? Godfather of a thousand junior high catchphrases.
Earle Hagen, 88, May 26. You know all his classic TV theme songs … and “Harlem Nocturne,” too.
Harvey Korman, 81, May 29. No, it’s Hedley Lamarr! Seeing him surrender to Tim Conway was even better.
George Carlin, 71, June 22. My dad found him increasingly less amusing. I found him increasingly amusing. That is how fathers’ sons start to become their own men.
Isaac Hayes, 65, Aug. 10. Imagine you are 14 and you listen to the “Shaft” soundtrack day after day. That is how a record collection starts.
Wonderful Smith, 97, Aug. 28. There was a man named Wonderful, and it was his real name. Everyone from Richard Pryor to Dave Chappelle followed in his footsteps. All this, and Spinal Tap, too.
Gilbert Moorer Jr., 67, Aug. 28. Get on up, and pay tribute to the leader of one of Milwaukee’s great soul bands of the ’60s. “Get On Up,” the Esquires, 1967, from “Get On Up: The Esquires,” a 1995 CD compilation.
Jerry Reed, 71, Sept. 1. The skinniest man I ever saw, and I watched him from backstage one night.
Don LaFontaine, 68, Sept. 1. In a world where we no longer hear his voice on movie trailers …
Norman Whitfield, 67, Sept. 16. I didn’t know his name, but his music greatly influenced the way I looked at life when I was 13.
Paul Newman, 83, Sept. 26. The essence of cool. He made a movie in our town and raced at a track in Wisconsin’s rolling hills. He drank beer. He made “Slap Shot” and “Absence of Malice.” The dressing on my Southwest salads at McDonald’s are Newman’s Own. Good enough for me.
Edie Adams, 81, Oct. 15. Hey, big spender … why don’t you pick one up and smoke it some time? I’m fairly certain the slinky, sultry Miss Adams was the reason my dad smoked Muriel cigars in the ’60s.
Levi Stubbs, 72, Oct. 17. I am more a Temptations man than a Four Tops man, but I know greatness when I hear it.
Mr. Blackwell, 86, Oct. 19. How will we know who is worst dressed now that the former Richard Sylvan Selzer is gone?
Studs Terkel, 96, Oct. 31. One of America’s legendary journalists and storytellers. The voice of Chicago.
Joe Hyams, 85, Nov. 8. One of Hollywood’s great stories. A New York reporter sent west in 1951 to do a story on illegal immigrants, he did it, then was told to interview Hollywood stars if he saw any. He fell into an invitation to Humphrey Bogart’s house. Bogart offered Hyams a drink. Hyams asked for a Coke. Offended, Bogart said, “I don’t trust a journalist who doesn’t drink.” The tee-totaling Hyams told off Bogart and headed for the door. “Get back here, kid,” Bogart said, “I like you.” It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Irving Brecher, 94, Nov. 17. Another of Hollywood’s great stories. One of the funniest men you never knew. He wrote for Groucho Marx. When they met in 1938, Brecher said “Hello, Mr. Marx.” Groucho responded, “Hello? That’s supposed to be a funny line? Is this the guy who’s supposed to write our movie?” Brecher shot back. “Well, I saw you say ‘hello’ in one of your movies, and I thought it was so funny I’d steal it and use it now.” Groucho smiled, bought him lunch and they were pals forever after. The New York Times’ obit recalled that Brecher once pissed off producer Darryl F. Zanuck by saying his new movie “hadn’t been released; it had escaped.”
Guy Peellaert, 74, Nov. 17. A Belgian pop artist and a designer of album covers, among them David Bowie’s “Diamond Dogs.”
Bob Jeter, 71, Nov. 20. He played for the Green Bay Packers, and I got his autograph when I was a kid.
Alan Gordon, 64, Nov. 22. He and Garry Bonner co-wrote “Happy Together,” a No. 1 hit for the Turtles in 1967 and one of the greatest pop songs ever. Even when done by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. (From “Fillmore East — June 1971,” 1971.)
Joern Utzon, 90, Nov. 29. The Danish architect who designed the Sydney Opera House. He never saw the finished building, having left Australia in a huff in 1966 after working there for four years and sparring with government officials over its cost.
Bettie Page, 85, Dec. 11. American cultural, fashion and sexual icon.
W. Mark Felt, 95, Dec. 18. The career FBI man was Deep Throat during Watergate. He helped Bob Woodward (and Carl Bernstein) bring down Nixon. I read “All the President’s Men” as a senior in high school, and it helped convince me — as if I needed convincing — that journalism would be my career. I always hoped I’d learn Deep Throat’s identity in my lifetime.
Dock Ellis, 63, Dec. 19. He claimed to have thrown a no-hitter while on LSD in 1970. File under “Good story if true.”
Eartha Kitt, 81, Dec. 25. “Santa Baby,” of course, but also the best Catwoman ever.
Bernie Hamilton, 80. Dec. 30. Ah, Captain Dobey from the old “Starsky and Hutch” TV show. But did you know he spent the next 20 years producing R&B and gospel records on his Chocolate Snowman label — and even recorded a blues album?
Be sure you make one more round of last stops. Head over to the Locust St. blog, where Chris offers “Absent Friends,” and lots more tunes to accompany it.