Sinatra Jr., Shandling and a year to mourn the famous and fabulous
They keep on dying.
Frank Sinatra Jr., Keith Emerson, Ernestine Anderson, Gogi Grant, Joe Garagiola, Ken Howard and now Garry Shandling. We lost all of them since March 10th!
This is shaping up to be the deadliest year in Hollywood since the arrival of talking pictures.
Natalie Cole, Pat Harrington Jr., David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Dan Haggerty, Mic Gillette, Glenn Frey, Abe Vigoda, Paul Kantner, Bob Elliott, Maurice White, Dan Hicks, George Gaynes, Harper Lee, George Kennedy, Pat Conroy, George Martin and the list goes on and on and on.
Each of these artists touched us in some way, in music, theater, film, literature or laughter. Somehow, through some wonderful mysterious alchemy, a select few are put on this Earth to add truth and beauty and happiness.
Vigoda, Garagiola, Elliot, Martin and Grant made it into their 90s, good long productive lives. Far too many of the others died young. Or youngish. At 66, Garry Shandling’s death hits too close to home.
I had the pleasure — and it really was a pleasure — to work briefly with Shandling. He emceed a show I wrote and he performed the material as written! He got his laughs and afterwards thanked me. I was a complete unknown and yet he was respectful, sweetly neurotic and appreciative. Today it’s my turn to thank him.
I also had the pleasure last August of dining with Ken Howard and his wife, Linda.
Frank Sinatra Jr. I considered a friend. Or at least friendish.
I’m hardly unique to have had personal connections to these famous men. They were busy and met many, many people over the course of their lives. Show Business jobs tend to be ephemeral and those who are lucky enough to stick around will invariably meet and work with scores of people.
Undoubtedly there will be more celebrity obits popping up in our Twitter feed and flashing on TMZ.com before 2016 takes its final bow. If we define a “famous person” as someone whose name and likeness we know, but whom we’ve never actually met, then we have, literally, millions of famous people. Celebrities have mushroomed since the advent of mass media and industrial entertainment. The law of averages guarantees X number will croak on any given day.
There was a time when fame was based on achievement. George Washington was famous; Benedict Arnold was infamous. Today we’ve somehow divorced talent from celebrity. This didn’t start with the Kardashians; they just took it to a whole new level. When their time comes, what exactly is it Kim and Company are going to be remembered for?
We forget most of the folks we meet in life, yet celebrity has a unique stickiness. We all remember the time we bumped into Dudley Moore at the carwash or when Sandy Koufax was on the same flight from Denver. Its strange we’ll remember mostly insignificant encounters with the famous while we struggle to remember the kid who sat next to us in homeroom for six years.
Is it fair the world mourns a singer or a clown and not the cop or the soldier who dies in the line of duty? Fair or not, it happens. Someday science might explain it.
In the meantime, here’s my guess; carpenters work in wood, butchers work in meat, artists work in emotions. Love, lust, longing, loneliness, the entire catalogue of human experience make up their raw materials.
A great artist has the power to pin us to a time and a place and the people we were with and the person we once were.
That ain’t chopped liver.
Doug McIntyre’s column appears Sundays. Hear him weekdays 5-10 a.m. on 790 KABC. He can be reached at: Doug@DougMcIntyre.com.