The Top 19 Deaths in 2005
Just when they thought it couldn’t get any worse…
Carl F Gauze
Some years are worse than others. The year 2005 was rather rough for personal reasons, but the folks listed below took it much harder. While hundreds of thousands died in natural disasters and wars, these are the 19 people I’ll miss the most. The list is in roughly the order they passed away, and more have been left out than included, and if you didn’t make it in, well, better luck next year.
1. Cartoonist Will Eisner created The Spirit, and practically invented the Graphic Novel. He spoke at Rollins College a few years ago at an exhibit of cartoon art. When asked if print would disappear, he pointed out that seemingly obsolescent modes of communication never disappear, but become more rarified, more arty, and more exclusive. They evolve from mass communication to message communication. Think theater, poetry, and modern dance.
2. When I was little, and if I was very good, I could stay up and watch Johnny Carson’s monologue. That was my first taste of what it was to be an adult, and he died from that other privilege of adulthood — smoking. The consummate interviewer, he was also a magician, and made mincemeat of Uri Geller’s spoon bending schtick by cleverly preventing any of Geller’s people to set up in his studio. Letterman and Leno are mere shadows.
3. Boxing leaves me cold, but Max Schmeling encapsulated world politics as he fought Joe Louis for the Nazis, winning once and losing the second time. Sports imitates life sometimes, and this guy made it to 100, unlike most of the regular guys in the war.
4. Lots of people slept with Marilyn Monroe, but Arthur Miller was clearly the most intellectual. He wrote some of the best plays of the 20th century, including Death of a Salesman. Even a bad high school rendering of Willy Lohman is touching.
5. Hunter S. Thompson took his own life, and then instructed that his ashes be blasted into the sky with fireworks. He probably didn’t take QUITE as many drugs as his writing indicates, but he took journalism in scary new directions. His alter ego appears in Doonesbury as “Duke.”
6. When I transitioned from books with pictures of bunnies to more “adult” fare, I fell in love with Sci-Fi. While not my absolute favorite writer, Andre Norton cranked out a steady stream of solid, well composed and well thought out material. Her life spanned most of the 20th century, and many of the advances she predicted came to be. Of course, I still want that personal helicopter, but I have a few years left. I hope.
7. Everything tastes like chicken. Sometime, even chicken tastes like chicken, but mostly these days it tastes like rattlesnake. Frank Perdue made producing poultry a huge industry, although he didn’t make 100 by eating chicken. A rarity in business, he was a savvy financial guy, a visionary organizer, and came across as a friendly and homey neighbor on TV.
8. My mother-in-law complained about a confusing new digital stove, and expressed a strong desire to “kill the SOB that invented digital”. Too late. While the digital electronic revolution was the work of thousands of engineers, scientists, and people in white bunny suits, Jack Kilby put it in motion by integrating multiple electronic components on one small piece of silicon — the Integrated Circuit. He held dozens of critical patents, including the one for the pocket calculator.
9. While I never ate many of the things, Gerry Thomas invented the TV dinner for Swanson in 1954. It was the perfect mating of dining and entertainment — TV trays and sitcoms. And you could get them with chicken.
10. As a child, I watched the body counts of Viet Nam and wondered how we could kill so many more of the enemy and not win the war. Apparently General William Westmoreland couldn’t either, so ultimately we did the only thing possible — we declared success and went home. Thirty years and a murderous regime later, Viet Nam seems to be recovering.
11. I am an engineer. James Doohan just played one on TV, but he’s what I wanted to be — clever, resourceful, and willing to stand up to unreasonable authority (If I push her any harder, Cap’n, she’s gonna blow!) He rarely if ever got the alien babe with the green boobs, but he did keep a spare box of anti matter in his desk. Now he’s been beamed up to the great beyond.
12. Where would modern music be with out the electronic organ, the synthesizer, or the digital drum kit? Robert Moog took Jack Kilby’s invention from engineering product to artistic expression. As the father of electronic music, he digitized the keyboard, and then the whole orchestra.
13. One of the best sitcoms to watch while eating your chicken Swanson Dinner was Gilligan’s Island. People may argue Gilligan’s true name, but Bob Denver seemed to be the only one who was really rational on that island. People often select him as the person in the series who could survive on his own. He made it in Hollywood, and that’s tougher than any tropical island.
14. Gordon Gould invented the laser. He spent years finding a useful application for it, then most of his life fighting patent battles to keep the profits. He eventually won the lawsuits, and now we all can amuse the cat with a laser pointer.
15. Another wonderful actor, Don Adams, died. Best know as Maxwell Smart, he bumbled around making fun of the cold war, no small feat. True, Buck Henry wrote his lines, but it’s the delivery that gets the laughs. I had a crush on his partner Barbara Feldon, and couldn’t understand why he always ignored her. After Get Smart!, Adams didn’t work much, which is the curse of success in television — it burns that character into your public image, and you’re no good for much else.
16. August Wilson was one of the most prolific writers of our time, and entire theater companies succeed on nothing but his plays. Beginning with stereotypes of the shiftless son or the conniving minister, Wilson digs far, far deeper, revealing the Black Experience to all audiences. He’s so good, they named a theater after him in New York.
17. Best known for injuries sustained from an exploding rum drink, Richard Pryor broke the same stereotypes, but his vehicle was the Angry Young Black Comedian. Viciously funny, he took the direct approach, and made people laugh at them. He worked in 38 movies and wrote for several of the hippest TV shows of his day.
18. I grew up in Wisconsin, and William Proxmire was senator for most of my lifetime. My mother hated him, but everyone else voted for him. Running against him was political suicide. Proxie was an old line Democrat — pro labor, pro big government, and wildly popular. I remember he had a special desk made so he could work standing up, and he jogged before it became the national obsession.
19. Lastly, let’s remember Jack Anderson, columnist for the Washington Post. His muck raking-style brought down many a venial politician, and he’s part of the post-Watergate tradition of publicizing every piece of dirt available. On one hand, it flushes out the crooks, but it also scares otherwise qualified men from office. That’s why I vote AGAINST candidates, and have since I was old enough to hang a chad.
See you here again next year! And drive like a maniac, everyone else does.