Sunday, December 28, 2008

Someone Wonderful I Missed

I'm not sure when this site turned into the obituaries, but it surely seems like I've written many more entries about dead people than living, especially lately. According to my count, I mentioned over forty deaths in these pages this year, which does not begin to cover the full list of notable passings. Before I recap the folks about whom I did write a bit, I feel obligated to at least mention a few of those whom I left out in 2008. I did not really overlook these folks, I just did not feel the urge to post an item about them at the time of their deaths. So sue me.

Richard Widmark, for example, deserves a mention, as does comic Bernie Mac and Oscar-winner Isaac Hayes (I have vivid memories of his performance of Shaft at the 1971 Oscars, all smoke and chains...).

And how could I have failed to celebrate the life and career of Estelle Reiner? Of course, you recognise the surname; she was wife to Carl and mother to Rob, and maintained a career as an actress and cabaret artist. But let's not kid ourselves. We remember her because she delivered one of the most hilarious one-liners ever to appear in a feature film. The flick was When Harry Met Sally, and the line was, "I'll have what she's having."

'Nuff said.

Anthony Minghella died this year, and I am surprised that I never mentioned it, as he is responsible for one of my favorite films. He was an Oscar-winning director and writer, and his production of The Talented Mr. Ripley provided a spectacular showcase for Matt Damon. Gwyneth Paltrow and Phillip Seymour Hoffman were never better, and Minghella's direction enabled the sub-talented Jude Law to deliver a performance he has been unable to match, before or since.

Lots of politicos died this year, but only two really hit my radar. Mark Felt is a name nobody really remembers until reminded that his code-name was Deep Throat. He provided inside info to Woodward and Bernstein of the Washington Post, and was thus central to the downfall of the Nixon presidency. I imagine he's meeting up with St. Peter about now, in some celestial parking garage, telling him to "follow the money." I could not bring myself to write about another political animal who left the planet this year, Jesse Helms. This long-time bigot and homophobe kicked the bucket on July 4th, a coincidence I dislike, but I think it's poetic justice that his senate seat, which was held for a while by Elizabeth Dole, has finally been lost to the Democrats.

I don't follow political journalism too closely, though I know enough about right-wingers William F. Buckley and Tony Snow to dislike their politics. Those two were certainly not unbiased journalists (I'm not sure Buckley would even have called himself a "journalist." He was a "commentator." Where do I sign up to get paid to comment? Nice gig...), at least not on the scale of the greatly missed Tim Russert, who helmed Meet the Press for many years. My friend Warner is afraid that Russert's replacement, David Gregory, is not up to the task, and I'm in no position to argue. But he sure is purty on TV... isn't that enough?

Jim McKay died this year too, and though he spent his long career in sports broadcasting, I remember him from those horrendous days during the 1972 Olympics. It was the first time I ever heard the word "terrorist." Are there any sportscasters around today who could step up to the plate (note the sports metaphor...I worked hard on that one) and anchor a breaking, hard news story, as McKay did from Munich?

A couple of other folks who died this year are better remembered, at least in my addled brain, by the actors who portrayed them in the movies. Dith Pran was the Cambodian photojournalist at the center of The Killing Fields, but when I picture him, it's the amateur actor Dr. Haing S. Ngor who comes to mind. The world's most famous coma victim, Sunny von Bulow, died this year, after spending almost 28 years in a vegetative state. She had no idea her story would be immortalized by Reversal of Fortune, that Jeremy Irons would win an Oscar playing her philandering, and possibly murderous, husband, Claus, or that whenever her name is mentioned, it is Glenn Close who comes to mind.

These are just a few of the people I missed writing about this year, so in their honor (or in a few cases, dishonor), let's raise a glass of champagne to their memory. Better yet, make sure the glass is filled with a sparkling wine from California. Robert Mondavi died this year, too.