If it seems like its been a rough year for our heroes and icons in pop culture, well, it has been a rough year, particularly so for musicians and comic actors*.
*More on that later in this post.
And yes, Carrie Fisher comes under that heading with funny roles in movies (Sleepless in Seattle) and TV (I just watched her guest turn on an episode of 30 Rock during my recent re-watch of that series). Hell, I would argue that her signature role as Princess Leia in Star Wars owed its success to her comic timing in her banter with Luke and Han.
She was also a writer of books and screenplays as well as script doctor, making other people's screenplays better. She was an extraordinarily smart and witty woman who battled so much in her life with mental illness and substance abuse. She battled back from these demons but a heart attack takes her away at 60 year old. As I guy facing down 54 next year, 60 doesn't seem as old to me as it once did. And Carrie was still too vibrant, so filled with life to leave us so soon.
When word got out last week that she suffered a heart attack and was in the hospital in intensive care, we all feared for the worst after the year we've had and the losses among those we admired for their talents.
It's ironic that Carrie's last appearance on screen was connected to her career's beginning with Star Wars. Spoilers ahead if you haven't seen Rogue One yet but the film ends with the plans for the Death Star being delivered to the hands of Princess Leia. It's Carrie Fisher's face but from nearly 4 decades ago. Computers can do such wonders, can't they? When she's asked what she has been given, Leia replies, "Hope".
In an uncertain world with an even more uncertain future, we need hope more than ever. Sadly Carrie Fisher is gone but if her life was too short, one can't say it wasn't lived. Not always lived well but she persevered over the bad and embraced the good. And one can work through the bad times and believe in the good times to come with a single word: Hope.
In Carrie Fisher's memory and in honor of the life she lived, do not give up hope.**
**Sadly another tragic death has hit the news with the death of actress Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher's mother, just one day after her daughter's death.
The message of this post is still to hold on to hope. But this latest news shows how hard it is to do that. But we must.
Just to lift your spirits a bit, click this link of Debbie Reynolds singing and dancing with Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor from Singin' In the Rain.
As I noted above, the year has been very hard on musicians. A few days ago, while we still held out hope that 2016's specter of death would not claim Carrie Fisher, word came down that George Michael was dead.
I remember when Wham! first made it big on the music charts and George Michael with his perfectly coiffed hair adorned the walls of many a teenage girl back in the 1980s. (Sorry, girls; George was playing for the other team.) I can't say I was a big fan of George's music but I can't deny the infectious beat of Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, the intense ache of Careless Whisper and the bouncy rhythms of (I Don't Want Your) Freedom (not to be confused with Freedom 90 which is also good and the video is filled with hot fashion models but I digress.)
George Michael was probably the first pop star with wide spread appeal to teenage girls who later came out as gay. He was not outed on his terms; he was arrested for soliciting sex in a men's bathroom. Yet the very sordid nature of seeking illicit sex underscored that gay people even as famous as George Michael were forced to live beneath and outside the mainstream; it was this realization that began the push for acceptance of homosexuals in the mainstream community.
George definitely had a strong, dynamic gift as a singer and nowhere is that more apparent than his cover of Somebody To Love by Queen. If only Freddie Mercury could do justice to the music of Queen, George Michael made a serious challenge to that assumption with Somebody To Love.
If it wasn't bad enough that we're getting reports on recent deaths like George Michael and Carrie Fisher, we're getting updates on people who died earlier this year. A few days ago we leaned what killed Garry Shandling back on March 24th. It was one of those blood clot things that just lurk around and sneak up to kill you like a masked slasher in a 1980s teen horror flick.
I admired Garry's work as a stand up comedian as well as his groundbreaking work on television. The big one everyone likes to bring up is The Larry Sanders Show where Garry portrayed the neurotically obsessed host of a late night talk show. But my favorite series was It's Garry Shandling Show where Garry played a stand up comedian named Garry Shandling. If it sounds derivative of Seinfeld, I should point out that Garry's show came first. But the true magic of It's Garry Shandling Show was how it was told. Garry addressed the audience; scenes changed as Garry and the cast walked from one set to another. This was a show that didn't just break down the 4th wall; it grounded the 4th wall into little tiny bits and vacuumed up those bits.
For a very funny yet poignant look at Garry Shandling's work, click here for the link to Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee. The title of this episode? "Isn't It Great That Garry Shandling Is Still Alive?"
Looking over the list of those who died in 2016, I was struck by the names of those I knew from comedic roles.
January 26 - Abe Vigoda, American actor (b. 1921)
February 28 – George Kennedy, American actor (b. 1925)
The Police Squad movies with Leslie Nielsen
April 17 – Doris Roberts, American actress (b. 1925)
Everybody Loves Raymond and a bunch of other parts in TV and movies
August 29 – Gene Wilder, American actor (b. 1933)
Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein
November 24 - Florence Henderson, American actress (b. 1934)
Brady Bunch for sure but Florence was always good for a giggle playing against type in several different shows.
But the music world got hit really hard this year. Here are only 4 of the many musicians we lost this year.
- January 10 – David Bowie, English singer, songwriter and actor (b. 1947)
Bowie had just released Black Star, a new album of work that received a lot of good reviews at the time and is now on several best of lists for 2016. Back when I was sick with pneumonia, I listened to the title track a lot. Not sure what it was about my head space at the time but I kept coming back to this tune and scampering down the rabbit hole after it.
Another favorite tune is Absolute Beginners. Click the link for a live version of the song.
- January 28 - Paul Kantner, American singer and musician (b. 1941)
Paul Kanter's vocals from Miracles by Jefferson Starship is engraved into the sides of my brain. I associate this song with the Hulk. OK, that's a topic starter. Why? When I was a kid, my school took a bus trip to the North Carolina State Fair. On the trip back, someone brought some comics including an issue of Marvel Super Heroes which was a title reprinting Hulk stories from the 1960s. Meanwhile, Miracles was playing on the radio. So every time I hear this song, I am reminded of Hulk comics, a crowded school activity bus and really needing to go to the bathroom. OK, too much info, I know.
- March 8 - George Martin, English record producer, composer, arranger and engineer (b. 1926)
The ultimate of merging classical music training with the burning heart of rock 'n' roll. What the Beatles had without George Martin was very good. What the Beatles had with George Martin defies description. Click here for my earlier post on Mr. Martin.
- April 21 – Prince, American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist (b. 1958)
Click on the link for While My Guitar Gently Weeps which was from an all star tribute to George Harrison. Prince does not sing on this one but he flails away at the guitar like its on fire.
I don't have a link for it but the full length album version of Let's Go Crazy should be the new national anthem.
So many dead this year. So much talent lost. Yet we should remember we are never guaranteed how long we have. We must make the most of it and strive so that what we leave behind lives on after us in the hearts and minds of others.
And while we're still here, the best way to make the most of life is to hold on to hope. Even as death and despair fight to snatch it away from us...
...hold on to hope.
And be good to one another.
|Art by Terry & Rachel Dodson|