It has been well documented that 2016 has been a terrible year.
By that, I mean that many people have documented that they haven’t liked the year. Many of them have documented this right on my Facebook feed, in fact.
Most of the blame has been lain at the feet of the celebrity deaths that have been taking place during this time. Many have found the loss of such talents as Prince, David Bowie, Muhammad Ali and others to be emotionally devastating. The other big factor, I believe, was Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election. These events have led many to label 2016 as the worst year ever.
From these perspectives, though, I don’t hold much hope that 2017 is going to be any better. I mean, the celebrities of our youth are going to continue to grow older, and certainly some will pass away next year. And I can only assume that those who found candidate Trump to be an unpleasant reality, the actual sitting President Trump is going to be far, far worse.
But, back to the unpleasant celebrity losses of the year, there certainly have been a few. Of course, any death is difficult for the ones who knew and loved the person who died, but when famous people go, we who were fans of their work share in that grief. It’s just important to keep those emotions in perspective.
When I think of famous people who have died this year, some of the people who come to mind aren’t the ones I hear about the most. I mean, I do feel shocked about Carrie Fisher, just like everyone, and I’m sad there will never be another Alan Rickman performance, and I’ll always love Debbie Reynolds from Singin’ in the Rain. But there are other stars and creative people that didn’t make as many headlines, whose work means just as much to me. For example…
Bob Elliot – A comedian with decades of experience on TV, film and especially radio, Bob Elliot was 1/2 of the duo Bob & Ray, along with Ray Goulding. Their work, full of dry and surprising wit, has been immeasurably influential upon my own writing, productions and humor. A lot of my ongoing audio drama, The Adventures of Captain Strong, was inspired by tapes of their programs that I have. Garish Summit, One Fella’s Family, Matt Neffer-Boy Spotwelder…so many recurring bits that have given me so much enjoyment. He died of throat cancer on February 2nd, and really, he deserves a much longer blogpost from me some day.
Darwyn Cooke – I’ve written about him before, but the Canadian comic book creator is best known to me as the writer and artist behind DC: The New Frontier, one of the most enjoyable epics in my collection. His work was distinctive in its style, a highly enjoyable blend of retro and modern. He died of cancer on May 14, and he will be missed.
Robert Banks Stewart – One of the best era’s in the history of Doctor Who was the mid 1970’s, when you had Tom Baker as the Doctor, Elisabeth Sladen as his companion, and Philip Hinchcliffe producing the show. During that time, there were two stories written by Robert Banks Stewart, the Scottish writer who died of cancer back in January. They are Terror of the Zygons, which introduced the recently popular again Zygons, and The Seeds of Doom, which had a giant killer alien plant. They are both great examples of the series from that period.
Curtis Hanson – The American film director died of natural causes this past September. He’s got 18 directing credits to his name, but if he’d only ever done LA Confidential, that would have been enough for me. That movie is a masterwork of plot, character and style. But on top of that, he also directed In Her Shoes and The River Wild, and co-wrote Never Cry Wolf, as well as working on a bunch of other well-known stuff that I haven’t seen.
Gareth Thomas – This Welsh actor died in April of heart failure, and always brought a level of gravitas to everything that I’ve seen him in. But by far the role he’s best known for is Roj Blake, the leader of the disparate group of rebels in the dystopian science fiction series, Blake’s Seven. Thomas appeared in all four years of the show, but only starred in two of them. By the end he’d left the show as a regular and his character supplanted by one of the supporting characters as the lead figure. But even though his successor, Paul Darrow’s Avon, was ultimately more popular in the series, it was never quite the same without Gareth Thomas’ grounded presence.
George Martin – I’m no expert about the music business, but this amazing guy produced most of the Beatles’ discography and arranged and recorded many familiar elements of their songs. That’s pretty notable. He died in his sleep on March 8th.
Steven Hill – The American actor, who was 94 when he died in August, is probably best known for playing the DA on Law & Order for 10 years, but I knew him first in reruns of the first season of Mission: Impossible, where he played the original leader of the IMF, Dan Briggs. I liked Briggs – he was more inscrutable than the better known character who succeeded him, Jim Phelps, and thus I thought a better fit for the series.
Patty Duke – Patty Duke is a very famous and award-winning actress who I will always remember as Helen Keller in the dramatic film, The Miracle Worker. She and Anne Bancroft are both fantastic in that movie, which I consider to be one of the most moving I have ever seen. Of course, she also played “identical cousins” Cathy & Patty Lane for three years on her eponymous TV series, The Patty Duke Show. She died on March 29th.
William Schallert – Patty Duke’s TV father passed away only six weeks after she did, on May 8th. He is an actor with nearly 400 acting credits listed on IMDb. I have lost track of the number of times I’ve come across him in movies and television shows. Never a star, but always a reliable presence in any project he was part of. Let’s see, some of his roles include the annoying Federation ambassador in the popular Star Trek episode The Trouble with Tribbles, Patty Lane’s father on The Patty Duke Show (as alluded to above), Dobie Gillis’ teacher in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, the mayor in the classic film In the Heat of the Night, a doctor in The Incredible Shrinking Man, and many more.
Robert Vaughn – Robert Vaughn is another actor who has had hundreds of roles, although he is more of an out-and-out star. Everyone knows Vaughn from The Man from UNCLE, but I more specifically remember him from The Magnificent Seven, Battle Beyond the Stars, and Superman III (“I ask you to kill Superman, and you’re telling me you couldn’t even do that one simple thing.”) He died of leukemia on November 11.
Burt Kwouk – The British actor showed up in a guest role on Doctor Who back in the old days, but he is best known as Inspector Clouseau’s manservant Cato in seven Pink Panther movies. The fights he’d have with Peter Sellers were always a highlight. Kwouk died on May 24th of cancer.
So yes, the year has had some sad times in it, though I’m not convinced it’s really more than any other year.
But…2016 has also had some cool stuff in it, some fun things. I’ll share some thoughts on that in a follow-up post, very soon.