Monday, February 21, 2005

Death flops a set

The old line is that celebrities always die in clusters of three. Rarely, though, do we lose three on the same day. Quick epitaphs follow.

John Raitt.

If all he'd done in life was contribute DNA to the conception of the soulful mistress of the slide guitar, Bonnie Raitt, he'd have done enough. But he actually accomplished quite a bit as a singer and actor on stage (most notably in the original Broadway production of Carousel) and film (opposite Doris Day in The Pajama Game).

Sandra Dee.

You can say you've really made it in show business when people start writing songs with your name in the title. (Former MTV VJ Martha Quinn, heroine of a certain Mojo Nixon ditty, may beg to differ.) Anyone who's ever seen (and will admit to seeing) Grease remembers Stockard Channing as Rizzo belting out, "Look At Me, I'm Sandra Dee." But there was only one, the original Gidget and the second (after Debbie Reynolds) Tammy, and she proved she could act (well, sort of) in Douglas Sirk's 1959 remake of Imitation of Life. She came a long way, did little Alexandra Zuck from Bayonne.

Hunter S. Thompson.

This isn't going to make me all that popular with my fellow students from journalism school days — or with everyone else who today is singing his praises as a pioneer of the Fourth Estate — but Hunter Thompson was an overrated hack, in my humble opinion.

He had, I think, the talent to be great, and without question he had a unique way with words. But he committed the cardinal sin of journalism: He made the stories about himself, rather than about the subject matter, opening the floodgates to such monumental wastes of oxygen as Geraldo Rivera and Rush Limbaugh. He coasted on outrage and daring for far too many years when he could have been contributing something cogent (I'd have settled for coherent) to the public debate.

Thompson was never as good as he thought he was, but he was so volatile people were afraid to proclaim that the emperor had long ago left his clothes in the bottom of the medicine cabinet. He got away with being sloppy simply because people were afraid of him, which is pathetic in the extreme. No one deserves that degree of slack.

I'm sorry Uncle Duke's gone, and even sorrier that he took his own life, because every needless death is tragic. But I'm mostly sorry that he squandered what might have been (though we'll never really know) a titanic talent, and that the work for which he'll be remembered would probably pale in comparison with the work he might have done if he'd settled for being good instead of legendary.

2 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Janet offered these pearls of wisdom...

Truth be told, I feel partly responsible. After I heard Sandra Dee die, I not so secretly wondered who would be next. Then I got wind of Hunter S. Thompson dying and I simply couldn't stop there.

Then lo and behold, I heard about John Raitt. And the circle was complete.

Feel free to blame it all on me. I already do.:(

4:01 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

I knew you were scary powerful the instant I met you. Please think only nice things about me.

4:10 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home