SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
January 12, 2014

The 2013 (Kicked the) Bucket List

 

Well, here we are again. Even as the years seem to be accelerating, whipping past us faster and faster, every time we reach the end of another one and I look back at the list of those we’ve lost over the previous twelve months, I’m amazed at how many names there are, most of which have already been forgotten. Between Christmas and the first of the year, every major and minor media outlet in the world will be releasing their own list of maybe a dozen deceased notables, this year focusing on Nelson Mandela and that guy from the Fast and Furious movies (who?), but how many will remember to include Cosmo Allegretti?

            So this is why we’re here again—in my own meager way, I’d like to try and keep the following people, each of whom changed the world, if only a little bit, in the public consciousness for a few more days.

            As ever, the movie and TV industries were hit hard by the Reaper in 2013. Not all the people listed below are big stars, but each in his own way helped create those blockbusters and sit-coms (and other things) we love so much.

            Romanian politician and filmmaker Sergei Nicolaescu, for instance, might not be very well known here, but in his own country he was revered for his historical cinematic epics. Closer to home, The Sopranos lost two more cast members—not only James Gandolfini, but Tony Lip as well. Huell Hauser, host of the PBS series California Gold Coast, died this year, as did Snakes on a Plane director Robert R. Ellis; Ned Wertimer, best known for playing the doorman on The Jeffersons; Italian actress Mariangela Melato; actor Jon Finch, who appeared in Frenzy and Death on the Nile; DJ and TV host Jimmy O'Neill; China Syndrome screenwriter T.S. Cook; director Nagasa Oshima , who shocked art house crowds with his brilliant In the Realm of the Senses; and Conrad Bain, who all but brought an end to the Diff’rent Strokes curse by dying this year at age 89.

            The Wire’s Robert F. Chew has taken that big dirt nap, together with director Michael Winner, who gave us Death Wish, The Sentinel, and so many other favorites; producer Lloyd Philips, who’d just added another blockbuster to his resume with that new incarnation of Superman; Oscar-winning set decorator Garret Lewis; Frank Bank, Leave it to Beaver’s Lumpy Rutherford; Goldeneye screenwriter Michael France; Robin Sachs from Buffy the Vampire Slayer; editor Gerry Hambling, who was nominated for an Oscar for his work on Midnight Express; Night Moves screenwriter Alan Sharp; Underdog co-creator William Watts Biggers; screenwriter Richard Collins, who named a few names during the HUAC investigations; famed Hollywood animal trainer Pat Derby (who made Flipper and Lassie what they were); blue-green screen special effects innovator Petro Vlahos; Raymond Cusick, who designed the Daleks those darn geeks love so much; B-movie legend Liz Renay, probably best known for her turn in John Waters’ Desperate Living; Western star Dale Robertson; and Bonnie Franklin, star of One Day at a Time.

            Italian film composer Armando Trovajoli passed away, as did Italian film director Damiano Damiani (who was pretty darn good when he was good); character actor Willy Switkes, who appears in Taxi Driver; TV character actor Malachi Throne; producer-director Robert E. Relyea, who was connected with classics like West Side Story and The Magnificent Seven; British actor Frank Thornton; executive producer of TV’s Homeland Henry Bromell; porn legend Harry Reems; Oscar-nominated screenwriter Faye Kanin; Simpsons writer-producer Don Payne; Richard Griffiths, who appeared in the likes of Withnail and I and the Harry Potter films (at least one of them, anyway); and exploitation king Jess Franco, who may have been a godawful director, but at least he was a prolific one and for both his endless filmography and his godawfulness deserves our respect.

            Roger Ebert’s a tricky one. The critic won a Pulitzer, after all, so maybe he belongs down there with the journalists. But as a screenwriter early in his career he worked with the great Russ Meyer. For that, together with the undeniable influence he wielded within the movie community, I’d be remiss to slot him into any other category. And speaking of Russ Meyer, Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!’s Haji (Barbarella Catton) died this year, sadly enough. And so did Milo O’Shea, who played the villainous Duran Duran in the cult classic Barbarella; Spanish director Bigas Luna; Mouseketeer and beach party movie stalwart Annette Funicello; the great documentary filmmaker Les Blank, best known for his amazing Burden of Dreams; TV writer and Woody Allen collaborator Mickey Rose; Maurice Vercoutere, the special effects man behind The Exorcist and so many other films; Allan Arbus, who was in Greaser’s Palace and played the shrink on MASH; TV producer-director Jack Shea; Mario Machado, the real-life TV reporter who played TV reporters in films like Robocop and Rocky III; The Young and the Restless’ Jeanne Cooper; Bryan Forbes, who directed The Stepford Wives; genre director Eddie Romero; the splendid Jean Stapleton, who was forever cursed for having played Edith on All in the Family; and one of the world’s more unlikely movie stars, Esther Williams.

            Oh, but we’ve only just begun. Steve Forrest, from TV’s SWAT and Jim Kelly from Enter the Dragon both kicked the ol’ bucket, along with The Waltons‘ shopkeeper Joe Conley. Young Glee star Cory Monteith died after your standard hotel room overdose, and young Friday Night Lights star Lee Thompson Young went and committed suicide in some more obvious way. Character actor Dennis Burkley is no longer with us, and neither are comic actor-director Mel Smith; character actor Joseph Ruskin of Prizzi’s Honor; Farooq Sheik, plump hero of countless Bollywood films; the great and inescapable NYC character actor Dennis Farina; The Last Picture Show’s Eileen Brennan; Michael Ansara, who battled a 400 year-old deformed evil Indian midget in The Manitou; Captain Kangaroo’s puppeteer Cosmo Allegretti; one of the last of the Munchkins Margaret Pellegrini (she was the one in the flower pot); Lisa Kelly from That ‘70s Show, who died in rehab; August Schellenberg, who appeared in any number of films including Free Willy; Juanita Moore, the groundbreaking African-American co-star of Imitation of Life; James Avery, star of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air; and the sometimes great Ted Post, who directed Magnum Force and Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

            Five Time Tony winner Julie Harris, who also appeared in East of Eden, took her last curtain call this past year, together with ‘70s evangelical filmmaker Russell Doughten and Vanishing Point director Richard Sarafian. The Howling screenwriter Gary Brandner died, and so did Fistful of Dollars screenwriter Luciano Vincenzoni; longtime Paramount executive A.C. Lyles; popular Italian actor Giuliano Gemma; The Robe’s Jay Robinson; beloved Italian director Carlo Lizzani , who fell out of a window at age 91; radical French actor-director Patrice Chereau; ubiquitous character actor Ed Lauter, who played a variety of sonsabitches in The Longest Yard, Magic, Executive Action and countless other films; and singer, actor, and Rex’s son Noel Harrison.

            Ex-stuntman turned director Hal Needham helped make the ‘70s and early ‘80s what they were with movies like Smokey and the Bandit, Cannonball Run, and Hooper. Director Antonia Bird, on the other hand, didn’t define an era, but she did make one heck of a cannibal movie with Ravenous. The tragic Marcia Wallace from The Simpsons and the old Bob Newhart Show passed away as the year was winding down, as did A Man For All Seasons’ Nigel Davenport; Shirley Mitchell, last adult cast member of I Love Lucy; jet setting TV personality and celebrity interviewer David Frost; Paul Mantee, best known for Robinson Crusoe on Mars; screenwriting guru Sid Field; Tony Musante of Bird with the Crystal Plumage; that Fast and Furious guy who died in a car wreck prompting a national week of mourning; Eduard Molinaro, director of La Cage Aux Folles; The Sound of Music’s Eleanor Parker; Don Mitchell, who co-starred on the original Ironsides; and the occasionally very great and often very drunk Peter O’Toole.

 

As is often the case, the music industry was pummeled just as brutally across the board.

            Poor Patti Page opened things up, and I say “poor” because as her death proved she will now and forever be known for nothing other than “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?” She was soon followed by Montreux Jazz Festival founder Claude Nobs; Ohio Players front man Leroy ‘Sugarfoot’ Bonner; Anne Rabson, the pianist and singer who performed as Sapphire the Uppity Blues Woman; Patty Andrews, last of the Andrews Sisters; Paul Tanner, last surviving member of the original Glenn Miller Orchestra, who also invented a commercially-produced Theremin; Troggs lead singer Reg Presley; hard bop trumpeter Donald Byrd; Rick Huxley, bassist for the Dave Clark Five; young country singer Mindy McCready, who committed suicide; Shadow Morton, the writer-producer who helped make the Shangri-Las such a chart-topper; South Florida punk rock legend Mike O'Brien; Grammy-winning jazz composer Yusef Lateef; Madonna producer Mark Kamins; Tony Sheridan, the UK guitarist who worked with everyone from Gene Vincent to the early Beatles; Soft Machine singer-songwriter Kevin Ayers; and Chicago bluesman Magic Slim.

            Not a year goes by that we don’t lose a few people with some kind of Elvis connection. This past year was no different, with the passing of Frank Page, host of the Louisiana Hayride radio show and the first man to announce Elvis on the air, together with Gordon Stoker from Elvis’ backup band The Jordanaires.

            Among those with no known Elvis connections but who went on ahead and died anyway were Cleotha Staples of the Staples Singers; Otis Harris and Richard Street, both from The Temptations; renowned pianist Van Cliburn; Jewel Akins, whose band The Turnarounds had a big hit with “The Birds and the Bees”; Bobby Rogers of The Miracles; Ten Years After guitarist Alvin Lee; country singer Claude King, whose hit “Wolverton Mountain” made him a star; Canadian country singer Stompin' Tom Connors; Iron Maiden drummer Clive Burr; ‘60s country star Jack Greene; alcoholic singer-songwriter Jason Molina; Spinners lead singer Bobby Smith; big band singer Fran Warren; and Robert Zildjian, whose company, Sabian Cymbals, has been helping drummers everywhere make the world a louder place.

            Grammy-winning record producer Phil Ramone died, as did non-Grammy winning producer Andy Johns. We also lost blues guitarist Jimmy “Fast Fingers” Dawkins; Scott Miller, who was in Game Theory and The Loud Family; legendary album cover designer Storm Thorgerson; Divinyls lead singer Chrissy Amphlett; the memorable Richie Havens; the amazing George Jones, now up there in the Pantheon; P-Funk bassist Cordell Mosson; Chris Kelly, one-half of rap duo Kriss Kross; Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman; reggae saxophonist Cedric Brooks; and Alan O’Day, who had one big hit with “Undercover Angel,” then kinda disappeared again.

            A lot of people claim keyboardist Ray Manzarek was the real genius behind The Doors, but he still spent a lifetime talking about that other fellow. Now they’re both dead. So are longtime Tonight Show drummer Ed Shaughnessy; Bill Haley’s bassist Marshall Lytle; jazz bassist Ben Tucker (who was hit by a car while driving a golf cart across the highway); Jefferson Airplane drummer Joey Covington; Clarence Burke, vocalist for the ‘70s family group Five Stairsteps; Marvin Junior of The Dells; The Ramones’ brilliant art director Arturo Vega; the much-maligned Slim Whitman, who sold more albums in Europe than Elvis or The Beatles; blues great Bobby (Blue) Bland; and Devo drummer Alan Myers.

            Charles Carr may not have been a beloved and talented musician or record producer or any such thing, but given that by happenstance he was the one driving the car when Hank Williams died in the backseat, well, he’s earned himself a unique spot in music history. And now he and Hank can do a little catching up. Speaking of cars, contemporary Delta bluesman T. Model Ford has passed on, as have laid-back singer-songwriter J.J. Cale; jazz keyboardist George Duke; king of the singing cowboys Jack Clement; singer Marilyn King of The King Sisters; singer Edie Gorme (never liked her myself); Willie Nelson’s longtime guitarist Jody Payne; drummer Jon Brooks of Charlatans UK; outlaw country legend Tompall Glaser; Alan Lanier, founding member of Blue Oyster Cult; Georges Moustaki, French singer-songwriter; jazz singer Jane Harvey; Marian McPartland, jazz pianist as well as the host of NPR’s Piano Jazz show; Beatles promoter Sid Bernstein;  rockabilly great Marvin Rainwater; and record company executive Polly Anthony.

            I’m a big Pogues fan, and have been for a very long time. So while I was saddened to hear guitarist Philip Chevron had been promoted to glory, I was at the same time shocked to realize Shane MacGowan was still among the living. Just goes to show, I guess. Shane may still be with us somehow, but a lot of people aren’t, including Maxine Powell, who taught the artists on Motown records all about poise and appearance and public etiquette, and for decades was known as the label’s Chief of Charm; a few members of The Yellow Dogs and another Iranian-Brooklyn band who were gunned down by a disgruntled former member; country singer Wayne Mills, who was gunned down by a disgruntled honky-tonk owner; jazz drummer and band leader Chico Hamilton; School of Seven Bells guitarist Benjamin Curtis; reggae singer Junior Murvin, best known for his song “Police and Thieves”; country great Ray Price; and the not nearly as great rapper Lord Infamous.

 

Now, in the past I’ve always separated writers and journalists into different categories. But with the passage of time there are fewer and fewer writers to contend with, as well as fewer and fewer journalists. So in an effort to give the illusion there are still enough of them around to make a difference (and because I’m lazy) I’ve decided to group them together this year. Besides, a number of them cross the line between writer and journalist. Take NYT architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable, who died in January (likely as a result of shock and horror after seeing some of the crap that’s going up around town). Along with her work for the paper she was the author of several books. She was also a splendidly cranky old broad.

            Pulitzer-winning journalist and author Richard Ben Cramer kicked in 2013, as did Sol Yurick, author of the wacky street gang novel The Warriors; respectable novelist Evan S. Connell; former Ebony editor Hans Massaquoio; Holocaust survivor and best-selling anti-capitalist author Stephane Hessel; writer and artist Blaster Al Ackerman; James Herbert, the British horror novelist who penned a few particularly sleazy childhood favorites of mine, including The Rats and The Fog; New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis; writer and editor Paul Williams, who was also an executor of Philip K. Dick’s estate; Archie comics writer George Gladir; and award-winning children’s book author E.L. Konigsburg.

            Al Neuharth put his faith in American illiteracy and it paid off big time when he founded USA Today. But now he’s dead to, which leaves me wondering if his headstone will feature a colorful pie chart.

            Andrew Greeley, a priest who wrote bestselling thrillers, bit the dust, as did Michael Palmer, a doctor who wrote bestselling thrillers. So did satirical British novelist Tom Sharp; eternal White House correspondent Helen Thomas; Texas novelist John Graves, who wrote about all things Texan; Carolyn Cassady, who made a career out of having been married to Neal and having a fling with Jack Kerouac; Tom Clancy, king of the incomprehensible military techno-thriller; journalist, novelist, and screenwriter Phil Nutman; film critic Stanley Kauffmann; comedy writer Jay Leggett; radio journalist Stan Brooks; the great, great Elmore Leonard; Nobel-winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney and Nobel-winning novelist Doris Lessing.

 

Well. Then we have all those others—notables who were notable in their own way, and in a way very few others could claim. Like C. Everett Koop, the humorless surgeon general with the funny beard who made all our lives a little less fun while he was in office.

            Then there was Aaron Swartz, the 26-year-old hacker and social media site founder who was discovered hanged. The cops ruled it a suicide, but not everyone seems to believe that.

            Turkish painter Burhan Dogencay died much less mysteriously, as did Ed Koch (unless you take your conspiracy theories really, really seriously). Speaking of conspiracies, within just a few months of each other we lost both Charles “Chuck” Foley, the horndog who invented Twister AND Andre Cassagnes, who invented the Etch-A-Sketch. Coincidence?

            Gone as well are bullfighter and novelist Barnaby Conrad; Randy Runyon, better known as Chucko the Clown; Chicago chef Jen Banchet, Chicago chef (and insufferable ass-clown) Charlie Trotter; zany Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez; zany British dictator Margaret Thatcher; famed French tightrope walker Henri Rechatin; theater producer and Richard Burton ex-wife Sybil Christopher; Soccer star Bert Trautmann; bodybuilding guru Joe Weider; Ripley’s and MAD magazine illustrator Bob Clark; DC Comics illustrator Carmen Infantino; Jim Henson’s business partner and widow Jane Henson; LSD pioneer Albert Hoffman (who was 102); skinhead cake maker Vinny Garcia; the hilariously-named NASCAR champ Dick Trickle, who shot himself; Richard Ramirez, dubbed The Night Stalker during his serial killer phase; Virginia Johnson of the famed Masters and Johnson sex research team; burlesque performer Dixie Evans, who later founded the Burlesque Hall of Fame; Dr. Jesse Marcel Jr., son of the witness on the scene of the Roswell Incident whose story was quickly quashed and discredited, but who later became a darling of the UFO circuit; famed record collector Murray Gershenz; heavyweight boxer Tommy Morrison; heavyweight boxer Ken Norton; audio pioneer Ray Dolby; Mercury astronaut and the second man to orbit the Earth, Scott Carpenter; Augusto Odone, who in an effort to save his son from a rare disease started making his own medicines in the kitchen (anyone tell the FDA about this guy?) and came up with Lorenzo’s Oil; famed psychic Sylvia Brown; and a personal favorite of mine, Fred H. Scherer, who designed all those dioramas at the Natural History Museum.

 

Now, as I worked my way through this year’s list—and this started happening a few years back—I couldn’t help but notice a few strange coincidences. Pairs and triplets of people with something unusual in common. They may not have been separated at birth, but they were conjoined in death.

            For instance, in January popular TV kid’s show cowboy host Rex Trailer was buried on the lone prairie. Then two weeks later popular TV kid’s show cowboy host Sally Starr rode off into the sunset as well. What are the chances?

            In March Bruce Reynolds, mastermind of what came to be known as The Great Train Robbery, passed away at age 81. In December Ronnie Biggs, the most flamboyant and publicity-hungry of the Great Train Robbers (he even had a brief stint as lead singer for the Sex Pistols) died as well.

            America’s hopeless emotional cripples suffered a double whammy this year with the loss of not only the original Dear Abby, Pauline Phillips, but also Dr. Joyce Brothers.

            It was a triple blow to fans of the original Star Wars as makeup artist Stuart Freeborn, cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, and actor Richard LeParmentier all became one with The Force.

            It was also a triple blow to fans of pro wrestling, who lost three of the, um, sport’s more interesting characters. Bill Moody, who in his role as The Undertaker’s manager was (appropriately enough) known as Pallbearer, creepy ‘90s wrestler Doink the Clown, and one of my childhood heroes Mad Dog Vachon, all went down for the count.

            Audrey Totter and Deanna Durbin, who both had major roles in Robert Montgomery’s experimental 1947 film adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s Lady in the Lake, won’t be coming up for air again.

            And finally, although they weren’t exactly household names, they do represent an all too common and sad story. In November, character actor Al Ruscio (Godfather III, etc.) passed away. Three weeks later, character actress Kate Williamson (Dream Lover, etc.), who just happened to be Al’s wife, joined him.

 

As we close in on the end of another long and exhausting list, I would, as per usual, like to take a moment to pay special homage to a few of this year’s notables who made an indelible mark on me personally.

            Apart from sitting next to him at a bar once as he enjoyed a bowl of soup, I never had any direct dealings with Taylor Mead. Morgan did, though, working with him on several occasions. She had nothing but nice things to say about him, and I’ll accept that. Mead was (if you’ll forgive me) a dying breed—a New York eccentric, part of the Warhol circle, and never known for much of anything apart from being Taylor Mead. But unlike the flood of faceless nobodies we call “celebrities” nowadays, he was at least interesting in his own flamboyantly off-kilter way.

            Speaking of the Warhol crowd, I said a number of mean things about Lou Reed after he died (before he died, too), and I stand by them. Still, his work with the Velvet Underground and his own album Berlin made a very big impression on me, and there’s no denying he was, like Mead, one of those fundamental New York characters who simply do not exist anymore.

            Tom Laughlin was remembered at the time of his death as the guy who directed and starred in the indie hit Billy Jack. Most people don’t remember, however, that Laughlin made a total of four Billy Jack movies, including his unreleased remake of the Capra classic, Billy Jack Goes to Washington. They also forget he was a perennial candidate for president, or that for years he was touting his own sure-fire cure for cancer. Personally I have very little patience for the original Billy Jack, but Laughlin was always a favorite of mine simply because he was so damned nuts.

            Del Tenney was another indie filmmaker who really only made four films. Four that matter, anyway, including the proto-giallo Violent Midnight and the genre-mixing Horror of Party Beach. Technically they weren’t all exactly what you call masterpieces, but they were fun. And damn, you just gotta admire the guy’s chutzpah, given these things ever got made and distributed at all.

            Al Goldstein was a fat, crude, obnoxious asshole. I don’t think anyone who met him would ever deny this, and neither would Al. But he was a man writ large, whose life was one of the great American tragicomedies. From porn king to homeless, from hosting the infamous Midnight Blue to being a greeter at the Second Ave Deli, from court case to court case, he was a tireless fighter for the First Amendment, and we’re all in his debt for it. He fought not only for the right to print smut, to put smut on TV, and to say things everyone agrees with, but to say things that piss people off, which he did on a regular basis, and god bless him for it. He was another fundamental New York type that is fast disappearing, and lord how we could use another Al Goldstein right about now.

            As writers go, Richard Matheson was kind of a weirdie. He was better known for the movies and TV shows based on his books than he was for the books themselves. But what a collection of movies and TV shows they were, from The Incredible Shrinking Man to The Omega Man to all those classic episodes of The Twilight Zone and Kolchak: The Night Stalker. He had a remarkably nimble and wild imagination, and though he stuck to sci-fi and horror, he always approached the subject with a very real and earthly human understanding. He may not be as well known as Stephen King, but I’d argue he’s had a much bigger impact on the culture as a whole. Even if they don’t know his name, everyone knows his stories.

            Karen Black died this year as well. And speaking of Matheson, he singlehandedly transformed Black from a respected character actress who appeared in the likes of Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces and Airport ‘75 into a B-movie megastar, beginning with the made-for-TV anthology film Trilogy of Terror, in which she played four roles, all written by Matheson. Black wasn’t one of your traditional Hollywood beauties, but she was smart as a whip, a rebel who wasn’t afraid to take chances, and she had an odd charisma all her own that dominated every scene she was in. She was a completely unique actress, which is something else you don’t see anymore.

            In this world of slick, lifeless CGI creations that look absolutely real but don’t leave you feeling anything at all, the monumental importance of Ray Harryhausen only becomes more and more evident. Working alone in his studio, Harryhausen used painstaking stop-motion animation to bring to life small models of dinosaurs, giant apes, mythical creatures, aliens, skeletons, even spaceships, and made them more believable than the human actors who interacted with them on the screen. It says something that fifty, sixty years down the line the films he worked on are not remembered as the director’s films, or the star’s films, but simply Harryhausen films. He was the Master, and I cannot overstate the impact he had on me long before I ever heard his name.

            I’m so relieved I grew up in an era when Jonathan Winters was a regular on TV. He was to my mind the funniest man who ever lived, a comedian unlike any other, and completely inimitable. His mind simply didn’t work like anyone else’s. Even later in his career when he appeared with Robin Williams, it was Williams who had to run to keep up with him. Beyond that he was a writer, a painter, and perhaps not surprisingly a man who suffered from mental illness. When he came out and admitted the latter, somehow it only made me appreciate his comedy all the more.

            Now, if I may drop in a few personal notes (and who’s about to stop me?), I did lose a couple of friends this year who deserve to be on a notables list as much as any of the above.

            I didn’t know L.A.-based photographer Scott Lindgren for a long time. Back in the early ‘90s I met him through a friend when he was visiting New York. An incredibly intelligent guy with a taste for the off-balance. So the two of us got on a train and I took him down to a then still-decrepit Coney Island to give him a personal tour of the amusement park wasteland. He seemed to be in his element and snapped hundreds of pictures. Along the way he was the one who first pointed out to me what a thing of beauty the overgrown and crumbling Thunderbolt was. I’m glad someone did before they tore it down. After a couple hours we returned to Manhattan and had a few drinks in a fancy bar (now also gone). It was a swell day. After he flew back to L.A. we stayed in touch briefly, he put me in touch with some interesting people, and then I never heard from him again. Still, though, it had been a very good day, and one I’ll remember.

            I was at the NY Press when this youngster named Ned Vizzini was brought on as a contributor. I think he was fourteen at the time. I rolled my eyes at first, but had to admit Li’l Ned (as we knew him) had precocious talent for a kid his age. Unlike most of the youngsters who wrote for the paper, Ned didn’t burn out after three or four stories. In fact he parlayed his Press pieces into a multi-book deal. He was driven, that’s for sure, which may explain why the last time I saw him in person (he came to one of my readings to hand out flyers for one of his own) my only words to him were “Ned, you are an insufferable whore.” He moved to L.A. a few years back, got married, had a kid, was writing for TV and seemed to be doing quite well for himself. I was happy to see that. For all my insults I never really held anything against him. In fact I liked Li’l Ned even as we fell out of touch. I could speculate wildly about why he killed himself at 32, but I won’t, because it’s pointless and I don’t know the answer. It came as a shock, though, boy.

            And finally I need to mention my dad, George J. Knipfel. I’ve said a lot of things about the people above, and I believe the world is poorer without them (except maybe that Fast and Furious guy), but that statement was never more true than when applied to my dad. He was a singular man, a model of strength and decency and humor, and if more of us were a bit more like him, well, we’d all be doing that much better. I miss him very much, and always will.

            So now as ever, let’s raise a toast to all we’ve lost, and do what we can to keep the memories of all those above alive. Except Edie Gorme. She was just abysmal.

 

With thanks to Gary Hertz for his invaluable help in compiling the list.

 

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