Between March 30th and April 7th, 2015 the world saw three major character actors of pop-culture and also cult fame leave their mortal coil. As a child of the 80’s and 90’s these men left an impression of my mind.
Robert Z’dar, he of the huge chin because of his birth defect aka cherubism was part of some of my favorite films, and played a cop, gangster, and more over the years. Z’dar actually had a pivotal role in my second favorite film TANGO & CASH in which his appearance was very important to the character and made him even more menacing. Tom Towles, a man who also played killers, cops and more, got his name out to the world in HENRY: Portrait of a Serial Killer, but made the most impact on me in the sci-fi horror THE BORROWER. Towles also became known better in later years as the cop in Rob Zombie’s horror films. Finally, James Best who became best known as Roscoe P. Coltrane, one of two antagonists on THE DUKES OF HAZZARD. Throughout the 50’s and 60s, Best was a regular guest star on many a western and crime drama ranging from The Lone Ranger to Perry Mason.
After Towles passing I envisioned he and Z’Dar meeting up in whatever afterlife may or may not exist for a comedy horror about two bungling cops who shoot first and never ask questions. I couldn’t get myself to draw it though. Then Best died and I felt he’d easily work in the fictional film/show and I knew I had to do something as a tribute. PCS does LOTS of art (most of it wrestling inspired) but rarely posts it here. I feel in honor of these three men I must share this tribute which is incomplete, but says everything I want it to say.
Ralph McQuarrie (82, complications of Parkinson’s): Best known as the concept artist for Star Wars, McQuarrie was an accomplished painter as well and designed for E.T., Indiana Jones, Close Encounters.
James Metcalf (86, natural causes): Metal & Copper sculptor
Rusty Mills (49, colon cancer): Animation Veteran. As of now his official website still is up.
NEKST (all info undisclosed): All city Graffiti artist
The Houston Press has an amazing obituary on this talented artist. This is also the one time I can actually use my own images as tribute.
This is the final of my tributes to the people who have passed this year, as with the rest it is broken down alphabetically and the age of the person and their cause is in parentheses after. In this final part I focus on the media entertainment industry, the field I have the most connection with. There are sparse links here, but lots of indepth writing and analysis.
FILM and TELEVISION (Actors, Producers, Directors, Music, Crew)
James Arness (88- natural causes): For over 20 years, James Arness was one tough man, Marshall Matt Dillon (the cowboy, not the actor). For more than 5 years before that he appeared in Western films and amazingly as The Thing in the original adaptation of “Who Goes There?” by John Campbell and also as The FBI agent in Them! It’s of course notable to mention that James’ younger brother was Peter Graves, another brilliant actor who got known as another tough sonofagun IMF Agent, Jim Phelps, who unfortunately passed away in 2010.
Trevor Bannister (76- heart attack): This comedic actor who also appeared in lots of theater productions would probably be only known to fans of British comedy and most especially to fans of “Are You Being Served?” as he appeared as a major player in over 40 of the 69 episodes. He made appearances in other British programs including a run on the longest running sitcom in Britain, Last of the Summer Wine.
John Barry (77- heart attack): A true music master, a classical music legend living in modern times, he composed and orchestrated some of the most amazing music ever heard by ears everywhere. He made movies larger than life and gave them breath they didn’t have before him. Widely known as composing for James Bond films it is the work he did for movies such as Born Free, Dances With Wolves, Out of Africa and Midnight Cowboy that mesmerizes my ears and senses.
Jeff Conaway (60- complications of drug use): The true star of Grease and the main reason Taxi had something really touching and personal, at least for me personally. This particular scene in Taxi back before his drug abuse caused the writers and directors to completely not follow up this brilliance is a personal favorite. Jeff was a man of immense talent, spirit and energy. On top of being the original Kenickie he also played Zuko for awhile on Broadway, but Kenickie and his story always resonated with me for some reason. Of course so did Bobby Wheeler. It is of course quite unfortunate that Jeff will be as remembered for his film and TV work as his appearance on the entertaining garbage of celebreality. I hope in years to come that part of his career is wiped clean and his amazing voice and quality artistic talent is what is praised and memorized.
David Croft (89- natural causes): Co-creator of ‘Allo, Allo, Are You Being Served?, this former soldier turned writer and producer is one of the most important individuals in sitcom television alongside his writing partners. There is no doubt that much of what was created and developed on the shows of his creation inspired not only British comedy, but American sitcom comedy for years and years to come.
Frank DiLeo (63- complications of surgery): Music executive and manager, famous on screen for Tuddy in Goodfellas and Frankie “Mr. Big” Sharp in the Wayne’s World flicks. His existence as a character definitely gave Chris Farley the funniest segment in the first Wayne’s World film.
Ryan Dunn (34- car crash): Stunt man, extreme sports enthusiast, and daredevil, the right hand man to Bam Margera and one of the stars of Jackass. One could say Ryan wasn’t playing with a full deck of cards, especially since he died stunt racing while highly intoxicated (read, drunk off his rocker) in the approximate same spot where he almost killed himself and Bam Margera while sober in 1996 with a roll. His loss was still felt though and his friends and fans cried their hearts out at the loss.
Peter Falk (83- complications of Alzheimer’s): I was never a fan of Columbo, but Peter Falk has contributed to so many other things that I did and do love. Be it as the grandfather and narrator in The Princess Bride or he starring roles in Arthur Hiller’s The In-Laws and John Cassavete’s Big Trouble and even the quirky Jeff Goldblum/Cyndi Lauper Vibes I have no choice to admit I admire and respect him as an actor, personality and presence.
Anne Francis (80- cancer): One of the most beautiful and popular actresses of the 1950’s, she became a perennial character actress through the 60’s and worked regularly until the late 90’s in film and television. In 1965 she starred in her own detective show, Honey West, the first show of its kind.
Michael Gough (94- illness/natural causes): Highly talented character actor whose fame was mostly in England he has held many notable roles, including appearing in some classic Hammer films. What a strange coincindence to lose three major players of Hammer in one year including writer James Sangster and director Don Sharp. Michael Gough went on from Hammer films to perform on Doctor Who, and many other minor, small but important film roles. To most he will be remembered as Alfred Pennyworth in the 90’s Batman films, which featured three different Batmen, two Harvey Dents, but one and only one Alfred. Beyond that he continued to work in various roles up until 2010. One of those actors who faces and voice you can’t forget.
Yoshio Harada (71- pneumonia during cancer): Only known to fans of Japanese cinema as he never made the American transition, he was one of those go to guys for some of the most classic Japanese films that are lesser known Internationally other than to those who truly follow. Nonetheless, his impact on cinema appearing in films greatly loved by the likes of Wu-Tang Clan and Quentin Tarrantino can not be ignored.
David Hess (75- heart attack): Musician, song writer, and actor. Cult film fans would recognize him as Krug from The Last House on the Left. He also wrote the songs, Speedy Gonzalez made famous by Pat Boone and Come Along made famous by Elvis Presley.
Wyatt Knight (56- suicide by gun): Best known as the badboy Tommy from the Porky’s series, this marginally successful young actor decided to end his own life after years of pain from treatment for cancer.
Andrew Laszlo (85- undisclosed): This photographer turned cinematographer made movies beautiful. As DP on such classics as The Warriors, First Blood and Newsies, his understanding of light, color, scenery, shadow, exposure and more helped bring to life these films in exhilarating ways. He seemed to had retired in 1992 after Newsies, a damn shame.
Len Lesser (88- pneumonia): This consistent and steady character actor worked since the 50’s, appearing in so many shows, westerns and stage productions it’s almost a shame, his “fame” as it would be didn’t come until playing Leo on “Seinfeld” and then Garvin of “Everybody Love’s Raymond”. A man with such screen presence and such a voice should’ve been a major player, the lead or co-starring in a sitcom long before, not just one part here, one part there, but that’s acting and that’s the acting life. Sometimes, despite talent and constant work, the big break never comes and the small break comes late in life. You take what you can get, feh… which is probably how Len Lesser thought and what he brought to his most famous role.
Sidney Lumet (86- lymphoma): Hands down one of the greatest directors of all time, period. It seems pointless to discuss him, this is a point where a career is truly understood by discussing selections of his filmography. I must note that on top of these films I’ll mention there were many more including incredible film adaptations of plays, including the Musical, The Wiz with Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. SERPICO was one of the seminal 70’s films that changed the face of cinema forever, Lumet pulled a performance out Pacino rarely seen since and put a gritty true to life New York right on the screen. In DOG DAY AFTERNOON Pacino’s performance doesn’t have the same power, but Lumet’s brilliant deft skill followed by the brilliant NETWORK which broached many of the same topics from the other viewpoint, it his choices to bring these two particular tales to life on the big screen so close to each other in a the same time period. BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOUR DEAD, his final film could easily be considered the best of his career. Bringing to life an I believe Black Listed screenplay by an untested by successful playwright, Lumet brought everything he had learned over his vast career to this simple, but poignant film about crime, love, betrayal, lies, truth, morals and ultimately family.
Sid Melton (94- natural causes): Working since the 1940’s Melton had many roles in many features and TV, but is notable as Charley Parker from “Danny Thomas”, Friendly Freddy from “Gomer Pyle”, Alf Munroe from “Green Acres” and much later in life as Sophia’s husband Salvatore in “Golden Girls” flashbacks.
Cynthia Myers (61- undisclosed): Extremely sexy Playboy playmate.of 1968. Brunette. 39 D. All woman! She also appeared in Beyond The Valley of the Dolls.
Charles Napier (75- unspecified): A character actor starting in the late 60’s, Napier appeared in Russ Meyer films, followed by tons of TV shows and minor bits in films. Then he got the bad guy lead in Rambo and everything changed. While he never landed another ole just as big as Murdock, his voice led credence to one of the most under appreciated awesome cartoons ever in The Critic and his face and voice were an unmistakable presence in anything he appeared in. This 1985 article by Roger Ebert paints a great picture of Napier.
John Neville (88- complications of Alzheimer’s): One of the greatest British actors of stage in the 50’s, a time period I personally have read a lot up on and wish I had been alive to see. True international acclaim and noteworthiness did not come his way till being cast as the titular character in Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. He would gain greater recognition as The Well Manicured Man in both the X-Files TV show and first X-Files film. A true actor’s actor, Neville was something to behold, which one care purely see in Munchausen. A pitch perfect performance he holds his own and overpowers such folks as Eric Idle and Robin Williams.
Patrice O’Neal (41- stroke): One of the funniest standups in recent years, I absolutely loved him on Shorties Watching Shorties. I loved his stand up too, and there’s one more hilarious factor of Patrice that most people don’t realize. For two years he was a member of WWE creative. I’m not sure what bits he came up with, but I bet if there was anything actually legitimately funny and not just distasteful and juvenile from 2000-2002 on RAW or Smackdown, Patrice was responsible for it.
Pete Postlethwaite (64- cancer): One of the finest character and stage actors England ever produced, America didn’t truly get to experience the excellence and awesomeness that was Pete Postlethwaite until Last of the Mohicans, followed by In The Name of the Father. He then wowed audience as one of the most important players in “The Usual Suspects” and since then has appeared in many films. In 2010 alone he had small, but very important roles in Clash of the Titans, Inception and The Town. His impact on film with his curiously interesting features, perfect timing as an actor and immense presence shall be surely missed.
Andy Rooney (92- surgery complications): The voice of some kind of reason for over sixty years going back to the days when he only wrote, but did not deliver his words, Rooney was more Christopher Hitchens and Bill Maher than they Hitchens and Maher combined. Andy Rooney was their love child despite he being the one who gave birth to them. Andy Rooney was allowed to speak his mind and it was a controversial, liberal, open minded, religion hating, republican despising, freedom of speech loving mind. It was only because he was left with a few minutes on 60 minutes to deliver his work instead of entire specials or an entire hour of moderated programming that his figure didn’t reach the fervor of these others. He was Andy Rooney to most, that cute old grumpy old man who spoke his mind at the end of sixty minutes. For conservatives I bet they just thought he was cute, but if the real world really paid attention, they’d of known Andy Rooney wasn’t cute… he was real.
Jane Russell (89- respiratory failure): Another beautiful of the silver screen in the 50’s, co starring alongside Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum at the height of her career. I do not believe I would’ve gotten along very well with Jane Russell though. She was a card carrying, god fearing, bible thumping, bigoted, conservative, narrowminded republican and all this by her own admittance. Also she loved to drink. Also by her own admittance. Gotta give it to her though, she was hot and she was a good actress.
Ken Russell (84- stroke): Truly a genius director, here was a man who was able to bring Pete Townsend Tommy to the big screen and present some of the weirdest, cult films of all time. While his career goes beyond these from 1971 till 1989 he directed, wrote and adapted some of the most insane stories one could find. Adapting and re-conceiving the works of men like John Whitting’s play based on Aldous Huxley’s work, turning the rock opera only staged previously as orchestral production into a full fledged film, and creating what is considered one of the great films in scifi psychotropic cinema in Paddy Chevaskey’s ALTERED STATES. Personally for me it his realization of Stephen Volk’s only successful screenplay GOTHIC, taking the two works of Byron and Shelley on that infamous night where Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was born and turning them into disturbing feast, but even more so the film of some of my childhood fantasies and nightmares his bringing to life of Bram Stoker’s LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM. This 1989 feature seemed to feel like Ken Russell’s coup de grâce. Throughout the 90’s and up till 2000 he would deliver very disappointing productions or even productions that were never released internationally and in most cases even theatrically. Lucky there’s that slew of disturbing flicks which started with THE DEVILS, continuing into LISTZOMANIA and even CRIMES OF PASSION to remember him by.
Bert Schneider (78- natural causes): Co-Founder of BBS Films. Creator of The Monkees and Producer of The Monkees’ Head, Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider, Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces starring Jack Nicolson, and Peter Bogdonavich’s The Last Picture Show. A true pop-culture legend and a man who actually helped change film, music and the world. The avenues he opened in developing The Monkees alone is a benchmark of what would become a constant existence in pop-culture. The created super group which would find a way to break out of the confines of their conception and become monumental successes despite their beginnings. Backstreet Boys, N’Sync, The Spice Girls, and so would never been ideas without The Monkees and therefore without Bert Schneider. The Monkee’s of course also would not have been successful without the immense talent of each member or the song writing talents of Neil Diamond and Andy Kim, among others, but all that still rests of Bert’s shoulders as a producer, making these original decisions and choices for the group including hiring Don Kirshner. Following that, it was his financial backing, spokesman-ship and support that allowed films like Easy Rider and Last Picture Show to be more than just haphazard concepts from talented, but unsteady writer/performers. The successes of those projects I’m sure inspired bigger studios to take chances they wouldn’t have otherwise.
Bubba Smith (66- heart disease): Obviously I don’t care about his obviously amazing sports career, as the only sports I care about are extreme, puglism, and martial arts, but as Moses Hightower in the “Police Academy” franchise he cemented himself in the echelon of great characters. He also got to perform in some super obscure, but cult fame shows like Blue Thunder.
Leonard Stone (87- cancer): Best known as the father of Violet Beauregarde in Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory, this prolific character actor played multiple roles in everything from “The Outer Limits” to “Perry Mason” to “Dragnet” to “Barney Miller”. He even had a recurring role as a judge on L.A. Law.
Elizabeth Taylor (79- congestive heart failure): What does one say about one of the most amazing and ravishing actresses of her time or possibly for centuries to come? Two Academy Awards, SAG Lifetime Achievement, Golden Globe Lifetime Achievement, AFI Lifetime Achievement, President’s Medal and on top of all that, she was also awarded Dame Commander. The love to two of entertainment’s greatest gifts Producer Michael Todd and actor Richard Burton. Activist, humanitarian and real person, ignore her scandals, her controversies, everything else… Liz Taylor was the real deal.
Yvette Vickers (73 or 74- mummified body found in 2010, heart failure): The other woman in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, she was also a Playboy playmate photographed in 1959 by Russ Meyer. The circumstances behind her death are as fascinating as her short time of fame.
John Wood (81- natural causes): British actor who had two very notable 80’s roles in War Games and Jumpin’ Jack Flash. To discuss either role would basically be considered spoilers. That is how tantamount he is to both films.
Actors like Stone, Postlewaithe, Melton, Lesser, Napier, Wood and Gough are the rock that holds films and television aloft, without them, the stars would never shine, all should take their hat off to these men and like Andrew Gold suggests “Thank them for being a friend”.
I repeat the initial paragraph here so you do not have to reference it after three prior posts. I’ve always felt it necessary to look back on what people who had an impact on my pop-culture history and in some cases my real life. In the past I’ve written these obits with the most marginal of information, but I’ve always broken it down by categories. Frequently there would be people I’ve missed people or even complete categories as my heart and soul weakens as I organize this work. This is the first time this type of writing is showing up on Pop-Culture Spectrum. It will appear in approximately five parts and then a final collection post of linking for those who don’t go backward in blog reading. In each category it is broken down alphabetically and the age of the person and their cause is in parentheses after. Each category will have its own specialties. This time I shall have more than one category as their sections are not long enough for an entire post. They will have links where available.
Michael S. Hart (64- heart attack): The founder of Project Gutenberg and by extension the e-book, he can be both thanked and blamed for the kindle, the nook, iBooks, comixology and many more. Yet without him, public domain books in easily accessible digital formats, be they .doc, .txt, .pdf, or .epub would not exist so I am eternally thankful.
Christopher Hitchens (62- esophageal cancer): One of the greatest minds of our generation, he wrote what needed to be written and said what needed to be said. Christopher Hitchens chose to be a controversial, derisive figure among analysts, political experts and the such. He was the non comedian version of George Carlin, with more bite, more vitriol and definitely way more to the point. He called a spade a spade and then he beat the shit out of that spade and stuck it up your mom’s bum and called it an idiot for even believing in not believing. Of course he wasn’t a perfect thought maker, like anyone of his measure and opinions, he had to get something wrong one in awhile or “wrong” as the case may be. His words and bravery to spread those words will be truly missed, but luckily he was quite prolific and left behind an amazing legacy.
Brian Jacques (71- heart attack): My bookshelf proudly holds various Redwall books, including an early version of the comic adaptation. These fantasy tales of anthropomorphic mice and more are brilliant and of course had to be a major influence on Scott Petersen’s Mouse Guard. Yet, it is Jacques other series that truly took my fancy and placed him among one of my favorite writers ever. The book, Castaways of the Flying Dutchman, was followed by two sequels which I have unfortunately only read one, but it and Angel’s Command are amazing works and cement Jacques.
Anne McCaffrey (85- stroke): The Dragonriders of Pern series was used very often to introduce children to adult science novels, when it was time for them to graduate. Not me in particular, I got started with Douglas Adams and Robert Heinlein between 10-13. Eventually I found my way to McCaffrey, devouring at a young age Dragonflight and such, but for whatever reason I didn’t stick with her completely. I found myself gravitated to Isaac Asmov, Ray Bradbury, Roger Zelaney, etc. but I know how amazing the Pern books are and I absolutely adored the Dreamcast/PC game, despite the fact that it was heavily panned.
Bill Kunkel (61- heart attack): The Godfather of Video Game Journalism, he helped start the engine that has allowed Game Informer, Game Trailers.com, IGN, and even G4 to exist. While video games by their own existence became the phenomenon they did, Kunkel started the ball rolling that made them an excepted concept. So much so that you see video game reviews in GQ, Vanity Fair, Playboy and even The New York Times.
Takeshi Miyaji (45- unspecified): One the true pioneers of console gaming design. He worked on my favorite J-RPG of all time LUNAR as well as the GRANDIA series. While his work on LUNAR is not what turned the game into a forefrunt of love for me. That being the amazing animated sequences done for Silver Story Complete developed by Toshiyuki Kubooka and the amazing story written by Kei Shigema, but Takeshi was the spearhead behind making sure the original product existed and without him, Working Designs would never made the absolutely two thrilling North American Collector’s Editions which I am obscenely proud to own… including my Ghaleon punching doll.
Edmund Snow Carpenter (88- natural causes): Visionary and anthropological genius, he opened the doors to the future of documentary work and historical analysis. Without him, visual anthropology and films which explored society through media would’ve never reached it’s pinnacle as both an accepted art form and as accepted academic research tool. He was an amazing writer and documentarian and you can get a feel for his work at this website if you aren’t familiar.
Steve Jobs (56- complications of pancreatic cancer): I was planning to keep this simple and state that I own an iPhone and I’m addicted to the thing, but Steve Jobs was so much more than this. When he left Apple and before he purchased Pixar he started a company which would go on to develop the software used by Apple for most of it’s current OS and digital products. It was his purchase of Pixar and helping steer the Disney deal in place that really cements his legend for me though. While he was only the business end there, it was his clear minded vision to see the future that allowed the future to exist and it is that vision that will continue to steer the future as it comes.
Jack Kevorkian (83 – thrombosis from cancer): If he wasn’t such an amazing presence on screen and speak such an important message which he was wrongly imprisoned for; and they didn’t make a compelling biofilm with Al Pacino (in one of those rare bothering to act roles) and John Goodman, I probably wouldn’t acknowledge his passing, but such as it is.
Jack LaLanne(96- pneumonia): The guru of fitness, the man also has some of the sickest feats of strength in history. Swimming shackled to Alkatraz Island at over 40? Doing it again at 60? Then something similar including pulling boats at 70? The man was a beast. Not enough of us (myself included) listen to his words of advice. He was a wise man who lived a fulfilled crazy life with a TV show, fame, books, and living legend status. Us stubborn, weak willed individuals (myself included) should have listened to him more. It’s not too late though, not too late.
Don Lapre (47- apparent suicide from cut throat & blood loss) : Con Man and infomercial master! If you never saw this dude growing up or as a teen or who knows how old you are… whatever. This dude sold vitamins, tips on how to make money by BUYING ads in newspapers and even tried to sell his scam skills to help people create infomercials to sell scam products. Man had guts… but the coward couldn’t handle it when the feds decided to throw the book at him. Instead of taking it like a man, he killed himself. Still he didn’t rape anyone, he just robbed them blind. He did it really entertainingly though.
Zoogz Rift (58- health complications): A long time ago in what feels like another galaxy I was very good internet friends with Zoogz Rift. We would e-mail each other back and forth, sharing wrestling theories, musical concepts and artistic visions. I even wrote a comprehensive biography of Bob which sits somewhere in my files. Writer, painter, avante garde musician and professional wrestling manager and booker, Zoogz, was quite the interesting cat. A man with many awesome successes and equally failures, but somehow a man who always bounced back and found a platform and to display his energy and entertainment and who definitely made his mark along the way in many lives. I still treasure my School of the Criminally Insane T-shirt which I will proudly display in any punk rock music video I ever make or any professional wrestling appearance I ever get lucky enough to be involved in again, even one of my own making and money.
Here in the third part of tributes to those departed I focus on the people who controlled the radios and soundtracks of our lives. I have linked to music videos or tracks posted on Youtube and other links where possible.
Joseph Brooks (73- suicide by suffocation): Was he possibly evil? Sure…I mean the dude was accused of using his prestige as a musician and producer to rape over 13 girls. He was arrested and had a good case against him, but he was not yet convicted. According to a suicide note he says he killed himself cause his health sucked , so he took the easy way out and killed himself. The Gothamist has pretty good articles about the whole torrid ordeal that you can google. At the same time, artistically he was amazing and for alone creating the Oscar Award winning “Light Up My Life” he gets recognized in my obits.
Clarence Clemons (69- complications from stroke): I had the pleasure and privilege to hear this talented saxophonist, most famous for being a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, at a Book Expo America event a few years ago. He was there promoting his upcoming autobiography. He was also meant to be an opening act for Steven Tyler, who came out with Mark Hudson. Clarence was interviewed by Chuck Klosterman and he was an insightful, endearing, wonderful man who even indulged Chuck and the audience by playing some sax. I have great memories of that time which will stay with me forever. Here is video I shot of the event itself.
Dan Peek (60, unknown/unrevealed causes): A member of the excellent rock band America, Peek, he was with the group for during it’s heyday of 1970-1978, writing and recording for their first seven albums. His most notable songwriting would have to be considered “Lonely People”, while not the best song he wrote while in the group, it is the most famous one he wrote. Their other most famous songs “Ventura Highway” and “Sister Golden Hair” were written by Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Buckley respectively.
Carl Gardner (83- complications of congestive heart failure and vascular dementia): The leader of The Coasters, the band that did the original recordings of many of the Lieber/Stoller songs including “Yakety Yak”, “Searchin'”and “Charlie Brown”.
Andrew Gold (59- cause unknown): The writer of one of the greatest songs of all time “Thank You For Being a Friend”, he created something that has brought a smile to not only me, but millions. Could you imagine Golden Girls without its theme song, which was also a hit without the show? I don’t think you could and for that song alone I shall be eternally grateful to Andrew Gold.
Heavy D (44- pulmonary embolism): My Hip-Hop knowledge is sorely lacking, with only minimum knowledge. Enough to get by when it matters, but not enough to really state much on Heavy D. I never listened to his songs, but I know who he was and I would recognize him when he appeared in a TV show. I also know he was extremely successful as a businessman and music mogul at a certain point, definitely leaving his mark on the industry as a whole and that his death was a shock to many, especially being so young and supposedly as healthy as a man called Heavy D could be.
Gil-Scot Heron (62- undisclosed illness, probably attributed to HIV complications): Truly an amazing poet, writer and visionary, he also had a compelling voice and straight forward presentation. He was the movement, the machine propelling aginst the machine, the person not letting the man get him down, bu working with the man. All you have to do is read his works or listen to them and you’ll understand how great he was. His best known work is of course “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” but alongside Brian Jackson he came up with amazing songs like “Hello Sunday, Hello Road” as well.
Don Kirshner (76- heart failure): Influential music producer and manager. As head of Aldon Music he has ties to many of the other people lost this year including Lieber, Gardner and Schneider. Lieber wrote the music that Don owned and made sure got out to the public, Bert approached Don to develop the early sound of The Monkees, which was mostly helped by Neil Diamond who Don sort of discovered. Monumentally he changed the music landscape and as the head of several labels was definitely a force in his time.
Jani Lane (47-alcohol poisoning): Undoubtedly Warrant was one of my favorite groups growing up. I was with them from day 1 with “Down Boys” and “Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich” and I stayed with them and Jani all the way through “Indian Giver”. When Warrant gave up on Jani though, I gave up on Warrant. While the members of the band were all talented musicians, Jani Lane was the driving force. I would listen to songs like “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” on repeat as a teen along with “April 2031”. His voice and lyrics really resonated with me in ways that I can barely understand and I wish there style of music was still prominent and had a place in everyone’s world, not just those of us who lived through it and keep it alive. Some of my other favorite songs are “I Saw Red” off of Cherry Pie, “Hollywood” off Dog Eat Dog, and what seems a perfect way to say a final goodbye to Jani, “Stronger Now” off of Ultraphobic.
Jerry Leiber (78- cardio-pulmonary failure,): One half of the duo of Leiber and Stoller, Jerry wrote the words to such songs as “Yakety Yak”, “Hound Dog”, “Stand By Me”, “On Broadway”, “Jailhouse Rock”, “Charlie Brown”, “Love Potion No. 9”and many more.
Gerard Smith (36- lung cancer): A superb musician, he was the bassist for rock band “TV on the Radio” and would also play keyboards, help compose and create visual conceptions, TVOTR happen to be one of my favorite groups of recent times and the announcement of Gerard’s lung cancer and subsequent passing was very hard to bear, especially for a man so young.
Mike Starr (45- prescription drug overdose): Mike Starr unfortunately became more famous in the last year as the EX bassist of Alice in Chains appearing on Celebrity Rehab. On that show it was revealed that instead of dragging him out of drugs, Layne Staley’s accidental overdose pulled him further in, feeling guilt as he blames himself for Layne’s death. Before all that though he provided the bass line to AiC for their first three albums, Fallout, Sap and Dirt. It’s that pounding bass seen and heard in the songs and videos for “Man in a Box”, “Them Bones” and “Rooster” among others. I had hoped somehow Mike would end up in some kind Celeb Rehab supergroup with Binzer and find success and sobriety, but this would not be.
Taiji (45- complications of suicide by hanging): Bass player, song writer, musician of the awesome Japanese rock groups, X, X Japan, Taiji with Heaven’s and more. A very tragic end came to Taiji where after an airplane situation he was subdued. In Japan his crime is considered a capitol offense and he sadly chose to take his life than go to prison. Here’s a good selection of him.
Joe Yamanaka (64- lung cancer): A Japanese actor and musician who was the lead for Flower Travellin’ Band and a solo career. Internationally he is known for appearances in a few Takashi Miike films and as Bob Marley’s replacement as the lead of The Wailers, recording three albums with them. For the super cult, he also plays himself and had three songs in the martial arts flick Ulterior Motives, a vehicle for Karate Kid Part 3’s Thomas Ian Griffith to try and be up there with Seagal, Van Damme and Norris, it was the first production from Direct-To-Video Indie Auteur James Becket. In Japan, Joe had some serious success by the way.
I’ve always felt it necessary to look back on what people who had an impact on my pop-culture history and in some cases my real life. In the past I’ve written these obits with the most marginal of information, but I’ve always broken it down by categories. Frequently there would be people I’ve missed people or even complete categories as my heart and soul weakens as I organize this work. This is the first time this type of writing is showing up on Pop-Culture Spectrum. It will appear in approximately five parts and then a final collection post of linking for those who don’t go backward in blog reading. In each category it is broken down alphabetically and the age of the person and their cause is in parentheses after. Each category will have its own specialties. This first section will have some select images by the creators that show what they are known for or in the least what I appreciated them for.
COMICS and ARTISTS
Mick Anglo (95-natural causes): Best known as the creator of Marvelman, Mick Anglo took an impossible situation and found a way to make it work creating the cement for building blocks that would not be turned into gold many years later by Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman. It is wonderful that starting in 2010, Marvel began to reprint the Mick Anglo books which even featured some new artwork from him, he truly got to have his comeuppance before leaving the mortal coil.
Eduardo Barreto (57-undisclosed health): Excellent comics and comic strip artist, he made a mark as an artist on Teen Titans in the 80’s after George Perez. He was a mainstay at DC, with runs on Superman and Batman titles, one shots, special, annuals. He was a go to magic genius. He was also a popular comic strip artist, drawing a strip I’m personally unfamiliar with, but supposedly was very popular. I just know during a time when I was a hardcore avid, read almost everything comic reader in the 80’s, Barreto was a hard to ignore artist. Here’s a longer quality tribute.
Gene Colan (84-various health complications): An amazing illustrator, Gene Colan has at one time drawn almost every major character in Marvel and DC. His best known runs were on Daredevil, his adaptation and reinterpretation of Dracula with Marv Wolfman in Tomb Of. His work for DC on Batman, Wonder Woman and Teen Titans should not be missed, as well as Night Force, which is/was just pure awesomeness. Knowing Gene Colan was the artist on a book, at least guaranteed that visually the ride would be worth the admission price.
Bill Keane(89-congestive heart failure): Creator and artist one of the most successfully parodied strips ever, Family Circus, Bill Keane created a bit of Americana. I’m not sure when Jeff “Jeffy” Keane took over, but I don’t think it was that long ago. I can tell you the following. I had a best friend named “Not Me” growing up and while I didn’t have any siblings, Family Circus sure made me want to. I must say that unfortunately as much as I loved Family Circus, when I think of it I can only think of the amazing parodies done though. It was such a perfect, innocent, well drawn strip it was made for parody and that proved it’s high quality… only really good stuff creates funny parody.
F. Solano Lopez (83, cerebral hemorrhage): A notable comics career, he is best known to me for his erotic series Young Witches and Sexy Symphonies, which feature some of the best art I’ve ever seen, sexually or regular. A true talent who would’ve been awesome if he worked on something like X-Men or Titans.
Dwayne McDuffie (49, during emergency heart surgery): One of truly the greatest under appreciated comic book and animation writers. He equally was a genius editor and supervising producer. When Milestone was first announced and was just starting up I got to meet Dwayne, as well as Chris Cross, Denys Cowans and others. Dwayne was someone who contributed much to many things that I have loved including his first series for Marvel Comics, DAMAGE CONTROL and issues 33-35 of “Firestorm: The Nuclear Man” featuring Jason Rausch. On top of that he spearheaded much of Justice League Unlimited and was in charge of Ben 10: Alien Force and Ben 10: Ultimate Alien, as well as writing and producing the DC Original Animations Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, All-Star Superman and Justice League: Doom. Doom would be Dwayne’s swan song, but also looks like it’ll the best DC Original yet. He had much more to give the world of comics and animation before his untimely demise though and I can only imagine what we are missing out on.
Jerry Robinson (89- natural causes): There is not enough evidence in any direction to say if Jerry Robinson is one of the most inventive creators ever or if he was just an able artist who worked alongside Bill Finger and Bob Kane in helping turned Batman from simple crime fighter and socialite bent on revenge Bruce Wayne into the very fleshed out interesting character with an incredible rogues gallery and supporting cast he has today, either way he stands as one of the most important figures in comics history.
Joe Simon (98- natural causes after short illness): One of the most important comics writers in history, he most famously co-created Captain America with Jack Kirby. With Kirby he also created the original Sandman, Newsboy Legion, the Archie Heroes The Shield and The Fly. Joe Simon also created two of the most incredible cult comic book characters in history in Brother Power, the Geek and PREZ. It is almost amazing to think a writer with such creativity and conception to develop characters and stories of this ilk will not be remembered as fondly as he deserves to be. He was a living, breathing institution and legend and and I hope in years, decades, centuries to come, he is recognized as such. Many luminaries based this year, some young, some old, but Joe Simon deserves to be up there with the best of them.
D.K. Sweet (77- Natural causes): Longtime cover illustrator for lots of notable sci-fiction/fantasy books. Most famously he was the cover artist for Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series and Piers Anthony’s XANTH, but he also did covers for many a random sorcerer tale, pirate legend, dragon myth, space adventure, ufos in medieval times, random aliens and the like. He had a deft and beautiful painting skill which would easily attract you to the book long before even reading its description.
Tom Wilson, Sr (80- pneumonia related): The creator of the cartoon Ziggy, which since 1987 has actually been the work of his son Tom Wilson. During Senior’s 16 year contribution, he was also at American Greetings where he spearheaded the group collectives that created Strawberry Shortcake. I didn’t get to actually see much of Senior’s Ziggy work, but I’m a fan of Tom Wilson, Jr.