It is both saddening and maddening the number of lives that were taken away from friends and family this year. After hearing the reports of Latino singer Jenni Rivera’s unfortunate death, I decided that perhaps it was time to provide my own little pop culture “In Memoriam …” It baffles the mind the amount of trailblazing talent who will no longer be with us.
The world of politics lost two heavyweights between former Senators Arlen Specter and George McGovern, respectively. The last known surviving veteran of World War I died Feb. 4. Florence Green, 110, was a waitress in Britain’s Royal Air Force. Nora Ephron, the screenwriter and director whose sharp, edgy romantic comedies featuring strong women took her to the top ranks of a film industry mostly dominated by men, passed on June 26.
My mother was a major fan of “I Dream of Jeanie,” and that is who she would best remember Larry Hagman from, but the “Who Shot J.R.” storyline caught popular culture by storm when I was growing up and J.R. was the ultimate television villain to me. It was an absolute treat to see Hagman get a chance to reprise his most famed role on the television reboot of “Dallas.” He died Nov. 23 of complications from cancer.
The world definitely feels emptier without Alex Karras — Webster’s dad himself, and puppeteer Jerry Nelson whose fame rose from lending his voice to Muppets on “Sesame Street,” “The Muppet Show” and “Fraggle Rock.”
Hair stylist and hair care product guru Vidal Sassoon and screenwriter Gore Vidal, one of the brain trusts behind my favorite film of all time, “Caligula” (sarcasm) both lost their lives this year. Maybe now Wheel of Fortune will finally heed my advice and immortalize them in the “Before and After” category.
Trailblazers for NASA, Sally Ride — the first woman to fly in space — and the first ever man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, are hopefully sharing their exploration stories on the other side.
Most people know Richard Dawson from “Family Feud,” but I choose to remember him as the punchline to my favorite Arnold Schwarzenegger one-liner: “You’re fired.” An imaginary prize to whoever can guess the movie.
The music industry took several major hits (that was a terrible unintentional pun) this year — but what a potentially heavenly concert: Imagine songs composed by Marvin Hamlisch and written by Hal David with Jon Lord and Dave Brubeck on the keys, Donald “Duck” Dunn on the bass, Michael Hossack and Levon Helm on the kit and Earl Scruggs plucking away while Andy Williams and Etta James belted out their classics. “At Last,” indeed. Dick Clark would introduce them — the longtime host of the influential “American Bandstand” died April 18 after suffering a heart attack.
If that style is not your taste, perhaps an eternal disco party would be right up your alley. Jimmy Ellis, Robin Gibb and Donna Summer are the headliners. I can see Ron Palillo — Horshack himself — having the time of his afterlife.
Or maybe Mr. Palillo would instead like to be part of a heavyweight ensemble sitcom alongside George Jefferson himself, Sherman Helmsely. Even better still — perhaps they would like to become permanent cast members and join Goober and Andy for “The Andy Griffith Show.” Mayberry lost their folksy sheriff, Andy Griffith and his country-bumpkin companion, played by George Lindsay in May and July this year.
I wonder if Ernest Borgnine and Celeste Holm will trade stories about their Academy Award wins, or tease Michael Clarke Duncan for not snagging one of his own (respect John Coffey). He could always show them how to take down the Scorpion King (or sing “Leaving on a Jet Plane”).
I never thought I would live in a world where someone as talented as filmmaker Tony Scott would commit suicide. I also thought I would at some point see the Beastie Boys live before I exit this world — but that will never happen as Adam “MCA” Yauch lost his battle with cancer. Davy Jones was an integral part of The Monkees success in the 1960s — in celebration of his life, I watched my favorite psychedelic movie, “Head.”
I will always look back fondly at the time where Whitney Huston was the biggest star on the planet. Houston was already a mega-huge pop star before Super Bowl XXV, but after blessing the universe with what I feel is the best rendition of the Stars and Stripes, and perfecting Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” I was sure she would become a national institution. I always hoped Houston would defeat her personal demons and make a grand comeback, but a duet with Adele is now only a dream.
Of course, the death that most affected me professionally was that of the great Phyllis Diller. Meeting Lima’s Comedic Queen will always be one of the highlights of my life, along with knowing that even at 94 years old, she still had no trouble tossing back a Corona. She was — and still is — a true rock star.
But the death that rocked my world was that of my grandmother, Ivy Shepherd. To this day I feel like I am floating within the confines of a parallel universe because she is no longer with us. It still does not feel real to me. I can say that 2012 has been a roller coaster year, but at the end of it all, I hope that I have made the matriarch of my bloodline proud.
Rest in peace to all we have lost. You will always be in our hearts.