Monday, 2 January 2017

Farewells: Notable Deaths in 2016

Marcus Tullius Cicero had famously said: "The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.". Here are a few of those who died last year.

Jan 9 Ed “Stewpot” Stewart, British DJ and broadcaster (Crackerjack), dies of a stroke at 74. I remember his “Clapperboard”, which was a film review program in the children’s slot, for those who couldn’t wait up late to see Barry Norman on his Film programme, and it was very good, rather like John Craven’s Newround.

David Bowie, 69, the other-worldly musician who broke pop and rock boundaries with his creative musicianship that spanned six decades, striking visuals and a genre-spanning persona he christened Ziggy Stardust, died on Jan. 10. Infamously named his poor son, Zowie Bowie - what possesses famous people to choose idiot names for their offspring?

Alan Rickman, 69, the classically-trained British stage star and wonderful screen villain in the "Harry Potter" saga, "Die Hard" and other films, died on Jan. 14. He always added something wonderful and different whether it was as “Mr Slope” in the Barchester Chronicles, the straying husband in “Love Actually”, or the man coping with an autistic woman in “Snow Cake”.

Jan 22 Cecil Parkinson, British politician (C), dies at 84. I never liked him, especially after he made promises to his mistress to divorce and marry her before an election, then broke those promises afterwards. Possibly an excellent politician, he always seemed too smarmy and duplicitous for his own good. I also thought he bore a striking resemblance to a Jersey politician of that time.

Sir Terry Wogan, 77, January 31. A legend. I remember listening to him on Radio 2 so many mornings in the 1970s being driving to school by my father. Wogan’s Winner. Fight the Flab. I even stayed up late to watch “Come Dancing” (a late night show not to be confused with the modern celebrity revival) which he compered, just to see what he looked like – I couldn’t have cared less about the dancing. His TV show "Wogan" was good at the start, but became little more than a place for stars to flog their autobiographies. But he is probably best known as the face in front of the camera for Children In Need, done entirely unscripted!

Edgar Mitchell, 85, the Apollo 14 astronaut who became the sixth man on the moon when he and Alan Shepard helped NASA recover from Apollo 13's "successful failure," died on Feb. 4.

Harper Lee, 89, the elusive novelist whose child's-eye view of racial injustice in a small Southern town, "To Kill a Mockingbird," became standard reading for millions of young people and an Oscar-winning film, died on Feb. 19. My son had that book as part of his GCSE English Literature exam.

Umberto Eco, 84, the Italian author who intrigued, puzzled and delighted readers worldwide with his best-selling historical novel "The Name of the Rose," died on Feb. 19. One of my favourite books, and it arrived at the same time as Ellis Peter’s “Brother Cadfael books. I worked out the structure of the labyrinth on paper from the description in the text before getting to the map. Both not only had history and detection at their core, but transported the reader to another world. I rather liked the movie version with Sean Connery.

Frank Kelly, 77, actor (Father Jack in comedy series Father Ted), February 28. Time for a wake... let’s hear it.... DRINK! DRINK!

Tony Warren, 79, creator of Coronation Street, March 1. The TV drama about the making of the show, with some artistic licence, showed how it all came together, and how much of it was his creation of a street that despite some modernisation, is still recognisable today. There is still a Rover’s Return, although we never did find out who Rover was!

Nancy Reagan, 94, an actress who became one of the most high-profile and influential first ladies of the 20th century as the wife of President Ronald Reagan, died on March 6. She consulted her pet astrologer a lot, I seem to remember.

Sir George Martin, 90, the Beatles' urbane producer who quietly guided the band's swift, historic transformation from rowdy club act to musical and cultural revolutionaries, died on March 8. But did you know he was also responsible for producing Bernard Cribbin’s memorable and brilliant “Right Said Fred”

Paul Daniels, 77, March 17. You won’t like this, much a lot. Actually he was brilliant, and rather brutally dropped by the BBC, as they do from time to time. Aunty can sometimes be homicidal.

Ronnie Corbett, 85, comedy legend, March 31. I never really took to “Sorry”, but his partnership with Ronnie Barker was brilliant, even though, rather like the Python Dead Parrot sketch, the Four Candles has rather been done to death. It is still watchable, but the gems have to be the almost silent films, “The Picnic” and “The Seaside”, period pieces which will never date.

Douglas Wilmer, 96, actor best known for playing Sherlock Holmes, March 31. I particularly remember watching him in “The Problem of Thor Bridge” which must have made an impression on me on our old Black and White grainy TV. He was also a pretty good Nayland Smith in the Fu Manchu films with Christopher Lee as the titular villain.

Victoria Wood, 62, April 20. As one seen, wonderfully, on TV and in Acorn Antiques. Her TV movie / plays were better later work than her sketch shows which become rather bizarre and not so funny.

Prince, 57, one of the most inventive and influential musicians of modern times with hits including "Little Red Corvette," ''Let's Go Crazy" and "When Doves Cry," died on April 21. Can't say I really had him in my pick of favourite pop songs, but that's musical taste for you.

Carla Lane, 87, TV writer best known for The Liver Birds, Bread and Butterflies, May 31. Solo was not so good, and The Mistress wasn’t funny at all. But her early work with The Liver Birds, Bread (before it went on too long), and Butterflies, was just pitch-perfect.

Muhammad Ali, 74, the silver-tongued boxer and civil rights champion who famously proclaimed himself "The Greatest" and then spent a lifetime living up to the billing, died on June 3. For a boxer, he was a surprisingly clever man, who began a charitable foundation, and condemned violence from any religion, including Islam.

Alvin Toffler, 87, a guru of the post-industrial age whose "Future Shock" and other books anticipated the disruptions and transformations brought about by the rise of digital technology, died on June 27. Rather over-rated, if you ask me, he was one of those writers who hit the moment, and then whose work vanishes from sight because it dates so rapidly, and looks so strangely naive.

Elie Wiesel, 87, the Romanian-born Holocaust survivor whose classic "Night" became a landmark testament to the Nazis' crimes and launched his career as one of the world's foremost witnesses and humanitarians, died on July 2. Never forget.

Rev. Tim LaHaye, 90, the co-author of the "Left Behind" series, a multimillion-selling literary juggernaut that brought end-times prophecy into mainstream bookstores, died on July 25. These books were based on an idea of “The Rapture” where “true” Christians would vanish, leaving the poor sods left to fight a losing battle against the Antichrist. Even worse than Dan Brown, with a strong cultish feel, these books were once available in the Town Library and the Christian Bookshop Mission; now fortunately, they only turn up at car boot sales.

Caroline Aherne, 52, comedy genius behind The Royle Family and Mrs Merton, July 2. Sadly I never really got into those.

Ken Barrie, 83, the voice of Postman Pat, July 29. I loved those original Postman Pat’s set in rural village that time forgot. I can’t forgive the modern update which is quite frankly celebrating commercialism, not least in the desire to sell Pat to children, whereas the original, with Jess the Cat, Mrs Goggins at the post office, showed us values of community cohesion that we were fast losing but needed to get back to in some form.

Kenny Baker, 81, who played the lovable droid R2-D2 in the "Star Wars" films, achieving cult status and fans' adulation without showing his face or speaking any lines, died on Aug. 13.

Gene Wilder, 83, the frizzy-haired actor who brought his deft comedic touch to such unforgettable roles as the neurotic accountant in "The Producers," the mad scientist of "Young Frankenstein," and the title character in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," died on Aug. 28.

Shimon Peres, 93, the former Israeli president and prime minister, whose life story mirrored that of the Jewish state and who was celebrated around the world as a Nobel prize-winning visionary who pushed his country toward peace, died on Sept. 28.

Jean Alexander, 90, former Coronation Street actress who, for more than 20 years, played Hilda Ogden, October 14. I also loved her turn in “Last of the Summer Wine” as Aunty Wainwright, seller of junk who always managed to flog it off to the hapless cast!

Raine Spencer, 87, the stepmother of Diana, Princess of Wales, October 21. Always rather cast as a “wicked stepmother” by the media which was not exactly fair.

Jimmy Perry, 93, legendary TV screenwriter behind shows including Dad’s Army and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, October 23. Later shows were not really quite as good.

Sir Jimmy Young, 95, DJ and singer who hosted BBC radio programmes for half a century and interviewed Margaret Thatcher many times, November 7. Began as a crooner, then when the 1960s brought rock and roll, the market for singing in that style went almost overnight, and he reinvented himself as a DJ. A little bit too serious – hence the toupe – it was a joy to hear Wogan winding him up as their programmes followed each other.

Leonard Cohen, 82, Canadian poet and singer-songwriter who penned the classic song Hallelujah, November 7.

Robert Vaughn, 83, the debonair, Oscar-nominated actor whose many film roles were eclipsed by his hugely popular turn in television's "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.," died on Nov. 11. Also in Hustle and Coronation Street, and a great contender for social justice, rare among his fellow actors many of whom tended to be right wing Republicans.

Andrew Sachs, 86, actor best-known as Spanish waiter Manuel in Fawlty Towers, November 23. He wasn’t from Barcelona! Also gave a good performance as Father Brown in a Radio 4 adaptation of the stories.

Fidel Castro, 90, the cigar-chomping Cuban revolutionary leader and dictator who defied U.S. efforts to topple him for five decades, died on Nov. 25. Light a cigar in his memory.

Peter Vaughan, 93, actor who starred in Game Of Thrones and Porridge, December 6. He was only ever in 3 episodes of Porridge, but rather like the German U Boat officer played by Philip Madoc in Dad’s Army, made an indelible impression. He was also very good in “Bleak House”, and as the haunted out of work amateur archaeologist in the Ghost Story for Christmas, “A Warning to the Curious”.

John Glenn, 95, the all-American hero who was the first U.S. astronaut to orbit the Earth before being propelled into a long career in the U.S. Senate, died on Dec. 8.

A. A. Gill, 62, acerbic Sunday Times journalist, December 10. Never agreed with him on any of his reviews. Famously insulted Mary Beard for having long grey hair. Died because he couldn’t afford a cancer treatment drug and it was not available on the NHS. Something cockeyed about a world in which health is so much big business and profits.

E.R. Braithwaite, 104, a Guyanese author, educator and diplomat whose years teaching in the slums of London's East End inspired the international best-seller "To Sir, With Love" and the movie of the same name, died on Dec. 12. I believe Lulu starred in the movie and sang the title song.

Zsa Zsa Gabor, 99, the Hungarian beauty queen-turned-nine-times-married Hollywood icon who once served three days in jail for slapping a cop, died on Dec. 18. All I remember about her is Queen of Outer Space, a rather dire but cultish B-Movie.

George Michael, 53, the pop heartthrob whose career began with the hit duo Wham! in the 1980s and went on to have a hit solo career beginning with the chart-topping album "Faith," died on Dec. 25.

Liz Smith, 95, actress, December 26. Brilliant in Vicar of Dibley, the Royle Family, and wonderful as cameo performer in a score or more TV shows.

British author Richard Adams, whose 1972 book "Watership Down" became a classic of children's literature died on Dec. 27. Loved that book: it’s the whole rabbit culture and mythology that is perfect. These are not humanised rabbits, they are real rabbits.

Carrie Fisher, 60, best known for her portrayal of the tough-talking Princess Leia who defies the Evil Empire in "Star Wars," died on Dec. 27.

Debbie Reynolds, 84, the actress and singer who rose to fame opposite Gene Kelly in "Singin' in the Rain," died on Dec. 28, one day after the death of her daughter, Carrie Fisher.

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