For this man, I can think of no better obituary than this.
For this man, I can think of no better obituary than this.
This is a hard obituary to write. Unlike with previous obits I’ve written, this one is for someone with whom I was, at least vaguely, acquainted. I had an infrequent email relationship with Roger Ebert; one that mostly consisted of my sending him links to things that, more often than not, he’d tweet or send out on Facebook. I even solicited his advice on what restaurants to go to while visiting Chicago last year, advice he was happy to provide.
Roger Ebert has died of cancer at the age of 70. This was a return of cancer which he, and everyone else, had hoped was long gone. Instead it returned with an apparent vengeance, ending his life only two days after he’d posted up a very cheerful, upbeat article that seemed ironically optimistic about the future.
Though I’d only recently started writing to him, I’d been aware of Roger Ebert since I was a child. At the Movies, under its various titles, was something my mother always seemed happy for me to watch. Seeing him and Gene Siskel sparring with each other was a fascinating exercise, and I loved the way that they constantly seemed to be pushing directors to make better films than they were.
It was through Roger Ebert that I’ve discovered directors like Lang, Murnau, Herzog, Wilder, and others. It was through him that I experienced films I’d never heard of before, like Ace in the Hole, M and Sunrise. His audio commentary on Citizen Kane remains one of the best commentaries I’ve ever heard, and his collections of writings, most notably a memorably-titled collection of reviews of bad films, were always incredibly good reading for me.
Ebert’s death leaves a real hole in the film criticism business, and it’s worth noting that, from now until my own death, anytime someone says the words “film critic”, Roger Ebert will be the first image that comes to mind.
Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon and one of only a handful of humans in our entire history to do so, has died from complications resulting from heart surgery. He was 82.
Armstrong was born in Ohio, as were an insanely large number of other astronauts and aviation types.He served in Korea and then worked as a test pilot. In 1962 he became an astronaut and in 1965, he was commanding Gemini 8 when the vessel had technical issues. Armstrong was able to bring it back safely. He then did not travel into space again until 1969 when he commanded Apollo 11, and, on July 20 of that year, became the first person to walk on the surface of the Moon. Day later, he, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin returned to Earth and a hero’s welcome.
Life after NASA wasn’t especially easy for Armstrong, a man whose career basically peaked when he was 38. He spent time teaching and largely avoided the public eye. Whereas Aldrin seemed content to rake in piles of cash exploiting his visit to the Moon, Armstrong seemed to shy away from money and fame. He was out doing things in 2009 to mark the 40th anniversary of the landing, and that’s the only time I personally recall seeing him out in the public eye.
Armstrong’s come about because of the efforts of thousands of people around the world. To one extent he was “just” the one who got lucky enough to be picked as the man who stepped on the Moon first. I don’t doubt that there were dozens of others who were equally qualified and could have done the job just as well; Aldrin for one.
But while he was “just” that lucky one, he was, indeed, that very lucky one. He was the first human being to stand on the surface of a planetary body other than Earth, and that made him one amazing man indeed. Godpseed, Neil Armstrong.
Last month the Doctor Who world was rocked by the death of Caroline John. Last year we lost both Elisabeth Sladen and Nicolas Courtney. Today comes the news that Mary Tamm, best known for her role as the first Romana in “The Key to Time” series, has died at the age of 62.
Tamm was born in the UK and started performing on stage in 1971. She then appeared in various small film roles, but became most famous for her role in the season-long Doctor Who story arc, “The Key to Time”.
Despite being a major Doctor Who fan, I hadn’t seen the entire KTT series until just a few years ago. I was pleased by it for several reasons, and one of the most notable was Mary Tamm, who brought a wonderful energy to the character of Romana. Her ability to appear completely bored by the antics of whatever enemy was capturing/menacing her was truly priceless. She returned to the role in 2005 for Big Finish audio in their Gallifrey series, and earlier this year recorded a series of stories with Tom Baker, reuniting her with the Fourth Doctor after all these years.
Tamm had been scheduled to be at last year’s Gallifrey convention, but had dropped out due to illness. Now we know what that illness was. She is survived by her husband and family, and shall be deeply missed.
Actor and singer Andy Griffith has died at the age of 86. He was best known for his role in The Andy Griffith Show and later in Matlock and also fairly well-known as a singer.
Griffith was born and raised in North Carolina to a decidedly blue collar family. He discovered the performing arts in high school, and merged those with his love of religion when he became active in his church’s band. From there it was a few short steps to acting, and soon he was performing locally. It wasn’t too long after that that he began performing for larger audiences and soon was getting more and more attention, leading to numerous roles on TV.
He began his role on The Andy Griffith Show in 1960, and it was a role that would provide for him until 1968, which is a pretty good run by anyone’s standards. He returned to his most famous role on a couple occasions in reunion shows. Then in 1986, he began his role as a lawyer in Matlock, which ran until 1995.
Personally I’ll always remember Griffith for his impressive performance as Lonesome Rhodes in A Face in the Crowd. There he plays a convict and singer who is discovered by a radio reporter. Soon he’s singing for larger and larger audiences and, in short order, has his own TV show. Then he begins to dabble in politics and styles himself as something of a king maker. Things get ugly fast. It’s a great movie and he’s great in it. If nothing else, it’s fascinating seeing him play a villain.
Griffith was by all accounts a hell of a nice guy, in addition to being a great actor and singer. He will be missed.
John got her start, as many actresses and actors in England have, on the stage, primarily appearing in various Shakespeare plays. By 1970, she’d moved to TV and landed her role on Doctor Who, appearing in five TV stories alongside Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor and the recently-deceased Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Alister Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. She was written out after only those five stories to make room for Jo Grant, but did reappear on the series in the 20th anniversary story, “The Five Doctors”. She then returned to the role again in some of the Companion Chronicle audio adventures from Big Finish.
John was married to Geoffrey Beevers, best known to Who fans for his role as the “beef jerky in a cloak” version of the Master. She died on June 5, but her death was only revealed today. She will be missed.
I never got into Bradbury’s work. I’m not quite sure why. To this day, the only novel of his I know for sure I read was The Martian Chronicles, and I remember being very unimpressed. I think I read Fahrenheit 451, but I might be wrong about that. I know with absolute certainty that I watched the movie repeatedly as a kid, and that was around the same time as I remember watching “The Electric Grandmother“, which was based off of one of Bradbury’s stories.
But I recognize that my limited experience with Bradbury’s works is my own damn fault. I also recognize that the man had a monumental contribution to science fiction and, along with folks like Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Farmer and others, really helped shape what the genre is. So even if I never got into his works, I can at least understand what a loss this is to the literary world.
Maurice Sendak was the writer, and illustrator, of those wonderful books. He died today at the age of eighty-three.
Sendak’s two best-known books have inspired countless children over the decades since they were published, and one of them, In the Night Kitchen, has been banned so often you’d think it was Mein Kampf. The other one, Where the Wild Things Are was turned into a surprisingly good movie that I think I’ll rewatch this week.
A little known fact about Sendak was that he was gay, and had been in a long-term relationship with another man who himself died a few years ago. I think this fact is worth mentioning, though I long for a future where it is supremely irrelevant. Maybe some day. But in the meantime, farewell, Mister Sendak. You will be missed by generations of fans.
This is an obituary I’d hoped I wouldn’t have to write for a very long time. But here we are. One of the great magazine/internet writers in history has died. Christopher Hitchens has succumbed to the ravages of cancer at the age of 62.
I never got to meet Hitch, but he was still a great influence to me. He helped inspire me as a writer and helped to influence my views on any number of subjects. Even when I read things of his where I disagreed with his central point, as with his views on Iraq, I still could at least understand what he thought on the issue and why he thought it. That’s not as typical as you might think.
Of course it’s also worth mentioning what a great impact he had on me and my atheism. I read God is Not Great right after I read Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Dawkins’ book is much more of a purely intellectual exercise, while Hitch’s is both intellect and emotion, mixing the two to make for a really fascinating read. It’s safe to say that had I not read his book, I likely wouldn’t approach my lack of belief in the same way I do now.
I haven’t much more to say about the man that hasn’t already been said. Particularly touching is Andrew Sullivan’s blog article on the topic, which I recommend. Also, for those who’d like to read my favorite Hitch article, check out this one, and then watch this delightful video of Hitch and Stephen Fry taking to task a couple conservative religious types on the subject of religion. It’s a great example of Hitch at his best.
Sladen’s work covered several decades and included appearances in British TV staples like Z Cars and Coronation Street but it was her role as Sarah Jane Smith that she’s best known for. Ms Smith was a companion to the 3rd and 4th Doctors, and also appeared, in “The Five Doctors”, with the 2nd and 5th Doctor, as well as Richard Hurndall’s version of the 1st Doctor. Her character also appeared in one failed spin-off, K9 and Company.
During the 2000′s the character was revived. First in a series of audio adventures from Big Finish and then eventually appearing in “School Reunion” with the 10th Doctor. She was then spun-off into her own TV series, The Sarah Jane Adventures, where she spent four series fighting Slitheen, Sontarans and others. During this time she was reunited with the Brigadier, the 10th Doctor, and met the 11th Doctor and Jo Grant.
Sladen and her character of Sarah Jane Smith were beloved by millions around the world, and her death comes as a great shock to many of us who wasn’t even aware she was ill. Following on the heels of Nicholas Courtney’s death earlier this year, Who fandom has really been shaken. My thoughts are with her and her family and coworkers.