Thursday, December 31, 2020

Celebrity Death Catch-Up

2020's been a miserable year for pretty much everyone on Earth. But it's been especially brutal in the area of celebrity death. Sure, it's a given that every year's gonna see its share of famous fatalities, but 2020's been especially cruel in the number and caliber of celebrity deaths.

Unfortunately I've been too busy to acknowledge many of them over the past few months, so I'm playing catch-up here and mention the deaths that had an impact on me.

• Sean Connery— died October 31 at age 90.

Connery was of course best known for portraying James Bond, and became the gold standard to which all other actors in the role are compared.

That wasn't his only role though, by a long shot. He starred in at least sixty seven movies over the years, including 1974's Zardoz. You haven't lived until you've seen a forty-something Sean Connery strutting around the post-apocalyptic landscape in a red diaper and black hip boots. It's definitely worth checking out.

Connery famously turned down a shocking number of high profile roles in the later years of his life. 

In 1993 he was offered the role John Hammond in the original Jurassic Park, but passed on it when the studio balked at his asking price.

In 1999 Connery declined the part of Morpheus in The Matrix, because reportedly he "didn't understand the movie's narrative."

In 2001 he said no to playing Dumbledore in Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone, because he "had no interest in joining a children's film about wizards."

Also in 2001, Connery was tapped to play Gandalf in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. He turned it down, because once again he claimed he "never understood the script." OK, I can see someone his age not understanding a cyberpunk tale like The Matrix, but LOTR seems pretty straightforward. 

Connery's refusal to play Gandalf ended up costing him a whopping $450 MILLION, as the role came with cut of the franchise's sizeable box office take! D'oh!

Finally in 2003 he was asked to play the role of Allan Quatermain in The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Supposedly he didn't understand this script either (???), but accepted the part anyway because he was afraid if he kept refusing offers that studios would eventually stop asking him.

The League shoot was a tumultuous one, as Connery didn't get along with inexperienced director Stephen Norrington. Things were so bad on set that after filming wrapped, Connery retired from acting (Norrington vowed he'd never direct again as well!)!

Sounds like he either needed a new agent or to seek help in choosing roles!

• Alex Trebek— died November 8 at age 80.

Born in Canada, Trebek move to the U.S. in 1974, and became a popular game show host. He began hosting a revival of Jeopardy in 1984, and stayed with the show for a whopping thirty seven years!

In March 2019 he announced he'd been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a particularly insidious illness with a very low survival rate. If anyone could beat the disease it would be Trebek, and I was honestly hoping he make it. Alas, it wasn't to be.

By the way, how odd is it that the real-life inspirations for this SNL sketch died within a week of one another?
• David Prowse— died November 28 at age 85.

Prowse became famous for starring at the body of Darth Vader in a little sci-fi film called Star Wars. Perhaps you've heard of it?

While the imposing 6' 6" Prowse inhabited Vader's costume, the Sith Lord's voice was provided by actor James Earl Jones. This was a sore spot with Prowse for years, as he deeply resented the fact that his lines were dubbed in post.

If you've ever heard Prowse speak though, you'll understand why George Lucas replaced his dialogue. Darth Vader would never have had the impact he did if he spoke with Prowse's thin, reedy voice.
In 1968 Prowse made a guest appearance on The Beverly Hillbillies, in the Season 7 episode Coming Through The Rye. This was the season in which Jed inherits an English castle, so the Clampett clan flies to Great Britain to check it out.

While there, they encounter Emlin MacGregor (played by Prowse), an imposing Scotsman wearing a kilt. Of course this causes the Clampetts to think he's a particularly ugly woman. Com-O-Dee!

Additionally, Granny sees strolling around loudly playing his bagpipes. Naturally she thinks he's drinking booze from a giant straw in a large water skin, and that the music is him moaning and wailing.

• Richard Corben— died December 2 at the age of 80.

Corben's name may not be a household word, but if you ever read Heavy Metal magazine in the 1980s, you'll instantly recognize his work.

Corben's comics were filled with buxom babes and ripped males— most of whom cavorted nude across his bizarre landscapes.

He was also famous for his garish use of color and mastery of texture. I used to stare at his work for hours, trying to figure out just how he managed to do it!

•  David L. Lander— died December 4 at the age of 73.

Lander of course played Squiggy, who, along with his pal Lenny, consistently annoyed the gals on Laverne & Shirley

Sadly, Lander was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1984. Amazingly he kept the disease a secret for years, pretending to be an alcoholic to explain his symptoms. Apparently he thought casting directors would hire a drunk, but would shy away from someone with MS. Odd!

He finally went public with his diagnosis in 1999, and the disease eventually lead to his untimely death. 

• Dawn Wells— died December 30 at age 82.

Ouch. This one really hurts. As a kid I was a big fan of Gilligan's Island, and loved Wells as Mary Ann. Her natural beauty and "Girl Next Door" charm made her far more appealing than the more sophisticated Ginger on the show.

There's an urban legends that Wells is the only Gilligan's Island castmate who profited from the series. At the time she was cast as Mary Ann, actors typically received residuals for the first two or three airings of a series.

Wells was married to talent agent Larry Rosen at the time, and he reportedly talked her into asking for a clause in her contract that would grant her residuals in perpetuity. The producers supposedly agreed, never thinking the show would still be airing regularly SIXTY YEARS later.

As a result of this, Wells allegedly made millions off the show.

Sadly, that's all bushwah. According to Wells, she was paid $700 a week on the show (!) and never got ANY residuals!

Here's a partial list of all the famous people we lost in 2020. Some of them I wasn't aware of, and in other cases it's been such a long, grueling year I'd forgotten they passed. It's a long list:

Neil Peart (drummer for Rush)
Buck Henry (writer/actor)
Terry Jones (member of Monty Python)
Kobe Bryant (of the LA Lakers, natch)
Kirk Douglas (he was a whopping 103 when he died!)
Orson Bean (actor/comedian/game show celebrity)
Robert Conrad (star of The Wild, Wild West TV series)
Sy Sperling (founder of The Hair Club For Men)
Katherine Johnson (mathematician in the early days of NASA, subject of the movie Hidden Figures)
Clive Cussler (adventure author)
James Lipton (host of Inside The Actors Studio)
Max von Sydow (star of The Exorcist, among many other films)
Lyle Waggoner (of The Carol Burnett Show and Wonder Woman fame)
Kenny Rogers (country singer)
Curly Neal (of the Harlem Globetrotters)
Bill Withers (singer of the hit Lean On Me)
Honor Blackman (the Bond girl in Goldfinger)
John Prine (singer/songwriter)
Mort Drucker (artist for MAD Magazine and the greatest caricaturist to ever live)
Brian Dennehy (character actor)
Irrfan Khan (Indian actor who appeared in Life Of Pi and Jurassic World)
Little Richard (pioneering musician, singer and songwriter, as well as one of the first crossover black artists)
Jerry Stiller (comedian/actor, best known as Frank Costanza on Seinfeld)
Phyllis George (former Miss America and female sportscaster)
Fred Willard (character actor and frequent TV guest star)
Ken Osmond (aka Eddie Haskell of Leave It To Beaver)
Christo (artist whose works consisted of wrapping buidlings and landscapes in fabric)
Bonnie Pointer (One third of The Pointer Sisters)
Ian Holm (famed British actor)
Joel Schumacher (flamboyant director who helmed Batman & Robin)
Milton Glaser (famed graphic designer)
Carl Reiner (writer/actor/director and creator of The Dick Van Dyke Show)
Johnny Mandel (composer)
Hugh Downs (former Today Show host)
Ennio Morricone (Oscar-winning composer of iconic movie scores)
Charlie Daniels (Southern rock singer)
Kelly Preston (actress, and Mrs. John Travolta)
Joanna Cole (author of the The Magic School Bus books)
Regis Philbin (perennial TV show host)
John Saxon (character actor)
Olivia de Havilland (actress who appeared in Gone With The Wind— she was a whopping 104 when she died!)
Willford Brimley (actor and diabetus spokesman)
Chadwick Boseman (star of Black Panther)
Diana Rigg (British actress, star of The Avengers)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg (US Supreme Court Justice)
Helen Reddy (popular 1970s singer)
Mac Davis (another popular 1970s singer)
Eddie Van Halen (front man of rock group Van Halen)
Johnny Nash (singer of I Can See Clearly Now)
Conchata Farrell (character actress, best known for Two And A Half Men)
Rhonda Fleming (actress)
James Randi (famous debunker of fake psychics)
Sean Connery (actor, best known as the original James Bond)
Norm Crosby (night club comedian)
Alex Trebek (best known as the host of Jeopardy)
Dave Prowse (aka the body of Darth Vader)
David L. Lander (aka Squiggy of Laverne & Shirley fame)
Chuck Yeager (first man to break the sound barrier)
Tiny Lister (professional wrester/actor)
Charley Pride (one of the first black country & western singers)
John le Carre (spy novelist)
Jeremy Bulloch (aka Boba Fett)
Richard Corben (comic book artist)
Pierre Cardin (famed fashion designer)
Dawn Wells (actress, best known as Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island)

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