Sunday, August 7, 2011

The passings parade

This week’s edition of the “roll call of the deceased” is a little shorter than it has been in recent weeks—which, when you stop and think about it, is an encouraging sign in that while we’ve established that Death rarely takes a holiday s/he might be lingering a bit during those three-martini lunches.  The celebrity notable whose demise came as a stunned surprise would have to be that of Charles Aaron “Bubba” Smith—only because he was discovered dead in his apartment on August 3rd at the age of 66.  Upon further investigation, however, police have determined there was no foul play involved and that Smith died of natural causes.

Before Bubba became a household name as an actor and TV pitchman, he was more famous for his exploits on the gridiron as a defensive end for Michigan State University in the 1960s (he had wanted to play for the University of Texas, but the Longhorns wouldn’t give him a scholarship due to the racial segregation prevalent in the South at that time).  Smith was a member of the Spartans at the time of “The Game of the Century,” when Michigan State played Notre Dame to a 10-10 draw in November of 1966 (both teams were undefeated).  (The school retired his jersey, number 95, at a 40th anniversary game celebrating the Michigan State-Notre Dame contest—a fitting tribute to a player who was also inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1988.)

After graduating Michigan State, Smith went to play for the Baltimore Colts as a defensive end, winning a Super Bowl ring in 1970 (though Smith refused to wear it, criticizing the Colts’ win as “sloppy”); he finished his career playing for both the Oakland Raiders and Houston Oilers.  Life after pro football found him seeking work as an actor, and Bubba the Thespian found his deadpan delivery and impressive size in demand in such sitcom venues as Good Times, Semi-Tough and the still-lamented-here-at-TDOY Open All Night, on which he played Robin, Gordon Feester’s “night man.”  Smith also appeared in a series of memorable Miller Lite commercials, often with fellow bruiser Dick Butkus—who became Bubba’s “partner” when the two of them were regulars on the short-lived action-adventure series Blue Thunder.

The films on Smith’s cinematic resume include Stroker Ace, Black Moon Rising and the ever-popular The Silence of the Hams (with Martin Balsam!).  But his movie legacy will remain the first six Police Academy movies (somehow he missed out on the seventh, Mission to Moscow—but he did guest star in the ill-fated TV series based on the franchise) he appeared in as Moses Hightower, the quiet, slow-to-anger cadet who’d only open up a forty gallon drum of whup-ass when seriously provoked.  While my favorite work of Smith’s remains Open All Night and the Miller commercials, he did make a guest appearance on an episode of The Odd Couple where, when asked by Oscar what his most embarrassing moment was, he replied: “When my mother named me Bubba.”

We also bid a fond farewell to actor Francesco Quinn this week—the son of two-time Academy Award-winner Anthony Quinn, Francesco grabbed critical buzz for his small role as Rhah in the 1986 war drama Platoon, and later appeared in such films as Priceless Beauty, Judgment and Placebo Effect.  Quinn also worked with his famous pop in several films, notably a TV-movie of The Old Man and the Sea, in which he played the story’s protagonist as a young man…and of course, Tony playing the older version.  Francesco also landed roles on such TV series as JAG, 24 and The Shield—but his best-known gig was that of Tomas del Cerro on the daytime soap The Young and the Restless.  Quinn succumbed to a heart attack at the age of 48 near his Malibu, CA home on August 5.

And the actress who will live on in movie immortality as “Cha Cha” DiGregorio, the sultry terpsichorean who dances up a storm with John Travolta in Grease, passed away from cancer at the age of 63 on August 3.  Annette Charles’ cinematic resume was a little on the spotty side (outside of Grease, she was also in In Search of Historic Jesus and Latino) but she did acquire a number of guest star roles in such classic TV series as The High Chaparral, The Flying Nun, Gunsmoke, The Mod Squad, Bonanza, Emergency! and Barnaby Jones.

Other celebrities that left this world for a better one in the past week or so:

Jerome Liebling (July 27, 87) – Teacher, photographer and filmmaker who, collaborating with Allen Downs, worked on such documentaries as Pow Wow, The Tree Is Dead, and The Old Men.

Jack Barlow (July 29, 87) – Country music singer-songwriter who scored a few minor hits in the 1960s with songs like I Love Country Music and Catch the Wind; later wrote jingles for Big Red chewing gum and recorded this novelty classic under the name “Zoot Fenster”:

Sam Norkin (July 30, 94) – Cartoonist and caricaturist who specialized in drawing celebrities from the worlds of theater, opera, ballet and film

Dorothy Brunson (July 31, 72) – Pioneering African-American broadcast who became the first woman to own a radio station the U.S. (Baltimore’s WEBB) and the first woman to own a TV station as well (Philadelphia’s WGTW-TV)

Rick Buckley (July 31, 74) – President of Buckley Broadcasting, which owns community station WOR in New York (not to mention stations in Connecticut and California)

Zhanna Prokhorenko (August 1, 71) – Russian film and television actress best remembered for her role as Shura in the 1959 film classic Ballad of a Soldier

Ralph Berkowitz (August 2, 100) – Painter, classical musician and composer best known for his work A Telephone Call

DeLois Barrett Campbell (August 2. 85) – Member of the Barrett Sisters Trio, a gospel group who have won numerous awards, appeared on countless TV shows (Johnny Carson, Oprah Winfrey) and are featured in the 1982 documentary Say Amen, Somebody

Richard Pearson (August 2, 93) – Welsh actor whose cinematic oeuvre includes Scrooge (1951), The Yellow Rolls Royce, How I Won the War, Sunday, Bloody Sunday and Royal Flash…but here at TDOY, he’s beloved as Alfred, the absent-minded brother of Richard Wilson’s Victor Meldrew (“I don’t believe it!”) on the Britcom One Foot in the Grave

Ingrid Luterkort (August 3, 101) – Swedish stage, screen and TV actress who attended Stockholm’s Royal Dramatic Theatre acting school in the 1930s with fellow classmates Ingrid Bergman and Gunnar Björnstrand (the leading man in many of Ingmar Bergman’s films)

Andrew McDermott (August 3, 45) – British rock ‘n’ roll vocalist best known for his work with such metal bands as Swampfreaks, Threshold and the German group Sargant Fury

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hobbyfan said...


Bubba Smith's beer of choice in ads was Miller Lite, not Bud Light. You might recall he also appeared in a music video with fellow Miller pitchman Rodney Dangerfield for Rodney's novelty hit, "Rappin' Rodney", back in '83.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Bubba Smith's beer of choice in ads was Miller Lite, not Bud Light.

Duly noted and corrected. This always happens when I rely on memory and not research...and I'm sure my generous sampling of the product back then probably has something to do with it, too.