Thursday, January 27, 2011

He looks like his heart will break

Because the Grim Reaper is a model employee who rarely takes a sick day or vacation, famous people continue to shuffle off this mortal coil…and this was definitely driven home to me yesterday when I learned via my CharredHer webpage that country music legend and Hall of Famer Charlie Louvin has left this world for a better one at the age of 83.  In the 1950s, Charlie and brother Ira were collectively known as the Louvin Brothers—and their tight sibling harmonies could be heard on such Top Ten country hits as When I Stop Dreaming, I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby (a #1 hit for the duo in 1956), You're Running Wild, Hoping That You're Hoping, Cash on the Barrel Head and My Baby's Gone.  (“Louvin,” incidentally, was just a stage name—their real last name was “Loudermilk” and both were kin to songwriter John D. Loudermilk, who penned such classics as Ebony Eyes, Indian Reservation and Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye.)  One of my favorite Louvin Brothers songs is If I Could Only Win Your Love, a tune that was later recorded by my pretend girlfriend Emmylou Harris and became her first Top Ten country charter in 1975.

The Louvin Brothers broke up in 1963; ostensibly because Ira was a rather troubled individual prone to violent outbursts and imbibing alcohol quite heavily (his third wife was forced to shoot him three times in the back after he tried to strangle her).  Both men pursued solo careers after the breakup but Ira’s musical destiny was cut short due to his death in 1965 when his automobile was struck by a drunk driver (Ira himself was wanted on a DUI charge at the time, proving that irony can be ironic at every turn); Charlie went on to score a pair of top ten hits, notably the Bill Anderson-penned I Don’t Love You Anymore in 1964 (his highest-charting hit, peaking at #4).  But the song I always associate with Charlie was his second smash, See the Big Man Cry—a tune written by a young singer-songwriter named Ed Bruce…who would later go on to write the Waylon & Willie anthem Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys and do quite a bit of acting in such productions as TV’s Bret Maverick (he played Tom Guthrie, Bret’s reluctant partner in the Red Ox Saloon) and films like Public Enemies and the recently released Country Strong.  (Bruce also had a country music career of his own beginning in 1967 though his peak was during the early 1980s with such hits as the classic You’re the Best Break This Old Heart Ever Had.)

Another notable in the country music field who may not have had the same stature as Charlie Louvin but who made a name working for another well-known Charlie is guitarist Tommy Crain…who joined the Charlie Daniels Band in 1975 and co-wrote several of Daniels’ hits including The Devil Went Down to Georgia (his guitar riffs comprise the “band of demons”) and In America.  I had the opportunity to see Crain in action in Savannah in 1985 when CDB opened for country music supergroup Alabama (and to be honest, I think it should have been the other way around); Daniels’ redneck politics aside, it was one of the best concerts I ever attended—a superlative group of musicians who put on one hell of a show.  Crain died on January 13 at the age of 59.

Fitness guru Jack LaLanne completed his last chin-up on January 23 at the age of 96.  LaLanne, a popular television personality from my halcyon TV-watching youth (“It’s time for Jack/Jack LaLanne/And The New Jack LaLanne Show”) represented the antithesis of my hedonistic, sedentary lifestyle by preaching the gospel of exercise and nutrition.  Admittedly, I’ve been having a little fun at his now-deceased expense by joking that even after committing himself to his austere way of life he wound up dead.  Unfortunately, my joshing about LaLanne’s passing sort of escaped the notice of some humor-impaired people on Facebook (I made this observation to an old school chum who was wondering out loud why she bothered to exercise and eat right and several of her friends took me to task by scolding me about “quality of life”) and I just want to state for the record before the knives come out in the comments section that, yes, diet and exercise are a good thing and the key to a long and happy life and that you should be fully aware that by ignoring this sage advice and choosing the path to which I skip along merrily you will probably end up succumbing to a massive stroke.  But here’s the deal, folks—we don’t live forever.  Seriously.  I checked on this.  (If you happen to locate that Fountain of Youth during your vocational sojourn in Florida, then, okay…maybe we’ll sit down and have a nice chinwag about the subject.  And when I do die from a coronary you can all cluck your tongues and say “Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later” but until that time save that schadenfreude for when I’m tooling around in the Great Beyond, okay?)  I’ll say this for LaLanne, though—he certainly made a game try at doing so.

Going back to the world of music, a few notables from that area of show bidness have also said their final goodbyes—Don Kirshner (aka “The Man With the Golden Ear”), the rock ‘n’ roll music mogul who was familiar to TV audiences as the stiff-as-a-board host of Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert.  (Those of you not acquainted with the program may have a passing acquaintance with Late Show with David Letterman bandleader Paul Shaffer’s impersonation of Kirshner via reruns of Saturday Night Live.)  Kirshner, whose music publishing company employed the likes of such talented tunesmiths as Neils Diamond and Sedaka, Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Cynthia Weil & Barry Mann and Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart, achieved boob tube immortality as the architect of the Monkees, a rock ‘n’ roll group created to capture the success of the Beatles (the Beatles were known as the Fab Four, inspiring journalists to dub the Monks “the pre-Fab Four”) and who were featured on a popular NBC sitcom from 1966-68.  When tensions between Kirshner and Monkees’ member Michael Nesmith came to a boil (Nesmith resented the fact that their musical integrity was compromised by the fact that their music was a result of studio musician magic) Don kissed his association with them goodbye and created a group that couldn’t give him static (probably because they were animated, and cartoon musical groups tend to be less confrontational): the Archies.  Kirshner died of heart failure on January 17 at the age of 76.

Impresario Bobby Poe has also left this world for a better one—the name might not come trippingly off the tongue but he wore many hats as a singer-songwriter, manager, publisher and promoter throughout his career.  He formed Bobby Poe and the Poe Kats in 1959, a musical aggregation that featured future country music performer Big Al Downing (who died in 2005) and who served as the backing band for rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson (they can be heard on her classic Let’s Have a Party) in the early 1960s before she, too, directed her musical energies toward country.  Poe later became Big Al’s manager about the time Downing was a member of the Chartbusters, a group who became one-hit wonders with She’s the One in 1964.  (The ‘busters, according to actor Tom Hanks, were the inspiration for the group featured in his directorial debut, 1996’s That Thing You Do!)  Poe died at the age of 77 on January 22.

Back in November of last year I did a birthday shout-out to actress-model-singer Georgia Carroll, the woman many probably know better as Mrs. Kay Kyser—she was the featured vocalist for the Ol’ Perfessor’s band in the 1940s and appeared in such films as the Kyser vehicles Around the World and Carolina Fever before tying the knot with Mr. K in 1944.  I casually noticed that this post was getting a large number of hits and in researching why learned to my dismay that “Gorgeous Georgia” passed away January 14 at the age of 91.  A sad thing to hear indeed.

Another talent who has left us is actress Susannah York, who succumbed to bone marrow cancer on January 15 at the age of 72York received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her first-rate performance in one of my favorite movies, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?—and also appeared in such films as Tunes of Glory, Freud, Tom Jones, A Man for All Seasons, Kaleidoscope, The Killing of Sister George, Happy Birthday, Wanda June, Images, The Silent Partner and three of the four Superman films (though she only provides her voice in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace).  (This obituary in the Telegraph mentions the famous anecdote where she punched director John Huston after Huston made a crack about star Montgomery Clift’s failing eyesight on the set of Freud.)

Two actors best known for their association with the classic TV series The Untouchables have taken their final bows at the curtain; Paul Picerni, who played the part of Lee Hobson on the show from 1960 to 1963 also had a lengthy film resume that included vehicles such as Operation Pacific, I Was a Communist for the FBI, Fort Worth, Force of Arms, The Desert Song, Drive a Crooked Road, Hell’s Island, To Hell and Back, The Brothers Rico, Marjorie Morningstar, The Young Philadelphians, Airport and Kotch.  Outside of Untouchables, the movie I seem to remember Picerni for the most is House of Wax—he plays Phyllis Kirk’s love interest—and I think that may be because my mom has seen the movie a gazillion times.  Picerni died on January 12 at the age of 88.

Character actor Bruce Gordon was also a major Untouchables presence although he didn’t have a weekly role like Picerni’s; nevertheless he made a name for himself playing legendary mobster Frank “The Enforcer” Nitti on the show in a total of 27 episodes according to the always reliable IMDb.  Gordon possessed a sinister countenance that naturally seemed to lend itself to playing heavies and villains even though he was talented enough to mix it up a bit by playing—as my friend Hal from The Horn Section pointed out—mob boss “Mr. D” (the “D” stood for “Devere”) on the 1966 sitcom Run Buddy Run.  Gordon’s other regular TV gigs include Behind Closed Doors and Peyton Place, and he could be glimpsed in such films as Love Happy, The Buccaneer, Curse of the Undead, Key Witness, Tower of London, Hello Down There and TDOY fave Piranha.  We lost a true acting great on January 20 (the L.A. Times dubbed him “a veritable Humphrey Bogart of crime dramas”) when Gordon died at the age of 94, just two weeks shy of his 95th.

And here’s a quick wrap-up of some other noteworthy celebrity passings:

Helene Palmer (January 12, 82) – British motion picture and television actress best known for her role as machinist Ida Clough on the UK’s long-running TV soap Coronation Street

Barry Lee Hobart (January 14, 69) – WKEF-TV (Dayton, OH) horror movie host known to legions of fans in the 1970s as “Dr. Creep” (on that station’s Shock Theater and Clubhouse 22)

Patti Gilbert (January 15, 79) – Motion picture and television actress and voiceover artist whose best known gigs are as “Queen Shirley,” confederate of King Tut (Victor Buono) in the Batman episode “The Unkindest Tut of All” and the voice of Princess of Sweet Rhyme in the 1969 animated feature The Phantom Tollbooth (sorry I couldn’t link to this obit but it’s one of those Variety notices and I’m sure none of us have Pam’s money to afford a subscription)

Bob Young (January 19, 87) – ABC News journalist and correspondent who anchored the evening news for a brief five-month stint in 1968

Nicholas (Tony) Geiss (January 21, 86) – Emmy Award-winning writer-composer who worked on Sesame Street and who will probably do a lengthy stint in Purgatory for coming up with that annoying “Elmo’s World” theme

Jay Garner (January 21, 82) – Motion picture, stage and television actor best known as Admiral Asimov on TV’s Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and for appearances in such films as Pennies From Heaven and Hanky Panky

Bernd Eichinger (January 24, 61) – German motion picture director-producer whose cinematic contributions include The Neverending Story, The Name of the Rose, The House of the Spirits and several of the Resident Evil films

To all these talented folks we say requiescat in pace.

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Jeff Overturf said...

Sorry to hear about the passings of messers Lalanne and Louvin in particular.

Mostly though, I'm sad to hear that MY pretend girlfriend Emmylou has apparently been cheating on me! Grrrrrrrrrrr!

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Mostly though, I'm sad to hear that MY pretend girlfriend Emmylou has apparently been cheating on me!

I nearly made diet soda come out of my nose when I read this because it reminds me of an old Wayne Kemp song entitled Your Wife is Cheatin' On Us Again...

mndean said...

Gerry Coffin?!?

Um, I think this death thing is getting to you.

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. said...

Gerry Coffin?!?

Um, I think this death thing is getting to you.

Whoa...major fox paw on my part (wiggles tie)...

Yvette said...

I was so fond of Bruce Gordon in whatever he played, though he usually played bad guys of the Frank Nitti variety. I'll always treasure this line of his:

Nitti is eating a meal when he spots Elliott Ness, he says very jovially: "Have a connoli, Mr. Ness." It always cracked me up. We used to go around imitating old Bruce.
It was something to do. Ha.

Stacia said...

Oh no! I just watched my first Kay Keyser movie a couple of weekends ago, and was looking stuff up online and noticed Georgia Carroll was still with us. She must have died around the same time I was reading some interviews with her about Keyser's life after he abruptly retired. That is sad news, she seemed like a really great lady.