The 10 Most Dead People of 2012

31Dec12

The world didn’t end in 2012, it turned out, but more than a few things on it did. For instance, there’s the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes sham marriage. A brief but well-loved televised comedic star turn by a coat-wearing monkey (meaning, of course, the short-lived NBC sitcom Animal Practice, though there was also quite a hubbub about some business in a Toronto IKEA store). And the lack of conscience on the part of Two and Half Men star Angus T. Jones over his career (to be followed in 2013 by the end of his career itself). And as always, lives ended. But whose did so with the greatest finality? These.

10. Neil Armstrong

In 2012, we saluted and bade farewell to some of the great pioneers of space exploration. Foremost among them, of course, is I Dream of Jeannie star Larry Hagman, the first actor ever to portray an astronaut in a televised situation comedy. But arguably, others are almost equally deserving of recognition. For example, there’s the first American woman in space, Sally Ride, a woman who not only endured the indignity of going through life with a name ripped from the lyrics of the execrable bar-band standard “Mustang Sally” but also resisted the urge to, say, drive cross-country wearing a diaper to kill a romantic rival. And then there’s Neil Armstrong. Today, so-called space heroes like Chris Hadfield make their cowardly escape in commie rockets to gloat over the Earth’s destruction in the coming Mayan apocalypse from space. And don’t they look stupid now? Armstrong, on the other hand, hurtled through space in basically a garbage can, did some tricky piloting to land it with only a few drops of fuel to spare, stepped out and dropped a bon mot, planted his nation’s flag on another planet, listened patiently to Nixon prattling on for a while over the radio, then got back in, jury-rigged a repair with a pen cap, rocketed right back into the Pacific Ocean, got quarantined for 18 days in case of space germs, and then basically quarantined himself on his farm for the rest of his life just to avoid having to discuss how awesome he was. But can we discuss why it is, exactly, that a common dopehead like Timothy Leary gets the honour of having his ashes shot majestically into space, and Armstrong’s just get dumped in the Atlantic?

9. Michael Clarke Duncan

Now that he’s gone and staying gone, if you look in that briefcase from Pulp Fiction these days, you won’t find Michael Clarke Duncan’s glowing soul in there. (Only kidding: You can never actually see what’s in the case. It’s a MacGuffin, which is a type of crime dog.) Frequently confused with actor Ving Rhames (whom you may recall from that one prison movie) because they were only about a year apart in age, Duncan has received the kiss of death and will be forevermore out of sight. For all the power he wields, even his former costar and old buddy Tom must ruefully admit that bringing Duncan back is “Mission Impossible”. We now pronounce him not Chuck, not Larry, but dead.

8. Mike Wallace

Veteran of the Pacific theatre in WWII, radio and television announcer, newsmagazine anchor, commercial pitchman, game show host, occasional actor, and husband to several wives: all these words barely begin to cover Ed McMahon. Or Mike Wallace, for that matter. After getting serious as a newsman, Wallace became notorious for his combative style. He ambushed subjects in lobbies, parking lots and their own doorways. He grilled Maria Callas about her habit of walking out of interviews in her own apartment, where she couldn’t walk out. He made Streisand cry. “With an angelic smile, he can ask a question that would get anyone else smashed in the face,” observed colleague Harry Reasoner. Tell that to the Chicago police, who went right ahead and smashed him in the face at the 1968 Democratic convention. And you know what? He deserved it, because without Mike Wallace, there would be no Geraldo Rivera.

7. Whitney Houston

AND IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIinevitably, Whitney Houston’s years of drug abuse caught up with her. Was it ex-husband Bobby Brown’s fault for getting her hooked on the crack she once derided as wack? Arguably. Was it crassly self-serving for Bobby to perform his Ghostbusters II soundtrack hit “On Our Own” at Houston’s funeral? Probably. Would we all have liked Osama bin Laden maybe just a little bit better if the smitten terrorist mastermind had ever followed though on his plot to murder Bobby and take Whitney as his bride? Certainly. Alas, bin Laden is gone and Brown is still here. It’s not right, but it’s okay, when you consider this: As of late, Bobby isn’t even close to being the most loathsome R&B singer surnamed Brown in a toxic relationship with a talented yet troubled pop diva. Stay off drugs, Rihanna.

6. Tony Scott

They say director Tony Scott left behind no note when he jumped off that bridge, but he did. Its contents? Well, as one of his Top Gun characters might have said, “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill myself.” (Okay, here it is: It read, simply, “I feel the need … the need for suicide!“) What else did he leave behind? Tony Soprano, for one thing; it was the Scott-directed True Romance that gave James Gandolfini his breakthrough role as a murderous yet contemplative mobster. There’s Man on Fire, an acclaimed biopic of Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc. And let’s not forget one of the hottest lesbian scenes ever committed to celluloid by Hollywood (Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon in The Hunger) as well as one of the hottest gay scenes (the volleyball game in Top Gun).

5. Daniel Inouye

Who’s the most badass war hero to have been welcomed into the halls of Valhalla this year? Old-school conqueror of Iraq “Stormin'” Norman Schwarzkopf, who crawled through a Vietnamese minefield to wrestle one of his own wounded soldiers into submission so a medic could work on him? Actor Charles Durning, whose reply to being stabbed eight times with a bayonet was to beat the German who did it to death with a rock? With due respect, the baddest ass belonged to Senator Daniel Inouye, who, after shrugging off a bullet to the guts, used his left hand to pry a live grenade out of that of his blown-off throwing arm and then use it to finish off the last of three consecutive machine gun nests. There isn’t a man who wouldn’t have liked to shake the hand of this Medal of Honor recipient, most of all Inouye himself.

4. Jack Klugman

It was a lethal year for 1970s sitcom actors. Jeffersons star Sherman Hemsley moved on up to a deluxe apartment in the sky. (Amen.) Ron “Horshack” Palillo and Robert “Epstein” Hegyes went like Sweathogs to the slaughter. But ultimately, the greatest laughs stemmed from Jack Klugman’s portrayal of slobby sportswriter Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple (because without him, we might not have had slobby sportswriter Bob Uecker on Mr. Belvedere, and without that, we would not have the infamous story about Belvedere costar Christopher Hewitt having to be hospitalized after sitting on his own testicles). Klugman was equally famed as the star of Quincy, M.E., and were there any crusading coroner of his ilk left to perform an autopsy on him, it would surely bear out suspicions that it was that sick, sinister punk rock music that killed him. One likes to imagine crusty Quincy teaming up with Ben Matlock, the country lawyer played by the great Andy Griffith, who also passed this year, to solve old-fogey crimes in heaven. And that Matlock turns out to be a totally fussy neat freak, and they bicker all the time.

3. Ernest Borginine

As befit his husky frame, Ernest Borginine lived large over his 95 years. He beat Frank Sinatra to death in From Here to Eternity in 1953, and then beat Frank Sinatra again for the Best Actor Oscar for Marty in 1955. He married actress/singer Ethel Merman and divorced his third of five wives only 38 days later, right after their honeymoon during which jealousy over the wild adulation he received from fans drove her crazy (the chapter of her autobiography titled “My Marriage to Ernest Borginine” consisted of a single blank page). He was a Navy man onscreen and in real life, and he also copiloted an advanced, top-secret supersonic helicopter stolen from the military on missions of national security for a little while, no big deal. And to what did he attribute his longevity in televised interviews? Frequent masturbation. He admitted later that he said this mostly to freak out the squares on Fox & Friends, and that his vegetarianism and sheer, deliberate slothfulness were bigger factors in his good health, but still: God bless you, Mr. Borginine. You are a role model.

2. Jerry Nelson

As if the constant, unflattering comparisons of Muppet veteran Jerry Nelson’s signature character Count Von Count to reviled NHL commissioner Gary Bettman weren’t arduous enough, not to mention the sorrow of losing Robert Bork, the colleague behind the Swedish Chef, what finally proved too much to bear was almost certainly the stress of tallying the constantly increasing number of accusers coming out of the woodwork with revelations about their sexual abuse at the hands of Nelson’s colleague, Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash (“One statutory rape! Ah ha ha! Two statutory rapes! Ah ha ha!” etc.). Nelson will live on in a sense, partly because fellow Muppet performer Matt Vogel will assume the role of the Count, but mainly, of course, because the Count is, after all, a vampire, an immortal creature of the night that cannot be slain by normal means.

1. Dick Clark

And speaking of eternal, unaging creatures, we turn to America’s Oldest (and now Deadest) Teenager, Dick Clark. Many other great contributors to popular music fell off the charts this year, of course. Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees is no longer stayin’ alive. Disco queen Donna Summer declared enough was enough and had her last dance. The Beastie Boys’ MCA was DOA. Jazz pianist Dave Brubeck is now decomposing in an innovative 0/0 time signature. The Monkees’ Davy Jones succumbed to a heart attack, thereby escaping his lifelong fear of dying an ironic drowning death and thus going to his eponymous locker. And at last, we have seen the last of Etta James. But Clark (often thought of as “the white Don Cornelius”), while never so much as lifting a musical instrument, nevertheless introduced rock and roll, payola, and the concept of a youth culture itself to America. Hate teenagers? Well, Dick Clark basically invented them. And for decades, he seemingly was one, until December 2004, when he had a stroke, aged rapidly as though he’d drunk from the wrong Grail, and made everyone so uncomfortable once a year for the next eight years that they actually somehow yearned to see more of Ryan Seacrest. Tonight, look for his ashes, contained in the plummeting ball that marks the ringing in of the new year, to explode at the stroke of midnight into a choking cloud, engulfing the entirety of Times Square, for auld lang syne.



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