Well, that was some year. Lots of things ended abruptly and permanently, such as Brangelina, Fox sci-fi crime drama Second Chance (after its first and only season, ironically), and, of course, American democracy. And, as always—or seemingly way moreso—many celebrity lives. As celeb after celeb died, again and again the cry was raised: “Fuck this horrible year.” Except, as much as people blamed 2016 as a personified, spree-killing annus horribilis, it’s not 2016. It’s the natural aging curve of celebrities from the apex of mass media, before the fragmentation of monoculture. In other words, for the next little while, this is just what’s going to happen to people who got famous when we all watched the same thing, between when TV started and when we all got the internet. 2017 will be even worse, and so will every year until we’ve fully put behind us the golden age of fast-food media that served billions but offered a few basic menu choices. This will play out slowly and you’ll be screeching at whatever year it is until the cast of Friends dies. After that, it’ll seem okay again. There are more celebrities now, but they’re much smaller, so it’ll be like stars winking out rather than supernovae exploding. When former American Idol contestants die, you’ll barely be sad. By the time PewDiePie dies, you won’t even blink. See? You feel better already. So, let’s get to ranking, who exactly, the most dead people are this year.
10. Alan Rickman
Among 2016’s first dead celebrities to make fans ululate in despair, Alan Rickman is particularly missed at this time of year as the villain of the greatest Christmas movie of all time, Love Actually. Rickman played a lot of great villains, such as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films, and Ronald Reagan in The Butler. And as Hans Gruber, ruthless mastermind of the Nakatomi Plaza heist in the second greatest Christmas movie of all time, Die Hard, he stole every scene he was in, thanks to his skills as the second most exceptional thief associated with luxury towers that the German race has ever produced. Rickman’s presence in not one but two great Christmas movies immeasurably improves both (in ways that never get old and won’t bother your significant other). When cold English wife Emma Thompson opens her new Joni Mitchell CD in Love Actually, you can pretend the inscription reads “Benefits of a classical education,” and when she peeks at the card from her philandering husband, you can pretend it says “Now I have a machine gun. Ho-ho-ho.” Similarly, when Rickman misquotes Plutarch in Die Hard, you can pretend he adds “To continue your emotional education,” and when he examines the note attached to the dead terrorist tied to a chair in the elevator, you can pretend it says “Sorry I’m such a grumpy bugger.” Oh, his presence also arguably improves both movies because he was a really good actor. And an attractive one, it would seem; amazingly, Rickman was ranked #34 by Empire magazine’s list of the 100 Sexiest Stars in history. No offence, but wow, really? And with respect to the late Leonard Cohen, researchers found a blend of Rickman and Jeremy Irons’ voices to be the perfect male voice. Boy, are people attracted to total creeps or what?
9. Rob Ford
Of course not. That’s why reptilian sociopath Doug Ford, like the Jim Belushi of municipal politics, shamelessly furthers his own ambitions by trading off the memory of his popular brother, infamous crack mayor and big fat party animal Rob Ford. Let’s not mince words. Rob wasn’t evil like his brother, but he was a mean, petty, ignorant, foul-mouthed bully. He was a rich man who was able to somehow paint himself as a common man through sheer crudity. He was a child of privilege who presented himself as a self-made man, although his own acumen as a private businessman was wildly overstated. He wasn’t above using his office to further the interests of his own company, and it was painfully clear he didn’t even understand what a conflict of interest was. He was fond of having his ego stroked at large rallies and prone to having his security rough up people. He conducted a startlingly dishonest war on the media for reporting the true facts about him. He was capable of shockingly inappropriate behaviour with women, though his demure Eastern European wife said little about it. A self-avowed racist, he was even prone to hobnobbing with neo-Nazis (okay, just one time, but the guy was in uniform). He was somehow capable of getting away with scandal after scandal that would end any normal political career, but make no mistake, he was grossly unsuited to wielding political power even on the municipal level, and it boggles the mind to think what might happen if someone like that ever somehow became the leader of a nation, as Rob fantasized about doing. (Can you even imagine that nightmare scenario?) No, Rob Ford was not a good man, but he was a man who nevertheless did try to do good, even if it was rooted in a need to feed his own ego—but to feed his inferiority complex rather than any kind of malignant narcissism, because he was at heart an insecure little boy who just wanted to be told, Good job, Rob. You are special. So, in that spirit, Rob, you were actually honest at the end about having cancer, when the natural assumption was you were shamelessly faking it to drop out of your race for re-election to avoid certain defeat. Good job, Rob.
8. Garry Shandling
Speaking of alcohol abuse, if you somehow haven’t had your fill of dead celebrities, throw on an early season episode of Garry Shandling’s talk-show parody The Larry Sanders Show and drink when a now-deceased person is seen or mentioned. By the time you get to season 2’s Warren Zevon/Gene Siskel/John Ritter episode, the death toll is incredible, a freaky, morbid viewing experience like watching an old WrestleMania. (Speaking of which, this is a good place to slip in a mention of some prominent names crossed off the Alive Wrestlers List: Chyna, Mr. Fuji, and—with due respect to Lou Marsh Trophy winner Penny Oleksiak, Canada’s Greatest Athlete, “Iron” Mike Sharpe.) And sadly, although costar Rip Torn should by all rights have predeceased him—probably violently—it’s worse now that Garry Shandling himself has passed away. Shandling’s satire of the ‘90s talk-show wars was like a blend of two shows it greatly influenced, crossing 30 Rock’s inside-show-biz perspective with The Office’s mockumentary cringiness. But let’s not hold it against Shandling that he made Ricky Gervais’s career possible. He also gave a big career boost to Jon Stewart, who, before playing a voice of sanity on the Bush-era Daily Show, played the guest host and potential successor threatening to push Sanders out of the big chair in the show’s All About Eve-esque final seasons (with Sanders attempting to undermine the new kid by slipping him C-list guests), and if he’s not going to be relevant in these turbulent times, he could do worse than to jump back in there for a Netflix sequel.
7. Muhammad Ali
We skipped over a no-longer-extant name from one of those early WrestleManias, though it’s a mere referee rather than a wrestler: main-event special guest referee Muhammad Ali. He was known a little for his boxing as well, and with respect to the great pugilists who died in 2016, such as Kimbo Slice, Gordie Howe, and the guy who trained Apollo Creed, Ali may have been a hair above them all. In fact, save for adult film star Amber Rayne, no one who died this year was more skilled with their fists than Ali. Ali was for a considerable length of time probably the most famous person on Earth. To try to explain his level of fame, Muhammad Ali was kind of like the Elvis of the sporting world, except with a personality. Imagine if The Rock were to cross over from wrestling to movie stardom to then become president (hey, he’s mused about it, and stranger things have happened). Next to Muhammad Ali, he’s still a chump. Not only was Muhammad Ali the greatest, he was also the second greatest. Everyone else is fighting for third place. There’s a golden plaque traveling to the outer cosmos attached to the space probe Voyager 1 with a picture of Muhammad Ali as the archetypal example of a human, and if that isn’t true, it ought to be.
6. Zsa Zsa Gabor
Three notorious man-eaters met their end in 2016: a great white shark that killed an Australian surfer, a tiger that killed three Indian villagers, and Zsa Zsa Gabor. You can tell a lot about Zsa Zsa by the other women in the lives of her many husbands. One of said husbands invented the Barbie and Chatty Cathy dolls; another was great-grandfather of the equally lifelike if less articulate Paris Hilton. Yet another went on to have a decade-long affair with Anna Nicole Smith. And yet another went on to briefly marry Zsa Zsa’s older sister, Magda, after which he quite understandably began drinking heavily and killed himself. She also had a husband in common with her great rival in serial monogamy, Elizabeth Taylor, the above-mentioned Conrad Hilton. (This makes him sort of the Ian McKellen of his time: He made all-too-brief appearances in two of the great Hollywood franchises, alternately playing the part of a lord of the rings and an ex-man.) But, enough of her husbands, as Zsa Zsa herself frequently said. Zsa Zsa was more than a Larry Sanders Show C-list guest, and she was far more than, say, a mere Eastern European beauty queen turned wife to a billionaire hotelier and stepmother to his son, Barron (though she was all those things, at one time). She was also, for instance, someone who once escaped life under a Nazi regime. And she was, to many in 2016, an aspirational figure who lived out the American dream—as an immigrant, no less!—of bitch-slapping a traffic cop without getting summarily executed and having evidence planted on her. If John Lennon were alive, he’d have to add a verse to “Imagine” about that.
5. Fidel Castro
Remembered as the Cuban revolutionary leader whose face doesn’t adorn T-shirts and dorm-room posters, Fidel Castro is thus barely remembered by the younger set at all, except maybe as the guy who stole the trillion dollar bill from Mr. Burns. But this guy was a big deal. On one hand, he was an authoritarian strongman who clamped down on free speech, denied America’s greatness and allied himself with Russia, and brought the world closer to nuclear war. On the other, he championed universal education and health care for his people. So we can all agree half that stuff sounds pretty good, anyway. He also made an enemy of the CIA, which no one in his right mind wants to do. Where the CIA successfully assassinated that other great Caribbean revolutionary—Bob Marley—Castro constantly survived the intelligence agency’s attempts to remove him: the exploding cigar, the booby-trapped conch shell, the tunnel entrance painted onto the side of a desert cliff. Yet, he hung on for nearly six decades after the 1959 coup by which he seized power, the most infamous show of force against an unpopular leader named Bautista¹ until Roughned Odor’s brawl-inciting sucker punch in the final Rangers/Jays game of the 2016 season. Speaking of baseball, Castro was supposedly no slouch as a pitcher, although he was obviously far more effective as a left-wing political figure, making him sort of a Mirror Universe Curt Schilling. Could he have been a more successful video game developer than Curt Schilling, in another life? Yes, but that’s true of everyone on this list.
4. Nancy Reagan
Particularly after the Zsa Zsa Gabor entry, it feels wrong to define the only other woman² on this list by her spouse(s), but not only is this inevitable for a First Lady, it’s also how Nancy Reagan defined herself. Following her “meet-cute” with future president Ronald Reagan, in which she enlisted his help to avoid blacklisting due to the Red Scare, the then-actress selflessly decided to put her undistinguished onscreen career on hold in favour of helping him chase political power. (The scurrilous rumors, publicized in Kitty Kelley’s unauthorized biography, of her much more distinguished offscreen career as the reigning blowjob queen of Hollywood shall not be dignified here.) As his First Lady, she was technically his Second Lady because of his previous marriage to fellow actress Jane Wyman (ironically, a registered Republican who left him over political differences when he was still a Democrat, which is still only the second-biggest marital mistake by someone named Wyman, thanks to Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman somehow becoming his own step-grandfather-in-law without the aid of time travel). Nevertheless, she hearkens back to an era when the First Lady was actually the wife of the president rather than some other female blood relation, although Ronald often called her “Mommy” for some gross reason. Known to the public (and a chortling Kitty Kelley) for the phrase “Just Say No,” Nancy Reagan was also known for her tireless advocacy for stem-cell research following her husband’s diagnosis for Alzheimer’s. A cynic might wonder why she deserves so much praise for only doing good on an issue that personally affected her, but then again, she personally refused to help close friend Rock Hudson get potentially life-saving treatment when he was dying of AIDS, so she’s above reproach, really.
3. Gene Wilder
Whether it’s due to the human brain’s natural inclination toward pattern seeking or because Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the psychiatrist who proposed the five stages of grief, was one of a set of identical triplets, death is said to follow a rule of threes. (So is comedy, which is no coincidence to those who regard the two as the same thing.) Three times five equals fifteen stages of grief, which sounds about right to describe the collective mourning of a trio of fey, puckish imps. There was Gene Wilder, the eccentric fudge-packer who ruled the Oompa-Loompas. And there was Prince, the tiny elfin sex god. And there was David Bowie, the bisexual alien rock star and goblin king. But let’s get back to Wilder. Oh, the guy who played Condescending Wonka died? you say. Please tell me more. First, stop being a jackass. And second, sure. For starters, he was more than a wearisome internet meme. He also starred in Blazing Saddles, about titans of industry enriching themselves at the expense of small-town Americans by exploiting their racism. And The Producers, about a fraudulent scheme involving a theatrical “love letter to Hitler.” And Young Frankenstein, about the creation of an imbecilic monster with poor impulse control. While these old-fashioned and far-fetched premises may seem to have little to offer the American public in 2016, they had some pretty good dick and fart jokes.
And now, dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to talk about the artist called Prince—or, as he is once again properly called, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince. The flamboyantly coy androgyne known by an unpronounceable symbol came to an unspeakably early end, dying at a mere 57 years of age when it was assumed he’d rule in funky purple splendor over his court of session musicians and vaults of musical treasure at Paisley Park for centuries. He was as insanely competitive as he was ludicrously gifted (and not just at music; The Chappelle Show understated his gifts as a basketball player and trash-talker, if anything, and he regarded himself as the Serena Williams of ping-pong). He slept with—and feuded with—Madonna, because of course they did. He fist-fought Sinéad O’Connor. He dismissed George Michael as “ain’t shit.”³ He refused Michael Jackson’s offer to sing “Bad” as a duet because of the line “Your butt is mine.” Prince demanded that the world know that he owned our asses. So he did, and yet, beneficent ruler that he was, he returned the gift, shaking that skinny little thing for the world like the sexy motherfucker that he was.
And now we come to the final entry, the deadest person of the year. And look, a lot of people died this year. Narrowing it down to the deadest was no easy task. Each of the nine listed above battled stiff competition to make it into the top ten. But which stiff could make it into the final spot? John Glenn? Glen Frey? Glenn from The Walking Dead? Or is it someone else that you’ve already guessed? In the end, the choice was clear.
With apologies to David Bowie, the one dead person this year who truly gave people the permission to be first weird and then tedious was Harambe, the dead gorilla turned dead horse. After his death in a wild gunfight at the Cincinnati Zoo, the late silverback became comedy gold to an internet still mourning a certain supercilious chocolatier. The instantly tiresome meme became so popular that the zoo was forced to delete its social media (RIP to the Most Dead Twitter Account of 2016), and Harambe at one point actually polled ahead of Green party candidate Jill Stein as a write-in candidate in the US presidential election.
Well, hold on. That’s kind of interesting. Could Harambe actually have become president, had he lived? At first, obviously the answer is no, he was just a gorilla. But the rules merely state that the president must be a natural-born citizen over the age of 35. Let’s take that in parts. First, he was definitely natural-born. Despite the conspiracies that doubtlessly would have sprung up about his African ancestry, he was born in Brownsville, Texas, so despite his funny name, he was not only American but a red-stater at that. But was Harambe a citizen? Whereas citizenship and political participation were once exclusive to white males in the US, the franchise has been gradually extended, and now that the movement to grant legal personhood to non-human great apes is gaining steam, who knows? It would have been up to the courts. Lastly, Harambe was barely 17, an ideal age to be gawked at as a Miss Teen USA contestant, but far too young to be US president, right? But that’s in human years. As gorilla life expectancy is only 35 to 40 years, compared to humanity’s threescore and ten, they get two-for-one credit. By Inauguration Day, Harambe would have been nearly 17 years and 8 months old in human years, or 35 years and four months in gorilla years. So, yes, it’s possible that Harambe could have become president, had he not been assassinated.
The question is, in a year when Western democracy seemed so fundamentally broken as to allow “Boaty McBoatface” to win a poll to name a new UK research vessel, would enough dummies have been rushing to back a brutish, surly, low-browed, semi-intelligent primate accustomed to putting down challengers to his alpha status using only monosyllabic bluster, primitive displays of dominance, and sheer sexual aggression? We may never know.
²And this wouldn’t even be a problem if Carrie Fisher hadn’t suffered a heart attack on a transatlantic flight just before the end of 2016 (the lousy prequel to the death of her mother, Debbie Reynolds, the following day). You knew Fisher would be carried off an airplane someday; you just figured she’d be screaming and spitting. Her death caused a great disturbance in the Force and an even greater disturbance in this top-ten ranking.
³George Michael, for his part, lived long enough to dismiss Prince as “ain’t alive” before he went-went to his eternal reward on December 25, the “Last Christmas” headlines his final gift to us.
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I stopped at the day care a couple of days ago and ran into my neighbor, who was loading his son into his car. “How are you?” he asked as I got out of my car and yelped as an arc of electricity jumped from the door to my finger.
“Ow! Goddamnit!” I quipped.
“Heh,” he said. “Winter. Hey, did you know your headlight’s out?”
Well, I was floored. I’d been so smug. I judge people who drive around with one headlight burned out. Get your life together, I’d always mentally sneered. You look like a damn motorcycle.
I got my son and put him in the car. He noticed the burned-out light quickly, since we often like to play a game where I switch on my high-beams in the eyes of oncoming drivers. “Don’t worry,” I assured him, “we can make it home on one headlight,” which was the start of two consecutive days with that Wallflowers song stuck in my head.
That aside, I found that I actually kind of liked driving around with only one headlight. I think it made me look crazy. I imagined that other cars gave me more room, so as to avoid whatever the unpredictable lunatic might do next. It was better than urinating in your pants on public transit, which a lot of things are, but it was both similar and better, by virtue of not taking place on public transit.
First, if you were that guy, wouldn’t you go right out and get glasses even if you had perfect vision in the remaining eye, just to protect it? A monocle, at least? I would.
And second, this is why you have two eyes and why car-makers give you two headlights, so that you have a backup. But assuming both were installed at the same time, they’d tend to stop working around the same time. (I’m still talking about both headlights and eyes here, which reminds me that for years, my wife has been boasting about her “more than perfect” 20:10 vision only to discover that she now needs glasses. I was pretty smug about this for a while, but now she lies in bed and holds her phone at arm’s length to read it, jamming it into the side of my body.)
The point is that I’m getting increasingly paranoid, and Jakob Dylan’s continued assurances are no longer working. So I want to take care of it post-haste.
My blind wife said that since I need an oil change anyway, I could just get them to put a new headlight for about a ten-dollar service fee. But on the other hand, my neighbor had said that it was easy to do yourself, and you could look at a YouTube video to see how to do it, which costs less than ten dollars. And it’s not like I’m not handy with cars. A few weeks ago, I changed the winter tires and my left wrist almost doesn’t hurt anymore from torquing the lug nuts. And just the other day, I cleaned all the windows with a squeegee at the gas station. And I have to open the hood of the car to put some winter windshield washer fluid in there anyway, so while I’m in there, how much harder can it be to swap out a simple electrical automotive part?
Well, quite a bit harder, according to some forum posts I read. “Well, this is quite a bit harder than you’d think,” said some posts. “Why would they make it this way? It almost seems like they want you to come into the dealership so they can charge you an exorbitant amount of money to perform what should be a simple task.” Other posters complained about their hands getting all scratched up in the process of changing a headlamp. “Ow,” commented one poster. “Goddamnit.”
That’s not good, I thought, because my hands are my fortune. I used a few of my million-dollar fingers to type in “YouTube” and some car-related words and found the video my neighbor had promised. I watched in increasing dismay as the guy in the video went through a simple process of unlocking a complex sequence of clips and bolts, removing the bumper, and bleeding profusely. But what made up my mind conclusively was that the video started during broad daylight, and then midway through, there was a jump cut, and then it picked up again at dusk. Now, the video itself only lasted about five minutes, but I suspect there was some Hollywood magic taking place there.
So, here’s my pro tip: If you watch a how-to video, and it goes from day to night over the course of it, hire a pro.
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Forty two. The answer, according to Douglas Adams, to life, the universe, and everything. And also the answer to the question “What age do stupid losers not get to live to?” Because now that I’m there, let me tell you, I’ve buried a lot of losers. The list just keeps getting longer and longer, the same way their lives don’t. Sad!
Let’s start by giving out a little credit here. Big Boss Man, 41 is a pretty venerable age for a professional wrestler, especially a Southern fried three hundred pounder. Remember the time your wife left the room for a minute and, in the brief time it took her to return, you just sat there on the couch and died? Classic rib. And remember that angle where you crashed the funeral of The Big Show’s father and tore around the cemetery with the casket chained to the back of the Bluesmobile? Your own funeral was just like that, and you can’t tell me otherwise.
And you, Nate Dogg, you almost made it to six in Dogg years, so don’t feel that bad. Losing to Young MC on a rap-themed edition of The Weakest Link, though? That you should feel bad about.
Patrice O’Neal, you shouldn’t feel that bad, either. You almost made it to 42, just like you almost became famous. Given your almost-breakout performance as a Comedy Central roaster, the easy joke is to say that you’re now roasting in hell, but the fact is that your final and best-known TV appearance was with Charlie Sheen, Mike Tyson, and Dog the Bounty Hunter, so yes, that is its own special kind of eternal punishment.
And you, Kirsty MacColl, you were more than just a tremendous voice. You were, in the words of Shane MacGowan in “Fairytale of New York,” an old slut on junk, lying there almost dead on a drip in that bed (much like Terri Schaivo, who also died at 41 but at least far outlived then-governor Jeb Bush’s presidential hopes). Hmm. I got a little off track there. Let’s try again: You, Kirsty MacColl, you were more than just a tremendous voice. Why, Morrissey, of all people, thought you had a great rack, paying tribute to your “crackin’ bust” in the liner notes of your greatest hits album. Of course, in the end, old Moz wasn’t the one who actually motorboated you.
Wow, that was a boner killer. And speaking of which, there’s you, Andrew Koenig. I assume that, much like Playboy Playmate Julie McCullough, your “Boner” nickname was too sexually provocative for Kirk Cameron. After you did go on to play an apparently decent Joker in a critically acclaimed Batman fan film. Isn’t it sad that both you (dim-witted teenage sitcom sidekick turned comic book character) and Kirk Cameron (born-again Christian turned straight-to-video star) basically add up to one Willie “Bibleman” Aames? Yes, it’s sad, for everyone.
What about you, computer science pioneer Alan Turing, you nerd? What is the Turing test, anyway? Something about encountering a fatal error involving an apple? If the Turing test involves living to 42, you definitely fail.
And how about about that Northern Calloway, who was the beloved character David in the Sesame Street neighborhood and a not-so-beloved character in the suburbs of Nashville, where he went on a glass-smashing rampage clad only in a Superman T-shirt after viciously beating a woman with an iron rod? Of course, he wasn’t so beloved on Sesame Street either, after biting a musical director, stalking a teenage castmate and proposing to her at her high school, and going even crazier after they wouldn’t let him fake-marry Maria on the show. After his well-overdue firing, rather than give a frank accounting of his absence as had been done with the late Mr. Hooper, Sesame Street literally explained his disappearance by sending him off to “live on a farm” like a dead pet. The book Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street says, however, that he died of a massive heart attack during a struggle with psychiatric hospital staff. Well, how about that Northern Calloway! I’m actually coming around a bit on this madman.
You know who no one cares about now, though? You, Louis XIII of France and Charles XI of Sweden. Kings? Once. Now? Chumps. But you, Richard I of England, aka “Lionheart,” at least Jean-Claude Van Damme cares about you. Enough to lift your nickname for one of his series of identical films about doing the splits and kicking guys in the face, at least. But that just makes me wish you’d been nicknamed Richard the Timecop or Richard the Cyborg or Richard the Universal Soldier. Of course, your nickname in Occitan, which you actually spoke instead of English, was Oc e No, (“Yes and No”), supposedly because of your reputation for terseness but really because it’s the answer to the question “Were you really any good as a king?”
I bet you never saw your death coming, Jeff Healey. All the chicken wire in the world can’t protect you from … heart cancer? That’s a thing? Well, at least you did something original, you glorified cover band hack. Did they hire you to play at the Double Deuce because you could grunt out turds in both blues and jazz styles? Hey, did you even know you had a mullet?
Hey, Jane Austen, it is a truth universally acknowledged that you wrote the part of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies that was super-boring. That movie bombed hard, too. Maybe it should have contained a rotting corpse who people were actually happy to see dead, like—oh, I don’t know—you.
Ugh. I’m getting bored. You people all bore me. You, Mata Hari, Margeaux Hemingway, Paula Yates, Eric Carr, Neal Cassady, Louis Riel, and Anne of Cleves—you’re all just so stupid and dead and boring. And you’re never going to get any more interesting, and you’re never going to get to be 42. Or will you? Here’s an interesting fact: The number 42 is considered unlucky in Japanese culture because the numerals sound like “unto death.” So I guess you losers do get to be 42, in a way. A bad way!
Wow, you suck!
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Many things came to an end in 2015. Our impression of British prime minister David Cameron as someone who probably hasn’t fucked a dead pig, for example. NBC anchorman Brian Williams’ reputation as the most trusted man in America, followed by that of Subway pitchman Jared Fogle. And U2 singer Bono’s ability to play guitar, following a bicycle accident (so the news isn’t all bad). And, as usual, many, many lives. But it just so happens that there’s a big difference between dead and the most dead.
10. Leonard Nimoy
“Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most … human,” James Kirk once said, viciously roasting his dead best friend with stinging insult comedy. Known for appearing on Mission: Impossible, In Search of…, and the Canadian five-dollar bill, Leonard Nimoy was of course best known as Mr. Spock, the pointed-eared hobgoblin science officer on Star Trek. He became an icon for this role, and contributed much to Star Trek lore, inventing the Vulcan salute, which he adapted from a Jewish priestly blessing, as well as the Vulcan Death Grip, which he adapted from a forceful teenage masturbatory technique. Generations of children who grew up on the reruns loved him like a cold and distant father, and if you understandably got a little emotional over his death, just remember, he wouldn’t have wanted that. Instead, let’s hope he placed his katra in Zachary Quinto before he passed on, and get to work on building a Genesis Device to revive him.
9. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper
As usual, many names were crossed off the Alive Wrestlers List, notably including Verne Gagne, Nick Bockwinkel, “The Other Nature Boy” Buddy Landel, and “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. But don’t worry too much about that last one, wrestling fans; as you know, a “Dusty Finish” is an ending that seems definitive, only to then be reversed on a technicality. So let’s talk about “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, aka “Hot Rod,” now aka “Room Temperature Rod.” Roddy Piper was no role model (unless you’re a big, muscular fake Scotsman, like hockey defenceman Douglas Murray or Shrek). He was wildly politically incorrect even in the nakedly racist milieu of 1980s professional wrestling, such as when he painted the right side of his body black like Frank Gorshin in the Star Trek episode “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” to wrestle the biracial “Bad News” Brown. (The bad news for Piper was that the paint wouldn’t come off for a month.) On the other hand, he played the foil in feuds with guys who turned out to be self-centered, disloyal creeps (Hulk Hogan), alleged murderers (Jimmy Snuka), or Juggalos (Greg “The Hammer” Valentine). Just when you think you have all the answers, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper changed the questions, not to mention his vital status.
8. Taylor Negron
Perhaps the reason more people didn’t talk about Taylor Negron that they were scared to say his name in case it was a racial slur. But they should have. He was one of the great henchmen of all time in the underrated The Last Boy Scout as Milo, who looked kind of like a fey Anton Chigurh and was in his own way just as creepy. In addition to being a familiar face during the 1980s stand-up comedy boom, his cousin is the singer from Three Dog Night, he was a frequent guest on The Dating Game even though he was openly gay, and he was so nice that he got along with everyone in Hollywood, even Ben Stiller!
7. Ann Mara/Anne Meara (tie)
Speaking of Ben Stiller, he probably got a lot of mistaken letters of condolence after New York Giants matriarch Ann Mara died, and let’s hope he held on to them for just three months, until the death of his mother, comedian Anne Meara, whom you probably best and incorrectly remember as Seinfeld‘s Estelle Costanza. Maybe it’s a little confusing to lose Ann Mara and Anne Meara so close together—as well as BB King and Ben E. King—but it’s sort of neat and tidy, isn’t it? Like, don’t you sort of hope Dylan McDermott and Dermot Mulroney die in the same car? Or that they crash into Bill Pullman and Bill Paxton? Or that they run over Guy Fieri and the guy from Smash Mouth as they lie down in the middle of the road in some kind of suicide pact? Of course you do.
6. Yogi Berra
The sports world used to be rich in great nicknames. Just to pick from those who left us in 2015, there’s Moses “The Chairman of the Boards” Malone, Darryl “Chocolate Thunder” Dawkins, and Frank “Win One For The” Gifford. But baseball great Lawrence Peter Berra completely lost his given name and was known universally as “Yogi”, a nickname he acquired (and this is true) for his habit of sitting with arms and legs crossed, pouting after losing ball games. And like many mystics (and like Coach from Cheers, who was basically the same guy) he was known for his nonsensical, strangely wise sayings, such as his famous tautology “It ain’t over till it’s over.” “Boy, I hope I never see my name up there,” he once said while watching an in memoriam tribute to dead ball players. “Always go to other people’s funerals,” he advised. “Otherwise they won’t go to yours.” But when asked what he’d like his own epitaph to be, he replied simply, “That’s easy: It’s over.”
5. Robert Z’Dar
Honestly, Robert Z’Dar’s appearance on this list is really just an excuse to print his picture. Just look at this guy. You have to be one weird-looking guy not to have the name “Z’Dar” be the weirdest looking thing on your driver’s license. A sufferer of cherubism—aka Rumer Willis Disease—Z’Dar looked like the model for Family Guy’s Quagmire, or maybe a bloated Steven Seagal, which is really saying something when you think about it.
With the possible exception of John Wayne Gacy, it’s always depressing when a beloved children’s entertainer dies. For instance, the very idea of getting the news about Raffi’s inevitable passing is so terrifying that sometimes you’re afraid to answer the bananaphone when it rings late at night. Although Sharon, Lois & Bram were never the same after Lois Lilienstein retired from touring—arguably, they were finished when food allergy and anaphylaxis-related hysteria forced them to stop performing that “Peanut Butter” song in schools—they were a great influence on generations of schoolchildren, not least in how casually they paved a path for mainstream acceptance of polyamorous lifestyles. Probably there were some tense times where an angry Bram shouted “How about you skinnamarinky don’t, for once, Sharon?!” but for the most part, things seemed pretty hunky-dory among the triad.
3. John Nash
If you never got around to watching A Beautiful Mind in theaters, 2015 was your last chance to see it—splattered all over the windshield of a taxi.
2. Christopher Lee
Pilot. Champion fencer. Heavy metal singer. Englishman.
Just one man can claim to be all of these things, and that’s Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson. But before his death, so too could Sir Christopher Lee. Lee had a fascinating career, onscreen and off. The stories he must have had. Imagine how the star of Hammer’s Dracula films must have bonded with Martin Freeman on the set of The Hobbit, the former spinning tales of starring in a British series about a Godless, hideous, fang-toothed monster, and the latter talking about doing exactly the same thing when he worked with Ricky Gervais. Perhaps best known as the Sith Lord Count Dooku from Star Wars, Lee was part of the great generation of British thespians that also produced Alec “Obi Wan Kenobi” Guinness and Peter “Grand Moff Tarkin” Cushing. Among his other villainous roles were Scaramanga, James Bond’s titular nemesis from The Man with the Golden Gun, as well as a member of the band on the run on the cover of Paul McCartney and Wings’ Band on the Run. You may also remember Lee as the white wizard Saruman of The Lord of the Rings, during the filming of which Lee set Peter Jackson straight about what kind of noise his character should make when fatally stabbed in the back because Lee, a veteran of the Winter War, SAS officer during WWII, and post-war Nazi hunter, knew exactly what that sounds like. If you wanted to know what it sounded like when somebody’s head got chopped off, well, Lee knew that too, having been there for the last public execution by guillotine in France. Lee packed more life into his 93 years than just about anyone, and now that he’s gone, he’s more dead than just about anyone. Just about.
1. Scott Weiland
It all came to an end for one faux-grunge frontman this year. But let’s forget about Bush singer Gavin Rossdale’s marriage; no doubt his wife would like to, after his years of philandering and openly admitting to not liking her music. Speaking of shitty husbands, there’s Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland, who was promptly lionized to a surprising degree, although give Weiland credit for predicting this posthumous adulation way back on the first album; he is smelling like a rose precisely because he’s dead and bloated. History will eventually judge STP accurately, as a competent content generator of grunge-like music, up there with the guys who did Raven’s WCW entrance theme. But where STP were originally written off as fakes and copycats and lamestain cob nobblers, even Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell implicitly endorsed Weiland as a Seattle OG with a rewritten version of his tribute to dead Mother Love Bone singer Andrew Wood, “Say Hello 2 Heaven” (which officially makes that song the grunge “Candle in the Wind”). It took his ex-wife to remind people that, beyond merely being a charming scamp who’d occasionally get so high he’d accidentally sing an entire concert through a megaphone, Weiland actually really was such a disaster as a husband, father, and human being that maybe Art Alexakis should have been the one writing songs about him. Once dismissed as an Eddie Vedder clone, methadone for Ten addicts, Weiland was really more of another Layne Staley, consuming the heroin of ten addicts, as well as coke, and booze, and MDA, and the patience of everyone around him. The tragic thing about Weiland isn’t that he died so young. It’s that he so vastly outlived his life expectancy.
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What to say about this piece of work? Fuck if I don’t find myself without the right words. Me, as gifted a golden throat as any of you cocksuckers, being loose from religion, are ever likely to hear. What can I say about the dearly departed? I mean really? Shut up. It’s coming to me. He was the black sheep. The permanent pariah. He asked no quarter of the bosses and none was given. He learned no lessons. He acknowledged no mistakes. He was as stubborn a Mick as ever stumbled out of the Northeast parishes to take a patrolman’s shield. He brooked no authority, he did what he wanted to do and he said what he wanted to say and, in the end, he gave you the clearances. He was natural police. And I don’t say that about many people, even when they’re here on the felt. I don’t give that one up unless it happens to be true. Natural po-lice. But Christ, what an asshole. And I’m not talking about the ordinary gaping orifice that all of us possess. I mean an all-encompassing, all-consuming, out-of-proportion-to-every-other-facet-of-his-humanity chasm. If I may quote Shakespeare, he was the last barman poet. I see America drinking the fabulous cocktails I make. Americans getting stinky on something I stir or shake. The sex on the beach. The schnapps made from peach. The velvet hammer. The Alabama slammer. I make things with juice and froth. The pink squirrel. The three-toed sloth. I make drinks so sweet and snazzy. The iced tea. The kamakazi. The orgasm. The death spasm. The Singapore sling. The dingaling. America, you’ve just been devoted to every flavor I got. But if you want to get loaded, why don’t you just order a shot? Bar is open.
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Happy National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day! Here, as usual, is my annual National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day mix of seasonal music. It kicks off with Sammy Kaye’s “Goodbye, Mama (I’m Off to Yokohama)” and frankly, gets kind of racist from there. I’ll put it this way: A lot of Uncle Sam’s dirty little foes are going to get slapped.
Fortunately, we now live in an era of peace without fear of sneak attacks by foreign enemies, so in this spirit of universal concord and collegiality, I’m making this a Christmas mix instead. On the one hand, this one is a little late, as I’d figured on throwing up the download link around the first of December. On the other hand, it’s extremely early, as I’ve had it finished for months and it’s been on heavy rotation in my house for weeks. In fact, the first half of it was done way back in the spring.
(I said all this last year, but when I make a mix, I keep it to 80 minutes or less, since this is what fits on a CD, and the trick to making a mixed CD, I finally realized after the technology became obsolete, is to sequence it like you’re dealing with an even more obsolete technology—vinyl—and pretend you’re making a double album. That means coming up with four “sides” and an opener and a closer for each one. So in this case, this means that if you want to turn off the music after the tenth song, know that you’re staying true to my vision and that it’s a good place to stop. Just like a good place to stop reading this post would have been before you saw an opening parenthesis. Sorry about that. Wow, this was boring!)
Anyway, the point is that my 2015 Christmas mix has been done for ages. In fact, it’s been done so long that I’ve actually completed my 2016 Christmas mix. But you don’t get to hear it. You get this one.
- Los Campesinos! – When Christmas Comes
- Younghusband – I Don’t Intend to Spend Christmas Without You
- Cafeine – Love Disease
- Dum Dum Girls – On Christmas
- Owl Stretching – F@#k You It’s Christmas
- Rosie Thomas – Why Can’t It Be Christmastime All Year
- The Both – Nothing Left to Do (Let’s Make This Christmas Blue)
- Slow Club – Christmas TV
- Cake – The Winter
- Grandaddy and Band of Horses – Hang an Ornament
- The Rocket Summer – Christmas Madness
- The Hopefuls – Holiday
- Liz Phair – Ho Ho Ho
- Toad the Wet Sprocket – It Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas
- Dent May – I’ll Be Stoned for Christmas
- Mulled – A Perfect Christmas
- Coldplay – Violet Hill
- Damien Jurado and Kyle Zantos – Kalla Hus
- Dean & Britta with Sonic Boom – He’s Coming Home
- Serenades – Come Home
- Hey Rosetta! – Carry Me Home
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Wife: Can we pick up those dirty old beanbag chairs off the side of the road? My students will love them.
Wife: You never give me anything I want, and you crush all my dreams.
Wife: I can’t in good conscience let my students sit on those dirty old beanbag chairs. Can we put them back?
Me: Even though it’s a half hour out of our way and I’ll probably get a dumping fine, may get shot by the homeowner, and certainly be humiliated?
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Forty one years, you chumps.
Forty one years, and I just keep on keeping on, outliving creeps and jerks and stupid idiots like an unstoppable juggernaut of continued existence. All these losers just barely entered their fifth decade, looked around and said “Nope, not for me. Forty years is where I stop.” Quitters.
I suppose some might argue it’s better to burn out than fade away. Of course, you might disagree, astronaut Gus Grissom and cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov, what with you both having died screaming while consumed by flames in grisly accidents during the early days of the space race. What a sick burn.
That actually reminds me of the terrible tragedy that took place when future Republican strategist Lee Atwater was five years old: As Lee looked on helplessly, his younger brother Joe was scalded to death when he pulled a deep fryer full of oil onto himself. The terrible tragedy, of course, is that this happened to Joe and not you, Lee, since you lived 35 more years and squandered almost every one of them using racist and homophobic dirty tricks to get Republicans elected to high office. While you may have lacked a heart, Lee, you certainly had a brain, and happily, where you had a brain, you had an incurable brain tumor.
Speaking of weird cranial growths, there’s outsider recording artist Wesley Willis, who developed an enormous forehead callus from his habit of headbutting people by way of greeting. His music, which can be described charitably as music, and which can be slightly more accurately described as a fusion of electronic keyboards and paranoid schizophrenia, included such titles as “I Whipped Spiderman’s Ass,” “I Whipped Batman’s Ass,” and “I Whipped Superman’s Ass.” You know what song is missing from your discography, though, Wesley? “I Whipped Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia’s Ass,” because you didn’t.
And speaking of outsider recording artists, there’s you, Falco. Well, it’s not fair to dismiss you as a one-hit wonder when, in addition to your number one single “Rock Me Amadeus,” you had an even bigger hit: a fatal head-on collision between your Mitsubishi Pajero and a speeding bus in the Dominican Republic. Hey, did you know that pajero is colloquially translated as “wanker” or “tosser” in Latin American Spanish? Well, isn’t that just adding insult to injury, you wanker or tosser.
Everyone focuses on how Paul Walker’s death in a car crash eerily mirrored his role in the Fast and the Furious street-racing franchise, but I think it nicely bookends the very appropriate way he started his career: in a very special two-part episode of Highway to Heaven. For the sake of further symmetry, since Paul Walker died while driving, I hope Minnie Driver dies while walking. I feel like we could all milk some good “why do we drive on parkways but park on driveways?”-type bits out of that.
It’s kind of weird that we don’t really know exactly how author Jack London died or why we shall see Edgar Allan Poe nevermore. It’s kind of ironic that while London was the one who wrote about wolves, it’s Poe, who according to one theory, may have died of rabies. I don’t believe it, if only because the laws of the universe would’ve demanded that London be bricked up in a catacomb, or sliced up by a giant pendulum, or pecked to death by a raven.
How about you, jazz legend John Coltrane? Did you die of embarrassment because you somehow knew you’d end up being name checked by Bono on the critically panned Rattle and Hum? Or was it to avoid having to appear as a long-lost uncle on The Cosby Show? Or was it liver cancer? It was liver cancer.
Jim Reeves, it’s hard to believe you died at 40. Because you looked at least 50, you square. Why, after all the gospel songs you sang praising Him, did God send you—and I’m not making this up—the same flying instructor as the pilot of Patsy Cline’s airplane? I bet it’s because He looked at your 1940s-looking mug, figured you missed going down in the same plane crash as Glenn Miller two decades earlier in some accounting error, and decided, “He’ll have to go.”
Hey, Family Feud host Ray Combs, how’s it hanging? Oh right, sorry. Moving on.
Hey, Chris Benoit, how’s it hanging? Benoit was, in addition to being a champion professional wrestler, also pretty good at family feuding, what with his fatally strangling his wife and seven-year-old son before hanging himself from his home gym. Forty years old is actually a pretty good run for a professional wrestler, Chris, and what’s more impressive was that your brain was 85 years old, thanks to years of self-inflicted brain trauma caused by moronically using a diving headbutt from the top rope as your finishing move. Not that I condone your switch late in life to fatal strangulation as your new finishing move, but whatever.
Let’s move on to someone who was merely gasping for airtime. You were a groundbreaking figure in Saturday Night Live history, Danitra Vance: the first black female regular cast member, the first lesbian, and the first who couldn’t read. But you were on a season Lorne Michaels doesn’t like to talk about so it was basically like you never existed. And now you literally doesn’t exist anymore, which is fine with Lorne. You’re like the Chris Benoit of SNL: almost completely written out of the organization’s official history.
Ray Sharkey—now you were a guy who had “ruthless killer” written all over you. For one thing, your name was “Ray,” as in “death ray,” and “Sharkey,” as in “shark-like.” For another, you were most famous for your portrayal of mob boss Sonny Steelgrave in the television show Wiseguy. And for yet another, you knowingly had sex with one hundred women after contracting HIV from intravenous drug use. Why couldn’t you just kill yourself the quick way with an overdose like Jean Seberg and Lenny Bruce, you piece of human garbage?
That’s great, it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, an aeroplane! Lenny Bruce is not afraid! Nope, Lenny Bruce, you were definitely not at all afraid of accidentally overdosing on morphine, because that’s exactly what you did. “There’s nothing sadder than an aging hipster,” as a policeman supposedly quoted you at the scene of your death. But you know what ages even worse than hipsters, Lenny Bruce? Your comedy.
Hey, “Ravishing” Rick Rude, line up next to Chris Penn there. Take off your shirt. You too, Penn. Look at each other. You both died of heart failure. Think about that. Think of all the work you did to look like a chiseled Adonis instead of a fat, out-of-shape Santa Monica sweathog like Chris Penn, Rude. Was it worth it? Of course not. That’s why I don’t do it, and look at that: I’ve outlived you both.
Know who else died of heart failure? “Pistol” Pete Maravich. For such an accurate long-range basketball shooter, you sure were way off in the nickname department, but I guess “Congenital Heart Defect” Pete Maravich doesn’t exactly capture the imagination.
Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try. No hell below us. No John Lennon to eternally fry. Look, I don’t endorse murder, but if you absolutely have to kill a Beatle and hate phonies as every good Catcher in the Rye fan does, “Pistol” John Lennon was the absolute correct choice. The worst thing about your death, John, was that it made you a martyr, when you were a huge phony; after all, you sang about divesting oneself of one’s possessions while living in a palace in the Manhattan sky and sang about giving peace a chance while putting the “beat” in “Beatles” by beating your wives. And because you died young, revisionist history paints a picture of Saint John as being the true creative genius in the Beatles and carrying a dead-weight hack like Paul McCartney, yet it’s a stone cold fact that Paul wrote the very best solo “John Lennon” song, “Let Me Roll It” from Wings’ Band on the Run album.
Wait. That’s not the worst thing about John Lennon’s death. The worst thing is that Yoko Ono was right there. Were you only packing a derringer or something, Mark David Chapman? I could have avoided listening to the Jackie Kennedy of Utter Nonsense for the last 35 years, and now I’m going to have to live well into my eighties to outlive her.
Well, you know what? I’m up for it, and I’m going to do exactly that. I’m already halfway there, and I’m only getting older. Look out, chumps!
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Well, there goes another annus horribilis, which is Latin for “horrible asshole.” And speaking of which, the Rob Ford mayoralty finally came to a merciful end, after that fat cancer on the city of Toronto was literally diagnosed with fat cancer. Jailbird plutocrat Conrad Black was stripped of the Order of Canada this year, the greatest indignity since Mad Magazine satirized him as “Conrad Blecch.” (Mad didn’t let his wife, Barbara Schlemiel, off any easier.) And it’s ironic that Bill Cosby’s most recent stand-up special was named Far from Finished; it might as well have been named Rape Allegations Will Never End My Career. But, hey, at least these horrible assholes are still alive, which is more than can be said for the following people, the very deadest people who died in 2014.
10. Robin Williams
Robin Williams was a master of improvisation. He shorted out a bomb with a paper clip. He plugged a sulfuric acid leak with chocolate. He made a rocket out of a flare gun and parachuted to freedom. And all of that happened in just the pilot episode of Mork from Ork. He was an improvisational genius, one who hated guns and loved science. And he was pretty funny too. Probably the funniest thing Williams ever did was show up on the set of Happy Days in a karate gi to fight the Fonz. “Wait,” you’re probably saying. “Wasn’t that Tom Hanks?” Well, we’re not talking about an episode of the show. Williams used to do a lot of cocaine. But all that manic energy masked some real djinns, er, demons. Williams battled depression. He may have never gotten over his idol Jonathan Winters’ death; no man should ever have to bury his child. And suddenly, he was gone, leaving behind only a suicide note seemingly cowritten by a stereotypical gay guy, a stereotypical black guy, a Baptist preacher, and John Wayne. But every comic everywhere who goes onstage, know this: Robin Williams is watching over you. And he’s stealing all your best jokes.
9. James Garner
We all remember James Garner as likable and charming. But was he really? For instance, in the pilot episode of The Rockford Files, he flat-out calls a thug “queer” to provoke him. And anyone claiming part Cherokee ancestry, as he did, is a blowhard at best and a douchebag at worst, right? And did you know he did cocaine with John Belushi? Is it at least possible that the secret of his supposed likability was a matter of cleverly positioning himself to stand in contrast onscreen with, at various points, the smarmy David Spade, insane anti-Semite Mel Gibson, and black hole of charisma Ryan Gosling? The answer to this is no, it is not possible. James Garner learned to act by watching Henry Fonda, but he must not have been as good an actor as Fonda, because while Fonda could, in contrast to his nice-guy public image, be cold, aloof, and angry offscreen, Garner just had to go ahead and be the most likable, charming son of a gun who ever lived all the dang time.
8. Ariel Sharon
Great Sid Caesar’s ghost! A lot of folks went to Jewish heaven this year (notably including Sid Caesar). There was also schlock merchant Menahem Golan, who, along with Glen A. Larson, essentially produced much of the 1980s. Saul Zaentz couldn’t dance, couldn’t successfully sue John Fogerty for ripping off John Fogerty (though he tried), and couldn’t secure the necessary rights to make The Hobbit trilogy before The Lord of the Rings, but he did give us One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus, and The English Patient. And there’s Eli Wallach, the “ugly” from The Good, the Bad and Ugly, who should have died three different times during the filming of that movie, first accidentally drinking a bottle of acid, then getting caught on a runaway horse with his hands tied behind his back, and finally nearly getting decapitated by a train while lying on the track; instead, he lived to be 98. But it’s hard to imagine a world without Israel’s “Little Mermaid,” former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who died this year at the age of 85. But it was really more like 78, to be honest, as he’d been in a coma for the last eight years. When he was last sensible, Chris Brown’s “Run It!” was riding in the #2 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100, with the young singer’s image still squeaky clean. He never found out about Matisyahu shaving off his beard and shedding his yarmulke, or about Lil’ Wayne going into and coming out of his own coma. Ariel Sharon would have been frankly disgusted by the state of modern hip-hop, and you know it.
7. Harold Ramis
Well, well, well. It seems the Ghostbuster has become the ghost. Harold Ramis’ death left fans of the spook-hunting franchise heartbusted (except those who always preferred Tracy the Gorilla). Even in the late stages of autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, bustin’ made Ramis feel good; perhaps it was the only thing that did. But Ramis was more than a mere Ghostbuster; he was also an acclaimed writer and director. With Groundhog Day, Ramis gave us arguably the finest film in the “Bill Murray failing to murder a rodent” genre (the others of course being Caddyshack and Garfield: The Movie, with an honorable mention to EPA agent Walter Peck in the TV version of Ghostbusters). Without Ramis around to direct, however, it’s starting to look like his planned adaptation of A Confederacy of Dunces starring John Belushi and Richard Pryor is doomed. But maybe Dan Aykroyd will find a way to squeeze a tribute to Ramis into his long-hyped Ghostbusters sequel, the same way Slimer was the ghost of Belushi. On the other hand, given Aykroyd only wanted to make the first movie as an excuse to receive ghost fellatio, maybe it’s best to leave well enough alone.
6. Jan Hooks
It’s heaven! With! Johnnn Belushi! Chris Farley! Phil Harrrtman! Gilllda Radner! Featuring! Charles Rocket! Danitra Vance!
When ancient Saturday Night Live announcer Don Pardo finally died this year, it was appealing to imagine him bellowing these words in his now-even-more-quavery ghost voice. But it was far too soon to add Jan Hooks to this all-star lineup. Who would’ve thought that bulimic heroin addict Laraine Newman would age better than Hooks and finally outlive her? And that Victoria Jackson is alive when Hooks is dead is proof either that there is no God or that there is one, depending on whom you ask. Hooks was, as Jon Lovitz put it, like a female Phil Hartman; they weren’t flashy, but they anchored the show, and they could do anything and do it well. It’s just that Hartman is almost famous for being underrated, perhaps due to his tragic murder (forget about killing Hitler; if you ever get a time machine, go back and introduce the future Brynn Hartman to Dennis Miller first), while Hooks was just plain underrated. On the other hand, while both went on to voice Simpsons characters, Hooks also became a cast member of Designing Women (one of two to die this year) and, unless you’re cancer, you do not mess with a Sugarbaker woman.
5. Philip Seymour Hoffman
Philip Seymour Hoffman was perhaps the greatest three-named actor who never took a shot at a president. Now he’ll never get to. When Hoffman was discovered in his apartment’s bathroom, he left a syringe in his arm and many questions. What would this mean for the Hunger Games franchise? The Capote franchise? The Master franchise? The Charlie Wilson’s War franchise? No one took Hoffman’s untimely death harder than sensitive rapper Drake, who was downright pissed off that Rolling Stone gave away his scheduled cover story to the late actor. But the real tragedy was with Hoffman gone, we lost the perfect guy to play the late Jay Bennett in a film about the making of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. (Yes, Jay Bennett himself actually appeared in the documentary about the making of that album, but Hoffman would have been better.) No wait, the real tragedy is that with Hoffman gone, the title of “greatest living actor” now belongs, by default, to Shia LaBoeuf.
4. Joan Rivers
One of Johnny Carson’s favorite stand-up comedians and Tonight Show guest hosts passed on this year. But enough about David Brenner. Can we talk about Johnny’s former favorite, Joan Rivers? One of the most intriguing questions about the Johnny Carson sex tape that hit the market this year was whether it would show Johnny screwing Joan out of appearing on the network for decades after she took her own short-lived talk show. Forget guest hosting ever again; Johnny isn’t even going to let Joan join the heavenly host. But she persevered. She went from the blacklist to the red carpet. She was fearless—almost; the only thing she feared was not working, and so she never stopped working. It always seemed like Joan Rivers would be around forever. And it still does seem that way, since plastic doesn’t decompose.
3. The Ultimate Warrior
“Every man’s heart one day beats its final beat. His lungs breathe their final breath,” the Ultimate Warrior once said. Perhaps he meant to say “in one day,” because he died of a heart attack the day after he said that. As usual, many names were crossed off the Alive Wrestlers List, including Mabel, Viscera, and Big Daddy V, to name just a few. There’s also Mae Young, George Scott, Sean O’Haire, and Ox Baker, who once memorably appeared on The Price Is Right and killed Bob Barker in a fit of rage after losing with his signature heart punch. (You can tell the replacement Bob Barker apart from the original because of his white hair.) But the former WWF champion stands above them all, the longstanding rumors of his death now finally not exaggerated. Was he really “the ultimate warrior”? No, that title belongs to someone more like WWII hero “Wild” Bill Guarnere, who was described by commanding officer Dick Winters with reverence as a “natural killer” and, after being shot off a stolen motorcycle by a German sniper, was court-martialed and demoted for putting black shoe polish all over his leg cast, rolling down his pant leg, and walking out of the hospital in extreme pain to rejoin his band of brothers in Easy Company. But he was certainly the ultimate maniac—he did legally change his name to “Warrior,” embark on a short-lived career as a crazed, far right-wing commentator, and urge Hulk Hogan in a (thankfully pre-9/11) WrestleMania VI promo to murder two pilots, hijack a plane, and crash it into SkyDome—and he in fact now rejoins his tag-team partner in the Ultimate Maniacs, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, in the great ring in the sky.
2. James Avery
Many civil rights giants of the small screen died in the past year. There’s Designing Women‘s Meshach Taylor, widely remembered as a groundbreaking gay character on a network sitcom. (He wasn’t actually one, but he’s widely remembered as one anyway.) There’s everyone’s favorite Huxtable grandmother, Maya Angelou, who was deeply involved with the civil rights struggle of the 1960s and was so emblematic of the black female experience that when she passed on, the cosmos had to delete its whitest male, blues guitarist Johnny Winter, simply to maintain its balance. And then there’s James Avery, better known to everyone but Don Everly’s children as Uncle Phil. (“Bye, bye, Phil,” crowed Don Everly, clinking glasses with fellow big winner Olivia de Havilland after their hated siblings died.) Sure, Will Smith’s rapidly not-so-fresh uncle may have lived in a fancy mansion in Bel Air, but whenever someone made the mistake of calling him a rich fat cat, the black Cliff Huxtable would get self-righteous and huffily announce, “I marched with Dr. King!” And now he’s with him again. Smell you later, Uncle Phil.
1. Fred Phelps
And speaking of civil rights, there’s Fred Phelps, believe it or not. The Westboro Baptist Church founder going from celebrated civil rights lawyer to gay-baiting, Jew-hating piece of human garbage was almost as big a heel turn as Jim Phelps turning out to be the villain in the film version of Mission Impossible. It’s tempting to think part of the reason Olympic swimming hero Michael Fred Phelps II (and—Jesus—you see why he doesn’t go by his full name) reportedly dated a trans woman this year was to prove definitively that he was no relation to this homophobic scumbag. (The rest of the reason? Well, why not?) And it would have been tempting to protest Fred Phelps’ funeral, the same way he and his followers protested the funerals of soldiers and school shooting victims, but that would have been giving him the attention he craved. He didn’t get a funeral anyway; his family booted him out of his own church and declined to hold one. But what Fred Phelps really deserved was to have his ashes divided up and anonymously flushed down the urinals of every gay bar in America. That and maybe eternal damnation for good measure.
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On the twelfth year of Christmas compilations, your true love (yours truly) gave to you the same thing that he did the previous eleven years. I’m a little later than usual, although I already threw the link out there a couple of weeks ago on Twitter, where I spend most of my social media time these days. But for your convenience and my reference, here it is, laid out more fully.
As usual, this is a CD-length compilation because you have to stop somewhere, and if you’re setting an arbitrary limit, it might as well be at a length that doesn’t exceed the limit of what can be burned to physical media. Physical media isn’t quite dead yet, not as long as my wife lacks an auxiliary input in her car stereo and my in-laws play all their music through the little CD player in their kitchen. Burning this to CD is also a good way to stay warm on a cold winter night as well.
As an aside, it’s not until the CD is on the way out that I think I’ve truly figured out how to sequence a mixed CD. The secret is to imagine you’re making a double LP with four sides. So, on the off chance you listen to this as a digital playlist or as a burned CD instead of pressing it to vinyl, you may want to imagine that side A is tracks 1 to 7, side B is tracks 8 to 14, side C is tracks 15 to 19, and side D is tracks 20 to 25. That’s how I conceived it, anyway, and it should make sense that way. If you want to just listen to the first fourteen tracks as a single album and then finish the rest of it later, that is a compiler-approved method of consumption that should satisfy everyone. If you want to listen to the whole thing at once, it should not prove tedious! It is meant to work that way too!
Anyway, here are tracks 1 to 7, 8 to 14, 15 to 19, and 20 to 25:
- Julian Casablancas – I Wish It Was Christmas Today
- Kate Nash – I Hate You This Christmas
- Jonathan Coulton and John Roderick – 2600
- !!! – And Anyway It’s Christmas
- Gruff Rhys – Post-Apocalypse Christmas
- The Boy Least Likely To – The First Snowflake
- Palace Songs (Bonnie Prince Billy) – Christmastime in the Mountains
- Saint Etienne – Come On Christmas
- The Killers ft. Ryan Pardey – I Feel It In My Bones
- Piney Gir – Christmas Time
- Sea Wolf – Winter’s Heir
- Tracey Thorn – In the Cold, Cold Night
- Telstar Ponies – I Still Believe in Christmas Trees
- Emmy the Great and Tim Wheeler – (Don’t Call Me) Mrs. Christmas
- My Morning Jacket – Santa Claus Is Back in Town
- The Raveonettes – Christmas Ghosts
- Summer Fiction – Christmas Eve for Two
- The Be Good Tanyas – Rain and Snow
- Nick Lowe – Christmas at the Airport
- Glasvegas – Careful What You Wish For
- Wye Oak – Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day
- Frightened Rabbit – Cheap Gold
- Sufjan Stevens – Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
- The Pearlfishers – Winter Roads
- Julie Crochetière – It Won’t Be Christmas (Till You’re Here)
Here is the download link. You will find that listening to the music itself is even more satisfying than merely reading a list of the songs’ titles. And here is a link to all twelve of my holiday compilations from this and previous years. Happy holidays, lucky listener.
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