The 10 Most Dead People of 2009


Among the notable deaths in 2009: the TV careers of both Jon Gosselin and Jeff Dunham, the scrupulously maintained virginity of Kevin Jonas, and the carefully constructed public heterosexual identity of Taylor Lautner. A lot of actual people died this year as well when the H1N1 virus became the most popular Mexican export since tacos. None of these were celebrities. But many celebrities did die of other causes, and as they will be more widely mourned than the average Joe, it’s fair to say they’re more dead. But who is the most dead? Read on.

10. Billy Mays

Before cocaine use was fingered as a contributor to his heart failure, confusion surrounded the death of TV pitchman Billy Mays. At first it was thought that he had incurred a fatal head injury during a bumpy airplane landing. But could it have been lethal beard poisoning via a shoe polish overdose? Was he slain by rival pitchman Vince “ShamWow!” Shlomi, who had already beaten up a hooker earlier in the year and perhaps acquired a taste for blood (we know Vince at least tasted blood; he beat her up when she bit his tongue and wouldn’t let go). In retrospect, of course Billy Mays was coked up. No one could shout like that without performance-enhancing drugs. He was like the Barry Bonds of yelling. But the shouting finally stopped, with TV remote mute-button manufacturers suddenly worrying about the future of their industry and with Bonds’ godfather and fellow baseball legend Willie Mays surely receiving hundreds of concerned phone calls from people slightly mishearing the news.

9. Ted Kennedy

2009 was a bad year to be a cast member of 1970s British sitcom Are You Being Served? (see Mollie Sugden and Wendy Richard), an ex-presidential cat (see Socks Clinton and India “Willie” Bush), or the world’s oldest member of either sex (see Henry Allingham and Gertrude Baines), though the clock is pretty much always ticking for people in that last category. It was also the worst year since 1977 to be a member of Lynyrd Skynyrd (see keyboardist Billy Powell and bassist Ean Evans). But anyone on the Wikipedia disambiguation page for “Ted Kennedy” in August 2009 must have been crapping himself: U.S. senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy and Toronto Maple Leafs hockey great Theodore “Teeder” Kennedy” died within two weeks. So which is the greater Dead Kennedy? Well, on five occasions, one of them won the Stanley Cup, a greater prize than even the President’s Trophy awarded to the team with the highest regular-season standing. The other never even won the U.S. presidency once. Advantage: Teeder.

8. David Carradine

Many fighting men went down for the count in 2009, including Brazilian jiu-jitsu founder Hélio Gracie and former heavyweight boxing champion Ingemar Johansson. And, as usual, several names were crossed off the Alive Wrestlers list, including Captain Lou Albano, Cousin Junior, Andrew “Test” Martin, “The Golden Greek” John Tolos, “Playboy” Buddy Rose, Umaga, “Tiger Mask II” Mitsuharu Misawa, Billy “Red” Lyons, Steve Doll, La Parkita, El Espectrito Jr, Waldo Von Erich, and lastly and most appropriately, “Dr. Death” Steve Williams. But most tragic of all is that martial artist and Kung Fu actor David Carradine no longer walks the Earth. In fact, he and INXS singer Michael Hutchence are very possibly practicing the rear naked choke on each other in heaven right now. You’ve heard every possible Kill Bill pun by now, so let’s just note that if the Grim Reaper is taking out washed-up actors who owe their career revival to Quentin Tarantino, his aim was surely off when he took Jett Travolta rather than his famous father, who, with the release of Old Dogs, has long-squandered the goodwill earned with Pulp Fiction.

7. Ricardo Montalbán

We bid good riddance to spree killers such as Beltway sniper John Allen Muhammad and Manson family member Susan Atkins. Of course, neither is responsible for as many deaths as Vietnam War architect Robert McNamara or Dungeons & Dragons co-creator David Arneson, the latter of whom has the blood of untold numbers of orcs and goblins on his hands. But even they pale next to the genetically engineered tyrant Khan Noonian Singh, who caused an estimated 30 million deaths worldwide during the Eugenics Wars of the late 1990s (an event understandably glossed over in the VH1 series I Love the ‘90s). “From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee!” hissed Khan—aka Ricardo Montalbán—at the ending of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. “We’ll see about that,” might be the answer of Mephistopheles, Montalbán’s occasional guest and adversary on the long-running TV series Fantasy Island. As we lay Ricardo Montalbán to rest in a coffin lined with soft Corinthian leather, we cannot predict which will prevail in their eternal struggle. We can say only this: Of all the souls we’ve ever encountered, his was the most … superhuman.

6. Bea Arthur

2009 saw the passing of not only the famous Taco Bell Chihuahua but also Chanel, a dachshund recognized as the world’s oldest dog, and Gibson, a Great Dane recognized as the world’s tallest dog. Of course, the title of world’s oldest and tallest dog was long held by Bea Arthur. Though best-remembered by younger audiences as the acid-tongued Dorothy of The Golden Girls, she came to fame as the titular character of the sitcom Maude and as the menacing Balok puppet in the Star Trek episode “The Corbomite Maneuver”. (Compare this with her Golden Girls neighbor Richard Mulligan, who started out as Sam the Eagle on The Muppet Show.) She is worst-remembered for the long-suppressed Star Wars Holiday Special, in which she performed a song-and-dance routine in the Mos Eisley cantina, standing out among Wookiees, Rodians, and Aqualish as perhaps the most imposing creature in that wretched hive of scum and villainy. So intimidating was the broad-shouldered Arthur, in fact, that she continues to inspire fear from beyond the grave, so let it also be noted here that she was also a tireless advocate for animal rights, a gay icon, and completely awesome.

5. Farrah Fawcett

It’s ironic that Marilyn Chambers and Marilyn French died within a month of each other, considering that it’s hard to tell from their names which was the adult-film star and which was the feminist writer. Certainly, neither sounds so much like an adult-film star as Oral Roberts, who was called home by God this year, fulfilling a longstanding threat by the Heavenly Father. But no one on this list was responsible for more boners than ‘70s sex symbol Farrah Fawcett (with the possible exception of Bea Arthur, but it’s hardly fair to count Bea’s own penis). Men and boys everywhere dreamed of going to bed with Farrah and would have counted the experience worthwhile even if they awoke to find themselves doused with gasoline and set aflame (as happened to Farrah’s abusive husband in the 1984 TV movie The Burning Bed). That famous image of those impossibly white teeth, blow-dried hair, and perky nipples was worshipped as a religious icon in countless dorm rooms. Now that the one-time Charlie’s Angel has become the real article, she’s seen it for herself: God personally completely wallpapered the walls of heaven with that poster in 1976, and He isn’t taking it down.

4. John Hughes

The children of the next decade won’t grow up with Soupy Sales, who made pie throwing an art form and influenced a generation of fans as diverse as Pee-wee Herman and Howard Stern. Nor will they know Les Lye, who as a key cast member of You Can’t Do That on Television was responsible for the spilling of more gooey substances than even the late Marilyn Chambers. In 2009, copyright terms of life plus 70 years began ticking on both senior executive Roy E. Disney and Mouseketeer Cheryl Holdridge. Alaina Reed Hall, known as Sesame Street’s Olivia, joined Mr. Hooper after a struggle with breast cancer (which is at least easier to explain to Big Bird than how David suffered a heart attack during a struggle with psychiatric hospital staff). But the greatest loss is the premature passing of John Hughes, who spoke to older children with a series of teen comedies and created a film franchise for younger ones by essentially remaking Straw Dogs as a slapstick comedy, recasting Macaulay Culkin in the Dustin Hoffman role. The sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebies, dickheads—they all adored John Hughes. He was a righteous dude. Don’t you forget about him.

3. Brittany Murphy

The world of letters lost many giants this year. John Updike up and died. It was ashes to ashes for Angela’s Ashes author Frank McCourt. Sci-fi writer Philip José Farmer bought the farm. And grammarian William Safire is dead—or has died; either expression is used. Yet, none of these wordsmiths ever turned a phrase quite like the daffy starlet Brittany Murphy did several years before her heartbreakingly young death regarding her ex-boyfriend Ashton Kutcher’s May-December relationship with Demi Moore: “I suppose the crux of their relationship is that to him, age doesn’t matter and to her, size doesn’t matter.” Somewhere at this moment, Dorothy Parker is high-fiving Brittany for that quip. And knowing those two, they’re sitting round a table and getting drunk as hell right now.

2. Ed McMahon

As the end of this list approaches, several remaining names deserve recognition. There’s broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite, America’s most trusted man and discoverer of the substance bearing his name. There’s radio broadcaster Paul Harvey, from whom we finally heard the rest of his story. There’s even Equalizer star Edward Woodward, now neutralized. Most obviously, there’s Patrick Swayze, People Magazine’s 2009 Sexiest Man Not Alive, who at this very moment is learning to use his ghost powers from (and being chased off a subway train by) the late Vincent Schiavelli. But this is the penultimate slot on the list, and only one name can fall second-last: Ed McMahon, the eternal second banana. A one-time pitchman of products on the boardwalk of Atlantic City—just as Billy Mays once was—McMahon represents where Mays might have gone had he stuck to OxiClean rather than oxycodone. “The Human Laugh Track” was a longtime talk-show foil for Johnny Carson and, for seven bewildering episodes in 2004, alien puppet Alf. He worked alongside Dick Clark on TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes, Jerry Lewis on his annual telethon, and MC Hammer in a Cash4Gold commercial aired during Super Bowl XLIII. With due respect to the Taco Bell Chihuahua, Chanel the dachshund, and Gibson the Great Dane, Ed McMahon was man’s best friend.

1. Michael Jackson

Film score writer Maurice Jarre wasn’t the only one decomposing this year. Brill Building songwriter Ellie Greenwich was going to the chapel and was gonna get buried. There was Les Paul (not to be confused with Les Lye), who invented the famous Gibson Les Paul electric guitar (which has nothing to do with also-deceased Laugh-In actor Henry Gibson). Seeds singer Sky Saxon and Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton are probably forming a gloriously loud garage band in heaven right now, and former Beatles and Rolling Stones manager Allen Klein is probably trying to figure out how to rip them off. Also gone: Jay Bennett, Vic Chesnutt, Jim Carroll, Dan Seals, Stephen Gately, and DJ OD—whoops, DJ AM. And if Peter and Paul had a hammer, they’d have to nail shut Mary’s coffin. But perhaps the biggest loss was that of Wham! singer George Michael. Oops, no—it was actually the host of the sports highlight TV program The George Michael Sports Machine who died. (This is as confusing as learning that Björn Borg the swimmer died this year rather than the five-time Wimbledon champion, or that the late Claude Lévi-Strauss was an anthropologist, not the inventor of blue jeans.) In that case, you might have heard something about the passing of Michael Jackson. Enough has been said about this, so let’s simply raise a glass of Jesus juice to him this New Year’s Eve. And if, at the stroke of midnight, the King of Pop should descend to earth in an alien spacecraft and emerge to sing and dance and put on the comeback performance of a lifetime in front of an amazed and delighted Times Square crowd … well, let’s say we wouldn’t put it past the ultimate showman.

5 Responses to “The 10 Most Dead People of 2009”

  1. 1 Adrienne

    Ahh. I was going to liken this mainstay to the ball dropping in Times Square, but I know better than to make ball-related comments in this forum. But having read this essential part of every run-up to New Year’s since the mid-’90s, I hereby declare that 2010 may commence as per training syllabus. My hat off to you, sir — Happy New Year.

  2. 2 Scott

    Like Adrienne said: This good. And many more deadies to you in the year to come.

  3. 3 KD

    I loved Brittany Murphy as the ‘Clueless’ cutie-pie and was dismayed when she shrank down to lollipop-headed Hollywood stick figure proportions. So sad. The crack about her ex makes me miss her even more.

  4. 4 jasmin

    man,i will miss u michael.u wont b 4getten luv u

  1. 1 Enter the mid-life (36 years) | Man vs. Clown!

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