The 10 Most Dead People of 2017

22Dec17

After the carnage of 2016 claimed so many beloved celebrities, it was a good bet that 2017 would be even worse. And it was! This year dealt mortal blows not just to people but to the very foundational principles of western civilization, such as democracy, objective truth, and patriarchal power structures. Okay, that last one is hanging on, but it was pretty satisfying to see entertainment and politics undergo a sort of reverse Rapture with the sudden vanishing of scores of creepy old perverts. But of course, lots of people did die too. And not just any people, but famous people, whose deaths just matter more. People like the lovable patriarch of TV’s Huxtable family (Earle Hyman, who played grandfather Russell Huxtable, not the vicious serial rapist who played his son). People like the “Raging Bull,” Jake LaMotta, famed for knocking out opponents in 30 professional boxing matches and seven marriages. People like wrestler/murderer Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, who was infamously hit by “Rowdy” Roddy Piper in the back of the head with a coconut and who infamously hit his girlfriend, Nancy Argentino, in the back of the head with a Pennsylvania highway. On one hand, wow, we’re onto something with demolishing the patriarchy. Kill all men! But on the other, we’ll miss them when they’re gone, because, well, because we knew who they were. The larger you loom in life, the bigger a hole you leave in death. The greater your fame was, the more keenly felt is your absence. You are, quite simply, deader than ordinary non-celebrity garbage. But who, this year, is the deadest of all?

10. Don Rickles

DonRicklesWith apologies to the late Zarley Zalapski, Don Rickles was the last word in taking shots at hockey pucks. And as the acknowledged master of insult comedy, nothing would have pleased him more than being eulogized in the form of a roast. Therefore, it’s not happening here. Let not a bad word be said about this prince of a man. Moving on.

9. Roger Ailes

RogerAilesWell now, this guy, he was a real skunk. No name was more synonymous with “fake news”—apart, perhaps, from actor Joe Bologna—than the mastermind behind Fox News. That’s “fake news” not in the co-opted “true but unflattering reporting” sense of the term, but in the sense of wild, fantastic bullshit. And Ailes was the Ray Kroc of bullshit, serving a steady diet of ignorance, hate, and fear to millions for decades, from the War on Christmas to the Seth Rich murder conspiracy to birtherism. Ailes gave Donald Trump first a platform for raving, racist nonsense, later an unabashed propaganda network, and, during his campaign, debate-prep advice, no doubt personally coaching the candidate in how to make a woman uncomfortable by looming threateningly over her and breathing hotly, wetly and noisily down her neck. Broadcasting Two Minutes Hate 24 hours a day, no one has done more to split America in half than Ailes since the Confederacy. Perhaps that’s why Fox News personalities protested the pulling down of monuments to those traitors; they recognized kindred spirits. Ailes built an empire on raging against elites, yet this loathsome bastard child of Charles Foster Kane and Jabba the Hutt was personally worth $100 million, treated female employees like a medieval lord exercising the right of droit du seigneur, and suffered from hemophilia. Thank god for the last bit, as it contributed to his death after a fall in his bathroom resulted in a subdural hematoma—a fitting end for a monster who slammed America’s head against a toilet until it died of brain damage.

8. Chuck Berry

ChuckBerry

Although he was a beloved American icon who played at presidential inaugurations and White House command performances, Chuck Berry had a dark side. He was surly, he was violent, and he had a serious drinking problem. Not alcohol, of course—he swore that off after getting sick on whiskey as a teen—he had an insatiable craving for urine. Although, that sounds presidential in itself; Berry operated a sophisticated surveillance apparatus to capture women and girls using the washroom in his Missouri restaurant, and his own personal pee tape sounds much like the one allegedly being kept to blackmail fellow teetotaler Donald Trump, except with a better beat; on the other hand, Berry actually went to prison for his tax evasion and statutory rape, so perhaps the similarities end there. Nevertheless, “Bo Piddley” was an inspiration to generations of musicians as diverse as R. Kelly, Ricky Martin and fiddler Ashley MacIsaac, proving there was much more to “Johnny Pee Goode” beyond his constant faking of jellyfish stings; the rock and roll icon was also a pioneer in the genre of scat. Indeed, his appetite for poo play was so voracious that at age 90, one almost hopes he was still getting groupies to empty their colostomy bags into his mouth.

7. Bill Pullman

BillPullmanWhat a career Bill Pullman had. From early films such as the psychological thriller Brain Dead (alongside actor Bill Paxton), Pullman went on to become the first actor to be killed by a Terminator, Predator, and Xenomorph and Hollywood’s go-to guy for playing brothers of lead characters named Wyatt. (See Weird Science and Tombstone—no, actually see them; they’re great movies.) An old friend of filmmaker James Cameron from their days working together on a martini ranch, the two worked together on the film Titanic and later went on an documentary expedition to the actual Titanic. (Pullman and Cameron also went on a trip together when a disgruntled crew member slipped PCP into their soup during filming on the blockbuster.) It’s fitting that Pullman should succumb to human frailty so close together with another frequent collaborator, Powers Boothe; the two were on opposite sides in both the Hatfield/McCoy feud and the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Pullman had personal experience with the assassin’s bullet, as well; he went to the same high school as Lee Harvey Oswald and was on the scene the day JFK was assassinated. What was Pullman’s involvement? Hard to say, but isn’t it an interesting coincidence that he died just before the unsealing of the official files?

6. Monty Hall

MontyHall

Here’s the famous probability puzzle known as the Monty Hall Problem: Suppose you are on a game show and are given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is 96-year-old former Let’s Make a Deal host Monty Hall, who is in very poor health after a recent heart attack; behind the others are goats. You pick a door, say number 1, and the host (say, Billy Bush; he’s not doing anything better these days), who knows what’s behind the doors, opens another door, say number 3, which has a goat. He then says to you, “Do you want to pick door number 2?” While you deliberate whether it’s to your advantage to switch your choice, Monty Hall exists in a state of being simultaneously both dead and alive.

5. Tom Petty

TomPettyAny time you heard one of his classic hits, Tom Petty evoked strong memories, such as the first time you ever saw a 500-year-old corpse miraculously mummified by its arid mountain climate. However, despite—or perhaps because of—his dessicated appearance, Petty seemed younger than his 66 years, so his death came as a blow. (Petty was actually a year younger than unsettling-looking former teen idol David Cassidy, if you want to compare the merits of plastic surgery versus sleeping in a smoker full of applewood chips as a means of preservation.) Even crueler than Petty’s premature demise, of course, is that when 76-year-old Bob Dylan goes, Jeff Lynne is going to have to hear over and over about how sad it is that all the Travelling Wilburys are gone. It’s kind of like how, after Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell was added on to the hod rod death toll, people mourned that Eddie Vedder was the only major remaining grunge singer, when—hello—Courtney Love is still right here. Also, how crazy is it that Cornell’s pal and one-time Stone Temple Pilots replacement frontman Chester Bennington got what was coming in the end seven years younger than the infamously troubled Scott Weiland? Anyway, the point is that Petty died too young—not as young as, say, Malcolm Young of AC/DC or George Young of the Easybeats, both of whom died as young as one can, but he won’t come around here no more, and ain’t that a shame?

4. Fats Domino

FatsDominoHere’s another heartbreaker: losing the beloved artist behind Richie Cunningham’s post-coital anthem, “Blueberry Hill.” But isn’t it kind of amazing that a guy nicknamed “Fats”—he really was named Domino; he was dubbed “Fats” after fellow pianists Fats Waller and Fats Pichon, but also because he ate like a pig—lived to be 89? Admit it; you thought Fats Domino was already dead. And why wouldn’t you? Fats Waller died at 39. Fatty Arbuckle died at 46. And Fat Albert? Well, he is a cartoon, but he’s morbidly obese and spends a lot of time putting his mouth on an old radiator he found in a junkyard, so you do the math. His secret? Not really being that fat. As he explained in his early signature hit single, “The Fat Man,” “They call me the fat man ’cause I weigh 200 pounds.” (For reference, the average weight of an American man in 2017 was 195.7 pounds.) So he wasn’t really fat, just a little chubby. And speaking of which: Chubby Checker? How was that allowed to happen? It’s outrageous gimmick infringement. Was this normal? Were obscure regional labels abounding with names like Tubby Backgammon, Blubbery Chess, and Avoirdupois Acey-Deucey? It’s taking advantage of the man’s gentle, genial nature. No way would a mean son of a bitch like Jerry Lee Lewis have tolerated that shit. That chubby little bastard would have had a buck knife sticking out of his fat back.

3. Jerry Lewis

JerryLewisOn that note, how did the Killer coexist with this guy, who people found barely tolerable as it was? Fine, the French supposedly loved him (although that seems like something they came up with to troll Americans), but Jerry Lee Lewis seems the type to hate most people generally, the French specifically, and Jerry Lewis murderously. Why did Jerry Lee Lewis (real name!) let the former Joseph Levitch (impostor!) run around calling himself “Jerry Lewis”? Maybe he just decided, “Hey, I’m the Killer. And be they assassins or serial killers, killers go by three names,” and that was that. Anyway, Lewis’s punchably obnoxious shtick was just exhaustingly zany. Silly faces and voices: We get it. He was a braying, screeching, rubber-faced man-child on-screen, except when hosting the annual muscular dystrophy telethon, when he was maudlin and mawkish. Off-screen, he was a miserable jerk, rude to fans and prone to offensive comments about gay and disabled people. He was a big influence on some of today’s comic minds, such as Adam Carolla, Two and a Half Men co-creator Lee Aronsohn, and T.J. Miller, with his classic “women aren’t funny” bit. Half the reason his former partner Dean Martin’s drunk act was so convincing was that you couldn’t conceivably be around the excruciating Lewis without turning to the bottle to cope.

2. Charles Manson

CharlesManson

One of rock music’s first big plagiarism cases took place after the Beach Boys got carried away turning Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” into “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” which got them a slap on the wrist but evidently taught them nothing too serious can come of ripping off a violent former reform school boy named Charles, because they did it again just five years later. And they were right! The next time it happened, Dennis Wilson beat the living daylights out of the complainant and made him cry like a baby in front of everyone. Then the Beach Boys went back to happily suing each other for their rest of their career. Meanwhile Dennis’ erstwhile pal grew so disenchanted with the music industry that he gave up his show-biz dreams, marking his retirement by having his small but devoted fan base go to the former pad of Dennis’ pal, record producer Terry Melcher, and slaughter everyone in sight. But it didn’t have to be that way. Let’s compare Charles Manson to the actual worst person ever to write a Beach Boys song, Mike Love. In terms of songwriting, both display a kind of “Hitler’s watercolors” competence. Mike’s voice is infamously thin and nasal; Manson had more of a Cat Stevens thing going, plus he could play guitar. As for mental stability, it takes a megalomaniac to think Mike Love is the most important Beach Boy and should own the band’s name. Plus, ever see his unhinged Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction rant? It’s a push. Here’s where Manson really pulls out in front: First, he had a magnificent head of hair, whereas the only thing keeping Mike Love from covering his baldness with a MAGA cap is that he has too much ego to wear one without his own name or that of his band. Second, no bad songs about transcendental meditation; in fact, Manson once objected so much to Hare Krishna chanting that another inmate set him on fire. Third, charisma as a frontman: Charles Manson is absolutely unassailable on this point, and you can’t argue with that.

1. Hugh Hefner

HughHefner

Publishing magnate Hugh Hefner famously lived a life of leisure in a big mansion perpetually at the height of 1980-style opulence and and refused to put on pants. The late John “Higgins” Hillerman would have set his doberman pinschers on him in an instant. The Playboy founder was a complex figure. The whole enterprise smacks of sexism, yet he also proclaimed himself a feminist and advocated for women’s reproductive rights (which wasn’t totally selfless; it’s easier to get women to have sex if they don’t have to worry about getting pregnant). He also fought racism. He gave Black comic Dick Gregory his big break and funded his efforts to recover the bodies of three murdered civil rights workers in Mississippi. (On the other hand, he also let good pal Bill Cosby do a little freelance bartending at the Playboy Mansion, where he did his famous Spanish Fly routine with at least a dozen bunnies.) Hef also inspired the 1960s Batman series with a theme party he threw in 1965; thus, he’s also responsible for dooming Adam West to be typecast as Batman forever (unlike Val Kilmer, who played the role only once, in Batman Forever). Contrary to what you might expect of a key figure in the sexual revolution, Hef was a virgin until 22; later in life, his orgies basically consisted of his watching porn and jerking off while Playmates cavorted around him, simulating lesbian lovemaking. (Which master of horror terrified the most people with his grisly resurrections of the dead? The late zombie film auteur George A. Romero, or the pharmacist who prescribed a geriatric Hugh Hefner’s boner pills?) Although Hefner owed his empire to Marilyn Monroe, whose nude photos he published in the first issue of Playboy, he never actually met her in life. Not that she was able to avoid him entirely; he bought the burial plot next to hers to spend eternity together. Creepy, huh? At least it’s not as bad as entrepreneur Richard Poncher, who bought the crypt above Marilyn’s from Joe DiMaggio during their 1954 divorce and had himself buried upside down. Ugh, men.



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