The 10 Most Dead People of 2019

30Dec19

Like most years, lots of people died in 2019. Here’s the 10 very deadest. Bill Buckner was supposed to be on this list, but he just missed it.

10. Rutger Hauer

Rutger Hauer

Every actor craves a meaty death scene, but few get a speech so memorable it becomes the first line of their obituary. The lines by which Rutger Hauer would be remembered were long obvious: “You and me are going on a car ride to hell … you’re riding shotgun!” (from 2011’s Hobo with a Shotgun). Hauer is arguably even more famous for Blade Runner, a film about origami adapted from Philip K. Dick’s book about a cop who hunts robots, RoboCop. In the original text, titular hero Rick Deckard points out to his replicant nemesis Roy Batty that he has mistaken him for his actual creator, Jackson Roydeckard, causing his head to explode in a shower of sparks. Hauer improved things significantly in the film with an improvised monologue of eloquent nonsense. By interesting coincidence, the neo-fascist dystopia on the brink of ecological collapse depicted in Blade Runner took place in this very year of 2019. That makes Batty’s final words the film quote that best doubles as a fitting epitaph for our times by an actor who died this year, save for one: Peter Fonda’s final words of the Baby Boomer counterculture classic road movie Easy Rider: “We blew it.”

9. “Mean” Gene Okerlund

Gene Okerlund
As usual, many names were crossed off the Alive Sports Entertainers List this year—Harley Race, King Kong Bundy, Pedro Morales, Moondog Rex, “The Destroyer” Dick Beyer, “Fake Razor” Rick Bognar, “Terrible” Ted Lindsay—but none was more feared than that of Gene Okerlund. He was a sort they don’t make anymore: a tough, no-nonsense journalist who took no guff from coked-up orange egomaniacs. They called him “Mean” Gene because of anyone backstage—Hogan, Andre, McMahon himself—the one guy you didn’t want to cross was Okerlund. It wasn’t what Gene would do to you. It was what he’d say. Cruel, hurtful, self-esteem-destroying things. It’s a fact that Charles Wright changed his gimmick so many times in a futile attempt to hide in plain sight from Gene. Some say Paul Orndorff’s bad arm grew withered because of nerve damage, but others swear it’s because Gene once sneered at it. The only one Gene wasn’t mean to was his wife, Jeanne. Is it weird she had the same name as him? No one who knew him ever dared say so. You didn’t like how Gene treated you, you just took it out on Todd Pettengill. You didn’t have a better choice, and besides, he deserved it. Anyway, Gene had the ability to zero right in on what you hated about yourself, and if there wasn’t anything, there soon would be.

8. Peter Tork

Peter Tork
Similarly, the music industry lost a lot of great nicknames in 2019. There’s Daryl Dragon, dubbed “The Captain” by Beach Boy Mike Love (on a roll after nicknaming his best friend Charles Manson “The Wizard”) as part of a scheme to get everyone around him to wear hats to normalize his own attempts to hide his premature baldness. There’s Leon Redbone (equally phallic birth name: Dickran Gobalian), best known for his theme to Mr. Belvedere, an absurdist comedy infamous for ending each episode by having its main character sit on his testicles so hard that he died. There’s “Ginger” Baker, so-called for the way people acted around him, walking on eggshells to avoid his infamously volatile temper. (You’ve got to be some kind of jerk to be known as “the difficult one” in a band with a cokehead who once threw his own son out a window in a fit of rage, probably.) And of course, there’s Peter “Tork” Thorkelson. Let’s face it, “Tork” isn’t the most inspired nickname, but everybody liked the “cute but dumb” Monkee, so let’s just put his picture here. Sure, why not.

7. Franco Columbu

Franco Columbu
If you’re looking for the class of 2019’s best inarticulate sidekick to provide the muscle in a beloved 1970s film, well, you’re looking for Peter “Chewbacca” Mayhew, of course. But runner-up is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s little buddy in Pumping Iron, Franco Columbu, who made such a career out of being second best, he should have been called Dave Franco Columbu. Not only did Arnold use him as a frequent supporting player in his films, but he only won his first Mr. Olympia title the year after Arnold retired and his first controversial Mr. Olympia title the year after Arnold’s controversial one-year comeback (when the guys who got robbed by Arnold’s win skipped the competition). He finished fifth in the 1977 World’s Strongest Man championship after withdrawing from the competition when he dislocated his knee carrying a refrigerator (although he received a million dollars in compensation, while the guy who came first got only a deferred payment of $20,000, so you could argue he actually won). He was even a licensed chiropractor, which is like runner-up to being a doctor.

6. Doris Day

Doris Day
If we lost a true entertainment double threat in 2019, it was surely actor Danny Aiello, who not only appeared in Madonna’s video for “Papa Don’t Preach” but also recorded an answer song, “Papa Wants the Best for You.” Well, either him or Doris Day, one of the top recording artists and box office stars in the 1950s and 1960s. She transitioned from film to television after her third husband died, when she discovered all their money had been squandered and that he had signed her up for The Doris Day Show, which is mostly notable for its constant, drastic retooling, including writing out her children without explanation in the fourth season and turning her into a swinging single lady. (In real life, her only child was music producer Terry Melcher, the intended target of Charles Manson and Mike Love in the Tate-LaBianca murders.) She is also notable as holder of the America’s Sweetheart title belt between Debbie Reynolds and Sandra Dee, part of an unbroken lineage stretching from inaugural champion Mary Pickford to current title-holder Margot Robbie.

5. Bob Einstein

Bob Einstein
Bob Einstein seems like a good candidate for the Secretly Not Canadian club, a group of luminaries that Canadians mistakenly embrace as being one of their own that includes names such as Ernie “Mr. Dressup” Coombs, Neko Case, and Andrea Martin, due to his regular appearances on the Canadian sketch show Bizarre and the fact that many of his harnesses for his stunts as the daredevil Super Dave Osborne were stated as being “genuine Saskatchewan sealskin bindings” (a joke included to meet CanCon requirements). Nevertheless, like Blade Runner’s Roy Batty, Einstein was born in Los Angeles and was a kind of replicant; not only was his brother also a famous comedian, Albert Brooks (who changed his name for obvious reasons), but so was his father, Harry Einstein, who was so famous as a radio comedy character called Parkyakarkus that he unsuccessfully tried to legally change his name to that. (Had he been successful, there’s no good reason that the son couldn’t have simply remained Albert Parkyakarkus.) Though Einstein enjoyed a long career in comedy that began with writing for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour alongside Steve Martin and saw him gain acclaim more recently for his roles as Marty Funkhouser in Curb Your Enthusiasm and Larry Middleman in Arrested Development, it was the Super Dave stuntman character that made him iconic. And although his health had evidently been declining, with him sounding a bit hoarse in recent appearances, it’s still a shame to see him succumb to cancer rather than, say, being smashed flat by a piledriver, run over with a steamroller, or being utterly destroyed on a cellular level by runaway tumors.

4. Ric Ocasek

Ric Ocasek
Was Ric Ocasek the first big MTV star to die of what might be considered old age? (Before you argue with him being called an “MTV star,” yes, The Cars had been around since the ‘70s, but they had one of the first videos that used computer graphics with the groundbreaking “You Might Think,” and it was during the filming of the “Drive” video that Ocasek met supermodel and inexplicable future wife Paulina Porizkova, thus becoming infamous as a sort of new wave Lyle Lovett.) Anyway, was he? Musicians who came to prominence in the music video age have obviously died young (from drugs), and we lost Michael Jackson and Prince when they were past their prime but still too young (turned out that was drugs too), but Ocasek straight up died of natural causes, according to the coroner’s report. You might think Ocasek was of a similar age to his MTV contemporaries, just uglier, but he was actually secretly old. If he hadn’t been such a late bloomer, his musical contemporaries should have been Joe Cocker, Diana Ross, and Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys, all of whom were slightly younger than him. (Aside: Dennis Wilson may have been the only man to punch both Mike Love and his BFF Charles Manson in the face. Truly, an American hero.) Anyway, Ric Ocasek was actually a couple of months older than Rudy Giuliani. Yikes. Anyway, losing Ocasek is a sobering milestone for Generation X, which is now firmly entrenched in middle age and starting to watch its heroes get old and die. Don’t like that? Well, guess who’s next. Yep, Debbie Harry, who’s only one year his junior and has a recording career that started in the mid ‘60s, much like Neil Young, who lives up to his name compared to her because she’s actually older. Unlike Ocasek, she concealed her age through being really hot instead of really not, but deal with it: She’s old, and she’s next. Sic transit gloria Blondie.

3. Robert Evans

Robert Evans
Though you might assume the title of his memoir, The Kid Stays in the Picture, refers to one of his own hard-bitten pronouncements, he was in fact the kid referred to; the title quotes studio exec Darryl Zanuck defending Evans against fellow actors demanding he be removed from the cast of The Sun Also Rises. Nonetheless, Evans quickly figured out that the kid actually should get out of the pictures and become a studio exec, whereupon he began a meteoric rise to fame and fortune by making hits such as True Grit, The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, and Chinatown. His streak started to come to an end with The Cotton Club, partly because it flopped commercially but also because of his suspected involvement in the so-called Cotton Club murder in which Roy Radin, one of the film’s financiers, was shot in the head and then blown up with dynamite; testimony from one of the perpetrators later cleared him, but then again, as screenwriter Joe Eszterhas once wrote, “all lies ever told anywhere about Robert Evans are true.” So who knows? He was renowned as a Hollywood playboy⁠ (married seven times and convicted of cocaine trafficking once) and delighted in the many parodies of him as such in films such as Wag the Dog, the television series Entourage, and the adult animated sitcom Kid Notorious, in which Evans voiced himself, as did his real-life close friend and next-door neighbor, Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash. He didn’t delight in that coke bust as much; “Bob ‘Cocaine’ Evans is how I’ll be known to my grave,” he once sniffed. Yet we know him as something else: Legend.

2. Rip Torn

Rip Torn
Rip Taylor’s private life was always kept very hush-hush, but you might be amazed to hear about how he once pulled a knife on Dennis Hopper during the making of Easy Rider, hit Norman Mailer in the head with a hammer, and broke into a bank with a loaded gun because he was so drunk he thought he lived there, mostly because it was Rip Torn who did that. Rip Torn was larger than life and seemingly unkillable. If anything, he seemed destined to go down in a police shootout during some kind of amphetamine-fueled rampage. He was so tough that he survived the death curse of that one episode of The Larry Sanders Show (on which he starred as the terrifying producer Artie) that featured John Ritter, Gene Siskel, and Warren Zevon, outliving not only all three guest stars but also the show’s star, Garry Shandling. He was born Elmore Rual Torn Jr.; “Rip” was a family name taken by generations of Torn men, making them all sound like later members of the tag team Demolition. (One wonders if he ever met Slash; if so, did he find him too clean-cut?) The moniker was an apt one, reflecting his two-fisted, brawling approach to life. Indeed, he lived so large, like a real Bob Evans type, that to see his passing is to see a titan fall. He was so alive that he is now very dead.

1. Jeffrey Epstein

Jeffrey Epstein
Plenty of villains died this year, thankfully (and don’t think you were going to sneak by unnoticed, Don Imus, you racist piece of crap). There was divisive Zimbabwean politician Robert Mugabe, about whom something must be set straight: Everybody still gets on Michael Jordan’s case for wearing that Hitler moustache, but technically it was a Robert Mugabe moustache. Give credit where it’s due. There was also fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, who, despite giving off strong Weekend at Bernie’s anti-energy in every photo ever taken of him, effortlessly stirred up controversy to the point that he could somehow look like the villain in a feud with Harvey Weinstein.

And speaking of sexual predators, that brings us to Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein was a real sicko. Was it true that after a lifetime of debauchery, he could only get it up to that video of the adults of Sesame Street tearfully explaining to Big Bird that Mr. Hooper was dead and that he would time his ejaculation to the instant when the light of understanding came into Big Bird’s eyes? Probably!

Epstein hobnobbed with a lot of rich and famous people. While Bill Clinton may have been memorably dubbed “the first black president” by the late Toni Morrison, Epstein called him “my wingman.” Yet, he was also Republican president Donald Trump’s best friend too, the Charles Manson to his Mike Love. Epstein brought the left and right together that way, the same way that both sides can agree that he is very, very dead. Extremely, suspiciously, conveniently dead.



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