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A Diva, An Alien, and a Wizard Leave the Stage

Wow but it’s been a tough couple of weeks in terms of talented entertainers making their final curtain calls. There have been no fewer than four celebrity deaths recently that touched me enough to make me want to say something about them. So in the interest of not letting this blog be overwhelmed with eulogies, and knowing that in every one of these cases many more eloquent people than I have already written words that I wish I’d said, I’m just going to give a quick appreciation for artists whose work has meant and will continue to mean a great deal to me in spite (or perhaps BECAUSE) now we will never get any more of it.

DAVID BOWIE—The most keenly felt of these losses, from my own selfish perspective, is David Bowie, who passed away on 1/10. In truth, my brother has always been a bigger Bowie fan that I was, and I more greatly appreciated his ability to reinvent himself, his music, and his message than I actually enjoyed the fruits of those labors. But Bowie has been part of (an INTEGRAL part of) many different movies, movements, and music scenes that have meant the world to me. For the last fifty years, David Bowie has been the living embodiment of the artistic spirit, following your muse wherever that leads, and refusing to let others (least of all critics or the establishment) define who you are, what you can do, and what it all means . . . I guess now he’s the patron saint.

ALAN RICKMAN—I can’t remember ever not enjoying a movie with Alan Rickman in it. Certainly, not all of them were classics, but he had a knack for choosing productions that were filled with life and joy. Or perhaps he was responsible for making them so. Most people I know associate Rickman with the role of Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series of films, and if not that then with his breakthrough role of Hans Gruber in Die Hard. But the two roles I’ll always remember him best for were Alexander Dane (AKA Dr. Lazarus) in Galaxy Quest, and his small, quiet, very imperfect unfaithful husband in Love Actually. But really, there’s no point in making such distinctions. I will ALWAYS be happy to watch a scene with Alan Rickman in it, even if I don’t really have much interest in the movie. And it saddens me to know that there will be no more new ones.

RICHARD LIBERTINI—A classic “that guy!” character actor of the 1980s, Libertini had an unforgettable face and voice. He played comic roles, villainous ones, and sometimes just colorful side characters, but he did them all so memorably. For me he will always bring to mind thoughts of the Steve Martin/Lily Tomlin film All of Me (where Libertini played a transcendental guru) and the two Fletch films (where he played Chevy Chase’s eternally short-tempered editor).

WAYNE ROGERS—I’ll admit it, the only role of Wayne Rogers’s that touched me personally was his turn as Trapper John MacIntyre in the first three seasons of M*A*S*H. But it says a great deal that despite the fact that the show ran for another eight seasons after that, Rogers/Trapper always felt like he was a part of it—an unseen influence on the the 4077th and all its inhabitants. I don’t generally go in for autograph hunting or taking pics with celebrities, but Rogers is someone whose hand I wish I’d gotten to shake so that I could say “thank you” for what his work in those too-short few seasons of situation comedy has meant to me.

NATALIE COLE—Best known as the daughter (and duet partner) of Nat “King” Cole, I heard a lot of Natalie Cole’s voice on the jazz stations I’ve listened to over the years . . . and what a beautiful voice it was. And, as I learned in reading the obituaries and even more celebrations written in the last few weeks, she was a lot more than just a pretty voice. She earned multiple grammy awards in every decade since the 1970s (and for her work in both English and Spanish).

LEMMY—Hard rock has never been my thing, let alone the kind of heavy metal that Motorhead is famous for. So just the fact that I knew who Lemmy was says a great deal about how important he was both in and beyond the headbanging mosh pit. Like all the others I’ve mentioned here, he was a cultural leader and a creative inspiration . . . and we should always stop, take note, and offer a few words of praise and thanks when we lose someone of that stature.

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