It seemed that the loss of beloved entertainers came careening out of the sky, headlines forcing us to lean in ever closer to our hand held devices, reading but not quite believing. The close of each year sadly concludes with a lengthy list of notable passings. This year’s list feels longer and profoundly more personal. As a child, celebrity passings felt several degrees removed because in most instances, there was a huge age difference. People profiled in the nightly news In Memoriam segment were almost always in a word, old. My parents nodded solemnly, occasionally adding a tag line of a specific movie or song or Broadway show that earmarked a career. I was interested but generally unaffected.
This year we lost actors and singers and musicians that impacted our lives, making the loss and the sadness somehow more pronounced. I was just barely coming to grips with Patty Duke’s death when I learned that her TV dad, William Schallert had died.
Janet Waldo died, extinguishing the voice of television’s best dressed animated teenager, Judy Jetson. I may never get over the loss of my Napoleon Solo, Robert Vaughn. Somewhere in a box in the attic is my membership card to the Man From Uncle fan club.
We lost the iconic Gene Wilder and the brilliant news commentator Gwen Ifill. Florence Henderson, Muhammad Ali, Joe Garagiola, Elie Wiesel and Edward Albee joined this illustriously tragic list. The double-punch whammy of losing Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds just this week is numbing. Until I remember the brilliant light of Alan Rickman being extinguished and I’m beyond sad all over again.
To touch on the losses in the musical world is staggering; Bowie, Prince, Glenn Frey, Maurice White, George Martin, Leonard Cohen and George Michael. Children of celebrities also shared the list with the deaths of Natalie Cole and Frank Sinatra, Jr. Perhaps the only crumb of good that can be gleaned from this massive loss resonates in a quote from Edward Bulwer-Lytton, “Music, once admitted to the soul, becomes a sort of spirit, and never dies.”
My father reminds me on a regular basis that life is a series of adjustments. As a man who has logged ninety laps around the sun, who am I to disagree? Which is why at the conclusion of a year fraught with many unhappy surprises, it’s not a bad idea to try and focus on the positive. Wonderful friends, stellar family, happy memories in the making, a little bit of joy amidst the chaos. Here’s to ushering in the new; raise the glasses, turn up the music and slice up some pie.