A tribute to celebrities we lost in 2019 – they will be missed
Annually, in a tradition bearing a slightly macabre twist, media recount the dead celebrities of the year. Here I am doing the same thing in Active Life. But there is merit in this exercise in the arts and entertainment arena. We pay tribute to those who may have affected our own lives through their work as actors, singers, filmmakers, producers, creators, writers, social activists and people.
Sometimes, their influence is even profound. I still cherish a 1978 interview I did with legendary actress Lillian Gish, who died in 1993, aged 99. She was my last living link with the silent film era. Gish championed the merits of silent films and the need for preservation, a passion that I share. I shed a tear at her passing.
Of course, the emotional reaction of a fan and/or film critic to a death is nothing like the reaction of family and friends – that is intensely personal. Our reaction is something more public and distant, even if we have met that person.
The roster of celebrities who passed in 2019 does have frisson for me on that public level. The following list is selective. I interviewed several of them during my career, but all created work that struck a chord in my soul.
Doris Day (died at 97) was an American big band singer, then an actress, and a movie and a TV star. I still enjoy the light-hearted, yet smart, romantic comedies she did with pal Rock Hudson. In particular, Pillow Talk (1959) stands out and she was Oscar-nominated.
Carol Channing (died at 97) was an American stage, movie and TV actress, a singer and a dancer. On Broadway, she was famous for her effervescent performance in Hello Dolly! (1964), winning best actress. What a doll!
Danny Aiello (died at 86) was an American actor who moved effortlessly between heavyweights such as The Godfather: Part II (1974), to comedies such as The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), to social commentary such as Do the Right Thing (1989), for which he was Oscar-nominated. Always a sweet guy in interviews.
Tim Conway (died at 85) was an American actor, comedian and writer. Highlights of The Carol Burnett Show always include his wonky and spontaneous contributions. Fun guy in life.
Caroll Spinney (died at 85) was an American puppeteer who originated both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for Sesame Street in 1969, and played both until 2018. Spinney may not have been famous, but his creations became legends for generations of children.
Peter Mayhew (died at 74) was an English hospital orderly who found his calling as the Wookie Chewbacca in the Star Wars series. This towering giant was a true gentleman.
John Singleton (died at 51) was an American filmmaker. He astounded Hollywood with his dramatic, and unsettling, debut at 24 with Boyz n the Hood (1991), which propelled him forward as the first African-American, and the youngest person ever, to be Oscar-nominated as best director.
More names of significance include Albert Finney, Peter Fonda, Diahann Carroll, Robert Forster, Valerie Harper, Toni Morrison, Rip Torn, Luke Perry, Bruno Ganz, Rutger Hauer, Hal Prince, Carol Lynley, John Wesley and, for classic rock lovers, Cream drummer Ginger Baker.
|Bruce Kirkland‘s career spans more than four decades, working as a film critic for The Toronto Star, The Ottawa Journal and for 36 years at The Toronto Sun. firstname.lastname@example.org|