Tonight’s Jukebox will look and sound a little different. Tonight, rather than songs we will have a combination of words, video, and symphonic music as we celebrate the lives of some of the pop culture icons who left us this year. Most of these people have been part of my pop culture consciousness since I was old enough to remember. With a heavy heart, I look to a future world that has progressed beyond my memories. My generation, the X’ers, are quickly coming to the days where we will attend more funerals than weddings. And this year was a stark reminder of that fact of aging.
- Gene Wilder–Wilder died on August 29th at age 83 from complications from Alzheimer’s Disease. Wilder was a mainstay of my childhood. I was lucky enough to have a mother who loved movies. When my brother and I were 4 and 5 years old respectively, my parents went on a date night to the drive-in theater with us in tow in the back seat. We sat in our pajamas eating popcorn and M&M’s and playing with our toys as Blazing Saddles started projecting across the screen. We didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to the film other than the bean fart scene and the Waco Kid’s lightning fast hands. We fell asleep, but always remembered laughing at the movie. So when we had opportunities in junior high to watch the film we did. It became a favorite just as much as Young Frankenstein and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. For my birthday this year, my brother took me to see the stage musical of Young Frankenstein–partly for us to pay honor to my mother (whose birthday was four days after mine) and her love of theater/movies/the arts and partly to pay honor to the late Wilder.
from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
from Blazing Saddles
from Young Frankenstein
2. Sports heroes Arnold Palmer and Muhammad Ali: Both men were constants in my childhood in very different ways. Both were from sports that were not commonly watched in my household–golf and boxing– but both were trailblazers with loyal followings. Whether being “The Greatest” & “stinging like a bee” and protesting against injustice or being everyman’s hero while having a drink named after him and meeting presidents, these icons top the heap in bringing their sports to the mainstream. Muhammad Ali died at the age of 74 on June 3rd after suffering from Parkinson’s Disease for three decades. Arnold Palmer died on September 25th at the age of 87.
3. Sir George Martin: The Fifth Beatle died in his sleep on March 8th at the age of 90. Ringo Starr announced his death via Twitter. John Lennon expressed that they worked and learned together. From Sir George’s Rolling Stone’s obituary: “George Martin made us what we were in the studio,” John Lennon said in 1971. “He helped us develop a language to talk to other musicians.” Memorably, Martin played the Bach-esque piano solo on the Beatles’ hit “In My Life.” The solo showed how the producer and the band innovated in the studio–the instrument was a piano recorded at half-speed and then played back at normal speed sounding rather Baroque, like a harpsichord. The song was also one of the first of Lennon’s songs to focus on his personal experiences. “In My Life” is one of the more renowned Beatle’s hits. My brother, who is a huge Beatles fan, selected this song as his first dance with his bride at his wedding reception. Saying good night to the fifth Beatle is like losing our past inch by inch.
4. Alan Rickman: I have loved the man with the most distinctive voice ever since his break-out role as a terrorist falling from Nakatomi Plaza on Christmas Eve in 1988. Learning of his passing on January 14th from cancer at age 69 was an unexpected blow–especially on the heels of David Bowie’s death a few day earlier. Rickman’s versatility and exceptional talent allowed him to play the most dastardly of villains and the softest of lovers. Whether he was terrorist Hans Gruber or loving suitor Colonel Brandon or magical double agent Severus Snape, Rickman chewed up and owned every scene in which he appeared. And even better, he’s one of the British Men Reading Poetry with his interpretation of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130. So we will not belie with false compare…
from British Men Reading Poetry/Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130”
from Sense and Sensibility
from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2
5. Carrie Fisher: Fisher’s death, so fresh in my heart and mind, is so hard to take. Carrie Fisher was the first damsel in distress that really wasn’t a damsel in distress. She created the role of Princess Leia as a strong “soldier” (her word) setting an example for me and my generation as young girls. I still have my original Princess Leia action figures, which she hilariously speaks of in her one-woman show Wishful Drinking (based on her memoir of the same name). I fell in love with Carrie Fisher the author in my college years when I bought her first novel, Postcards from the Edge. Her sarcasm, her wit, her frank and open capturing of life in all of its glory and gory conflict spoke to her exquisite talent as a wordsmith and opened up a whole new career path for her as a novelist, screenwriter, and nonfiction memoir writer. I own three of her books and plan to read the remaining. When I heard of her heart attack on December 23rd as she returned on a flight from London, I feared the worst. Having lost a friend a year and a half ago to similar circumstances, I feared that she would not recover. Despite my fears, I hoped. But when the news came this morning, that she passed away at 8:55 a.m. at the age of 60, though I was not surprised, I was still immensely saddened. My first heroine inspired me to find confidence, to write, to not be afraid of people who may suffer from addiction or mental illness. She was the complete package–someone who grew up in the glare of the spotlight (as the daughter of Hollywood royalty Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds) but was always giving back to the world around her. Rest in peace, Princess.
from The Blues Brothers
from Wishful Drinking
from Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back
“Princess Leia’s Theme” from the Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope OMPS