Archive for the ‘Obits’ Category

Obit watch: October 3, 2016.

Monday, October 3rd, 2016

Sir Neville Marriner, noted conductor.

Oscar Brand, folkie. I actually do own one of his albums: Presidential Campaign Songs: 1789 – 1996 is kind of fun, if you have a sense of history.

This is one that I also thought was kind of “amusing” (to the extent an obit can be “amusing”): Carroll Wainwright Jr. He was kind of a sensation in 1934.

Wainwright’s mother divorced his father and remarried (“hours later”, according to the NYT) in 1932. In 1934, the family went to Bermuda for the winter.

“Tousle-headed Carroll Jr. didn’t like Bermuda,” the 1935 newspaper article declared. “He had visions of Christmas in America, of sledding at East Hampton, and of a Christmas tree at his grandmother’s Park Avenue home.”

So, one fine late November day, the young Wainwright stowed away on the S.S. Queen of Bermuda, only to emerge when the ship was out to sea and he got hungry.

What he had not bargained for was the effect his disappearance would have on his mother and stepfather. The terrible fate of the Lindbergh baby, kidnapped and murdered just two years before, was still fresh in the public mind, and the couple, fearing Carroll had been abducted for ransom, called in the Bermuda police.
The police were stymied until someone thought to radio the ship. The captain radioed back that Carroll was aboard, safe and sound.

The ship arrived safely in New York, and Wainwright’s grandmother paid his full (first class) fare. I kind of wonder what her reaction was to a) having an eight-year-old show up unexpectedly at her door, and b) having to come out of pocket for his fare. But reading between the lines, it feels like there may have been more going on than a desire for sledding and Christmas trees: Wainwright’s mother died in 1937 of what the paper describes as “alcohol-related liver disease”.

He did not return to Bermuda. In the coming years he would divide his time between the Malcolm Gordon School, a boarding school in Garrison, N.Y., and the home of an uncle, Loudon Wainwright (grandfather of the singer and songwriter Loudon Wainwright III), in Hewlett, on Long Island.

And this is a nice note to end on:

An enthusiastic outdoorsman, Mr. Wainwright was for decades a keen traveler throughout the United States and far beyond. To the end of his life, he paid his own passage.

Here. Have some sad.

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

I’m feeling down in the dumps to begin with, but I’ve been intending to make note of this story anyway.

Michael J. Fahy became a New York City firefighter in 1999, and he climbed the ranks of the department in the years after Sept. 11, when the terrorist attacks and a wave of retirements that followed stirred concern about a drain of experience and institutional memory.

His dad put in 33 years with the NYFD and retired as a battalion chief.

But he [Michael – DB] had also graduated from law school, passed the bar exams in New York and New Jersey and had earned a master’s degree in homeland security from the Naval Postgraduate School. His colleagues said he was focused and analytical, and had a genuine dedication to public service.

Michael Fahy also made it to battalion chief.

But the higher rank did not separate him from the people he commanded. He cooked with them and ate with them in the firehouse. And he responded to scenes with them, just as he did on Tuesday, facing the same dangers they did as he made decisions on how to handle fast-moving, chaotic situations.

“He was quiet, unassuming, but the guys knew, he was the boss when he came in,” Commander Fink said. “He took care of the guys, and the guys took care of him.”

Michael Fahy died on Tuesday. He and his men responded to a report of a residential gas leak: the house exploded and Chief Fahy was hit by pieces of it.

Sometimes there’s just nothing you can say.

Obit watch: September 29, 2016.

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

Agnes Nixon, soap opera creator. (“One Life to Live”, “All My Children”)

Obit watch: September 26, 2016.

Monday, September 26th, 2016

There were a lot of deaths over the weekend, but I was away from a computer with an Internet connection for most of it. Getting caught up:

Arnold Palmer, drink innovator, sometime golfer, and good Pittsburgh boy. NYT. LAT. Golf Digest. The prose is a little purple:

He was loamy meadows and smoky skies, river valleys and steel mills, like the plant where his father, Milfred, worked (“Steel, Michaeleen, steel in pig-iron furnaces so hot a man forgets his fear of hell”) until just in front of the Depression, Milfred took a job as greenkeeper and pro (mostly greenkeeper) at Latrobe Country Club. Nobody addressed him as Milfred, except Doris when she was of a fanciful mind. To most, he was Deacon. A few said Deke. Arnold called him Pap.

José Fernández. Miami Herald. NYT.

It may just be me, but the tone of these obits rubs me kind of the wrong way. It seems like they’re saying “José Fernández, noted pitcher, is dead. Also two other guys, but they weren’t famous baseball pitchers, so who cares?” (And, yes, I understand that they’re withholding names until families are identified. But it still kind of reads like the other two guys just don’t matter.)

(Also: strict boat control.)

Buckwheat Zydeco.

In 1978, though, he fell into the orbit of Clifton Chenier, “The King Of Zydeco,” who invited the young musician to play organ in his Red Hot Louisiana Band. “I had so much fun playing that first night with Clifton,” Dural later said. “We played for four hours and I wasn’t ready to quit.”

Bill Nunn, actor. NYT. A/V Club. He was Robbie Roberston in the Raimi “Spider-Man” movies (none of which I’ve seen) but was perhaps most famous as Radio Raheem in Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing”.

Obit watch: September 23, 2016.

Friday, September 23rd, 2016

The NYT had an obit the other day for Deborah S. Jin, who died way too young (47).

She was not someone I knew personally, or had ever met, but she sounds like an interesting person who I would have enjoyed talking to. She won a MacArthur fellowship in 2003; her specialty was ultra-low temperature physics. Ultra-low.

Dr. Cornell and Carl E. Wieman, then a physics professor at the University of Colorado, had recently succeeded in cooling a gas of rubidium atoms to less than one-millionth of a degree above absolute zero, at which matter comes to an almost complete stop. The individual atoms melded together, acting as a single coherent particle.

This is what is known as a Bose-Einstein condensate.

The rubidium atoms in Dr. Cornell and Dr. Wieman’s experiment acted like bosons — a fundamental class of particles named after Professor Bose — which cozy up to each other to form the condensate. Dr. Jin wanted to do a similar experiment with fermions, the other class of fundamental particles (named after the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi). Fermions, which are inherently antisocial, are loath to meld together like bosons, but they can pair up and, coupled together, act like bosons.
Dr. Jin succeeded in making what she called a fermionic condensate in 2004.

After creating fermionic condensate, Dr. Jin began collaborating with Jun Ye of JILA to move beyond atoms and study ultracold molecules. That involved cooling two types of atoms and then finding a way to bring them close enough to bond, without the atoms heating up from the energy of the collision.
Lasers and magnetic fields carefully braked and steered the atoms, siphoning off energy as they bound together into molecules. That achievement has opened up a new field of research into chemical reactions: Scientists can now start to study quantum effects that are obscured at higher temperatures.

Also among the dead: John D. Loudermilk, noted country singer and songwriter.

Obit watch: September 21, 2016.

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

Curtis Hanson, noted film director. A/V Club.

“L.A. Confidential” was a swell movie. I wouldn’t mind watching that again.

D. Keith Mano. I was most familiar with him as a National Review writer, and was unfamiliar with his work as a novelist.

“Seriously, at the end of a CC class when I was fed up with all the atheism, socialism and relativism taught, I went over to St. Paul’s Chapel and said, ‘If that’s the way the world is, I’d better turn to God,’” he told The Columbia Spectator in 1976.

Random notes and a whole bunch of obits: September 19, 2016.

Monday, September 19th, 2016

I didn’t have much to say about the Mew York attack because:

1) I was busy Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday.
b) It was an emerging situation that I don’t think blog posts could have done justice to.
III) I didn’t have anything to add.

I still don’t have much to add (except that I went “Holy s–t!” when I read about this morning’s shootout), but I did think this was kind of interesting: the NYT on the finding of the second device and taking it away in a “total containment vessel”:

The total containment vessel is essentially an inside-out diving vessel, Lt. Mark Torre, the commanding officer of the department’s bomb squad, said in an interview in July. “Instead of keeping the pressure out and keeping you alive in five fathoms of water, it keeps the pressure in,” he explained. Should a bomb explode inside, tiny vents allow pressure to escape. “It sounds like a hammer hitting a piece of steel,” he said.

I don’t remember if the APD has one (or even if we talked about that during the bomb squad presentation) but I’ll try to ask next time around. I keep thinking I should do a post on the APD bomb squad, bomb squads in general, and the weirdness thereof. (Did you know: you can’t just have a bomb squad? Even if you’re a police force. In some cases, even if you’re a major metropolitan police force, as opposed to East Podunk that has six officers and makes their entire budget off of catching speeders where the limit drops from 70 MPH to 25 MPH. Nope, no bomb squad for you.)

I made note of most of the big obits over the weekend, but there are quite a few others that I think are worth observing and commenting on.

NYT obit for W.P. Kinsella.

Charmian Carr, who was the eldest von Trapp in “The Sound of Music”, was in “Evening Primrose” with Anthony Perkins…and that was pretty much it. No snark intended, but I bring this up because: I keep thinking about a new series spotlighting actors and actresses (but most of the ones I’ve found so far are actresses) who had very short careers – like one, maybe two, at most a small handful of credits – and then left Hollywood for whatever reason. I’m thinking the first entry may be sometime in October.

James Stacy, TV actor. He was in a series called “Lancer” that ran for three years and which I have no memory of. Not long after “Lancer” ended, he was hit by a drunk driver while riding his motorcycle: Mr. Stacy lost a leg and an arm, and his passenger was killed. He kept working in what the NYT describes as “specialized” roles, though his career was interrupted by a suicide attempt and prison time for child molestation.

Howard E. Butt Jr.. oldest son of the founder of the HEB grocery chain. HEB is huge in this part of the country, and Mr. Butt, Jr. was in a position to take it over. Except…

But Mr. Butt, a Southern Baptist, who as a college student and lay minister had led a Christian youth revival movement, wrestled with the dual pressures of the business and his spiritual pursuits. That struggle led to severe depression, which he later discussed openly.

He ended up turning leadership of the chain over to his brother, ran the family foundation, and continued his ministry.

At the same time, he continued to encourage the evangelical movement to engage other Christians, even those unaffiliated with a particular church. In 2000, he began giving a one-minute radio homily, a segment he titled “The High Calling of Our Daily Life,” which highlighted the role that faith has played in the successful careers and personal lives of ordinary people. His homilies were carried on 3,000 stations in every state, reaching millions of listeners.

I used to catch this on KLBJ-AM when I was driving to work at Dell and still listened to the radio.

Duane Graveline, who I’d never heard of before. And neither had my mother, who was an adult during this time. Dr. Graveline was an astronaut:

With much fanfare, the space agency named Dr. Graveline one of six new “scientist-astronauts” on June 26, 1965. The group included two physicians, two university teachers, a research physicist and a geologist, Harrison H. Schmitt, who would later walk on the moon and become a United States senator.

He was in the program for about two months. A month in, his wife announced she was divorcing him. Shortly after that, he “resigned”:

In his memoir, Donald K. Slayton, one of the original seven astronauts and a longtime NASA official, said: “The program didn’t need a scandal. A messy divorce meant a quick ticket back to wherever you came from — not because we were trying to enforce morality, but because it would detract from the job.”

I don’t recall Dr. Graveline being mentioned at all in any of the histories of the space program that I’ve read (and I’ve read several). It sounds like he had some issues: he was married a total of six times and lost his medical license twice. The first time, it was suspended for two years after “a large number” of Demerol went missing. The second time, it was revoked permanently “over allegations that he had sexually abused children” (though not, apparently, ones that were patients of his).

C. Martin Croker, animator and voice actor. I was most familiar with him as the voices of Zorak and Moltar on “Space Ghost Coast to Coast”. I’d include a clip here, but the one I want to use is actually on the A/V Club page. And: according to the A/V Club, most of the “Space Ghost” episodes are now up for free streaming on the Adult Swim website.

Don Buchla, one of the early electronic music innovators. I’d never heard of him (perhaps because Bob Moog got all the press). I’ll try to remember to ask Todd next time I see him if he was familiar with Mr. Buchla’s work.

Mr. Buchala and Mr. Moog were contemporaries:

In the early ’60s, the better-known Robert Moog, who died in 2005, and Mr. Buchla arrived independently at the idea of the voltage-controlled modular synthesizer: an instrument assembled from various modules that controlled one another’s voltages to generate and shape sounds. Voltages could control pitch, volume, attack, timbre, speed and other parameters, interacting in complex ways.

Part of the reason Mr. Moog may have gotten more press was that he put keyboards on his machines. Mr. Buchla “wanted instruments that were not necessarily tied to Western scales or existing keyboard techniques. To encourage unconventional thinking, his early instruments deliberately omitted a keyboard.”


Mr. Buchla’s instruments had modules with more colorful names, like Multiple Arbitrary Function Generator, Quad Dynamics Manager and, for his random-voltage noise generator, Source of Uncertainty.

Damn. I want a “Multiple Arbitrary Function Generator”.

In 1965, with $500 from a Rockefeller Foundation grant made to the Tape Music Center, the composers Morton Subotnick and Ramon Sender commissioned Mr. Buchla to build his first voltage-controlled instrument, the original Buchla Box.
It included a module that would transform both avant-garde and popular music. Called a sequencer, it vastly expanded the concept and functionality of a tape loop by generating and repeating a chosen series of voltages, enabling it to control a recurring melody, a rhythm track or other musical elements. It would become an essential tool of electronic dance music.

Obit watch: September 17, 2016.

Saturday, September 17th, 2016

Edward Albee, noted playwright (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”).

I remember when I was growing up in Houston, Albee came to town – I think they were doing the world premiere of one of his works at tha Alley Theatre, though I can’t for the life of me recall what it was – and it was a huge deal at the time. As a teenager, I didn’t understand why; in retrospect, it may have been that Albbe’s coming to town put sort of stamp of cultural legitimacy on the city, at a time when many people outside Houston thought of it as a grotty oil boom town.

Thing I had forgotten:

He was also involved in one of the great flops in Broadway history, becoming a script doctor for the producer David Merrick’s 1966 staging of the musical adaptation of Truman Capote’s novel “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” which starred Mary Tyler Moore and Richard Chamberlain and closed on Broadway before it opened, after its fourth preview.

He also did a disastrous adaptation of “Lolita” in 1981.

The Onion A/V Club is reporting the death of noted author William Patrick Kinsella. Kinsella is perhaps most famous for the novel Shoeless Joe, which, of course, was filmed as “Field of Dreams”

(I’ve never read any of Kinsella’s work, though I’d consider it: some of the things I’ve read about his work indicate he’s more interesting and complex than those other lyrical magical baseball happy horseshit writers. I did see the movie and didn’t care much for it, but, yoy know, that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.)

(Amazon also lists something called “Rice Field of Dreams”. Turns out this is a documentary about the Cambodian baseball team; whle that sounds interesting, I was thinking it was some sort of Hong Kong movie. Perhaps one of those one-eyed priest/apprentice monk things Lawrence likes, where the good guys have to use martial arts and magic to battle evil spirits. Add some sort of sports element – not necessarily baseball, maybe soccer – and I’m sure it would make money.)

Obit watch: September 15, 2016.

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

Julio Gonzalez is burning in hell.

You may not remember the name, but you probably remember the crime. Maybe you were alive then, or maybe you’ve heard me talk about it in the context of gun politics.

Early in the morning on March 25, 1990, Mr. Gonzalez got into an argument with his girlfriend at the Happy Land Social Club, where she worked as a coat check girl. Mr. Gonzales was ejected by a bouncer.

According to testimony, Mr. Gonzalez walked three blocks to an Amoco service station, where he found an empty one-gallon container and bought $1 worth of gasoline from an attendant he knew there. He returned to the club. Upstairs, a disc jockey had just spun the reggae tune “Young Lover,” by Cocoa Tea.
Mr. Gonzalez splashed the gasoline at the bottom of a rickety staircase, the club’s only means of exit, and ignited it. Then he went home and fell asleep.

The resulting fire killed 87 people. At the time, it was the worst mass murder in United States history.

Mr. Gonzalez was tried and sentenced to 87 concurrent sentences of 25 years to life.

The Happy Land inferno left some 90 children as orphans. More than 40 parents lost sons or daughters. Five of the victims were students at nearby Theodore Roosevelt High School.

Mr. Gonzalez first became eligible for parole in March of last year. He was denied at the time, but would have been eligible again in November of this year.

The other scandal I wanted to touch on…

Thursday, September 8th, 2016

My major source of information on this is an article in the WP. I haven’t seen very much English-language coverage elsewhere, but I welcome links if anyone has them.

There’s a place in Sweden called the Karolinska Institute, a medical school with an associated teaching/research hospital, the Karolinska University Hospital.

The hospital, up until March of this year, employed a scientist, Dr. Paolo Macchiarini. It seems that Dr. Macchiarini was kind of a hot shot:

Macchiarini captured headlines in 2011, a year after he had been recruited by the institute, for his work in regenerative medicine. That year he implanted a “bioartificial” trachea, one made from plastic and the patient’s own stem cells, into a man named Andemariam Beyene.

This is kind of cool, at least to me. Regenerative medicine is sort of a holy grail: imagine if, instead of a heart transplant and the lifetime of anti-rejection/immunosuppressivee drugs, you could just grow a new heart? Or liver? Or spleen?

(Tangentially related: Isabelle Dinoire died in April, though her death is just now being reported in accordance with her family’s wishes. Ms. Dinore was the first person to receive a partial face transplant, and her death is being attributed in part to the immunosuppressive drugs she had been taking.)

So what went wrong?

But in January 2014, as the Iceland Review noted, the trachea Macchiarini had implanted became loose, killing Beyene.

“trachea…became loose”. But wait, there’s more: Dr. Macchiarini did three of these surgeries. Two of the patients are dead, and the third has been in intensive care since 2012.

But wait, there’s more:

The investigator who examined his studies said that Macchiarini was guilty of scientific misconduct by omitting or fabricating information about his patients’ postoperative status to make the procedure seem more successful than it really was.

But wait, there’s more: Dr. Macchiarini didn’t get signed consent forms from two of the patients, and the one he did get isn’t valid. (“that one signed form would not have been approved’ since the patient wasn’t afforded the option of discussing the procedure with an independent medical expert”).

But wait, there’s more:

The report pointed out that a different synthetic material was used in each transplant, which hinted at a lack of research into which one actually worked and suggested an unreadiness for usage in human beings.

There was also illegal use of “growth-stimulating drugs” without proper permits.

But wait, there’s more! It isn’t just that Dr. Macchiarini was a rogue researcher who has since been fired:

The English version of the report stated:

There are many instances of KI [Karolinska Institute – DB] employees being involved in the discussions preceding and following up surgery. KI has also, in several contexts, cited the transplantations as part of its own activities. For example, they have been quoted as research successes in KI’s evaluations of how research funding has been utilized.

This report opined that KI never should have hired Macchiarini in the first place, considering the references the institution received concerning the surgeon.

It was the usual stuff: negative references, false information on his CV, you know the drill.

Lastly, the report found the hospital extended Macchiarini’s contract twice — once in 2013 and one in 2015 — with “no real evaluation or assessment of Macchiarini’s work.”

But. Wait. There’s. More.

The Karolinska Institute is very closely tied to the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine.

On Tuesday, the Nobel Assembly, which is in charge of choosing the recipient of the institution’s prize for physiology or medicine, asked Harriet Wallberg-Henriksson and Anders Hamsten, two of its 50 judges, to resign. Both are former vice chancellors of the Karolinska Institute, the Swedish medical university associated with the Karolinska University Hospital that employed Macchiarini.

(If I understand correctly, those 50 judges are just the ones who decide on the medicine prize.)

The Swedish Minister of Higher Education also fired Wallberg-Henriksson from her position as “Sweden’s chancellor of all public universities”. The minister is also demanding that everyone who was on the board of the Karolinska Institute while Dr. Macchiarini was employed there resign. “Any who choose not to resign will be replaced, Reuters reported.”

By the way: Dr. Macchiarini is also being criminally investigated. It looks like the prosecutors may press involuntary manslaughter charges against him, depending on the outcome of the investigation.

(It occurs to me: this would make for another great “Law and Order” script. Your cold open is a guy walking down the street with his girlfriend when he suddenly drops dead, coroner finds the loose trachea, McCoy charges the doctor with murder…)

(Question for any TV writers who might be reading this: is it okay to write spec scripts for shows that aren’t on the air any longer?)

Edited to add: Just found this: a February article from Vanity Fair. Seems that NBC News did a two-hour long documentary on Dr. Macchiarini.

I swear, I need an AutoText for “But wait, there’s more”: Dr. Macchiarini was also involved in a romance with the producer of the documentary. As in, they were going to get married. By the Pope. Who personally approved their marriage, even though they were both divorced and she is Episcopalian. And who was going to host the wedding at Castel Gandolfo.

“…Who the hell are you and what the hell is wrong with you?”

Obit watch: September 6, 2016.

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

For the record: Phyllis Schlafly.

Hugh O’Brian, star of “The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp”.

Mr. O’Brian remained active through the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, mostly on television. He appeared on series like “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Fantasy Island” and “Murder, She Wrote.” In 1972 he was one of the rotating leads in NBC’s short-lived high-tech private-eye series “Search,” which also starred Tony Franciosa and Doug McClure.

I also like this:

One of his more memorable roles (though it was also one of his smallest) was in John Wayne’s final movie, “The Shootist” (1976). Mr. O’Brian played a professional gambler who, in the film’s closing moments, became the last character ever killed onscreen by Wayne.

LAT. And a callback to something I previously blogged here: Mr. O’Brian and Al Jennings hanging out and doing a little practice. In LA. In 1957.

Obit watch: September 3, 2016.

Saturday, September 3rd, 2016

The late great Jon Polito.

I hate to be lazy here, but I’m going to point to the respectful and comprehensive A/V Club obit. (Though couldn’t they have found something better for Detective Crosetti than the misguided “Homicide” movie?)

(And I need to see “Miller’s Crossing” again.)

Also among the dead: Jim Pruett, legendary Houston radio personality turned prominent (and often quoted in the media) gun store owner. Mike the Musicologist tells me he sold the store a while back; I’ve actually wanted to visit it, but the last few times I’ve been down to Houston it just hasn’t worked out for one reason or another.