One of the more memorable summations surrounding the topic of death that resonates in my mind is from the great American poet Robert Lowell, who wrote how “the blind swipe of the pruner and his knife is busy about the tree of life”.
As we close out this epic and contentious year of 2018, once again I find it incumbent to take inventory of the many significant souls who passed over to what I like to call ‘the unseen world’
Each of these individuals were special in their own unique way and irreplaceable. Some of them were personal friends; others major influences. May each of them live eternal in our memory and fortify us with strength, wisdom, and courage as we turn the page into 2019, despite the fact their departure creates a hole leaving us more exposed, with a thinner herd to face the future.
In August of this year we lost gifted artist Jim Fives, who’s meticulous detailed craftsmanship as a sign-painter, illustrator, calligrapher, and caricaturist merged disciplined ‘old school’ techniques with his knowledge of regional history to create immaculate restorations of murals on the original WIneberg-Pankonin Pharmacy in Old Town Saginaw, the Fordney Hotel, Record Run on the Saginaw River, and Jacox Steering Gear, along with imagery and limericks for Spatz’s Bakery and Pasong’s Café.
Specializing in gold-leaf lettering, Jim also was a gifted cartoonist, contributing many witty and satirical editorial cartoons to the pages of The Review back in the 1980s. For the past six years he contributed original works to the annual Art Prize competition in Grand Rapids and was the recipient of an All Area Arts Award in 2017.
A life-long resident and long-time supporter of the Saginaw community, Howard cultivated a positive and pro-active vision of his hometown through a plethora of talents and arenas, donning many hats in his numerous roles with entities such as the Saginaw Valley Food Co-Op, The Human Planning Commission, and his Sharper Image Photography business.
Best known for his work in radio broadcasting, Howard made a big mark as DJ at the legendary W3Soul (WWWS 107.1 FM), which was based out of the Bearinger Building in Downtown Saginaw; and he also wrote and reported news for WSAM and WKCQ. He taught Broadcasting classes at Delta College and at WUCX 90.1 FM Delta College Public Radio. As Program and Production Director and the “Doctor of Jazz”, Howard enjoyed promoting the talents of many local musicians that helped define our regional music scene, especially Mike Brush, Pat Cronley, Larry McCray, Laurie Middlebrook and Sharrie Williams.
Howard believed everything could be captured through either images, sounds, or words, provided you caught it at the right moment; and he dedicated his life to finding and creating those moments for posterity.
A significant figure in the community of law enforcement and lifelong Saginaw resident who served his community in numerous capacities over the years, Ed joined the Saginaw Police Department on January 2, 1948 and retired with the rank of Captain on October 31, 1975. Ed was appointed Undersheriff of Saginaw County by Sheriff James L. Kelly. He served as undersheriff for 17 years, 2 months, retiring on December 31, 1992.
As a detective, Ed was a pivotal figure in the investigation of Claytor & Middledorf murders in 1967 that led to the arrest of William Eddington, Jr., who was involved in an armed robbery at the Heidleberg Inn. While serving as Undersheriff, Ed was involved in the formation of the Bay Area Narcotics Enforcement Team (BAYANET), elected as its first chairman and served on its Board of Directors for years. His total police service was 45 years. Ed was a member of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 105, Saginaw Law Enforcement Association, United Government Employees, the American Legion Post #439, Knights of Columbus Council #4232 and the Y.M.C.A for more than 30 years.
When actor Burt Reynolds passed away at the age of 82 in September, we lost one of the last of the true Hollywood legends. Born on February 11, 1936, in Lansing, Michigan, it only makes sense that Burt would be steeped in automotive culture and his biggest grossing film would be Smokey & the Bandit.
In his early years, Reynolds moved around quite a bit, because his father was in the Army. The family finally settled in West Palm Beach, Florida where his old man became Chief of Police. While there, Burt would become a very talented high-school football player – being named First Team All-State and All Southern Fullback for Palm Beach High-School, which ultimately landed him a scholarship to the University of Florida - a talent he would later utilize in such classic mid-70’s films as The Longest Yard and Semi-Tough.
The accomplished actor was notorious for starring in a variety of action films and romantic comedies, including Starting Over (1979) opposite Jill Clayburgh and Candice Bergen; The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982) with Dolly Parton; Best Friends (1982) with Goldie Hawn; and The Man Who Loved Women (1983) with Julie Andrews.
Reynolds won a Golden Globe and was ranked as Hollywood’s top-grossing star every year from 1978 through 1982. "If I had to put only one of my movies in a time capsule, it would be Deliverance," Reynolds wrote in his 2015 memoir, But Enough About Me. "I don't know if it's the best acting I've done, but it's the best movie I've ever been in. It proved I could act, not only to the public but me."
Reynolds finally won an Oscar Award later in his career for his role in Boogie Nights; and his last film released a year ago, The Last Movie Star, was a prophetic and poignant semi-biographic work about an aging movie star coming to terms with his mortality, his regrets, and his legacy.
George GW Bush
In an age when 45% of Americans get their news from the filtered algorithms of Facebook & the manipulated ranking system of Google, the passing of George W. Bush launched the Mainstream Media into their familiar ritual of softening the rough edges of his record with fond tributes, while tweaking the truth behind his legacy in an effort to follow the ancient Latin wisdom of speaking nothing but good of the dead.
However, when it comes to presidents of consequence, we also need to examine their record from a critical perspective of full-disclosure that documents not only his positive qualities and achievements, as so many of the mainstream news outlets have already done; but also the more de-stabilizing ramifications of their actions.
In the case of Bush this includes everything from his opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act to this 1980 election-season embrace of supply-side economics and anti-abortion politics, to his last act as president - pardoning many of the Iran-Contra crew.
On the positive side, Bush volunteered to fight in World War II and undertook important post-presidential disaster-relief efforts. He also worked with Democrats on clean-air legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the 1990 deal to tame the debilitating Reagan-era budget deficits. However, his willingness to put aside conviction for political opportunity resurfaced in 1980 when Bush, after running a surprisingly strong second in the 1980 Republican presidential primaries to Ronald Reagan, recanted his well-known denunciation of supply-side economics as “voodoo economics” and his long-standing pro-choice politics in order to be chosen as Reagan’s running mate.
During his own bid for the presidency eight years later, Bush chose as vice president Indiana Senator Dan Quayle, who was anti-abortion, hawkish and opposed to new civil rights measures. In 1991, when Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court justice, announced his retirement, Bush selected a staunch conservative in Clarence Thomas, who did much through his subsequent opinions on significant cases to dismantle the progressive legacy of his predecessor.
In foreign policy, Bush has generally been given high marks, and in some cases fairly so—particularly for his management of European relations at the start of the post-Cold War era. But he also made terrible mistakes, most of a clandestine and unconstitutional nature.
Bush operated as head of the CIA from January 1976 - 1977 and as such he was undoubtedly privy to exhaustive information about the devastation being inflicted by the US-supported Pinochet regime in Chile, along with the overthrow of their popularly elected leader Salvador Allende, who’s government the United States clandestinely overthrew courtesy of CIA Black Operations at a time when opponents were disappearing and concentration camps opening with torture rampant.
During Bush’s tenure, the American government facilitated the infamous Operation Condor, run by the intelligence services of six Latin American dictatorships to coordinate their repression of dissidents.
Perhaps most inexcusable is the fact that Bush, over the decades, remained unrepentant of his country’s involvement in so much suffering. When an American missile had blown up an Iranian aircraft with 290 innocent civilians aboard in 1988, Bush stated that he would “never apologize for the United States of America. Ever. I don’t care what the facts are.”
As Saddam Hussein was preparing to invade Kuwait, Bush sent the Iraqi strongman clear signals, through the American ambassador, that the United States had no interest in intra-Arab disputes—the exact opposite position of the one he took very shortly thereafter, in which he drew a “line in the sand.” By leaving the dictator in power at the war’s end, he fobbed off the problem onto his successors.
Early in 1991, Bush actively encouraged Shiites in Iraq’s south and Kurds in the north to rise up and depose Saddam, but after the successful expulsion of Saddam’s forces from Kuwait, Bush concluded he didn’t want to see the country fractured. Consequently, he declined to provide anything more than humanitarian aid, and tens of thousands of both groups were slaughtered or dispossessed.
Perhaps the worst act of Bush’s career came at the end of his presidency, when he pardoned a bevy of Iran-Contra defendants—including Caspar Weinberger, Robert MacFarlane and Elliott Abrams—to protect himself from further investigation. As vice president, Bush had been present at key meetings about the arms-for-hostages deal that would become the Reagan administration’s greatest scandal, but never had been fully candid about his support for the policy, insisting disingenuously that he had been “out of the loop.”
However, late in Bush’s presidency, special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh had learned of diaries Bush had kept, which he hoped to introduce as evidence at Weinberger’s upcoming trial. Bush’s pardons thus shielded himself from any additional investigation. Walsh fumed that “the Iran-Contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six years, has now been completed.”
Needless to say, the above litany will inevitably come across to many as one-sided and partisan in this ‘Brave New World’ of the disinformation age that we currently live within. It is not meant to denigrate Bush’s achievements in office or afterward or diminish his attractive personal qualities.
But it is important to understand that over many decades Bush often surrendered to instincts of political self-promotion and advanced the questionable agenda of an increasingly right-wing conservative movement whose basic tenets often ran antithetical to the principles our democracy was founded upon.
As one who’s always admired the descriptive nuance of the English language, Tony Award winning playwright Neil Simon taught me how the brevity of dialogue can carry as much coloration and impact as the length and density of a sentence. Indeed, Simon’s name was synonymous with Broadway comedy and commercial success in the theater for decades, and his body of work helped redefine popular American humor with an emphasis on the frictions of urban living and the agonizing conflicts of family intimacy.
Early in his career, Simon wrote for television greats, including Phil Silvers and Sid Caesar. Later his name appeared on Broadway marquees virtually nonstop throughout the late 1960s and ’70s. Beginning with the breakthrough hits “Barefoot in the Park” (1963) and “The Odd Couple” (1965) and continuing with popular successes like “Plaza Suite” (1968), “The Prisoner of Second Avenue” (1971) and “The Sunshine Boys” (1974), Mr. Simon ruled Broadway when Broadway was still worth ruling, before multi-million dollar staging and gimmicks overtook the importance of the actors populating the stage.
From 1965 to 1980, his plays and musicals racked up more than 9,000 performances, a record not even remotely touched by any other playwright of the era. In 1966 alone, he had four Broadway shows running simultaneously.
Stephan Hawking was much more than an extraordinarily talented physicist. Not since Albert Einstein has a scientist of his stature been able to take complicated mathematical concepts about the laws that govern the universe and possess the gift of explaining his insights to the masses with insight and humor.
His book A Brief History Of Time sold more than 10 million copies. At the age of 21 Hawking was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease and told he would live just two years. But similar to the nature of his work, he defied all odds, living to the age of 76.
In a statement, his children said: “His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humor inspired people across the world. He once said: ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him forever.”
Widely considered to be one of the best vocalists of her generation, with a gift for composition and arrangement, Aretha Franklin became known as “The Queen of Soul” during her seven-decade career, with hits such as such as "Respect", "(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman" and "I Say a Little Prayer.”
Barack Obama said: “American history wells up when Aretha sings. Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the Blues, R&B, and Rock ‘n’ Roll – the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope.” She died of pancreatic cancer aged 76.
Stan Lee was the man who transformed the infant world of comic book creation into adolescence and adult-hood by imbuing his characters with the self-doubts and neuroses of average people, while also displaying an awareness of trends and social causes, consistently peppered with a sense of humor.
While at the helm of Marvel Comics back in the 1960s, he created such memorable characters as The Fantastic Four, The Avengers, Spider Man, The Hulk, Dr. Strange, and later The Black Panther; and by humanizing his heroes by giving them character flaws and insecurities that belied their supernatural strengths; and with aide of frequent artist-writer collaborators such as Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others, Stan catapulted Marvel from a tiny venture into the world’s No. 1 publisher of comic books and a multi-media giant.
In 2009, The Walt Disney Co. bought Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion, and most of the top-grossing superhero films of all time — led by Avengers: Infinity War's $2.05 billion worldwide take earlier this year — have featured Marvel characters.
This noted American evangelist was perhaps the most influential Christian leader of the 20th Century. In his six decades of television, Graham hosted annual "Crusades", evangelistic campaigns, which ran from 1947 until his retirement in 2005. He also hosted the radio show Hour of Decision from 1950 to 1954. In addition to his religious aims, he helped shape the worldview of a huge number of people who came from different backgrounds, leading them to find a relationship between the Bible and contemporary secular viewpoints.
Graham preached to live audiences of 210 million people in more than 185 countries and territories through various meetings, including BMS World Mission and Global Mission. Graham was also a spiritual adviser to U.S. presidents and provided counsel for every president from the 33rd, Harry S. Truman, to the 44th Barack Obama.
As the lead singer of Irish rock band The Cranberries, O'Riordan found global fame in the 1990s with hit singles "Linger" and "Zombie." Her haunting voice and brilliant songwriting captured millions of listeners, but she struggled with success, battling mental health disorders. She was discovered submerged in a hotel bath. An inquest found the mother of three had died by drowning due to alcohol intoxication. In a statement, The Cranberries said: "Dolores will live on eternally in her music."
This beloved Canadian actress and political activist broke ground playing Lois Lane in four Superman movies between 1978 and 1987. She publicly dealt with mental health issues that eventually derailed her career. "The reality of my life has been grand and wonderful, punctuated by these odd blips and burps of madness," she told People magazine. She died aged 69 from a self-inflicted drug and alcohol overdose at the age of 70.
Roeg was a truly innovative and captivating Director & Cinematographer whose ground-breaking films included Performance (starring Mick Jagger & Anita Pallenberg), Don’t Look Now with Donald Sutherland & Julie Christie, and The Man Who Fell to Earth with David Bowie & Candy Clark, amongst many others.
A daring and influential craftsman, Roeg’s idiosyncratic films influenced filmmakers including Danny Boyle and Steven Soderbergh, particularly through his pioneering use of parallel narratives and semiology, which he wove together through the prism of his lens to convey the way seemingly disparate actions impact one another. He was 90-years old.
Jefferson Airplane vocalist-guitarist Marty Balin, who co-founded the San Francisco psychedelic rock band in 1965 and played a crucial role in the creation of all their 1960s albums, including Surrealistic Pillow and Volunteers, died at the age of 76. He co-wrote five songs on their breakthrough LP, Surrealistic Pillow, and played with the group at all of its most famous gigs, including the 1967 Human Be-In in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, the Monterey Pop Festival, Woodstock and Altamont. At the latter gig, Balin was brutally beaten by the Hells Angels after he dived into the audience to help an audience member in distress
Balin quit the Airplane for a few years, managing rock bands in San Francisco, but was pulled back into the group’s orbit in 1974, reforming as Jefferson Starship. The offshoot band was incredibly successful and scored more hits than the original Airplane, including the Balin-penned “Miracles,” from Red Octopus, hitting Number Three in 1975.
A pioneer of the immersive and colorful New Journalism style, Yale graduate Wolfe started out as a reporter for The Washington Post and New York Herald-Tribune. He became a hugely successful author, writing The Bonfire of the Vanities and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. He died in a Manhattan hospital aged 88. “He was an incredible writer,” Gay Talese told the Associated Press. “And you couldn’t imitate him. When people tried it was a disaster.”
The quintessential documenter of Jewish-American life, Philip Roth published his first book in 1959 and became a bestseller with Portnoy's Complaint in 1969. He was criticized by some parts of the Jewish community for his secular vision, but often wrote of his Jewish upbringing in New Jersey. He won a Pulitzer prize in 1997 for American Pastoral, and finally stopped writing in 2010. He died in Manhattan aged 85.