In what passes for tradition here at Wickersham’s Conscience, we spend the last week of each year thinking about the year that is ending, and making our wishes for the coming year. This third blog post is firmly in that tradition.
It’s not practical to list all of the notables who died in 2018. But WC can list some of those whose deaths, for various reasons, were important to him. The year seems to have been especially tough on writers.
|Steven Hawking||As a theoretical physicist and cosmologist, Stephen Hawking changed the way scientists think about the universe. Among his accomplishments: his prediction in the 1970s that black holes can emit energy. Time after time, Hawking beat the odds, including in his personal life, hold a fearsome disease at bay for decades. His was a life that epitomized the principle that disability does not define us.|
|Stan Lee||Marvel Comics chief Stan Lee created Spider-Man, Iron Man and the Fantastic Four with artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, has left a heroic — maybe superheroic — legacy. The son of an unemployed Romanian immigrant dressmaker in New York, Lee (born Stanley Lieberman) got an $8-a-week job with his cousin’s husband’s comic-book publisher at 17, wound up as the boss, and revolutionized superheroes in the 1960s by making them witty, neurotic, lifelike and far more cinematic. Moving to Hollywood in 1980, he remade the film industry in Marvel’s image. He was a myth-maker, and to some extent the myths he made included his own.|
|One of WC’s very favorite authors, a pioneer in the male-dominated world of science fiction and fantasy and a brilliant writer. Her Earthsea series re-defined teen literature and her gender-defying works like The Left Hand of Darkness are among WC’s favorite books. Brilliant, articulate and witty, she was an artist for the ages.|
|Neil Simon||A master of comedy, Neil Simon’s plays included The Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park. His Brighton Beach trilogy dominated Broadway for decades. In the second half of the 20th century, Simon was the American theater’s most successful and prolific playwright, often chronicling middle class issues and fears. Simon was the recipient of four Tony Awards, the Pulitzer Prize and the Kennedy Center Honors, among many other awards.|
|William Goldman||If he had only given us his classic fantasy novel The Princess Bride and the movie adaptation of the book, which Goldman also wrote, he’d be famous. But Goldman also gave us Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men (coining the phrase “Follow the money,” by the way), Marathon Man and more. Novelist, non-fiction writer an, above all, screenplay writer, he left us a remarkable legacy.|
|Philip Roth||While he’s most famous for Portnoy’s Complaint, Roth was a highly awarded, highly respected campion for the liberation of American literature from respectability, seriousness and earnestness. all while being those things. WC has enjoyed – or at least been provoked – by every Roth novel he has read.|
|Tom Wolfe||If Tom Wolfe didn’t invest the New Journalism – that credit probably goes to Gonzo Hunter S. Thompson – he certainly led the movement. He started out as a reporter, working for newspapers including the Washington Post and New York Herald-Tribune. He moved on to writing books, including popular novels such as the high-society satire The Bonfire of the Vanities and the nonfiction works The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and The Right Stuff. His unique and often explosive writing style was part of his way of bringing fiction-writing techniques to journalism. Shiny black shoes!|
|Aretha Franklin||The Queen of Soul has left the building. She rocked WC’s world. Haunted by her demons, she still projected joy, love and should in every song she sang. Respect, indeed.|
|Marty Balin||The co-founder of Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship, author of most of the songs on a favorite WC album, Surrealistic Pillow and often the only adult in the room. He moved effortlessly between acid rock, blue and mainstream pop. His death leaves Grace Slick as the only surviving member of Airplane.|
|George H. W, and Barbara Bush||They are the longest-married couple in presidential history and if you need evidence that true love exists, look no further than George H.W. and Barbara Bush. True, they gave us George W. Bush, but bad stuff happens in the best families.|
|Annan served two terms as Secretary-General of the United Nations, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 and believed in the mission of the United Nations while understanding all too well the limitations of the organization. In James Traub’s words, Annan’s profound belief in the United Nations — and his certainty that the world would be a better place the stronger it was — led him to respond to the world’s calamities with searing reports on the body’s failures, and with serious reforms during his time as secretary-general.|
|A life of public service. WC disagreed with McCain and his positions more often than not – never more than in his choice of vice-presidential running mate – but never with his patriotism.|
|Jerry Norum||Whatever intellectual skills WC may have he owes to a handful of teacher and professors. One of them was Jerry Norum, who, more than anything else, taught WC that learning could be fun, undoing a lot of damage done by WC’s 5th Grade teacher. It was a lesson that stayed with WC his whole life. Thanks, Mr. Norum.|
This is only a partial list, of course. It has been a hard year, a miserable year, with a few, pitiful bright spots. WC understands that as he grows older, the folks her grew up with and whose talents he admired are going to leave us. No one gets to live forever. But that doesn’t make it easier.