Sunday, February 18, 2024

Top 8 Celebrity Deaths in 2023 - Suzanne Somers, etc.

The year 2023 unfolded as yet another challenging chapter for celebrities. Despite their towering personas, these individuals are mortal like the rest of us, inevitably facing the embrace of the Grim Reaper.

The resonance of a celebrity's passing, particularly those whose work has left an indelible mark on our lives, invokes a sense of loss within me. Critics may dismiss this sentiment as trivial, arguing that mourning should be reserved for those we personally know. However, the reality is that celebrities hold pivotal roles in people's lives, mine included. Beyond mere entertainers, they possess the ability to infuse vitality and enlightenment into our sometimes-mundane existence.

After careful contemplation, I produced this (alphabetical) list of celebrities whose passing last year affected me the most on a personal level. Call it a tribute of sorts to eight people I didn’t know, but who impacted me significantly nevertheless.

David Crosby – I’m heavily into heavy metal. Bands like Dio, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden “get my motor running” (to paraphrase Steppenwolf). But I love a variety of other musical genres, including folk rock, which was perfected by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Both lyrically and harmonically, the band is one of my favorites of the psychedelic era and beyond. One of the earlier “supergroups,” CSNY created some of my all-time favorite tunes, including such timeless classics as “Helpless,” “Southern Cross,” and “Woodstock.” Crosby, of course, was the most outspoken of the band members (with Young a close second) and a great singer and songwriter.

William Friedkin – Back in the early ‘90s, when I was dating my now-wife, she came over and we watched The Exorcist with my roommate. It was terrifying, and the three of us were genuinely spooked afterward. My roommate even brought his Bible out from his bedroom and placed it on the coffee table. I had seen it before, but for some reason it seemed especially scary this time around. Admittedly, I haven’t watched many of Friedkin’s other films (The French Connection being a notable exception), but The Exorcist alone is enough to earn him a spot on my list. While I don’t believe in real-life exorcisms or any of that hoo-ha, The Exorcist made all previous horror films seem less realistic and less horrifying to me in comparison.

Marty Krofft – More than Star Trek. More than The Super Friends. The most influential television show in the history of my life is The Land of the Lost, produced by the brothers Sidney and Marty Krofft. Featuring Marshall, Will, and Holly on a “routine expedition” gone awry, the program debuted when I was seven years old, and I was absolutely mesmerized by it. Written by such sci-fi legends as David Gerrold and Larry Niven, it played a huge role in my becoming obsessed with fantasy and science fiction, which in turn played a big role in my various occupations of comic book store owner, bookseller, writer, etc. The Krofft brothers also created such wonderfully creative shows as H.R. Pufnstuf, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, and Electra Woman and Dyna Girl

Norman Lear – Like so many kids who grew up before the internet and smart phones, I spent a TON of time playing outside. However, I also watched a lot of television, especially during windy winter days when severe bronchitis forced me to stay indoors. Norman Lear created and produced many of my favorites of that era, including All in the Family, Sanford & Son, and One Day at a Time. Remember the talk show parody Fernwood 2 Night starring Martin Mull and Fred Willard? Probably not, but my brother and I loved it. Unlike so much TV, which is sheer fluff, Lear’s shows used humor to deal with serious and often controversial topics—he was a trailblazer for the medium like no other. He lived to be 101, a testament to his timeless talent.

Mathew Perry – As with countless other celebrities, the funny and charming Mathew Perry, who played Chandler on Friends, showed that you can have it all—fame, fortune, good looks, great friends—and still be a miserable mess. In his memoir, he said that he never really felt good or even normal unless he was on some type of mood-enhancing substance. A true addict. Sad. Friends hit the air when I was dating my now-wife Charis, and it's been with us ever since, like an old friend. She even has a big part of her office devoted to Friends memorabilia. It’s a highly likeable show with numerous hilarious, memorable, and even iconic moments, and Chandler was a big part of that. Could he have been any funnier?

John Romita Sr. – Decades before comic book stories got so convoluted, and when continuity was still important to publishers, John Romita Jr. took over for Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko as the artist on The Amazing Spider-Man (in 1966 with issue #39), one of Marvel’s flagship titles. Romita aped Ditko’s style initially, but after a few issues, he embraced the book and began crafting the character and his adventures in his now-iconic style. In 1973, Romita took over as art director for Marvel and played a major role in defining the look of the company’s output and in designing new characters. From a long list of great craftsmen, he’s my favorite Spidey artist of all time.

Suzanne Somers – Freud spoke of a latency period, but I never had one. I was girl-crazy all throughout my childhood. One of my biggest crushes was Chrissy Snow, the gorgeous, but ditzy blonde roommate of Jack Tripper (John Ritter) and Janet Wood (Joyce DeWitt) on Three’s Company. Although he had to pretend to be gay to live with Chrissy and Janet to get landlord approval, I thought Jack was the luckiest dude in the world. He was smitten with both girls, but ultimately the show was about the trio’s close friendship and their misunderstandings and misadventures. I loved it. And, in my own childish way, I loved Chrissy.

Cindy Williams – Numerous sitcoms had a girl that “got around,” and that was part of their appeal and a big part of the comedy. Alice had Florence Jean Castleberry. Golden Girls had Blanche Devereaux. Laverne & Shirley had Laverne DeFazio, who was played by Penny Marshall opposite “good girl” Shirley Feeny, played by the incredibly cute and affable Cindy Williams. Like her boyfriend Carmine “The Big Ragoo” Ragusa, I adored the virginal Shirley, who I far preferred to loose Laverne. She was the ultimate “girl next door type,” rivaled only by Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island. And she just seemed so sweet.

While I limited my list to just eight, there were many more celebrities who died last year who played a key role in my life as a fan and content creator. These include Jeff Beck, Riccou Browning, Jimmy Buffet, Phillis Coates, Bert I. Gordon, Keith Giffen, Al Jaffee, Piper Laurie, Gordon Lightfoot, Paul Reubens, Adam Rich, Robbie Robertson, and Raquel Welch.

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