Monday, February 21, 2005

When Stars Die in Threes

It’s an old saw that celebrities die in threes. Sometimes the proverbs actually come true, as evinced over the weekend with the passing of three famous figures from the worlds of stage, screen, and print media.

Sandra Dee was the “Queen of Teenagers”. She was Gidget and Tammy, she was a girl “in trouble” in A SUMMER PLACE (1959) (that scene where the evil mother character made her submit to a virginity exam so disturbed my childhood mind!). I later remember seeing her in the DUNWICH HORROR (1970) trying to play a teenager, looking old and haggard. A local TV station used to run the old Fantasy Island TV series, and I recall her guest appearance, painfully thin and looking so frail and vulnerable standing next to Mr. Roarke. She led a very rough life, and hopefully she found a little bit of piece in the end. You can read her obituary here.

When most people mention John Raitt nowadays, the reference point is “Bonnie Raitt’s dad”. That’s unfortunate because Raitt was an immensely talented stage performer. He originated roles in theater classics “Carousel” and “Pajama Game”, with a raw acting style that anticipated Marlon Brando and James Dean by ten years. Raitt had a handful of movie credits in the early 1940s and turned to TV in his later years. You can read his obituary here.

This is a sad one. Hunter S. Thompson, the passionate articulator of America’s underside, famously portrayed by Johnny Depp in FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (1998) and immortalized as Uncle Duke in the Doonesbury comic strips, committed suicide over the weekend. You never really know why people make the choice to end their lives in this manner. It is such a shame because we need his voice now more than ever. Reading message boards about his death, I came across a fitting epitaph. I don’t know who said this and where it was originally quoted, but it captures the essence of Thompson perfectly: “Too weird to live, and too rare to die.” You can read his obituary here.

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