exordia

"By writing or reading obituaries, we can discover ways to make our time on earth more worthwhile, more productive, more meaningful to others."
Alana Baranick, "Life on the Death Beat"


"'I always read the obituaries in The Times,' I explained to her. 'They make me bloody glad to be alive.'"
John Mortimer, "Rumpole's Return"

George Hickenlooper

Filmmaker -- via the Hollywood Reporter. He was in Denver to attend the International Film Festival there, promoting his new film "Casino Jack." He is best known for his documentary "Hearts of Darkness."

Liang Congjie

Environmental pioneer, historian and teacher -- via the New York Times. He founded China's first legally recognized environmental organization.

George Cain aka George Maurice Hopkins

Writer -- via the New York Times.

Gerard Kelly

Actor in TV, film, radio and stage -- via the STV News.

James Wall

Mr. Baxter on "Captain Kangaroo" -- via the New York Daily News. Though he will be best remembered for this role, he was an award-winning stage manager for CBS for decades as well. Here's the beginning of a multi-part interview with him:

Karlo Sakandelidze

Actor on stage and in film -- via interpressnews.ge.

Helen Escobedo

Sculptor -- via the Guardian.

James MacArthur

Actor -- via the Hollywood Reporter. He worked extensively on stage, on radio, in TV and film; he will be indelibly identified with his role on "Hawaii Five-O" as Lt. Danny Williams, aka "Danno," as in the famous tag line, "Book 'em, Danno."

Billy Ruane

Volatile icon of the Boston music scene -- via the Boston Globe.

Yertward Mazmanian aka "Eight-finger Eddie"

Hippie who popularized Goa -- via the Pioneer.

John Crawford aka Cleve Richardson

Film and television actor -- via the L.A. Times. This ubiquitous character actor can be seen in films such as "The Big Heat," "Exodus," "The Poseidon Adventure," "The Towering Inferno" and "Night Moves." His TV appearances include shows like "The Lone Ranger," "Hopalong Cassidy," "Commando Cody," "Wagon Train," "The Twilight Zone," "The Fugitive," "Star Trek," "Lost in Space," "Hogan's Heroes," "Gunsmoke," Mission: Impossible," "The Waltons," "Dynasty" -- it's a laundry list of TV history. What a life!

Richard T. Gill

An extraordinary person -- a Harvard economist and a Metropolitan Opera singer -- via the New York Times.

Frank Jarvis

Film actor -- via the Guardian.

Michael Naughton

Fundraiser for theatre and children's education -- via the Guardian.

Walter Payton

Jazz bassist -- via the New Orleans Times-Picayune. He was a great part of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and the New Orleans musical community.

Lisa Blount

Actress and Oscar-winning producer - via the L.A. Times

Rudolph "Rudy" Rufer

Shortstop for the New York Giants and long-time baseball scout -- via Bill Schenley and groups.google.com/group/alt.obituaries.

Mbah Maridjan aka Mas Penewu Suraksohargo

The spiritual gatekeeper of Mount Merapi -- via the Jakarta Globe. He died in prayer, attempting to mediate the wrath of the Indonesian volcano.

S. Neil Fujita

Graphic designer par excellence -- via the New York Times. He created some of the most memorable designs of the 20th century, including the cover for Truman Capote's book "In Cold Blood" and Dave Brubeck's album "Take Five."

Fernando Ruelas

Co-founder of Duke's So. Cal, the oldest continuous lowrider car club -- via the L.A. Times.

Lloyd Gross

TV director who worked on news shows, live events and game shows -- via Legacy.com and the Stamford Advocate.

Honor Frost

Pioneer of underwater archaeology -- via the Guardian.

Sylvia Sleigh

Artist -- via the New York Times.

James Phelps

Gospel singer -- via ABC News.

Linda Hargrove

Songwriter, musician and singer -- via The Tennessean.

Hans Arnold

Artist and illustrator -- via sve.se.

Bill Shannon

Official scorer for the Yankees and Mets -- via the Star-Ledger. He was a darn good writer as well, and a sign of the respect he commanded is evident in this piece in the Boston Globe.

Alvin Lawson

Literature professor who had a remarkable explanation for the phenomenon of "alien abduction" reports -- via the Telegraph.

Harout Yeretzian

Bookstore owner and cultural doyen -- via the Armenian Mirror-Spectator

Elijah "Lucky" Miller

Former Negro Leagues batboy and millworker -- via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Bob Packard

Olympic athlete whose life became troubled -- via the Wichita Falls TimesRecordNews.

Raymond deKozan

Inventor of the MetroCard, the swipe-to-pay public transportation payment system -- via Crain's New York. This technology replaced subway tokens in New York City in 2003. "He was also a longtime Yankees fan." Yes, my brother!

Who gets ink? Of Paul the Octopus

Over the past day, the three obituaries that have been posted most frequently on mainstream media are those of Joseph Stein, librettist of "Fiddler on the Roof," Alex Anderson, illustrator and creator of Rocky, Bullwinkle, et al; and Paul the World Cup-match-winning predicting octopus.

I reported Anderson's death on Saturday afternoon, Stein's Monday afternoon. In that time, I anthologized 16 obituaries of folks we felt fit my criteria of "significant and interesting," including those of a Sherpa killed in an avalanche, an educator who stood fast and fought racism even after someone burned her house down; a poet; and three exemplary yet little-known film industry figures. (OK, I threw in one facetious piece saluting the discontinued Sony Walkman.)

So who gets the ink? I issue two types of notice via Twitter when I update this blog -- a periodic summary roundup and an ALERT when I deem that readers would appreciate immediate notification. Did Stein and Anderson merit this approach?

Popular culture rewards those who reinforce it. I love Stein's work, I've performed it; Rocky and Bullwinkle, Boris and Natasha, Dudley Do-Right and Snidely Whiplash helped form the core of my childhood being. The mainstream's criteria rewards the "hook," or the piece that can extrapolate into something beyond just looking at a person's life.

(And no, I can't post Paul's demise. Animals, though cute and fascinating, won't make it into the Obit Patrol, save for tangenital references and/or cheap attempts to boost readership such as this. That's a slippery slope that leads to typing in memorials to Fluffy all day long.

That an octopus should seem to be able to predict World Cup scores is truly amazing, and if a clairvoyant cephalopod shows up again, I will do its bidding. But I won't mix species, for now.)

So, will this change my approach? I don't know. Currently on my plate, getting prepped for posting, are three extraordinary obituaries about three people you've never heard of. Ted Buss of the Wichita Falls TimesRecordNews writes about the tragic life of Bob Packard; Kevin Kirkland of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette profiles a late 104-year-old former Negro Leagues batboy; and Jeremy Smerd in Crain's New York pens a fond and informative tribute to the man who invented the Metrocard.

Pieces such as these are good writing, plain and simple. I encourage you to read them, as well as those of the higher-profile subjects. I hope that the inspiring hidden gems of lives I get to share here make it worth your visits to the blog.

Lamont Johnson

Actor and director in film and television -- via the L.A. Times

Chhewang Nima

Sherpa -- via the Himalayan Times.

Vesna Parun

Poet -- via the Croatian Times.

Kjell Stormoen

Actor and director, on stage and in film -- via bergen.p5.no.

Uccio Aloisi

Traditional singer -- via Il Paese Nuovo.it.

Geoffrey Foot

Film editor -- via the Independent.

Chao-li Chi

Teacher, scholar and actor -- via Legacy.com.

Ruth Harris

Woman of many talents -- via the Cincinnati Enquirer. She penned her own obituary, which is revealing, humorous and touching.

Joseph Stein

Writer and librettist, most notably for "Fiddler on the Roof," for which he won a Tony -- via Broadway.com. (P.S. -- Tevye was a milkman, not a baker.)

Gregory Issacs

Reggae singer -- via the BBC

the Sony Walkman

Portable cassette player -- via Conceivably Tech. After 31 years and 200 million units made, its manufacture has been discontinued.

John Graysmark

Oscar-nominated art director and production designer -- via Legacy.com. Gave a great look to many films, including "Young Winston," "Ragtime," "The Bounty," "Lifeforce" and "Gorillas in the Mist," to name a few.

Gladys Bates

Educator who fought racism -- via the Denver Post