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"

Lorenzo de Rodas

Actor -- via eluniversal.com.mx.

Reginald Collin

Producer, director, writer and actor, primarily for television -- via the Chicago Tribune.

Ted D'Arms

Actor, director and artist -- via the Seattle Times.

John Chamberlain

Sculptor -- via the New York Times.

Robert Easton

Masterful dialectician and actor -- via the L.A. Times.

Yoshimitsu Morita

Film director -- via the Chicago Tribune. Directed such well-regarded works as "The Family Game," "And Then" and "Paradise Lost."

Don Sharp

Film director -- via the New York Times. Best known for his efforts for Hammer films, including "The Kiss of the Vampire" and "The Face of Fu Manchu."

Warren Hellman

Financial whiz, civic leader, philanthropist, amateur athlete, bluegrass lover and musician, and founder of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival -- via the New York Times.

Heidi Helen Davis

Director, actress and teacher -- via the L.A. Times.

Ronnie Wolfe aka Harvey Ronald Wolfe-Luberoff

Comedy writer for stage, radio and TV -- via the Telegraph.

Pupi Campo aka Jacinto Campillo

Musician and bandleader -- via johnlewisbartee.blogspot.com.

Thomas J. Bassler aka T.J. Bass

Doctor and author -- via Locus Online News.

Carmen Rupe

Transgender icon -- via the Star Observer.

Te Paekiomeka Joy Ruha

Maori leader -- via tributes.co.nz.

John Gardner

Composer -- via the Guardian.

Frances Melrose

Journalist and historian -- via the Denver Post.

John Higgins

Actor, director and dialect coach -- via the Hollywood Reporter.

Marilyn O'Connor Davis

Actress, singer and dancer -- via the Ventura County Star.

Paula Hyman

Historian -- via the Jewish Daily Forward.

Graham Brown

Actor -- via Playbill.

Rating the dead: is it wrong? I say yes, but what do you think?

Got this message in my inbox today -- I think it's interesting but misconceived, and I would love to hear what you think of it. My whole point with Obit Patrol is to focus on lives well-lived, of engaging personalities or those who made lasting contributions to those around them. This does not correlate with fame, necessarily -- although I am tracking obituaries through already-published sources, which indicates a modicum of notoriety on the part of the deceased. (There is a limitless number of "anonymous" lives that deserve similar attention here; unfortunately, I don't have the time or resources to give them the spotlight they deserve.)

My problem with this and all other "top-ranked" deaths of the year stories and posts is that it indicates that we value a person's visibility status -- the celebrity quantum of simply being knowable by the broadest base of people possible -- as the primary criterion for being remembered. I don't list people who I feel are already well-covered by the mainstream media (politicians, some sports figures, celebrities) or those who I feel were a blight on the planet rather than a boon (Ghaddafi, bin Laden, Kim Jong-Il). What do you think? Would love to hear from you on this.

"Dear Jayde Member,
With so many famous deaths in 2011 (Steve Jobs, Andy Rooney,
Osama Bin Laden, etc.), it's hard to determine who is the most
famous. Well FamousDead.com has put together a very intuitive
application that allows you to rank the most famous deaths of 2011,
by simply dragging and dropping them in order. After you submit your
choices, you can see the global top 10 list:
http://www.famousdead.com/top10/
Keep on Promoting!
Jayde Admin"

Dan Frazer

Character actor -- via the New York Times. Best remembered as Captain McNeil on "Kojak"; also known informally as the Mayor of 43rd Street for his long residence in the neighborhood of his brith -- Hell's Kitchen, aka Clinton.

Rahim Ghamzada

Singer -- via Ariana News.

Marvin Saul

The genius behind the wonderful Junior's deli in Westwood -- via the L.A. Times.

Billie Jo Spears

Country singer -- via the New York Times.

Khadzhimurat Kamalov

Journalist -- via the New York Times. Murdered in the course of duty.

Boris Chertok

Rocket scientist -- via the New York Times.

Xue Jinbo

Rights activist -- via the New York Times. Died in police custody.

Anthony Amato

Founder and driving force behind the Amato Opera -- via the New York Times.

Ralph MacDonald

Grammy-winning songwriter, arranger, producer and percussionist -- via the New York Daily News. He wrote, among other tunes, "Where is the Love" and "Just the Two of Us."

Brian Alexander Leitch

Jolly steelyard owner -- via news.ninemsn.com.au. One of his lifelong goals was to pen his own humorous obituary. He succeeded!

Erica Wilson

A master of needlework who revived the craft in America -- via the Washington Post.

Bert Schneider

Film and television producer -- via the L.A. Times. He made a pile from "The Monkees," but used that money to finance films such as "Easy Rider," "The Last Picture Show," "Five Easy Pieces" and "Days of Heaven." Peter Biskind reports in Vanity Fair.

Jeff Stratton


First of all -- this is a eulogy, not an obituary. An obituarist gathers details about someone’s life; a eulogist gets to praise the departed. I am faced with the loss of a kindred spirit. As such, I am not willing to rack up and organize the mundane details. I just want to tell you how much I loved Jeff Stratton.

I like to think that Jeff would be the first to say that this is bullshit. To die, suddenly and unexpectedly, at the age of 47, leaving behind a young child and a beloved partner, is ridiculous. To leave the world abruptly in the middle of so many worthwhile projects is shocking. In fact, it’s downright rude. I imagine that as he gets to wherever he is going, he will want to talk to whoever is in charge. I hope they have some answers for him.

When I walked into the offices of a small independent newspaper in Boulder, Colorado in 1994, ready to leave the comedy world and step into a life in journalism, Jeff was occupying the cubicle in the upstairs back corner. His desk was littered with CDs, piles of papers and a host of strange little tchotchkes that are routinely sent by the music industry to music editors in an effort to flog their product. He welcomed me immediately, without hesitation.

Our friendship was cemented by a mutual love of music, mockery, moonshine and something else that starts with m. Night after night, we would venture around the back of the building to a magical place we liked to call Hooter Alley, where laughter was shared with the rest of our similarly-minded bunch (Mr. Pants, Cat Spacey, a shout-out to you!).

His cheerful, chirping voice; his sparkling eyes; and the mischievous look on his face as if he was always about to say the funniest thing imaginable, which he was, led me to dub him Skippy. In deference to my seniority, he dubbed me Uncle B.

As with most small, independent enterprises, the money was tight, the deadlines were harrowing, and the management was psychotic. Somehow, Skippy got me through each week. Our paychecks had a nasty habit of being utterly worthless. One Friday, we all piled en masse into my car, drove to the institution they were written on, and cashed them, singing together (to the tune of “My Boyfriend’s Back”), “The landlord said he’s gonna throw out my belongings/Hey, Lon, Hey, Lon/My paycheck bounced!/I am living on uncooked blocks of Ramen/Hey, Lon, Hey, Lon/My paycheck bounced!”

Our taste in music was pretty divergent. I was into jazz and opera; he wouldn’t or couldn’t stop playing Nick Drake. However, we came together in our appreciation for Nick Cave, Ween and Lee Perry. And he did turn me on to Jesus Lizard. His welcoming mind was open to all kinds of music . . . except bluegrass, a particular love of mine that he would mock incessantly by miming a mandolin and calling out, “Plinkety, plinkety, plink!”

Even after we both escaped that publication, we hung out. Lots of good times were spent at his creaky little rental house at 7th and Lipan, and later at his nice vintage starter home on Denver’s west side. He moved to Florida, and I stopped by down there as well. In each and every house of his, the CDs were shelved from floor to ceiling. In each, he was a jovial, talkative, funny, inclusive host.

And he could write. Boy, could he write. His writing was a model of clarity and forthrightness. He knew what he thought, and he could state it plainly and eloquently, and he could write it quickly. An editor’s dream. After years of writing about music, he moved into “straight” journalism, and won awards for his work there as well. He was a consummate journalist.

Finally, he moved beyond my reach to Roatan, off the coast of Honduras. Although I never got down there, we traded jokes and comments electronically. Not nearly as satisfying. He claimed to have turned his back on journalism. He taught English. He met Deirdra. He started podcasting as Duke Dubuque, unable to resist sharing his musical enthusiasms and knowledge, to everyone’s benefit. He and Deirdra had Cooper, a wonderful little kid who doesn’t deserve not to have his dad around.

In the end, Skippy couldn’t resist the urge to communicate, to inform, to share. Jeff had just started his own independent publication, the first his island home had ever seen. I jokingly referred to him as the Charles Foster Kane of Treasure Island, and imagined him chastising his workers as he swung through the office on a liana, cutlass clenched between his little teeth. Up to the end, he was making good things happen.

I am confused as to how he met his end. One report says complications from a stomach ulcer. Another says a heart attack. It doesn’t matter all that much, really. The important thing is that he has left the building.

Selfishly, I want him back. In my life, the people who really get me, who share my warped sense of humor, my wildly inappropriate way of looking at things, who I can feel absolutely and unequivocally able to be myself with, are extremely rare. Almost extinct. Jeff was one of those people. I could not see him for a year, then step into a room with him and pick up precisely where we’d left off.

The fact that so many other people have said the same thing in recent days shows you what kind of person he was. Everyone felt special, felt appreciated, felt heard in his presence. It’s a kind of inclusiveness of spirit, an essential friendliness, which I can only aspire to emulate imperfectly at best. He taught me a lot about how to live life and treat people.

I don’t know, don’t care and don’t want to speculate about why people die when they do or what comes after. That is not in my pay grade. All that can matter to me is what happens here in the scope of this time and space, this reality. Jeff Stratton got to tell his truths, love his loves, and share himself with a vast array of humanity. That’s good enough for me. Good job, Skippy.

UPDATE: 12/23/11 -- Here is a wonderful video tribute from Jeff's friend, Ej Q'aniluno -- 

Vaclav Havel

Playwright,essayist, poet and dissident who became the first president of the Czech Republic -- via the BBC. A remarkable life -- his writing is stupendous. He walked the talked, going to jail many times for his beliefs and suffering from constant questioning and surveillance. Then, somehow, he negotiated the political waters with some success. Watch the excellent 2008 documentary "Citizen Havel" to see him at work. Ironically, I am right in the middle of his wonderful book "The Art of the Impossible: Politics and Morality in Practice." A fine soul!

Interview with President Václav Havel, playwright from Pew Center for Arts & Heritage on Vimeo.