Geek Losses 2008 - The First Half

Not to be morbid, but this year, I'd started to collect the names of people who had made a contribution to Geekery and had passed away in 2008. At the end of the year, I was expecting to write a massive homage, y'know? But halfway into 2008 and the list is already absurdly (and sadly) long. So I thought I might give it a go twice rather than once.

Note that these are the people whose achievements intersected my life in some way, and no slight should be perceived if a name isn't there. Please feel free to add to the list in the comments section. And it's all geek stuff, so sorry college basketball coaches, Free Trade negotiators and Egg McMuffin inventors, I'm sure your contribution to society was important, it's just didn't blip on my radar.

I've actually done proper obituary pieces for Jim Mooney and Steve Gerber, but they weren't alone. We also lost two very sexy artists in Dave Stevens and Will Elder, and by that I don't mean that they were sexy (it's not my place to say), but that their art was. Stevens' beautiful art had a poster-like quality that made his work on both the Rocketeer and Bettie Paige really shine. And what can I say about Elder except that his Annie Fanny strips were my first glimpse of erotica. And like all teenagers from my generation, I used to buy Mad Magazine when it was cheap. Add to this list Tintin publisher Raymond Leblanc, V for Vendetta colorist Steve Whitaker, and just recently, Image-style artist Michael Turner (he was my age, for God's sake), as well as many writers and artists from abroad that I never got to sample (Fred Baker, Vladimiro Missaglia, and others).

Star Trek
Considering my daily content, I should make a section just for people who contributed to Trek, chief among them producer Robert Justman. He helped birth the show both in its original incarnation and The Next Generation, plus helped Geekery along elsewhere, with work on The Adventures of Superman, The Outer Limits and Mission Impossible. Trek actors who passed away this year include Stanley Kamel (Maddrox) though he is best known now for his role in Monk, and Robert DoQui (Noggra) perhaps better known as Sgt. Reed in the Robocop movies. And then there's Joseph Pedney who directed a number of Original Series episodes, including most of the classics (The City on the Edge of Forever, The Trouble with Tribbles, Amok Time, etc.). I must also mention Herb Kenwith who directed The Lights of Zetar, but we won't hold it against him, ok?

Doctor Who
Can't do one without the other, and we did lose some substantial contributors to Classic Who: Johnny Byrne, writer of such stories as The Keeper of Traken (without him, we have no Nyssa), Arc of Infinity and Warriors from the Deep, was also responsible for a number of Space 1999 stories. Actor Kevin Stoney brought immense presence to a couple of early Who villains, such as Mavic Chen and Tobias Vaughn, and later, Tyrum. man could do over-the-top like nobody's business. Wonderful. Hammer Horror regular Bernard Archard also passed; he was Marcus Scarman in Pyramids of Mars, and Bragen in Power of the Daleks. This list must also include Bond Girl (Goldfinger) Jane Lumb who appeared as a Thal extra in Doctor Who and the Daleks.

Movies and TV
Outside of my two obsessions, the number of talented individuals who've left us swells, including a couple of Geekery icons. The first of these is Charlton Heston who for a while there, was THE 1970s sci-fi hero. Planet of the Apes, Soylent Green, The Omega Man... Was he just too old to do Logan's Run or what? My favorite performance of his is still as the Player King in Branagh's Hamlet. Seems odd, I know, but he really sells that Priam speech.

The other icon is Roy Scheider. Jaws obviously takes care of posterity, but I'll always remember him from Blue Thunder, Naked Lunch, 2010, Punisher (yes, Punisher), and of course, SeaQuest DSV. In all of his work, there was a sense of authority. Here was a man you could trust. His heroes earnest, his villains manipulative. And yet, there was always a humanity there. The common man as hero.

In this section, I'd like to pay my respects to George Carlin, first and foremost a brilliant stand-up comedian, and one of the few of whom I have a book. His recent collaborations with Kevin Smith (especially in Dogma) were goofy and sardonic at the same time. A nice part of his legacy. As a fervent Carol Burnett Show viewer, I can definitely say I'll carry fond memories of Harvey Korman as well. Don S. Davis just left us, he was General Hammond on Stargate SG-1, Major Briggs on Twin Peaks and Scully's father on X-Files, but best known by Canadians for pulling a gun on Sam Steele in that Heritage Minute. The second of two lost Bond Girls, Julie Ege starred as one of Blofeld's Angels of Death In Her Majesty's Secret Service. Paul Scofield who, for my money, gave us the best Hamlet's Ghost in movie history (in Mel Gibson's version, of all places). Hong Kong actress Lydia Chum I enjoyed in Happy Together, but she appeared in 85 more films I've never seen. Lionel Mark Smith was a regular cast member of David Mamet films. Barry Morse played the memorable Victor Bergman in Space 1999. Heath Ledger was taken away too soon, and I can't wait to see his interpretation of the Joker this summer. Also taken too soon, Brad Renfro whose major geek credit is playing Josh in Ghost World. Maila Nurmi AKA Vampira was immortalized by Ed Wood, which has a strong geek cachet. And a fond farewell to Suzanne Pleshette, a striking actress I used to love in the Bob Newhart Show (and her appearance in the last Newhart episode is sheer brilliance).

Behind the scenes, we must bid farewell to a couple of major lights, including special effects and make-up man Stan Winston. He's responsible for the visual artistry of such films as Aliens, Predator, Galaxy Quest, A.I., Terminator 2, Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns and more recently, Iron Man. Oh, and he's credited with the Wookie Family's costumes in the Star Wars Christmas Special. Truly, a giant in his field.

We've also lost actor/director Sydney Pollack, whom I recently enjoyed in Michael Clayton (I'll miss his sheer presence in general). As a director, he will always be remembered for Out of Africa and Tootsie, though he gets most of his geekcred from The Yakuza. Other film and television contributors we've lost: Lawrence Hertzog, genre writer responsible for Nowhere Man, who also worked on 24, Profiler and SeaQuest; Kay Linaker, scriptwriter of The Blob (and an actress in the 40s); Anthony Minghella, writer/director of The English Patient, The Talented Mister Ripley and Cold Mountain; David Watkin, cinematographer of such films as Catch-22, Jesus of Nazareth, Out of Africa, and Gibson's Hamlet; and John Alvin, the poster artist of E.T., The Lion King, Young Frankenstein, Blade Runner, Princess Bride, Lord of the Rings, and lots more besides.

A lot of the pioneers of animation are leaving us, among them Ollie Johnston (Snow White) and Phyllis Barnhart (Jungle Book) at Disney, and soviet animator Iosif Boyarski. Closer to my personal parcel of the zeitgeist is Jacques Morel, the voice of Obélix in the French-language Astérix cartoons. His is a voice I can immediately recall, and it's always sad when a childhood icon passes away, even in sound alone. It's like Obélix actually died.

Not animation, but children's entertainment nonetheless, Sesame Street puppeteer Kermit Love (no, not the one who inspired the frog's name) passed away. Among other things, he designed and built Big Bird.

Science Fiction and Fantasy
It hasn't been a good year for written science fiction and fantasy. Most prominently, we've lost Sir Arthur C. Clarke. Though the world mourned him for his connection to 2001, I best remember him as the author of Childhood's End. An interesting thing about his work is that it was devoid of villains, Man left alone to conquer the final frontier was always excitement enough. Sir Clarke is followed by Algis Budrys, whom I haven't read, though I have a couple of his books - Michaelmas and Who?, and Stephen Marlowe, whom I don't know at all, probably because he's more of a mystery writer.

On the fantasy side of things, Robert Asprin passed away. As a teenager, I was an immense fan of his MythAdventures series, which appealed to the same part of my brain as Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. Here, I should also mention Gary Gygax, who got a proper obit from me at the time. And I'll throw in a mention of Gwenc'hlan Le Scouëzec, a real life druid (Brittany's Grand Druide), just because it fits.

A lot of musicians died in the first half of 2008, but I'll only mention the ones who touched my particular life, like slide guitarist Jeff Healey and John Rutsey, original drummer of Rush, because well, it's Rush. There are also a couple who I only really know because of commercials, if that says anything about our culture, but I'll regret the loss of Bo Diddley and Buddy Miles, voice of the California Raisins, nonetheless.

Proper Art
Alain Robbe-Grillet, father of the French Nouveau Roman, a sort of deconstructionist, yet playful style, which I loved in university. Don't know how Les Gommes (The Erasers) plays in English, but it's brilliant. And from the pop art scene (because pop art, to me, is imbued with geekery), we lost Robert Rauschenberg (if Warhol and Lichtenstein's art was explosive, his was exploded - the after effects of the pop culture experience), as well as the woman who shot Marilyn for Warhol, Dorothy Podber. Great or small, their contributions have been notable.

Pioneers, Adventurers and Inventors
And then there are the people who, in my opinion, just made our world cooler. Hugh Bradner, inventor of the wetsuit; Richard Knerr, inventor of the frisbee and the hula hoop; and Cachao Lopez who gave us the mambo. Among the explorers, we lost Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to reach the top of Mount Everest, and astronaut George Low who drafted the mission plan for Apollo 8, my favorite of all the Apollo missions (round the moon on Christmas Eve, what's not to love?).

I wish I could give a proper send off to each of these men and women, but it's already an outrageously long post by my standards. To them all, thanks for adding a little (or a big!) something to this geek's life and other geeks' too (and to mundanes' for that matter). If I missed someone, or if you'd like to eulogize someone further, please make use of the comments section.

Now leaving 2008 Part I...


Matthew Turnage said...

Wow, I hadn't heard about Michael Turner or John Rutsey. RIP guys.

rob! said...

oh wow, i didn't know Bob Justman died.

i've listened to the audio book version of his and Herb Solow's "Inside Star Trek" many, many times.

Unknown said...

This is the third one of these posts but: Wow, I did not know Jeff Healy died. I first became aware of him in the cinematic classic "Road House" and then live at my favorite Blues Bar in Nashville when he sat in with the house band. Talented cat. I'll have to pick up his version of Halleluha.

Anonymous said...

I guess it's time for more "I didn't know that..."

Neil Peart wasn't a founding member of Rush.

Allain Robbe-Grillet died. I thought Les Gommes was rather meh. A 2-page description for the guy's sandwich, come on. Okay, best description of a sandwich, EVER, but completely irrelevant to the story. Its a vending machine sandwich for frak's sake!!!

sorry for venting.

Siskoid said...

Sorry Mike, but I'm afraid you didn't get the point of that description (of a quarter tomato, actually). It was all part of the novel's deconstructionist style, lampooning the Balzac-ian notion that "environmental" description somehow says something about character.

And since Les Gommes is, on the surface, a pointless detective fiction, the attention to equally pointless details makes the novel's point (it has the novel's structure without the novel's content). That tomato is, in essence, a reduced image of the book itself.

Unknown said...

I didn't realize Ollie Johnston had passed. Wasn't he the last of Disney's "Nine Old Men"?

Siskoid said...

Yes, Robert, he was.

Unknown said...

I thought so. He and Frank Thomas both lived good long lives, and it was obvious that it was just a matter of time, but it's still sad to see an era pass like that. Kind of like when Bob Hope and Katharine Hepburn left us.

Wherever they are, I hope Frank and Ollie are doing something amazing.


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