DEATH IS COMING FOR US ALL.
Sorry, we came in a little hot there. What we meant to say is that the cold tendrils of death are an ever-present shadow in our periphery. Maybe that’s why we spend such a good chunk of time mourning the loss of beloved celebrities who probably wouldn’t piss on us if we were on fire. But lost between headlines bemoaning the death of huge stars like Tom Petty and Hugh Hefner are others who impacted the world just as much in their own unique ways, and whose passing went almost entirely overlooked.
(This is part one of our yearly mega-list of overlooked celebrity deaths. Part two drops tomorrow.)
Jan 10: The Reporter Who Broke World War II
Clare Hollingworth, English journalist.
From being 105.
Hollingworth was on the third day of her burgeoning career as a journalist when she broke her first story, and she came out of the gate spittin’ hot fire. On August 29, 1939, Clare was the first to break the news of World War II, having spotted German tanks encroaching on the Polish border.
After that gigantic scoop, Clare spent her time freeing hundreds of fugitives from the Nazis. She headed a dangerous mission for the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, which required her to trek across Nazi Germany into Poland, where she would rush high-risk people out of the country. Once that ordeal was finished, Clare went back to being a journalistic giant. She inspired untold legions of women to go into the field. She finally allowed death to take her at the ripe old age of 105.
Jan 12: The Author Of “The Exorcist”
Novelist William Peter Blatty.
Multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer.
Blatty wrote the novel The Exorcist in 1971, which inspired the 1973 movie. He also wrote and directed the 1980 film The Ninth Configuration and 1990’s wildly overlooked and underrated The Exorcist 3, but the novel is still widely regarded as his greatest work. Except for maybe the stunt that got him the cash he needed to write it in the first place.
Blatty was a contestant on Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life. He pretended to be an Arab prince, complete with a fake accent. That wasn’t a running theme on You Bet Your Life or anything, that was … just something he did.
This was back in the days when doing something super racist on national TV was still seen as a smart career move.
Blatty won 10 grand on the show, and used the money to quit his day job so he could focus on writing full-time. What we’re saying is clearly that the offensive foreign accent you do for your friends at work might be profitable some day.
Jan. 16: The Last Man To Walk On The Moon
Eugene Cernan, astronaut.
Throughout the course of world history, 12 men have planted their boots on the lunar surface. The very last was Cernan, during the Apollo 17 trip in 1972.
Gene actually had a chance to go to go to the moon earlier in his career, as a pilot on the Apollo 16 mission. He turned it down because he would settle for nothing less than being the captain of the mission. His persistence eventually paid off, and Gene found himself in charge of Apollo 17. The crew spent three days on the surface, where Gene carved his daughter’s initials in the dust. Side note: That’s why your own daughter is so very disappointed in that sweater you got her for Christmas.
As they left the moon, Gene said, “As I take man’s last step from the surface, back home for some time to come — but we believe not too long into the future — I’d like to just [say] what I believe history will record: That America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17.” He died at age 82.
See you, space cowboy.
Jan. 25: WORLDSTAR!!!
Lee “Q” O’Denat, WorldStarHipHop website founder.
WorldStarHipHop is one of the most consistently entertaining, raunchy, and raw websites around. And you can thank Lee O’Denat for that. The Queens native started the site in 2005, drawing ire for its explicit content. But he struck a chord with his audience, drawing up to a million daily visitors. O’Denat wasn’t worried about the controversy, stating, “Hip-hop is for the sex, the drugs, the violence, the beefs, the culture.” His website might have been polarizing, but people who knew him say he was a warm, caring, generous person. He was 43 when he collapsed and died outside of a massage parlor. He leaves a strong legacy behind him, like the video “Zombielike Tweaker Enters A Guys House, Starts Wildin Out Grabbing His Balls & Biting Him.”
Jan 22: The Father Of Pac-Man
Masaya Nakamura, founder of Namco.
In 1955, Nakamura founded Nakamura Manufacturing. They started out making kid’s rides for department stores, but eventually rebranded in the 1970s, when they expanded to arcade games. Nakamura is one of a select group credited with launching the Japanese video game industry. Namco created Pac-Man, Galaga, and Pole Position. He died at the age of 91, and in honor of his contribution to the world, we will not make an “insert coin to continue” joke here.
Dammit, we just did, didn’t we?
Feb 18: The “Roe” From “Roe v. Wade”
McCorvey was “Jane Roe” in the infamous Roe v. Wade case. She had a troubled childhood growing up in the ’60s: She was a runaway, married when she was 16, and had two children she gave up for adoption. When she became pregnant for the third time, she wanted to get an abortion. She couldn’t afford to travel to a state where it was legal, but her attorney put her in touch with two female lawyers seeking to build a case to legalize abortion in Texas — the hardest thing on Earth anyone could ever attempt to do, outside of practicing speech therapy in Boston. But hey, they won! Well, court cases take a really long time, and when the ruling finally came, McCorvey had already given birth, but still, yay.
McCorvey would do a bit of a heel turn before dying at 69. After being baptized by Reverend Philip Benham, a leader in anti-abortion sentiments, she started agitating against abortion. Playing both sides of the field like that is a good way to ensure a spot in Heaven, we suppose.
Feb. 18: The Most Sampled Man In Music History
Clyde Stubblefield, musician.
Even if you’re not a big James Brown fan, you’ve definitely heard Clyde Stubblefield’s drumming. The beat to Brown’s 1970 song “Funky Drummer” is far and away the most sampled riff in hip-hop history. Here are just a few of the nearly 1,000 songs that sample Stubblefield’s drums: “Mama Said Knock You Out,” “Fuck Tha Police,” “Fight The Power,” and the Powerpuff Girls theme song.
Clyde never got a writing credit on any of those songs, so he didn’t see much in the way of money when his sample exploded in the ’80s. But he was much more than a 20-second snippet. Rolling Stone placed him at #6 on its list of the 100 greatest drummers of all time. When his health began to deteriorate a few years back, Prince stepped in and handled $90,000 of his medical bills. Prince was a Jehovah’s Witness, and also possibly a celestial, penis-based alien life form, so he had a few weird beliefs about modern medicine, but he believed in Stubblefield enough to set his religion aside and write a big-ass check.
Feb 26: The People’s Judge
Warner Bros. Television
Joseph Wapner, judge on the TV show The People’s Court.
Most likely complications from strokes.
Wapner was the lovable judge who presided over the first version of The People’s Court, which ran from 1981 to 1993. If you wanted to watch someone slowly realize they were wrong in front of millions of viewers, then this was the show for you.
Wapner’s reason for doing the show was to educate people about the legal process and to show regular folks how they should behave if they ever found themselves in a courtroom. A single look at any courtroom (or indeed, any reality TV program) will show that he was wildly, wildly unsuccessful, but we shouldn’t hold that against him.
Mar 21: Mr. Game Show
Chuck Barris, creator/producer of The Gong Show, The Newlywed Game, and The Dating Game.
Barris was the producer behind some of the biggest game shows of all time, and though he mostly worked behind the scenes, he did get in front of the camera for The Gong Show once, whereupon he won everyone’s hearts.
His television endeavors weren’t his only achievements. He also wrote the hit song “Palisades Park,” and … claimed to have been a CIA assassin? The CIA has released a statement saying, “It sounds like he might have been standing too close to the gong all those years.” We can’t think of a single time when the CIA was dishonest, so it’s hard to know which side to trust here.
Mar. 21: The Architect Of A Sports Dynasty
Jerry Krause, Chicago Bulls general manager.
Krause took over as GM of his hometown Chicago Bulls in 1985. He had a young Michael Jordan to work with — which ain’t nothin’! — but not much else. Jordan’s otherworldly talent was enough to get them to the playoffs, but not enough to win. That’s where Krause’s genius came in. He made some unconventional management decisions, like hiring legendary coaches Phil Jackson and Tex Winter, as well as drafting players like Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant. His keen eye for team-building led to three consecutive championships in the early ’90s, and Krause and the Bulls dominated basketball for years.
Krause never stopped putting together great teams, most recently for the Diamondbacks. As his friend Michael Jordan could have told him, transitioning to baseball doesn’t always leave the impact you hope for, but all the same, Krause was an undeniable force in the sporting world.
Apr 12: Chaaaaaaarlie Murphy
Charlie Murphy, older brother of actor Eddie Murphy.
If you know Charlie Murphy, chances are it’s from the best couple episodes of Chappelle’s Show, where his stories about Eddie Murphy’s inner circle are the stuff of cocaine-dusted legend.
A self-admitted “hothead” who loved his younger brother, Murphy confessed to going a little way too far in his duties as Eddie’s bodyguard. As Charlie himself recalled, “There was 10,000 people laughing, and you that one joker that wanna try and squeeze a lemon. Fuck you. I don’t even want you to be there. And I took it as a personal crusade, and they were like, ‘You know what, you’re a little overzealous with your job.’ So, that is how I ended up not doing that anymore.” Understated and refined as always, Charlie.
May 19: The Man Who Literally Saved The World
Stanislav Petrov, Soviet officer.
In 1983, Petrov was working in the Soviet Air Defense Forces. He minimized his game of Minesweeper to see that five intercontinental missiles were on their way from the U.S.
Which … was bad, you see.
The protocol was to launch a retaliatory strike right away, but a voice in the back of Petrov’s head said something wasn’t right. Maybe he didn’t feel like ending the world that day. He diagnosed the warning as a glitch in the system. 23 minutes passed while the computer flashed “LAUNCH.” 23 anus-quivering minutes. And he was right! It was a glitch. Some sunlight reflected off a cloud looked sorta like a missile to their computers. The Soviets showered Petrov with praise and rewards for saving the very world itself from- haha, no, they wrote him up for making a filing error when he was doing paperwork about averting Armageddon.
Still, we’re all alive, and for that, we owe Petrov at least a solemn chest thump or two.
Check back for Part 2 tomorrow!
It’s never too late to start planning for your own funeral! Check out the book Funerals to Die For for some ideas.
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