Top 12 Deaths of the Decade (x2)

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Top 12 Deaths of the Decade (x2)

This decade saw the death of Presidents and Hollywood legends, rock visionaries and true American heroes.  What struck me most, while compiling my list of the "Top Deaths of the Decade" is how many people who have died since January 1, 2000 are people who's death had a corollary to someone else who also died within the decade.  Some were joined by real partnerships, others by their similar effect on the world.  It's a neat trick, I found.  Who knows if it's only applicable to this decade.  I'm going to pretend it is and hope that in 10 years no one will remember I did this trick two decades in a row. Here are my twelve most notable pairs of notable or celebrity deaths, in no particular order.

Michael Jackson & George Harrison


If there had been no Beatles, there would never have been a Michael Jackson.  These two changed the way we think about music, something very few people in all of human history can claim.  


Walter Mathau & Jack Lemmon


The best unofficial comedy duo of the Twentieth Century, they were the perfect comic foils for one another.  Mathau with his basset hound face and slow-motion delivery set against Lemmon and his bug-eyed methamphetamine delivery produced comic fireworks the likes of which we will be lucky to see again in our lifetime.


Fred Rogers & Bob Keeshen


Everything I know about social graces I learned from these two men.  While Sesame Street was mostly concerned with teaching my generation to count and spell, Mr. Rogers and Captain Kangaroo taught us how to be good people.  To this day, I will sometimes ask myself: what would Mr. Rogers think of my behavior?  


Robert McNamara & Ronald Reagan


Successive generations will be much more equipped to determine who did more damage to the nation.  We are too close to the destruction.  Both worked hard for the distinction.  In McNamara, you have the death of almost 60,000 American soldiers and literally countless hundreds of thousands of North and South Vietnamese, not even mentioning his involvement in the firebombing of Tokyo in World War II.  In Reagan, you have the death of almost 600,000 Americans from AIDS, not to mention the path to financial ruin that he put us on.


Katherine Hepburn & Paul Newman


Hollywood never had two more classy representatives than these two.  Kate brought toughness to femininity and Paul brought gentleness to masculinity.  They personified class and everything that was right about old Hollywood and throw a harsh spotlight on the miserable state of affairs that city is in now.


Marlon Brando & Heath Ledger

The original and the inheritor.  When Brando stepped onto the stage of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, he changed the way actors view their craft.  Nearly sixty years later, when Ledger slid into a pair of cowboy boots for the defining performance of his career (sorry, Joker) in Brokeback Mountain, it was like watching a baton being passed between runners.  In them, we have a double tragedy: in Brando, we witnessed the ruinous decline of one of the titans of the craft and in Ledger, we saw the too-early extinguishment of the greatest new talent since Brando.



Johnny Carson & Bob Hope


The last generation of comics to wear suits to work, these two proved that vaudeville wasn’t dead, it was just waiting for a better deal.  Bob Hope invented the variety special and earned the thanks of a truly grateful nation for his tireless work on behalf of the USO.  Johnny Carson reinvented the late-night talks show format and did it better than anyone—anyone—has ever before or since.  They were the gentlemen of jokes.


Richard Pryor & George Carlin


If Carson and Hope were your very funny uncles, Pryor and Carlin were your older brother’s really cool best friends.  They were to comedy what Jackson and Harrison were to rock.  They made comedy dangerous, important and deeply, deeply funny. 


Arthur Miller & Robert Altman


The go-it-alone cowboys of storytelling.  Arthur Miller wrote elegant agitprop, elegies for the working stiff and Shakespearian portraits of fallen kings.  Altman made films about loners and communities in flux, about the desire and inability to communicate.  They explained America to us.


Rosa Parks & Ted Kennedy


One was born with the expectation of greatness, the other, with not many expectations at all.  Both achieved it but not through paths anyone could or would have chosen for them.  True heroes and patriots in every sense of the word, they did what few can truly claim: they left America better than they found it. 


Walter Cronkite & Mark Felt (aka “Deep Throat”)

Journalism was never helped as much as it was by these two.  Walter Cronkite was journalism for most of America, defining it completely and indelibly.  Mark Felt taught us that the responsibility of government to its people was upheld through the fourth estate.  In the age of Faux News and Chicken Noodle News, it’s nice to remember there were once people of character and integrity making sure the truth saw the light of day.

Estelle Getty & Bea Arthur


The reason I’m gay.  Thanks, ladies, for being a friend.



  • 1

    Beautiful Matthew!
    This is extraordinarily well written and well chosen. Very thoughtful. Q.U.A.L.I.T.Y!

    My personal "spare a thought for them" list includes these above + Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Gregory Peck, Don Knotts and Patrick Swayze but I love the way that you grouped two individuals together to examine their impact and I'm not sure that's possible with my 4 additions.

    Seriously nice job!

  • 2

    Oh, I don't know, I think there are a lot of parallels between the lives of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. and Don Knotts. Both men surely would have cured cancer if we'd given them another fifty years.

  • 3

    your bias makes me want to puke

  • 4

    Where the fuck is Johnny Cash

  • 5

    Thanks, Dave! I hope it was a good one!

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