Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Friday, March 25, 2011

On the Days of Deaths

The funeral of Rudolph Valentino in New York, 1926. 100,000 people came, two women committed suicide and a mysterious Lady in Black lay flowers on his grave for years after.

Everybody died, the known and unknown. Perhaps some of us are remembered by friends and relatives until they go, a few are recalled by their life achievements beyond generations. Then there are some who remain indelibly impressed in the memory of many; people who's death for some reason, whether sudden, shock, surprise or sadness of loss remains within our memory.

Rudolph Valentino was such a one for many, he was only 31 at death, but not for me. He was before my time. Once I would have said: "well before my time", but truthfully, his death was much closer to my birth than my last birthday and 15 years doesn't seem like much time before anymore.

For my friend, Ron, at Retired in Delaware when Elizabeth Taylor died on Wednesday, March 23, 2011, she was such a person for him. "I will remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard," he said and he wrote about a list of people who he can say the same about.  Most of those he listed, perhaps all, were memorable deaths, that probably those of us alive for each do remember well. I can't claim I remember exactly where I was or doing when each passed, except perhaps John F. Kennedy. However, I may recall it because I wrote a long essay about what happened that November day at the time.

Anyway, here is my brief recall of those deaths on his list.

I was on my computer early that Wednesday morning, as usual. I receive my local paper online and had just read the obituaries. They made no mention of Elizabeth Taylor yet. I was contemplating another's death, John J. O'Toole at age 83. A few minutes later I saw a blurb on the web that Taylor had passed. My first thought was, "Poor John, you picked the wrong day to die." If you have some minor celebrity you may receive some coverage on your death, but not if a mega-star dimmed at the same time.

I didn't know John, but I had met him, had spoken to him. I can't say the same for Taylor. I also know many are asking who's John J. O'Toole. He was an actor, dancer, singer, producer, director legend in the area of Arden, the founder  and owner of the Candlelight Dinner Theater for thirty years.

Now I doubt thirty years from now I will remember where I was or doing when O'Toole or Taylor died. I doubt thirty years from now I will be around. Will you remember where you were when you hear the news of my death? But here are the people who I do remember even if I had to put on spurs and dig a bit to recall where I was at the time.

While we are on Elizabeth Taylor we probably should mention three people not on Ron's list, but who's parting  did grab the same type of attention. I even remember very well where I was and doing when word came on one of these. All three also had close ties to Elizabeth Taylor.

The most recent was Michael Jackson, apparently a somewhat popular singer. He died at age 50 of questionable circumstances on Thursday, June 25, 2009 in Los Angeles. This was two days before my birthday and  death was announced at 2:26 Pacific time. It was 5:26 here on the  East coast and we were just getting ready to have dinner when the report came over TV. Coincidentally, this past Thursday, the day after Taylor died, jury selection began in the trial of Jackson's doctor for manslaughter.

Many, many years before Michael Jackson's last moon walk, another pop idol died suddenly. He also was friends with Elizabeth and co-starred with her in a little movie called "Giant", along with another actor's whose death caused some stir, Rock Hudson. This young man, for he was only 25 when he died and already something of a legend in films was James Dean. He was killed on Friday afternoon, September 30, 1955 at 5:45 PM Pacific time (8:45 in the East). He had just bought a new sports car that morning and he collided with another car that evening and was killed. I was 14 years old and can't say exactly what I was doing at the time.

As it were, a reporter has just published a story that he claims Elizabeth Taylor whispered in his ear during the filming of "Giant". She and Dean had become friends and confidents and he told her as a boy he had been sexually molested by his preacher several times. The reporter says Elizabeth told him, but swore him to secrecy until after she died. I always approach such things with a grain of salt. Now she is dead and Dean is long cold, he has released it and who is there to confirm or deny?

Oh, the picture on the left is me in 1958 attempting to look my most James Deanest.

The third person connected to Elizabeth Taylor, and this is the one where I remember where I was at the time, is Mike Todd (birth name: Avrom Hirsch Goldbogen), a film producer best know for "Eighty Days Around the World" and being Elizabeth Taylor's third husband. I suppose there is a certain irony that Todd was killed in a plane crash in Grants, New Mexico on March 22, 1958 and Elizabeth on March 23, 2011. She had very much wanted to be on the trip with Todd, but because she had a cold he insisted she stay home; otherwise, she would have died with him at age 26. Todd was 48.

I recall the news of Todd's dead because his plane had been effected by the bad weather that week. A great blizzard had hit the country on March 20 and on Saturday, March 22 my family and I were still snowbound in a house with no electric, heat or water. The news came over a little transistor radio I had.

Just short of a year later, on February 3, 1959 at 1:00 AM Central time another plane went down in bad weather and crashed in Iowa. It took three performers to their grave, Jiles P. Richardson (known as The Bog Bopper), Richie Valens and the very influential Buddy Holly.

Holly was tired of the tour bus and paid for a seat on this charter. There was room for two others. Dion didn't want to pay the $36 fee and Ritchie Valens flipped a coin with another member of the group for a seat. Waylon Jennings was to take the third seat, but J. P. Richardson felt he was coming down with the flu, so asked if he could go on the plane. Jennings relented, thus sparing him for a long and distinguished career.

Given it was 2:00 AM where I was on a Tuesday morning and I had school the next day, I guess I was asleep in my bed.

I do know where I was when I heard of Marilyn Monroe's death. She died sometime in the night either late on August 4 or early August 5, 1962. She was discovered by a housekeeper dead upon her bed. The housekeeper called her psychoanalyst, rather than the police. Her doctor came to the room, as apparently did a number of others before the police got involved. It was ruled she died of an overdose of sleeping pills, but her death has remained in the throes of speculation and mystery, some of which involved Jack and Robert Kennedy. She was 36 years old.

My wife and I were on vacation at the time. We had first spent six days touring Virginia by car, but on Sunday, August 5, we were on our third and last day staying in New York City. We first heard the news while walking down a street looking for a restaurant to have lunch.

Speaking of the Kennedys, they are on the list and chronologically, President John F. Kennedy was the next to go. He died on a Friday in Dallas, Texas at 12:30 PM Central time (1:30 here) on November 22, 1963. I was at work when rumors circulated the president had been shot. I tried to call home, but you couldn't get a line. That confirmed it for me. I remember this death vividly, but as stated earlier, this may be because I wrote about the day it happened. You can read my full account of that day by clicking here - "Reflections on a Friday".

In 1968 I was following the Hippie crowd, even though I worked full time for an oil company. I was also writing for several publications and in 1969 I left the corporate world for a while to simply be a writer. 1968 was a hot year politically. The Vietnam war was raging, the Civil Rights Movement was cresting and Lyndon Johnson announced he would not run for the white house again. There were several candidates vying for the Democratic nomination and the most appealing to a lot of young people was Robert F. Kennedy. During his campaign that year, he came to Philadelphia.

Kennedy was to hold a rally in front of the Democratic Headquarters on Chestnut Street around lunchtime one day. I walked down there on my own lunch break and the place was mobbed. Kennedy was late arriving and the mob just kept growing and were somewhat restless. The police were all about and they were pushing everyone up off the street and cursing at us none too flatteringly. I was along side a stone building on what, 15th or 16th Street. I had a good view of where Kennedy did finally come and stand in his open top car to speak. It didn't hurt that I was taller than most around me. However, the constant compression of the people was threatening the well-being of a young woman in front of me. She wasn't all that big and she was being crushed into the stone wall of the building. I stepped up and put myself between her and the crowd, because I wasn't as easy to push.

Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel where he had made his victory speech after winning the California primary. He died just around 24 hours later at age 42. He was shot at 11:30 Pacific time on June 4, 1968. It was 3:30 of the morning of June 5 where I was, but we were watching the telecast of the speech in our living room, and then the chaos that erupted.

Those years were years of assassinations. Besides the Kennedys, leaders of the Black Rights movement were targets, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and then in 1968, the Face of Civil Rights, The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down in Memphis, Tennessee. It was April 4, 1968 at 7:05 PM, a Thursday evening and it send shock waves throughout the nation. These were very volitive times.

I was working in the headquarters of that oil company at the time. We came to work the next day, but then they sent everyone home early because their was rampant fear of riots breaking out in the city.

The last person that was on Ron's list was Princess Di. I'm not much of a Royal family follower. Don't have much time for him to tell the truth, but I do know where I was when this death happened. She was killed in that Paris tunnel just after Midnight on August 31, 1997. It was just after 7:00 PM on a Saturday night here. My wife, three kids and I were just entering the Grandview Speedway near Boyertown, Pa. for the stock car races. We didn't hear the news when it happened, but we did on the radio driving home. If I recall correctly, it began to rain late in the evening and it was miserable driving in the dark, hard to see. It came on the radio and we were all shocked.

Anyway, that is my take on this memorable death list, sort of a ghoulish exercise. Besides these particular people, I am certain there are others whose death remained strong in peoples minds for a long time, perhaps forever. I took Ron's list, added a couple and this is mine.

I would add one more, though. This one happened on a Sunday evening in Los Angeles on June 12, 1994. It was around 10:00 PM Pacific Time and 7:00 PM here. My son and I were driving to a pool party at one of the coaches house. This was a get together thrown by the coach for our Little League team. The outcome of this person's (actually two people's) death was to hold the public attention for months. I think I read more than a dozen books about it in the years since. It was a murder and we watch in fascination a strange slow police pursuit across the LA freeways and it gave us things like the "Dancing Itos" and an ill-fitting bra on Seinfeld.

That was, of course, was the brutal slaying of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.

1 comment:

Larry, aka The Kid and The Old Goat said...

I just noticed on "Liberty and Independence" Blog he has Elvis. See, now, people would probably say Elvis and John Lennon should have made the list.