The Grim Reaper’s Class of 2008

Paul NewmanIt’s time once again to tally up the year’s dearly departed. As always an impressive group.  Hundreds of names that we have known for years, perhaps like a Paul Newman, we have known for a lifetime.

There were the gone too soon; Bernie Mac and Heath Ledger, to name two; the very long-lived, Erich Kaestner, 107, thought to be Germany’s last World War I veteran, and the great adventurer, Sir Edmund Hillary, 88, who as a much younger man became the first to conquer Mount Everest.

Every year there are a number of departed that make you say, “Gosh I thought he or she died years ago.” Hollywood leading man, Richard Widmark, who died in March at age 93, or  Pulitzer-winning author, Studs Terkel, 96, or actor Van Johnson, 92.

There are always those deaths of people who seem so familiar to you because they came into your home regularly through television, but you never actually knew them.
At the top of that list is Tim Russert, who died in June at the age of 58. Another is Suzanne Pleshette, 70. Husky-voiced actress; who created the memorable and lovable sarcastic wife on The Bob Newhart Show, not to mention the conservative you loved to hate, William F. Buckley.

There are of course the ironic: Charlton Heston, who died in April at the age of 84. My first thought when I heard that “Ben Hur,” had died was of that silly comment Heston made as head of the National Rifle Association. He swore to hold onto his rifle regardless of the politically correct calls for gun control. With classic Heston grit, actually just the affectation of a gifted actor, he held that rifle over his head and said you could only take this gun, “From my cold dead hands.” It was tempting to wonder if he died holding that gun.

Then there was the far less known, but truly courageous Dith Pran, 65. the Cambodian journalist whose story inspired The Killing Fields. He managed to survive a world gone mad with violence, only to die from something as ordinary as a bad heart.

Finally there are so many deaths every year that make you shake your head and say, “I didn’t know they were that old.” Dick Martin, 86. the wacky and lovable co-host of “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.” Jim McKay, also 86, the ever youthful and energetic face of “ABC’s Wide World of Sports,” who found himself in the middle of one of the century’s big news stories,  the terrorist killings at the 1972 Olympics. And Robert Mondavi, the famous Napa Valley vintner, who at 94, was the living example of how a little red wine every day can add to your longevity.

All were part of a rich tapestry of lives weaved like threads through the names of millions we never heard of with the exception of those who were family, friends, colleagues, or important members of our community.

Here’s to the class of 2008. Hopefully during this same year there were just as many wonderful people who came into this world, who in future years will educate, entertain, and make this world a better place than the world they found.

—Martin Brown

Editor – SMW Health Channel