Friday, March 24, 2017
Reliving Life When Confronting Death
Chuck Berry, 90
Jimmy Breslin, 88
Chuck Barris, 87
Three very different men, but all around the same age, died in almost successive days this past week. It may seem like the old adage is true, that often they die in threes, or it may just feel like everyone is dropping like flies. The truth is, we lose people who contributed to our culture, politics, business, sports, or entertainment worlds at a consistent clip. Everyone eventually dies, but they don’t all leave the same legacy behind.
I’m not going to eulogize these three -- the traditional media and social media world has been doing that. It’s not their specific lives that fascinates me, though each was very accomplished and confronted personal demons -- to rise above the competition. What interests me is the process we go through when we learn someone we knew of passes on.
We likely never met them but they touch a part of us as if they’d been in our lives like a friend, family member, school chum, or business colleague. How strange that someone we never spoke to, who never acknowledged our existence, could move us to feel a sense of loss and whose passing reminds us of the joy they brought to us through their work.
Chuck Berry, the first person inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, practically invented the music form that has since spawned decades of amazing performers. He lived a colorful but troubled life.
Jimmy Breslin advanced a new kind of journalism with a half-century of writing narrative columns for almost every New York City newspaper. He also wrote a number of books. He battled alcoholism but rose to be a voice for the downtrodden and forgotten in a city where the elite can crush skyscrapers.
Chuck Barris was behind numerous hit television game shows, such as The Dating Game, The Newlywed Game, and wrote a best-selling song, a best-selling book, and even hosted a campy game show that though it only aired for two years still gets discussed four decades later, The Gong Show.
Each of them, directly and indirectly influenced or entertained millions and millions of people, for decades. Each of them were forgotten this century as their best and active days were long behind them. But their deaths resurrect something in us.
For me, I’m 10 again, and it’s 1977. Breslin was clacking away on his typewriter. Berry was playing his guitar. And Barris was swinging his gong while more than 25 hours of his shows aired in an average week, through re-runs and prime time. When we say we miss them we really say we miss our childhood.
Last year saw what seemed like a disproportionate number of legends passing on. So many great talents leaving us the way a storm barrels in and then just as quickly leaves us. But the deaths of the famous, successful, and likeable help us cope with our own mortality and simultaneously rejuvenate us. We reflect back on what they gave us, feel a sense of loss and then come to the reality that there’s more living to be done.
I had lunch recently with an author friend who will turn 90 before the calendar year concludes. He’s still driven to write books and market them. That’s the right idea. We keep pursuing our dreams – and we keep finding new public figures to give us some great memories.
We lost – and will always lose -- some really unique, interesting, and amazing people. It’s natural. The focus can’t be on the loss – it has to be on the looking back of what they gave us – and to recognize that new talents are rising right before us to give us new icons, stars, and heroes to admire. But most importantly, we must remember to live for ourselves and to become a hero to others.