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This weekend, the world lost media pioneer and news personality Barbara Walters, and Pope Benedict XVI. As we wind down the final hours of 2022, they well could be the capstone of what seems to be an unprecedented number of deaths, especially among the young.
A few of these 2022 deaths hold more significance than others, because they mark milestones in my own life. One was a head of state, two were writers, and the rest are from the world of entertainment.
My Gen X was the media generation that saw the swift transitions from an analog world to our now digital and virtual ones. Gen X saw the birth of “Sesame Street,” MTV, 24-7 cable news, and reality television. Just look at the generational stretch between Top Gun, which premiered when I was 17, to Top Gun Maverick, which premiered when I was 56. To say that my life has not been marked by certain figures in certain roles would be an understatement.
So, to mark the end of 2022, here are my five significant deaths that changed my world.
Queen Elizabeth II
I wrote an homage to the great queen here at RedState, and said,
Queen Elizabeth II lived to be 96 years old and was the reigning monarch of England for over 70 years. I am well aware that I was privileged to witness living history, but many people, especially the younger generations, neither understand nor appreciate this fact. When you become old enough to witness the end of an era, it is both sobering and a bit frightening. When you’re young, you take life, and the world around you, for granted. It is the wisdom of years that helps you understand that some people and some moments, as well as those people within those moments in time, will never come again.
Solomon referred to it as a vapor, and it is true. It dissipates quickly, and once that moment is gone, it’s done.
In America and other parts of the western world (looking at you, Canada) we have little respect for our elders and the weight of life, experience, and consequence they bring to our world. I am grateful to have observed this Queen, as the current crop of British royals will never measure up.
To two generations, William Hurt will be known as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as “General Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross.” To my generation, he will forever be known as one of the premiere actors of our time. Some would name, Children of A Lesser God, Body Heat, and Kiss of A Spider Woman as his most seminal roles. But the ones that hold sway in my head, and that I most enjoy watching, are from lesser known films that he starred in later in his career.
The first is the 1991 film, The Doctor about an arrogant surgeon whose life and career reflects his disrespect toward others and their plights. When he contracts cancer and becomes a patient himself, he learns hard lessons on how to treat patients as human beings and empathize with their circumstance, how to honor his colleagues and be a part of a team, and how to heal his own family. It was a quiet, complex role that only he could play, and he played it well.
The second is a 2008 film called Vantage Point, where Hurt plays the President of the United States whose body double gets assassinated in Spain. It’s a nicely done action movie, told from different perspectives and smoothly layered and built for maximum effect. The brilliance of Hurt again playing a part that reflects hubris, then so many shades of humanity, is for me, breathtaking.
I have spent a lot of time consuming media, and our truly great artists are leaving us far too quickly, with very few to take their place.
I also wrote Angela Lansbury’s obit on RedState,
The world just got a little bit less… polished.
Angela Lansbury was the Grand Dame of stage, screen, and television for 75 years. Her first film role at 17 years of age was in the 1944 film Gaslight. Lansbury captured audiences, with her stunning beauty wrapped in a depth of talent well beyond her years. Lansbury was nominated for three Oscars, won seven Tony Awards, and holds the record for 12 nominations for Best Actress Emmy. In 1984, Lansbury entered our living rooms every Sunday evening as crime-solving mystery novelist Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote.
I have been an insomniac and an old movie buff since I was a child, so I watched the re-airings of Gaslight, The Manchurian Candidate, and Of Human Bondage before even watching an episode of “Murder She Wrote.” But that doesn’t mean I missed a Sunday evening with Jessica Fletcher. Lansbury was not just a delight to watch, she was accomplished in…, well, everything. Stage, screen, mistress of ceremonies; from this child’s perspective, she made me believe I could do anything. And she did it just by being herself and living her talent out loud. These folks that have to constantly virtue signal to prove how accomplished, relevant, and caring they are, are sooo tiresome. Angela Lansbury showed exactly who she was simply by being and doing it.
That’s the page I take from her book.
P.J. O’Rourke was a political voice who appeared to not take politics very seriously. His subtle snark, off the cuff, and affable style of writing and delivery were ahead of his time. He was simply masterful, and remained masterful over several decades and three generations.
Think 1992’s Give War A Chance: Eyewitness Accounts of Mankind’s Struggle Against Tyranny, Injustice, and Alcohol-Free Beer, where this statement could have been written today, rather than 30 years ago.
“No drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we’re looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn’t test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power.”
Much of my ability to be able to skewer the self-important and craven class is owed to O’Rourke and his work. I don’t have a WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) bracelet, but I do have a WWPJS sign (What Would P.J. Say?) that I gaze at from time to time. The first one is easy—I have an entire Bible of his guidance and a personal pipeline through prayer. The second one requires more digging and soul searching.
Miss you, P.J.
This particular death hit me because she was so young. Powell died at 49 from cardiac arrest. I’ll hold off on my first question about whether or not she was vaccinated (myocarditis, anyone?), and simply dive into why she mattered.
Julie Powell was a writer who succeeded in taking two of my own personal passions, writing and food, and build them into a blog, then a book (Julie & Julia). Powell was fortunate to have sold that book to Hollywood, and had a successful movie made from it, starring none other than Meryl Streep. What makes me more green is that the movie was written and directed by one of my own celebrity mentors and touchstones, the late, great Nora Ephron.
But the hardest part, as far as I am concerned, is that you keep building on that career. Powell could have rested on her laurels, but she didn’t. Powell wrote one other book before she passed away. Now, sadly her prolific potential has been cut short. But I do have this takeaway from her book Julie & Julia: Writing and cooking should not be employed as a duty or “work,” but as a source of joy.
“Julia taught me what it takes to find your way in the world. It’s not what I thought it was,” Powell wrote. “I thought it was all about — I don’t know, confidence or will or luck. Those are all some good things to have, no question. But there’s something else, something that these things grow out of. It’s joy.”