There is an African (I believe) proverb that goes (to paraphrase): no one truly dies until no one remembers you (or no one is alive who remembers you) and in that is the expectation that we keep the memory of people alive by passing down the story of them. Artists, of course, have found another way.
There have been a number of celebrity deaths of late (a lot of death generally but the celebrity ones get the spotlight for obvious reasons). I don’t dwell on celebrity deaths but I thought I’d share some of my favourite art (in bold) by and/or about some of the ones we’ve lost between 2021 and 2022 so far. This may be my most morbid list on this site ever but maybe also a reminder, an opportunity to celebrate great art (or, at any rate, art I enjoyed).
For the international celebrities, I’m scrolling through this list for reference. I’ll be listing some Caribbean lights dimmed as well – referring back to the Carib Lit Plus series on my Wadadli Pen blog. This is more or less, a listing of art (focused on the art only not the people themselves, as with some of them there there be dragons) in terms of personal significance (i.e. this is not the reel the AFI, say, would run, just the reel in my head which means I have to have consumed and liked it). RIP to all.
Sidney Poitier – The man whose recent passing inspired this list is from the Bahamas (which some bios I’ve seen forget or mis-identify) and became a pioneer and legend of the big screen in America after moving there as a teen. Two time best actor Oscar nominee, the first Black man to win the award, plus an honorary Oscar recipient. His films some of the ones I’ve seen and remember liking when I did include A Raisin in the Sun, A Patch of Blue, To Sir, with Love, In the Heat of the Night, Guess Who’s coming to Dinner, Little Nikita, and Sneakers.
Michael K. Williams – From music videos like Crystal Waters’ 100% Pure Love, which he danced in and choreographed, to TV shows like The Wire and comedy Community, to mini-series like the award winning must-see When They See Us and Lovecraft Country to truly enjoyable TV films like Lakawanna Blues and biopic Bessie to movies (albeit relatively small supporting roles) like I think I love My Wife and 12 Years a Slave. His Wire character Omar is one of the best and most original characters of all time yet, ironically, precipitated Hollywood’s determination to typecast him though he ultimately shaped a more varied career – as he addresses in the video below.
Cicely Tyson – Legend. Point blank period. Like Poitier, she was more than the products in terms of her meaning to the culture but, okay, let’s mention films like Sounder, making her in 1974 only the third Black best actress Oscar nominee (she would later receive an honorary Oscar among many peerless accolades) and Fried Green Tomatoes, TV series/mini-series like Roots, The Women of Brewster Place, and Cherish the Day. Because she is larger than the works, I am going to share her iconic reading of Sojourner Truth’s ‘Ain’t I a Woman?’
Christopher Plummer – Let’s start with The Sound of Music – childhood favourite, enduring classic; Col. Von Trapp and Maria and the entire clan are iconic, the music from the film even more so. Over the years, I would have seen him in other films and TV (e.g. his emmy nominated turn in The Thorn Birds) and recent works like Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Knives Out.
Anne Rice – this fantasy goth-horror author is one of my all time faves for her Vampire Chronicles series which I fell in thrall of in my college years.
Betty White – Her seven decade career also included movies like The Proposal and I know she was on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. But the show I really remember her from, as someone who came of age in the 80s, was The Golden Girls. She was the last surviving cast member among the quartet of women who snagged ratings and awards between 1985 and 1992 for this iconic sitcom (with this epic theme).
Dean Stockwell – he’s been featured in three pop culture properties I absolutely loved in their time the comedy crime film Married to the Mob, which earned him an Oscar nomination, and Beverly Hills Cop II, and the fantasy TV series Quantum Leap.
Clarence Williams III – was already a known quality (albeit unknown to me) on the stage and small screen when he showed up as Prince’s dad in Purple Rain.
Cloris Leachman – She was on the tale end of The Facts of Life, a show I grew up on, and a cast member of other classic TV shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She was in, and won an Oscar, for Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show. Other films include the Mel Brooks classics Young Frankenstein and History of the World, Part 1.
Peter Bogdanavich – the writer-director of The Last Picture show also wrote-directed the comedic What’s Up Doc? with Barbra Streisand, Madeline Kahn, and Ryan O’Neal and Paper Moon with Ryan, Madeline, and daughter Tatum who became the youngest Oscar winner as a result.
Richard Donner -This director’s content were an inextricable part of my childhood and teen years, from horror, The Omen; to fantasy adventure, Superman,The Goonies, and Lady Hawke; to action comedy, Lethal Weapon and Lethal Weapon 2; to pure comedy, Scrooged. Basically his 80s filmography.
DMX – rap legend. You might think Who we be would be my obvious pick and I do like political rap but my actual fave is What’s my Name. My introduction to his music came when a guy who liked his early albums first played singles like Get at me Dog and Ruff Ryder’s Anthem for me. I saw some of Earl’s films, not to be named as they’re not really recs, with him as well, but his music was the magic for me. A DMX growl (or verse) as a feature on anyone’s song (e.g. Aaliyah’s Come back in one Piece or Busta Rhyme’s Touch It) made it a classic as surely as his own bangers (e.g. Party Up) were guaranteed to turn the energy up.
Yaphet Kotto – Homicide: Life on the Street is a classic TV cop series and he ruled over that squadroom. He also supported in a number of acclaimed or popular films including Midnight Run.
Tanya Roberts – The Beastmaster is still one of my favourite (probably) bad flicks and I don’t care. I also remember Tanya from a badder flick, not a fave, so not named, though I enjoyed the comic book film about a woman who could communicate with animals as a kid. She was also in a film by my era bond, Roger Moore; the one with Grace Jones.
Singing Sandra – The Trinidad and Tobago calypsonian had several songs that travelled across the Caribbean and beyond, most notably Die with My Dignity and Voices from the Ghetto/Crying.
Shock G. – of Digital Underground, 90s rap group best known for the Humpty Dance and Same Song (one of the earliest sightings of the one and only Tupac).
Ed Asner – I grew up in the late 70s to late 80s, so remember this actor as the slaver/ship captain on Roots, the epic must-watch TV mini-series, and Lou Grant, the irascible boss, on groundbreaking hit TV comedy The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Most recent Asner standout for me was the poignant reflection on grief and finding life after grief, the animated film Up.
Gavin McLeod – He co-starred with Asner on the MTM show but I know him best from 80s staple The Love Boat on which he played Captain Stubing.
Jacob Desvarieux – Best known across the French Caribbean creole music world as the co-founder of Kassav, best known to us in the English speaking Caribbean for party-amp-upper/get-up-on-your-feet-and-dance-er Zouk La (full name: Zouk La Sé Sèl Médikaman Nou Ni).
Bunny Wailer – Part of the original Wailers with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, he had a dynamic career of his own, that included songs like Conqueror and Cool Runnings.
Larry King – Larry King Live was the interview show for the longest (1985-2010) and then when it was cancelled by CNN I still caught some of his interviews online. He became such a part of pop culture, he even cameoed in the Shrek franchise beginning with Shrek 2.
Hal Holbrook – I didn’t track his career like that but I am aware that he was in some of my faves – notably The Firm and Lincoln.
Michael Constantine – when I saw this actor’s picture, though I don’t know his filmography like that, I had to include him because I nearly died laughing (literally speaking) in old Deluxe theatre here in Antigua watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding. His bit about spraying Windex on every ailment still lives (as do many other classic comedy bits from this film).
Eric Jerome Dickey – He wrote popular Black relationship (romance and friendships) and crime books and even dabbled in the comics genre with a mini-series run of Marvel’s Storm, Storm: Prelude to the Wedding of the Century.
Helen McCrory – I only know her from one show, Peaky Blinders, but it’s a damn good show, perhaps one of my first binges ever. She also had small roles in Interview with the Vampire and The Queen.
Hank Aaron – I don’t know baseball like that but I do remember Hank Aaron’s name coming up in the Netflix doc The Black Godfather. A story about how when the hitter, in 1974, was closing in on Babe Ruth’s record, the racists came out of the woodwork at the thought of a Black man breaking Ruth’s batting record and about how Clarence Avant, a Hollywood producer who mentored many Black people in entertainment and brockered deals that helped them level up in an industry in which there were few ladders (or at best ladders with missing rungs) for even the most promising, stepped in. He helped ensure that Aaron was set by getting him his first major endorsement, with Coca-Cola, reminding the execs that Black people (my language, not his) drink Coca-Cola too (I can attest). A word must also go here to Avant’s wife, Jacqueline, a well-known philanthropist in her own right, who was murdered in December 2021 during a home invasion.
Ned Beatty – this actor was fairly prolific when I was coming up but the performance that comes to mind is as Lex Luthor’s lackey in the Christopher Reeves era Superman films (primarily Superman I and II). Beatty was also on Homicide: Life on the Streets.
Dennis ‘Dee Dee’ Thomas – founding member of ultimate party funk band Kool and the Gang, with which he played alto sax (also flute, percussion) from 1964-2021. The band is known for songs like (to name just a few) Get down on it, Celebration, Ladies Night, Fresh, Joanna, Cherish, Stone Love, Too Hot, Hollywood Swinging, and Jungle Boogie.
Michael Nesmith – he was one fourth of The Monkees, a 1960s rockumentaricomedy TV series with legit talented musicians (Mike was a guitarist) at its core. I watched this in the 80s and it was funny and the music (Daydream Believer, Last Train to Clarksville, Monkees theme) was fun.
Jessica Walter – Archer. I know there’s a long list of other work but for me it’s her voice work as the alcohol swilling, devious, and unflappable head of an international spy agency and questionable mother on Archer.
Joan Didion – I haven’t read the author (I don’t think) though her book South and West (open to recs for better books to start with) is on my TBR and I grew up with the Barbra Streisand version (so the definitive version in my view) of A Star is Born, which she co-wrote, on the TV. I did, however, watch a very interesting Netflix doc on her, produced by her nephew Griffin Dunne, The Center will not Hold.
Marilyn Bergman – The hall of fame, Oscar winning songwriter (with her husband Alan) is known for such classic pop hits as The Way We Were and You don’t bring Me Flowers, and How do You keep the Music playing.
Roger Mitchell – The director’s films include the 90s rom-com Notting Hill.
Charles Grodin – He is on this list for Midnight Run, which was a you-are-driving-me-crazy buddy-road-trip 80s comedy with Robert DeNiro and Yaphet Kotto.
Lee Scratch Perry – The pioneering and influential Jamaican dub and early reggae producer, who in addition to his own music, worked with the greats including The Wailers for whom he co-wrote and produced tracks like Duppy Conqueror and Keep on Moving.
Jean Binta Breeze – Jamaican dub poet whose full catalogue I really need to get to know better. But let’s start with her Mad Woman Radio.
Stephen Sondheim – He wrote lyrics and composed for Broadway and I live on an island in the Caribbean, so I really don’t have a lot of personal experience with his work (though I have seen some of the film adaptations) but know well and like songs like Grammy winning Send in the Clowns and the Oscar winning Sooner or Later (I always get My Man) sung by Madonna.
Jessie Daniels – of Force MD, known for the Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis produced Tender Love.
Samuel E. Wright – yes, Caribbean people side-eye pretty much all Hollywood takes on our accents (plural) but we still feel fondly toward The Little Mermaid of which Wright’s performance as the Caribbean-coded Sebastian the Crab is a highlight. Apparently, he was also purple in the Fruit of the Loom ads back in the day.
Biz Markie – a humorous rapper known for tracks like Just a Friend and DJ Kool’s Let me clear My Throat.
Charlie Watts – lifetime drummer with The Rolling Stones. Not a superfan but I do like some of their stuff (Satisfaction, Jumpin Jack Flash, Wild Horses).
Dustin Diamond – included because I was a fan of this show – Saved by the Bell – for a time in my youth.
Peter Scolari – In a similar vein, shout out to Bosom Buddies…
Eddie Mecka – …and Laverne and Shirley.
James Michael Tyler – and Gunther on Friends.
I’m going to end with this one Tina Turner song I like (Tina’s still with us, don’t worry) because I don’t want to name its producer, a pop and rock hitmaker)…and …other things since the 1960s. River Deep, Mountain High.