Sunday, January 27, 2008

Celebrity Death Watch, part 2

Second in a two-part series

For my slower readers, you may not have caught on that Celebrity Death Watch is not about death at all. That would be morbid and perhaps a little unsettling.

CDW is about our fascination with actors, writers, presidents, dictators, entrepreneurs, singers and everyone in between who has had their 15 minutes of fame. (The "15 minutes" is attributed to the late Andy Warhol, who died in February 1987. The others in his Grouping include David Susskind and Liberace. If you aren't familiar with Susskind, you can replace him with James Coco.) And when the famous die, it gives you pause to remember what made them famous, what you liked/disliked about them and even to research them further.

For example, when Sam the Butcher died earlier this month, I was ashamed to admit that I, the most devout Brady Bunch fan EVER, didn't know his real name. A few minutes of research turned me into the biggest Allan Melvin fan around! Allan (Sam) was married to his wife, Amalia, for 64 of his 84 years. And that's nothing short of amazing by Hollywood standards. I remembered that he was in The Andy Griffith Show, Gomer Pyle USMC and All in the Family, but what a nice surprise to learn that he also starred in H.R. Pufnstuf and Banana Splits Adventure Hour! Thanks, Google!

I will be the first to admit that CDW takes on an obsessive nature. When I was once touring Ivy Green, my guide explained that Helen Keller's death and burial were overshadowed by the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. All I could think about was, "Well, then, who was the third?"

Another perk about CDW is the opportunity to invent secondary games. When Joey Bishop died, there was a momentary burst of "Wait, I Thought He Already Died" (an exchange that spins off fairly frequently). But we also came up with an impromptu round of "Quick, Name the Members of the Rat Pack." (Hint: see photo; complete list of names appears at the bottom of this post.)

In very, very special circumstances, you may even score a round of "Where Were You When (fill in the blank) died?" This spinoff is reserved for presidents and, in the South, football coaches. (For the record, I was zipping out of the high school parking lot in my '66 VW Bug when I heard about The Bear's passing 25 years ago Jan. 26.) You can see that these opportunities don't come around often, but when they do, oh, the things you find out about people. Like, how old they are.

So, there you have it. The Making of CDW. May you never watch Entertainment Tonight in the same way again.

Answer to question about Rat Pack members: Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin and Joey Bishop (not pictured). Bonus point if you knew that Norman Fell (Mr. Roper) was briefly a member of the original Pack.