Continuing my tribute to folk who inspired me who passed away in 2019…
July 2019 was a harsh month as it witnessed the deaths of two of my favourite actors. The English character actor Freddie Jones, a man who over six decades managed to be a member of David Lynch’s repertory company, a Hammer horror regular, a collaborator with Federico Fellini and Clint Eastwood, a star of bucolic TV soap operas and much more, died on July 9th. Ten days later saw the passing of the great Dutch star Rutger Hauer, who always managed to have a discomforting, Nietzschean-superman glint in his eyes whether he was appearing in a stone cold classic like Blade Runner (1982) or The Hitcher (1986), or in some hoary old exploitation rubbish, or in his advertisements for Guinness stout.
Other notable actors who died in July included, on the 9th, the American performer Rip Torn, whom I’ll always remember as demented coach Patches O’Houlihan in 2004’s Dodgeball, training Vince Vaughan and his team in the titular sport by hurling monkey-wrenches at their crotches; on the 18th, the American actor David Hedison, whose CV included the original The Fly (1958), the TV show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964-68) and the James Bond movies Live and Let Die (1974) and Licence to Kill (1989), in which he became the first-ever actor to play Bond’s CIA buddy Felix Leiter twice; and English actor Jeremy Kemp, who appeared in everything from the early seasons of the seminal BBC TV police series Z Cars (1962-78) to war movies like Operation Crossbow (1965), The Blue Max (1966) and A Bridge Too Far (1977) and to the exuberant Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker comedy Top Secret! (1984).
© 20th Century Fox
August 5th saw the passing of American novelist Toni Morrison, author of Beloved (1987) and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. August 16th brought a triple whammy – the deaths of American actor Peter Fonda who, through his work with director Roger Corman and his appearance in Easy Rider (1969) became a 1960s countercultural icon, before he settled down to become a more conventional action-movie hero in the likes of Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974) and Race with the Devil (1975); of British-Canadian animator Richard Williams, whose work included Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988) and the legendary but never-finished epic The Thief and the Cobbler (1993), as well as animated sequences for The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968) and the Pink Panther movies; and of English actress Anna Quayle, memorably rotten as Baroness Bomburst in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968).
American bass guitarist Larry Taylor, who played with the blues-rock band Canned Heat, died on August 19th; English TV scriptwriter and immensely influential (though unsung) children’s-books author Terrance Dicks died on the 29th; and American TV actress Valerie Harper, Mary Tyler Moore’s co-star in The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77) and star of its spin-off Rhoda (1974-78), died on the 30th.
English playwright Peter Nichols, whose most famous works were probably A Day in the Death of Joe Egg (1967) and Privates on Parade (1977) – both of which got capable film versions, Joe Egg directed by Peter Medak in 1972 and Privates directed by Michael Blakemore in 1982 – died on September 7th. The next day saw the death of English starlet Valerie Van Ost, whose presence enlivened several Carry On movies and who provided Christopher Lee’s aristocratic vampire with his first victim in 1973’s The Satanic Rites of Dracula. She was also considered as a replacement for Diana Rigg in the stylish TV show The Avengers (1961-69) before Linda Thorsen got the gig. Rik Ocasek, singer, songwriter and guitarist with new-wave American rock band the Cars, died on September 15th while Larry Wallis, an early member of thunderous heavy metal band Mötorhead, died four days later.
© Goodrights / Lionsgate Films
Finally, checking out on September 21st was American actor Sid Haig, whose early career involved many collaborations with director Jack Hill in such cherish-able exploitation fare as Spider Baby (1968), Coffey (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974) and also more mainstream items like John Boorman’s Point Blank (1967), George Lucas’s THX 1138 (1971) and the Bond movie Diamonds are Forever (1971). Tired of being typecast as a heavy, Haig was ready to give up acting in the 1990s and considered becoming a hypnotherapist. Cinema’s loss and hypnotherapy’s gain were thwarted by Quentin Tarantino, who lured Haig back to the screen for a role in 1997’s Jackie Brown. Thereafter, Haig kept acting, most notably as the droll, clown-faced Captain Spaulding in the Rob Zombie-directed trilogy of House of 1000 Corpses (2003), The Devil’s Rejects (2005) and 3 From Hell (2019).
The first week of October saw two notable departures in the musical world – Kim Shattuck, singer, guitarist and songwriter with American punk band the Muffs, died on the 2nd; and English drummer Ginger Baker, who most famously thumped the skins for the late-1960s power trio Cream but also played with Blind Faith, Fela Kuti, Hawkwind and Public Image Ltd, died four days later. For a fascinating and at times disturbing profile of Ginger Baker, I’d recommend the 2012 documentary Beware of Mr Baker, which among other things features filmmaker Jay Bulger getting assaulted and having his nose broken by his mega-truculent subject matter. Between those two deaths, on October 4th, English actor Stephen Moore passed away. Moore’s voice is surely better known than his face, for he supplied the lugubrious, self-pitying tones of Marvin the Paranoid Android in the 1981 TV adaptation of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Northern Irish poet and novelist Ciaran Carson died on October 6th, while Russian cosmonaut Alexi Leonov, the first human being to carry out a spacewalk, departed this world for good on October 11th. Leonov was an artist as well as a cosmonaut and he once cheekily pointed out to sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke that a painting he’d done in 1967, showing the sun, earth and moon, bore an uncanny resemblance to an iconic scene in the following year’s movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, which Clarke had co-written with Stanley Kubrick. On the day that Leonov died, so too did American actor Robert Forster. Like Sid Haig, Forster had been a prolific actor during in the 1970s and 1980s but his career had somewhat entered the doldrums until Quentin Tarantino gave him a role in Jackie Brown. More recently, Forster appeared in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return (2017), meaning he’s yet another member of the Twin Peaks alumni whom we’ve had to say goodbye to in the past few years. Finally, Scottish journalist Deborah Orr died on October 19th and American film producer Robert Evans, who enjoyed a roll in the late 1960s and early 1970s with such classics as Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Godfather (1972) and Chinatown (1974), died on October 26th.
Aged a venerable 103, the formidable French resistance fighter Yvette Lundy passed away on November 3rd. The next day saw the death of Irish broadcaster Gay Byrne who, whether you loved him or hated him – I seem to remember describing him on this blog as a ‘twinkly-eyed shit-stirrer’ – was surely the most influential figure in Irish TV history and, through that, a major influence on the Irish psyche generally since the 1960s. The frontman with a favourite 1980s folk-rock band of mine, John Mann of the Canadian outfit Spirit of the West, died on November 20th. Check out Spirit of the West’s Hounds That Wait Outside Your Door for a more damning account of the Maggie Thatcher era than any British folk band managed to offer at the time. And the American illustrator Gahan Wilson, creator of countless delightfully ghoulish cartoons, died a day later.
The brainy Australian (but British-based) polymath Clive James – a broadcaster, critic, novelist, poet and memoirist – died on the 24th. James’s death wasn’t announced until three days later, which coincided with the death of Jonathan Miller, a brainy English polymath – a medical doctor, humourist, writer, TV presenter and director of film, stage and opera. The simultaneous news of James’s and Miller’s deaths prompted many British people to quip on social media that the country’s collective IQ level had just dropped by a few dozen points. And guess what? Three weeks later, Boris Johnson got re-elected as British prime minister.
© United Artists
This blog-entry has already mentioned Peter Fonda, Rutger Hauer and Sid Haig. On November 20th died an American actor who’d performed memorably with all three of them. Michael J. Pollard appeared with Fonda in the Roger Corman-directed Hell’s Angels epic The Wild Angels (1966), with Hauer in Tony Maylam’s barking-mad monster movie Split Second (1992) and with Haig in the bloody but funny prologue to Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses. However, Pollard will be most remembered for playing C.W. Moss, the spaced-out gas-stand attendant who ends up joining the gang of the titular bank robbers in 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde. I prefer him, though, in a movie he made two years later, Hannibal Brooks. In that, Pollard and Oliver Reed play a pair of escaped prisoners of war in Nazi Germany / Austria who intend to do very different things with their freedom – the psychotic Pollard wants to kill as many Germans as possible, while the peace-loving Reed just wants to lead an elephant he’s befriended in the bombed Munich Zoo to safety. With Pollard looking baby-faced and innocent and Reed being, well, Reed, it’s a surprise their roles weren’t reversed.
The final month of 2019 was another bad one for the acting profession. The American character actors René Auberjonois – who among many notable performances played Father Mulcahy in the original, Robert Altman-directed M*A*S*H* (1970) – and Daniel Aiello died on the 8th and 12th respectively. The Danish-French actress Anna Karina, frequently considered a ‘muse’ for Jean-Luc Goddard, died on the 14th. English actor Nicky Henson died on the 15th. Though the self-deprecating Henson liked to joke that the only information on his tombstone would be that he once appeared in an episode of John Cleese’s sitcom Fawlty Towers (1975-1979), I liked him for his performances in two British folk-horror movies, the gruelling Witchfinder General (1968) and the lovably laughable Psychomania (1971). Claudia Augur, who played Domino in the 1965 James Bond movie Thunderball and was one of at least three Bond girls to pass away in 2019, died on the 18th. And Sue Lyon, who played the pubescent moppet Dolores Haze, subject of the pervy lusts of Humbert Humbert (James Mason) and Clare Quilty (Peter Sellers), in the 1962 Stanley Kubrick-directed adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita, died on the 26th.
In other fields, Barrie Keeffe, scriptwriter of Britain’s best-ever gangster movie The Long Good Friday (1980), departed on December 10th; Roy Loney, co-founder of Californian garage-rock band the Flamin’ Groovies – the Groovies’ Slow Death is a particularly epic song to shake a leg to – died on the 13th; and American-born Anglo-Scots artist and illustrator Tom Adams died on the 17th. The covers that Adams created during the 1960s and 1970s for a string of Agatha Christie novels, published in paperback by Fontana, are now considered iconic. And December 29th saw the demise of Neil Innes, the doyen of British comic singer-songwriters, the deviser with Eric Idle of spoof-Beatles band the Rutles, and the unofficial ‘seventh’ member of the Monty Python team. “I’ve suffered for my music,” Innes once told an audience. “Now it’s your turn.”
Finally, the beginning and end of December brought sad news for the literary scenes of two countries I’ve had long associations with, Sri Lanka and Scotland. On December 2nd, Sri Lankan novelist, poet and journalist Carl Muller passed away. Muller’s engrossing and bawdy novel The Jam Fruit Tree was joint winner of Sri Lanka’s first-ever Gratiaen Literary Prize (founded by Michael Ondaatje) in 1993 and he was the first of his countrymen and countrywomen to have books published overseas. And December 29th saw the death of Glaswegian author – and artist, playwright, poet, polemicist and academic – Alasdair Gray. He was an important influence on me and I’ll be writing more about him on this blog soon.