Robin Williams, comedian and actor, has died.
Out of nowhere, or Monaco, comes the sad news that Barbara Piasecka Johnson, who was the maid to and then third wife of J. Seward Johnson I (born 1895!), has now died, far too young at the age of 76.
Ms. Johnson was busy until late out-surviving the six children of her husband from his first two marriages. Upon his death, in 1983, the Johnson and Johnson heir left all his money—$402,824,971.59—to her instead of them. They sued; the courts gave them 12% of their dad's inheritance (they all had trust funds anyway! It was just spite!) and everyone moved on happily ever after, rich as fourteen Bush [...]
"While working with poor families, he encountered children who were members of street gangs. He found it impossible to talk to them directly about gang life; they would tell him only what they believed he wanted to hear. A rented panel truck gave him a way to observe them secretly. He walked the streets where the gangs ruled, and once went on foot through the subway tunnel between 96th Street and 110th Street. It was a scary experience. He wanted to show that street gangs, universally seen as a symptom of social dysfunctionality, gave to the poor a structure of loyalty and a sense of community. They were neither [...]
What's your favorite Monkees song? I think mine's "Valleri." Davy Jones died of a heart attack this morning in Florida. He was 66.
Don Tyson, the Arkansas businessman who turned his family's chicken farm into a fortune 500 company, Tyson Foods, has died of cancer. He helped develop Chicken McNuggets for McDonald's and KFC’s Rotisserie Gold. As Little Rock financial analyst Mark A. Plummer told The New York Times in 1994, “It was pretty much Don’s vision that fueled the company. He saw that if you added more convenience by further processing the chicken, consumers would pay for it.”
Sad day in funk yesterday: Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame guitarist Garry Shider, a longtime lieutenant in George Clinton's Parliament/Funkadelic empire, died of cancer at the age of 56. Born and raised in Plainfield, New Jersey, Shider joined Clinton's outfit for 1972's Maggot Brain album, and went on to co-write and perform on classic material like "Can You Get to That?," "One Nation Under a Groove" and "Atomic Dog"-during the recording of which, he held a particularly intoxicated Clinton up in front of the microphone while he sang. Shider was famous for wearing nothing but a diaper on stage. Doesn't get much funkier than that.
Well, it seems like spring is actually coming. So that is good. But the news that Mark Linkous killed himself Saturday is terrible. If you've are familiar with his story (short version: he was depressed) and have listened to his music, which he recorded under the name Sparklehorse, this is perhaps not entirely surprising. He almost died from an overdose of Valium and antidepressants in 1996, and here is a video for a song called "Saint Mary" he released three years later that has the same world weariness you hear in the music of Elliott Smith. But the news arrives and reminds you of the commonplace, everyday sadness [...]
Hal Needham was never a household name, something about which he did not care. He passed away last week at the age of 82. He was (by his account) the highest paid stuntman of all time and the director of a slew of memorable Burt Reynolds movies from the ‘70s and ‘80s, including Smokey And The Bandit, a film that, if you grew up in the South, rivaled the popularity of Star Wars. He ushered in a lighter touch to American pop movie culture, but he probably mostly cared about the checks in his mailbox.
Had Needham never sat behind a movie camera, we would still be talking about [...]
"She was once celebrated as 'the Shirley Temple of the animal world.' She was so popular that she became the subject of a custody battle between two competing zoos. When she suffered a broken arm, rapt New Yorkers followed every twist and turn of her convalescence. Her name was Pattycake, and she was the first gorilla born in New York City. She died on Sunday at the Bronx Zoo at 40 years old." —Raise a banana to Pattycake, the sweetheart of the Bronx Zoo and the first native New Yorker of her species. She'll be replaced by somebody with a graduate degree and a part-time blogging job looking [...]
George McGovern, the longtime U.S. senator from South Dakota and 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, has died at the ripe old age of 90. He was admitted for hospice care early last week and by Wednesday was "unresponsive," according to a family statement. McGovern served in the Senate from 1963 to 1981, from the year of John F. Kennedy's assassination to the inauguration of Ronald Reagan—throw in the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, race riots, Kent State, the Iranian hostage crisis and Watergate to make the most tumultuous decades of the American Century.
By the 1990s, Richard Nixon had reinvented himself as an "elder statesman" and George McGovern's kind [...]
"At a trade show in Chicago 1948, Mr. Kordek introduced Triple Action, a game that featured just two flippers, both controlled by buttons at the bottom of the table. Mr. Kordek was a designer for Genco, one of more than two dozen pinball manufacturers in Chicago at the time. Not only was Mr. Kordek’s two-flipper game less expensive to produce; it also gave players greater control. For someone concentrating on keeping a chrome-plated ball from dropping into the “drain,” two flippers, one for each hand, were better than six." —Steve Kordek, who invented the modern pinball machine, died Sunday in Park Ridge, Illinois. It's a nice touch that he [...]
It was not his first plane crash. Ted Stevens had been there before-during a rough touch-down in 1978 at Anchorage International, which would later be renamed for the senator. That first crash left Stevens with minor injuries but it killed his wife, Ann.
The circumstances of yesterday's crash, the one that killed him, when taken in the context of his history, presence and reputation are such that they tempt metaphor and hint at irony. The plane was owned by Alaskan telecom giant GCI (where one of the senior VPs is a former Stevens chief of staff) and was en route to a retreat at the corporation's Agulowak Lodge. [...]
Sony has announced that it will cease production of the 3.5-inch floppy disc in Japan by March 2011. Japan was one of the last markets where Sony was producing the relatively small-storage discs (they're still for sale in the States, but an Amazon listing for a 10-pack of discs notes that the answer to the "Discontinued By Manufacturer" question is "yes"). I'd guess that the floppy serving as the preferred iconography for the "save" command is probably safe despite production ceasing, because changing that horse in mid-stream is probably more trouble than it's worth. Plus, what would you replace the tiny disc image with? A picture of [...]
Publications from the Guardian to USA Today ran premature obituaries for the still-living Tina Brown, who will be 60 this November, on the last day of Scorpio—not long before her contract at The Daily Beast ends.
In the obituaries, she predeceases the publication she founded, the future of which is currently hazy, if not actually smoky. Backer Barry Diller may or may not have a plan for it. There is a great case to be made for keeping the old Beast! Without Tina, after all, it can make money.
Though there have been some glitches. The site will be five years old this October. The Beast had 19 [...]
• From Shulamith Firestone’s obituary: "The family Americanized its surname to Firestone when Shulamith was a child; Ms. Firestone pronounced her first name shoo-LAH-mith but was familiarly known as Shuley or Shulie."
• From Paul Roche’s obituary: "The author of several well-received volumes of poetry, Mr. Roche (pronounced 'rawsh') taught over the years at colleges and universities throughout the United States, among them Smith College; the University of Notre Dame; Centenary College in New Jersey; and Emory & Henry College in Virginia, where, his family said in a statement, 'He used to wander stark naked through the woods carpeted with violets.'"
• From Giorgio Tozzi’s obituary: "At his [...]
Today is a very sad day in that Beastie Boy Adam Yauch has died. He was a terrific musician and filmmaker and a warm, funny person who a lot of people loved. I got to know him a little bit in the '90s because my roommate from college helped him run his Tibetan-Freedom organization, The Milarepa Fund. The way that he handled the news of his cancer diagnosis three years ago impressed me as amazingly graceful. Which was not a surprise—the way he handled it, I mean. He had always handled maturing, and changing, in the public eye more gracefully than many other examples we've seen.[...]
I was born in Houston, Texas. By the time I was three years old, I was living in New Jersey for the long haul. My family has no true roots in Texas, so leaving it was not a major upheaval. My father always said that Texas was the best place he ever lived. Maybe it was the best place I never really lived. This weekend, the story of the best place that none of us have ever lived—Dillon, Texas—comes to a close. After five seasons, "Friday Night Lights" finishes up, sending those ochre-tinged Texan spaces that have come to feel like home into cold blue digital storage.
"Friday Night Lights" [...]
Sad news for hip-hop last night, as word spread that the groundbreaking graffiti artist and MC Rammellzee had died of as-yet-unknown causes. Born in Far Rockaway, Queens, a fixture of the fertile downtown New York scene of early 1980s, the mysterious figure known as Rammellzee is probably most famous for appearing in three films: Henry Chalfant's Style Wars, Charlie Ahearn's Wild Style (that's him rapping in Wild Style in the clip above) and, playing the role of "man with money," Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise. And for "Beat Bop," a song he made with his Bronx cohort K-Rob that was produced by Jean-Michel Basquiat
"Dad, your cars stink," said one of Ford engineer Donald Frey's kids over the dinner table. "There's no pizzazz." Frey remedied the situation by creating the Mustang, which Ford introduced in the mid-'60s, and which soon became one of the most successful models in American automotive history. "It was designed to appeal to both men and women, had a dash of elegance copied from European sports cars, and featured a galloping steed in the middle of its grille that buyers thought was, well, really cool." Wilson Picket and Steve McQueen helped, too. Frey was still in possession of an original Mustang when he died of a stroke on [...]