Say goodbye to the year of goodbyes.
Ah, 2016. We welcomed you as the bringer of new beginnings and bid you farewell as the grimmest of reapers. You took from us our childhood heroes, the demigods we so admired who fell just short of immortality, no matter how much we might have wished it for them.
Carrie Fisher, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Alan Rickman and Gene Wilder, familiar faces from the silver screen, all left us. So did “The King” and “The Greatest,” Arnold Palmer and Muhammad Ali, perhaps the two most famous athletes of our youth.
We lost astronaut John Glenn and first lady Nancy Reagan. And, to recast a lyric from the songbook of Don McLean, it was the year the music died: We said farewell to David Bowie and Prince, Leonard Cohen and Merle Haggard, the Eagles’ Glenn Frey and two-thirds of Emerson, Lake and Palmer (Keith Emerson and Greg Lake). George Michael, who wrote a hit titled “Last Christmas,” died Christmas Day at the age of 53.
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I could go on, but the list would fill this column. If we were wondering when the baby boomer generation would yield the stage to its successor, we have our answer: The curtain came crashing down in 2016.
The reason we’ve seen so many celebrity departures is no mystery. It’s not as if some epidemic hit us all at once. It’s just that the cultural revolution was televised, and we had a front-row seat on our sofas. Celebrities? There were suddenly more of them, thanks to a Zenith or Magnavox in every living room that made more people household names in a lot more households. And there were more of us, too. There’s a reason they called it a “boom,” after all.
It wasn’t just actors, it was musicians, starting with The Beatles on Ed Sullivan and continuing right on through Bowie and Bing Crosby singing “The Little Drummer Boy” to the ultimate fusion of sound and spectacle: We wanted our MTV, and we got it.
It’s still there … minus a lot of the music.
The year 2016 seemed to span a generation. With its passing, and the passing of so many icons, we lost a bit of ourselves — even as we tried that much harder to hold on to the memories they created. For some of us, seeing so many of them leave us was a bitter reminder of the old truism “You can’t go home again.” For others, it was an excuse to revisit some of the childhood memories we’d filed away in our mental attics while we tended to the business of being all grown up.
Maybe we dusted off a DVD of “Barney Miller” and headed down to the 12th Precinct to visit Fish (Abe Vigoda) and Harris (Ron Glass) one more time. Both actors took their curtain calls this year, with Vigoda leaving us at 94 after having survived several false reports of his demise.
Maybe we went to YouTube and watched Ali outlast Joe Frazier in Manila … was it really more than 40 years ago? Or maybe we poured ourselves an iced tea with lemonade and reminisced about the smooth swing of Arnold Palmer.
Maybe we put on an old LP and listened to then-22-year-old Greg Lake sing about what a lucky man he was. He’d written the song a decade earlier, when he was still a boy. It’s hard to believe he was 69 when he died this year — the same age as Bowie and Rickman, Patty Duke (remember “identical cousins”?) and “Growing Pains” patriarch Alan Thicke.
Duke and Thicke both left us famous progeny: actor Sean Astin — who played Samwise Gamgee in “The Lord of the Rings” films — and singer Robin “Blurred Lines” Thicke, so their celebrity lineages live on.
But last New Year’s Eve delivered an ominous portent of what was to come this year, with news that the famous daughter of an even more famous baby boom icon had passed away. Twenty-five years ago, Grammy-winning singer Natalie Cole used technology to record a duet with the voice of her deceased father, the legendary Nat King Cole. Now, they’re both gone.
Yes, 2016 was filled with sorrow, but in that sorrow were reminders of how rich our lives have been, and that even the loss of so many who meant so much to us cannot diminish their impact on our lives.
Prince’s death affected us so profoundly that the entire nation seemed to turn purple in the days that followed. And as for Bowie, we honored him by sending his final album — “Blackstar,” released just two days before his death — straight to No. 1. Amazingly, it was his first album to reach the pinnacle of the Billboard chart.
The good news is there are always more memories to be made, and they’ll be just as treasured to those who grow up with them as ours still are to us. That’s reason enough to celebrate. It may have been a while since we rang in a new year with Guy Lombardo or Dick Clark, but we’ll never forget the old acquaintances we grew up with and, as we always do, we’ll look ahead with hope and optimism to our next circle around the sun.
Here’s to 2017, to a new beginning, and to memories that never die.
Stephen H. Provost: 805-927-8896, @sproauthor
A partial list:
- Muhammad Ali
- David Bowie
- Fidel Castro
- Leonard Cohen
- Patty Duke
- Keith Emerson
- Carrie Fisher
- Glenn Frey
- Zsa Zsa Gabor
- John Glenn
- Merle Haggard
- Florence Henderson
- Greg Lake
- Harper Lee
- George Michael
- Arnold Palmer
- Nancy Reagan
- Debbie Reynolds
- Alan Rickman
- Leon Russell
- Alan Thicke
- Robert Vaughn
- Elie Wiesel
- Gene Wilder