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kottke.org posts about obituaries

RIP Huguette Clark, aged 104

posted by Jason Kottke   May 25, 2011

File this one under Interesting Obituaries. Huguette Clark was “the daughter of a scoundrel” and heiress to the Clark copper fortune. She had lived in seclusion in Manhattan since the late 1930s.

For the quarter-century that followed, Mrs. Clark lived in the apartment in near solitude, amid a profusion of dollhouses and their occupants. She ate austere lunches of crackers and sardines and watched television, most avidly “The Flintstones.” A housekeeper kept the dolls’ dresses impeccably ironed.

Nate Dogg, RIP

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 16, 2011

Nate Dogg died yesterday; he was 41 years old.

With his deep, melodic voice and smooth soul rumble, Dogg was one of the key elements in the rise of the West Coast G-Funk sound pioneered by Death Row Records in the early 1990s. Though overshadowed by such peers as Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Warren G, Nate was a critical participant in a number of major left-coast gangsta hits, including G’s “Regulate” and Dre’s iconic solo debut, 1992’s The Chronic.

Benoit Mandelbrot, RIP

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2010

Nothing in the news media yet, but many folks on Twitter and colleague Nassim Taleb are reporting that the father of fractal geometry is dead at age 85. We’re not there yet, but someday Mandelbrot’s name will be mentioned in the same breath as Einstein’s as a genius who fundamentally shifted our perception of how the world works.

Update: The NY Times has confirmation from Mandelbrot’s family. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer.

Jure Robic, RIP

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 27, 2010

Jure Robic, the world-class ultra-endurance cyclist I wrote about earlier this year, was killed in a traffic accident in his native Slovenia late last week. He died as he lived: on his bike. (thx, @ddewey and several others)

Manute Bol, RIP

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 21, 2010

Former NBA player, shot blocker extraordinaire, and humanitarian Manute Bol died over the weekend at age 47. He died of a rare skin condition caused by a medication he took while in Africa.

“You know, a lot of people feel sorry for him, because he’s so tall and awkward,” Charles Barkley, a former 76ers teammate, once said. “But I’ll tell you this — if everyone in the world was a Manute Bol, it’s a world I’d want to live in.”

According to Language Log, Bol may also have originated the phrase “my bad”.

Ken Arneson emailed me to say that he heard the phrase was first used by the Sudanese immigrant basketball player Manute Bol, believed to have been a native speaker of Dinka (a very interesting and thoroughly un-Indo-Europeanlike language of the Nilo-Saharan superfamily). Says Arneson, “I first heard the phrase here in the Bay Area when Bol joined the Golden State Warriors in 1988, when several Warriors players started using the phrase.” And Ben Zimmer’s rummaging in the newspaper files down in the basement of Language Log Plaza produced a couple of early 1989 quotes that confirm this convincingly:

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 10, 1989: When he [Manute Bol] throws a bad pass, he’ll say, “My bad” instead of “My fault,” and now all the other players say the same thing.

USA Today, Jan. 27, 1989: After making a bad pass, instead of saying “my fault,” Manute Bol says, “my bad.” Now all the other Warriors say it too.

Update: As a recent post on Language Log notes, several people picked up on this and kinda sorta got rid of the “may have” and the story became that Bol absolutely coined the phrase “my bad”. Unfortunately, the evidence doesn’t support that theory (although it doesn’t entirely disprove it either). The internet is so proficient at twisting the original meaning of things as they propagate that Telephone should really be called Internet.

Fruitful multiplication

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 23, 2010

Yitta Schwartz died last month aged 93. It’s estimated she may have had over 2000 living descendants, including more than 200 grandchildren.

In 1953, the Schwartzes migrated to the United States, settling into the Satmar community in Williamsburg. She arrived with 11 children — Shaindel, Chana, Dinah, Yitschok, Shamshon, Nechuma, Nachum, Nechemia, Hadassah, Mindel and Bella — and proceeded to have five more: Israel, Joel, Aron, Sarah and Chaim Shloime, who died in summer camp at age 8. Sarah came along after Mrs. Schwartz had already married off two other daughters.

(via mr)

Timothy McSweeney, RIP

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 05, 2010

Timothy McSweeney, after whom the McSweeney’s literary magazine and web site are named, died late last month.

As a young man, Timothy was an artist of tremendous talent. The canvases he leaves behind are filled with haunting and beautiful imagery. They are also filled with a palpable desire-to be heard, to connect, to be understood better by others and himself. The letters that inspired this journal’s name were a continuation of that same lifelong effort to more intimately know the world and his place within it.

Dave Eggers tells the story of the real Timothy McSweeney and why he named the magazine after him.

J.D. Salinger, RIP

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 28, 2010

J.D. Salinger, the reclusive author of Catcher in the Rye, is dead at 91.

Howard Zinn, RIP

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 27, 2010

Howard Zinn, the author of The People’s History of the United States, died today. He was 87 years old.

World’s strongest man dead at 104

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 12, 2010

I doubt I’ll live to 104 and my obituary won’t begin like this:

Joe Rollino once lifted 475 pounds. He used neither his arms nor his legs but, reportedly, his teeth.

Rollino wasn’t even felled by old age. He was killed by a minivan — a fucking Windstar! — while crossing the street in Brooklyn. Here’s the deceased circa 1915 at age 10, already displaying a winning form:

Joe Rollino

Rest in peace, Joe.

Brad Graham, RIP

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2010

Old-school blogger Brad Graham was recently found dead at his home. More at MetaFilter, where a commenter says that he’d been ill for some time.

Jeanne-Claude, RIP

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 19, 2009

Jeanne-Claude, one-half of the art duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude, has died at the age of 74. The front page of the couple’s web site has a short tribute. I loved The Gates.

An abundance of death

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2009

Joanne McNeil on The Daily Death:

In the future, a famous person will die every fifteen minutes. Already it’s happening. The ascent of the microcelebrities, the 24 hour news cycle, citizen journalism, and our darkest fantasies all collide on Twitter now. The website’s rhetorical question “What are you doing?” sometimes feels more like “Who died today?”

I wrote about something similar a few years ago in a post called Death in the celebrity age:

Chances are in 15-20 years, someone famous whose work you enjoyed or whom you admired or who had a huge influence on who you are as a person will die each day…and probably even more than one a day. And that’s just you…many other famous people will have died that day who mean something to other people. Will we all just be in a constant state of mourning? Will the NY Times national obituary section swell to 30 pages a day? As members of the human species, we’re used to dealing with the death of people we “know” in amounts in the low hundreds over the course of a lifetime. With higher life expectancies and the increased number of people known to each of us (particularly in the hypernetworked part of the world), how are we going to handle it when several thousand people we know die over the course of our lifetime?

The population pyramid for who the average American knows (or knows of enough to care) probably looks something like this:

Celebrity Population Pyramid

That’s a lot of future death.

Update: On Twitter, Kurt Anderson quoted David Kipen:

Baby Boomers have created so many celebrities that, in the future, somebody famous will die every fifteen minutes.

Update: The NY Times has a slightly different take on the recent rash of celebrity death:

This summer could come to be known as the summer when baby boomers began to turn to the obituary pages first, to face not merely their own mortality or ponder their legacies, but to witness the passing of legends who defined them as a tribe, bequeathing through music, culture, news and politics a kind of generational badge that has begun to fray.

Sincerely, John Hughes

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 07, 2009

Thoughts from a former teenaged pen pal of John Hughes, who recently passed away.

John told me about why he left Hollywood just a few years earlier. He was terrified of the impact it was having on his sons; he was scared it was going to cause them to lose perspective on what was important and what happiness meant. And he told me a sad story about how, a big reason behind his decision to give it all up was that “they” (Hollywood) had “killed” his friend, John Candy, by greedily working him too hard.

A lovely tribute. (thx, mark)

Update: A remembrance from Molly Ringwald.

John saw something in me that I didn’t even see in myself. He had complete confidence in me as an actor, which was an extraordinary and heady sensation for anyone, let alone a 16-year-old girl. I did some of my best work with him. How could I not? He continually told me that I was the best, and because of my undying respect for him and his judgment, how could I have not believed him?

And somewhat related, How Sloane Peterson from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off Taught me how to be an Awesome Girlfriend.

Rein him in, but only when necessary.
You are his girlfriend, not his mother. If he wants to sing to the city on a giant float, let him do it. He’s a big man and he can deal with the consequences. You can nicely remind him, Look, if you do that there might be trouble, but if you throw a bitch fit and give him the silent treatmeant you will look fucking retarded when he has a new girlfriend on his arm from the impressive stunts he’s pulled.

The most trusted man in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite has died; he was 92. CBS News has a nice remembrance.

Robert McNamara dead at 93

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 06, 2009

Robert McNamara, former Secretary of Defense during a large portion of the Vietnam War, died early today at 93. Errol Morris’ documentary on McNamara, The Fog of War, is well worth checking out if you haven’t seen it.

RIP, Joe Ades

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 03, 2009

Joe Ades, the gentleman vegetable peeler salesman familiar to all who roamed the streets of Manhattan, died on Sunday. He was 75.

Ms. Laurent said she sometimes went to look for him at the end of the day, but he would have packed up and left after selling out. She could tell where he had been. “He cleaned up really well,” she said, “but still there were these little shreds of carrots that said, ‘I was here.’”

Ades was such a fixture on the streets of New York that it never occurred to me that one day he might not be there. :( David Galbraith posted a tribute and correction to the Times piece.

None of this myth busting denigrates the fact that Ades was a charming and charismatic New York character. But if, in future, Ades is remembered as an aristocratic, fancy suited, upper-class English dandy that hawked vegetable peelers as an ironic hobby, that would be wrong and actually less interesting.

(thx, david)

Andrew Johnston, RIP

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 27, 2008

The season’s final Mad Men recap is up at The House Next Door, but it was not written by its usual writer, Andrew Johnston. Johnston passed away yesterday at age 40 after a lengthy battle with cancer. RIP.

David Foster Wallace dead at 46

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 13, 2008

David Foster Wallace, the novelist, essayist and humorist best known for his 1996 tome “Infinite Jest,” was found dead last night at his home in Claremont, according to the Claremont Police Department. He was 46.

Jesus. No no no no. So fucking sad and unfair. I am in here and upset.

In a world, RIP

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 02, 2008

Don LaFontaine, the voice of countless movie trailers, is dead at 68. I liked this tribute from the Washington Post:

In a world of people who all have some sort of private omniscient voice-over running things inside their heads, sometimes God, sometimes Mom, and sometimes Don LaFontaine…

In a world where marketing is far more important than content…came one man…with a Voice.

Check out a brief bio video of LaFontaine with his voice in action.

Bernie Mac, RIP

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 09, 2008

Bernie Mac, RIP.


I missed this earlier this week: physicist

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2008

I missed this earlier this week: physicist John Wheeler has died at the age of 96. A snippet from the NY Times obituary:

At the same time, he returned to the questions that had animated Einstein and Bohr, about the nature of reality as revealed by the strange laws of quantum mechanics. The cornerstone of that revolution was the uncertainty principle, propounded by Werner Heisenberg in 1927, which seemed to put fundamental limits on what could be known about nature, declaring, for example, that it was impossible, even in theory, to know both the velocity and the position of a subatomic particle. Knowing one destroyed the ability to measure the other. As a result, until observed, subatomic particles and events existed in a sort of cloud of possibility that Dr. Wheeler sometimes referred to as “a smoky dragon.”

This kind of thinking frustrated Einstein, who once asked Dr. Wheeler if the Moon was still there when nobody looked at it.

Wheeler recognized that physics is about ideas and the language used to express those ideas, not just mathematics and experimentation. He coined and popularized several phrases during his long career, including black hole, wormhole, and quantum foam.

Obituary of Charles Fawcett, who led an “

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 11, 2008

Obituary of Charles Fawcett, who led an “unlikely” and “unbelievable” life.

In Paris Fawcett also took part in the rescue of a group of British prisoners-of-war who had been placed under French guard in a hospital ward by the Germans. By impersonating a German ambulance crew, Fawcett and a comrade marched in at 4am and ordered the French nurses to usher the PoWs out into the yard. “Gentlemen,” he announced as he drove them away, “consider yourself liberated.”

“You’re a Yank,” said a British voice.

“Never,” came Fawcett’s lilting southern burr, “confuse a Virginian with a Yankee.”

He also romanced Hedy Lamarr, starred in movies with Sophia Loren, and got married a few times:

In three months at the end of the war, Fawcett married six Jewish women who had been trapped in concentration camps, a procedure that entitled them to leave France with an automatic American visa.

(via cyn-c)

When I heard that chess champion Bobby

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 20, 2008

When I heard that chess champion Bobby Fischer had died, I immediately went searching for some of that “sprawling New Yorker shit” on Fischer. Sure enough, the New Yorker ran a piece on Fischer back in 1957, when he was 14 and still “Robert”. Also from their archives, a 2004 review of a book about the 1972 Spassky/Fischer match. The NY Times has extensive coverage of the hometown boy from past and present, including the annoucement of his victory against Spassky.

Edmund Hillary has died at age 88. He

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2008

Edmund Hillary has died at age 88. He and Tenzing Norgay were the first people to climb to the top of Mount Everest.

Short but sweet obituary of Frank Viola,

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 13, 2007

Short but sweet obituary of Frank Viola, lover of pigeon racing.

He could spot one of his own pigeons in a whirling flock a block or two distant, his nephew said. Studying a prospective purchase, he examined its eyes with a jeweler’s loupe, looking for the telltale subtleties of color and form that are believed to indicate prowess.

“He paid thousands of dollars for birds, but he would never sell a bird,” Peter Viola said in a telephone interview on Monday. “If you wanted one, and you came to the house and he liked you, he would give you the bird, with two stipulations: that you don’t sell it and you don’t kill it.”

Legendary mime Marcel Marceau died Saturday at

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2007

Legendary mime Marcel Marceau died Saturday at age 84.

Michael Jackson borrowed his famous “moonwalk” from a Marceau sketch, “Walking Against the Wind.”

I tried to find video of that sketch but came up empty.

Update: Here’s some video of Marceau teaching wind walking to a class…and miming with Michael Jackson. (thx, andy & mike)

Update: Here’s a better video of Marceau doing his wind walk, from a Mel Brooks movie no less. (thx, manuel)

Kurt Vonnegut, RIP. So it goes.

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, RIP. So it goes.

Former President Gerald Ford dies at age 93.

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 27, 2006

Former President Gerald Ford dies at age 93.

Director Robert Altman dead at 81. He will be missed.

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 21, 2006

Director Robert Altman dead at 81. He will be missed.