The last rites and wrongs of the recently deceased

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.

Ecclesiastes 7:2(NIV)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Melvin Turpin

What's WRONG? We didn't see this one coming. At CLUB DEAD, The bell tolls for Melvin Turpin, aka "The Big Dipper" aka "Dinner Bell Mel," basketball player for the University of Kentucky and the NBA, gentle giant, and host to who knows what demons, dead at 49 from a self-inflicted gunshot.

I had decided to refrain from posting on CLUB DEAD for a year following the death of my wife Roxanne. But now comes word of the suicide of former University of Kentucky basketball star Melvin Turpin. Mel's death is sadder still because it came at his own hand as he was facing health problems resulting from diabetes. He was one of Roxanne's favorite players, and I don't think it's amiss to remember him as it allows me to think of happy times she and I shared.

I know tonight, there are thousands of Wildcat fans who are calling upon similar memories, as they ask "why". On my LIFE 4.0 blog, I've written about my own thoughts of suicide but to imagine that someone we thought of as family would actually reach that brink is terrifying.

We can only hope that even in his desperation, that Melvin Turpin knew how loved he was, and how many of those family memories he and his teammates enhanced. Yet it may be more scary to accept that even knowing that love, it still wasn't enough. I can't begin to imagine the hell he was facing. I feel, as one poster on a Kentucky fan site said, "If I had known, I'd have driven to Lexington and hugged the man until my arms fell off. Maybe it would have helped. Maybe not. But at least I would have tried. I wish he had given us the chance."

As fans of sports, or movies, or music, we forget that our heroes are people, with fears and weaknesses shared by everyone. Since Roxanne's death, I often implore people to say "I love you" to those nearby, as the day may come when it's too late.

Whatever love Melvin Turpin felt, it obviously wan't enough. John Lennon may have been wrong. Love isn't all you need.

When people who knew him spoke of Melvin, it was of a kind, funny, charming man, a loyal friend. In recent years, following his retirement from basketball, he had taken part in several UK events honoring his and other teams from the past, always welcomed with devotion. In interviews and personal appearances, his heart seemed full of happiness. As I said earlier, Melvin was a favorite of Roxanne's. It was about the time he played when she really began to get involved with basketball. She loved the stories aboiut him that always seemed to pop up, stories about his healthy appetite, about coach Joe B. Hall having people follow him to make sure he wasn't loading up on fast food, about Mel outsmarting the coaches having his girlfriend bring burgers to her house so he could enjoy them there, out of sight of prying eyes.

Turpin was a native of Lexington, and had a great college career in his home town. In 1984 Melvin and Sam Bowie (UK's famed "Twin Towers") led Kentucky to the national semifinals, losing to eventual champion Georgetown.

Turpin was the sixth player chosen in the 1984 NBA draft. He had a steady, if not memorable NBA career with Cleveland, Utah and Washington. But having been selected so highly in a talented group which included several players who would go on to stardom (Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuon, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton among them,) his accomplishments in the pros never approached what he achieved in college.

A few weeks ago, discussing the possibility that UK's DeMarcus Cousins, another high draft pick, might not find professional success because of potential maturity isses (another crock, but that's a discussion for another time), ESPN's Fran Frischilla referred to Cousins as "(possibly) the next Mel Turpin." Give him the benefit of the doubt; it's an analyst's job to make such comparisons, and I doubt there was any hate involved. But I thought it was a cheap shot on a guy who personified good sportsmanship, and was free of the embarassing off-the-court foolishness happening more frequently among athletes. I remember thinking at the time that were Roxanne alive, she would have chewed Frischilla a new ass, one New Yorker to another. I also remember hoping that Melvin didn't hear that remark.

I hope as the shock fades, we'll remember the tall man with the happy smile, and remember that the smile can often mask the poison in someone's soul.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Roxanne Davis Kelly

What's WRONG? Everything. At CLUB DEAD, The bell tolls for Roxanne Davis Kelly, psychic, mother, devoted fan of The Beatles and the Kentucky Wildcats, and the center of my universe, dead at 56.

What goes around, comes around.

I began this blog as a way to express what I felt about people who have passed on. I knew that eventually, I would have to stop.

Perhaps I will stop.

Perhaps I'll continue it.

I don't know right now. I'm so totally off kilter, I don't know how to begin to describe it.

Tonight, I come here to write about someone who died a few hours ago, someone who lived in my every thought for over thirty years. I debated whether to include her on this blog. Would she think it in bad taste, I wondered. But I know the answer is no. She was so much a part of everything I did on the air, it would be wrong not to eulogize her. She would want to be included.

Tradition has it that when a loved one passes, you should surround yourself with friends, associates, anyone who can provide comfort and distraction.

That's not how I choose to spend my first night without her. FIve minutes with her was always preferable to years with anyone else. So I'll be alone with my thoughts, my prayers, and seek the distraction that comes in writing these words.

I want to remember her. I want to dwell on the bounty of wonderful memories she left me. I want to believe that in whatever may lie beyond the mortal life, she has been welcomed and is healed. I want to believe that she will touch me tonight in my dreams, and that she will continue to do so often.

I'm determined not to cry, although I'm sure I'll lose that battle. Roxanne hated it when I would cry. I like to think it's because she saw me as too strong to need tears. More likely it's that she didn't want to face the fact the she married a wuss.

Roxanne was unique. Not one to be lost in the crowd, she touched everyone she came in contact with. She would have been the first to say that many people found her overbearing. She was abrasive, quick, to the point, yet loving, caring, and sensitive.

What made her smile? The Beatles, great food, Mozart, classic black-and-white films, and color ones as well. She had an encyclopedic knowledge of movies and television. Pretty good with music, too -- handy when you're married to someone in radio.

Living with me, Roxanne became a devoted fan of the University of Kentucky basketball team. It's going to be strange watching the Cats without her. That may be when I need that company and distraction which I'm not partaking in tonight. The last time I didn't discuss a game with her, Kyle Macy was playing the point and Goose Givens was putting on the show of his life against Duke. That's a long time.

She had spent a year in the hospital as a child. Much of her outer tougness was hatched from a needed instinct to survive. After our daughter was born, she decided to stay home... a typical wife and mother through good times and bad.

Our story was never one of love at first site. but of love nurtured and tenderly grown. Truth be told, that gruff exterior put me off at first, too. As we began to find each other, she began to trust me enough to show the loving, caring side of her personality. And she discovered the same part of me. Through the success and heights of my career, she was there, helping at every turn.

When failure followed my sucess, I was generally an ass. Roxanne stayed by my side long after most women would have left. Maybe it was for our daughter's sake. I only know it took me until age 42 to grow up. By then, the familiarity and comfort was intact, but the thought of love was streching thin. But despite a few years apart, we continued together, as best friends and devoted allies. The time apart made our reunions that much sweeter.

Seventeen years ago, Roxanne began to re-discover the psychic abilities which had fascinated her early in life. She began to connect with people, and as the psychic industry emerged from the shadow into mainstream America, she helped lead the way.

I often told her how much I held her in awe. The people she counseled were generous in their praise. I long ago lost count of the number of people whose lives she touched, not just in passing, but with substantial influence. She helped people. Many people.

And people loved her. But -- forgive me for being selfish -- no one loved her as I did. Strike that. As I still do. My faith tells me that from beyond, she is still in my life. If it's simple to believe that she and her parents are re-uniting tonight, somewhere in God's great universe, then I shall be simple.

We look for any sign, so I've found one tonight. The movie "Sister Kenney" has appeared on TV. It's certainly obscure enough to take note of. Roxanne saw it as a child in the hospital; in fact, it inspired her to study nursing. As I remember, it's the first old movie she ever showed me. It doesn't seen that long ago, that first night of many we would share as she passed to me her love of classic cinema. To see it tonight, of all nights... just say I'm closing my mind to the idea of coincidence.

If I'm right, I imagine her parents and mine will have welcomed her by now. Could be she's busy figuring out how to find John Lennon, George Harrison, Bob Marley, and Vivien Leigh. Perhaps she's already been to the Rainbow Bridge and exchanged kisses with our four beloved Shar-Pei.

And I hope she's checking how to help her big honey, who's a more than a little bit lost right now.

Here is the message I posted to the WABX listeners on our web site.

September 29, 2009

I am heartbroken to tell you that my Roxanne passed away today. Despite our estrangement we were still best friends and shared intertwined lives. I thank God for the over thirty years we had together, and that she died without pain.

Roxanne was a psychic advisor who had brought endless joy and needed counsel to thousands of clients over the years. We all hope to make a contribution in this world. I can truly say she made a huge difference in many peoples' lives.

Roxanne was a proud Kentuckian by way of Atlantic City. She was a Jersey Girl, through and through. Tough as steel, with a heart as tender as any. Beneath her brittle shell lived a passionate, vibrant soul. From her, I took a love for Mozart, Bob Marley, old movies, and my Serbian Orthodox faith. In return, through me, she gained an appreciation for politics, barbeque, and the unique lovingly cynical viewpoint available only to radio spouses.

She also assimilated by love for the Kentucky Wildcats, maybe even eclipsing my own place in the Big Blue Nation. This is no small thing. Is it selfish of me to wonder how I'll react without her?

I also treasure the things we discovered together: The joys and aches of parenthood, the rigors of road trips, and the irony of British comedy. And most of all, the incredible rush of tackling life while being coupled with someone who adores even your worst faults.

I have no idea why she loved me. I only think God she did.

Obviously, this is an awkward time. To my friends, please don't hesitate to call or mail, though I may not respond quickly. I appreciate your love and support and I shall thank you individually when circumstances permit. Anyone knows me personally knows how Roxanne has been the shining light which has guided me almost all my adult life.

To the listeners, just know that whatever pleasant moments I have been able to bring you came through the love and support she gave to me, even through the times when we were no longer "in love." I can only wish that you have, or will find, someone which brings you such richness as she brought to me.

Dobro vece, pila moya.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite

What's WRONG? At CLUB DEAD, The bell tolls for Walter Cronkite, the Most Trusted Man In America, dead at 92 at his New York home, following a long illness. He didn't just bring us the news, he was family, the gentlemanly uncle we all admired.

Walter Cronkite's words resonate in the memory of anyone alive on November 22, 1963.

"From Dallas, Texas, the flash, apparently official: President Kennedy died at 1pm Central Standard Time, 2 o'clock Eastern Standard Time, some 30 minutes ago.".

America remained glued to the television for next few days, watching Cronkite. It was his words, his demeanor, that told us we would survive; we would move ahead.

Walter Cronkite was our witness to the events which shaped our lives. All the mileposts which defined the path of the world are permanently embedded with our memories of hearing Walter describe them.

It was Cronkite who, disillusioned with the American presence in Vietnam, publicly called for an end to the war. It's probably an exaggeration to say he ended Lyndon Johnson's Presidency. He was far from the first public figure to decry the war. War protests had become so commonplace as to attract little attention. Yet there's no way to know the nature of Johnson's plans when, after watching Walter's broadcast, he turned to his advisors and said, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America."

It was Cronkite who spoke to an already racially polarized nation on April 4, 1968, and told them the sobering news that America's best hope for the peaceful advancement of civil rights lay dead in a Memphis hospital. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been silenced by a sniper's bullet, and no one could know what lay in store.

It was Walter Cronkite who later that year, dared to call the Chicago security officers "thugs" as they roughed up correspondent Dan Rather on the floor of the Democratic national convention.

And it was Cronkite, 40 years ago this week, who was there when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldren walked on the moon.

Walter Cronkite started at the very bottom, as a newsroom 'gofer,' as he described it, going for cigars, egg rolls, whatever the reporters needed. He cut his teeth in Kansas City in the days when Boss Prendergast ran the city. He went to war, came home, fell in love with and married Betsy. He worked his way up to the CBS newsroom in New York, and in 1962, was tapped as the replacement for Douglas Edwards on the evening newscast.

As a boss, he never asked a correspondent or editor to do anything he hadn't done himself. He edited his own copy, and in the days before teleprompters, scribbled story notes to himself. He talked to us. He was not the lofty soothsayer proclaiming the great truth. He was a friend, someone we could trust.

Frequently, polls showed him to be the most trusted man in America, The nickname stuck. His singsong delivery and signature closing "And that's the way it is..." were quoted and parodied by all, including Johnny Carson.

He was witness to America's darkest days: the Cold War, Vietnam, race riots, the energy crisis, Three Mile Island, the Iran hostages. He told us of the murder of a young President. He brought us through the trying days of the two administrations which followed: Lyndon Johnson, whose albatross was the war in Southeast Asia, and Richard Nixon, whose term ended like none before, collapsing under the weight of its own paranoia.

Walter was also with us through our finest hours: conquering the moon, bringing peace, albeit temporarily, to the middle east, and standing tall on July 4, 1976 as America rose to celebrate its Bicentennial with pageantry like had never before been seen.

Against his instincts, Cronkite left the CBS Evening News anchor desk in 1981, a casualty of CBS' policy of mandatory retirement at age 65. He was disappointed to learn he would no longer be anchoring specials, political conventions, and breaking news events; duties which he believed he would be able to continue after foregoing anchor duties.

He watched as television news became a hodgepodge of rumor, opinion and sculpted, homogenized content. It was no longer information; it was product. Young people sought to be news reporters, but not to report the news, not to seek the truth, but because it was a way to be on television.

His personality was certainly the greater part of the giant figure he became. Dan Rather once said we wasn't sure if a movie could be made of Cronkite's life, for no actor could be found who could portray his combination of grace, dignity, and integrity.

And that's the way it is.

Then again, screw him, he's dead. Let's go look for crocodiles.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Karl Malden

What's WRONG? At CLUB DEAD, The bell tolls for Karl Malden Hoosier, Serb, sometimes the hero, sometime's the hero's best friend, dead at 97.

Mladen Sekulovich came of age in the close-knit Serbian community in Gary, Indiana. Handsome, strong and determined, he made a great impession on those who new him. Diversions came in two forms, sports and performing. His father was active in choirs and plays in their church, and young Mladen was encouraged to join in.

The early decades of the 20th Century were the glory days for Gary, when the steel mills meant opportunity and financial stability for the men who could handle the inferno. There was little doubt that Mladen would one day take his place in the mills, following in the footsteps of so many other first and second generation members of the immigrant families who had settled on the Indiana shore of Lake Michigan.

But after three years of the daily grind, his dream of an acting career finally broke through. Surpisingly, his father, who had encouraged such things within the church, felt such goings on were not proper fodder for a career. Undaunted, the young man made his way to Arkansas, enrolled in college. A name change to the more American-sounding "Karl Malden" followed, and within a few years, he was pounding the boards in New York. Broadway soon called, then after service in World War II, Hollywood.

So many movie classics bore his imprint: The Gunfighter, A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, Baby Doll, Pollyanna, The Great Impostor, One-Eyed Jacks, Birdman of Alcatraz, How the West Was Won, Gypsy, Cheyenne Autumn, The Cincinnati Kid, Nevada Smith, Hotel, Patton, The Wild Rovers...

One of his best friends in New York had been Issr Danielovich, another Eastern European immigrant who became famous after changing his name to Kirk Douglas. When Karl's TV cop show "The Streets of San Francisco" was being cast, a young actor showed up to audition for the part of the young hotshot officer who provided the counterpoint to Malden's seasoned, experienced detective. "That's a Douglas chin," remarked Malden with a smile, recognizing the famous cleft. And so Michael Douglas got his big break. With solid performances, and the great scenery of the city, "The Streets of San Francisco" was a fixture on ABC for several seasons.

He remained humble and never forgot his working-class upbringing, nor his Serbian Orthodox heritage. His TV show "Skag" told of a Serbian man who raised a family while toiling in the steel mills. It was a critical sucess, if not a commercal one. And in most of his movies, there is a charater or reference to someone named "Sekulovich."

He was universally lauded and respected by his peers. He recieved several Academy Award nomitations, and won the 1952 Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for A Streetcar named Desire." In 1988, he was elected president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a title he held for five years. His characters were memorable, and always crafted with painstaking detail.

Then again, screw him, he's dead. Let's go look for crocodiles.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson

What's WRONG? At CLUB DEAD, The bell tolls for Michael Jackson the King of Pop, dead from cardiac arrest in Los Angeles at age 50. Some people can not be described in just a few words. He was one of those people.

How to talk to your kids about MJ's death

Michael Jackson had so many personas.

There was the "Little Michael Jackson of the Jackson Five," with the purple hat and the big Afro hair, belting out pop anthems. Seldom does anyone grow up so publicly. The Jackson family --five brothers dancing and singing happy, catchy pop songs, came to national attention when Michael was still very young. Motown head Berry Gordy spread the word that Diana Ross had discovered the group, but that was so much p.r., an attempt to use her fame to endorse their talent.

There was the actor, singing and sliding his way through Oz in the role of the scarecrow in "The Wiz."

Later, after reaching legal age, and gaining control of his money, Michael teamed with producer Quincy Jones to record 1979's "Off The Wall." It won the Grammy for Best Album, and established Michael as more than just another former child star.

"Thriller" followed in 1982, and would become the biggest selling recording in history. Michael was a fan of the movie "An American Werewolf In London," especially the scary special effects. "Werewolf" director John Landis came on board to shoot the long, long "Thriller" video that sent a standard in the early days of music video. He brought "moonwalking" into our vocabularies. His performance on the Motown 25 television special was nothing short of spectacular.

There was the entrepeneur who in the early months of MTV, threated to make a statement on CBS's morning show (Jackson recorded for CBS Records) accusing the channel of racist policies for not playing his videos. And he was the man who as his carer stumbled, brought the same charge against Tommy Mottola, the head of Sony Music.

There was the elaborate hair, the one sequined glove, the huge commercial deal with Pepsi, and the explosion on the set of one of the commercials. He had become the most popular entertainer in the world, perhaps the best-know person on the planet.

There was the host of Neverland Ranch, rejoicing in a middle-aged childhood.

There was the husband, first of Lisa-Marie Presley, then of Debbie Rowe, with whom he had two children. The thought of Michael Jackson as a father unnerved more than a few people. He had always shown a fondness for young children, but his eccentricities seemed to call for caution.

There was the bleached-faced man who dangled his child over a balcony.

There was the eternal man-child sharing his bed with young boys, drawing universal scorn, then being cleared of any wrongdoing. There was the sad recluse, the one we feared would mimic Sunset Boulevard's Norma Desmond, always working toward the next comeback.

His death came unexpectedly, when he stopped breathing as he was preparing for European concert dates. Paramedics were called to the Bel Air mansion he had been renting, but were unable to fully revive him.

Whether Michael Jackson is remembered as a sucessful, accomplished entertainer, or as a pop-culture enigma, he will be mourned as few ever have.

Then again, screw him, he's dead. Let's go look for crocodiles.


Farrah Fawcett

What's WRONG? At CLUB DEAD, The bell tolls for Farrah Fawcett, dead from cancer at age 62. She passed with longtime companion Ryan O'Neal and close friend Alana Stewart at her bedside. With er courage in the face of illness, maybe in the end, she earned the respect to paralel her fame.

"She was an angel on Earth and now an angel forever," said former husband Lee Majors.

The hair. That's what stood out for me. There was the smile, those white teeth, the poster, and of course, the jiggle.

Farrah Fawcett was a phenomenon. Image careflly nurtured by superagent Jay Bernstein, her poster graced thousands of walls. She attained that untimate level of celberity, those who could be indentified with one name. everyone knew who Farrah was.

"Charlie's Angels" ushered in a new TV era, the "jiggle" show. The show boasted three sexy women (Farrah, Kate Jackson, and Jaclyn Smith) who worked as private investigators for the mysterious heard-but-never-seen Charlie. The show debuted in the fall of 1976 and soared to the top 5. But Farrah yearned for more challenges, and more respect.

She left Charlie's Angels at the height of her popularity, hoping for a great movie career, only become the butt of jokes. Her first film, "Somebody Killed My Husband" was such a disaster that the buzzword for it around Hollywood was "Sombody Killed My Career."

Although things didn't pan out as hoped, she did attain a measure of credibility later on. Her TV movie, "The Burning Bed," told of a desperate abused woman, and earned her an Emmy nomination. On stage, in "Extremities," she played a rape victim who wounds and imprisons her attacker. The play required her to brawl on stage night after night. The physically demanding role required that she battle on stage night after night, leaving her beaten and exhausted.

Her recent health battles have been well documented, so much so that many of her eulogies have expressed relief at the end of her suffering.

She was truly a cornerstone of the glamorous late seventies, and a woman who held her head -- and that glorious hair -- high through good times and bad, not an easy thing to do.

Then again, screw her, she's dead. Let's go look for crocodiles.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ed McMahon

What's WRONG? At CLUB DEAD, The bell tolls for Ed McMahon, longtime sidekick of Johnny Carson on NBC's Tonight Show. dead at 86. McMahon died at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center surrounded by his family. Publicist Howard Bragman didn't give a cause of death, saying only that McMahon had a multitude of health problems the last few months.

In the past few years, Ed McMahon, as many in todays world, had been beset with financial troubles as well as health problems. But he will be remembered as a brave war veteran, a dedicated worker, and the man whose "Heeeeere's Johnny!" told us it was time to laugh.

Ed McMahon began his television career as a weatherman on John Facenda's Philadelphia news program. (Yes, the same John Facenda, the longtime voice of NFL films) After stints on several game shows, he was paired with Johnny Carson on a show called "Who Do You Trust?" When the young comedian inherited Jack Parr's Tonight Show, Ed followed.

In the three-channel days, Johnny and Ed were friends we saw every night. Thanks to video libraries and you tube, so many of their moments live on. Here he is, doing what he did best... setting up Johnny.

Ed showed us you can be near to greatness and enable someone else to shine, thereby increasing your own level of celebrity. Content to be Johnny's second banana, he was neverless accomplished on his own, as host of "Star Search," co-host of Jerry Lewis' MDA Telethon, pitchman for various companies and causes. He was a veteran of World War II and Korea, a devoted husband and father, an avid booster of his adopted home town of of Avalon, NJ., so much so that he even insipred good-natured ridicule from the king of late night.

One night, probably sometime during the summer of 1970, Johnny Carson did a comedy skit from his desk that brought the nation’s focus to Avalon. It’s similar to the “Headlines” segment that often occured on the “The Tonight Show” in which Jay Leno held up a funny but true newspaper headline that often has multiple meanings. Here, Johnny held up old photographs from the Wild West that showed dilapidated, old buildings. As a spoof, he identified each photo as a location in Avalon: the police station, the Borough Hall – everything was fair game.

Now, he and Johnny are together again. I visualize a heavenly stage, and a command performance featuring Carnac The Magnificent...

Ed: I hold in my hand the hermetically sealed envelope. Carnac will now attempt to divine the answers without ever having seen the question...

Johnny (holding the corner of the envelope to his forehead): "A rodeo bull, a chicken, and the Tonight show since we left."

Ed: "A rodeo bull, a chicken, and the Tonight show since we left."

Johnny:(opens envelope, blows in it, removes the slip of paper and reads it): "Name something that bucks, something that clucks and something that sucks."

It was Ed McMahon's childhood dream to be a broadcaster. He lived that dream. We should all be so lucky.

Then again, screw him, he's dead. Let's go look for crocodiles.

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