2020 took the famous, the not-so-famous, and plenty other things that we cherish.
Far too many dead to bring out
The world of music was certainly not spared from the ravages of 2020. Some of its most legendary figures left us this…
“Stupid Covid!” That’s become my wife’s mantra over the past 10 months. Occasionally I will chime in with “Covid ruins everything.” The words may vary, but the sentiments are the same. Anytime you come up with an idea that sounds like fun, or an interesting place to go, or think you have found a safe way to break the quarantine, COVID-19 rears its ugly corona head and takes a sledgehammer to the best made plans of mice and men. While this scenario may ring true for many, far too many others have found the coronavirus which has tied the United States and most of the world up in knots over the past year to be far more than just a nuisance. It has basically delivered a body-blow to the livelihood and lives of millions of people, and we’re not done yet. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to support the inane idea that we’ve “turned the corner” when we find ourselves stuck in a dead end.
As has been my practice every year since 2015, I’ve decided to dedicate my final blog of the year to those notables who passed away over the course of the previous 12 months. However I’m finding this task to be quite formidable as I try to reflect upon all that was lost in 2020. Indeed, much of what we’ve come to love and enjoy in life has been decimated this past year. Sure, there’s always going to be loss, be it loved ones, acquaintances, or celebrities whose work and talents we’ve come to appreciate over the years, but this year has been different when it comes to our collective mourning. The coronavirus has killed more than 332,000 Americans over the past year, and it’s quite possible, perhaps even probable that we will lose close to 400,000 despite the fact that a vaccine is being delivered to the American people and around the world as we speak. The time it will take to roll it out, coupled with all of the “Phi Beta Kappa” anti-vaxxers who unfortunately dwell amongst us will help to slow down the impact of the vaccines that are currently being rolled out. However, we can safely declare that help is on the way.
Truth and common sense have been just two of the many victims of 2020. Here we witness representatives of the “Village Idiots of America” from all across this formally great nation discuss idiocy at its most primal. Again who can blame them? Who would take the advice of doctors and scientists when there’s such a bounty of abundant unsubstantiated opinions regarding vaccines and infections available on social media? (New York Times)
There are only a scant few of us who haven’t been either directly or indirectly affected by COVID-19 over the past year. For some it was the loss of a loved relative or cherished friend. For others, their livelihoods were impacted in ways that they never could have imagined. Successful and hard-working businesspeople and entrepreneurs saw all of their efforts to build a successful enterprise dashed to bits by quarantines and lockdowns. Through nothing that they did, they found their businesses laid to waste by state and local governments that were forced to choose between medical care chaos and financial ruin. However, if possible, there was so much more taken from us in 2020.
For example, this appears to have been the year where the truth finally succumbed to the primordial forces of Donald Trump and MAGA-nation. A president who lost the popular vote by more than seven million votes and the electoral vote by the same amount of votes he himself won by in 2016 has refused to concede or admit defeat. Nevermind that Conservative right-wing judges, many of whom that Trump himself appointed have told him that he literally has no case for voter fraud, or the fact that high-ranking Republican officials in places like Georgia and Arizona, all Trump supporters, told him that there was no voter fraud, or that the head of election security at Homeland Security, another person appointed by the president stated that the election was safe and secure, he still continues to make claims of voter fraud and a stolen election without any evidence. Yes, RIP, “The Truth,” you were a most unfortunate casualty of 2020.
Anonymity for those who oversee the elections in their states died in 2020. This individual is a man none of us would or should have ever heard of. His name is Brad Raffensperger, and he is the Secretary of State for Georgia and a Trump supporter. Because he had the unmitigated gall to defend the integrity of the election results in his state, he was called out by “Orange” Mussolini and received dozens of death threats from MAGA-nation. (Wikipedia Commons)
Unfortunately, “truth” wasn’t the only fatality we suffered in 2020. Civil discourse, faith in institutions, trust in government, government competence, responsible governance, trust in the medical community, facts, faith in science, movie theaters, restaurants, leaving your house, sports, live events, and basic respect for our fellow man, i.e. wearing a mask and not whining about it like a selfish child, all suffered fatalities this past year. Not all of this was due to Donald Trump, but much of the sentiment and ideology that sent him to the White House and brought him 74 million votes in the 2020 election helped bring about what many on Yelp are calling the worst year ever. While it might take a good few months for our everyday lives to return to normal, at least after January 20th I won’t have to wake up every morning and check my phone to see if President “Crazy” has blown up the world because somebody called him fat.
Yet another fatality of 2020, Bill Barr’s joy. The Attorney General who seemed to relish the opportunity to perform his job in complete fealty to the president was forced to resign when he declared that there was no significant fraud to be found in the 2020 election. Trump and Barr seemed like a match made in Heaven. (If Heaven was populated by bloated fascists) Now all that’s left is for the two smug purveyors of presidential omnipotence to duet on “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore.” (Getty images)
While poor people, as well as people of color suffered at a higher frequency from covid related illnesses than others who were more affluent, it didn’t mean that celebrities were spared the suffering that was COVID-19. In fact, it seemed like it was a particularly devastating year for many of our rich and famous who passed away from non-covid related illnesses as well. One could almost post a separate blog for each aspect of the entertainment industry in 0rder to pay tribute and record all that passed away during the dreadful year that was 2020. Since that’s not going to happen, I had to be very selective in deciding who to “honor” and who to allow to pass quietly. Feel free to point out any notables that I missed in my lists, as my calculations will of course be somewhat New York centric:
Lost to us in the world of sports –
- Tom Seaver — (1944–2020) — While Seaver officially died of covid related illness, “Tom Terrific” had been in ill-health for several years, suffering from lyme disease as well as dementia. However, if you’re a fan of the New York Mets, you know who the “franchise” was. His competitive grit was the kind exhibited by only a choice few in the world of sports such as Bill Russell, Michael Jordan, and the heinous Tom Brady. Seaver turned the Mets into a legitimate franchise, and is still my favorite all-time athlete.
- Kobe Bryant — (1978–2020) — Another fierce competitor, he shot daggers into the net to defeat his opponents and daggers at his teammates who didn’t carry their weight. Athletes who come along when you’re a little bit older don’t always impact you the way they do when you remember them from your youth. I felt I got to understand the impact of Kobe by watching both of my sons’ shock and disbelief at his passing.
- Bob Gibson — (1935–2020) — If the stare down from the mound didn’t intimidate you, the high “chin-music” would most certainly grab your attention. He famously told battery mate Tim McCarver when McCarver came out to the mound to talk to his pitcher to, “Shut-up and get back behind the plate,” reminding his now startled battery mate that, “The only thing you know about good pitching is that you can’t hit it.”
- Edward “Whitey” Ford — (1928–2020) — The “Chairman of the Board” knew how to win the big game, and pitching for the Yankees during their glorious heydays in the 1950s and ’60s gave Whitey an opportunity to demonstrate his big game bonafides year-after-year. Ford was the Yankees’ “ace” for over 15 years, and broke Babe Ruth’s World Series scoreless inning streak. He would pitch the Yankees to 11 World Series appearances and six titles, including in 1961 when he was the series MVP. The pride of Astoria took hay-seed Mickey Mantle under his wing and taught him how to live it up in the big city, which didn’t work out all that well for Mantle or his liver.
- Don Shula — (1930–2020) — The only coach in NFL history to achieve an unbeaten and untied season of perfection with his Miami Dolphins, including a 14–7 victory over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII, was despised in the Hoffman household as he and “the fish,” tormented our beloved Jets seemingly every season throughout the 1970s and ’80s. The Jets did achieve an all-time smackdown of Shula in the famed 1969 Super Bowl, but that was when he was coaching the Baltimore Colts, before he had truly established himself as “Mr. Dolphin.” Since it’s customary to salute your opponents once they’ve been vanquished, let me just say this to the late and ledgendary coaching great: “Here’s to you, you mother-fu#&er!”
- Notable passings in the world of sports in 2020, many due to COVID-19 included Lou Brock, Don “Perfect Game” Larsen, Sam “You’re not in Cleveland” Wyche, Gayle Sayers, “Curly” Neal, Tom Dempsey, Al Kaline, “The Butcher,” Jerry Sloan, Wes Unseld, John Thompson, Joe Morgan, Fred Dean, Jim Kiick, and Diego Maradona who apparently played some kind of game where you kick a ball for some unspecified reason.
The image of Tom Seaver that every Met fan of any value has burned into their brains. (Getty Images)
It wasn’t just movie theaters and normal network television programming that had the look of rigor mortis setting in thanks to COVID-19, many of our movie and television stars failed to survive this awful year.
Lost to us in the world of movies and television –
- Sean Connery — (1930–2020) — For so many he was really the only James Bond that mattered. However he made dozens of other pictures and was brilliant in The Untouchables as well as Hunt for Red October.
- Chadwick Boseman — (1976–2020) — What stamina this man demonstrated acting almost up to the end of his life as he suffered from the debilitating effects of colon cancer. Boseman was excellent as Jackie Robinson in ’47, as well in so many other pictures, but for many he will simply be remembered as the “Black Panther” where he proved that an African-American superhero movie could break the box-office.
- David L. Lander — (1947–2020) — Yes he bravely fought MS, and he was the extremely recognizable voice of “The Weasel” in Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” but for me and so many others, he will always be “Squiggy” from Lenny and Squiggy on Laverne and Shirley, the only real reason to turn into that show.
- Alex Trebek — (1940–2020) — I’m not sure that there was a more impactful death than the passing of the host of Jeopardy. Seemingly every night throughout my adult life, there was Trebek telling us to answer in the form of a question, how to pronounce words in French, and leaving us with a reassuring, “So long everybody” at the end of every broadcast. He who will be missed by all. “Who is: Alex Trebek?”
- Diana Rigg — (1938–2020) — While the millennials may have wondered who the old lady was who brilliantly portrayed the cunning Olenna Tyrell on Game of Thrones, those of us who were a little older and a little bit wiser remember her as the incredibly sexy Emma Peel on the ’60s classic The Avengers.
- Other notable passings in the world of movies and television include: Regis Philbin, 104 year old Olivia de Havilland, Kelly Preston, 99 year old Hugh Downs, 98 year old comic legend Carl Reiner, Fred Willard, perhaps the last man to be arrested for indecency in a xxx movie theater, Jerry Stiller (Frank Costanza), 103 year old Kirk Douglas, Lyle Waggoner, Ja’net Dubois, Robert Conrad, and another famous star who ended his fabulous acting career on Game of Thrones, Max von Sydow.
She “avenged” on Game of Thrones, but in her day starring on The Avengers, there was nobody hotter than Diana Rigg. (Getty Images)
The world of music was certainly not spared from the ravages of 2020. Some of its most legendary figures left us this past year, and considering that many of rock’s immortals aren’t getting any younger, and right now there aren’t really any concerts happening, we are running the risk of missing out on what could be the final performances of greats like The Rolling Stones, The Who, Elton John, and Roger Waters to name a few. Hang in there guys, I don’t want to see you on my list next year.
Those we lost in the world of music –
- Eddie Van Halen — (1955–2020) — While other guitarists were strumming or playing on the body of the guitar, Eddie Van Halen attacked the neck and rock ’n’ roll was never the same. Van Halen’s greatness as a guitarist was so innovative that his incredible playing made you forget about the doofus standing next to him trying to sing in between judo kicks.
- Charley Pride — (1934–2020) — He played country music down in Dixie despite segregation, and became a legend in the world of Country Music, paving the way for Darius Rucker and many others.
- Trini Lopez — (1937–2020) — I gave Trini a major shout-out a few months ago (https://blog.timesunion.com/hoffmanfiles/trini-linda-and-the-go-gos/46310/), and he deserved every ounce of it. A Latin American folk singer, Trini Lopez lit up our massive turntable in North Massapequa allowing my father a rare instance of relaxation as he pondered what would be possible if he indeed had a hammer.
- Charlie Daniels — (1936–2020) — People think I’m crazy when I tell them that Southern Rock, including The Charlie Daniels Band was huge on Long Island when I was coming of age in the mid-to-late 1970s. While Charlie Daniels was a fantastic fiddle player as well as guitarist, he became a pop superstar, for a year or so anyway, when his mega-hit Devil Went Down to Georgia came out and dominated the airwaves on the radio. Perhaps if there’s a Hell, and old Charlie perhaps wasn’t the best behaved individual that ever lived, he might find himself face-to-face with Satan. My guess is that Daniels would say something along the lines of, “Devil just come on back if you ever want to try again, I told you once you son-of-a-bitch I’m the best that’s ever been.”
- Kenny Rogers — (1938–2020) — Not only did I see this stiff get lit up in the Kingdome when he was with the Yankees by the Seattle Mariners, he unforgivably walked in the winning run against the Braves in the 1999 NLCS in game six while pitching for the Mets. Oh wait, never mind, this is the singer. So I’m not exactly a Kenny Rogers fan, but his big hit, Through the Years, kind of became my parent’s song, and my mother would always cry when it played, which of course made my father uncomfortable, but that’s a story for another day between me and my therapist.
- Other notables lost in the world of music include, Bill Withers, Spencer Davis, who should have begun everyday of his life thanking the Lord for delivering a very young Stevie Winwood to him in the mid-1960s, Helen Reddy, Mac Davis, Leslie West, the man behind the wailing guitar in Mississippi Queen, Little Richard, and of course perhaps the greatest drummer in rock ’n’ roll history, Neil Peart of Rush.
Honestly, who would it have hurt if I could look like this, have that hair, and play guitar like that? Who? (Getty Images)
Perhaps our most significant and impactful loses in 2020 were felt in the world of politics, particularly on the left where two symbols of struggle and resistance passed away at a time when their country needed them the most. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Congressman John Lewis were held in such stature that even their political opponents paused to give praise to these icons for equality.
Those we lost in the world of politics –
- Ruth Bader Ginsburg — (1933–2020) — Her passing opened the door for a significant conservative majority to rule the court for the foreseeable future, but nothing will eclipse the work, vision, or energy of this universally loved and respected icon in the struggle for gender equality.
- John Lewis — (1940–2020) — If only he had lived to see his beloved state of Georgia vote for President-elect Joe Biden, what a wonderful parting gift for one of the last of the great civil rights champions to receive and reflect upon. Like his mentor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he arrived at the mountaintop and saw the promised land, even though he didn’t get there with us.
- Herman Cain — (1945–2020) — He came from the deep South, attended and graduated from the famed African-American school, Morehouse College, the same school that Martin Luther King attended, and became an extremely successful businessman. He sojourned into politics as a member of the Tea Party, and even looked like he might grab the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 with his call for a “9–9–9” tax plan. Unfortunately he attended a Trump rally in Oklahoma City this past summer without a mask and succumbed to COVID-19. Another victim of the “hoax.” (https://blog.timesunion.com/hoffmanfiles/death-by-ignorance/46289/)
- Jean Kennedy-Smith — (1928–2020) — The last surviving sibling of President John F. Kennedy, Kennedy-Smith became a diplomat who helped forge peace in Northern Ireland. She might also be the last surviving person to have had a meal with all of the original Kennedy brood. I wonder how she did on those little quizzes that old man Joe Kennedy used to test his children with in between his hookups with Gloria Swanson.
- Donald Trump’s Presidency — (2017–2021) — Sorry, couldn’t help myself. Now that I think of it, his marriage will most likely suffer the same fate. Hey, it could have been worse. Had he won, I would have had to have listed “Democracy” as yet another fatality of 2020.
- Other notable deaths in the world of politics that occured during 2020 included former NYC Mayor David Dinkins, who did such a lousy job when I was living there that I was pondering voting for Rudy Giuliani had we stayed in Flushing, former Kansas Senator Tom Coburn, who despite his Conservatism, actually admitted to being friends with Barack Obama, former Congressman John Conyers, businessman and former presidential candidate Ross Perot, who cost George H.W. Bush a second term in 1992, former Democratic Senator Birch Bayh from Indiana who authored the Title IX amendment that banned discrimination against women in college sports because progress doesn’t just happen, and Lyndon LaRouche, who was a douche.
Back when being a Presidential Medal of Freedom winner meant something, President Barack Obama awarded one to the man who demanded of us that we make “good trouble.” (Getty Images)
Yes, 2020 was a rough year, and as is always the case, the suffering was hardly borne equally. Many lost their lives, while others lost loved ones. Many saw their businesses toppled, while others simply wished they could find steady employment or at least a place where they could send their kids safely while schools remained closed. Everyone assumes that 2021 will be better because well, it can’t really get any worse. Thanks to a couple of different vaccines that should be largely available to all Americans by the late spring, we could see a return to some form of normalcy by June. Let’s hope everybody who reads this blog where we honor those who have passed are here to do the same at the end of 2021. Those who have chosen not to read this blog, well, what I can I tell you? You’re on your own.