For anyone who is a regular listener of the Free For All podcast, you know that we like to begin each and every Movies show with a segment we call “Hey, who died?” in which we look back at the losses this industry has suffered in recent weeks. In this segment, we like to play it light, feeling it’s better to celebrate the lives and careers of the departed rather than getting sappy and sad at the fact that these immense talents are gone forever. As we round out the end of yet another year on this endless calendar we reside in, I thought it would be poignant to take a look back at the year that was, and pay one more round of tribute to those who have forever touched out lives.
It would be an impossible task for me to try and write a career synopsis and find words to express my appreciation for the entirety of those who’ve died this year in a singular post, so I will say up front that I will simply be focusing on a few of those that I feel were most important to me, but the sentiment for all of these talents remains consistent, to all of those not listed here, you will never be forgotten and are dearly missed.
Robin Williams – August 11, 2014 (63)
I wasn’t sure where to put Robin Williams on this list. Whether it would be more appropriate to wait until the final post, or start with the biggest name. Ultimately, I couldn’t even begin to summarize my thoughts on this list without first stating just how impactful and important Robin Williams was to the world of entertainment. Perhaps no one in the history of Movies and Television has ever had the broach reach of Robin Williams. I thought, for sure, that if anything could ever shut down the internet for an entire day, it would be the death of this man. Every single person I know had thoughts to share on the career of Robin Williams on the day of his death, and just how important he had been in their lives.
He left an indelible impact on my childhood, which is peppered with memories of his antics. From films like Hook and Jumanji, to Jack, The Birdcage, Patch Adams and even Toys, some of the fondest memories I have from my younger days are surrounded by Robin Williams performances. And while everyone will remember him as the larger than life comedic persona, with some of the best stand-up routines in history and performances like the brilliance that is Mork and Mindy, Robin most touched my life with his dramatic turns.
Robin Williams personified the idea of a comedian who can seriously act better than anyone else. With as much as I love Jim Carrey and his dramatic roles like The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, it’s nearly impossible to imagine him making those moves without first seeing the man that once was Mork take on such heady films like Dead Poet’s Society and Good Will Hunting. The speech his character gives in the Latter remains one of my all-time favorite monologues, and not a single person I know has never seen the infamous “O Captain! My Captain!” moment from the former. There are not enough words that can be stated about the career of this man and the reach he had, the joy he brought us all, so I will simply say “Thank you” to Mr. Robin Williams, and leave you with that very speech from Good Will Hunting, where we all are reminded of what it truly means to live and to love.
Harold Ramis – February 24, 2014 (69)
This one hurt, quite a bit. One of the most influential film-makers of the past 30 years, Harold Ramis is responsible for some of the best movies I’ve ever seen. Perhaps most notably known for his turn as Egon Spengler in the Comedy classic Ghostbusters in 1984, a film he also wrote. However, he will also be remembered for his directing efforts, and for bringing us some of the best comedies of all-time such as Caddyshack, National Lampoon’s Vacation and Groundhog Day.
His dry wit and humor are forever lasting, and his impact on a younger generation of comedic filmmakers is unquestionable. Harold Ramis is a name I always knew, and would make it a point to see whatever he had a hand in. It’s hard to imagine a world where Egon is gone, where we never saw Caddyshack or Groundhog Day, but for 69 years, Mr. Ramis graced this world with his presence, and brought with him some of the most enduring moments in cinema for decades. Here is a short clip of Ramis as Spengler, helping to introduce me to the idea of fear in film with the opening of 1984’s Ghostbusters.
Philip Seymour Hoffman – February 2, 2014 (46)
A perfect case of gone-too-soon. Philip Seymour Hoffman was one of the earliest deaths in the year and remains one of the most impactful. One of the brightest acting stars of the past two decades, Hoffman will forever be remembered for his roles in films like Capote, Boogie Nights and even the recent Hunger Games sequels. Though his final film is still a year away, the finale to the Hunger Games series, the sheer talent that this man embodied can only be seen as acting at the purest level. He brought an intensity to every role that was unmatched, and a sincerity that can never be replicated.
Even the introductory scene in an action film like Mission: Impossible 3 was made significantly better by his presence. Whenever he would take his mark and deliver his dialogue, Hoffman was electric. While he will be solidified in our minds for his larger, more recognized roles, for me, I always appreciated his quiet performance in Spike Lee’s 25th Hour, where he shared the screen with yet another brilliant young talent in the form of Edward Norton. Here is just a taste of the brilliance he brought with every performance, in a film that everyone should see.
Eli Wallach – June 24, 2014 (98)
I could never attempt to put together list remembering all of the great names we lost this year without including Eli Wallach. One of Hollywood’s most enduring presences for over 6 decades, Eli Wallach worked tirelessly up until the ripe old age of 94. If anyone has a more illustrious list of who’s-who’s that they have worked with, I’d love to know. From Al Pacino to Marilyn Monroe, Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen, Wallach worked with them all, and had roles in some of the most iconic films from the era where filmmaking meant something a little bit more than it does in more recent times. Most will remember him as Tuco in the 1966 classic The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, but he had a career that stretched an amazing 169 Credited roles across television and cinema.
A lot of people don’t know the name Eli Wallach, but I’ll freely admit that I cried when I first heard the news of his passing. For me, as I am want to do, I didn’t even become aware of his name until he appeared in the short-lived series that would become my favorite show ever put on television, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, a Matthew Perry-led and Aaron Sorkin-written series that focused on the backstage goings-on of a Saturday Night Live-esque sketch comedy show. Wallach only had a single appearance on the show, with no hopes of returning as a recurring role, even if the series had lived longer than it’s initial season, but it was impactful, and left me with the strong desire to find out as much as I could about this quiet and understated actor.
Books could be written about his career, and everyone should educate themselves on his talent and body of work. He is dearly missed, and I’d like to leave him with the memory of that single scene that sold me on his brilliance, from Studio 60. A short clip that focused on our ability to overlook what’s right in front of us, a hard look at the absurdity of McCarthyism and the incredible lives of The Greatest Generation.
Shirley Temple – February 10, 2014 (85)
There are plenty of names from this dire list that I could have included that embodied the word trailblazer. Initially I thought of including Joan Rivers for her incredible work in legitimizing women in the entertainment industry and comedy in general, Casey Kasem for the ever-present mark left on the music industry or even Sid Caesar, a true pioneer in the world of comedy. However, it would be an insult to not include the original child star, Shirley Temple, who left us early in 2014. One of the most famous names in Hollywood, she truly was America’s sweetheart, with roles forever etched in the annals of history such as Bright Eyes and Heidi.
Her talent was seemingly endless, with the ability to act, dance and sing, all being put on display by a young girl at the age of 5. One of the most remarkable stores in Hollywood, and the picture of how a child star should live. The term child star is more often remembered nowadays by people as a cautionary tale. Those who grew up on the silver screen in the early 80’s and 90’s seem more often to lose their lives at a very young age or fall into addiction and troubled times, but Shirley Temple managed to refrain from those behaviors and lived a full and successful life after her early success. It’s hard not to remember her, however, as the cutest little girl in the world singing and dancing to the delight of millions.
If you’re lucky enough to still have your grandparents around, there’s a better-than-average chance you’ll be spending some time with them either this week or in the coming month. Why not use just a bit of that time to relive a true classic staring this amazing young woman, as it’s pretty much guaranteed she touched their lives in ways you might not be able to fully understand.
Richard Attenborough – August 24, 2014 (90)
I can think of no better way to close out this memorial post than with Lord Richard Attenborough. Anyone who knows me, knows that I love seeing movies multiple times. Repeat viewings are like an addiction to me. I can count on more than one hand how many times I have seen a film 10 times in theaters. From all three parts of the Lord of the Rings trilogy to Scott Pilgrim and yes, even the infamous Episode 1, I’ve spent more money than I can count on films that I’ve already seen.
And for me, the first film that I ever hit that mark with is the same film that forms the framework of why I love movies as much as I do. My entire childhood can be centered around Jurassic Park. It perfectly represented the magic and wonder of cinema. As a young man in 1993, I was like most kids my age, obsessed with Dinosaurs, and seeing them in such a larger-than-life way in Jurassic Park was like something out of a dream world. While Steven Spielberg certainly deserves the lions share of the credit for bringing that dream to life, for me it was always John Hammond that was the true mastermind behind the film.
Richard Attenborough always looked like Santa Claus to me, and apparently I wasn’t alone in that thought, seeing as he would later be cast as Kris Kringle in the remake of Miracle on 34th Street, and the gift he gave me, I’ll treasure to my own dying day. With the newly released Jurassic World trailer hitting the internet, I feel there’s no more relevant way to close out this story than with John Hammond explaining how he came to be the master of this illusion, and that he spared no expense.