Living Legends

I was very sad to learn of Harvey Korman's passing the other day, as I'm sure many of you were. It seems like, as I get older, celebrity deaths take on more significance. To clarify, every death is significant of course, and affects somebody. But the amount of people who were “before my time” is dwindling, and a lot more people I'm familiar with are reaching those precarious years. Personally, the greatest “living legends” from that generation are my parents, and I hope they stick around for a few more decades. I need them to stick around and would be in serious trouble otherwise. On a global scale, people like Mr. Korman touched lives beyond their family and friends. Below are just a few people I'm glad are still here, even active. I'm sure to miss a few, and too often we appreciate or remember people when it's too late.

Wilford Brimley, Age 73: I know him best from his roles in The Thing and Cocoon. The latter film also included a bevy of older legends who've since left this world, such as Don Ameche, Hume Cronyn, and Jessica Tandy. The grandfather in the ‘80s series Our House, today he's still active as a diabetes spokesperson.

Carol Burnett, Age 75: Star of her own comedy ensemble that included Mr. Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner and another legend I'll get to in a moment, I remember her sketch comedy fondly, though I must have seen it in syndication as it began before I was born and ended when I was only 4. Perhaps it's something my mom had on while I was in the crib. Burnett is still around, and most recently loaned her voice to the animated Horton Hears a Who.

Tim Conway, Age 74: He may well be one of the funniest people on the planet, and I was very happy to see him guest star recently on 30 Rock(and read that his voice has appeared on several episodes of Spongebob Squarepants). One of my favorites, it was always great to see him work with Harvey Korman on the Carol Burnett Show, especially when he made it impossible for Korman to keep a straight face. He's still here, and he's still hilarious.

Morgan Freeman, Age 70: The man's very presence adds class, dignity, and legitimacy to any project he appears in. His credits are far too numerous to list, though highlights for me include Lean On Me, Glory, Se7en, Robin Hood; Prince of Thieves, The Shawshank Redemption, Unleashed and Batman Begins. I recently caught another solid performance of his in Feast of Love, can't wait to see him in The Dark Knight, and can't believe I still haven't seen Driving Miss Daisy. I'm adding that one to my queue now.

Gene Hackman, Age 78: For the longest time, I only knew him as Lex Luthor. In time I'd discover more of this distinctively voiced star, and his “BECAUSE YOU MADE A PHONE CALL!” is forever etched in my brain from Enemy of the State. I liked his part in The Royal Tenenbaums, and only recently discovered Popeye Doyle in The French Connection and its sequel. I honestly can't decide whether Luthor or Doyle is his best character. Apparently he's somewhat retired from acting and hasn't appeared in a feature in about four years, though he still writes and lends his voice to commercials.

James Earl Jones, Age 77: Speaking of voices, no one will ever forget his iconic booming tones, especially Darth Vader or Mufasa. He remains active, occasionally in front of the camera but mostly as a narrator or cartoon voice.

Stan Lee, Age 85: The father of nearly every Marvel Comics character that matters, and a personal hero of mine, he shows up in cameo roles in nearly every film based on his creations, and recently signed a deal to create even more characters for Virgin Comics. He has the energy and sense of humor of a man half my age, and it was a real treat to see him speak live at the NYComiccon. I was first introduced to his voice and his creations when he narrated Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, and I've been a fan ever since.

Jack Nicholson, Age 70: Like Freeman (note to self: rent The Bucket List), Nicholson's credits are far too numerous to list. He has a knack for playing smarmy or unpleasant characters that you to love to watch, whether they redeem themselves by the end of the film or remain true to their nature. My favorites include but are not limited to: Chinatown, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Shining, Batman, A Few Good Men, As Good As It Gets, About Schmidt and The Departed.

Leslie Nielsen, Age 82: Up there with Conway as one of my favorite comedians, no one can deliver ridiculous lines with such seriousness and sincerity. I of course loved him in all the Naked Gun films and recent caught up with all the episodes from the short-lived Police Squad those movies were based upon. You didn't want to call him “Shirley” in Airplane and he's been a demented president most recently in a few Scary Movie sequels. He hasn't been in anything as hilarious as Airplane or The Naked Gun in quite some time, but the man personally continues to do what he does best in whatever he's in, and you can bet I'll be renting Superhero Movie when the opportunity presents itself.

Adam West, Age 79: Speaking of heroes, I'll close out this list with the first man I knew as Batman. He redefined camp and, like Nielsen, has a way of delivering outlandish lines earnestly and sincerely. When no one's watching or listening, I like to mimic his halting “If I can...just...reach...” lines. At least I hope no one is watching or listening. In 1992, he gave a heartbreaking vocal performance in a Batman: The Animated Series episode(which aired on my birthday) that I highly recommend. The parallels to his own life as an actor typecast as a superhero are uncanny. Since then, his distinctive voice has shown up as both a deranged mayor on Family Guy(playing “himself”, Adam West), and as a more grounded mayor on the more recent animated series The Batman. Like Nielsen, Hackman or James Earl Jones, his voice is unique and unmistakable. I heard him most recently in Meet the Robinsons, and I hope to be hearing and/or seeing more of him in the years to come.

There are so many greats in the 70ish-plus crowd, and I wish I had time to dedicate a paragraph to each of them. Others deserving acknowledgment in this category include Mel Brooks(Age 81), Dick Clark(Age 78), Brian Dennehy(Age 69, a fellow Chaminade alumnus), Clint Eastwood(Age 78), Robert Guillaume(Age 80), Rosemary Harris(Age 80), Ed McMahon(Age 85), Bob Newhart(Age 78), Leonard Nimoy(Age 77), Robert Redford(Age 71), Cliff Robertson(Age 82), William Shatner(Age 77), Gloria Stuart(Age 97!), Jerry Stiller(Age 80), Abe Vigoda(Age 87, and still alive), Gene Wilder(Age 74), and of course all the Golden Girls: Bea Arthur(Age 86), Rue McClanahan(Age 74), Estelle Getty(Age 84), and Betty White(Age 86).


Blogger Darrell said...

Eastwood and Hackman are both 78?? Wow. Here's hoping they both have many, many years ahead of them. Can you imagine American cinema without them?

I didn't know Harvey Korman had died until I read it here, and I'm sorry to hear it, too. I'll always cherish his work in Mel Brooks' films, especially Blazing Saddle.

6/01/2008 12:32 PM  
Blogger Susie Q said...

Thank you for acknowledging so many of these greats. There is so much talent here on your list...so much more than many of whom pass as celebrity in film and theater today.
Thank you for including my personal favorite, Brian Dennehy. I have followed his career for 30 years and
feel he so deserves the accolades he has received for his theater work in particular. He, like Hackman, Eastwood, et all, make it all look so easy that it is often hard for some to realize how good they are. : )
This was a wonderful post...

6/01/2008 5:03 PM  
Blogger Lyndon said...

It's sad to know that we'll be hearing about the passing of such great stars in the following years.

They've done so much in their lifetimes.

6/01/2008 6:08 PM  
Blogger Kev said...

Someone else remembers "Our House"?! I don't believe it!

Also, Adam West also did the voice of a character on the Kim Possible cartoon. The charater was a ripoff of the old campy Batman show, complete with the BAM ZOW opener. Adam West played the title character (can't remember his name) but, even after cancellation, had never figured out he was starring in a TV show.

6/01/2008 10:09 PM  
Anonymous Scott said...

Abe Vigoda is STILL ALIVE? Wow.

6/02/2008 2:27 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow said...

Let's all be honest: Each of us found at least one person on MCF's list whom we thought was already dead.

Mine was Estelle Getty.

6/03/2008 4:50 PM  
Blogger MCF said...

Oh, if Estelle Getty had died I think I would have read a nice obit on SSTOL.....

(...and mine was Gloria Stuart)

6/03/2008 6:49 PM  

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