LaMarr Hoyt, 66, won a Cy Young Award in 1983 for the White Sox. But I wasn’t a White Sox fan yet in 1983. I know Hoyt because he was on a few of my Strat-o-matic Baseball teams a year or two after his best year in the majors. Don’t remember his record with me; my friend Dan kept all the stats.
Dean Stockwell, 85, will always be Ben from Blue Velvet to me. I remember seeing that movie at the Harvard Square Theatre in 1986. The middle-aged woman next to me was having a coronary from anxiety. Sometime in the late 90s, I dressed as Ben for a David Lynch-themed Halloween party. There are photos of that somewhere, but I don’t have any.
Jehan Sadat, 87, was a passenger in my cab in Boston in the mid-90s. I think her daughter had a job in town. A very polite, distinguished lady. I can’t recall how or why she told me she was the widow of the assassinated president of Egypt. Whenever people asked what famous people I’d had in the cab, I’d mention her name. It was rare that a passenger had even heard of her husband.
Monte Hellman, 91, directed Two-Lane Blacktop and Cockfighter, two of the best American films of their time or, maybe, any time. Yet during the annual Academy Awards death scroll, his name wasn’t mentioned, proving for about the millionth time that Hollywood doesn’t give a flying fuck about the movies.
Bertrand Tavernier, 79, directed many many films, most of which I didn’t see. But he made Round Midnight starring Dexter Gordon as a semi-fictionalized sort of Lester Young type American jazzman fucking up his life in Paris. For this, Tavernier deserves entry into Valhalla, the pearly gates, or wherever it is we go, after.
James Ridgeway, 84, made a documentary called Blood in the Face about neo-Nazis in the 80s. It left a profound impression on me. Especially one of White Power guys saying to Ridgeway that he knows he’s using them, but that they’re using him as well. Meaning, no matter how much he damned them, the camera was free publicity. That guy knew what many of us have been reminded of in neon-blaring relief in recent years. That no matter how horrible and inhuman the message, there will be people that proudly believe in it.
Neal Conan, 71, once interviewed me about my first cabbie book on Talk of the Nation. It was stressful because the Chicago NPR affiliate couldn’t establish a connection with the Washington studio for several minutes. I could hear Conan stretching on air to buy the engineers time. I wound up talking to him on an ordinary office phone. I have no memory of what I said, but there’s probably a recording of it somewhere in the NPR archives. I wouldn’t look for it, though. Not a shining moment for anyone involved.
Gene Friedman, 50, the “Taxi King” of New York, was perhaps the worst apple in a rotten orchard. The cab industry attracted some of the most reprehensible characters in American grift, our forty-fifth president among them. The way Friedman flaunted his awfulness, taking delight in how he cheated poor immigrants out of their life savings by artificially inflating taxi medallion prices, earns him a special circle in Hell. Too bad Hell doesn’t exist, so Friedman gets to be worm food like the rest of us.
Wayne Thiebaud, 101, painted the world as if it was made of fiberglass. I don’t love any of his pictures, but respect the rigor with which he plowed away at his rigid vision. Reading his obit, it’s clear the man lived a full, satisfying life. Rare for a painter, especially this late into his art form’s history.
Joan Didion, 87, wrote some great books that I didn’t read until only a couple years ago. I don’t know why I waited. I don’t know much writing that describes life in this country in the 60s and 70s better. She rode the line between fiction and memoir more nimbly than most. She died a few days ago, which made me remember that I’d drawn her portrait once for some lit mag. That prompted me to check the obit list to see if I’d drawn any other recently-deceased notable.
I hadn’t. But I recognized a few of them.