Ten best!: Notable Deaths of 2008

by Brian Clarey


ten best! randomly compiled by Brian Clarey Ten Best Notable Deaths of 2008


George Carlin

A lot of famous people died in 2008… more than in any year I can remember. And of course, some affected me more than others. So while I was sad that Sir Edmund Hillary, the first to climb Mt. Everest, and chess champion Bobby Fischer passed this year, I was more deeply moved by the death of comedian and philosopher George Carlin, who had been making me laugh and think my whole life.

Clay Felker

Journalism also lost a lot of luminaries this year; William F. Buckley, Tim Russert and Robert Greene come to mind. But losing Clay Felker, the man who invented the modern lifestyle magazine, is a big symbolic blow to a struggling industry.

Eartha Kitt

Mee-ow. Sure, I loved Earth Kitt’s version of Catwoman almost as much as I loved Julie Newmar’s. But Newmar never faced the adversity that Kitt did. After coming down on Lady Bird Johnson about the Vietnam War after a White House luncheon, she found herself exiled in Paris for 10 years. Her return was, of course, triumphant.

Sammy Baugh

Sure, Slingin’ Sammy Baugh was a Washington Redskin after his landmark career as a TCU Horned Frog, which sort of makes him my enemy. But I feel obligated to honor the man who brought the forward pass to prominence in my favorite spectator sport. Baugh not only set passing records, but in those days of iron-man football he also set records as a punter and defensive back.

Bettie Page

Tyra Banks, who has brought her brand of fierce craziness beyond the catwalk to television and movies, was a piker compared to Bettie Page, who may be the most famous model of all time. I can’t think of another model who has lasted so long in the public consciousness — go to Winston-Salem’s Heavy Rebel Weekender and you’ll see a hundred women who look just like her.

Allan Melvin

Allan Melvin played Sam the Butcher on “The Brady Bunch,” my all-time favorite television show. He will be missed, not only because his death precludes another reunion show (man, I loved those) but also because there are so many unanswered questions about the character. For starters: Was Alice just in it for the meat?

Jerry Reed

I am bummed out by the death of musician and actor Jerry Reed because he starred in some of my favorite movies, like Hot Stuff and the entire Smokey and the Bandit trilogy. Also, the guy was a prolific musician and one badass finger-picker. He spent his later years appearing on fishing shows, playing music with country superstars and being a living legend. What saddens me most is that I was pretty sure he was on the verge of a huge career resurgence. You can’t call it a “comeback” because he never really went away.

Jeff Healey

Jeff Healey might best be remembered for his role in Road House, a movie that just might be more far-fetched than The Wizard of Oz… seriously, a famous bouncer with a degree in philosophy? Healey, one of the last great blind bluesmen, lent the otherwise-ridiculous film a touch of gritty realism with his lightning-quick appearance on the stage of the Double Deuce. He also gave the film’s soundtrack some muchneeded muscle.

Harvey Korman

Honestly I think Harvey Korman was funnier than Tim Conway on those old episodes of “The Carol Burnett Show,” but I suppose that’s just a matter of taste. Korman was way more than Conway’s straight man, delivering his share of jokes and often being unable to keep a straight face. We lost many great actors in 2008 — Charlton Heston, Paul Newman, the guy who played Bentley on “The Jeffersons” — but none resonated with me like Korman.

Jesse Helms

I may not have been a big fan of the late North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, but I cannot deny the influence he’s had over state and national politics I my life time. Quick story: My friend Big Tiny is a cousin of Nick Galifianakis, who was defeated by Helms in 1972, largely by the “One of Us” campaign commercials. Tiny heard about Helms’ death while he was in a Mississippi bar after a Tom Waits concert. He bought a round.