Once upon a time in Journalism, when you got to the end of writing a story you typed -30-. That meant it was finished. Over. Done. This was a year when we wrote -30- on the story of many great lives – as we do every year.
Some of this year’s losses were people of historic, cultural, and political importance such as Harry Belafonte. Henry Kissinger, Normal Lear.
I don’t have to tell you who these people were (just google them if you don’t know) but let me share what the very mention of their names conjured for me.
I first learned about Harry Belafonte, because Waldemar Kasriels, the French-American owner of Camp Normandie, the summer camp I went to as a kid and later became a counselor at, was a fan and it was only in my teenage years that I discovered that what I took to be campfire songs, such as Matilda, were in fact Belafonte songs from his first album.
Kissinger, who was both a source of Jewish pride and a controversial figure as regards Nixon, Cambodia and Vietnam, was once the main honoree at a charity evening in New York where my father was also honored. He was very nice to my father which meant a great to my father, and for that I was grateful.
Norman Lear, an icon, was the father of so much great television. When I was five years old my family moved from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, from a block and a neighborhood that was at that moment in decline, to the a very fancy block on the Upper East Side where we lived in a doorman high rise apartment building – and so, every time I heard the Jeffersons theme “Moving on up, to the East Side” I took it personally as my own story. I did get to meet Lear at one event, but I never told him that story.
All three lived long lives, Belafonte to 86, Kissinger 100 and Lear 101. Other cultural figures we lost of note included Robbie Robertson (saw him and the Band backing Dylan on the 1974 Before the Flood tour – and later on his book tour), Tina Turner (saw her performing with Ike Turner in Central Park at the Wollman Skating Rink Summer program – and then later as a solo artist), David Crosby (who I saw perform in so many variations of CSN&Y) and had the chance to talk to once), Pee Wee Herman (Paul Reubens who I felt I must have met – but didn’t), Burt Bachrach (Did I smoke a joint with him once?), Wayne Shorter (a genius and the nicest person), Tony Bennett (who I last saw perform at the Hollywood Bowl at 93 -when he displayed signs of the Alzheimer’s which had not been disclosed yet), Coco Lee (died much too young), and Mica Ertegun (who my friend Stacy Pinelli worked for many years) — each cultural icons in their own way.
Some lives we lost too young, and although in both cases, we can’t say early death was unexpected for Sinead O’Connor who was beautifully memorialized by Daphne Merkin here; and Matthew Perry whose addiction and efforts at recovery subsumed him.
We also lost Fernando Botero, an artist whose work I not only admired but enjoyed and who I not only met on several occasions but who made a little sketch for my mother.
And then there were losses of people that I didn’t know but whose death, I was surprised, hit me hard.
Martin Amis was an early literary hero of mine. From the Rachel Papers and Money, I was held in Amis’ thrall, feeling as if each new Amis novel was yet another Himalayan summit he had ascended. The Information and London Fields being the Everest and K2 of his career. I enjoyed his Englishness and his semitophilia. My social circles at times intersected with his, and I always hoped to one day find myself in his orbit but, alas, that will never be. And that deepens my loss.
I had not expected to be decked by the death of Jimmy Buffett but I was. I was never a parrothead. I saw him perform once or twice – I listened with affection to his music when it came on the radio but I have never been to a Margaritaville bar, hotel, or retirement community. Buffett was a reminder that the race often goes to the turtle not the hare, and that you can embrace a certain laidback quality, a Hawaiian Shirt and flip flops ethos as an alter-ego, and still be hyperfocused on your audience, your business, your brand. Buffet was successful at everything he did and built a lifestyle brand that many envied, or emulated, or lived as if for those moments when they listened to Buffett’s music, they were him. But now that he’s gone, I realize he was one of a kind.
Finally, I was very sad to lose my friend Andy Dias Blue. Andy, who I discovered had attended the same high school as me (Riverdale Country School), only a decade before, was an adventure onto himself. As a child his parents took him one summer to France where he developed a lifelong case of joie de vie. He began his career in Rock and Roll but soon shunted that aside to become one of the greatest food and wine aficionados in the world. Andy consulted to airlines, organized wine tastings and festivals, wrote authoratative and popular books on wine, had a long running radio program and spread his knowledge and his charm far and wide. Whether with his wife Kathy, or his children Toby, Amanda, Jessica, or Caitlyn, or his many grandchildren, Andy was always the life of the party. Going with him to a restaurant was a guarantee you would eat beyond well and way into multiple desserts. Au Revoir, my friend!
So to 2023, I say fondly and sadly,