On Saturday, the actor Paul Walker — best known for playing cop turned adrenaline-junkie outlaw Brian O'Conner in 2001’s The Fast and the Furious and four of the five demented/delightful sequels that film spawned — was killed in a car wreck in Santa Clarita, California.
The idea of the guy from the car-crash movies dying in a car crash seemed specious enough that a counter-rumor about Walker being the victim of yet another holiday-weekend celebrity-death hoax briefly gained traction. It wasn't true. According to the Los Angeles Times, Walker died around 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, when the red Porsche Carrera GT he was riding in collided with a tree and a light pole and burst into flames. The driver of the car, Walker's friend and financial adviser Roger Rodas, also died at the scene.
"Waiting for non-TMZ confirmation" has become the first stage of the Internet-age grieving process. Unless the death in question is a pre-sanctified cultural hero like Lou Reed, "Need Another Seven Astronauts"–style displays of knee-jerk irreverence are often the second. But after sources close to Walker confirmed his death, the response (at least in my social-media universe) was strikingly solemn. "I've hardly ever heard this stadium this quiet," a radio announcer says in 1999's Varsity Blues, after Walker's character — golden-boy quarterback Lance Harbor — suffers a knee injury that ends up costing him his full ride to Florida State. That's how Saturday felt — silence in the stadium, so little snark you could hear a pin drop.
After weeks of confusing comments from their camp, a deleted official Twitter account, and rumors ranging from fraternal discord to heroin addiction, the Jonas Brothers have officially announced to People that they are indeed breaking up. Having canceled an upcoming tour, they've also chosen to shelve what would have been a comeback album. It might seem ridiculous that a group whose peak was only a few years ago would already be in need of a comeback, but such are the flighty pace and fickle fans of the genre known as tween pop. The Jo Bros would have been returning to a cultural landscape where their tousled hair and tight pants were no longer required, with the natty One Direction and always-shirtless Justin Bieber having easily slid into their former place. While One Direction doesn't shy away from discussing sex, the Jo Bros cultivated a more modest image while still letting teenage hormones line their pocketbooks.
Steven Hyden: I’ve been given the impossible task of coming up with a list of essential Lou Reed songs. Here are 10 of them, in chronological order. I’m not arguing that these are Lou’s 10 best songs, and they’re not necessarily my favorite. These are just the first 10 songs that immediately came to mind when I heard that he died on Sunday. They may be essential only to me, but together they tell a story that informs my personal understanding of the man. I realize that some people will argue that this list is inadequate. To those people, I can only quote Reed himself, from an interview he conducted with Lester Bangs about his infamous 1975 album/provocation Metal Machine Music: “If they don’t like it they can shove it.”
Marcia Wallace, the venerable character actor who voiced weary teacher Edna Krabappel on The Simpsons and played Carol Kester on The Bob Newhart Show, died Friday night of complications from unspecified illnesses. She was 70.
Wallace moved from Iowa to New York as a young actor and worked odd jobs to make ends meet, including substitute teaching English in the Bronx. In late '60s New York, she was in The Music Man, did avant-garde theater, and formed an improv comedy group called "The Fourth Wall." By the early '70s she was being cast as saleswomen and busybodies on shows like The Brady Brunch, Columbo, and Love, American Style. She became a regular on The Merv Griffin Show, and when the show relocated to Los Angeles, so did Wallace. The role of Carol Kester, Bob Newhart's smart-mouthed secretary, was written specifically for Wallace, and she became nationally famous for it.
Elmore Leonard wrote more than 40 novels, dozens of short stories, and a couple of screenplays, among other works. But in a way it was all one big tale. It was set in Detroit and Miami, with important pit stops in Kentucky and out west. The protagonist was street-smart and rough around the edges, with a past he or she was trying to escape but for some reason couldn’t. At some point this person always encountered a love interest who was similarly sharp and grittily sexy, as well as a cast of villainous buffoons who lashed out violently and with surprising ferocity when you least expected it. There was typically a scheme involving large sums of money and an unlikely shot at redemption. The ending was happy, although no Elmore Leonard ending was ever truly happy, because the captivating world of charismatic scoundrels that he created made you want to linger long after the last tightly written page.
That world will be sustained by readers for as long as there’s an audience for funny and engrossing crime and Western stories — which is to say, as long as there are dads and uncles and long, wondrous days to while away on a lounge chair at the beach. The man himself, however, has sadly passed on: Elmore Leonard died this morning from complications from a recent stroke. He was 87. Unlike many of his most dastardly characters, Leonard was afforded the most honorable kind of death — it came after a long and distinguished life, with his loved ones at his side, and the admiration of millions of readers who considered him the best there ever was at what he did.
After the death of Eileen Brennan last week, the world lost another New Hollywood luminary yesterday with the passing of Karen Black. Brennan and Black both straddled the line between character and leading actress, a blurrier division in the early '70s than ever before (or since). Black was born Karen Blanche Ziegler in 1939. She grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, raised in a creative family with a Norwegian, Czech, and German background. She dropped out of Northwestern before her junior year and moved to New York, where, like many of her Marlon Brando–worshipping peers, she studied Method acting with Lee Strasberg and started acting in Off Broadway plays.
On Saturday, the disgraceful verdict in the Trayvon Martin shooting case cast a pall over the country. In Los Angeles the apocalyptic feeling was made more literal by a giant cloud of gasoline-fire smoke visible throughout the Eastside. A fuel tanker had overturned on the 5 freeway that morning, causing a massive "inferno" of fire on the freeway and a slew of explosions. Although there were no deaths, 8,500 gallons of gasoline leaked. It flowed down into the nearby L.A. River, causing parts of the river to also catch fire. Angelenos were advised by the L.A. Fire Department to avoid breathing in hazardous smoke and "stay clear of manhole covers and storm drains due to explosive runoff." Traffic was at a standstill throughout the city all day, since the 5 is one of L.A.'s biggest arteries.
It was already a strange enough Saturday when the news broke that Glee star Cory Monteith had died of an apparent drug overdose in Vancouver. Monteith, who played the main romantic male lead on Glee and was the point in its first-season love triangle, had been in rehab in March and April. He was open about his substance-abuse problems, and had been struggling with addiction since his early teens. Born in Alberta and raised in British Columbia, he had a difficult childhood, coping with his parents' divorce through drug use. He dropped out of school and began stealing money to pay for his addiction. Monteith credited the intervention by mother and friends that sent him to rehab for the first time when he was 19 with saving his life. Shortly after that, he was encouraged to try acting and fell in love with it immediately.
"I liked a guy named Richard Matheson," Stephen King told Dick Cavett once. "I think he was the first guy that I ever read as a teenager who seemed to be doing something that Lovecraft wasn't doing. It wasn't Eastern Europe — the horror could be in the 7-Eleven store down the block, or it could be just up the street. Something terrible could be going on even in a G.I. Bill–type ranch development near a college, it could be there as well. And to me, as a kid, that was a revelation, that was extremely exciting. He was putting the horror in places that I could relate to."
Matheson, who died Sunday at the age of 87, was a novelist and film/television screenwriter whose influence stretched far beyond King; even if you don't know his name, you know his contributions to pop culture. His 1954 book I Am Legend has been called the first modern, post-Gothic vampire novel, but its setup — lone pandemic-survivor hero barricaded in a house surrounded by swarming bloodsuckers — was really the birth of the zombie-apocalypse genre. George Romero cited the original novel as a key inspiration for Night of the Living Dead. It was adapted for the screen for the first time in 1964, as The Last Man on Earth, with Vincent Price (who also starred in several of the Edgar Allen Poe adaptations Matheson wrote for Roger Corman in the '60s), again in 1971 (as The Omega Man, with Charlton Heston struggling to pry Los Angeles out of the cold, dead hands of hippie zombies), and again in 2007, as I Am Legend, with Will Smith and a dog.
Condolences, remembrances, and tributes are pouring in for the great James Gandolfini, including from our own Andy Greenwald. And along with kind words from his Sopranos costars and movie star friends, there have been a few unexpected commemorations. Here are some of them.
From Journey's official website: "It's truly an honor to have been able to share one of the greatest moments ever in TV history with James Gandolfini. He was an amazing actor - taken way too young - and he'll be missed. Our condolences go out to his family."
Do teenagers still go through a Doors phase? I mean, is that still possible? Jesus, I think it is. It’s not as if the Doors’ music is any more dated now than it was in the early ’90s, back when I went through my Doors phase and a lot of other kids at my middle school when through their Doors phases. Deciding at a certain age that the Doors are the coolest band that ever existed seems like a rite of passage on par with getting drunk in a park on a bottle of blackberry brandy — it might be a ridiculously misguided idea only a child could endorse, but it’s also transcendent. More than any other hippie-era classic-rock band, the Doors signify the danger, the excitement, and the mystery of adulthood as it could only be perceived by those who have zero conception of what being a grown-up is actually like. If you’ve never taken drugs nor engaged in sexual activity with a person other than yourself, Jim Morrison perfectly encapsulates the imagined awesomeness of those unknown pleasures, and the awesomeness said pleasures project on those who have experienced them. Putting on a Doors record at that age is like strapping on a pair of leather pants — no matter how it looks to the outside world, it makes you feel immortal.
A founding member, guitarist, and songwriter for Slayer — arguably the most important thrash metal band ever after Metallica, and among the most influential groups of any genre from the last 30 years — Jeff Hanneman died Thursday of liver failure in a hospital near his Southern California home. He was 49.
Before his death, health problems had kept Hanneman off the road and out of the studio for two years. In 2011, Hanneman contracted necrotizing fasciitis, a rare “skin-eating” disease that wears away skin and tissue at an accelerated rate. This rare, horrific condition — which Hanneman most likely caught from a spider bite, no less — prompted numerous jokes online about Slayer’s guitarist suffering from a very Slayer-like ailment. But Hanneman was truly in a bad way; he almost lost an arm, and lapsed into a medically induced coma for a short period. And yet he appeared to be on the mend, and his bandmates (as late as last month) thought he might still be able to launch a comeback. It's unclear whether his death was related to his disease.
George Jones died today inside a hospital in Nashville. His exit from the world was not uncommon for an 81-year-old man: He was sick — with a fever and irregular blood pressure, reports the New York Times — he got himself checked out, he spent eight days in a reclining bed, and then he was dead. And yet it was out of character for George Jones, in the sense that George Jones didn’t seem capable of being dead until the minute he was. Jones loved, lost, fought, clawed, cried, cared, drank, snorted, and, most important, sang like a man who was above the law, even the laws of nature. Life is supposed to be fragile but George Jones’s life was not fragile; he treated his nervous system like a gorilla treats luggage. No amount of pounding could ever completely bust up George Jones’s life; no death-defying close call seemed capable of preventing him from continuing to pound. It would be a mistake to call him a victim of excess because he was neither a victim nor excessive; he just had a much, much higher tolerance than the rest of us. George Jones was always game. When it came to rehab or marriage, he often failed and was always willing to give it another whirl. (His longest marriage out of four attempts, to Nancy Sepulvado, lasted the final 30 years of his life.) And, in spite of a truly monstrous dark side, people kept giving “No Show Jones” second (and third and fourth and so on) chances too. And now, against all odds, he’s found peace.
If you’re not familiar with Storm Thorgerson, just know that he earned the right to be named "Storm Thorgerson." The most famous album-cover artist of all time — his most celebrated and longest lasting association was with Pink Floyd, though his work also adorned records by Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Peter Gabriel, Phish, Ween, Anthrax, the Cult, Muse, the Mars Volta, and Audioslave, among many others — Thorgerson supplied the visually striking and often surreal iconography that served as a backdrop in countless college dorms for lobotomized interstellar couch trips. His most iconic concepts — a dark prism refracting white light into a rainbow, a man shaking hands with his inflamed doppelganger, an industrialized hellscape flecked with floating pigs — leapt out of vinyl stacks and onto wood-paneled bedroom walls, forming lasting images in the cloudiest sections of so many people’s memories. (No man did more to make suburban recreational drug use in the late 20th century feel epic.) If it’s possible for an LP cover (or a blacklight poster) to approach art, a lot of that has to do with Thorgerson.
I listen to Penicillin on Wax, a profoundly ignorant, 22-year-old album about how much Bronx rapper Tim Dog hates Compton, more often than is probably suitable for someone with a wife, an actual dog, proper adult responsibilities, and no real feelings of ill will toward N.W.A., Compton, the West Coast, the Raiders, or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Penicillin is ignorant in a punishing, old school sort of way, bereft of wit or cleverness or grace or gimmickry. It’s just one severely aggrieved guy from the Bronx on the wrong side of history, as he yells and growls and stumbles over his own rage-filled words. It’s like the hatred grew so intense that it’s tipped over to glee, as Tim calls N.W.A. a bunch of “PUSSIES!” over their own beat, fantasizes about their sexual abuse, schemes to roll into Compton with a hundred Bronx brothers and the Nation of Islam, guffaws about Eazy-E’s “little ass dick,” calls Dr. Dre out for beating up on women, and mocks their Raider gear “when the Giants won the Super Bowl.” And that’s just the album “Intro.”
Conrad Bain, who played the stuffy-yet-kindly widower Philip Drummond for eight seasons on NBC's Diff'rent Strokes, died yesterday in Livermore, California. He was 89.
Born in Alberta, Canada, Bain was a prolific theater actor before he became a sitcom dad. He played Larry in the same 1956 Off Broadway production of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh that launched Jason Robards's career; a 29-year-old Peter Falk played Rocky the Bartender.