The passing last week of Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, and Ed McMahon brings back the old axiom about celebrities dying in threes. In my faulty memory (which I'll blog more about next week), there was a period in my adolescence when three groups of three celebrities died around the same time. However, checking the Internet Movie Database's helpful Died In Year database, I can only find two pair (below), not three triplets.
No surprise. I frequently remember things that didn’t happen and forget things that did.
What strikes me as strange about the synchronicity of Fawcett, Jackson, and McMahon is that they were all pop culture figures. When celebrities die in proximity, I usually think, I never would have invited them to congregate in St. Peter’s waiting room at the same time. (If this week's triad is Gale Storm, Billy Mays, and Walter Cronkite, I rest my case.)
The best example of this I could find was May 18, 1995, when television actress Elizabeth Montgomery (Bewitched), ballet dancer and actor Alexander Godunov (best known for Die Hard, among just seven movies he made), and character Elisha Cook Jr. (Wilmer in The Maltese Falcon), all passed away. Like Fawcett and Jackson, Montgomery (age 62) and Godunov (age 45) were astonishingly young.
Other strange celebrity synchronicities:
● Late in January, 1973, tough-guy actor Edward G. Robinson and John Banner, best known for playing Sergeant Schulz on Hogan’s Heroes, died within a couple of days of each other.
● TV actor Wally Cox (Mr. Peepers) and film actor Tim Holt both died February 15, 1973. Pretty much forgotten at the time of his death and never a Hollywood powerhouse even when he was alive, Tim Holt nonetheless had the distinction of acting in three classic movies in the 1940s: Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons, John Ford’s My Darling Clementine, and John Huston’s The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
● On three consecutive days (September 30-October 2, 1985), Oscar-winning actress Simone Signoret, author E.B. White, and actor Rock Hudson all passed away.
● The day after Katharine Hepburn died in 2003 (June 29th), comedian Buddy Hackett died (admittedly, they had both appeared in movies with Spencer Tracy).
● On October 2, 2005, comedian Nipsey Russell and playwright August Wilson both passed away.
For other pairings, some strange (Federico Fellini and River Phoenix) and others not-so-strange (Billy Wilder and Milton Berle), check out Associated Content.
Celebrities, like parents and teachers, provide a common touchstone for all of us to measure both the nostalgia and the progress our lives. It’s not so disconcerting when they’re older (Hepburn was 91 and Hackett was 79), but it sure is when you remember their long-ago heyday (as I do with Fawcett), or they’re younger (like Jackson).
It brought back the words of the father of a friend of mine. When Natalie Wood and William Holden died within two weeks of each other in November, 1981, he lamented, “I can deal with William Holden dying. He was old. But Natalie Wood is my generation.”