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Say what you will l Chuck's World


Last updated 11/21/2018 at Noon

I stopped reading comic books around the same time I stopped trick-or-treating, and for the same reason – I was 12 years old.

So I’ll admit to being a little baffled by adults who still do both of these things, although I understand. Fun is fun, whatever floats your boat, etc. If you’re 45 and really want to dress up as Indiana Jones on Halloween, more power to you. I’m not judging.

I’m judging you a lot, of course. I just said that to be nice.

And I understand comic books, I do. I can’t help associating them with childhood, but I get the attraction. It’s a legitimate art form. It’s just not my art form.

So I was only barely aware of Stan Lee, who passed away last week at the age of 95. I recognized him from his cameos in the few Marvel films I’ve seen (which always struck me as awful, an intrusion that immediately jerked me out of the story), and from a few interviews, and I certainly knew something about his history.

I was surprised to see so many people who seemed to have genuine affection for this man and his work, although that’s all it was. Mild surprise, because I wasn’t paying attention.

Mr. Lee’s passing was soon joined by farewells to country music legend Roy Clark and novelist and screenwriter William Goldman. I was a huge fan of Mr. Goldman’s work and sorry to hear of his death. I thought Roy Clark was amazing and always seemed like a nice man, although I have to admit to being unaware he was still alive.

Rest in peace, all three.

And yes, three, thus verifying everyone’s mother’s favorite nonsense, that famous people tend to die in groups of three. My mother says she believes it because her mother believed it.

It’s silly, of course, because people die all the time, famous or not, and we can pick and choose to fill out our three-of-a-kind.

And because Douglas Rain died on Veteran’s Day, and that makes four.

Rain was the Canadian actor who voiced HAL, the (eventually) sinister computer in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” in 1968. I knew about Rain, because I love the film and also because I had a friend in college with the same name, and somehow I made an association.

And when Douglas Rain passed away at the age of 90, and I saw the headline, I knew that it wouldn’t have been a surprise to this talented Shakespearean actor.

He must have given thousands of performances on stages, often in starring roles, and yet his obituary lead was always going to be about a few hours spent in a recording studio half a century ago. He must have known this.

None of this surprises me, or makes me feel bad for Douglas Rain or anyone who once did something, only to find that thing becoming shorthand to define their life’s work. Most of us won’t have that problem, so the ones that do are interesting to me.

I worked once with Mercedes McCambridge, whom Orson Welles called “the world’s greatest living radio actress” (he would know), and who became a bona fide movie star in 1949, winning an Oscar for “All The King’s Men” (which also won Best Picture).

She was nominated again in 1956 for “Giant,” and went on to star in a couple of cult classics.

But stars fade, and by the time I knew her she was fighting that obituary, resisting what she knew would be the headline. Mercedes McCambridge was the voice behind Pazuzu, the demon possessing that little girl in the 1973 film “The Exorcist.”

By the end of her life, I understand that she’d embraced this big claim to fame, but she didn’t like talking about it. Just a voice, like Rain’s, recorded in a studio.

Even people of great accomplishments often are boiled down to a few nuggets. Albert Einstein is special relativity and E=mc2, which of course we all understand completely.

Presidents are often remembered for their scandals and errors, writers often seem to have written just one book, and, often worst of all, some famous people are mostly remembered for how they died.

I don’t think this is a tragedy. I imagine most people, famous or not, give little thought to what some blurb will focus on when they’re gone. They know the lives they’ve lived. Legacy can be important, but legacy doesn’t show up in a few paragraphs.

Legacy simply lives after, and reflects, a life that made a difference.

And as George Bailey showed us in “It’s A Wonderful Life” (get ready, December’s around the corner), we all make a difference, no matter what the obits say. If we’re lucky, some people will remember that. If we’re really lucky, we’ll know it ourselves.

And if the stars align and the traffic’s not too horrible, on Thanksgiving many of us will surround ourselves with people in whose lives we made that difference, as they did in ours. That’s what I’ll be doing, and what I hope for you.

In fact, I think I wouldn’t mind if my obituary just focuses on the way I behave on Thanksgiving, which I always say is my favorite holiday (I say this about most holidays, but let’s pretend). “He always showed up. He made a few jokes. He brought rolls.”

There. A life. I’ll be grateful, too.


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