We only just lost Pierre Brice, but it seems the universe is conspiring to take away even more of our best and brightest, because the wave of deaths of much beloved celebrities continues unabated.
The most discussed death today is of course that of Sir Christopher Lee after a long and full life at age 93. Christopher Lee was just as ubiquitous as Pierre Brice. But unlike Brice, who was only known for a single role, Christopher Lee was known for many, many different parts.
He was Dracula and the Mummy and Frankenstein’s Monster and Fu-Manchu and Lord Summerisle and both Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes. He was both the Bond villain Scaramanga and the real-life cousin of Ian Fleming as well as an actual spy during WWII. He was Count Dooku and Saruman the Grey and duelled on screen with three Jedi knights as well as Galdalf, while in his eighties. He was in a Dr. Mabuse movie (sort of – it’s complicated) and in two Edgar Wallace movies, playing a police officer who turns out to be the killer in one and the obvious villain, who turns out to be innocent, while Eddi Arent is the real killer, in the other. He lent his voice to the animated adaptation of Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn. He was a trained singer, recorded several Heavy Metal albums and spoke nine languages. He was, in a word, amazing and he will be sorely missed.
The second death of the day is a particular blow to German science fiction, because noted German science fiction writer and editor Wolfgang Jeschke died on Wednesday, aged 78. The state of German language science fiction has never been particularly happy and that we have something approaching a science fiction genre at all is largely due to Wolfgang Jeschke’s tireless work on behalf of the genre at the publisher Heyne. Dietmar Dath, himself an SF writer as well as one of my favourite German critics, puts it very well in his obituary for Wolfgang Jeschke at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: He was the one who made German language SF possible.
Since Wolfgang Jeschke was not all that well known outside Germany, there are no English language obituaries yet. Though his novel The Cusanus Game was translated into English and published by Social Justice Cabal Central – pardon, Tor Books – a few years ago. Here is a review by Gary K. Wolfe from the Chicago Tribune.
What is more, we also lost James Last, musician, composer, bandleader and king of easy listening this Wednesday, when he died in Florida aged 86. In his own way, James Last was as ubiquitous as Pierre Brice and Sir Christopher Lee. If you grew up in 1970s and 1980s Germany, you knew his music and your parents or grandparents probably had one or more of his records. Mine certainly did. When they were recently remodelling their living room, I came across a stack of old records of bad German pop music from the 1970s and asked, “Can we throw those out or at least hide them where the handimen won’t see them?”, they vehemently answered “No”. One of those records was a James Last record. It’s the one I would have rescued, along with the Johnny Cash in Folsom Prison record and the “Musikalische USA-Reise” (A musical trip through the US), a compilation of country songs named after US cities.
Because – in spite or because of what this kind of mean obituary in the Guardian claims – James Last was one damn good musician, even if his music was not quite to your taste. His songs were sung by various international stars including Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Luciano Pavarotti, he wrote the scores for many movies and the title songs for several popular TV series. His piece “Einsamer Hirte” (The lonely shepherd), originally written for an album called “Film scores without films” (which is a bloody brilliant title), wound up becoming a film score not once but thrice, most famously in Quentin Tarantino’s (who, whatever else you think about him, knows a thing or two about music) Kill Bill, Vol. 1.
Since James Last was born in Bremen as Hans Last, started his career here and remained connected to the city of his birth throughout his life, his death received a lot of coverage in the local media. Radio Bremen, where his career began, has a lot of background material about James Last, including some rare photos and early clips.
His most famous work was probably the wonderfully evocative tune “Biscaya”:
But my favourite of his is probably the Herz Schmerz Polka (Heartache polka). James Last didn’t actually write it – that honour goes to Czech composer Václav Bláha – but his orchestra sure played it wonderfully. The Herz Schmerz Polka starts at 1:10 BTW:
However, Sir Christopher Lee, Wolfgang Jeschke and James Last were not the only great people who left us in these past few days. Here, mentioned in brief, are a few others.
Ernst Waldemar Bauer, German nature documentary filmer and TV host, died aged 89. If you’re German and were into nature and animal documentaries (which I never was, not even as a child), he was probably as ubiquitous to you as Pierre Brice, Sir Christopher Lee and James Last.
British actor, singer and writer Ron Moody, best remembered for portraying Fagin in the musical Oliver! on stage and screen, died aged 91. He almost became the Third Doctor instead of Jon Pertwee.
Ornette Coleman, revolutionary jazz saxophonist and composer, died aged 85. The New York Times shares some of his greatest hits.
Wrestler Dusty Rhodes a.k.a. “The American Dream” also died, aged only 69. I’ve never really been a wrestling fan and considered US-style pro-wrestling mostly as this really curious phenomenon that I sometimes saw on the original Sky Channel in the 1980s in Rotterdam, where my Dad worked and where we had that most marvelous miracle of the modern age, cable TV. Dusty Rhodes would have been active in those years and he was recognisable enough that I knew who he was as soon as I saw a photo.
Please, universe, just make it stop.