Monday, February 01, 2016

Dropping Like Flies

They're dropping like flies, aren't they?  The year is barely a month old and the celebrity casualty list for 2016 is already mounting.  It's interesting, though, how some celebrity deaths 'crowd out' others: whilst the media was busy reeling with shock from the announcement of Sir Terry Wogan's death yesterday, for instance, no mention was made of the passing of superlative character actor Frank Finlay.  Whilst I know that the latter was no longer a household name hadn't been in the public eye for some years, it seems a pity that his death went largely unnoticed, bearing in mind his huge contribution to British popular culture both on film and TV.  Thanks to their frequent TV outings, there surely can be few viewers who haven't seen his portrayal of Porthos in Richard Lester's Three Musketeers, Four Musketeers and Return of the Musketeers, whilst his performances in Bouquet of Barbed Wire and Casanova made him a huge star on seventies TV.  Not only that, but he was Inspector Lestrade not once, but twice - both times, interestingly in movies pitting Sherlock Holmes against Jack the Ripper: Study in Terror and Murder By Decree.  Oh, and he was in seminal big budget schlock movie Lifeforce, which should, if nothing else, ensure that he has some kind of lasting cult status.

None of which is to imply that the the accolades and eulogies heaped upon Terry Wogan over the past couple of days have been undeserved.  He was undoubtedly a huge part of many people's lives and his genial, yet often highly subversive and sometimes surreal, banter made a massive contribution to the UK's popular culture. Certainly, I grew up with Wogan during his first stint on the Radio Two breakfast show - it was on in the house as I got ready for school and on in the car on the way to school.  As he moved into TV, his presence was all-pervasive.  He became one of those public figures that, as a child, you assume will be part of your life forever.  They'd been celebrities since before you could remember and it seemed that they always would be.  It seemed impossible that the likes of Wogan, Cilla Black or The Beatles, for instance, would ever grow old.  It certainly didn't seem possible that they were just mortal like the rest of us.  Yet now both Wogan and Cilla have gone, along with half of The Beatles, finally putting paid to my childhood belief in them as some kind of challenge to the very notion of human mortality.  In the end, despite their fame and fortune, their lives proved to be as frail and transitory as those of everyone else.  Proof, if any were needed, that, as the poet James Shirley observed, death truly is a leveller of men. 



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