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Steve Jobs is dead. To most people in the world, this means nothing. I include myself.

R.I.P. Steven Paul Jobs, businessman, born 24 February 1955; died 5 October 2011

Show-business history records that the American actor Peter Falk, who has died aged 83, made his stage debut the year before he left high school, presciently cast as a detective. Despite the 17-year-old’s fleeting success, he had no thoughts of pursuing acting as a career – if only because tough kids from the Bronx considered it an unsuitable job for a man. Just 24 years later, Falk made his first television appearance as the scruffy detective, Columbo, not only becoming the highest paid actor on television – commanding $500,000 an episode during the 1970s – but also the most famous.

-Absolutely, Sir. Thank you very much, Sir.
(Walks to the door, then turns around)
-Er … Just one more question, Sir.

This became a cliché, and as much as I loved his anti-hero persona when Columbo was originally broadcast, it is equally annoying when I watch the repeats now.

And why did they call for Columbo in the first place – before they even knew it was a murder?

He also knew who the killer was after talking to him once …

This is no criticism of Peter Falk as an actor, just an observation of blemishes that I didn’t think about when I first saw Columbo back in the 1970s.

Peter Falk had been suffering from dementia for the last few years. It appeared to have come on suddenly after a series of dental surgeries in 2007. When someone asked if he’d ever reprise his role as Columbo again, his reps said, “He can’t even remember who Columbo is.”

Not long before he fell ill, he denied that his raincoat had been donated to a museum, saying that it was still part of his wardrobe.

R.I.P. Peter Michael Falk, actor, born 16 September 1927; died 23 June 2011

The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, brother.

Gil Scott-Heron, the poet and recording artist whose syncopated spoken style and mordant critiques of politics, racism and mass media in pieces like “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” made him a notable voice of black protest culture in the 1970s and an important early influence on hip-hop, died on Friday at a hospital in Manhattan. He was 62 and had been a longtime resident of Harlem.

R.I.P. Gil Scott-Heron, poet, musician and author, born 1 April 1949; died 27 May 2011

Ming Ming, the world’s oldest panda, has died aged 34, Chinese state media say.

The Global Times reported Ming Ming died from old age and had kidney failure. She had been living at a zoo in Guangdong province.

The China Panda Protection Centre in Sichuan province said in a statement she died on 7 May, but it was reported only on Tuesday in local media.

The newspaper said wild pandas live 15 years on average, with captive ones typically living around 22 years.

Giant pandas are among the world’s most endangered species, with about 1,600 in the wild. More than 300 are in captivity in China, most in a breeding programme aimed at boosting the population.

The country also loans pandas to zoos worldwide.

American film director Sidney Lumet, who has died aged 86, directed three of my all-time favourite films: Serpico, The Hill, and The Offence.

For the bulk of his career, he averaged a film a year, earning four Oscar nominations along the way for best director, for 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Network (which earned Peter Finch a posthumous Oscar) and The Verdict.

The Hill, like 12 Angry Men, has an all-male cast, and simmers throughout with repressed rage and resentment which eventually explodes, conveyed brilliantly by great British actors like Ian Hendry, Ian Bannen, Sean Connery and Harry Andrews.

The Offence, another of Lumet’s British films with Sean Connery and Ian Bannen, has a score by Harrison Birtwistle, Serpico picks up on that documentary feel that William Friedkin used in The French Connection, and The Hill, which has no music and is shot in monochrome, certainly makes my top ten films ever. It scared the shit out of me when I first saw it.

R.I.P. Sidney Lumet, film director, born 25 June 1924; died 9 April 2011

Sidney Lumet: a career in pictures
A Director of Classics, Focused on Conscience

Dame Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor, arguably the last great female star of
the Hollywood studio system, has died at the age of 79.

The Oscar-winning star died in the early hours of the morning at Cedars-Sinai medical centre in Los Angeles, from congestive heart failure, according to her spokeswoman Sally Morrison. She said Taylor’s children were at her side.

Dame Elizabeth, who had been in ill health for a number of years, was taken to the hospital with heart failure six weeks ago. A spokeswoman for the hospital said: “She passed away at 1.28 [0828 GMT].”

Taylor’s luminous screen presence, allied to a colourful private life, made her a mainstay of US popular culture for more than 50 years. She won her first best actress Oscar for playing the self-styled “slut of the world” in Butterfield 8 (1960). Her second came courtesy of an electrifying turn opposite then-husband Richard Burton in the 1966 drama Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Born in Hampstead, north London, Taylor relocated to the US in 1939 and made her screen debut as a nine-year-old in the 1942 Universal comedy There’s One Born Every Minute. She found fame as the perky child star of Lassie Come Home and National Velvet before graduating to adult roles with the 1950 comedy Father of the Bride.

The following year she rustled up one of her most vibrant and vital performances in A Place in the Sun. George Stevens’s melodrama cast her as a spoiled debutante who bewitches Montgomery Clift’s ambitious social climber. According to the critic Andrew Sarris, the film’s young actors were “the most beautiful couple in the history of cinema. Those gigantic close-ups of them kissing were unnerving – like gorging on chocolate sundaes.”

Other notable roles were in Giant, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Suddenly, Last Summer and Reflections in a Golden Eye. Yet Taylor’s on-screen prowess was often upstaged by the ongoing soap-opera of her personal life. She was married eight times to seven husbands and sparked a scandal when she began an affair with the British actor Richard Burton on the set of Cleopatra.

The couple wed in 1964 and divorced a decade later. They remarried in 1975 and then split again the following year. Throughout this period they were embraced as the hydra-headed emblem of Hollywood glamour, their lives a whirl of ritzy premieres, champagne receptions and indulgent movie collaborations. “It was probably the most chaotic time of my life,” Taylor would later recall. “It was fun and it was dark – oceans of tears – but there were some good times too.”

Throughout her life, Taylor seemed drawn to fragile souls and those in need. She reportedly saved the life of the notoriously self-destructive Montgomery Clift following a car crash in 1956. Spurred on by the 1985 death of her friend Rock Hudson, she helped found the American Federation for Aids Research and went on to raise an estimated $50m to fight the disease. More recently, she rode to the defence of Michael Jackson after the singer was arraigned on charges of child abuse.

Away from the cameras, her own life was punctuated by health problems. She survived a brain tumour, suffered from a heart condition and reportedly broke her back on five separate occasions. In later life, she was largely confined to a wheelchair as a result of osteoporosis. Yet there was something resilient about Elizabeth Taylor – a fighting spirit belied by her famous good looks. “I’ve been through it all, baby,” she once boasted. “I’m Mother Courage.”

R.I.P. Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor, actor, born 27 February 1932; died 23 March 2011

New York Times obituary
Elizabeth Taylor, Guinea Pig for Modern Celebrity

Milton Babbitt, who has died aged 94, was one of the most impenetrable, inaccessible and influential of American composers and theorists; an article he wrote in 1958 headlined Who cares if you listen? set the tone, reinforcing the view that contemporary music was for an elite cognoscenti.

What pisses me off about this is that everyone remembers the title, and no one bothers to discuss what Babbitt actually wrote. (And he disavowed the title, which was apparently the work of an editor.)

I am concerned with stating an attitude towards the indisputable facts of the status and condition of the composer of what we will, for the moment, designate as “serious”, “advanced”, contemporary music. This composer expends an enormous amount of time and energy – and, usually, considerable money – on the creation of a commodity which has little, no, or negative commodity value. He is, in essence, a “vanity” composer. The general public is largely unaware of and uninterested in his music. The majority of performers shun it and resent it. Consequently, the music is little performed, and then primarily at poorly attended concerts before an audience consisting in the main of fellow professionals. At best, the music would appear to be for, of, and by specialists.

Sometimes you need some super-complex music to break you out of your musical doldrums. I’ve been listening to a lot of Babbitt lately and it’s really been doing it for me. Musical caffeine. What got me really interested in him was a disc with his 2nd and 6th string quartets and other pieces. The quartets are great: wonderfully fluid rhythms and seemingly-infinite harmonic combinations. Whoever says this music in unemotional is dead wrong — there’s a kaleidoscopic variety of mental associations.

I’ve given the Harmonia Mundi disc of the piano music a few listens. The stringency of the earlier pieces is refreshing; like being on insect-time. The two pieces from the 1980s (Canonical Variations and Lagniappe) have Babbitt’s oft-mentioned wit in spades and even re-occurring themes.

Milton Babbitt, a composer who gloried in complexity, dies @ 94
Milton Babbitt – writing music for our elite

R.I.P. Milton Byron Babbitt, composer, born 10 May 1916; died 29 January 2011

Actor Leslie Nielsen, star of a string of spoof movies including Airplane! and The Naked Gun, died of complications from pneumonia in Florida on Sunday, his spokesman said. He was 84.

Nielsen is probably best known for playing the bumbling cop Lieutenant Frank Drebin in the Naked Gun franchise, but enjoyed a movie and television career spanning more than 60 years.

The spokesman said Nielsen died in a hospital near his home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, surrounded by his wife, Barbaree, and friends.

R.I.P. Leslie William Nielsen, actor, born 11 February 1926; died 28 November 2010

Górecki is dead. About bloody time.

R.I.P. Henryk Mikołaj Górecki, composer, born 6 December 1933; died 12 November 2010

Christchurch, New Zealand: A wrecked house in Canterbury, near the earthquake epicentre at Darfield

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Black Dogs Defined

This is the best of me; for the rest, I ate, and drank, and slept, loved and hated, like another: my life was as the vapour and is not; but this I saw and knew; this, if anything of mine, is worth your memory.

(John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies)

Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not.

(Alan Sillitoe, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning)

This is my letter to the world, that never wrote to me.

(Emily Dickinson, This is my letter to the world)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay, Second Fig)

R.A.D. Stainforth

I was born before The Beatles’ first LP and brought up in the reeking slums of Jericho. I am in love with a woman called Hazel and in love with her daughter, also called Hazel, both of whom I met at Alcoholics Anonymous.

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