#5. June 23 -- Columbo
The greatest one-eyed detective to ever chomp a cigar, Peter Falk.
Cardio respiratory arrest; pneumonia; Alzheimer's; awesomeness.
"Peter fucking Falk. That's my legacy."
When Falk was 3, he had an eye removed due to cancer, which was replaced by a glass eye. He also had a slight speech impediment that gave his voice a kind of breathy quality. Between the two handicapables, Falk was told early on not to expect much of an acting career. Reports that he eventually paraded his four Emmys and two Oscars outside the homes of early critics are unconfirmed.
So, do you know why Peter Falk was perfect as Columbo? It was specifically because he was disheveled with a kind of squinty deer-in-the-headlights look and and a schlubby demeanor. Because Columbo wasn't a typical detective show -- the audience knows up front who commits the murder at the beginning of every episode. The fun of Columbo was watching everyone underestimate the wall-eyed sloppy joe who could barely walk into a room without bumbling about a bit.
And if he couldn't figure it out, he'd just plain talk someone into becoming a murderer just so he could catch them.
TV Guide called the show a "howcatchem" rather than a "whodunit." He didn't do car chases, didn't carry a gun, didn't do good cop/bad cop interrogations or get guff from higher ups asking him to stop being so rogue. He just kind of niced his way into solving murders -- usually by tricking the murderers into thinking he was on their side.
#4. July 9 -- The Motor Driving Motorhead
Michael Burston, otherwise known as Wurzel, god of metal.
Believe us, it's hard to look like this ...
Bless you, Wurzel.
... and get taken seriously. But Michael Burston, guitarist for the English metal band Motorhead, pulled it off. In addition to getting recognized for his technical skills, he was also kind of the class clown of metal, someone who wasn't going to put himself or his band on a pedestal of pretension. After all, the nickname Wurzel was inspired by his resemblance to a scarecrow in children's literature. A scarecrow who looked like this:
You can thank us for the nightmare later.
And Burston was perfectly fine with the comparison.
#3. July 12 -- Big Daddy of The Brady Bunch
Sherwood Schwartz, creator of The Brady Bunch and Gilligan's Island.
Natural causes; peacefully in his sleep; aged 94; rich and comfortable.
And, we like to think, balls deep in Brady ass.
Nestled nicely between Woodstock and the resignation of Richard Nixon was a show so white bread and benign that its very name became synonymous with "white bread and benign": The Brady Bunch. And Sherwood Schwartz was the guy who invented it. The show was a flop with critics, never got very high ratings and, by the end of its run, was competing with far more culturally relevant shows like Sanford and Son and All in the Family and Not Everyone Is White and We're Just Now Realizing It.
Yet The Brady Bunch stuck with us. And so did Gilligan's Island, aka the original Lost, but with idiots. No one thought that show was very good, either. Yet kids who were born 50 years after it ran know all about it. We wonder why.
It was Bob Denver's pear-shaped ass.
#2. Sept. 15 -- Everybody's Grandma
Frances Bay, quirky grandma extraordinaire.
Complications from pneumonia.
The "you can trouble me for a warm glass of shut the hell up" woman.
Even if the name "Frances Bay" doesn't ring a bell, you can probably figure out who she is by noticing a recurring theme on her IMDb page:
Grandma Shallot, Grandma Johnson, Grandma, Grandma, Granny, Grandma De La Chasse, Grandma Julia Sposato, Nanna, Older Woman, Wise Old Woman, Old Phoebe, Old Woman, Aunt Ginny, Aunt Joyce, Aunt Francine, Aunt Sylvia, Aunt Sylvia (yes, again), Aunt Charlotte, Elderly Swiss Jeweler ... the list goes on.
Bay played both Happy Gilmore's AND the Fonz's grandma. That means Happy Gilmore and the Fonz are cousins! She also played Boss Hogg's sister-in-law on The Dukes of Hazzard and Mabel Choate, the old lady from whom Jerry stole the marble rye on Seinfeld.
All of her best characters were either abused or robbed.
Hipster film students will rush to tell you about her role in numerous David Lynch projects. Screw that -- we're here to tell you she was in ALF. ALF! Yo Willy!
#1. Nov. 22 -- Lana Peters, aka Stalin's Daughter
Svetlana Alliluyeva, Stalin's only daughter.
Not exactly the image we conjure when thinking about the man who murdered almost a Canada worth of people.
One of history's greatest monsters had a kid who not only survived into the 21st century, but was living in Wisconsin, of all places. Wisconsin. Can you imagine going out to your dairy farm to harvest your cheese crop and finding out your little old lady neighbor was the daughter of a man responsible for the murders of up to 20 million people? How do you even process that? Do you just drop your cheese harvest and run? Do you try to make like you don't know, but accidentally drop the phrase "Uncle Joe, Slaughterer of Millions" in everyday conversation? No one has written a guideline on the situation, so we don't know.
As for Svetlana herself, she was plagued with daddy issues from the start, as you can imagine. Her dad abused her mom, who died of a "burst appendix," which might be Soviet code for "suicide and/or murdered by Joseph Stalin." Her dad exiled her first boyfriend to the Arctic Circle, refused to meet her first husband and arranged her marriage to her second husband, which lasted 10 years.
"I'd like to introduce you to your future husband: this empty, lifeless field."
It was after marriage two dissolved that things got really interesting for Svetlana. She met and fell in love with an Indian Communist, whom she was not allowed to marry, presumably because her father's ghost was still pulling her love-life strings. Nevertheless, after her boyfriend's death she was allowed to travel to India to scatter his ashes in the Ganges. Aaaaaand pop into the U.S. embassy to apply for political asylum in America.
So in 1967, the daughter of one of the architects of Soviet communism denounced the regime and fled to the U.S. Then she met Frank Lloyd Wright's apprentice, who had once been married to Frank Lloyd Wright's daughter, also named Svetlana. So naturally Svetlana Stalin and the former son-in-law of Frank Lloyd Wright married -- and that was how Svetlana Iosifovna Alliluyeva became known as Lana Peters.
Yeah, that has a much less murderous ring to it.
This marriage didn't last long, either (daddy issues, remember), and Peters flitted around for years, eventually going back to the USSR, abruptly leaving again, then moving to Europe and finally settling in the one place you'd least expect a celebrity Soviet defector: a retirement home in Wisconsin.
For more overlooked deaths in years past, check out Where Aren't They Now? 13 Overlooked Deaths of 2010 and Where Aren't They Now? 13 Overlooked Deaths of 2009.
And stop by LinkSTORM for clever (dangerous) ways to dispose of your leftover eggnog and fruitcake.
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