Where Arenâ€™t They Now? 11 Overlooked Deaths of 2011
Sure, when you're an Amy Winehouse, a Steve Jobs or an Osama bin Laden, the world is going to grind to a halt and have a tweetgasm at the news of your passing. But when you're a "guy who played that one kid on Barney Miller," good luck getting anyone to notice that you kicked the bucket.
So each year Cracked takes time to remember the slightly less famous people who maybe didn't revolutionize the PC and music industries, but who still left an interesting little mark on the culture. These are the most overlooked deaths of 2011.
Feb. 4 -- One Fast Pussycat
Tura Satana, buxom B-movie actress; lifelong badass.
No, wait, there's more!
After reading Tura Satana's biography, we got the sneaking suspicion that Quentin Tarantino read it, too ... and based every single one of his movies off it. Assuming Satana's version of her life is true, and who are we to say it's not, someone has really missed the boat in not turning her story into a gritty graphic novel.
Here's the quick version: When Tura Satana, daughter of a Japanese/Filipino silent movie actor dad and Cheyenne/Scots-Irish circus performer mom, was a kid, she developed early boob-wise. Way early. And she was teased, harassed and eventually assaulted because of her body. Which was why she learned aikido and karate and tracked down each of her assailants to exact her beautiful revenge. We told you she was a Tarantino movie come to life.
"Katanas are for wusses."
After a turn as a child bride, then the leader of a girl gang, Satana took up exotic dancing and nudie posing. She eventually landed in the uber-violent Faster, Pussycat! Kill, Kill! and the wet dreams of bad boys everywhere. And as if her martial arts training, humongous chest and titular role in one of the most exploitative movies of the '60s wasn't enough to cement a spectacular life, Satana said she not only dated Elvis Presley, but turned down his marriage proposal. And she went on to become a nurse and a police dispatcher later, but only after getting shot by an ex-lover.
So the movie was actually the boring part of her life.
Why haven't we seen a biopic yet?
March 19 -- Knut the Polar Bear
Knut: German polar bear superstar, cutie pie.
Drowning? No one is exactly sure. The way of the polar bear is mysterious.
Knut (rhymes with "ka-kute") was a world-famous polar bear, raised in captivity at the Berlin Zoo. The Germans went "knuts" for Knut, in that special, fanatical way that only Germans can. Part of Knut's appeal was his story -- his mother rejected him, his caretaker fawned over him like a mother hen/crazy person and, good lord, just look at the little thing:
It was no wonder Knut spawned a mass media phenomenon known as "Knutmania" -- toys, books, DVDs, the whole shebang. He was even solely responsible for a 5 million Euro increase in the zoo's profits. Hey, you know what they say about German zoos, don't you? That they're not in the Arctic Circle. Not even close. Which is one reason why animal activists were not happy with Knut's captivity. He was constantly surrounded by people (over 600 watched him have a seizure before he fell into the pool and died), and he was enclosed with not one, not two, but three aggressive lady bears who chased, bit and bullied him for fun.
"I AM AN EAT-BEAR! RAWR!"
And since Knut died about 20 years earlier than most polar bears, the activists are probably right for once. Here's something they're also right about: Having Knut stuffed and mounted for display at the Berlin Museum is just about as humiliating as ending your life as bully fodder for lady polar bears.
Pour a frozen 40 of Coke out for our homie.
April 12 -- The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived
Pierre Jean "Buster" Martin, Britain's oldest man; possibly greatest liar.
Old age; lie attack.
Does this look like a 104-year-old man?
And wait, that's not heroin!
No? He said he was. Buster Martin said a lot of things. Like that he got his nickname "Buster" from hitting a priest on the nose at age 3, and that he fought off a gang of muggers at age 100, and that he was the oldest British man to ever complete a marathon. And in case you're doing a little background research for a thesis or something, none of those claims could be independently verified. Not even the stuff about his age or his marital status or the existence of his supposed 17 children, let alone whether he really fought off muggers or just fell down drunk and wanted some attention.
But that's why we loved him. For all we know, Buster didn't die at all. He just lied his way into Buckingham Palace and is posing as a shaggy Prince Philip as we speak.
Gah! No, stop, we take it back!
April 20 -- The Inventor of Passionless Acting
Hubert Schlafly, co-inventor of the teleprompter.
The next time a newscaster seems to be staring right at you with her cold, dead eyes flicking subtly from left to right, thank Hubert Schlafly, because he co-invented what she's reading off of. The device was originally called the TelePrompTer. ("The second T was capitalized for TERRIFIC!")
"I stole these badboys. Suck it. You suck my Emmys."
In the late 1940s, a Broadway actor, Fred Barton, complained that he couldn't remember his lines. Schlafly was working as director of television research at Fox, and the task to "fix Barton's stupidity'' fell on him. The first teleprompter looked like something out of The Flintstones: Schlafly installed a motorized scroll of paper inside half a suitcase. Actors' lines were printed on the paper in half-inch letters, and the suitcase was set up next to studio cameras. The scrolling speed was controlled manually by a stagehand.
And when you think about it, the hilariously named Schlafly probably had the biggest influence out of anyone else on this list. Because his invention came even before television was a household thing, so everyone who came after benefited from it; talk show hosts, soap opera actors, Saturday Night Live times infinity. Politics would look completely different without it. So ... uh ... thanks?
"Because fuck all of you. That's why."
May 3 -- Superman's Boss
Jackie Cooper; Little Rascal; youngest Academy Award nominee.
Natural causes; aged 88; Lex Luthor?
"Please. I died because I just hadn't tried it yet."
In 1931, 9-year-old Jackie Cooper became the youngest person ever nominated for an Academy Award. No one was all that impressed, since the Academy Awards were only a few days old and other 9-year-olds were hopping trains and sharecropping cotton to feed their families, but then Cooper went and held the record for almost 50 years. It took that shaggy-headed kid from Kramer vs. Kramer to break the Cooper record, and even that kid only went on to claim the part of Molly Ringwald's fat little brother in Sixteen Candles, so we're thinking that nomination was a fluke. Couple Cooper's early success with the fact that he got to boss the best version of Superman around as Perry White of the Daily Planet and you've got yourself a bona fide American hero.
"You have three seconds to remove your hand before everyone starts calling you 'Lefty'."
Now, here's a fun story about Cooper. His autobiography was called Please Don't Shoot My Dog, not because he wanted to keep his dog off camera, but because that Oscar-nominated performance was rendered after his director/uncle threatened to SHOOT HIS REAL LIFE DOG if he didn't cry on camera. And that, kids, is how you get an Academy Award nomination.
June 6 -- Outlaw Sheep
Shrek, the Hippie Sheep.
Put down after advice of a veterinary surgeon, aka "The Man."
Don't pretend you don't want to squeeze that 'til it baahs.
As any shepherd can tell you, one of the perils of owning sheep is crippling loneliness and presumed sexual frustration. Another is shearing them every year, not just for their precious, beautiful wool, but for their own comfort. It's not like they can stop in at the barbershop themselves, no matter what you've heard otherwise, and wool is heavy and carries filth.
So shearing sheep is a necessity of life. But like some kind of weird scissor-phobic wool hippie, Shrek the New Zealand sheep wasn't playing by no sheep shearer's rules, man. When shearing time came around, he hid in caves, every year, for six years. When the wool cutter finally caught up with him, this was what he looked like:
If "fluff" could make a sound, Shrek would be deafening.
Can you even?
Sixty pounds of wool. That's how much weight the poor thing was carrying around before he was found in 2004. It's like carrying around a child for warmth, all the time.
So that was how Shrek got famous, but not how he died. He died when his vet recommended the 16-year-old firebrand be put down, the sheep who successfully fought the system for longer than most of us will ever manage.
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.
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.
Related: Crackedoids: Motorhead Rules Edition
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.
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!
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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