I write about 25 columns a year for this paper. And I must admit, this annual one is always my favorite. A lot of famous people left this world last year, including Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, singer Andy Williams and TV’s George Jefferson — actor Sherman Hemsley.
But as the calendar months flew by in 2012 we were also reminded of dearly departed souls who never made the front page of the celebrity obituary section of the New York Times. I’d like to remember some of them in this column.
January was the 10th frame for bowler Don Carter. Now, not a lot of bowlers’ deaths headline the news, but “Mr. Bowling” was different. A six-time Bowler of the Year, Carter’s best obituary factoid is that he was the first athlete of any sport ever to win a million-dollar endorsement. It was for bowling balls.
History was made in February with the departure of Florence Green. Her achievement is hard to wrap your head around. When she passed at the age of 111, Mrs. Green was the last surviving veteran anywhere to have served in World War I. She was a member of the Women’s Royal Air Force.
March brought us the shocking news that Steve Bridger had died. He was only 48. Bridger was considered to be the best of the many President George W. Bush impersonators. The real President Bush even joined the mimic President Bush two times onstage to roars of laughter.
The final curtain came down in April for singer Kenny Roberts. One of Nashville’s favorite entertainers, he was a yodeler of incomparable talents. He hit it big with such classics as “Hillbilly Yodel” and “She Taught Me How to Yodel.” When he started to add some jumping steps to his singing routine, his career skyrocketed. He jumped while he yodeled. It takes all kinds.
Dick Beals was finally silenced in May. For 50 years he was the voice of the stop-action advertising icon Speedy Alka Seltzer. He died at age 85, presumably not of indigestion.
In June, the dog that was photographed with more celebrities than any other animal died. “Lucky Diamond,” a tiny white Maltese, was seen in photographs with more than 365 celebrities. And who counted them? The Guinness Book of World Records, that’s who.
William Asher died in July. Of course we don’t know him, but we do know his work. He directed hundreds of television shows from our Baby Boomer youth. “Our Miss Brooks,” “Bewitched,” “I Love Lucy,” “Twilight Zone,” “Alice,” “Make Room for Daddy,” “The Dukes of Hazzard” and too many more to even mention. He was 90 when he died and had one time been married to actress Elizabeth Montgomery (cue the nose twitch).
Russell Scott died in August.. Known as “Blinky the Clown,” Scott holds the record as the longest-running television clown in history. For more than 40 years he donned oversized shoes, a water-squirting flower and a big, red nose and entertained generations of children in the Denver, Colo., area.
A sad note was heard in September with the death of Joe South. He gave my generation such memorable songs as “Games People Play,” “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” and the classic, “The Purple People Eater Meets The Witch Doctor.” He was 72.
Jeff Blatnick was as big a sports hero as it gets around here. Coming out of the Albany area, Jeff went on to win the gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games. It really was shocking to hear of Jeff’s passing at age 55 on Oct. 24, 2012. A park in his hometown of Niskayuna is named after him.
In November, Dennis Avner, also known as “Cat Man,” died at the age of 54. He had spent his entire life undergoing dozens of plastic surgeries in an attempt to mold his body into the image of a tiger. Of course, we have no idea why he did this.
And in December we lost Harry Carey Jr. He made more than 100 films as an actor and stuntman. His father outdid him. Harry Carey Sr. appeared in more than 200 films, beginning in the silent movie era. Talk about a family dynasty!
And so we enter 2013. I’ll keep my eye out all-year-long for those “hidden gems” who leave the scene fairly anonymously, but who, let’s face it, make life a lot more interesting for us all.
Especially newspaper columnists.
I’ll catch you in two ...
“Big Chuck” D’IMPERIO can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his “Oldies Jukebox Show.” You can find “Big Chuck” on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.