Great Lives, Radio 4, Tuesday <br/>The John Bonham Story, Radio 2, Tuesday

Everybody loves you when you're dead
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The Independent Culture

As the obituaries editor on this paper's daily sibling I'm continually weighing the good against the bad in people.

Last week I ran a piece about a rugby league player who'd committed suicide after being banned for drug abuse. I put that fact in the strapline and received a call from a reader who found it "grossly insensitive". Was she right? I don't think so – the manner of his death, sadly, was one of the salient facts of his life – but maybe I'm wrong.

The Great Lives series, as its name suggests, is put together by a fan of its subject, and for the cartoonist Gerald Scarfe Walt Disney was a huge inspiration. But the tone was affectionate rather than reverent.

The Disney expert Brian Sibley recounted how Walt and Roy, his brother and business partner, had a tempestuous relationship. Roy would recall how they used to share a bed as boys, when Walt suffered from bedwetting. "He pissed on me every night," Roy would say. "And he's still doing it!"

But some of the accusations are serious: the hitherto egalitarian and liberal Disney lurched rightwards after the bitter animators' strike of 1941 and ended up testifying against former colleagues to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Charges of Nazi sympathies and anti-Semitism were strenuously denied.

There was even more glossing-over in The John Bonham Story, which tied in with the 30th anniversary of the Led Zeppelin drummer's death. There was plenty about his nonpareil drumming, and about what a great friend, husband and father he was. There was a vague mention that, crippled by homesickness, he liked a drink or two on tour. But it's surely remiss not to allude to the fact that, though delightful when sober, he was apparently a brute when drunk.

In his book about the band, When Giants Walked the Earth, Mick Wall recounts the night in an LA bar when Bonham, having lined up 20 Black Russians and downed half of them in one go, spotted an industry acquaintance called Michelle Myer, who looked over and smiled at him. He strode over, punched her to the floor and roared, "Don't ever look at me that way again!"

Should anecdotes like that have been included? Again, I'm not sure. Bonham is held in huge affection by many – though not, one imagines, by Ms Myer.

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