Looking back on 2006: Farewell then...
Some we loved and lost, like the comedian Linda Smith. Others, such as General Pinochet, were less mourned. And some passed away almost unnoticed, although their lives were extraordinary. By David Randall
Sunday 31 December 2006
Any year which claims the lives of Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein and General Augusto Pinochet can't be all bad. And so, even in a survey of 2006's deaths, there are comforts to be had. Would that a few more potentates and dictators had gone the same way, preferrably while in office, rather than in jail or dotage.
Heroes, being more plentiful, suffered a higher attrition rate. Even the healthiest of the generation who fought the Second World War are reaching the end of their allotted span, and their passings were recorded almost daily - men such asRaymond Baxter, wartime pilot and populariser of science on television via Tomorrow's World, and, at 93, Wing Commander George 'Grumpy' Unwin, downer of nearly two dozen German aircraft, and a rare double winner of the Distinguished Flying Medal. His nickname was due to his vociferous complaining that he was not allowed to get at the enemy sooner.
Sport, too, has its heroes, and the year took a fearsome toll. Cricket lost legends Clyde Walcott, who was knighted, and Fred Trueman, who should have been. Football lost Ferenc Puskas and Jimmy Johnstone, former England manager Ron Greenwood, and England players Peter Osgood and Brian Labone.
Boxing's losses included former champions Floyd Patterson and Willie Pep (famously light-footed, he once won a round without throwing a punch). In golf, Byron Nelson, creator of the modern swing and winner of 11 tournaments in a row, died in September, as did Patty Berg, holder of more major championships than any other woman.
The world of letters escaped lightly. Jaws author Peter Benchley died at 65, travel writer Eric Newby at 86, that prolific producer of light social history E S Turner at 96, and, at 88, detective novelist Mickey Spillane went the way of so many characters in his books, although less violently. And no more will plantsman Christopher Lloyd add to that shelf of invaluable gardening tomes; he died, aged 84, in January.
Film lost director Robert Altman (M*A*S*H and Gosford Park), actor and documentary maker Kenneth Griffith, and Jack Wild, the child star who shone so brightly as the Artful Dodger in Lionel Bart's Oliver! but who then met depression, alcoholism, and, at 53, death from cancer.
Those gone from the smaller screen include Lynne Perrie, aka Coronation Street's Ivy Tilsley, who later worked as a bingo caller in Blackpool, and Aaron Spelling, creator of Starsky and Hutch, Charlie's Angels and Dynasty. He was also the owner of what was, with 123 rooms, the largest private residence in California. Comedy lost Benny Hill's straight man Henry McGee, and Linda Smith at only 48. Her one-liners ("I'm a dyslexic Satanist, I worship the drivel") live on.
If any walk of life suffered serious depletion, it was household name economists, never an over-crowded area. J K Galbraith, coiner and chronicler of The Affluent Society, and one of the great liberal minds of the 20th century, died at 97; as did a trio of those who philosophically opposed him. Professor Milton Friedman, Lord Harris of High Cross, and Sir Alfred Sherman were the intellectual backbone of Thatcherism and, within a three-month period, all were gone.
Former Irish Taoiseach Charles Haughey took a number of secrets, particularly the source of his substantial wealth, to the grave. Lord Merlyn-Rees, minister under Harold Wilson, Lord Rawlinson, law officer in the Macmillan and Heath governments, and former sports minister Tony Banks, all died. Business lost Sir Freddie Laker, pioneer of cheap air travel, and former CEO of Enron, Kenneth Lay, pioneer of fantasy accounting.
Music, as usual, saw several untimely departures. Syd Barrett, founder of Pink Floyd, died at 60 in self-imposed obscurity in Cambridge, Gene Pitney at 65 while on tour, June Pointer, one third of the sisters, at 52, Billy Preston, keyboard-player with, among others, The Beatles, was gone at 59, Desmond Dekker (remember "The Israelites" in 1969?) at 64, and Wilson Pickett, at the same age.
Then there are those whose voices are the soundtrack of childhood. Actor William Franklyn, for instance, whose breathy coda to Schweppes ads in the '60s and '70s ("Schhh... You know who") meant a lot to us at the time, as did the talents of the art collecting actor Peter Hawkins, who, unknown to those he met in salerooms, was the voice of Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men, the Daleks, and Captain Pugwash. We shall not hear their like again.
LEST WE FORGET
Not all those who died in 2006 were famous - but some of them should have been...
Robert Baker: Professor of Poultry Science at Cornell University and the inventor of the chicken nugget.
George Chapman: Liverpool fireman who, acting as a conduit for a long-dead Victorian opthalmic surgeon, was one of the country's leading healers and reportedly consulted by film star Laurence Harvey, entertainer Stanley Holloway and novelist Barbara Cartland.
Jacqueline-Charlotte Dufresnoy: French transsexual singer known as Coccinelle who, when she married a sports journalist at Notre-Dame cathedral, wore an off-the-nipple gown.
Peter Gurney: Author of The Sex Life of the Guinea Pig, whose visits with his menagerie to Great Ormond Street Hospital brought a smile to many a sickly little face. He never married but was survived by 40 guinea pigs.
Mickey Hargitay: Bodybuilder, and husband of Jayne Mansfield, whose waist measurement of 18 inches was the same as that of his biceps.
Wes Hill: Riverman who plied the waters at the foot of Niagara Falls. He saved 50 people from drowning and recovered the bodies of more than 400 suicides or unsuccessful adventurists.
Nguyen Van Hung: Known in Cambodia as "Hung Electric" for his ability to withstand shocks of many volts. While repairing a generator in Tay Ninh province without first having turned off the power, he was electrocuted.
Jo Jo Laine: The world's most accomplished groupie who bedded Jimi Hendrix, Rod Stewart, Jim Morrison, part of Wings and some of Black Sabbath. Cream's Ginger Baker said: "No sane man would go near her."
Bill Linksey: Anti-drink campaigner who was the member of Alcoholics Anonymous with the longest continuous record of sobriety - 53 years.
Romano Mussolini: Son of Il Duce who grew up to be first an accountant, and then a much-admired jazz pianist. He married a woman called Puccini.
William 'Bud' Post: One-time drifter who won $16.2m in a lottery, and spent it so swiftly that he had to live on benefits. He was married seven times.
His Majesty King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV of Tonga: At 35 stone, once officially recognised as the world's heaviest monarch.
Robert R Taylor Snr: the pioneer of crazy golf. His cortège should have gone to the cemetery via plastic wishing wells, under the sails of a model windmill and through the legs of a plaster Popeye - but it didn't.
Ron Taylor: Grandson of that rare being, a bare-knuckle boxing woman, and owner of Britain's last fairground prize-fighting ring.
Ed Warren: Ghost hunter who, with his wife Lorraine, investigated more than 10,000 hauntings around the world, seven out of eight of which started with people playing with a Ouija board.
Arthur Winston: Employee of Los Angeles public transport system for 76 years, and in all that time was never late, never sick, and took just one day off - to bury his wife of 65 years. He was back the following day and continued working until his 100th birthday.
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