Dancing on their graves: <u>Do</u> speak ill of the dead

The death of Ike Turner has elicited the frostiest of responses from the ex-wife he abused for years. But Tina Turner is not alone: some people refuse to follow the rules when their enemies pass away. Andy McSmith recalls some memorable last words
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'Tina is aware that Ike passed away today... no further comment will be made'

Michele Schweitzer, Tina Turner's spokeswoman

There was a time when Ike and Tina Turner seemed destined to be the greatest musical partnership in America. But that was long, long ago. Their biggest hit, "River Deep, Mountain High" was a chart buster in 1966.

Ike naturally saw himself as the senior partner. He had been playing the blues since the late 1930s and, in 1951, made what was hailed as the first rock 'n' roll record, "Rocket 88", which spent five weeks at No 1 in the rhythm and blues chart. In 1960 he launched the career of Anna Mae Bullock, who was pregnant with his child, by having her sing the lead vocal on "A Fool in Love", which was a massive hit.

She then changed her name to Tina Turner, and the band became the Ike and Tina Turner Revue. It broke up in the 1970s, after the couple had had a violent argument. The divorce settlement was one of the most notorious in show business history: he kept every cent they had earned together.

But she was the one who rebuilt a singing career. As a solo artist, she was bigger than she had ever been while they were working together, whereas he ended up in jail because of his drug addiction. In 1986, she published an autobiography that destroyed what was left of his reputation. He came over as a violent, bullying husband.

'It's a drag, innit?'

Paul Mccartney on John Lennon's murder

Lennon and McCartney were a dream team when they were young, but, from about 1964, they were, in effect, working apart as songwriters and, by the end of the decade their relationship, had broken down. McCartney liked to write sentimental love songs such as "Yesterday", Lennon liked rock songs. McCartney's songs were "a load of rubbish", Lennon said after the break-up, adding McCartney "couldn't rock if he tried" an opinion that did not inhibit Lennon from pocketing half the royalties from songs such as "Yesterday", the biggest money earner by far in the catalogue.

In 1971, McCartney got a bit of his own back with a song called "Too Many People", which was a dig at Lennon and his new wife, Yoko Ono. Lennon replied with a song called "How Do You Sleep?" with the line "The only thing you done was yesterday, and since you're gone you're just another day."

This tit-for-tat came to a sudden end when Lennon was shot dead by a stalker Mark Chapman on 8 December 1980.

McCartney was in a recording studio that day. Cornered by journalists and asked for a reaction, he came out with a laconic statement, in complete contrast to the emotion-filled tributes that had been pouring in from people who knew Lennon far less well.

Later, he explained: "I had just finished a whole day in shock and I said, 'It's a drag'. I meant drag in the heaviest sense of the word, you know: 'It's a — DRAG'. But, you know, when you look at that in print, it says, 'Yes, it's a drag.' Matter of fact."

'Everything about her life has been a pernicious confection'

John Osborne on Jill Bennett

The marriage of the playwright John Osborne and the actress Jill Bennett was not a tranquil or successful one.

Osborne, who won an Oscar in 1964 for Tom Jones, was a notorious misogynist, who did not go to his mother's funeral because, in his view, she was a "grabbing, uncaring crone".

He proposed to one of his wives by saying: "Will you marry me? It's risky, but you'd get fucked regularly". He even disowned his daughter. "Nolan's birthday," he wrote in his notebook when his daughter turned 22. "God rot her."

So there were always likely to be problems when he got married for the fourth time, in 1968, to Jill Bennett, his disposition having been made worse by the realisation that he was no longer Britain's leading playwright.

He wrote letters to her addressed to "Mrs Adolf Hitler, Pouffs' Palace" and on the night before she was due on stage for a premiere, he drove so recklessly that she suffered a broken ankle.

But at least for a while, it seemed that Bennett, who starred in films such as The Nanny and The Charge of the Light Brigade, was able to give as good as she got. "Look at him," she would tell others in his hearing, "the pooftah can't even get it up." According to one of Osborne's dairy entries: "JB said: 'I was written out. Disliked by all at the (Royal) Court (Theatre). Always a hopeless fuck. Even the queers don't fancy me, because my eyes are too close together. Couldn't think how I earned my money!'"

The marriage ended in divorce in 1977. Its terms prevented him speaking about her, but as soon he heard that she had committed suicide, he inserted a shockingly spiteful eulogy to her into his autobiography.

'My father has damaged so many people, so viciously'

Linda Plentl on Hughie Green

For more than 20 years, Hughie Green was one of the most popular figures on British television, the host of the game show Double Your Money, and then of Opportunity Knocks, which drew audiences of around 18 million. The show was axed by Thames Television in 1978, partly because of Green's habit of treating viewers to his right-wing politics.

Four years earlier, Yorkshire Television had to axe its religious programme Stars on Sunday when its presenter, Jess Yates, known as "the Bishop", was exposed as having an affair with a young actress. His wife was Elaine Smith, who had a child, Paula Yates. She grew up believing her father was Jess Yates.

In 1997, Green died from cancer, and a friend told disbelieving mourners that the old game show host was the real father of Paula Yates. A DNA test confirmed the claim. On discovering that she had a half-sister, Green's daughter, Linda, made an outspoken statement about her father's selfishness and the thoughtlessness of Paula Yates's mother in allowing the DNA test.

Paula Yates, who died of a drugs overdose in 2000, came to fame in the 1980s as a TV presenter. She was married to Bob Geldof for 10 years.

'It is no longer an event; it is only a piece of news'

Talleyrand on Napoleon's death on St Helena

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Prigord, who was nicknamed the "limping devil" because of a birth defect in his legs, was one of France's greatest diplomats, the country's first prime minister and one of the most slithery political operators of all time.

He prospered under King Louis XVI, becoming a bishop by the age of 35, but adapted effortlessly to the Revolution, during which he served as ambassador to England. Following the execution of Robespierre, he was appointed foreign affairs minister, continuing in this post under Napoleon, who sent him to negotiate with Russia. When the talks failed, Talleyrand in effect became a Russian agent, while outwardly serving Napoleon. When Napoleon was overthrown, he emerged as president of the provisional government and then, briefly, as a minister in Louis XVIII's government. After Louis was overthrown in 1830, the new king made Talleyrand his ambassador to England again.

Talleyrand had always looked down on Napoleon as a Corsican peasant who never learnt proper manners hence his withering and accurate reaction to Napoleon's death. Meanwhile, his reputation for political manoeuvring was so great that when he finally died, aged 76, his rival diplomat Metternich is alleged to have said: "I wonder what he meant by that?".

Other historians claim that it was really Talleyrand's joke and Metternich simply stole it from him.

'How could they tell?'

Dorothy Parker after being told of the death of Calvin Coolidge

What is there to be said about Calvin Coolidge? He was President of the US for nearly six years after the scandal-ridden Warren Harding died of a heart attack in 1923 but don't feel bad if you didn't know that: he spent his years in office doing nothing that would make him noticed. He barely spoke. A young woman sitting next to him at dinner told him she had taken a bet that she couldn't get three words of conversation out of him. "You lose," he replied. As his term ended, he announced: "I do not choose to run for President in 1928." He died five years later. The writer and poet Dorothy Parker, by contrast, was part of a group known as the Round Table, who valued wit above almost any other quality. In her old age she lamented having belonged to "the terrible age of the wisecrack" but at least she left something to be remembered by.

'His world was a coterie of reactionary old fogeys'

Polly Toynbee on Auberon Waugh

When the journalist Auberon Waugh died in 2001, aged 61, the obituaries glowed like the setting sun. Everyone agreed he was a good sort and great fun everyone, that is, except The Guardian's Polly Toynbee. She wrote a tirade against him and the right-wing journalists with whom he associated, saying: "The world of Auberon Waugh is a coterie of reactionary fogeys. Effete, drunken, snobbish, sneering, racist and sexist, they spit poison at anyone vulgar enough to want to improve anything at all."

The columnist Matthew Parris said it was "one of the finest pieces of journalism I have read".