Charlie Watts, the drummer of the Rolling Stones, died today at the age of 80. He passed away peacefully in London, surrounded by his family.
This one is hitting me hard. Charlie Watts was one of my drumming heroes. He was also the underrated glue that held the Stones together, the steadying influence that controlled the chaos that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards released on stage. He was a key member of the band but, because he was so self-effacing, he was often underrated. In many ways, he was the perfect drummer. While the lead singer and the lead guitarist prowled the front of the stage, Watts stayed in the background and produced the beat that propelled the Stones’s best songs.
Not only was Charlie Watts one of the best drummer, he was also perhaps the best dressed drummer to ever grace the stage. By most accounts, Charlie Watts a gentlemen, through and through, one who stayed loyal to his wife despite the temptations of the road and who often viewed touring as member of the world’s most dangerous band with a bemused wit. Reportedly, he was the only member of the band to openly cry when they first learned that co-founder Brian Jones had drowned. In the documentary Gimme Shelter, while Mick Jagger remains detached while watching the Hell’s Angels kill Meredith Hunter while the Stones perform at the Altamont Free Concert, Watts is clearly upset by the violence unfolding on the monitors before him.
Today, Richard Lamm is a forgotten figure but, for several years, he was a big deal. He served as governor of Colorado from 1975 to 1987 and he was a part of the “New Democat” movement that included Bill Clinton and Gary Hart. Lamm was nicknamed Governor Gloom because he always framed everything in apocalyptic terms. Lamm famously said that he supported euthanasia because the elderly sometimes have a duty to die so as not to overburden the social safety net.
Lamm ran for President in 1996, as a candidate for the Reform Party nomination. As soon as Lamm announced he was running, Ross Perot announced that he would be a candidate as well. It’s been speculated that Perot encouraged Lamm to run specifically so Perot could then beat him at the Reform Convention. In the summer of 1996, I was 13 and already getting into politics. C-Span aired the Reform Party Convention and I’ll never forget the look of shock, horror, and anger on Richard Lamm’s face as he realized that Perot had essentially set him up. Lamm ended up getting 34% of the vote in the Reform Party’s national primary. Perot received the other 66%. While I doubt Lamm would have made much of an impact if he had won the nomination, nominating Lamm probably would have allowed the Reform Party a chance to escape from Perot’s shadow. As it is, the Reform Party went from being a mini-major party to a political joke in the span of just one election cycle.
(It’s always amazed me how the Reform Party could go from nominating Pat Buchanan in 2000 to Ralph Nader in 2004.)
Mike Enzi, who represented Wyoming in the U.S. Senate from 1997 until the start of the current Congress, died earlier today. He was apparently struck by a car while riding his bike.
While Enzi never got much national attention, he was a popular figure in Wyoming and he served his constituents well. He was respected and how many politicians can you say that about? Before Liz Cheney became the media’s favorite Republican, she tried to primary Mike Enzi by claiming he was insufficiently conservative and too moderate on social issues because he supported changing the law to allow gay men to donate blood. The voters of Wyoming weren’t buying what Liz was selling and she had to settle for a seat in the House. Enzi went on to serve his state and look after its interests. He may not have been a national figure but he was exactly what a senator should be.
By most account, he was a decent man. It seems like most of his political career was spent being a good soldier and getting promoted to higher office as a result. He was appointed to the office of being Minnesota’s attorney general. He was appointed to the U.S. Senate. He was selected to be run for vice president. In 1984, he ran for president and was the choice of party insiders. He still nearly lost the nomination to Gary Hart before then losing to Ronald Reagan in a historic landslide. Later, he was appointed to be ambassador to Japan and, in his final political race, he was selected by a committee to run for the Senate in 2002 after Paul Wellstone’s tragic death. (In retrospect, his defeat in that race was an indication of both the passing of the old political class and of how much politics was abut to change as America entered a new century.)
He outlived his 1984 running mate, Geraldine Ferraro, by nearly ten years. With his passing, there are now 5 former living Vice Presidents: Quayle, Gore, Cheney, Biden, and Pence. Biden is currently president. Pence appears to be making moves to run in 2024. In fact, of that group, Cheney is the only one who hasn’t ever run for President.
Larry Flynt died yesterday. I was under the impression that he had died years ago but apparently not.
Probably the best thing that ever happened to Larry Flynt is that Woody Harrelson played him in The People vs. Larry Flynt. When most people talk about Larry Flynt, they’re not really talking about Flynt. Instead, they’re talking about Woody Harrelson-as-Larry-Flynt. Harrelson-as-Flynt was a charismatic ne’er-do-well who fought for the 1st amendment and who was redeemed by his love for Althea. The real Larry Flynt was a man with shady past and an extensive criminal record (including once attempting to shoot his own mother). He once argued that rape wasn’t a big deal and his daughters accused him of molesting them.
No one can deny that he was a successful publisher. He knew what men wanted to see and obviously, he knew how to promote himself. Unlike Hugh Hefner, he never pretended to be an intellectual. In 2003, Flynt reportedly purchased nude photographs of Jessica Lynch and then refused to publish them, saying that Lynch was a “good kid” who was being used as a pawn by the government. It’s hard to imagine either Hefner or Bob Guccione doing the same thing.
Today, the idea of people going to monthly magazines for their porn seems quaint. Playboy, Penthouse, Hustler — all of that’s moved to the internet. Would the internet be a different place today is Flynt had never been born? Probably not. If Larry Flynt hadn’t done it first, someone else would have. Sex sells.
Hearing that Kelly Preston died yesterday really hurts.
If you were growing up in the late 80s or the 90s, Kelly Preston was probably one of your first crushes. She was undeniably beautiful but she was also a good actress, though she never really got as many roles as she deserved. She was usually just cast as “the girlfriend” or occasionally “the wife.” She appeared in several romantic comedies as the bad girl who would inevitably tempt the film’s star away from the girl that he was meant to be with. There were only a few films — like Alexander Payne’s Citizen Ruth — where she really got to show what she could do. But even when she played a stereotypical role, she always did it with so much skill that you got the feeling that there was more going on beneath the surface. Even when she played a character who was meant to be unsympathetic, it was hard not to like her.
Her films were popular on HBO and Cinemax when I was growing up. Later on, I guess she was best known for being married to John Travolta. I read somewhere the she stepped back from acting so that she could raise their family. Even when she was in her 40s and her 50s, she still seemed came across as being just as youthful and energetic as she did in the films that she made when she was a teenager. I think her death has left us all feeling a little bit older today.
I was sorry to learn that Jerry Stiller died yesterday. I guess most people my age probably know him best as Frank Costanza on Seinfeld. (I never watched The King of Queens, though I know he had a lot of fans from his role on that show as well.) We’ll always remember Jerry Stiller explaining how Festivus came to be and for shouting “Serenity Now!” whenever the world got to be too much for him. Jerry Stiller could even make the simple act of shouting funny.
Long before he played Frank, Jerry was best-known as the husband and the comedy partner of Anne Meara. (Their son, of course, is Ben Stiller.) Here are two of Stiller & Meara’s routines, one from the Ed Sullivan Show and one from the Johnny Carson show:
And finally, from Seinfeld, here is the Story of Festivus: