OctoberFest in Peace

Dear CDT Reader,

There was just something about the end of this summer that didn't feel quite complete, wasn't there? It was almost as if the weather wasn't quite ready to change, or the calendar days were off-kilter, or there was some memo that forgot to get posted. Then we realized what it was: there was no end-of-the-summer Celebrity Death Trio! And it takes a CDT to really put that last bit of sand in our shorts, the final skin peel on our nose, and the last shot of tequila in our frozen margaritas.

Well, it's a week late, but we've got a CDT that finally allows us to say goodbye to summer and start breaking out the windbreakers, the scarecrows, and the nonstop campaign attack ads. Because now it's all about politics instead of the leaves turning red. And it's politics of the most moronic sort. There haven't been this many idiots running for elected office since the American Clown School stopped voting for class president.

But we digress. The CDT this week welcomes a group of guy's guys from La La Land who now are going to reside in Dante's Dreamland. Without further ado, let's get this party started, because as you'll see, these guys are already spiking the Purgatory punch.

Herewith, the departed.

• Tony Curtis
Actor. 85. Born Bernard Schwartz in the Bronx, Tony became a Hollywood leading man by playing, in equal turns, tough guys and comic leading men. Working his way up the entrenched studio system of the 1940s and 50s, he played good-looking guys with significant quirks, and for a while was typecast as part of a new generation of pretty boy, creating a pouty and pompadoured look that would be emulated by James Dean and Elvis Presley. But his acting skills won out, and he ultimately starred in big movies like "Spartacus," "Some Like It Hot," "The Boston Strangler," and the "The Defiant Ones," a movie about an escaped convict chained to a black escapee (Sidney Poitier, still alive, BTW) and for which Curtis garnered an Oscar nomination. He married "Psycho" scream queen star Janet Leigh in 1952, and they produced a daughter, "Hallowee" scream queen star Jamie Lee Curtis. That was his first marriage; he'd have 6 altogether by the time he died. But Curtis was an actor through and through, and appeared in movies and TV up to the age of 83.

• Eddie Fisher
Singer, womanizer. 82. Eddie was the Justin Bieber of his day, a teenybopper heartthrob in the 1950s who had a voice that was parlayed into a temporarily great career. Songs like "Wish Your Were Here" and "Oh! My PaPa" made Eddie a sensation, and he was given his own TV show after scoring twenty four Top 10 hits. Eddie capitalized on his success by marrying screen starlet Debbie Reynolds in 1955. Together, they became American's very own king and queen of the prom, right up until the moment Eddie's best friend, Todd Fisher, died. While the world was mourning Todd's death, Eddie showed his own heartbreak by dumping Debbie and marrying Todd's widow, Elizabeth Taylor (er, make that Todd's black widow). That little tryst cost Eddie his career, and he began a slow slide into drug and gambling addictions that made him little more than a musical footnote by the mid-1960s. It was even more painful for Eddie given that Taylor tossed him out of bed in favor of an even bigger drunk, Richard Burton. Eddie then married Connie Stevens on his way to acquiring 5 wives over the course of his lifetime. From the 1960s to the present, he played small theaters, the occasional Vegas venue, and little else. He's remembered primarily as the booze-addled dad of drug-addled Carrie "Princess Leia" Fisher. It's apparent that that particular Star Wars action figure didn't fall far from the Death Star. Interestingly, Eddie was one of those pretty boys in the 1950s who was cut from the same cloth as Tony Curtis.

• Greg Giraldo
Comedian. 44. Giraldo was one of the regulars on Comedy Central, appearing on nearly all of its variety shows from "Last Comic Standing" and "Tough Crowd" on to the ubiquitous semi-celebrity roasts that frequently haunt the channel. Giraldo's shtick was that he was the one comic who just couldn't get famous, but in reality he had a monstrous following (when his death was announced, it was the most twittered event of the night) and had once had his own sitcom, albeit a short-lived one . . . kind of like his real life. Greg took a strange road to the local laff lounge: he was a Columbia grad who then got a law degree from Harvard and worked as a lawyer in New York before chucking it all to do standup comedy. His style was one of barbed insults and scathing observation: he once said of filmmaker Michael Moore that "If you're going to dedicate your career to ranting about the excesses of American capitalism, you probably shouldn't weigh 450 pounds." In 2004, one of his rants became a radio hit when it was set to music and broadcast as "Underwear Goes Inside The Pants." He struggled with alcohol addiction, and apparently died of an overdose of prescription medication. The world got a little less funny when he died, and his brand of insults will be missed by those of us who write the words here at the Celebrity Death Trio World Headquarters. BTW, Greg is the only one of the CDTers this issue to not have at least 5 wives and one incredibly famous actress daughter.

RIP, one and all. Wait a moment, we just got a text from Stephen J. Cannell, the creator of "The A-Team," "Baretta," and "The Rockford Files." Wonder what his next big project is going to be . . .

Sizzling Summer Bummer

Dear CDT Reader,

Just like us, you were probably thinking that the best respite from this summer of stifling heat and humidity would be a nice cool breeze of Celebrity Death Trio prose. And just when you thought it might never arrive -- like some doomed ice cream truck with a failed transmission -- the CDT shows up with an icy blast that has all the refreshing chill of a morgue at midnight.

It was a bad week for corrupt politicians (although New York Congressman Charlie Rangel still manages to duck the Reaper's call) and octogenarians (although New York Congressman Charlie Rangel is 80). Wow. Somebody's living day to day . . .

But we digress. Enjoy this pre-weekend edition of the CDT much as you would a sparkling gin and tonic. And don't forget to lift that gin and tonic to salute our terminal trio as they seek to protect themselves from the heat of the sun with six feet of freshly shoveled Earth.

Herewith, the departed.

• Ted Stevens
Politician. 86. A nasty piece of political work who died in a plane crash, Stevens' career went down in flames long before he did. Teddy Boy once said that the Internet needed to be regulated because after all, it was a "series of tubes" that could get clogged when people sent "Internets" to each other. Oh, and he had just written the Senate's telecom reform bill when he said that. He also supported the "bridge to nowhere" which would have taken more than three hundred million of your taxpayer dollars and used it to connect a tiny island of 50 inhabitants to mainland Alaska. He was accused and convicted of accepting corporate gifts in 2008, which caused him to lose his bid for re-election (he was the longest serving Republican Senator in history). The conviction was later overturned but the damage had been done. Interestingly, Stevens had already survived one plane crash in his life -- that one killed his wife -- and often said he expected to die in an aviation accident.

• Patricia Neal
Actress. 84. A great film and Broadway presence who struggled with major health problems throughout her career, Neal was known for her craggy voice and darting eyes. She started out in theater and jumped to movies in 1949 with "The Fountainhead," followed by the sci-fi classic "The Day The Earth Stood Still." She played a brilliant promoter in "A Face In The Crowd" (one of the greatest movies of all time; rent it tonight!), as well as the housekeeper in "Hud," for which she received an Academy Award. During her career, she was struck down by paralyzing strokes, as well as nervous breakdowns, and two of her children suffered from brain injuries. Many of her own medical problems occurred while she was married to Roald Dahl, author of "Charlie & The Chocolate Factory" (that's Willie Wonka, to you) and "James & The Giant Peach." Patricia actually played the role of Ma Walton in the series pilot of "The Waltons," but was deemed too frail to do a full series.

• Dan Rostenkowski
Politician. 82. A career Chicago politician, Rostenkowski played hardball politics in D.C. with such skill it was like watching Mike Tyson slug it out in a nursery school. While in his early 20s, he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, and was enlisted by the Democratic Party to help with JFK's run for president. From that point forward, Rostie was a major player in the party. He became a U.S. Senator in 1959 and served until 1995. During that time, he bulldozed some significant pieces of legislation through Congress, notably bills addressing tax reform and deficit reduction. His career abruptly ended when he was found to be paying people for work they didn't do, and abusing House privileges. He was convicted in 1996 of mail fraud and served 15 months in prison in Oxford, Wisconsin. Rostie called it his "Oxford education." If he learned anything, we'll never know.

RIP, one and all.

Oil And Water Remix

Dear CDT™ Reader,

It's been said that "when it rains, it pours." But it that ever really accurate? For instance, if you live in Louisiana, when it rains it becomes a hurricane, and then it becomes Katrina, and then it becomes a flood, and later it becomes an oil rig disaster, and then it becomes the world's largest oil spill, and then it's only a matter of time until God himself shows up with a fistful of plague in one hand and a river of blood in the other. That's not rain pouring down. That's damnation by the tanker-full.

God's been showing up a lot lately in the celebrity world, which is rare for him since those of us at the Celebrity Death Trio™ World Headquarters were pretty much convinced he was taking 2010 off to catch up on long-overdue mining disasters, volcanic explosions, earthquakes, sinkholes, and other assorted terrestrial housekeeping matters. But just like the proverbial rains, God's made a point of drenching us the past couple of weeks. CDT staffers were caught napping a week and a half ago, sure, but we barely had time to kick our feet up again when three more celebs decided to ring off and join the Choir Invisible.

Since the floodwaters are rising, and time's a-wasting, we're going to dive right in and do a few laps with our soon-to-be-sodden celebs, who are all quite content doing the dead man's float.

Herewith, the departed.

• Art Linketter
TV host and author. 97. Art turned an uncanny ability to catch people off-guard during casual conversation into a lifelong career. During his daytime show, "House Party" -- which ran from 1952 to 1969 -- he'd bring on kids to "say the darndest things." Some of the things those tykes revealed back then would today get their parents a one-way trip to the local child protective services agency. Contrary to popular opinion, Art didn't emerge from the womb ready to host TV shows and write about baby bon mots. He first traveled the U.S. by riding freight trains and doing odd jobs, worked on Wall Street as a typist on the day the market crashed in 1929, and then did live radio from state fairs in the 1930s and 40s. TV fame was icing on the cake, and he was one of the longest running stars in the history of daytime TV. Linkletter became a fervent anti-drug crusader after his daughter committed suicide, although an autopsy revealed no trace of the LSD Linkletter believed she took. Clean living, and a regular exercise regimen, apparently kept Art in the pink well into his 90s.

• Gary Coleman
Former child star. 42. We barely know where to start with this one. Coleman's life was like a human BP oil rig from the moment his famous TV sitcom, "Diff'rent Strokes" went off the air. Sure, Gary was cute as a bug's belly button when he was four feet tall and 10 years old. But the humor dried up when he was 30 years old and still four feet tall. (Coleman suffered from a congenital kidney disease that stunted his growth.) His parents single-handedly destroyed his mini-fortune, and Gary spent the rest of his life being pissed off about it, naturally so. He appeared from time to time in the weirdest of places - running for California governor, working as a security guard, the occasional movie - and his life became fodder for tabloids and late night comedians. He was often in poor health, and his death came as result of a brain hemorrhage after a fall. He and Corey Haim (featured in the March 2010 edition of the CDT) are sure to be duking it out in the afterlife over who gets to be the eternal poster boy for the perils of being labeled "a former child actor."

• Dennis Hopper
Actor. 74. Hopper was everyone's favorite twisted Hollywood guy, right after Jack Nicholson. He had small roles in great movies like "Rebel Without A Cause," "Giant," and "Cool Hand Luke" before he made his star turn in "Easy Rider," a film he directed, co-wrote and starred in with Nicholson (not to mention being featured in a million posters riding a motorcycle with his middle finger extended). But a candystore fondness for drugs immediately derailed his career, and it took a while for him to get serious roles. Hopper came back to prominence as an actor willing to take big risks, starring in "Apocalypse Now" and then "Hoosiers," for which he received an Academy Award nomination. His over the top performance as nutjob Frank Booth in "Blue Velvet" is still one of the creepiest performances in the history of film, while his standoff with Christopher Walken in "True Romance" might be one of the hair-raisingly tense moments ever recorded. Ultimately, the drugs didn't kill Dennis. Prostate cancer did. You'd have thought all the drugs would have killed the cancer. Go figure.

RIP, one and all.

* * *

PS. We hear Rue McLanahan knocking at our front door. Wonder what she wants?

Song, Sorcery, & Cemeteries

Dear CDT™ Reader,

There are times when you wonder if anyone knows whether you're alive or dead. That's the way the staff at the Celebrity Death Trio™ World Headquarters has been feeling this year. Despite our best efforts, the world of celebrity deaths has only produced two - yes, only two - CDTs in all of 2010. Maybe it's a reaction to the Bush White House years, when celebs were dying faster than canaries, and miners, in a West Virginia coalmine. Maybe it's because celebs are feeling better about the economy, or they want to stick around and see whether Sarah Palin actually bursts into flames on national TV. Whatever the reason, the CDT offices have been quieter than a family dinner at Tiger Woods' house.

That's why we got caught napping when our latest terminal triumvirate checked in at the front desk asking for the Permanent Paradise Suite here at the Cemetery Spa and Resurrection Resort. We weren't ready with a clean room ("cremated for your protection"), clean sheets (ghosts need 'em), or even a working wifi connection. Especially disconcerting was that two of our new guests made their former livings turning images of demons, swords, sorcerors, dungeons, and dragons into cultural phenomena. Like anyone expected THAT kind of coincidence to happen.

So we're a little late in catching up, but as you can see, we're hell-bent on making up for lost time. Plus, it's not like any of the celebs were dying to read this. After all, they're already dead; getting included in the CDT is just icing on the cake. So let's pay a fond farewell to another group of the graciously grave-bound, and toast them as they prepare for a final dinner at Beelzebub's Big Time BBQ.

Herewith, the departed.

• Lena Horne
Singer and actress. 92. Lena was a stunning woman who was among the very first to break the color barrier in Hollywood. After establishing herself as a dynamic singer and stage performer in the 30s, the movie studios came calling. But Lena didn't jump at the opportunity, and waited out the suits in Tinsel Town until they started treating her the same way they treated white actresses. Not that white actresses were treated all that well, but black actresses were all treated with the kind of respect reserved for house maids ands Aunt Jemima stand-ins. Ultimately, it wasn't a good fit, and Lena returned to the stage and the recording studio. Horne was defiant in her pursuit of civil rights, refusing to perform for segregated audiences, or allow promoters to book her and her band in to segregated hotels. She sang well into her 80s, recording as recently as 2000.

• Frank Frazetta
Artist. 82. Frazetta defined an entire genre of pop culture art based on bare-chested warriors, barely clad vixens, and gobs of destruction and death-dealing. A child prodigy, Frazetta attended the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts at age 8. After working as a teen artist on numerous comic book series during the 1940s and 50s, he took to doing movie posters. But real success came in the 1960s when the images he created for the cover of Conan The Barbarian paperback books became the basis for everything from comic books to videogames to sword & sorcery movies, not to mention hard rock album covers (he created the iconic riders for Molly Hatchet's albums). For the last 40 years, Frazetta was the go-to guy for fantasy images of subjects ranging from Tarzan to science fiction soldiers. It's been claimed that some publishers would decide on the story for a paperback only after they'd gotten a cover image from Frazetta. He could easily have provided the paint-by-numbers guide to our next guest . . .

• Ronnie James Dio
Singer. 67. Dio was born Ronald James Padavona, but took the name Dio from a famous New York gangster named Giovanni "Johnny Dio" DioGuardi. He slogged it out in several regional rock bands in the 1960s and 70s before catching the ear of Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. Upon quitting Purple, Blackmore hired Dio in 1975 to form Rainbow, a band that set the standard for swords and sorcery imagery that would pervade heavy metal for decades to follow. Dio then replaced Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath before becoming a solo act. Dio's voice, one of the best in the history of rock (and certainly metal) was incredibly distinctive, as was his diminutive stature, and his use of the "devil horns" hand sign. Most observers credit Dio with popularizing the hand sign amongst heavy metal fans . . . and his fans were legion. Ronnie James was considered one of the nicest guys in a not-very-nice business, and he was singing with his band Heaven And Hell just up until he was diagnosed with stomach cancer.

RIP, one and all.