Category: Sad News

Bob Anderson

RIP: 1922-2012

There is no doubt that sword fighting can be a vicious, brutal form of combat. The damage a blade can do to an unprotected body is staggering. It’s dangerous regardless of which side of the weapon you’re on.

It’s also sexy as hell.

Thrust and parry, lunge and retreat, en guard, riposte all combined to make a sword fight as graceful as it was deadly; a beautiful balance between strength, grace, steel and flesh.

No one knew this better than Bob Anderson, Hollywood’s sword fighting virtuoso who passed away yesterday at the age of 89.

After retiring from competitive fencing in 1952, Bob started working as a stunt man in Hollywood movies, where his first job was to stage fights and coach Errol Flinn in The Master of Ballantrae . Over the years, he became the most sought after fight coordinator and sword master in Hollywood, working continuously for six decades on some of the most notable films of all times including the James Bond films From Russia with Love, Die Another Day, Highlander, The Princess Bride, The Mask of Zorro, the Star Wars Trilogy and Lord of the Rings.

A quiet man, it was years before his true contribution to the Star Wars films was fully known. For years it was believed that he merely coached and choreographed the fight scenes for The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. In fact, Anderson was performing in those fight scenes, a fact that George Lucas wanted buried for fear it would adversely affect David Prowses career. The deception did not sit well with actor Mark Hamill, who finally revealed the truth in a Starlog interview in 1983:

“It was always supposed to be a secret, but I finally told (director) George (Lucas) I didn’t think it was fair any more. Bob worked so bloody hard that he deserves some recognition. It’s ridiculous to preserve the myth that it’s all done by one man.”

According to Leon Hill, Anderson’s assistant:

“David Prowse wasn’t very good with a sword and Bob couldn’t get him to do the moves. Fortunately Bob could just don the costume and do it himself.”

Anderson’s best work was arguably done on the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Not only did he train the actors and choreograph the fight scenes he also developed individual fighting styles for each of the cultures of Middle Earth based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s descriptions in the text. His genius is seen most notably in the Weathertop sequence from The Fellowship of the Ring, where Aragorn fights his first battle against the Ringwraiths. Remember that this was Viggo Mortensen’s first day of shooting, only arriving in New Zealand a few days before. It is a testament to Bob Anderson’s skill as both a choreographer and teacher (and Viggo as a student) that they were able to pull off the scene as amazingly well as they did with so little preparation.

I first became a fan of Anderson’s after seeing the movie Highlander, although I didn’t know it at the time. After seeing the battles between Christopher Lambert and Clancy Brown, I walked away wanting to be able to do that; to dance with a blade whirling around me. It was so fluid and beautiful and I was left in awe.

Rest well Bob. Thank you for the amazing legacy. Think I’m going to download Reclaiming the Blade from Netflix tonight.

RIP Harvey Pekar - 1939-2010

RIP 1939-2010

“…In the long run, we’re all dead anyway.”

– Harvey Pekar, The Quitter, 2005

Harvey Pekar, the genius author behind American Splendor has died. He was 70 years old.

Pekar began his chronicle of everyday life in 1976 while he was working as a file clerk at Cleveland’s Veterans Hospital. American Splendor was an unflinching look at Pekar’s mundane and seemingly pointless interactions between himself and co-workers and hospital patients. As it evolved, American Splendor became an ongoing biography of Harvey’s life, his trials, foibles, worries and anxieties, eventually expanding to include his relationships with his wife Joyce Brabner and his adopted daughter Danielle. Harvey never pulled any punches, most notably when writing about his fight against lymphoma in ‘Our Cancer Year’, published in 1994. He would go on to write about jazz, the artists with whom he collaborated, the making of the movie American Splendor staring Paul Giamatti, and the wartime experiences of his friend and coworker Robert McNeill in Vietnam.

Pekar worked with some of the greatest comic artists of this century to produce American Splendor including: R. Crumb, Gary Dumm, Greg Budgett, Spain Rodriguez, Joe Zabel, Gerry Shamray, Frank Stack, Mark Zingarelli, and Joe Sacco. More recently Harvey teamed up with artists Dean Haspiel and Josh Neufeld and cartoonists Jim Woodring, Chester Brown, Alison Bechdel, Gilbert Hernandez, Eddie Campbell, David Collier, Drew Friedman, Ho Che Anderson, Rick Geary, Ed Piskor, Hunt Emerson, Bob Fingerman, Alex Wald and even legendary comics writer Alan Moore.

It was R. Crumb who first started working with Pekar on what would become American Splendor after they met in 1962. It was Harvey’s contention that comic books could be used to tell more than formulaic fantasy stories, that they could be something more:

When I was a little kid, and I was reading these comics in the ’40s, I kind of got sick of them because after a while, they were just formulaic. I figured there was some kind of a flaw that keeps them from getting better than they are, and then when I saw Robert Crumb’s work in the early ’60s, when he moved from Philadelphia to Cleveland, and he moved around the corner from me, I thought ‘Man, comics are where it’s at’.

Always irascible and opinionated, Pekar appeared multiple times as a guest on Late Night with David Letterman during the 1980’s until he was banned for wearing a t-shirt declaring himself to be “On Strike Against NBC”, railing against NBC’s parent company GE and accusing Letterman himself of being a corporate shill. According to Harvey:

[W]ith Letterman … you either lay down and let him insult you or you do something about it. Most people keep their mouth shut and let him dump on them. I don’t wanna do that.

Goodbye Harvey, you were authentic, original and thought provoking. We were all much better for having know you. You shall be missed.

Frank Frazetta - 1928 - 2010

RIP: 1928 - 2010

Noted fantasy artist Frank Frazetta passed away today in Florida. He was 82 and still painting.

Frazetta will probably be best remembered for his artwork for the Conan the Barbarian novels, although he also created iconic covers for both Tarzan and the John Carter of Mars series. He never read any of Rice Burroughs novels, saying instead:

“I didn’t read any of it… I drew him my way. It was really rugged. And it caught on. I didn’t care about what people thought. People who bought the books never complained about it. They probably didn’t read them.”

Frazetta worked in multiple fields, creating art for comic books (Shining Knight), daily comic strips (Lil’ Abner, Flash Gordon), movie posters (What’s New Pussycat, The Gauntlet), album covers and even an animated movie, Fire and Ice, released in 1983.

Conan the Conqueror - Frank FrazettaWorking commercially mainly in oils, Frazetta also painted in watercolour, pen and ink or simply sketched with pencils. His cover art for Edgar Rice Burrough’s “Escape on Venus” sold at auction for $251,000 in 2008. His work reached the $1 million mark in 2009 when his painting “Conan the Conqueror” sold to a private collector in 2009.

In later life, Frazetta was plagued by health challenges, a thyroid problem and a series of strokes diminished his manual dexterity, making it difficult to paint. Undaunted, Frazetta switched to his left hand, and continued painting until his death.

I’ve never read any of the Conan books, or Tarzan for that matter, but when I think of those characters, the image in my mind’s eye is invariably one painted by Frank Frazetta. You couldn’t spend the amount of time that I did in the Fantasy section of the local book store and not be influenced by his work. I was always fascinated by his use of light and shadow. It lent a heaviness to his work that suited what I knew of those characters, they were dangerous, unpredictable and raw and his images captured that perfectly.

I also have to admit to wondering how the heck those little metal bikini’s stayed on those busty women.

Frank Frazetta influenced so many modern day fantasy artists including Boris Vallejo and Yusuke Nakano, the lead artist for Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda video game series . The field may not be as thriving as it is today if it weren’t for him.

He will be missed.

Vampirella - Frank FrazettaWhat's New Pussycat - Frank FrazettaThe Brain - Frank FrazettaJohn  Carter of MarsTarzan - Frank FrazettaGollum - Frank Frazetta

Via: Associated Press

John Schoenherr - 1953-2010

RIP: 1953-2010

The man once described by Frank Herbert as being “the only man who has ever visited Dune”, John Schoenherr, passed away last Thursday. He was 74.

Schoenherr is best know for his two anthologies of illustrations depicting life on the spice planet, “Dune World” and “The Prophet of Dune”. Both were published by Analog Magazine back in 1963 and 1965. His drawings from the ’65 collection earned him a Hugo Award for Best New Artist.  Over the course of 20 years, beginning in 1950, Schoenherr created hundreds of images to populate the visual library of the fantastical realm that is Science Fiction, including the covers for the Dune series.

As well as working on Dune, Schoenherr also worked with Anne McCaffrey on “Weyr Search”, the first Pern story and placed his visual stamp on not one but two of the most popular science fiction series created in the last 50 years.

After 1970, Schoenherr returned to the world of Dune only once, creating new art for The Illustrated Dune. He continued to be an award  illustrator of children’s books, he won the Caldecott medal for his work on Jane Yolen’s Owl Moon in 1988, and wildlife artist.

John Schoenherr - DuneI remember buying Dune when I was twelve before heading off to summer camp. I needed something to read, but didn’t want to spend too much money on a book that would get wet and sandy, so I headed off to the local used book store. At the time, I wanted to impress the boys so I decided to buy something as un-girly as possible (my grasp of what impressed boys at the time was a little tenuous),. This lead me to to purchase some hard SF, my first foray into the genre, so we’d have something to talk about. I remember picking up a beat up copy of Dune and being entranced by the illustration on the cover. What was this world? What was going on? Was that a mountain or… something else? That painting opened up a whole new world for me, one that I’ve enjoyed immensely over the years. I’m tremendously grateful to John Schoenherr for opening the door on that new world for me because it was his image that first drew me in.

Who says you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover?

Other illustrations by John Schoenherr

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, illustrate by John Schoenherr, 1987 Ursa Major, 1981
Weyr Search by Anne McCaffrey, 1967 Leto - Analog Magazine, Dune World
Malcolm McLaren - 1946-2010

RIP: 1946-2010

Malcolm McLaren has died. He was 64.

McLaren is widely credited defining the British punk rock movement, although he claimed to have invented it.  While living in New York in the early seventies, he managed the New York Dolls and Television. Upon his return to London he took on a management role with the group The Stand which eventually evolved into the notorious Sex Pistols with John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten on vocals, Steve Jones on guitar, Paul Cook playing drums and Sid Vicious replacing Glen Matlock on bass. The original plan was to use the band to promote his S&M fashion shop that he managed with designer and partner Vivienne Westwood.

McLaren was a consummate showman and agitator, organizing the Sex Pistols performance of God Save the Queen on the Thames outside of the British Parliament that was quickly shut down by police, but not before cementing the band’s reputation as rebels and anarchists.  He continued to squire the band throughout their career until they imploded during their first North American tour in 1979. He maintained all rights to the Sex Pistols’ catalogue and royalties until 1987 when John Lydon finally won the case against him.

His post Sex Pistols career was just as storied, managing Bow Wow Wow and producing his own albums such as “Duck Rock” in 1983 and “Waltz Darling” in 1989. Most recently he served as producer for the documentary hit Fast Food Nation.

According to Jon Savage, a music journalist who wrote the definitive story of McLaren, the Sex Pistols and the punk rock movement:

“He’s one of the rare individuals who had a huge impact on the cultural and social life of this nation. He could be very charming, he could be very cruel, but he mattered and he put something together that was extraordinary. What he did with fashion and music was extraordinary. He was a revolutionary.”

His son Joseph Corre with Vivienne Westwood is the co-founder of lingerie shop Agent Provocateur.

I think this is the perfect time to play Never Mind the Bollocks and blast the hell out of your speakers.  Before you do that, here’s a forgotten McLaren gem, and my first introduction to Madame Butterfly.

Musings and Endings

Newfoundland grave markerI’ve been struggling with some stuff over the last couple of weeks.

A beautiful, funny, glorious, much too young family member is dying of liver cancer. It developed from a case of melanoma that she thought was licked last year (note, make friends with your moles people!).  She was given two weeks to live three weeks ago. I guess you could say she’s living on borrowed time. The one kindness is that she’s able to make the most of what time she has left, having taken a trip to the tropics and to the waterpark with her grandchildren. I am in awe of her grace, dignity and strength.

Everyone in the family is struggling to cope with the news, and I’m no different.  As difficult as it is to watch all this helplessly from afar, my biggest problem right now is the kidlets. I’ve taken a bit of heat from a few sources about how I handled it.

Basically my attitude is that death is a natural part of life. It’s a sad, heart wrenching, painful, confusing, sometimes tragic inevitability that comes from being alive.  Does this make it less traumatic when it happens.  No.  It is something to be sad about, not hide from or be afraid of.

And that’s what I tried to explain to my kids before we saw her a couple of weeks ago.  Essentially I told them that the cancer is going to make her feel really tired and eventually she’ll fall asleep and not wake up.  It’s not (please) going to hurt when it happens, she’s not in pain (thanks to the pain management plan, but they don’t need to know that).  They seemed satisfied with that.  Sprout, with her eyes wise and knowing, nodded gravely and asked about funeral arrangements – that’s her, hiding her sadness with practicality.  Elfkin stuck her lip out and pouted, and wanted to know why she couldn’t help. Fighting back tears I explained that we couldn’t help her live, the doctors had done all they could, but they couldn’t fix the cancer anymore.  What we could do to help is to visit, and make her laugh and smile and give her good memories before she goes on.

Which we did.  We had dinner with most of the family and we got to talk and visit, but not say goodbye.  Our girl didn’t want tears, so I hid in the bathroom when I felt them coming on.  I held her mother while she wept, hidden away in the kitchen and tried to come up with some words of comfort that didn’t sound facile or trite.  I failed miserably. What do you say to a mother who is watching her child die? It’s going to be alright? No, it’s not. Nothing will ever be alright again.

Hopefully I conveyed with touch what I couldn’t find the words to say.

While we ate, my practical Sprout had an epiphany: “Mom, when she’s gone, who is going to take care of her dogs?” That’s my girl, always thinking of those who need help or protection. I explained that her husband and sister would most likely look after them.  If not, I was sure another member of the family would look out for them and find them good homes.  Elfkin pouted some more and announced: “It’s not fair. She’s too nice!” And she’s right, it’s not fair.  She’s so young to learn that fairness rarely plays a role in these things.

We left that night with hugs, kisses and toys for the kids.  It was a good night.

Since then I’ve been told I’ve robbed my children of their innocence and that I should have gone into detail about the miracle of life after death. The truth is, I’ve always been honest with my kids, regardless of what they’re asking about, be it sex and love or death and the afterlife, I give them as much age appropriate information as necessary to answer their questions and tell them that my door is always open should they have any more.  And I ask them if they have anything they want to talk about regarding a particular subject at random intervals.

As for the religious angle, again, I tend to define myself as agnostic with pagan tendencies so talking about Jesus doesn’t feel comfortable to me. I let my mother handle the Judeo-Christian angle, with editorial guidance from me after the fact.   I certainly have faith that we go to a better place when we die, but I don’t KNOW for certain.  And no one knows for certain what it’s going to be like – bright light, excellent hunting, harp music? No one has come back to tell us.  The whole heaven thing and going to ‘be with Jesus’ when you die, simply is not my belief although it wouldn’t surprise me if he dropped in to the Summerlands for tea from time to time.

At any rate, the kids seem fine with all of this.  They’ve had some questions and asked how she was doing, but don’t seem disturbed beyond the expected.  Normally I would just shake this off as unfair criticism, but this really rankled me.  Am I completely off base?  Have I somehow failed my children?

Alex Chilton – 1950-2010

Alex Chilton - 1959-2010 RIP

RIP - 1959-2010

Alex Chilton, lead singer for the Box Tops and singer/ guitarist for Big Star died today in New Orleans just hours before his band was to perform at SXSW.  He was 59. Cause of death was an apparent heart attack.

Alex Chilton influence can most notably be heard in REM and The Replacement (who wrote a tune called Alex Chilton, featured on their Pleased to Meet Me album), but touched such varied artists such as Wilco, Garbage, Jeff Buckley, all of whom covered his work.

Read Rolling Stones obituary here.

I’ll remember Alex Chilton best for ‘The Letter’, the smash hit he recorded with The Box Tops; he was only 16 at the time, although you’d never know it.  The Letter was the first song that I learned on the guitar that I could sing to on the radio.  I loved playing the bridge especially and would try to imitate his whiskey and cigarettes voice when I sang along.

Goodbye Alex.  You’ll be missed.

Corey Haim – 1971-2010

Corey Haim

RIP - 1971 - 2010

Sad news. Fox affiliate KTLA is reporting that actor Corey Haim was found dead this morning of an apparent drug overdose.

Corey found success playing sometimes geeky characters in such movies as Lucas in the movie of the same name and Les Anderson in License to Drive.

His biggest success came when paired with his friend Corey Feldman in Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys.

He spiraled into drug addiction during the 1990s, working to rebuild his life and career over the last few years.  IMDB lists several projects as being in pre-production or currently filming.

He was apparently suffering from the flu and collapsed in front of his mother, who called the paramedics.  He was pronounced dead at 2:15 am after being transported to Providence St. Joseph’s Medical Center.

Sad, sad, sad.

While it’s The Lost Boys that Corey will be remembered for…

…my favorite of his movies was the quieter, sweeter Lucas: