Sunday, Jan. 23, 2005, truly became the end of an era for me. That’s when Johnny Carson, the original funny man, passed on to the next life. My guess is he has everyone, God included, rolling in the aisles of heaven. Welcome home, my friend.
But the losses don’t stop at the King of Late-Night Television. In case many of you missed it, the last of the core members of the Ramones, guitarist Johnny Ramone, passed away recently.
Not to date myself here, but I saw the Ramones perform in 1978 in my hometown of Miami, Fla., and the next day had me adjusting the strap on my Gibson SG Junior down to the same below the waist level as Johnny’s Mosrite Mark-II Deluxe.
The passing of the notorious Rick James was noted as well. There was always something about all of the music and antics of the late great “Superfreak,” much longer before Dave Chappelle said the words, “I’m Rick James, bitch.” But in the end, even the Superfreak himself was not immortal.
Ray Charles said goodbye to all of us in a fashion that reflected the inner peace he shared with us through his music. He went away quietly, just like the soft tones of his songs.
And who can forget Rodney Dangerfield? He didn’t waste his time picking on other people because he was always too busy picking on himself. But in the end, he got more respect than he could ever have imagined.
James Doohan, better known as “Scotty the Engineer” on Star Trek, was finally beamed up into the final frontier. Godspeed at warp 9 and don’t worry about dilithium crystals for this voyage. You’re covered.
And finally, there was the death of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan. President Reagan turned America around in a way that made Americans feel proud to be Americans again by saying, “Nyet!” to Soviet global expansionism.
Losses like these make us all realize we’re not getting any younger. People die every day; this is a fact, but it is always the icons of a generation that remind us that the clock is constantly ticking away.
I remember when Kurt Cobain killed himself. I can also remember not feeling much about it. Sure, the guy had talent. But he did nothing for me in terms of what the above-mentioned persons did. He was whiny, bitter, constantly complaining and eventually committed suicide. Then again, if you were hitched to Courtney Love, you’d most likely kill yourself too. All I can really say is that I hope he’s resting in the peace he didn’t have in this life.
My memory also goes back to when John Lennon was murdered on the streets of New York. Again, I didn’t feel much about his death in comparison to what my older peers felt. But I have to claim youthful ignorance had plenty to do with my lack of feelings for that loss.
As a culture, we obsess with aging and subsequent death. The harder we try to avoid these aspects, the more we succumb to their effects. James Dean’s self-fulfilling-prophesy of “Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse” started a trend.
We can now leave that good-looking corpse, thanks to extreme makeovers, face tucks, liposuctions, and da Vinci porcelain veneers. But it’s not a case of how you look when you die. It’s what you leave behind for the others.
For me, there’s never going to be another Johnny Carson, Johnny Ramone, Rodney Dangerfield, Ray Charles, Rick James, James Doohan or Ronald Reagan. What they’ve left behind for many of us are things that others will try to copy, but will flunk in doing so.
The passing of celebrities serves to remind us that we’re all approaching the detour at the end of this road more than the passing of our own family and friends.
For the most part, my natural relatives suffer from a condition called longevity. We stick around to annoy each other for as long as is humanly possible, pass on peacefully and leave the surviving family with plenty to laugh, argue or complain about.
On a familial basis, we never really see the end of an era happen since all the mannerisms and quirks are perpetuated by the next generation to form the daily dysfunction I call my blood family.
So what am I going to leave behind when it’s my turn to meet my maker? That’s up to those who I leave behind in this life to decide. But I do know that, whatever it is, it will pale in comparison to what those who I’ve mentioned have left us with. But with this comes the fact that whatever it is I leave, it’ll probably only be understood by my generation. Everyone else will most likely be perplexed and, maybe, that’s an accomplishment in itself.
Henry Sarria is a longtime Isla Vista resident.