Posts Tagged 'obits'

Levi Stubbs 1936-2008

I really don’t mean to turn my blog into the obits page.  Really, I don’t.  They say that famous deaths “come in threes.”  If so, this one is number two.  Levi Stubbs, the golden-voiced baritone who led the Four Tops to Motown glory from the 60’s to the 80’s has died at the age of 72.

The list of Four Tops hits is legion:  “Baby I Need Your Loving,” “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch),” “It’s the Same Old Song,” “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” Standing in the Shadows of Love, “Bernadette,” “Still Water (Love)”, and “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got.”  Stubbs did lead vocals on each one of those listed above, and there were numerous other Four Tops hits in which Stubbs did not do lead vocals.

I think, though, that my favorite work by Levi Stubbs was without The Four Tops.  He provided the voice of Audrey II, the man-eating plant who called himself “The Mean, Green Mother from Outer Space” in the 1988 film Little Shop of Horrors.

If you missed this sleeper starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Vincent Gardenia with classic bit parts and cameos from Christopher (“Count Rugen”) Guest, John Candy, Jim Belushi, and most deliciously, a scene in which Steve Martin plays a leather-wearing sadistic dentist, and Bill Murray portrays his masochistic patient.  At last, we learn the answer to the ancient joke set-up “A sadist and a masochist meet on the street….”  See for yourself:

But I digress.  Even though Levi Stubbs was a natural baritone, most of the Four Tops songs he performed were written in the higher tenor range.  Little Shop of Horrors allowed him to be at his bari- best.  I’ll let you cogitate on that as I bow out to Audrey II.

Three of the Four Tops are gone now, as is Stubbs’ superstar first cousin, Motown and R&B legend Jackie Wilson (“Higher and Higher”).  The Nightshift has gotten even sweeter in sound now.  Rest well, Levi.  Well done.

Edie Adams 1927-2008

It was a bittersweet moment when I read yesterday of the passing of singer/actress/Muriel cigar spokeswoman Edie Adams at the age of 81.  Even though I never met the lady (and she was that), I always found her admirable (even envied her somewhat) and I felt genuine sorrow for the world who has lost one of the most beautiful voices attached to one of the most beautiful women who ever lived.  If you haven’t been fortunate enough to hear this jewel sing one of the most romantic songs ever written, feast your eyes and ears upon this:

Still, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of relief amid the sadness.  Behind that demure smile and soft voice was a lifetime of tragedy.  Edie married the love of her life, the innovative and well ahead of his time comedian Ernie Kovacs in 1954 and bore him a daughter, Mia, in 1959.  Even though Edie had graduated from Julliard and aspired to become an opera singer, she got her break with Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts (a 1950’s era American Idol).  That’s where she was noticed by Kovacs, who invited her to audition for his own show.  The rest, as they say, is history as far as their relationship is involved.  Although their marriage was happy, it was not without more than its share of problems–most having to do with the impulsive, albeit brilliant Kovacs.

When Kovacs died in early 1962 in a one-car crash in the wee hours of a Los Angeles morning, he left Edie with over $500,000 in debts (mostly from gambling and impulse buying), and ugly legal imbroglios with his first wife (over the custody of their two daughters) and the IRS.

A pantheon of Hollywood stars, including Frank Sinatra, Jack Lemmon, Dean Martin, and Milton Berle (from whose house Kovacs was returning when his car–for reasons that were never conclusively determined–crashed) immediately organized a TV special to raise money to settle Kovacs’ debts and provide for his daughters.  Edie said “No, I can take care of my own children.”

And she did–doing unceasing show business work for over a year, and appearing sporadically after that.  Groucho Marx, in introducing Adams during a Las Vegas gig, summed it up beautifully:  “There are some things Edie won’t do, but nothing she can’t do.”

Wherever and however she could, she paid tribute to Kovacs.  She happily pitched Muriel cigars in remembrance of Ernie’s signature stogie (even though during his lifetime, he pitched rival Dutch Masters cigars).  She not only repaid Ernie’s debts, she won the bitter custody suit for Ernie’s daughters from a previous marriage, and spent the rest of her life buying the rights to the numerous TV shows and specials Ernie created over the years.  Because Kovacs was so far ahead of his time, his series were many, but short-lived.  Still, once Edie had  collected Ernie’s shows, she repackaged them for rebroadcast and for home enjoyment so that future generations could experience the comic genius that was Ernie Kovacs.

Sadly, Edie’s life after Ernie was not idyllic.  She married twice more, but never for long.  Her daughter Mia, like her father, died tragically in an automobile accident in 1982.  Edie is survived only by her son from her second marriage, her younger stepdaughter by her marriage to Ernie Kovacs, and one grandchild, the child of Ernie’s oldest daughter (who died of chronic ill health in 2001).  Still, she always carried herself with charm and with grace, and with beauty that not only dwelt on the outside,  but radiated from within.  Rest in peace, Edie, reunited with the love of your life and your daughter.  You think they have gorilla masks in heaven?

The World is Much Poorer Today

I awoke this morning to read of the deaths of two people who enriched my life greatly, albeit in very different ways.

Skip Caray had been the voice of the Atlanta Braves since 1976.  Henry Aaron was gone by then, and greatness was dangled in front of the club like a stringy toy in front of a catnip-influenced kitten for a decade and a half before the Bravos finally snagged it.  He was the son of the immortal Harry (“Holy Cow!”) Caray, the only person other than Skip to show such devotion to a club that had lifetime membership in the “Charlie Brown” association)  Much as the Houstonians near where I live like to remind the world that it was the now-semi-retired Astros commentator (and Skip’s predecessor), Milo Hamilton who called Henry Aaron‘s 715th Home Run for the Braves in 1974, it was Skip’s voice (“along with Don Sutton and Pete Van Wieren“) I always associated with the Braves.

Do not mourn the Caray broadcasting legacy, though:  it lives on in the forms of Skip’s sons.  Chip and Josh are both in the Braves organization broadcasting booths.  Chip calls the games for cable Superstation TBS, while Josh does radio broadcasts for the Braves’ Class A minor league affiliate in Rome, GA.

And now for what may be the most diametrically-opposite segue in the history of blogging…

I was also greatly saddened to learn late last night of the passing of Nobel laureate Alexander Solzhenitsyn at his home in Moscow.  His widow, Natalya, said of his passing:

“He wanted to die in the summer — and he died in the summer,” she said. “He wanted to die at home — and he died at home. In general I should say that Alexander Isaevich lived a difficult but happy life.”

If you were not culturally aware during the Cold War and want to know what all the fuss was about, or if you think the Cold War was just about nukes, you very much need to read Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. It is a brief read, less than 200 pages, but OH! so profound.  It gives a gripping account of a single day in the desperate life of a criminal (His crime?  Escaping from the Germans in WWII rather than dying for the Motherland) in a Soviet gulag in Siberia that was not too different from the one in which Solzhenitsyn himself was imprisoned.  This book will explain in no uncertain detail what it was the West feared most should Communism expand.

With Solzhenitsyn’s passing, we lose another link to the cautionary tale of everyday life in a totalitarian regime.  He was one of the lucky ones, he got out.  Solzhenitsyn took full advantage of the freedom his new life in the West afforded him, much to the consternation of his US “handlers” in charge of setting him up in New York and protecting him from covert Soviet retaliation (a very real threat).  Just as he wasn’t afraid to speak out in Soviet Russia, neither was he afraid to rail against injustices he observed in the US and elsewhere in the free world.  If only more of us were this brave.

When I studied Russian in the mid-1980’s, I learned that they have many ways to say goodbye to one another depending on social status, familiarity (or lack thereof), or even the likelihood (or not) of ever seeing one another again. Their word for “farewell” seems fitting now, more so than saying so in the tongue of his adopted land, for the word in Russian is only used when one expects never again to see the other.

Прощайте, Алекса́ндр Иса́евич.

February 2020
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