The coming of 2018 offers us a chance to look ahead toward what we hope will be a better, brighter future. Thew new year might involve resolutions to get in shape, to travel, to learn a new craft, and many other personal goals. It also offers a chance for the good but wayward ship called the USS United States of America to correct its course politically and socially (and maybe to re-think that rather redundant ship name).
However, every new year is an opportunity to look back and reflect upon the past, and doing so involves remembering some of the people lost during the year gone by. Today we’ll take a moment to note just a few of the remarkable men who died in 2017, but whose legacy deserves to echo on through the ages.
Among these celebrity deaths are actors, musicians,adventurers, and more. Many of the names are known the world over; others were hardly famous in the mainstream, but are no less deserving of hallowed remembrance. This brief list is in no way complete, but is rather meant to highlight various late, great men from myriad walks of life. While we’re right to mourn the loss of these gents, take solace in the fact that the world was richer for having them.
Bill Paxton | Actor | Age 61
Bill Paxton was not the greatest actor who ever lived, but among many people — especially those of the so-called Generation X and the oldest of the Millennials (like … me) — he was one of the most beloved. Paxton brought verve and humor to his roles, which included notable turns in the films Aliens, True Lies, and Twister, and as a leading man in the HBO series Big Love. He always seemed to be having fun with his craft, except perhaps when being killed by extraterrestrials. During his career, he dabbled briefly in the music business and directed two feature films. Paxton showed no signs of slowing down and was slated for work in several future projects. His untimely death in February came as a result of complications associated with heart surgery.
Fred Beckey | Mountaineer | Age 94
For a man who spent years of his life climbing sheer cliffs, often charting new routes up mountains and occasionally being the first to summit never-before-conquered peaks, Fred Beckey had an amazingly long life. When he died in October at age 94, it was the end of a life that saw nearly seven decades spent reaching for the top. He completed more than a thousand ascents up brand-new routes, and is credited with reaching the top of many of the last unclimbed peaks in North America during the middle decades of the 20th century. Beckey hated publicity and attention, shying away from the media and living in intentional obscurity. Among the community of mountaineers, however, this wiry, craggy-faced mountain man was a legend. The many guidebooks he wrote will likely never make it onto popular bestseller lists, but they will be enjoyed by climbing enthusiasts for years to come.
Tom Petty | Musician | Age 66
People will still be playing Tom Petty’s music 100 years from now, but 2017 was the end of the line for this beloved American musician. Petty died at age 66 in October after a sudden cardiac arrest. During his expansive career, he toured the world with his band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and recorded with some of the biggest names in music (including Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, and George Harrison) as one of the Traveling Wilburys. Petty’s raw, open vocals; uniquely-American lyrics; and masterful guitar-playing ensure his music will never die, though sadly he did much younger than anyone expected.
Dick Gordon | Astronaut | Age 88
Who was the first man to walk on the moon? Right, Neil Armstrong. Second? Buzz Aldrin, you got it. Now, who was up in the command module orbiting the moon to make sure those guys got back to earth safely? Wow, Michael Collins, impressive —you know your NASA history. OK, who flew the command module during Apollo 12, the second successful trip to the moon? That was Richard F. Gordon Jr., one of America’s most famed test pilots and astronauts, a man who took his last journey off the planet this year, dying at age 88 in November. He was the first test pilot to fly an F4 Phantom II jet fighter. In 1961, he set a transcontinental flight speed record by flying from LA to NYC in two hours, 47 minutes. He spent more than 315 hours in space (no longer that exceptional what with the ISS, but in the 1960s and ’70s, quite a feat) and later went on to a career involving everything from an executive position with the New Orleans Saints to chairman of the charitable organization March of Dimes.
Hugh Hefner | Publisher | Age 91
One thing many people don’t know about the late Playboy founder is that Hugh Hefner only founded his once-scandalous, now rather mainstream magazine after the painful revelation that his first wife had an affair while he was in the military in the 1940s. In the wake of her affair, she and Hefner developed an open relationship and he began to sleep with other woman. Not surprisingly, they later divorced. However, in truth, the man many people associated with a swinging, hedonistic life would likely have been a devoted family man had his wife not first breached the faith of the relationship. As it happened, Playboy went on to become a global success, selling tens of millions of copies since the first issue was published in 1953. Hefner will always be associated with pictures of nude women, wild parties at his Playboy Mansion, a revolving harem of young ladies, and his pipe and smoking jacket. However, he was also an active and generous philanthropist, supporting causes ranging from conservation to at-risk youth.
Chuck Berry | Legend | Age 90
Without the virtuosic guitar playing and song writing of Chuck Berry, modern music might never have developed the way it did in the middle of the last century. Berry played arguably the purest rock and roll music ever created, largely creating the genre as he went. His songs, including “Rock and Roll Music” and “Roll Over Beethoven”. were absolutely foundational in the emergence and growth of rock music. He was, of course, one of the first musicians inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, entering its hallowed halls just a few years after its establishment. His song “Johnny B. Goode” is the only rock song that was included on the golden record aboard the Voyager spacecraft, which is now hurtling through interstellar space. Chuck Berry was married to his wife Toddy for 68 years.
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