Tuesday 21 October 2014

Death tears hole in America's heart

Published 30/12/2001 | 00:11

It was the slaughter of 3000 'nobodies' that forever changed our world, writes Brendan O'Connor, as he recalls the faces we'll miss

THE huge gap in the world this year will be the hole in the heart of America. Most of the thousands of people who died on September 11 were not well known, but the manner and tragedy of their deaths has changed the world utterly.

If celebrities began to seem trivial after September 11, the same could be said of dead celebrities. Nonetheless we have missed many this past year.

The old school started well and truly dying off. If the world lost its sense of security, a lesser loss was of various colourful types who through odd interests, obsessions and eccentricities added to the gaiety and humanity of the world.

Ni bheidh a leitheid ann aris.

George Harrison's death, aged 58, from cancer in November elicited a strangely profound response throughout the world.

Certainly he was a Beatle, but you couldn't help wondering if he was also a totem for a grieving world, another symbol of more innocent times for us to mourn, a common currency for our bereavement.

After September 11 there was a sense that everything became slightly more epic and we cried for things more openly.

In death Harrison was hailed as an unsung hero of the Beatles, the fourth man who would have been considered a genius had he not had to play second fiddle to John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

There was a genuine affection in the eulogies for an apparently simple man who turned his back on fame to follow his heart.

We reminisced about his beautiful music (Something, Here Comes The Sun), how he introduced the pop kids to Eastern music and philosophy, how he invented the concept of the charity concert and how he loved and lost beautiful women.

The death of Butch Moore was another of those unexpected losses that elicited an outpouring of grief and nostalgia, but on a lesser scale.

A boy soprano, Moore went on to head up the Capitol showband in the 1960s and was Ireland's first representative in the Eurovision in 1965. When his career stalled in the 1970s he left for America where he went into cabaret, eventually opening a nightclub.

He is chiefly remembered for his big hit Walking The Streets In the Rain.He died on April 3, aged 63.

The showband world lost another of its founding fathers when Jim Hand died on May 4, aged 64.

Early in his career Hand had managed bands like Dermot O'Brien and The Clubmen. He will be best remembered for introducing The Fureys to a music hall number called Sweet Sixteen and giving a start to the young Johnny Logan.

Another Irish institution, Joe Lynch died on August 1, aged 76. From Mallow in Co Cork, Lynch studied at Blackrock College in Dublin under John Charles McQuaid of whom he was a big fan.

After an apprenticeship in the Loft in Cork, Lynch joined the RTE players in 1947. His series Living With Lynch would become the first comedy show of its kind in Ireland. He also achieved fame in Britain as Elsie Tanner's boyfriend in Coronation Street.

His career ended in bitterness as he parted with RTE before the final season of Glenroe after an argument over money.

Eamon Kelly went from woodwork teacher to Radio Eireann Players member to national storyteller to Tony-nominated actor. He got his first professional stage role at 50playing SB in Hilton Edward's production of Philadelphia.However, he is still best remembered as our national seanchai. He died on October 24, aged 87.

RTE broadcaster Treasa Davison died on September 4, aged 72. During different phases of her life Davison was an actress with The Gate, a contented wife and mother in New York and Toronto, and a continuity announcer with RTE when she returned to Ireland after her husband's death in a plane crash.

She went on to present Overseas Requests andLebanon Requestsbecoming a sweetheart to our boys in the Middle East.

In later years she won a Jacob's Award for Playback.

The face of RTE sport for many years, Brendan O'Reilly died on April 1, aged 71. As well as being a champion high jumper and holding an Irish javelin record, O'Reilly had early aspirations to being a professional singer.

But when asked, while on a sports scholarship to the US, to play an Irish cowboy in a Hollywood film, he declined.

He presented RTE's Sports Stadium for 14 years on and off.

There were many others we lost who made a contribution on a more local stage.

Author, poet and former UCC Modern English professor Sean Lucy died on July 25, aged 70.

Born in Bombay, but brought up in Cork, Lucy instilled in half Munster's teachers a love of English, as well as in poets like Sean Dunne and Theo Dorgan. Lucy spent his latter years in Chicago.

RAF pilot, author, filmmaker, nightclub impresario, spiritualist, film producer, early proponent of UFOs and renowned eccentric Desmond Leslie died on February 24, aged 79. As well as opening Ireland's first rural swanky nightclub Annabel's on the Bog (based on Annabel's in London), Leslie was also a pioneer of electronic music.

Lord Longford, aka Frank Pakenham, was the second son of the fifth Earl of Longford also known as Lord Porn, after his wide-ranging investigation into pornography.

Though Longford considered himself Irish, carried an Irish passport and supported the Irish rugby team, he had little interest in the family pile at Castlepollard, passing it on to his son Thomas almost as soon as he inherited it.

A champion of unpopular causes all his life, he suggested in 1960 that partition be ended if Ireland joined the Commonwealth and he was an advocate for the release of Myra Hindley, whom he eventually befriended. He died, aged 95, on August 3.

Donall O Morain died in January, aged 77. O Morain gave his adult life to the revival of the Irish language, founding Gael Linn 50 years ago with a £100 bank loan and a football pools.

In latter years he was best known as the editor of the Irish language newspaper Anois.

On January 22, Bertie Fisher died in a tragic helicopter crash, aged 50. Fisher was Ireland's leading rally driver for the past 20 years and was also a keen trombone player, fisherman and golfer.

Detective Garda John Kerins was one of the best GAA goalies of recent years and was central to the Cork defence during Cork's most successful footballing period. He died after an illness on August 20. He was only 39.

His colleague John Eiffe died in Abbeyleix on December 6 in a tragic accident. A member of the Garda Surveillance Squad, Eiffe died in the service of the State.

We lost some our great entrepreneurs as well, among them the man who first rescued Aer Lingus from insolvency.

Bernie Cahill from Beare Island died on August 17, aged 70. He had an illustrious career in the food industry, bringing the Sugar Company to the market as Greencore in 1991, before he was approached to save Aer Lingus, which he did, for a time anyway.

Joe "Spud" Murphy may not have been the first Spud Murphy, but he was the inventor of the Tayto crisp.

A big fan of crisps himself, but bored of the varieties available at the time, the young Murphy set up Tayto and invented cheese and onion crisps. A born entrepreneur he eventually owned King and Smiths crisps. But he knew when to get out as well and enjoyed a 25-year retirement in Spain before he died on September 28, aged 78.

Paddy McGrath's family was responsible for two of the great institutions of recent Ireland The Irish Hospital Sweepstakes and Waterford Glass. McGrath himself was bad at everything at school except maths, not a huge problem for him when he took over the Sweepstakes from his father in 1966.

He would run the sweepstakes for 21 years until a postal strike and the national lottery put them out of business. He died on October 9, aged 74.

In the world of politics some fierce characters went gentle into that good night.

While Charlie Haughey and Neil Blaney went on to further political success after the Arms Trials, Kevin Boland spent the rest of his career in the political wilderness after being expelled from Fianna Fail for accusing Jack Lynch of treachery and co-operation with the enemy.

Boland's Aontacht Eireann party, which aimed to "support the risen people of the six counties", did not get much support from the unrisen people of the 26 counties. As Haughey explained it to Boland, "You fight for the sake of it, I fight to win". Boland died on September 23, aged 83.

Sean McStiofain died in May aged 73. A major figure in the IRA split and the first chief of staff of the Provos, McStiofain never really got back on top in the Republican movement after his 57-day hunger strike in 1973.

The Englishman's long career included a stint in the RAF, brokering a ceasefire in 1972 and getting the RTE Authority sacked for carrying an interview with him.

The very Reverend Dr Jack Shearer, Dean of Belfast, died on January 12.

Shearer was best known as "The Black Santa" who, for the past 15 years had spent 12 hours a day during Christmas week in a black cloak and balaclava sitting on the steps of St Anne's Church of Ireland Cathedral.

In his final year he had raised £400,000 for charity, the only man in Belfast who could wear a balaclava without causing offence.

Belfast journalist Martin O'Hagan (51) was murdered on September 28.

Despite coming from strong British army stock O'Hagan himself became a paramilitary before ultimately rejecting violence and sectarianism even going so far as to marry a Protestant.

While serving seven years for possession of weapons in the 1970s he began tertiary studies before becoming one of a number of former Official IRA members to move into journalism.

Another newspaperman of a different colour died on January 16.

Auberon Waugh was remembered as "the most verbally brutal journalist of his age".

His anger started early when he claimed that the headmaster at his public school had "set himself up in opposition to me". He used to refer to Churchill as a war criminal and continued until his death to spit out lively venom in the pages of The Spectator, Private Eye, The Literary ReviewandThe Telegraph.

On March 1, journalist John Diamond died of the throat cancer that made him famous.

The wit and raconteur spent his final few years conversing via a notepad. He is survived by his celebrity chef wife Nigella Lawson, their children and his brave book C: Because Cowards get Cancer Too.

The colour on the international scene was dimmed this year with the passing of a number of greats.

Jack Lemmon died within months of his Odd Couple colleague Walter Matthau (the soi-disant Ukrainian Cary Grant). Best known for his role in Some Like It Hot Lemmon starred in seven Billy Wilder films, five with Matthau. He died on June 28, aged 76.

Perry Como began his working life as the proprietor of an Italian-American barber shop in Pennsylvania and an occasional singer.

Around the age of 30 he went on the road with a big band, but it was in the 50s, with the dawn of television, that Como really hit it big. He would go on to sell 50 million records.

Expelled from the Peabody Conservatory of Music for playing Yes We Have No Bananas at an end-of-term concert, Larry Adler went on to make the mouth organ respectable. He did the first ever mouth organ solo of Rhapsody in Blue and appeared in movies with the likes of Jack Benny, Fred Astaire and Vivien Leigh.

He died on August 6, aged 87.

Irish-Mexican actor Anthony Quinn made a career out of playing Greeks, Mexicans, Arabs, French and Italians. Quinn's father spoke Spanish with an Irish accent and he was also part-Cherokee. He is remembered for his performances in The Guns of Navarone, Lawrence of Arabia and Zorba The Greek. He concentrated on sculpture in his latter years and on looking after some of the 13 children he had with five women. He died in May.

Animator William Hanna died on March 22, aged 90. One half of the Hanna-Barbera team, Hanna collaborated on 200 Tom and Jerry cartoons as well as introducing the world to characters like Huckleberry Hound, the Flintstones, Yogi bear and of course Scooby Doo, winning seven Oscars in the process.

The sane Goon, Sir Harry Secombe, died on April 11, aged 79. Having gone off to war with a comb held to his upper lip imitating Hitler, Secombe was entertaining the troops in Italy when he met Spike Milligan. With the formation of the Goons in 1951 Secombe became a household name, but remained the most detached member of the troupe. Having given up drink he moved into a successful career in musical comedy. He lived out his later years presenting what he called the "God slot with music" each Sunday on the BBC.

One of 11 children of a Baptist minister, John Lee Hooker began his career singing spirituals in church. When his mother married Delta Blues guitarist Will Moore, Hooker learned guitar from his new stepfather. He ran away to Memphis at 14 to play the blues and by the time he died on June 21, aged 83, he had recorded more than 100 albums.

Another great guitarist and producer Chet Atkins, credited with inventing the Nashville Sound, died on June 30, aged 77.

John Phillips of The Mamas and Papas died in March. As much as he was known for songs like California Dreaming,Phillips will be remembered for his notoriously sleazy life, detailed in his autobiography Papa John.To the end he battled with drink and drugs and a prodigious and perverse sexual appetite.

An entertainer of a very different school was Joey Ramone who died on April 15, aged 49. Like so many other punk bands The Ramones only began writing music because they weren't musically adept enough to play anyone else's.

While they never really had a hit in their native America, The Ramones were a huge influence on the British punk movement.

A musician of another generation, R&B singer Aaliyah died in a plane crash while filming a video in the Bahamas in August.

The beautiful 22-year-old singer had already enjoyed two bouts at the top of the charts and was taking her first steps into a movie career. She was about to release her first new album in five years when she was killed.

Merry Prankster Ken Kesey died on November 10, aged 66. Kesey pre-empted the counter-culture with his novel One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, a modern classic based on his experiences at a mental hospital for war veterans where he volunteered for experiments in mind-expanding drugs including LSD.

He developed a fondness for acid and became an evangelist for the drug despite admitting it had done plenty of harm to his own brain. He travelled on the Merry Pranksters' bus until late in life, but never again reached the heights of his first novel.

A writer of a very different kind, the father of the airport novel, Robert Ludlum, died on March 12 aged 73, his 21 novels having sold 210 million copies.

Perhaps positioned somewhere in between the previous two on the literary map was Douglas Adams, who died on May 11, aged 49.

Adams said the rather unexpected success of his book The Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy was like being "helicoptered to the top of Mount Everest". The Hitch Hikers series sold 14 million books, but Adams never really repeated its success suffering from writer's block for the rest of his life.

On February 16 the man who introduced the world to the idea of sex as a source of pleasure went to the big orgy in the sky.

As one half of the Masters and Johnson combo, William Masters was one of the world's leading researchers into the field of marital satisfaction. That was until he divorced Johnson in 1993.

Another sexual revolutionary also died in February. The artist formerly known as Balthus died on February 18, aged 92. He will be remembered for his controversially sexual portraits of pubescent females.

Dashing heart transplant pioneer Christiaan Barnard died on September 2, aged 78.

The South African enjoyed a period in the limelight after he performed the world's first successful human heart transplant in December 1967. Good looking and charismatic he became a press favourite for a time.

A more menacing African character who died in January was Congolese president Laurent Kabila, who spent much of his life engaged in the illegal diamond trade while trying to overthrow murderous dictator Joseph Mobutu. Kabila was not much better when he himself became president.

On January 27 Queen Marie Jose of Italy died. The last Queen of Italy, Marie Jose was known as the May Queen because she reigned for just 27 days in May 1946.

A devout anti-Fascist, the May Queen was also no royalist. She likened being a royal to being in China "with all that bowing".

A racier queen was Bandit Queen Phoola Devi, who was gunned down on July 25, aged just 38. A lifetime fighting oppression culminated in Devi's most infamous exploit, which inspired a movie, when she killed 22 Dhakur gangsters in revenge for her gang rape by the upper caste Dhakurs.

Mary Whitehouse would probably have disapproved of many of the people in the above list.

Whitehouse, who died on November 23, aged 91, became the self-appointed moral guardianof Britain in the 1960s when,as a schoolteacher, she witnessed two of her pupils simulatingsex.

They said they were imitating "showgirls" Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies whom they had seen on TV. The encounter turned Whitehouse into a woman with a mission. She condemned everyone from Benny Hill to Alf Garnett to Denis Potter becoming, in the process, a national joke.

Say a prayer, light a candle, raise a glass, whatever. Remember them and all the departed, faithful and not so faithful.

In particular, do not be tempted to forget, in the still difficult times ahead, what you saw, or what you felt on September 11, 2001, the day our world changed forever.

Read More

Don't Miss

Editor's Choice