On October 18th, 1926, the world gained a man named Chuck Berry—a man who would go on to be one of the great pioneers of music, a fiery soul whom Bob Dylan once called “the Shakespeare of Rock ‘n’ Roll”. And on Saturday, March 18th of 2017, the world lost him: Berry passed away in his home near Wentzville, Mo. at the age of 90.
Berry was a man who, as the New York Times fittingly describes, “Understood what the kids wanted before they knew themselves.” Interested in music from an early age, Berry gave his first public performance while still in high school, never letting up until he found himself with a No. 1 on the R&B charts with “Maybellene,” which he took to executives at Chess Records in 1955.
This song, one that told a story through a blend of sounds that pulled from both blues and country music, is widely considered to be the beginning of rock ‘n’ roll.
Berry wasted no time in following up with a barrage of still-famous singles between 1955 and 1958, such as “Roll Over, Beethoven,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” and “Johnny B. Goode” that found success with every demographic—Berry described his compositions as being made “…for people who would buy them. No color, no ethnic, no political—I don’t want that, never did.”
Berry’s biggest hit came in 1972, with the interestingly-titled “My Ding-a-Ling,” which was simultaneously his first and only No. 1 pop single, and the last hit of his career. With his subsequent albums declining in popularity, Berry’s later works failed to sell well. Despite this, the musician stayed active well into the 1990s.
It is always unconventional people who create the greatest change, and Berry’s life was no different—his music shrugged off racial and class divides, satirized icons, and combined sounds in a way that had never been done before. His music was fun, young, and irreverent—it was the soul of rock ‘n’ roll.
Because of his status as the most influential musician of his genre, Berry received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1985, and a year later became the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s first member.
But perhaps the best measure of Berry’s greatness can be seen in his legacy. Bands from all over the world, including the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and the Beach Boys have both covered and have been heavily influenced by Berry’s sound and style.
Rolling Stones band member Keith Richards once said that “It’s very difficult for me to talk about Chuck Berry ‘cause I’ve lifted every lick he ever played. This is the man that started it all!”
So great was Berry’s importance to the cultural landscape of his time that his music was sent out on a voyage to other worlds—“Johnny B. Goode” was included on golden records aboard the Voyager I and II spacecraft which were launched in 1977 in hopes of introducing human culture to alien species.
Berry is survived by his wife of 68 years, Themetta, whom he affectionately called Toddy. Mere months before his death, Berry announced plans to release a new album dedicated to Themetta, saying in an 2016 press release that “This record is dedicated to my beloved Toddy. My darlin’, I’m growing old! I’ve worked on this record for a long time. Now I can hang up my shoes!”
Berry will be remembered as one of the founders of rock ‘n’ roll, and a musician who defined the sound of a generation, and influenced many, many more.
You can finally hang up those shoes, Mr. Berry. You’ve earned a good rest.
The entertainment industry was dealt a blow.
In a shocking announcement that saddened many, actor Bill Paxton died at the age of 61 on Saturday.
“It is with heavy hearts we share the news that Bill Paxton has passed away due to complications from surgery,” a family representative said in a statement of the Paxton, Fort Worth, TX native.
“A loving husband and father, Bill began his career in Hollywood working on films in the art department and went on to have an illustrious career spanning four decades as a beloved and prolific actor and filmmaker. Bill’s passion for the arts was felt by all who knew him, and his warmth and tireless energy were undeniable. We ask to please respect the family’s wish for privacy as they mourn the loss of their adored husband and father.”
The Hollywood community is in shock.
“Lou Diamond Phillips said he was”stunned & saddened at the passing of Bill Paxton. I just worked with him recently. A warm and beautiful soul and a talented actor. RIP.”
In a career that spanned four decades, Paxton played in many hits that included “Titanic,” “Apollo 13,” “Terminator” and “Aliens.” He is known for his show in the HBO series “Big Love” where he received Golden Globe nominations. He starred as Randolph McCoy in the mini-series “Hatfields & McCoys” where he received Emmy Nominations as well.
Recently Paxton, filmed 13 episodes of the television show “Training Day” aired on Thursday nights. The show is a spinoff from the 2001 film starring Denzel Washington, who played an embattled cop. According to reports, the show will continue to air.
WBTV and CBS released a joined statement on Paxton’s passing:
“We are shocked and deeply saddened this morning by the news of Bill Paxton’s passing. Bill was, of course, a gifted and popular actor with so many memorable roles in film and television. His colleagues at CBS and Warner Bros. Television will also remember a guy who lit up every room with infectious charm, energy and warmth, and as a great storyteller who loved to share entertaining anecdotes and stories about his work. All of us here offer our deepest sympathy to his wife, Louise, and his two children.”
Here are some warm thoughts from Paxton’s Hollywood friends. Director James Cameron said after 36 years of friendship that he will be “profoundly missed.”
Antoine Fuqua is a director and Tweeted:
“Bill was someone whose goodness and compassion was evident from the moment you met him. He was an immense talent and the type of guy you wanted to spend as much time with both in front of, and behind, the camera. My heartfelt condolences to his family.”
The common thread among colleagues was that Paxton was not the typical Hollywood type. He was lovely and kind human. Peter Henry Fonda wrote: “My friend Bill Paxton got cast in the Big Picture yesterday.I always enjoyed being in his company. He was a gracious man.Wrapped 2 soon man.”
Television icon Mary Tyler Moore brought the newsroom into our homes as Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Sadly, the woman who “turned the world on with her smile” died Wednesday at the age of 80 in Connecticut.
“Mary Tyler Moore passed away at the age of 80 in the company of friends and her loving husband of over 33 years, Dr. S. Robert Levine,” her publicist Mara Buxbaum said in a statement.
The gorgeous brown-eyed girl came onto the scene as the sexy housewife Laura Petrie on the Dick Van Dyke Show during the 1960s and then represented a young woman working on the evening news at WJM-TV on the MTM show in the 1970s and it made her a household name and a smash hit.
She always said that she never compromised any of her characters as the audience would see right through it.
“And that’s what the audience was feeling too, as they watched the show and as they watch it now. And overriding all of that is the way it was written. It was written honestly. There was never any manufactured laugh.”
Moore struggled with health problems associated with Type 1 diabetes since being diagnosed at the age of 33. The disease almost caused her to go blind. She wrote a memoir on the condition called Growing Up Again: Life, Loves, and Oh Yeah, Diabetes that was published in 2009.
“A groundbreaking actress, producer and passionate advocate for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Mary will be remembered as a fearless visionary who turned the world on with her smile,” her publicist continued.
Moore will be remembered for her charitable contributions. She became chairwoman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and worked tirelessly for animal rights.
“I would like to be remembered as somebody who made a difference in the lives of animals,” she said in a 1997 interview. “A human being has been given an intellect to make choices, and we know there are other food sources that do not require the killing of a creature that would protest being killed.”
Moore did more than act. She also co-founded MTM Enterprises with her husband at the time Grant Tinker. She worked behind-the-scenes to create shows like Rhoda, the Bob Newhart Show and Hill Street Blues.
She seemed to be unstoppable and was known to love working.
“I just like the continue doing what I’ve been doing. A melange of funny, straight drama, television, movies, a little theater here and there wouldn’t hurt. So if I can keep doing that, I’ll be a very happy person.”
According to People, Moore was on a ventilator and had pneumonia due to “complications from her diabetes.”
William Peter Blatty, the man behind what is considered to be the most frightening movie in all cinematic history, has passed away on January 12th, just days after his 89th birthday.
Blatty wrote the novel, “The Exorcist,” in 1971, and went on to also write the screenplay for the infamous film adaptation that most are familiar with. For his screenplay, Blatty won a well-earned Academy Award.
The son of Lebanese parents who emigrated to America, Blatty was well-acquainted with religion from an early age. His mother, the deeply Catholic niece of a Bishop, raised him alone after his father, Peter Blatty, left the family.
Blatty attended a Jesuit school, and later, George Washington University, where he earned a master’s degree in English Literature, but went on to take on a series of odd jobs, even enlisting in the U.S. Air Force and working within its Psychological Warfare Division for a time.
But when a friend reminded him of an old, lost dream—the dream of publishing and entertaining—Blatty finally found his calling.
After penning a series of well-reviewed comic novels, Blatty rented a remote chalet within the darkened forests bordering Lake Tahoe. It was here that he would write the novel that brought him to fame.
The Exorcist, a story about a young girl who is possessed by a demonic entity, tapped into something primal and fearful within readers, and remained on the New York Times bestseller list for 57 weeks, and at the top spot for 17 of those weeks.
Later, his novel was adapted by director William Fredkin and himself into “The Exorcist”—the most famous horror movie of all time, which went on to win not only an Academy Award, but Golden Globes for best picture and best writing. The success of his work brought wealth, fame, and security to a man who grew up poor and “comfortably destitute”.
Blatty’s experience with the supernatural wasn’t confined to his writing. A man of faith, Blatty’s upbringing by a Catholic mother, and by the surrogate Jesuit fathers which passed through his life, left him with all the tools he needed to be a deeply effective Catholic writer.
In the acknowledgements for “The Exorcist,” Blatty thanks English Professor Bernard Wagner for “teaching me to write,” and the Jesuits for “teaching me to think”.
The seeds of his interest in supernatural evil were sown one day as a Georgetown professor mentioned a case of demonic possession that had occurred nearby. “I remember thinking, ‘Boy, if somebody would dig into this and authenticate it and show that it’s the real thing, what a gift to the faith,” said Blatty, in an interview with Washingtonian. “It stayed in my mind, and I thought maybe someday I’d try to write a nonfiction account.”
But while his novel did end up in the realm of fiction, Blatty never intended “The Exorcist” to be mere entertainment.
“It’s an argument for God,” he said, of the novel and subsequent film. “I intended it to be an apostolic work, to help people in the in faith. Because I thoroughly believed in the authenticity and validity of that particular event.”
Rare are men like Blatty—figures of faith that dare to venture into the darkness in order to help us better appreciate the light. But we’re not bereft of this with Blatty’s passing; contemporary directors like Scott Derrickson have taken up the torch and continue to bring audiences face-to-face with evil through the lens of faith.
William Peter Blatty, though, left a mark on our culture that will never fully fade away—a mark that connects the literary world with the realm of faith, and one that connects audiences to the possibilities and mysteries of the spiritual world.