Category Archives: Remembrance

Alex Trebek, RIP

Alex Trebek, celebrated host of my favorite game show, “Jeopardy!“, has died at the age of 80 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

What can I say? I know people die all the time. Such is the cycle of life. But damn, this has been a helluva year. I’m going to miss him very much.

Alex Trebek, RIP

Sean Connery, RIP

My all-time favorite 007, Sean Connery, has died, at the age of 90. From the moment I heard him say, “Bond, James Bond” [YouTube link] in “Dr. No” through his Oscar-winning turn as Jimmy Malone in the 1987 film version of “The Untouchables,” he provided us with some of the most entertaining moments in modern cinema.

In addition to that Oscar, Connery was the winner of two BAFTA Awards, three Golden Globes (including the Cecil B. DeMille Award) and a Kennedy Center Honor.

RIP, Sean.

Whitey Ford, RIP

I just learned that legendary New York Yankees pitcher, Whitey Ford, died last night at the age of 91.

A native New Yorker, the Hall of Fame left-hander pitched with the Yankees through eleven pennants and six World Series championships (earning the World Series MVP in 1961). He was a Cy Young Award winner and ten-time All-Star, a true baseball great whose #16 was retired to Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park.

The Yankees could use a little Whitey Ford magic tonight as they face off against the Tampa Bay Rays in the fifth and deciding game of the Division Series, which catapults the winner into a best-of-seven series against the Houston Astros (grrrr…). This Yankee fan will settle for a great game from pitcher Gerrit Cole and some fireworks from the Yankee line-up.

In mourning the passing of the Chairman of the Board (not to be confused with that other Chairman of the Board), I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that it was just last Friday, that the baseball world lost another pitching giant: Bob Gibson (who died at the age of 84). This, after the loss, in September, of the great Tom Seaver.

I know this has been a screwed-up baseball season—a mirror image of a screwed-up year. All the more reason to celebrate the stars of baseball’s yesteryear, as we cherish whatever the great American pastime has to offer us today, tomorrow, or in future seasons!

RIP, Whitey; RIP, Bob.

Postscript (10 October 2020): Alas, the Yanks coulda used a couple of more hitters last night… no American League Pennant or World Series this year. Good luck to the Tampa Bay Rays—here’s hoping they beat those Cheatin’, Lyin’ Astros, and go all the way, to bring to their city a World Series Championship to match the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Stanley Cup Win.

Postscript (15 October 2020): Sadly, I failed to note the passing of three other Hall of Famers this year: Lou Brock (September 6, 2020) and Joe Morgan (October 11, 2020). And way back on April 6th: Al Kaline. RIP.

Eddie Van Halen, RIP

There are so many articles and posts that have been written in memory of the legendary rock guitarist Eddie Van Halen, who died yesterday at the age of 65. I couldn’t begin to do justice to the legacy he left behind as one of the most influential rock guitarists of his generation.

But one story did give me a chuckle—as well as insights into Van Halen’s creative contributions, even to other artist’s work. Several writers, including Denise Quan, Damian Jones, and Hillel Italie, recount the story of how the great Quincy Jones contacted the guitarist to provide what would become a sizzling, memorable star-turn solo for Michael Jackson‘s groundbreaking “Beat It” from his 1982 album, “Thriller“—transforming that song into a bona fide Grammy-winning Record of the Year. As Italie writes:

Before Eddie Van Halen agreed to add a guitar break to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” one of the most famous cameos in rock history, he had to be sure the phone call from producer Quincy Jones wasn’t a practical joke.

“I went off on him. I went, ‘What do you want, you f-ing so-and-so!,’ ” Van Halen told CNN in 2012, 30 years after he worked on the song. “And he goes, ‘Is this Eddie?’ I said, ‘Yeah, what the hell do you want?’ ‘This is Quincy.’ I’m thinking to myself, ‘I don’t know anyone named Quincy.’ He goes, ‘Quincy Jones, man.’ I went, ‘Ohhh, sorry!’ ”

Van Halen, who died Tuesday at age 65, needed less than an hour in the studio and 20 scorching seconds on record to join white heavy metal to Black pop at a time when they seemed in entirely different worlds, when the young MTV channel rarely aired videos by Black artists. “Beat It” became one of the signature tracks on Jackson’s mega-selling “Thriller” album, won Grammys in 1984 for record of the year and male rock vocal performance and helped open up MTV’s programming.

When Van Halen arrived at the studio in Los Angeles, Jones told him he could improvise. Van Halen listened to “Beat It,” asked if he could rearrange the song and added a pair of solos during which, engineers would long swear, a speaker caught on fire.

As he was finishing, Jackson walked in. “I didn’t know how he would react to what I was doing. So I warned him before he listened. I said, ‘Look, I changed the middle section of your song,’ ” Van Halen told CNN. “Now in my mind, he’s either going to have his bodyguards kick me out for butchering his song, or he’s going to like it. And so he gave it a listen, and he turned to me and went, ‘Wow, thank you so much for having the passion to not just come in and blaze a solo, but to actually care about the song, and make it better.’ ” …

After the record’s release, Van Halen would remember shopping in a Tower Records while “Beat It” was playing on the sound system. “The solo comes on, and I hear these kids in front of me going, ‘Listen to this guy trying to sound like Eddie Van Halen,’” he said. “I tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘That IS me!’ That was hilarious.”

Another amazingly talented musician has left us. And for those who forgot how good he sounded on “Beat It”—check out the Bob Girardi-directed video again:

RIP, Eddie.

Postscript (8 October 2020): Courtesy of my cousin Michael Turzilli, I learned that there was footage from the Victory Tour—the only time Eddie Van Halen appeared on-stage with Michael Jackson (and the Jacksons) to perform “Beat It” live in concert in Texas. Apparently, once word got out that Eddie had done this, his record label pretty much said: “There will be no more of that.” Check it out below!

“Layers”: A Nathaniel Branden Novel

For those who are not yet aware, a new, posthumously published novel, Layers, written by Nathaniel Branden, has been released in both a Kindle and paperback edition.

The book was the subject of a fascinating article by Stephen Cox, which was published in a trailblazing 2016 double issue symposium of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies: “Nathaniel Branden: His Work and Legacy” (also available as a Kindle edition). Cox’s contribution to that symposium, “Nathaniel Branden: In the Writer’s Workshop,” explores how “Nathaniel Branden was both inspired by imaginative literature and ambitious to create it himself. The history of [Cox’s] literary relationship with [Branden] provides important insights into his intellectual character, his aesthetic interests, and his literary ability.” At the heart of that article was Cox’s discussion of the various drafts of the novel that Branden shared with him—which eventually became Layers.

Nathaniel had sent me various drafts of that novel many years ago, and I was astonished by both the depth of its psychological insights and literary quality. As the book finally neared publication, six years after Branden passed away, I was asked to provide a back-cover blurb, which appears below. I encourage readers to check out this important work.


Layers – By Nathaniel Branden

Here are those back-cover blurbs:

Layers is a remarkable work by a remarkable human being. Nathaniel Branden was a leading psychotherapist who inspired thousands by his work with individual patients and his influential books about the psychology of self-esteem and personal growth. At his death he left a work of fiction—Layers—that reveals what patients seldom see: the agonizing conflicts within the therapist’s own mind. Layers is a work of compelling psychological insight, a story of one man’s intrepid search for the truth about himself. Branden tells this story with the drama and suspense and sudden beauty that readers expect and deserve from an important work of fiction.”
– Stephen Cox, University of California, San Diego

“This thought-provoking novel reveals yet another ‘layer’ to the complex, interwoven fabric that constitutes Nathaniel Branden’s life and legacy. A must for fans of his famous associate, Ayn Rand, and for those who may be encountering Branden’s insightful work for the first time.”
– Chris Matthew Sciabarra, author of Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical

“This story vividly illustrates, as none other I’ve ever read, how centrally important it is to do what you most deeply love and want to do in life, and how badly your life can go awry if you don’t.”
– Roger E. Bissell, Research Associate, Molinari Institute

WTC Remembrance: Firefighter Gerard Gorman – Ultimate Survivor

Today marks the nineteenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 2001, which, nearly two decades later, continue to affect our lives as New Yorkers, as well as the lives of those whose loved ones were killed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania and in Washington, D.C. My annual series returns this year with a remarkable story of resilience in the face of unimaginable horror: Firefighter Gerard Gorman: Ultimate Survivor [link to the article]. Gerard was an FDNY first responder on that day. I can’t thank him enough for sharing his memories—salty language and all—as a testament to the indomitable spirit of a true native New Yorker, something as relevant to 2020 as it is to the spirit of September 11, 2001.

Those who read this year’s installment might recognize the name of John Perry, mentioned by Gerard; I had met John at a regular discussion group run by Victor Niederhoffer in Manhattan.

For those who have not read previous entries in the series, here is a convenient index:

2001: As It Happened . . .

2002: New York, New York

2003: Remembering the World Trade Center: A Tribute

2004: My Friend Ray

2005: Patrick Burke, Educator

2006: Cousin Scott

2007: Charlie: To Build and Rebuild

2008: Eddie Mecner, Firefighter

2009: Lenny: Losses and Loves

2010: Tim Drinan, Student

2011: Ten Years Later

2012: A Memorial for the Ages: A Pictorial

2013: My Friend Matthew: A 9/11 Baby of a Different Stripe

2014: A Museum for the Ages: A Pictorial

2015: A New One World Trade Center Rises From the Ashes: A Pictorial

2016: Fifteen Years Ago: Through the Looking Glass of a Video Time Machine

2017: Sue Mayham: Not Business as Usual

2018: Anthony Schirripa, Architect

2019: Zack Fletcher: Twin Towers, Twin Memories

2020: Firefighter Gerard Gorman: Ultimate Survivor

Never forget. ❤

Tom Seaver, RIP

The great baseball pitcher, Tom Seaver, died on Monday at the age of 75. He was a legendary player and a class act all the way. One of the key ingredients to the 1969 Miracle Mets season (he went 25-7 that season, going on to win the first of three career Cy Young Awards), he would ultimately end his career with 311 wins, 3,640 strikeouts, and a 2.86 ERA. Remarkable.

He may have been The Franchise for the New York Mets, but he also had a Yankee connection—aside from recording his 300th victory against them as a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox to the applause of NY fans [YouTube link]. That happened on August 4, 1985—which was, of all days, Phil Rizzuto Day at the Stadium, when Rizzuto got knocked over by a Holy Cow [YouTube link]!).

Ironically, the two Hall of FamersSeaver and Rizzuto—would later be joined in the Yankee broadcasting booth, on WPIX-TV from 1989 to 1993.

For a little extra entertainment, highlighting their different styles, to say the least, check out the Hall of Fame speeches given by both Seaver and Rizzuto [YouTube links].

RIP, Tom Terrific.

Song of the Day #1806

Song of the Day: Ben, music by Walter Scharf, lyrics by Don Black, was the title track to the 1972 flick, sequel to the 1971 killer rat film, “Willard.” A young Michael Jackson (born on this date in 1958) sings this song over the film’s closing credits [YouTube link]. The studio recording [YouTube link] would go on to become a #1 Billboard Hot 100 hit, the first of so many solo MJ hits to come. It would go on to win a Golden Globe for Best Original Song. Other renditions include those performed live by Billy Gillman and by Dutch violinist Andre Rieu [YouTube links]. In keeping with our Summer Music Festival (Jazz Edition), check out this big band arrangement by Jim McMillen and Company [YouTube link] (from the album “Swingin’ to Michael Jackson: A Tribute” [YouTube links]). Tomorrow is the VMAs… where MJ collected quite a few awards over the years.

Song of the Day #1804

Song of the Day: Never Let Me Go, words and music by Ray Evans and Jay Livingston, was first heard in the 1956 Michael Curtiz-directed crime drama, “The Scarlet Hour” brought to life in the film by the great Nat King Cole and in a longer studio recording as well [YouTube links]. Jazz pianist Bill Evans recorded this song for his album, “Alone,” for which he received his third of seven Grammy Awards (out of 31 total nominations in his career). The legendary musician was born on this date in 1929. Check out Bill’s 14+ minute solo piano performance of this lovely composition [YouTube link].

Olivia de Havilland, RIP

On July 1, I noted that Olivia de Havilland had reached 104 years of age.

Today, Olivia has died—one of the few remaining stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age.

As I noted on the first of the month: “From her films with the great swashbuckler Errol Flynn to her Oscar-winning turns in ‘To Each His Own’ and ‘The Heiress,’ she has provided us with quite a film legacy.”

Olivia, RIP