BY NATHAN DECORTE
The new year has only just begun and it’s already shaping up to be a rough one. Between the last days of 2015 and the first of 2016 we lost several iconic figures, men who had entertained us, delighted us and inspired us. Below is a partial list of those we lost with the turning of the new year.
Lemmy Kilmister (December 24, 1945 — December 28, 2015)
On Dec. 28, lovers of hard music and hard living lost a legend when Lemmy, bassist and frontman of the seminal rock band Motörhead, was finally “Killed by Death” in Los Angeles. Within hours of his passing, tributes from rock and heavy metal royalty started pouring in. In a memorial penned for Rolling Stone, co-conspirator and longtime friend Ozzy Osbourne wrote, “He was my hero… I don’t think a lot of people will forget Lemmy… I’m so honored to have [him as] a part of my life.”
According to the official announcement released via Motörhead’s Facebook page, the rocker died of an extremely aggressive cancer that had only been diagnosed two days prior. For his part, Lemmy took the diagnosis gracefully. When his doctor told him that he had only two-to-six months to live, “He took it better than all of us.” said Motörhead manager Todd Singerman. “His only comment was, ‘Oh, only two months, huh?’”
Perhaps Lemmy took the news so calmly because he never expected to live so long in the first place. Rock stars are known to live a certain lifestyle, but even amongst rock stars Lemmy was notorious for his lifestyle. As Osbourne recalls, “Back in those days, I was hitting it pretty hard as well. But nothing like them. They put a new fucking meaning to partying. It was catastrophic.”
But as the years caught up with him, even Lemmy was forced to slow down. Although his cancer diagnosis came late, those close to Lemmy speculate that he knew his time was coming. “To really think of what energy and the balls that took to still play shows for the fans, to do the last fucking show two weeks ago, and then drop. That’s like a Rocky story to me,” mused Singerman. “This is courage at his best. He was dying. He didn’t know it, but his body must have felt it. He had nothing left.” As Osbourne recalls, “We did some gigs in South America with him in April, I remember my wife saying, ‘You should have seen Lemmy. He’s lost a lot of weight and he really doesn’t look too well.’ I was constantly texting him, saying, ‘If you need anything, call me.’ I was just looking at my phone, and there was a message from him that said, ‘Thanks for caring.’”
Tributes were still being paid weeks after Lemmy’s passing. At a memorial gathering at the Rainbow Bar and Grill in Los Angeles, Mike Inez of Alice in Chains remarked that “There was one Elvis Presley, one Little Richard, one Steve McQueen and one Lemmy.” Osbourne shared similar sentiments. “There’s a big hole in the music industry as far as I’m concerned. He was a character. There ain’t many characters in music today.”
Angus Scrimm (August 19, 1926 – January 9, 2016)
Angus Scrimm, the character actor best known for his role in the Phantasm series of films as a villainous, extra-dimensional alien known only as The Tall Man of the Phantasm, would be the first celebrity lost this year. Phantasm director Don Coscarelli reported Scrimm’s passing via Twitter and Facebook, remarking that Scrimm “was the last in a long line of classic horror movie stars. He was a terrific actor and even better friend.” In addition to the Phantasm franchise, Scrimm appeared in a number of horror hits like John Dies at the End, I Sell the Dead and Chopping Mall, while also keeping a recurring role in the television show Alias. Back in the ‘90s, it was announced that Coscarelli was working with Evil Dead director Sam Raimi towards making an Evil Dead/Phantasm crossover. With the Evil Dead being revived this past fall in the form of the Stars original series Ash VS The Evil Dead, hopes were high that Scrimm’s diabolical Tall Man might make an appearance. Sadly, it seems that with Scrimm’s passing, any hope of such a monster mash must die with him. Scrimm’s final film appearance will be in Phantasm: Ravager, the long-awaited fifth and final installment in the franchise, slated for a mid-2016 release.
David Bowie (January 8, 1947 – January 10, 2016)
On Jan. 8, David Bowie released his latest album, Blackstar. Two days later, the Thin White Duke was dead, following a protracted battle with liver cancer. Bowie’s career comprised a body of work so broad and varied that any attempt to catalogue it here will inevitably fall short. As a musician, Bowie pioneered multiple genres of music, had more than a dozen platinum albums in the United Stated and the United Kingdom, and enjoyed productive collaborations with the likes of Queen and Brian Eno, among others. Artists who have covered Bowie’s songs and cited him as an influence include Nirvana, Joan Jett, Duran Duran, Smashing Pumpkins, Marilyn Manson, Arcade Fire, Oasis, Ozzy Osbourne, Morrissey, Beck, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lady Gaga, Bauhaus and Nine Inch Nails. As an actor, he appeared in numerous stage productions, including a Broadway production of The Elephant Man that won him critical acclaim, as well as a multitude of films including The Man who Fell to Earth in 1976, Labyrinth in 1986, The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988, and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me in 1992. As a producer, he worked with many of the most important and artists groups of the ‘70s, including Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, the latter of which was a personal hero of Bowie’s and helped inspire the stage persona he would craft for himself.
In an interview with the New York Times, Iggy Pop reflected on his relationship with Bowie. “The friendship was basically that this guy salvaged me from certain professional and maybe personal annihilation — simple as that. He resurrected me. He was more of a benefactor than a friend in a way most people think of friendship. He went a bit out of his way to bestow some good karma on me.”
Despite facing a grim prognosis, David Bowie continued to work prolifically right up until the very end. “Bowie was still writing on his deathbed, you could say,” Ivo van Hove, director of Bowie’s off-Broadway play Lazarus, told NPO Radio 4, via DutchNews.nl. “I saw a man fighting. He fought like a lion and kept working like a lion through it all. I had incredible respect for that.” As the news of his passing broke, fans and fellow celebrities shared their grief and fond recollections of the Starman. Everyone from Kanye West to Ozzy Osbourne to Sasha Gray came together to pay their respects. Former collaborator Brian Eno recounted his last contact with Bowie: “I received an email from him seven days ago… I realize now he was saying goodbye.”
Following the release of Blackstar and Bowie’s subsequent death, Bowie’s producer Tony Visconti had this to say: “He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was no different from his life — a work of art. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry.”
Alan Rickman (21 February 1946 – 14 January 2016)
And finally, on the fourteenth of January, veteran actor and director Alan Rickman passed away, also of cancer. Rickman was of course best known for his portrayal of Professor Severus Snape, potions master and tragic hero of the Harry Potter films, but his body of work extends far beyond that. He cut his teeth performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company before landing his breakout film role, tormenting Bruce Willis as the diabolical Hans Gruber in Die Hard. As an actor of great range however, he would also appear in Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility, the 1999 sci-fi comedy Galaxy Quest, portray the archangel Metaton in Kevin Smith’s theological comedy Dogma, provided the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android in the 2005 adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and would play the titular role in Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny, for which he was awarded a Golden Globe, an Emmy and a Screen Actor’s Guild Award.
Despite his commanding presence, sinister baritone, and piercing gaze, Rickman is remembered, by virtually all who knew him, as one of the kindest, gentlest souls they had ever known. Speaking to The Guardian, Kevin Smith, accustomed to casting his neighborhood pals in micro-budget films, recalls that Rickman was “the first non-friend who signed up to the flick, but he became a great friend in record time.”
“I loved Hans Gruber the minute I saw Die Hard,” Smith added. “But I fell in love with the soft-spoken gentle soul who brought Gruber to life. Thank you for lending a hack like me your artistry and your credibility, Alan. You were never Snape to me as much as you were the adult Harry Potter himself: a bonafide wizard who could conjure absolute magic using merely words.”
“I remember being so intimidated by him,” remembers Kate Winslet, Rickman’s Sense and Sensibility co-star in a People Magazine interview. “He had such a powerful and commanding presence. And that voice! Oh, that voice. But the reality, of course, was that he was the kindest and best of men.” Perhaps Rickman was born to play a role in a Jane Austen adaptation, given the circumstances surrounding his real-life relationship. Rickman met Rima Horton, his first and only girlfriend, as a teenager in 1965. Through ups and downs they stayed together for almost fifty years before they were finally married in small ceremony in 2012.
Also speaking to People Magazine, frequent co-star and longtime friend Emma Thompson remembers Rickman for not only his wit, but his loyalty. “What I remember most in this moment of painful leave-taking is his humor, intelligence, wisdom and kindness… He was the ultimate ally.”
Nathan DeCorte can be reached at email@example.com