There’s No Such Thing as Dying With Dignity!

Just a fairly short one tonight. Inspired by a chat with a friend, I thought I would share a few tit-bits on the subject of a famous funeral that endured a couple of mishaps and all things awkward, that did not discriminate on the basis of class or fame.

When Winston Churchill died in January 1965 after suffering a stroke some days before, he was given one of the biggest state funerals ever known, particularly for a “commoner”. The ceremony involved somber journeys on a gun carriage through the streets of London to the service at St Paul’s Cathedral, followed by another procession to the Thames where the bearer party would hand over the coffin into the safe-keeping of the Royal Irish Hussars who would convey Churchill down the Thames by barge to Waterloo and on by steam train to his private burial alongside his parents and brother. His original intention following an earlier stroke some years previously, had been to be buried under the croquet lawn of his country home. Following his second stroke, his wife gently but firmly insisted it was a bad idea. He reluctantly agreed and the plan was switched to St Martin’s Church, Bladon.

When the procession reached St Paul’s, Churchill’s lead-lined coffin was taken by the bearer party and carried shoulder high up the steep double flight of steps into the doors of the Cathedral. Preceded by a party of pall-bearers, which included former Prime Ministers Clement Atlee and Harold MacMillan, it had been decided that in a break with tradition, due to their age, a bearer party would do the actual manual work involved in transferring the coffin from the gun carriage to the Cathedral. Since his first stroke 12 years previously, the funeral plan “Operation Hope Not” had been put into place, its organ
izer the Duke of Norfolk constantly revising the details over the following years, as Lord Mountbatten – another of the pall bearers – put it “The problem was that Churchill kept living and the Pall-bearers kept dying!”

So following the eventually fatal stroke, a group of soldiers from various regiments, picked in part for their height which ranged from six feet to six feet four, the further back they were positioned in the bearing party, began to practice lifting and lowering a coffin. On the morning, as they reached their destination with the gun carriage, they prepared to lift and hoisted Churchill to their shoulder. He proved heavier than they anticipated. Halfway up the second of the two steep flights of steps, Clement Atlee stumbled, causing the bearers to pause. As they did, the momentum caused the coffin to slip back from the shoulders of the front bearers. Lance Sergeant Lincoln Perkins, in the second row, recalled placing his hand upon the coffin to stop it sliding further, and reassuring the passenger that he was in safe hands. It took all the might of the rear “pushers” of the party to prevent the total dropping of the coffin, and the ability to continue to climb the steps from a standing start.

Of course, that wasn’t the only mishap of the day. Later that afternoon, as the coffin was lowered into its final resting place, a “thunk” was heard by the lead officer of the burial party. After a brief discreet glance around, he chose to ignore and carried on with his duties. It was only later on the train back to the city that one of the other burial party came to him and notified him that his medals had vanished….. back to that “thunk” and a quickly timed call to the diggers finishing the job, reassured him that the grave was as yet unfilled. The medals were quietly retrieved from under the coffin and returned to the soldier in question.


Don Rickles- The King of the Insult

Born May 8, 1926, Don Rickles grew into one of the country’s most famous comedians. Famous for his acidic wit, he went on from his humble Jackson Heights New York beginnings to playing the top stages both domestically and internationally. After graduating from high school, Rickles enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served on the USS Cyrene in World War II. He said later in an 2015 interview with the New York times, he was the class comedian of the ship. When he returned home after being honorably discharged in 1946, Rickles studied and graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Out of desperation at not getting dramatic work, Rickles began doing stand up comedy. Rickles played anywhere he could- the Catskills and strip clubs. He began to make headway as an “insult” comedian. According to New York Magazine, there was a tradition within Jewish comedy of the “underdog” or the “nebbish”. Rickles fit neither of these molds as he was aggressive from the start. For example, his theme music was Spanish matador music, “La Virgen de la Macarena”. Rickles always said he pictured himself as the matador and the audience as the bull.

He got his big break when he performed for at “Murray Franklin’s” nightclub in Miami Beach in 1959. In the audience was Frank Sinatra and some of his friends blowing off steam. He made some snide comments to Sinatra, notably, “Make yourself at home Frank. Hit somebody.” Sinatra laughed so hard he fell off his chair. From that moment on, Rickles were championed by Sinatra and the Rat Pack, which led to work in Las Vegas. However, it was not smooth sailing and he spent a decade slugging it out in clubs before he came to national attention. In 1965, he made the first of his many Tonight Show appearances, lampooning the guests and Johnny Carson in his bombastic style to their delight.

This led to a television show, which didn’t last, called “The Don Rickles Show”. However, he did hit television success with “CPO Sharkey”, which aired from 1976 to 1978. In it, Rickles drew upon his experiences in the Navy. However, these were short lived and he made his bread and butter on the stage doing stand up. He did experience cinematic success late in life in “Casino” with Robert De Niro and as Mr Potato Head in the “Toy Story” series. He never gave up performing, and continued to make concert and television appearances even after a leg infection in 2014 affected his ability to walk. At the age of 81, he was still performing at least 75 nights a year. However, his health finally got the better of him, and he passed of kidney failure at his home in Los Angeles, CA on April 6, 2017 at the age of 90.



Just wanted to add, we didn’t get to see much of Don’s work over here in the UK, however I personally remember him as Staff Sgt Crapgame in one of my favourite films ‘Kelly’s Heroes’. The role played to his strengths of “insult comedy”, one of the things he was best known for.
Sad loss to the world of comedy.


Mary Tyler Moore

Tmary-tyler-moore-1980-rolling-stone-interview-9897a1f0-3f90-4b53-82e7-0e8273ba4034he New York Times said she “incarnated the modern woman on TV”.  That is about the best summary I can come up with for this legendary woman.  I can remember as a small child watching my parents watch her antics on the Mary Tyler Moore Show (yes, I am that old) and loving her wit and her grace, without really knowing exactly what that meant.

She was born on December 29, 1936 in Brooklyn, New York and was the eldest of three children.  The family moved to Los Angeles when Mary was eight where she studied acting and dancing.  She got her start in commercials because of her “lovely legs” as “Happy Hotpoint”, a dancing elf, in the mid50’s.  Her big break was in 1961 when she was cast as Laura Petrie, the wife on the Dick Van Dyke Show.  Her talent as a comedian won her Emmys in 1964 and 1966.  When the show ended its run in 1966, Mary focused on musical theater and movies.  It was not until 1970 that she hit big on television again.

With her husband, Grant Tinker, they produced the Mary Tyler Moore Show through their company MTM Enterprises.  I’m sure you remember their logo with the mewing cat in place of the roaring MGM lion.  It’s one of my first TV memories.  Mary produced, wrote and starred in the groundbreaking series about changing attitudes about women in the workplace.  With an all star cast including familiar names such as Ed Asner Gavin MacLeod, Ted Knight, Betty White, Valerie Harper and Cloris Leachman, the show tackled issues such as the wage gap.  Mary’s presence as an anxious but sisterly presence soothed some of the worries about women in the workplace.  The show became a cultural zeitgeist and Mary Richards, Mary’s character, became a feminist icon.  The Mary Tyler Moore Show won numerous Emmys including several for Mary for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress.  The show aired it’s final episode in 1977, but the production company went on to produce many other shows.  Hits such as The Bob Newhart Show, Tax, Hill Street Blues, Remington Steele, Cheers are among the notables they were responsible for bringing to the small screen.mary-tyler-moore_from-gams-to-glitz_hd_768x432-16x9

After the Mary Tyler Moore Show ended, Mary went back to film.  She received an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of an emotionally guarded mother in Ordinary People.  Personally, she endured tragedy as her only son, Richard, died from an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1980.  Around this time, she checked into the Betty Ford Clinic for treatment for alcoholism  This was a disease which her own mother and sister struggled with as well.  She also struggled with diabetes, which caused heart and kidney problems as well as sight loss in later years.  In 2011, Mary had a benign tumor removed from her brain, but was well enough to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild in 2012.

Mary was a devout vegetarian as well as an outspoken advocate for animal welfare.  She passed on January 25, 2017 from complications from pneumonia.  Although she did many roles in her storied career, I like many others will always remember her as the iconic figure depicted in the opening credits on the Mary Tyler Moore Show and enshrined in a statue in downtown Minneapolis.  Head tipped back, huge smile and throwing her hat in the air.  You’re gonna make it after all.


Tilikum the orca

Dawn Brancheau - Riders on the Storm | Ed Schipul | CC BY-SA 2.0
Dawn Brancheau – Riders on the Storm | Ed Schipul | CC BY-SA 2.0

The tragic death of Seaworld trainer Dawn Brancheau after an attack from an orca she was performing with is well known.  Today, the orca involved in the attack has also died.

Tilikum the orca was captured near Iceland in November 1983 and his age was estimated at about 2 years old.  After being held at Hafnarfjörður Marine Zoo for a year, he was transferred to Sealand of the Pacific in British Columbia and trained for shows.  During training Tilikum suffered stomach ulcers and attacks from the other dominant orcas there.  While there, Tilikum was also linked to another death as he and two other whales did not allow a trainer from leaving the tank after she fell in.

Tilikum was purchased by Seaworld, and by this time was 12,000 pounds and was the largest orca in captivity.  He was used extensively in their breeding programs, and it is estimated that 54% of Seaworld’s orcas have his genes.  He sired 14 calves during his time in the Seaworld breeding program.  At Seaworld Orlando in 1999, there was another death and found dead next to Tilikum the next day.  He had sneaked into the park, and nobody is quite sure what happened although an inquest ruled the man died of hypothermia.  However, the man’s body did bear bite marks.  One source reports there were multiple incidents of aggression- chewing on metal gates and the concrete sides of his tank.

Tilikum kept performing in shows until the death of his trainer Dawn Brancheau in an attack in front of a live audience in 2010.  After this new safety rules were enacted and trainers were no longer allowed in the water with the orcas.  In 2013, the documentary Blackfish was released and featured Tilikum’s story as one of the examples of why orcas should not be kept in captivity.  It argued keeping the orcas in small tanks caused stress and frustration, which turned into dangerous and destructive behaviors.  Because Tilikum was only allowed access to 0.0001 percent of the water he would have traversed in a single day, they theorized this put enough stress on him that he exhibited abnormal repetitive behavior as well as aggression towards humans.

In 2016, Seaworld announced the end of the orca breeding program and the theatrical shows involving killer whales.  Since then, Tilikum has remained in captivity.  He was reported to have suffered serious health issues, but a cause of death was not reported


Carrie Fisher

Photo credit-
Photo credit-

This year has taken a lot out of us as a culture. Many of our most beloved icons have been taken from us, the face of the world is changing drastically, and more and more we are faced with truths that are difficult to accept. It seems almost trivial to say that the death of one person represents the culmination of the whole year to me, but that is my burden to bear and my truth to share, and your choice if you wish to keep reading. My guess is if you do, you might feel the same way, or at least are able to understand where I am coming from. What follows may not be the article you wanted, but it’s the one I need to write.

You want a list of facts and dates? Go read the Wikipedia page []. Better yet, go watch her one woman documentary standup comedy THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE show, Wishful Drinking. If you want an honest and entertaining affirmation of Carrie Fisher’s life, keep reading.

Carrie Fisher was important to me. Not because she was Princess Leia (though that was how I discovered her) not because she was a feminist icon (though she entirely was) but because she was real… people do not talk much about mental health. The subject is bizarrely taboo in most “polite” circles but it is a very real thing. Anyone who tells you differently is lying or kidding themselves.

But, to quote the lady herself: “If my life wasn’t funny, it would just be true, and that is completely unacceptable.” – Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking

Carrie did a lot of work in Hollywood. Actress, screenwriter, singer, wife of Paul Simon, lover of Harrison Ford and PRINCESS FRICKING LEIA. I’m sorry, ask any male with any kind of heterosexual tendency what their fantasies are and gold bikini Leia appears somewhere on that list. It wasn’t just that she was sexy and gorgeous and talented, it was that she was a strong, self-confident woman. She was a damn self-rescuing princess! She inspired little princesses to pick up swords (or blasters, whatevs) and slay their own dragons, and she inspired young princes to treat those little princesses with some damn respect.

When she got older and news of her various addiction and mental health issues came out, she owned it. She acknowledged it. She moved past it. She JOKED ABOUT IT. That takes style, class, and a sense of humor like you wouldn’t believe.

I cannot believe she is gone.

We love you Carrie Fisher.

But you knew that already.