All people are different, but there is one thing we all have in common: DEATH.  Another thing many of us share is an interest in celebrities – famous and infamous people. Combining these interests, I got the idea for this article.

Why death? Not only because it was chosen to be the theme for the January issue of Plotki, but rather because we are currently living in a society where, as Philippe Ariès observed, death is a cultural taboo; the way in which celebrities die and grieve are matters of considerable interest.
Why celebrities? Because celebrities have a special status not only in life, but also – and sometimes particularly – in death.

Our culture immortalizes celebrities. The power of celebrity seems to go beyond death. It’s hard for people to believe that larger-than-life celebrities can die of common death.

They still die however. Celebrities die like all people do, and as surprising as it may seem, it is in this very moment that they appear to us more human than ever. In front of death, famous people are weak and powerless like the rest of us, no matter how invincible and great they might have been during their life. After all, it is a popular saying that in front of death we are all equal.  

2006 has been a busy year for death. There are many famous names to choose from when trying to exemplify my previous statements. So many in fact, that going through all of them would make it impossible to maintain some reasonable dimensions for the following text (it is meant to be an article).   Therefore, I opted for chronological criteria, restricting my choice to one month – December.

These are the stories of four famous people, whose deaths marked the end of the year 2006, but whose lives changed the world forever.

The stories will be brought to you in a chronological order, in the attempt to avoid using other subjective criteria.

GENERAL PINOCHET – died on the 10th of December at the age of 91

Pic: Merco Ugarte
Gen. Augusto Pinochet salutes his supporters on his 74th birthday in this Nov. 25, 1989, photo taken in Santiago, Chile, Associated Press.

“Today, close to the end of my days, I want to make clear that I hold no rancour towards anybody, that I love my country above all else”. Pinochet’s statement, 2006

General Pinochet took power over Chile in 1973, when he led the armed forces in a dramatic coup against the democratically elected Marxist government of Salvador Allende and set up a pro-American, repressive government.

He ruled with an iron fist until 1990 and became one of South America’s best-known military rulers of the 1970s and 80s.  More than 3,000 people were killed or disappeared and 28,000 were tortured during his rule. He was accused of dozens of human rights abuses as well as fraud but his poor health always kept him away from trial.
In Chile, a country still split by Pinochet’s 17-year reign, the death of former military dictator prompted widespread celebrations, as well as anger. Despite severe human rights abuses, many Chileans love him and grant him the honour of saving the country from Marxism. Especially following the statement read by his wife on his 91st birthday, in which Gen Pinochet said he accepted “political responsibility” for acts committed during his rule.
In the same time, for those who sought his arrest and trial, Pinochet’s death meant justice would be denied, but not only, it also demonstrated the shortcomings of international law.

JOSEPH BARBERA  – died on the 18th of December at the age of 95

Pic:  undated photo released by Warner Bros.
Source: Washington Post.

If you grew up any time after the 1950s – which is most probable- surely you have spent big part of your childhood watching the work of Joseph Barbera, one half of Hanna Barbera Productions- the company that brought you Tom and Jerry, the Flintstones, Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Scooby Doo, the Jetsons and Top Cat.

It is interesting how Barbera’s love of cartoons started and ended up in revolutionising the cartooning-world. It was during the Great Depression of the 20th century, when people were desperate for a laugh to take their minds off the problems of joblessness and poverty, that Barbera, who grew up in Brooklyn, taught himself to draw by copying cartoons and illustrations in magazines.

With his long-time partner, Bill Hanna, Barbera first found success creating the battling cat and mouse cartoons, Tom and Jerry, which went on to win seven Academy Awards, more than any other series with the same characters.

The partners then went on to a whole new realm of success in the 1950s and ’60s with a series of animated TV comedies, including The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Yogi Bear, Scooby-Doo and Huckleberry Hound and Friends.

The influence of Hanna-Barbera was felt for decades and it still is. In 2002, and again in 2004, characters from the cartoon series “Scooby-Doo” were brought to the big screen in films that combined live actors and animation, while Fred’s shout of “yabba dabba doo!” entered the language and remained for good.

JAMES BROWN – died on the 25th of December 2006 at the age of 73.

Picture : James Brown performing at a concert in Riga, Latvia, in July 2006.
Source: Inga Kundzina/European Pressphoto Agency

“If you are an American or you’re just a human being and got any blood going through your veins – AHHHOOWWW! I feel good”.

Along with artists like Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan, James Brown, The ‘Godfather of Soul’, was one of the major musical influences of the past 50 years. If Brown’s claim to the invention of soul can be challenged by fans of Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, then his rights to the genres of rap, disco and funk are beyond question. His revolutionary rhythms made him a founder of rap, funk and disco as well, while his rapid- footed dancing inspired Mick Jagger, Prince Michael Jackson among others…if you have ever wondered where the tight pants, shimmering feet, eye makeup and outrageous hair come from, you have found the answer.  Songs such as David Bowie’s “Fame,” Prince’s “Kiss,” George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” were clearly based on Brown’s rhythms and vocal style and his work was replayed by the Fat Boys, Ice-T, Public Enemy and others.
“Disco is James Brown, hip-hop is James Brown, rap is James Brown; you know what I’m saying? You hear all the rappers, 90 percent of their music is me,” Brown said to Associated Press in 2003.

His hit singles include such classics as Out of Sight, Get Up I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine, I Got You (I Feel Good) and Say It Out Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud, a landmark 1968 statement of racial pride.

The Godfather of Soul, who made generations of music fans feel good Brown, performed to the very end and he had planned to perform on New Year’s Eve at B.B. King’s Blues Club in New York.

GERALD FORD – died on the 26th of December at the age of 93.

Pic: Official picture
“Truth is the glue that holds government together. Compromise is the oil that makes governments go.”

Gerald Ford was the 38th American president and the longest living one, followed by Ronald Reagan, who also died at 93.

The delicate circumstances in which he became president in 1974 – taking over a White House scattered by the Watergate scandal, without being elected – justified by the famous affirmation he used when inaugurating his mandate: “My fellow Americans,” he said, “our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule.”

A month later he granted Nixon a pardon for all crimes he committed as president – an act which, it was widely believed, cost Ford election to a term of his own in 1976. Nevertheless, it won praise in later years as a courageous act that allowed the nation to move on.

Ford presidency was also marked by the end (in defeat for the USA) of the Vietnam War, with the fall of Saigon in April 1975. In a speech as the end neared, Ford said: “Today, America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by refighting a war that is finished as far as America is concerned.” Evoking Abraham Lincoln, he said it was time to “look forward to an agenda for the future, to unify, to bind up the nation’s wounds.”

Ford did not carry out a full term. He survived an intraparty challenge from Ronald Reagan only to lose to Democrat Jimmy Carter in November 1976, becoming thus the only US president never to win a national election.

What is it that makes Ford’s presidency to the US worth recalling? Clifford, an adviser to presidents since Harry Truman, summed up his legacy: “Ford … was a likable person who deserves credit for accomplishing the one goal that was most important, to reunite the nation after the trauma of Watergate and give us a breathing spell before we picked a new president.”

SADDAM HUSSEIN – executed on the 30th of December, at the age of 69.

PIC: Associated Press
Saddam Hussein, former Iraqi president reacts as the verdict is delivered during his trial, Baghdad, Iraq.

“Oh sons of Arabs and the Arab Gulf, rebel against the foreigner…Take revenge for your dignity, holy places, security, interests and exalted values.”
Saddam Hussein, January 5, 1999

While millions of Muslims worldwide, including in Iraq, were busy celebrating the five-day `Eid Al-Adha, the Iraqi government, on Saturday December 30th, executed by hanging Saddam Hussein, the dictator who ruled Iraq with a remorseless brutality for a quarter-century, slaughtered Iraq’s Kurdish minority, invaded Iran and Kuwait and fought two disastrous wars with the United States, in the last one being driven from power by the U.S.

The death sentence handed down by the Iraqi High Tribunal last month followed the former dictator’s conviction on charges of crimes against humanity. Hussein and two co-defendants were accused of the killing, torturing and illegal detention of residents of Dujail, a primarily Shiite town where an unsuccessful attempt on Hussein’s life took place in 1982.

The execution took place in an old Saddam-era military intelligence headquarters in the Khadimiyah district of northern Baghdad, a location with a symbolic value, because it had been a centre of torture and execution under Saddam.

And with that Saddam – the burly sadist – stepped off Iraq’s political stage for good.

Reactions of political and religious leaders worldwide were divided over whether former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s execution was a step towards peace or further conflict in the Middle East: US President George W. Bush regarded Saddam’s execution as “an important milestone” on the road to building an Iraqi democracy but warned it will not end deadly violence there. The EU condemned the execution, warning it could add to divisions in Iraq.

Countries in the Middle East had also divergent opinions. Israel, Iran, Kuwait hailed the execution, saying that “justice has been done” while states like Libya, Yemen and Jordan considered Saddam’s execution as an act intended to harm the Muslim nation.

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