What are the most interesting obituaries from the NYTIMES or ECONOMIST?
April 18, 2014 7:45 AM   Subscribe

With the departure of Gabriel Garcia, there has been a plethora of obituaries to make his passing. I've been reading many of them and am pretty intrigued by the life he lived. I remember reading an obituary of Svetlana Alliuyeva which recounted probalby one of the most interesting and epic lives I've ever read about. Miles Davis obituary had probably the coolest (pun intended) headline "Miles Davis, Trumpeter, Dies; Jazz Genius, 65, Defined Cool". What are the most interesting obituaries you've read and that have stayed with you throughout the years.
posted by RapcityinBlue to Education (17 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
"Last December 13th, there appeared in the newspapers the juiciest, spiciest, raciest obituary it has ever been my pleasure to read." (I believe that's December 13th, 1963, because this performance is from a live album released in 1964.) More on Alma.
posted by clavicle at 8:07 AM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

This obituary struck me as being strange and borderline inappropriate because the writer seemed to forget it was an obituary. The description seems peculiar-- unflattering and not very revealing all at the same time. Maybe this is just something that happens with political figures?
posted by BibiRose at 8:29 AM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mme Chiang Kai-shek led a fascinating life -- daughter of a Methodist minister, she lived to be 105, spoke flawless English with a Southern lilt, charmed Congress on behalf of Nationalist China in the 1940s, was the "first lady" of Taiwan for nearly 30 years and then died in relative seclusion in New York in the 2000s long after fading from the international scene.

Oh, and her sister Soong Ching-ling married founding father of republican China Sun Yat-sen and then stayed loyal to the Communists, eventually dying in mainland China in 1981.

There is a third Soong sister who is not quite as famous but was also very prominent in China at one point. Fascinating set of sisters overall.
posted by andrewesque at 8:49 AM on April 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

What you want is The Telegraph. It's the traditional paper of Tory Britain, and is thus chock-a-block with obits for obscure polar explorers, louche aristos, grizzled generals with checkered pasts, and eccentric fuddy-duddies of every pattern of carpet slipper. I know there's a collected book of them out there, but I'll see if I can google up a few choice examples later this morning. The recent one of Clarissa Dickson-Wright was a fine example of the genre, though --- choice details, absurd anecdotes, bone-dry.
posted by Diablevert at 9:14 AM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd like to recommend the books "The Dead Beat" and "52 McGs"
posted by sestaaak at 9:20 AM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Billy Tipton. I remember reading his obituary at work and my jaw simply dropping. No one believed me, but there it was in the Grey Lady herself.
posted by janey47 at 9:22 AM on April 18, 2014

The Economist's Osama bin Laden obituary intrigued me enough to make an askmetafiler post about it.
posted by beisny at 9:43 AM on April 18, 2014

One of my favorites is the New York Times' obituary of Huguette Clark, in 2011:
She was almost certainly the last link to New York’s Gilded Age, reared in Beaux-Arts splendor in a 121-room Fifth Avenue mansion awash in Rembrandt, Donatello, Rubens and Degas. Her father, a copper baron who once bought himself a United States Senate seat as casually as another man might buy a pair of shoes, had been born before the Mexican War. Her six siblings died long before her, one in the 19th century.

...Mrs. Clark lived in the apartment in near solitude, amid a profusion of dollhouses and their occupants. She ate austere lunches of crackers and sardines and watched television, most avidly “The Flintstones.” A housekeeper kept the dolls’ dresses impeccably ironed.
posted by bcwinters at 10:07 AM on April 18, 2014

The Dead Beat was so good! I have paid so much more attention to obituaries since reading that book.

From the NYTimes in 1995: Edward Lowe Dies at 75; a Hunch Led Him to Create Kitty Litter.
posted by 9000condiments at 10:08 AM on April 18, 2014

I effin' love a good obituary. I wish I had a job writing them:

* Seattle-based author and editor Jane Catherine Lotter's self-written obit:

One of the few advantages of dying from Grade 3, Stage IIIC endometrial cancer, recurrent and metastasized to the liver and abdomen, is that you have time to write your own obituary. (The other advantages are no longer bothering with sunscreen and no longer worrying about your cholesterol.) ....

* Mary Agnes Mullaney's obit:

If you're about to throw away an old pair of pantyhose, stop. Consider: Mary Agnes Mullaney (you probably knew her as "Pink") who entered eternal life on Sunday, September 1, 2013. Her spirit is carried on by her six children, 17 grandchildren, three surviving siblings in New "Joisey", and an extended family of relations and friends from every walk of life. We were blessed to learn many valuable lessons from Pink during her 85 years, among them: Never throw away old pantyhose. Use the old ones to tie gutters, child-proof cabinets, tie toilet flappers, or hang Christmas ornaments.

Also: If a possum takes up residence in your shed, grab a barbecue brush to coax him out. If he doesn't leave, brush him for twenty minutes and let him stay.

Let a dog (or two or three) share your bed. Say the rosary while you walk them.

Go to church with a chicken sandwich in your purse. Cry at the consecration, every time. Give the chicken sandwich to your homeless friend after mass....

* Harry Weathersby Stamps:

Harry Weathersby Stamps, ladies' man, foodie, natty dresser, and accomplished traveler, died on Saturday, March 9, 2013. . . .

He had a life-long love affair with deviled eggs, Lane cakes, boiled peanuts, Vienna [Vi-e-na] sausages on saltines, his homemade canned fig preserves, pork chops, turnip greens, and buttermilk served in martini glasses garnished with cornbread. . . .

He despised phonies, his 1969 Volvo (which he also loved), know-it-all Yankees, Southerners who used the words "veranda" and "porte cochere" to put on airs, eating grape leaves, Law and Order (all franchises), cats, and Martha Stewart. In reverse order. He particularly hated Day Light Saving Time, which he referred to as The Devil's Time. It is not lost on his family that he died the very day that he would have had to spring his clock forward. This can only be viewed as his final protest. . . .

* Antonia W. “Toni” Larroux:

Waffle House lost a loyal customer on April 30, 2013. Antonia W. “Toni” Larroux died after a battle with multiple illnesses: lupus, rickets, scurvy, kidney disease and feline leukemia. She had previously conquered polio as a child contributing to her unusually petite ankles and the nickname “polio legs” given to her by her ex-husband, Jean F. Larroux, Jr. It should not be difficult to imagine the multiple reasons for their divorce 35+ years ago. Two children resulted from that marriage: Hayden Hoffman and Jean F. Larroux, III.

Due to multiple, anonymous Mother’s Day cards which arrived each May, the children suspect there were other siblings but that has never been verified....

* “Professional Adventurer” John Fairfax:

At 9, he settled a dispute with a pistol. At 13, he lit out for the Amazon jungle.

At 20, he attempted suicide-by-jaguar. Afterward he was apprenticed to a pirate. To please his mother, who did not take kindly to his being a pirate, he briefly managed a mink farm, one of the few truly dull entries on his otherwise crackling résumé, which lately included a career as a professional gambler.

Mr. Fairfax was among the last avatars of a centuries-old figure: the lone-wolf explorer, whose exploits are conceived to satisfy few but himself. His was a solitary, contemplative art that has been all but lost amid the contrived derring-do of adventure-based reality television.

* Ida Mae Russell Sills:

...Ida's marriage to Karl was a three ring circus, engagement ring, wedding ring and suffering. Ida met and married Albert Sills in 1960. Ida said "I never knew what real happiness was until I got remarried, then it was too late". Ida Mae and Albert settled down in Fox Meadows area of Memphis. Albert wanted a son, Ida wanted a dog. Ida quoted "with my way we just ruin the carpet"....

...Ida Mae Russell Sills slipped away and joined her beloved daughter in Heaven. Fortunately her husband Albert preceded her and joined his mother in a much warmer climate.

* William Freddie McCullough:

The man. The myth. The legend. Men wanted to be him and women wanted to be with him. William Freddie McCullough died on September 11, 2013. Freddie loved deep fried Southern food smothered in Cane Syrup, fishing at Santee Cooper Lake, Little Debbie Cakes, Two and a Half Men, beautiful women, Reeses Cups and Jim Beam. Not necessarily in that order....

* Bill Eves:

On Saturday February the 8th Molson's stock price fell sharply on the news of Bill Eves' passing. Senior executives at Molson called an emergency meeting to brace for the impact of the anticipated drop in sales...

...Perhaps most important to Bill was educating people on the dangers of holding in your farts. Sadly, he was unable to attain his life-long goal of catching his beloved wife Judy "cutting the cheese" or "playing the bum trumpet" -- which he likened to a mythical rarity like spotting Bigfoot or a unicorn.

He also mastered the art of swearing while being splattered by grease cooking his famous wings. In fact, he wove tapestry of obscenities that still hangs over the Greater Kingston Area

* William “Willie” Joseph Patton:

William “Willie” Joseph Patton (aka “Mad Dog”), 69, passed away on Sunday, April 29, 2012, at Mt. Sinai Hospital, having lived more than twice as long as his elementary school teachers had predicted. Willie, a longtime Rumson resident, will be remembered for his wonderful and sometimes demented sense of humor, quick wit, lifelong friendships, magnificent ability to tan & maintain that tan through the gloomiest winter months, charming good looks, larger-than-life personality, and the uncanny ability to don any person with the most suitable of nicknames.

Born to Hazel & William Sr. in 1943, Willie spent his youth thinking of every which way to avoid going to school and surrounded himself with the delinquents of all delinquents, the “Park Gang.” The altar-boy-gone-bad was expelled from Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School at the tender age of the 17 and decided to try his luck with the United States Navy. While in the Navy, Willie was a member of the National Honor Guard. He had the opportunity to meet with then President John F. Kennedy, and claimed that Kennedy didn’t listen to a lick of his advice....

* Stig Kernell:

I'm dead.

* I hold great respect for this next one, because I'm sure it provided a certain amount of healing for her family. Marianne Theresa Johnson-Reddick, as composed by her children:

She is survived by her 6 of 8 children whom she spent her lifetime torturing in every way possible. While she neglected and abused her small children, she refused to allow anyone else to care or show compassion towards them. When they became adults she stalked and tortured anyone they dared to love. Everyone she met, adult or child was tortured by her cruelty and exposure to violence, criminal activity, vulgarity, and hatred of the gentle or kind human spirit.

On behalf of her children whom she so abrasively ex­posed to her evil and vio­lent life, we celebrate her passing from this earth and hope she lives in the after­life reliving each gesture of violence, cruelty, and shame that she delivered on her children. Her surviv­ing children will now live the rest of their lives with the peace of knowing their nightmare finally has some form of closure.

I also found Laurie Anderson's short note about her late husband Lou Reed quite moving:

To our neighbors:

What a beautiful fall! Everything shimmering and golden and all that incredible soft light. Water surrounding us.

Lou and I have spent a lot of time here in the past few years, and even though we’re city people this is our spiritual home.

Last week I promised Lou to get him out of the hospital and come home to Springs. And we made it!

Lou was a tai chi master and spent his last days here being happy and dazzled by the beauty and power and softness of nature. He died on Sunday morning looking at the trees and doing the famous 21 form of tai chi with just his musician hands moving through the air.

Lou was a prince and a fighter and I know his songs of the pain and beauty in the world will fill many people with the incredible joy he felt for life. Long live the beauty that comes down and through and onto all of us.

— Laurie Anderson, his loving wife and eternal friend

posted by magstheaxe at 10:09 AM on April 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

I should add, check out Obit Of The Day.
posted by magstheaxe at 10:16 AM on April 18, 2014

This is not from the NY Times or the Economist, and it's not technically an obituary but rather a description of a memorial service, but it would not at all disappoint me if something with similar humor and humanity were written about me at my death.
posted by janey47 at 10:25 AM on April 18, 2014

I'm back!

* Walter George Bruhl, Jr.:

...He was surrounded by his loving wife of 57 years, Helene Sellers Bruhl, who will now be able to purchase the mink coat which he had always refused her because he believed only minks should wear mink....

Walt was preceded in death by his tonsils and adenoids in 1935 , a spinal disc in 1974, a large piece of his thyroid gland in 1988, and his prostate on March 27th 2000...

...There will be no viewing since his wife refuses to honor his request to have him standing in the corner of the room with a glass of Jack Daniels in his hand so that he would appear natural to visitors.

Cremation will take place at the families convenience and his ashes will be kept in an urn until they get tired of having it around. What's a Grecian Urn? Oh, about 200 drachmas a week....

* Frederic Arthur (Fred) Clark:

Frederic Arthur (Fred) Clark, who had tired of reading obituaries noting other's courageous battles with this or that disease, wanted it known that he lost his battle as a result of an automobile accident on June 18, 2006. True to Fred's personal style, his final hours were spent joking with medical personnel while he whimpered, cussed, begged for narcotics and bargained with God to look over his wife and kids. He loved his family. His heart beat faster when his wife of 37 years Alice Rennie Clark entered the room and saddened a little when she left....

* In a similar vein, Michael "Flathead" Blanchard:

A Celebration of the life of Michael "Flathead" Blanchard will be held on April 14th, 3 pm 8160 Rosemary St, Commerce City. Weary of reading obituaries noting someone's courageous battle with death, Mike wanted it known that he died as a result of being stubborn, refusing to follow doctors' orders and raising hell for more than six decades. He enjoyed booze, guns, cars and younger women until the day he died...

...So many of his childhood friends that weren't killed in Vietnam went on to become criminals, prostitutes and/or Democrats. He asks that you stop by and re-tell the stories he can no longer tell. As the Celebration will contain Adult material we respectfully ask that no children under 18 attend.

And this short-but-sweet one:

Theodore Roosevelt Heller, 88, loving father of Charles (Joann) Heller; dear brother of the late Sonya (the late Jack) Steinberg. Ted was discharged from the U.S. Army during WWII due to service related injuries, and then forced his way back into the Illinois National Guard insisting no one tells him when to serve his country. Graveside services Tuesday 11 a.m. at Waldheim Jewish Cemetery (Ziditshover section), 1700 S. Harlem Ave., Chicago. In lieu of flowers, please send acerbic letters to Republicans....

This fictional obit, familiar to fans of the TV show Parks and Recreation, marks the passing of local celebrity Li'l Sebastian:

He was an animal, a legend, a friend. He was our beacon of light. He was Pawnee's horse. In what is surely the most monumental news to come out of Pawnee since the eradication of smallpox in 1993, it is with sorrow that we report: Li'l Sebastian is dead. But he will never leave our hearts and our memories....

You know, I forgot about Hunter S. Thompson's obit for Richard Nixon:

Richard Nixon is gone now, and I am poorer for it. He was the real thing -- a political monster straight out of Grendel and a very dangerous enemy. He could shake your hand and stab you in the back at the same time. He lied to his friends and betrayed the trust of his family. Not even Gerald Ford, the unhappy ex-president who pardoned Nixon and kept him out of prison, was immune to the evil fallout. Ford, who believes strongly in Heaven and Hell, has told more than one of his celebrity golf partners that "I know I will go to hell, because I pardoned Richard Nixon."

I have had my own bloody relationship with Nixon for many years, but I am not worried about it landing me in hell with him. I have already been there with that bastard, and I am a better person for it. Nixon had the unique ability to make his enemies seem honorable, and we developed a keen sense of fraternity. Some of my best friends have hated Nixon all their lives. My mother hates Nixon, my son hates Nixon, I hate Nixon, and this hatred has brought us together....

I thought the Telegraph did a great job with Idi Amin's obit. While not as blunt as Thompson's obit of Nixon, they didn't let him off the hook in the slightest:

Idi Amin, the former dictator of Uganda and self-styled "Conqueror of the British Empire" who died on Friday aged around 78, was one of the most reviled individuals in recent history.

Six foot four and, at his peak, 20 stone, the former heavyweight boxing champion of Uganda appeared to relish his monstrous reputation. Subject to "visitations from God", and reputedly boasting a collection of human heads extensive enough to require its own deep-freeze, Amin was popularly considered to be deranged.

This impression was reinforced by claims from one of his surviving physicians that he had at various times administered treatment for hypomania, schizophrenia, tertiary syphilis and general paralysis of the insane.

Amin, however, survived too long, exhibiting too shrewd an instinct for manipulation and too ruthless a capacity for cruelty to be dismissed as a mere madman....

It's not strictly an obit, but E. B. White's Death of a Pig is a must-read:

...He came out of the house to die. When I went down, before going to bed, he lay stretched in the yard a few feet from the door. I knelt, saw that he was dead, and left him there: his face had a mild look, expressive neither of deep peace nor of deep suffering, although I think he had suffered a good deal. I went back up to the house and to bed, and cried internally - deep hemorrhagic intears. I didn't wake till nearly eight the next morning, and when I looked out the open window the grave was already being dug, down beyond the dump under a wild apple. I could hear the spade strike against the small rocks that blocked the way. Never send to know for whom the grave is dug, I said to myself, it's dug for thee. Fred, I well knew, was supervising the work of digging, so I ate breakfast slowly...

...The news of the death of my pig traveled fast and far, and I received many expressions of sympathy from friends and neighbors, for no one took the event lightly and the premature expiration of a pig is, I soon discovered, a departure which the community marks solemnly on its calendar, a sorrow in which it feels fully involved. I have written this account in penitence and in grief, as a man who failed to raise his pig, and to explain my deviation from the classic course of so many raised pigs. The grave in the woods is unmarked, but Fred can direct the mourner to it unerringly and with immense good will, and I know he and I shall often revisit it, singly and together, in seasons of reflection and despair, on flagless memorial days of our own choosing.

posted by magstheaxe at 10:46 AM on April 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

As promised, a select few recent Telegraph ones:

Lieutenant Flash Allen:

"He then settled down to the 'occasional strafing of U-boats which had the temerity to surface'.

Tony Gray:

"Their stint at the Establishment (where they performed a “DaDa-ist quiz show”) caused some grumbles among resident performers who found they had to pick their way through the Alberts’ rubbish to get to the stage. On one occasion John Fortune pushed their stuffed camel out of the way to get down the stairs and inadvertently set off a maroon which left him unable to hear his cues for the whole evening."

Steve Moore
"Moore’s creation of muscular, weapon-wielding “Abslom Daak – Dalek Killer” had more in common with the character Snake Plissken from Escape From New York than any jelly baby-proffering timelord."

And, as promised, Clarissa Dickson-Wright:
"Clarissa’s father became a progressively violent alcoholic, so that when he came home 'one would take cover'. He broke three of her ribs with an umbrella and on another occasion hit her with a red-hot poker. She later confessed to poring over botanical volumes in search of suitable poisons and scouring the woods for lethal mushrooms."

posted by Diablevert at 11:06 AM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

My great-great grandfather died in 1882. Here is his obit, my favorite of all the ones I have for my ancestors:

Died, Dec. 6th, Martin Knowles, of pneumonia. He was one of the old settlers. Though a peculiar man, he was respected by all. He leaves a large family.
posted by stampsgal at 12:51 PM on April 18, 2014

I've remembered The Economist's obit on Bob Denard, the French Mercenary:

"His fascination with all things military sprang from a boyhood in the French resistance in the Médoc, or alternatively from his first entranced sighting of the shiny helmets, boots and guns of the German troops invading his village. He had been cashiered from the French navy, at 16, for running riot in a Saigon whorehouse or for burning down a restaurant. Fact or fiction: few knew for sure."
posted by FJT at 9:47 PM on April 18, 2014

For some reason, this obit has stuck with me. I know nothing about the man or his writing, but there's some interesting living contained in a very few lines. [The copy I have mentions hanging out with the fellow writers in Paris, though it's not in the NYT version linked.]
Peter Gilman, who wrote a best-selling novel while working as a journalist, died here on Wednesday. He was 73.

Mr. Gilman was a reporter for The Honolulu Star-Bulletin in the 1950's when he wrote ''Diamond Head,'' which topped the New York Times best-seller list in 1960.

Columbia Pictures paid $100,000 for the book, at the time the highest ever paid by the studio to an unknown author. The novel became the 1962 movie ''Diamond Head,'' starring Charlton Heston.

After his success Mr. Gilman moved to Paris, where he joined a group of fellow expatriate writers, including James Jones, James Baldwin and William Styron. Later he trained polo ponies in Argentina and became an artist and commercial fisherman in Mexico.
posted by Bron at 7:06 PM on April 22, 2014

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