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Dead Folks, 2009: The Missed and the Not Missed

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Hello darlings, and Happy Arbitrarily-Chosen Point in Our Orbit of the Sun. Here's my own brief look at some of the more notable celebrity deaths of 2009. As always, they fall into two categories: The Good Riddance List and The Folks We'll Miss List. Folks marked "GRL" are the ones I am more than glad to see the back of. Names without it may be assumed to be on the Will Be Missed List. The latter list is way too long, and the former list is far too short.

Inclusion and exclusion from this article is strictly arbitrary, based solely on my whim. Some of these people I have written about the passnigs of at greater length over in my personal blog, The Morehead the Merrier, and for those folks I have provided links to my longer pieces.

First off, the most important announcement: I am not on this list again this year. Now that you're relieved, let's get on with it.

Of course there is always one celebrity death that hits hardest, and looms above all the others. This year, there is no doubt whose death was the most emotionally devastating to the greatest number of people. My heart tears open again just typing the name of:

Gidget, 15, Mexican-American doggie, best known as The Taco Bell Chihuahua. This tragic passing, so very young, has soured the sour cream on my tacos forever. Gidget was a born entertainer. Coming in a close second was:

Socks, 19, Former First Kitty, during the Clinton administration. Socks's reign as America's First Pet was rocked by no animal scandals. Yet the death of Socks was - murder! Yes, Socks was "put down," and the kitty's killer still walks free. Is there no justice in America?

Now on to the lesser deaths, in order of departure, they are:

Edmund Purdom, 84, British movie actor. His best known film was The Egyptian, and no one remembers it. He may have seen the beginning of last year's Rose Parade, but he didn't see the end of it, although that's not what killed him.

Pat Hingle, 84, excellent American actor, now best remembered as Commissioner Gordon in Tim Burton's Batman, though sadly, his passing isn't a trick, like Commissioner Gordon's was in The Dark Knight.

John Scott Martin, 83, British actor. Who, you ask? Not well-known, yet he appeared on more episodes of the classic version of Doctor Who than anyone else, appearing with all of the first seven doctors, usually playing a Dalek. You try acting inside one of those things. He also appeared in I, Claudius, Little Shop of Horrors (the musical version), and Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, though he was less recognizable in these, since you could see his face.

Cheryl Holdridge, 64, American actress and one of the original Mouseketeers. Outshined by Annette, she wore her ears with honor, which is more than you can say for Darlene.

Ray Dennis Steckler, 70, American film director of the classic Rat Pfink a Boo Boo, a movie every bit as good as its title suggests.

Don Galloway, 71, American actor. The man used to push Raymond Burr around on Ironside. No one pushes Ray around!

Tom O'Horgan, 84, American theater director. When he directed the original production of Hair, he decided what Broadway needed was total male frontal nudity, in other words, a genius! But then he directed Jesus Christ Superstar, deciding Broadway needed a singing rock Jesus. Last heard yelling, "Christ, you're on!"

Patrick McGoohan, 80, American-born Irish actor. The Prisoner has finally gotten out of The Village.

Ricardo Montalbán, 88, Mexican-born American overactor, best rememebred as Khan in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, where he and William Shatner fought the most intense overacting battle of all-time. Ricardo won. Buried in rich Corinthian leather. "Boss, the hearse! The hearse!"

Andrew Wyeth, 91, American painter. Talented man with a brush. Could dab well.

Susanna Foster, 84, American actress and singer. In the 1943 film of The Phantom of the Opera, she had to pretend to be in love with Nelson Eddy. Now that takes acting! Also co-starred with my ex-husband Boris Karloff in The Climax, the hussy! [Full Obit here]

Charles H. Schneer, 88, American film producer. He produced almost all of Ray Harryhausen's fantasy epics. He was the Selznick of science fiction. [Full obit here]

John Updike, 76, highly-respected American novelist. Fortunately for him, he died early enough last year to have missed seeing Eastwick, the TV series based on his novel The Witches of Eastwick, bomb out and get cancelled.

James Whitmore, 87, American Academy Award-nominated actor who once almost ran Little Dougie down while driving like a maniac in Santa Monica. He escaped my Good Riddance List only because I've tried running Little Dougie down myself once. One day someone shall. Oh, and James saved the world from giant ants in Them! He was in a few other movies also, I'm fairly sure. [Full obit here]

Philip Carey, 83, American actor. Granny Goose has gone to join Grampa Goose. [Ful obit here]

Blossom Dearie, 82, American jazz singer and pianist. Your blossom is off the vine, Dearie.

Molly Bee, 69, American country singer, but I liked her anyway. I saw her onstage in Finian's Rainbow with Alan Young, and she was delightful. But then, I was drunk. [Full obit here]

Robert Anderson, 91, American Academy Award-nominated playwright and screenwriter. In his Broadway hit Tea & Sympathy, he showed it was wrong to harass and make miserable a sensitive young man who seemed gay, because that young man was not gay, which of course implies that if he were gay, it was perfectly all right. When you speak of him, years from now, and you will, be kind. Lie.

Robert Quarry, 83, American film and television actor. Speaking of gay, Bob Quarry was a big old queen. American International Pictures tried to make him the new Vincent Price in his mediocre Count Yorga movies. Fat chance. Price could act rings around him, and did in Dr. Phibes Rises Again.

Edward Judd, 76, British actor. According to Charles Schneer (see above), Judd got to the moon well before Neal Armstrong, in Schneer's H.G. Wells' First Men in the Moon.

Clarence Swensen, 91, American actor. Another Munchkin bites the yellow bricks.

Philip José Farmer, 91, Terrific American fantasy and science fiction writer. Don't judge his book Riverworld by the TV movie.

Wendy Richard, 65, British actress, famed for Are You Being Served? and Eastenders. Miss Brahms is free, permanently.

Paul Harvey, 90, American radio broadcasting pioneer. If you ever heard Harvey's voice, you wouldn't forget him. Jimmy Stewart didn't understand radio, and thought Harvey was an invisible rabbit. It was just radio, Jim.

Sydney Earle Chaplin, 82, American actor, son of Charlie Chaplin. His father was a Little Tramp. So was my mother.

Jimmy Boyd, 70, American adolescent actor and singer. He sang "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," not knowing that Daddy was out of town.

Betsy Blair, 85, American actress. In Marty, she had to pretend to fall in love with another of my ex-husbands, Ernest Borgnine. (He denies it. Ernie, how can you deny me?) That takes real talent, I know. She could do better, and did, as she was married to divinely sexy Gene Kelly.

Ron Silver, 62, respected American actor and political activist. He went off the rails a bit towards the end, switching over to a conservative stance, yet retained even the respect of liberals. Go figure.

Natasha Richardson, 45, transcendent British actress of such great talent, people sometimes mistook her for me. She stole Liam Neeson from me, but I forgave her because she was so brilliant. [Full obit here]

Maurice Jarre, 84, French Academy Award-winning film composer. Could knock out some memorable ditties. Does anyone not know the theme for Lawrence of Arabia? His "Lara's Theme" got some airplay too.

Jody McCrea, 74, American actor, son of Joel McCrea and Frances Dee. What would the American-International Pictures Beach Party movies have been without him? Ten minutes shorter each.

Marilyn Chambers, 56, American film "actress." If, after seeing one of her films, you said she sucked, you were right, but what about her acting?

Peter Rogers, 95, British film producer who made the Carry On series. The Thalberg of knockabout music hall low comedy.

Ken Annakin, 94, British film director. He made Disney films, like Swiss Family Robinson, big, splashy comedies like Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, and war films like The Longest Day. Basically, he could do anything, except survive 2009.

Beatrice Arthur, 86, American Emmy and Tony Award-winning actress, and operatic bass singer. Pauline Kael described her in Mame as being "like a coquettish tank." That was Bea all right. I loved her. Didn't you?

Hans Holzer, 89, Austrian-born American "paranormal investigator" and psychic, who just found out the hard way how wrong he was.

Dom DeLuise, 75, obese American glutton, comedian, writer, chef, and father. I always assumed he was gay, until his parade of hot sons began turning up on TV. Who knew? Where did they get their looks? Mel Brooks found him funnier than I did, but that's not to say I never found him funny. Hung around with Burt Reynolds way too much.

Frank Aletter, 83, American character actor (It's About Time). Remember Frank? If your answer is "no," then you're under 50.

Joan Alexander, 94, American radio actress. The very first Lois Lane, back on radio. She got poked by Superman. That's a good life.

Danny La Rue, 81, Irish-born British female impersonator, singer, and comedian. A Troubled soul to some, but not to me. One of Dame Edna's most-legendary predecessors.

David Carradine, 72, a beloved American actor. The son of John Carradine, Little David died this year's most embarrassing celebrity death: auto-erotic asphyxiation, aka, hanging himself for sexual thrills. I like sex with a well-hung man as much as the next celebrity, but that was ridiculous. If he hadn't died, he'd have died of chagrin.

Huey Long, 105, American singer. One of the Ink Spots has made his last blot.

Ed McMahon, 86, American television host and announcer. It was rumored he had talent, though I'm still waiting to see evidence of it. Had the heartiest fake laugh in Burbank.

Michael Jackson, 50, American pervert, child molester, obstructor of justice, and weirdo. Also rumored to be a singer. May have been The Last Castrati. GRL

Farrah Fawcett, 62, American actress and hair icon. Not the best thing in Myra Breckenridge. Invented the iconic hairstyle currently worn by Sawyer on Lost. Famously married to Lee Majors, "The Six Million Dollar Man." Talk about not getting your money's worth!

Gale Storm, 87, American actress and comedienne, adored on My Little Margie. She was a friend of Walt Disney. Little Dougie's sister babysat her kids. She is strongly missed. [Gale's passing discussed by me a bit more here]

Fred Travalena, 66, American comedian and impressionist. The man turned an ongoing identity crisis (who am I today?) into quite a career.

Harve Presnell, 75, American actor and singer. He starred in Paint You Wagon on Broadway. If he'd starred in the movie, it might have been worth seeing. [It has been pointed out that I got this completely wrong. Harve was in that atrocious movie, in fact, he was the best thing in it, and he was not in Paint Your Wagon on Broadway. Drat! I HATE appearing human and fallible. Anyway Harve was a dreamboat, and unlike Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin, he could sing divinely. He was also in the film of The Unsinkable Molly Brown, but his character wasn't on the Titanic, so he didn't go down with Debbie Reynolds. What a relief! She probably still had the "scent" of Eddie Fisher.]

Mollie Sugden, 86, British actress on Are You Being Served? With her and Wendy Richard both dead, the entire women's department at Grace Brothers is gone. She seemed to wear Dame Edna's old wigs. I loved her.

Karl Malden, 97, American Academy Award winning actor. Karl was the inspiration for the character "Big Nose" in Monty Python's Life of Brian. We're supposed to believe that Blanche DuBois would want him when Marlon Brando was hanging around, sweating into his T-shirt. As if. [Extremely odd obit by me here]

Herbert G. Klein, 91, American journalist, White House Communications Director for President Richard Nixon, and professional liar. GRL.

John Barry, 84, American industrialist. No! Not the divine music composer I am relieved to say, but just the president and CEO of WD-40, a lubricant which is useless for sex. Never mind.

Brenda Joyce, 92, American actress. She was Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan's second "Jane," once Maureen O'Sullivan found better things to do. The woman got regularly poked by Tarzan. That's a good life, if you ask me.

Robert McNamara, 93, Former American Secretary of Defense, and architect of the Vietnam War. He repented of it years later, when it was too late to bring back to life all the young American men he sent to their useless deaths. GRL!!!

Dallas McKennon, 89, American actor and "coot." Crazy old Dal was the voice of Gumby, and you've heard him narrating rides in Frontierland in Disney's parks. ("This here's the wildest ride in the west!") He was also a cowboy actor, specializing in wacky old coots. Well remembered for his cackle in 7 Faces of Dr. Lao. I adored him.

Walter Cronkite, 92, American television news anchor. Known to all as "Father News." He was waiting on the moon to interview Neal Armstrong when he stepped down. With Walter gone, there is no more news.

Frank McCourt, 78, Irish-American author of Angela's Ashtray. Too bad. I'm sure there were other depressing parts of his life still left to chronicle.

E. Lynn Harris, 54, terrific, ground-breaking black, gay American author. He made it all right to be black and gay in books. It was already all right in my living room.

Virginia Carroll, 95, American actress. She was Superman's earth mother on radio, and was married to Dick Tracy offscreen. Who knew Dick Tracy was Superman's step-father?

Harry Alan Towers, 88, prolific British film producer of dozens and dozens of low-budget horror movies, including the series of Fu Manchu movies starring Sir Christopher Lee. He often kept his films refreshingly quality-free.

Budd Schulberg, 95, American screenwriter, television producer, and novelist. He wrote On The Waterfront, which seems a chilly place to write.

John Hughes, 59, American film director, screenwriter, and producer, as well as the author of comic short stories for The National Lampoon.. I was no fan of his films, except for Planes,Trains, and Automobiles, but many were. I did love the original short story version he wrote of what became National Lampoon's Vacation, but the movie didn't end with Clark shooting Walt Disney.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, 88, American activist, founder of the Special Olympics, sister of John F. Kennedy. She was a survivor, until this year, that is.

Ruth Ford, 98, American actress. She worked with my darling Vincent Price in Dragonwyck, and she ran the United States of America while Woodrow was indisposed in Wilson. Her second husband, Zachary Scott, called her "Ruthless" Ford. Then she divorced him, and he became Ruthless Scott.

Les Paul, 94, American guitarist and inventor. He changed the sound of rock and roll. Many music lovers revere him, many deafened parents could have done without him, and many people living next door to garages where teenaged bands practiced would have liked him shot.

Ted Kennedy, 83. No! Not Senator Ted Kennedy. Some other Ted Kennedy. This one was a Canadian hockey player. What a relief!

Sammy Petrillo, 74, American "comedian." If you're among the handful of humans who have ever seen the excruciatingly terrible movie Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, then you know that Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo were a blatant imitation of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. If you haven't seen it, you've never heard of him. The real Jerry Lewis is bad enough, but a fake copy? Ew. GRL.

Virginia Davis, 90, American child actress. She was Walt Disney's first star, playing the titular role in his silent Alice in Cartoonland cartoons. She was a legend to the 37 people still living who saw her films over 80 years ago.

Ed Reimers, 96, American actor and announcer, famous for saying "You're in good hands with Allstate." He may have said something else once. He's in no hands now.

Robert Novak, 78, American conservative author, pundit, and swine. Spoke well on TV for a man who lived with his head stuck all the way up his butt. Charter member of the GRL!

Don Hewitt, 86, American television producer, creator of 60 Minutes. If he'd created 90 minutes, days would be only 18 hours long. He's the reason people know who Andy Rooney is. No punishment is sufficient for that!

Donald M. Grant, 82, American science fiction publisher. If you've never heard of him, you need to read more. He put out some wonderful books.

Senator Ted Kennedy, 77, American politician and Senator. Okay, this was the famous Ted Kennedy. You can be upset now. That's the whole brood. The man enjoyed a nip or two. My kind of politician.

Dominick Dunne, 83, American writer and investigative journalist. Wrote a lot about murder trials, so it's almost a shame he died of natural causes. Anyway, Dominick's done now.

Army Archerd, 90, American entertainment columnist (Variety). Army raised fatuousness to new heights, and covered many a movie premiere. He never wrote a bad word about me.

Larry Gelbart, 81, American comedy writer. Not just any comedy writer; he was the comedy writer. I revered him. Wrote some of the funniest stuff ever written in the 20th Century. He also did a bit of blogging on The Huffington Post, if you've ever heard of them. [Longer obit and link to Ken Levine's personal Gelbart obit here]

Gertrude Baines, 115, American supercentenarian. She was the world's oldest person. Now that title has passed on to Betty White. I'm in third place.

Paul Burke, 83, American actor. He played the dashing, sexy male lead in Valley of the Dolls, which was quite a trick, given that he was about as sexy as Chill Wills. He always knew his lines and hit his marks. Is it his fault he was boring onscreen?

Patrick Swayze, 57. Popular leading man who danced dirty. Would it kill him to take a shower before the prom? He starred in Ghost, and now he's living it, so to speak.

Henry Gibson, 73, American actor, comedian, and poet. At the top of my Will Be Missed List. A darling, talented, delightful man. His levity was brevity. His verse was terse. Let's end this tribute before it gets worse. [Full loving obit here]

Susan Atkins, 61, American murderess. She killed Sharon Tate, among others. She has the number 1 spot on the 2009 Good Riddance List. Let's all tap dance on her grave. GRL!!! [Full obit here]

Barry Letts, 84, British television actor, director, and producer. Barry produced the Jon Pertwee era of Doctor Who, and he selected Tom Baker to follow Jon in the role. Let's ride back in the Tardis to when he was alive.

Daniel Melnick, 77, American studio chief (MGM, Columbia), television producer and executive producer. He produced That's Entertainment. Danny, if you have to label it as "entertainment," it isn't.

Al Martino, 82, American singer and actor. In The Godfather it was to further his career that Robert Duvall left a horse's head in a producer's bed. Talk about a ruthless agent! In real life, no animals were harmed in the furtherance of his career.

Vic Mizzy, 93, American composer. Vic wrote the theme for The Addams Family, which everyone knows, even if they never saw it, and for Green Acres, which everyone knows, even if they can't stand it. The Addams Family is about to open on Broadway, and Vic didn't live to see it.

Joseph Wiseman, 91, Canadian Jewish actor famed for playing a Chinese supervillain. He was the first James Bond villain in the movies (Peter Lorre was the first one ever, on TV in 1954.) But Dr. No was merely his best-known role. He killed Marlon Brando in Viva Zapata. It takes a wise man to know when to say "Doctor, No!"

Soupy Sales, 83, American comedian and television host. There's nothing funny about the passing of dear, hilarious Soupy Sales, aka Milton Supman, and that was the first time there was anything not funny about Soupy. I adored him. Highly missed. [Full Obit Here]

Lou Jacobi, 95, Canadian-born American actor. Lou was also very, very funny, a fact you might have missed watching him hide in that attic with Anne Frank.

Carl Ballantine, 92, American actor, comic, and magician. The Great Ballantine has disappeared for the last time. He left lots of laughs behind.

David Lloyd, 75, American comedy writer. A legendary comedy creator. He wrote Chuckles Bites the Dust, the funniest sit-com episode about death ever written. I won't even try a joke here, because any gag I could attempt would pale next to his. Greatly missed.

Paul Wendkos, 87, American television and film director. He directed Gidget, which was not about our beloved Taco Bell doggie.

Ken Ober, 52, American comedian and game show host. I didn't know game show hosts died; I thought they only got cancelled, and then spent eternity hosting the Rose Parade with Stephanie Edwards. I assume Ken went to TV Heaven with Lovely Parting Gifts.

Edward Woodward, 79, fine British film and television actor. He starred opposite Sir Christopher Lee in the original movie of The Wicker Man, but seeing the ghastly remake is not what killed him - I think.

Richard Todd, 90, Irish-born British Academy Award-nominated actor. He was Walt Disney's Robin Hood, so for baby boomers he was more Robin Hood than Errol Flynn. He also starred in Hitchcock's Stage Fright. He was a hell of a looker half a century ago, not unlike myself.

Gene Barry, 90, American actor. He saved the world from Martians in George Pal's film of The War of the Worlds, and he played Tom Cruise's father-in-law in the Spielberg remake. Which are scarier: Martians or Tom Cruise? Tom, hands down. Gene also caught a lot of celebrity murderers and kissed a lot of starlets in his TV series Burke's Law, and made gay marriage toe-tapping fun on Broadway in La Cage Aux Folles.

Oral Roberts, 91, American evangelist, founder of Oral Roberts University. Someone else who has just found out how wrong his whole life was. GRL.

Dame Victoire Bennett, Lady Ridsdale, 88, British politician, and World War II intelligence agent. She was Ian Fleming's inspiration for Miss Moneypenny. Poor woman. She never got poked by James Bond. It's too late now, 007.

Roy E. Disney, 79, American entertainment executive. Roy spent the last 40 years and more preserving the legacy of his Uncle Walt. He kept the "Disney" in Disneyland. Thanks Roy.

Dan O'Bannon, 63, American screenwriter, director, and actor. Talented, witty filmmaker. I'll miss him, though we met but once, at the dawn of his career.

Jennifer Jones, 90, American Academy Award-winning actress. Some thought she was pretty, even beautiful, but only people with working eyes.

Robin Wood, 78, British film critic. He wrote the best book on Sir Alfred Hitchcock's art, Hitchcock's Films, a pioneering work on Hitch as an artist. I don't want to start gossip (yes I do), but I heard he was just the merest whisper of a homosexual.

Connie Hines, 78, American actress. On Mr. Ed, her husband talked to a horse. I prefer my husbands to resemble a horse in another feature, rather than just in conversation.

Arnold Stang, 91, American actor. Arnold was skinny, short, and nasal. Oh yes, and very funny. He was also a lot of cartoon voices, most notably Top Cat, but I remember him best trying to subdue Jonathon Winters in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

Brittany Murphy, 32, American actress (Clueless, King of the Hill, 8 Mile, and other films I never saw). Young and pretty. The autopsy results aren't in yet, but I suspect that she popped off just for the prestige of making this column, which she just barely managed in time. Good career move.

That's it for this year. Hopefully a shorter Missed List next year, and there's always more room on the Good Riddance List.

And just so we don't have to end on a depressing note, congratulations to two brand new knights: Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Peter Jackson. Once a night is nice, but twice a knight is better.

And you, my loyal readers, stay off this list. I'll be back next with my review of The Golden Glob Awards. Until then, Cheers darlings.
To read more of Tallulah Morehead, go to The Morehead, the Merrier, or buy her book, My Lush Life. Also, if you can't get enough of my capsule obits, here's last year's column.