08/30/2013 11:39 am ET Updated Oct 30, 2013

Appointment in Samarra

"Lisa Robin Kelly, 43, Actress on 'That '70's Show' Sitcom'" read the Times obit (NYT, 8/15/13). The accompanying picture displayed a blond haired actress, remarkable enough to have according to the Times description, "played Laurie, the promiscuous older sister" on the sitcom and remarkable enough to have had a career whose provenance went back to shows like Married with Children, Murphy Brown and The X-Files, but unremarkable in a way. The picture looks like a number of comely actresses who were head turners in the beginning of their career and whose talent didn't extend far enough beyond their pretty faces to sustain them. But Kelly also had other problems.

"I had lost a baby,"

the obit quoted her as saying.

"As a result of that, I lost it--I lost everything, and I was abusing alcohol."

According to the Times, she'd been

"arrested at least three times since 2010, once for driving while intoxicated and twice for domestic abuse."

John O'Hara's first novel novel, Appointment in Samarra, concerns a self-destructive character named Julian English who embarks on a three day tear after which he finally kills himself. But here is the Somerset Maugham epigraph from which the book derives its title:

"There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said 'Master, just now when I was in the market-place I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.' The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the market-place and he saw Death standing in the crowd and he went to Death and said, 'Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?' 'That was not a threatening gesture,' Death said, 'It was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.'"

This originally was posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, culture and art}