You Can’t Take It With You

Andy Williams 1927 to Tuesday
Williams was the ‘hopelessly square’ singer whose ‘essentially bland’ Andy Williams Show brought stars like Donny Osmond and Judy Garland to the eyes and ears of the nation from his Moon River Theater in Branson, Missouri.  (A town that Homer Simpson once called “Las Vegas if it were run by Ned Flanders.”)  This very unhipness, however, was his key to success.  In the midst of the turbulent 60s, ‘well-scrubbed’ Williams and his guests proved reassuring to middle America.  Williams was also an ecologically friendly artist: his hits tended to be songs recycled from Hollywood, Broadway and the Billboards.  But boy were they hits–14 albums went gold, three platinum.  He also crooned eight top-10 singles including 1957’s #1 Butterfly.  Williams leaves behind the many he entertained and this cameo from one of the great moments of the great TV shows (a moment so famous, it was translated into other languages):

Jose Curbelo 1917 to Friday
Curbelo leaves behind his own contribution to everyone’s favorite yellow-family-featuring Fox sitcom.  As the bandleader who first hired Tito Puente, he thrust “El rey de la música Latina” and his soon-to-be-famous Timbales onto stages in Jewish resorts in the Catskills.  Of course, Puente made it to the big time–so much so that he was hired to write a musical tribute to the Simpson’s Montgomery Burns:

Lia Lee 1982 to four weeks ago Friday
Lia Lee’s life was complicated.  This daughter of Hmong immigrants was born with a condition considered a spiritual gift within the Hmong community: epilepsy.  She’s a household name to medical students who regularly read Anne Fadiman’s phenomenal account of Lee’s childhood, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.   The book documents the complex intersection of the “animist beliefs of her family and her rationalist American doctors.”  The doctors were so mystified by the family’s care for Lia–which consisted primarily in visiting shamans–that they removed her from the family home.  In spite of (or perhaps because of) the efforts of the American doctors, Lia had a catastrophic seizure that left her in a persistent vegetative state for 26 years.  According to Fadiman, it was the Hmong tradition of familial devotion, not western medicine that kept her alive for ten times the average life expectancy of one in a persistent vegetative state.  Her family always saw her as a spiritually gifted member whose life carried tremendous worth.  Lee leaves behind Fadiman’s work, but also a challenge to modern medicine’s notions of what sickness is and how it should be treated.

Art Modell 1925 to four weeks ago Thursday
This might be old news, but hard feelings have a way of sticking around.  Modell is the guy who stole the Cleveland Browns and moved them to Baltimore.  But, he’s also the guy who brought the NFL to national television.  He leaves behind resentment from partners abandoned each fall Sunday by their football-loving spouses and vitriolic hatred in the city of Cleveland.

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