Thursday, March 09, 2006
Three great Americans passed away this week. Two, tragically before their time. Each made major contributions to American society and culture. They will be missed!
Gordon Parks was one of the last of a nearly extinct breed, the Renaissance man. He rose to fame as a photographer for LIFE magazine. For three decades he chronicled fashion, poverty in America, and the civil rights movement. He was also a noted classical and jazz composer, a novelist, and the first major black film director in Hollywood. His films included THE LEARNING TREE (1969, which he adapted from his own novel, directed, and scored), SHAFT (1971), SHAFT'S BIG SCORE (1972), THE SUPER COPS (1974), LEADBELLY (1976), SOLOMAN NORTHROP'S ODYSSEY (1984). He also appeared as an actor in a number of films, including last year's HOW TO EAT WATERMELON IN WHITE COMPANY (AND ENJOY IT). Gordon Parks passed away this week at age 93.
Kirby Puckett was simply an amazing baseball player. He led the Minnesota Twins to two World Series championships, won 6 gold gloves, and had a lifetime batting ave. of .318. Affectionately known as "Puck" (as much for his body shape as last name), he had a wonderfully infectious smile, and was famously accessible to both media and fans. He was easily one of the most loved players in the history of the game. He loved the twin cities, and turned down very lucrative contract offers to play on the coasts in order to stay in Minnesota for far less pay. He was stricken with glaucoma and forced to retire from baseball at the age of 35.
Puckett's life spiraled out of control after his retirement. A nasty, very public divorce damaged his reputation. A woman filed assault charges claiming he groped her in a restaurant (he was later acquitted). He fell into depression, and, against the wishes of the Twins ownership, resigned his vice presidents job and moved to Arizona, where he lived a hermit like existence for years. His friends, including Twins owners Carl and Eloise Pohlad, worried as his weight ballooned out of control.
But there were recent signs the old Kirby was making a comeback. He showed up to play in Harmon Killebrew's charity golf outing looking much more fit, and confided to Killebrew and others that he was taking better care of himself. He was much more his old gregarious self, and announced to friends he was engaged to be married in June.
It was game 6 of the 1991 World Series against the Braves where Puckett burned his name into the annals of baseball lore. After robbing Ron Gant with a series saving circus catch late in the game, Puckett led off the 11th inning with a walk off homer. The Twins went on to win the series, and Kirby's place in baseball lore was insured.
Puckett died Monday of a massive stroke. He is survived by his two adopted children, Kirby Jr., and Catherine.
Dana Reeve taught us all a lesson in courage. Not only did the singer/actress put her career on hold to care for her invalid husband after his riding accident, she founded and worked tirelessly for the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation. The foundation has become a major funder of research that develops treatment and cures for spinal injuries and degenerative disorders.
Ms. Reeve died of cancer this week at the age of 44.