I wrote about it early in July. We had barely gone past half of the year and the death toll had already risen. Of a special group of people particularly, who are the musicians, writers and entertainers. The year has been exceptionally cruel to them, both here and abroad.
At the time I wrote it, the following people had died over the past months. Among the musicians: Whitney Houston, Donna Summer, Robin Gibb, Davy Jones, Etta James, and Johnny Otis, the “godfather of rhythm and blues.” Among the movie people, it was only the passing of Nora Ephron, writer and director of such movies as “Sleepless in Seattle” and “When Harry Met Sally,” I noted, and mourned. Writing lost Carlos Fuentes and Ray Bradbury, not a lot in quantity but a huge lot in quality.
Closer to home, we lost in quick succession Edgardo Reyes, Tony Espejo and Mario O’Hara, a depletion of theater and film of mighty proportions. Reyes wrote novels, many of which found their way into movies, notably “Maynila: Sa Kuko ng Liwanag” and “Bangkang Papel Sa Dagat ng Apoy.” He died as quietly as he lived, his passing last May 15 went almost unnoticed. I didn’t know of it until Pete Lacaba told me about it.
When I wrote about it, I said the scary thing was that we were just midyear, things that began cruelly for artists had a way of remaining cruel to artists. That proved only too true.
Abroad, on Aug. 7, Marvin Hamlisch, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, collapsed and died at age 68. A month later, Hal David and Andy Williams died, though thankfully in their cases, after a fairly long life. Williams was 84 and David 91. David was the other half of the Bacharach-David partnership, who penned such classics as “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” “What The World Needs Now Is Love,” and “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.”
And just when I thought the musicians had gone past quota, two giants made pahabol, or caught the last train, to heaven. They were Dave Brubeck and Ravi Shankar. Both went at the ripe old age of 92. A pillar of jazz, Brubeck will always be remembered for “Take Five,” his most famous composition. Shankar was of course George Harrison’s sitar guru and Norah Jones’ estranged dad. If you saw his other daughter, Anoushka, performing his composition “Arpan” at the opening of “The Concert for George,” you’ll know he died content, his genius having passed on to his children.
Among the show biz folk, the more notable deaths were Ernest Borgnine, Tony Scott, and Michael Duncan Clarke. Borgnine died of old age, Scott jumped off the Vincent Thomas bridge after an acute and lingering illness, and Clarke succumbed to a heart attack. A favorite, but lesser known figure, was Jerry Nelson, who died in August at age 78. He was the voice of the Count in “Sesame Street.” Enough to make you count with a Transylvanian accent, “One death, hahahaha (lightning and thunder)!”
Writing lost several writers as the next half of the year wore on, two of the more well-known ones being Maeve Binchy on July 30 and Gore Vidal the day after. Binchy wrote evocatively about her native Ireland, some of her novels being turned into movies (“Circle of Friends,” “Tara Road”). Vidal, a prolific writer, wrote both fiction and nonfiction, a great deal of them historical. Again, a huge depletion not in quantity but in quality.
Back at the ranch, musicians and movie folk fell like stalks in our midst. I completely forgot to mention Karl Roy the last time around, so I’m making amends. He went last March, a talented musician much debilitated over the years by a number of afflictions. Most of the others went in the second half of the year.
Wayne Bayhon, an itinerant pianist who played on ships, fell in July. He was followed a month later by Ronnie Dizon, who played piano for the Ronettes and other bands, and who shocked his friends by dying in his sleep at the age of 36. Nonoy Uy, a piano virtuoso, died in Portugal in September. November claimed three musicians. They were: Bong Pascasio, vocalist of Grin Department, from colon cancer; the brilliant guitarist Eddie Munji, who turned Filipino folk songs into jazz and arranged some of the Apo songs, from heart attack at 57; and the legendary bassist Roger Herrera, who continued to play till the day he died at age 80.
The movies lost three pillars. Dolphy, who had been ailing for some time, finally gave in to pneumonia in July. It was a loss felt by the entire nation. Pinoys here and abroad shed copious tears and sent even more copious praise his way. He was followed in October by Marilou Diaz-Abaya, who had been battling cancer for several years before she went. At 57, which is too young to go, sayang the movies she could have gone on to make. I never got to thank her for being my son’s teacher at her film school in Antipolo. I am doing so now.
And making a huge pahabol, Celso Ad. Castillo departed to exchange notes with the Great Director in the Sky.
Lastly, a good friend, Ed Manalo, painter, beer-guzzler, organizer of art activities, and all-around generous soul, succumbed to a heart attack at 56 early last month. He died poor in flesh but rich and spirit, the myriad people he had touched during his lifetime flocking at his wake to extol him, and remember.
Lolita Carbon has these lines in “Masdan Mo Ang Kapaligiran:” “Mayroon lang akong hinihiling/ Sa aking pagpanaw sana ay tag-ulan/ Gitara ko ay aking dadalhin upang sa ulap na lang tayo magkantahan.”
I don’t know if many, or any, of these musicians, writers and movie folk died while rain sloshed through the trees, but I hope they get Lolit’s wish, most of all today. In lieu of trumpets blaring, or maybe the angels will be there, too, forming the brass section, there’ll be one hell of a jamming in heaven.
Merry Christmas, everyone, living or dead.