I promised myself five months ago I wouldn’t hop on the “2016 SUCKS” bandwagon, but celebrity passings dominated this weekend’s apolitical headlines, at least two of which merit a few personal side notes.
The above photo was taken in 2014 at the first annual Indy PopCon, my one chance to meet Ron Glass from Barney Miller and Firefly. Between the two shows I expected a line of hundreds in front of me and was shocked to find virtually no one else waiting to ambush him when the exhibit halls doors opened. As you might expect, he was kind and gracious; the moment, short but sweet. Until Friday’s announcement of his death at age 71, I didn’t know he was born here in Indiana (down in Evansville, a bit of a drive for us).
Barney Miller was a bit before my time and didn’t quite click with my elementary-school frame of reference. Firefly was another story. As the enigmatic Shepherd Book, Glass delivered a complicated performance as a true rarity on network TV — a sincere sinner trying to teach and find repentance, forgiveness, and redemption through a combination of faith, works, and as much Scripture as possible within the writers’ Hollywood limitations. Characters who overcome a wicked past and stay overcome aren’t easy to manage or perform, but in the short time that Fox granted the show’s existence, Glass gave it his all and taught us that evil acts don’t have to be the end or the sole definition of one’s existence.
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The Brady Bunch, of course, was one of the many TV sitcom families that influenced my youth from repeated exposure to candy-coated role-modeling. Florence Henderson — a.k.a. the indefatigable Carol Brady — rode herd on two trios of mismatched teens and preteens who didn’t always get along but always found common ground to negotiate peaceful coexistence, in between some of the goofiest calamities ever to befall fictional TV kids. Frivolous or not, Henderson’s presence brought much-needed grace, confidence, and reassurance to her non-nuclear family and to a TV audience that needed to see those qualities represented somewhere if not in their own households. She led that sometimes cheesy but never insincere inspiration to anyone who ever came from a broken home and thought it could never be put back together into a new shape. Admittedly that never happened for me, but the mere possibility meant a lot.
Henderson sadly passed away Thursday at age 82. She was likewise born here in Indiana, down in the tiny town of Dale (closer to Evansville than to us). In addition to her years in TV and musicals, she was a regular, beloved part of the Indianapolis 500, singing “God Bless America” or “America the Beautiful” during the opening ceremonies throughout the past 20+ years. Longtime MCC readers may recall seeing her featured in our annual photo galleries of each accompanying Indy 500 Festival Parade. Presented in honor is a countdown of the Top 4 Florence Henderson photos ever posted here on MCC, which just so happens to fall in chronological order.
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I’m also aware Cuban dictator Fidel Castro died late Friday night at age 90. The internet has already taken to dancing on his grave, which is a thing the internet really gets into because it thinks “decorum” is a long-lost Michael Moorcock character. I got nothing here in the way of personal recollection, not even secondhand. Castro wasn’t the kind to bump into people on random Americans streets near anyone we knew, never did autograph signings around here, never appeared at our conventions, not even at Wizard World. A quick search of “Castro” in the MCC archives yields four photos of Helio Castroneves, who isn’t dead yet. I’m unable to confirm or deny if he ever took any much-needed lessons from Shepherd Book to heart.
In conclusion, there are reasons why I don’t write about every celebrity death.