Musings on death


This wasn’t planned for the blog. I’ve been working on a couple of pieces including the next hero blog when lying in bed last Thursday night (28th December) and suddenly had to go back onto my laptop and onto Facebook for something. There in the little trending column something caught my eye. Sue Grafton, Author dead. Sad news indeed. But then I had only just discovered her books, The Alphabet mystery Series starring private detective Kinsey Millhone about two years ago when I then started collecting them and currently making my way through the range. I can’t even remember now how I came to learn about them, some research for University if I remember correctly. In fact in a bit of an odd synchronicity I had just finished reading F is for Fugitive the day before. I felt saddened of course but partly because the mystery line now ends. She had written books A to Y. Z is for Zero would have been the last final novel for Kinsey. But now that will never come to pass. An incomplete series. When I get to Y is for Yesterday and finish it I’ll know that will be it, the story not quite complete. It is of course it is completely selfish on my part. But I’ve never met Sue Grafton, never talked to her or even seen her on TV. She is a name on a range of books I’m reading and a Wikipedia entry I’ve read through.
Then again personal mourning is in a way selfish. We feel sad because we will miss the person gone. Words not said, things left undone, a suitcase of memories and still frames in your mind. We feel sad because their going means a change in our own lives.
I think on that night as I read through various comments from other people about adding my own comment. About how I’m one of her readers, new but still now a part of this group of admirers and fans. I don’t. Somehow I don’t feel I have the right. I’m not saying that those who did comment didn’t either. There was some lovely messages posted. But while I’m here I will admit that at the very least Kinsey in a little way influenced parts of my own novel and the character of Bernice in my book so I’m grateful to Sue for giving me that as well as the pleasure of reading her novels. But it’s Kinsey that I’m going to miss. The character has died alongside her creator without closure. I hate unfinished business.
It is an odd thing to feel sadness for some celebrity that has passed on. With friends and family it is people you have been close to who, as I said above, have left a hole in your life. But when it comes to a celebrity death the hole that is made is because we can still feel a connection to that person because they have somehow touch our lives. The first celebrity that really touched me was George Peppard. Cigar chopping leader of the A Team that had thrilled me as a kid. That’s all I knew him from, I knew nothing of his film career before. To me it wasn’t George Peppard that had died it was Hannibal Smith. It was part of my childhood. It was years later I found out about his feud with Mr T and feeling disappointed that this image of a team of actors coming together to make this show hadn’t got on. I wanted the chance to tell him that not everyone preferred Mr T to Hannibal. I wanted to be like Hannibal with the plans and the leadership. (Although Murdock was my favourite cause he was funny)
You see it’s that personal connection. Whilst writing this I glance through the BBC webpage of notable deaths for 2017. Sue Grafton isn’t on it. Colin Dexter is. The creator of Inspector Morse. He died in March, I didn’t know. His death brings a sense of ‘oh’. I was more saddened by Morse actor John Thaw’s death. The person I had seen playing Inspector Morse. I’ve never read the books. I feel disconnected.
Much of course has been made about the infamous 2016 where we seemed to lose a load of big name celebrities. Alan Rickman, Bowie, Prince. For me personally it was Robert Vaughn again the A Team but before that The Man from Uncle another programme I grew up watching. And then of course Hustle. A series I watched from start to finish and quite often watch the repeats. At least Hustle got a final end. But when I think of Robert Vaughn I think of Albert Stroller or Napoleon Solo because I don’t know Robert Vaughn. I don’t know what he was really like. I have only his characters to go on.
See these are my ‘heroes’, they are supposed to be around for ever, immortalised. That’s why we feel shock and sadness when we see a favourite TV character die. Something that the soaps have capitalised on for the Christmas season. No longer is it the season to be jolly but instead an excuse to pull at the heartstrings with some beloved character killed off. Its characters that we have got to know, an insight to some made up world that we become a part of. Their story finished. (Unless it’s a superhero/villain or any character created by Steven Moffat that we know will probably somehow get resurrected in some way). We as humans do seem to have some morbid curiosity with death.
As a Doctor Who fan I felt sad when Jon Pertwee died in 1996 but it’s been watered down somewhat since because stories of the third Doctor continued on. First with novels and now Big Finish have a range with Tim Treloar doing the voice. The third Doctor carries on much like how David Bradley recently did the first Doctor this Christmas. ‘Sort of a way of cheating death’. But this is years after the actor has passed on. When popular ex companion actress Liz Sladen died in the middle of filming the fifth series of the Sarah Jane Adventures the series aired with only the completed episodes. The loss to raw, the idea of recasting or carrying on the shoe somehow deemed (quite rightly) unthinkable. The wound still fresh, the story brought to a sudden and unplanned finish. I hate unfinished business. Of course not all fans like the idea of these recasts but in some ways at least they remain ‘almost’ faithful to their original portrayal. I suppose that’s why I hate remakes. The A Team film, The Dukes of Hazard films, reboots of childhood favourites that doesn’t match the original. A tarnished version. At least with Ghostbusters (2016) they used new characters. I’m ok with Hawaii Five 0 because I never watched the original and there is no connection. (I’m surprisingly ok with the new MacGyver as well though I was sceptical at first.)
But I’m getting slightly off topic. The fact is would I had felt differently about the death of Sue Grafton if she had already finished the range? I have to answer an honest yes, to a degree. Because I’m still working through those novels and I have a way to go. They are currently part of my life and the death hangs over them now like a shadow. It would still sadden me a little when I had read it that night and then it would have been put in the back of my mind like some of the others this year such as Rodney Bewes, Keith Chegwin and Sean Hughes, People I’ve watched in the past that bring a little sadness at their passing but that I’ve moved on from. Oddly enough I have been watching the Bottom Live shows. One last week, one tonight and it was tonight as I read written by Rik Mayell and Ade Edmondson that it hits me again that Rik is no longer with us. There will never be another Bottom, live or otherwise. With Rik dead so is that character now dead. When I now watch these shows I know I am watching something that will never be able to be continued. The same feeling I’ll get when I finally reach that ‘final’ novel. I hate unfinished business.

But at least there is one glimmer I suppose we can take from writers, actors, singers, characters et al that we lose is that their work, which is their connection to us, will be their legacy. A lasting footprint on our world. Always personal, sometime cultural. Conan Doyle, Elvis Presley, Eric Morecambe all still remembered to this day. So the same can be said for the immortal characters created in this world. It will probably be many years before I reach that last novel. Maybe by then I will have finished my own novel, maybe even hopefully be published, my own little stake on immortally. As the Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero said “The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living”.

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