Monday, December 31, 2018

2018: The Worst Year of My Life

Vanessa in this year's TCM Remembers
2018 was literally the worst year of my life. Oh, it started out well enough. Okay, a lot of my friends seemed to be suffering from a variety of health problems through the year, but the year was pleasant enough and I actually enjoyed myself a good deal through much of it. Sadly, on August 30 2018 my beloved Vanessa Marquez died. It was the worst day of my life. And 2018, which up to that point had not been too bad of a year, became the worst year of my life.

Those who are close to me know all too well the impact Vanessa's death has had on me. I slept very little for the whole month of September and cried every single day of that month. Even now certain songs ("Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in particular), certain movies (I plan to watch The Apartment tonight and for the first time in my life I am dreading it), and nearly any reference to her death will result in prolonged crying for me. The first time I saw this year's TCM Remembers, I cried for a whole half hour.

The fact is for me Vanessa was not simply a dear friend. She was the only woman I have ever truly loved. I am still hopelessly, desperately in love with her, and I know that I always will be. Vanessa and I were very, very close. We interacted with each other every single day, whether through social media, texts, or phone calls. We knew secrets about each other that no one else knows. She was both my best friend and the love of my life. Complicating my grief is the way in which she died, and I am still feeling more anger than I ever have in my life. I feel as if the woman I love was taken from me due to utter incompetence, unprofessional conduct, criminal irresponsibility, and perhaps even malice. I would be pleased if everyone boycotted the city of South Pasadena, California until they hold those responsible for Vanessa's death accountable. Here I want to stress that Vanessa was not suffering from mental problems, she was not suicidal, and she never expressed a desire to harm herself. Any claim that she did suffer from mental problems is an outright lie. Anyway, even though I have lost my parents, all of my aunts and uncles, several cousins, and even my best friend before Vanessa, I have never grieved over anyone as much as I have her.

Of course, here I must point out that I am not the only one who is grieving over Vanessa. She had a number of close friends who are going through the same thing I am right now. She was very much loved in the Turner Classic Movies fan community. And though it was easy to forget given how down-to-earth and unassuming she was, Vanessa was a well-known, well-loved actress with a number of fans around the world. She played Ana Delgaldo in the classic film Stand and Deliver (1988), Melanie in the cult film Twenty Bucks (1993), and Nurse Wendy Goldman on ER, among many other roles. While some outlets are not including her in their end-of-the-year In Memoriams, I have to suspect that Vanessa may have been better loved than some of the ones they have included.

Although it might seem that way to me sometimes, I am aware that there were other celebrities who died this year besides Vanessa, many of who had a huge impact on my life. What set 2018 apart from other years for me with regard to celebrity deaths is that this year, aside from my Vanessa, it was the deaths of various creators who had the most impact on me. Among these was writer Harlan Ellison. I first encountered his works as a child and I have remained one of his fans ever since. Only a few writers have had the impact on me that Mr. Ellison did. Like most comic book fans (and a good number of other people as well), Stan Lee has always had an influence on my life. While I have always been partial to DC Comics, I read Marvel Comics growing up as well. With others Stan co-created some of the most iconic comic book characters of all time. Of course, Stan was not the only major figure who had worked at Marvel to die this year. Steve Ditko also died. Mr. Ditko may be best known for co-creating Spider-Man with Stan Lee, but he also created or co-created  The Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, The Question, and Shade the Changing Man. Among the deaths to have the most impact on me this year was Mort Walker, the cartoonist who created and wrote the comic strips Beetle Bailey and Hi & Lois. Mr. Walker was a native Missourian and well-loved here. There is even a statue of Beetle Bailey at the University of Missouri in Columbia!

With regards to film and television, we lost some talented directors this year. Penny Marshall may always be best known as Laverne on Laverne and Shirley, but she directed some of the best films of the past thirty years, including Awakenings (1990) and A League of Their Own (1992). Nicholas Roeg was another talented director who died this year. He directed such films as Don't Look Now (1973) and The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), and many others. Among other creators who died this year were Hugh Wilson (the creator of WKRP in Cincinnati), Neil Simon (the legendary playwright who wrote Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, and many others), Steven Bochco (the creator of Hill Street Blues and many other classic TV shows), William Goldman (the legendary novelist and screenwriter responsible for everything from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to The Princess Bride), legendary movie titles designer Pablo Ferro, and television writer John D. F. Black.

Of course, a number of actors and performers died this year. Jerry Van Dyke may have always lived in the shadow of his older brother Dick Van Dyke, but he was very much a talent on his own. Dorothy Malone was a very talented actress who played a number of well-known roles (including the sexiest character in The Big Sleep). For many Peter Wyngarde will always be remembered as Jason King and as the Honourable John Cleverly Cartney in the Avengers episode "A Touch of Brimstone", but he also appeared in a number of other remarkable roles. Nanette Fabray was a multi-talent whose career spanned Broadway, film, and television. Harry Anderson considered himself a magician first, but he will probably always be best known for Night Court. Ken Berry had the distinction of starring in the hit TV shows F Troop, Mayberry R.F.D., and Mama's Family, in addition to appearing in a number of other shows. Like Ken Berry, Bill Daily appeared in multiple hit shows, in his case  I Dream of Jeannie and The Bob Newhart Show. James Karen was a remarkable actor and a close friend of Buster Keaton who delighted classic film buffs with his stories. A list of the actors and performers who died this year would be a very long one, and I haven't the time to go into detail on all of them, but among them were: Bradford Dillman, John Mahoney, John Gavin, Emma Chambers, David Ogden Stiers, Chuck McCann, Joseph Campanella, Margot Kidder, Clint Walker, Allyn Ann McLerie, Mary Carlisle, Eunice Grayson, Tab Hunter, Burt Reynolds, Fenella Fielding, Sondra Locke, and Donald Moffat.

A number of important people from the field of music also died this year. I have no doubt that the biggest name in music to die this year was Aretha Franklin. Perhaps no other singer to die this year had the impact she did. In fact, she was among the biggest celebrities to die this year as well. Ray Thomas, who was the flautist for rock band The Moody Blues, also died this year. The Moody Blues number among the most influential rock bands of all time, and they have always been a personal favourite of mine. Geoff Emerick, who was the engineer on many of The Beatles' albums, died from a heart attack this year. I was saddened by Mr. Emerick's death not simply because he was the engineer on some of my favourite albums by my favourite band of all time, but because I had interacted with him from time to time on social media. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy. Many others in the field of music died this year including big band singer Vic Damone, Dick Williams (who was a member of the singing group The Williams Brothers), legendary jazz singer Nancy Wilson, Buzzcoks lead singer and guitarist Pete Shelley, country singer and multi-instrumentalist Roy Clark, Jefferson Airplane co-founder Marty Balin, Elvis Presely's drummer D. J. Fontana, and "Fast" Eddie Clarke, guitarist in the bands Fastway and Motörhead.

As for looking back at the movies this year, it seems to that it was not a particularly good year. Once more it seems as if Hollywood is content to release a number of sequels. Now many of these sequels were quite good, but it would be nice if they could come up with several films based on original ideas for a change. Television this year seemed even more drab than the films released this year. There is not one new show that debuted on the networks this season in which I was interested. More and more the particularly interesting shows seem to be debuting on streaming services. As to music, well, I stopped paying attention earlier in the decade when rock songs stopped appearing in the top forty of the Billboard Hot 100....

As to A Shroud of Thoughts, I once more hosted two successful blogathons: the Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon in March and the Rule Britannia blogathon in August. I also took part in several blogathons this year, including the What a Character! blogathon (one of my favourites). Sadly, 2018 will be the year with the second fewest posts on A Shroud of Thoughts, for obvious reasons. The year with the fewest posts is 2011 when my best friend before Vanessa, Brian, died. I think the only reason this year has more posts is because Brian died in June, while Vanessa died in August. A Shroud of Thoughts will turn 15 this coming June 4, and it will be a bittersweet for me given there is someone I really wished would have lived to see it.

Ultimately I cannot say that I am sad to see 2018 go, although I cannot say I am particularly looking forward to 2019. For me it will be a year of trying to put my life back together. I have no doubt that I can accomplish that task, but at the same time I also know that I will never again be as happy as I was in the years preceding August 30 2018. 2018 changed my life forever, and I know it was not for the better.

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