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Posted at 10:57 AM ET, 10/20/2009

'Dr. No' Dies

The stage actor Joseph Wiseman, who died Monday at 91, had an acclaimed career on Broadway and was a memorable supporting actor in films such as "Detective Story," "Viva Zapata!" and "The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz."

But Mr. Wiseman was forever linked to "Dr. No," the first entry in the Bond action-spy franchise, despite his initial view that the movie "might be just another Grade-B Charlie Chan mystery." Mr. Wiseman played the talon-fingered title villain.


His initially dismissive view of the film not without reason. Producer Albert "Cubby" Broccoli chose the largely unknown Sean Connery as the British super spy, and he selected Mr. Wiseman for what the producer thought was his ability to convey "cold, sadistic menace." Mr. Wiseman reportedly took the role of the title villain after British entertainer Noel Coward declined.

We'll have a complete obituary tomorrow. Meanwhile, feel free to discuss why Mr. Wiseman may have been your favorite Bond villain.

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Posted at 11:38 AM ET, 10/14/2009

Queen of Libya

The Times of London has a first-rate obit today clearly written by a Libyan expert who could make sense of the tangle of tribe loyalties and royal intrigue surrounding the life and death of Fatima al-Sanussi, the last queen of the North African country.

After they were ousted and Gaddafi took over in a military coup, the royals were "denounced in Tripoli as profligate tyrants [when] they were in fact almost penniless."

They spent the rest of their life in Cairo, initially taking up residence in a home given to them by the charismatic nationalist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser. According to the obit, the queen left the residence for another property when she found that Nasser had seized it from a political opponent.

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Posted at 3:43 PM ET, 09/ 4/2009

Faking Accomplishments

It doesn't take very long on the obits beat to learn that families routinely exaggerate the importance of their deceased relative's achievements. Occasionally, the deceased person has participated in the deception; often it's simply a matter of relatives who extrapolate from stories they heard or who don't think it's such a big deal to fudge the truth to get more attention

Well, truth and accuracy do matter. Time and time again, we learn that the man whose family says he was awarded the Medal of Honor never actually got it. Other times, the deceased claimed three awards of the Silver Star, but only one citation can be found. Not saying we're perfect by any stretch, but we try to print what can be verified.

So we didn't print this story about Robert Decatur, who claimed over the years to be a Tuskegee combat pilot. But many others did.

Now the Orlando Sentinel newspaper finds that Mr. Decatur's achievements were exaggerated. He was a Tuskegee Airman because he was a cadet, but he did not complete pilot training. He did not graduate from flying school and never flew in combat. He also seems to have exaggerated his legal achievements -- he was a magistrate, not a judge. (In some small towns, citizens will call magistrates by the title of judge, but these are not the same jobs.)

"The more you exaggerate, the more acclaim you get, and the more acclaim you get, the better it feels," said Alan Keck, an Orlando psychologist.

In death, no one feels anything. Except the pain of a correction.

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Posted at 12:21 PM ET, 08/18/2009

Tell Us: What's Robert Novak's Legacy?

The columnist Robert Novak died today in Washington of brain cancer.

Novak was a smart and aggressive reporter, and his memoir, "Prince of Darkness," was one of the most illuminating books about how official Washington works, namely the equal manipulations of journalists and politicians. It was such a good book because he was brutally candid about what he considered his own weaknesses, particularly the gambling habit that necessitated his work on scream-fest news debate shows such as CNN's "Crossfire."

He wrote in his memoir, "I found myself engaged on issues I seldom wrote about: capital punishment, gay rights, abortion and gun control. I was never asked to take any position I opposed, but the process had the effect of hardening my positions."

What aspect of Novak do you think will prove most crucial to his legacy?

Posted by Adam Bernstein | Permalink | Comments (248)
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Posted at 2:45 PM ET, 08/ 6/2009

This Budd's For You

Screenwriter and novelist Budd Schulberg, who died yesterday at 95, was one of the finest writing talents of his generation, and his work stands up remarkably well. He was old, but did not, as has been written, outlive his fame.

One reason was the contemporary feel and tone of much of his writing for book and screen. He was blunt and acid about life's fortunes in an era that celebrated the American way of life. His first novel, "What Makes Sammy Run?" (1941), was about vice being rewarded. Its titular hero, Sammy Glick, a newspaper errand boy, slithers and slices his way to wealth as a film producer. "Going through life with a conscience," Sammy says in one of the book's most famous lines, "is like driving your car with the brakes on."

Decades later, in an updated epilogue to "Sammy," Schulberg noted how the story's moral punch changed with time. Sammy Glick, he wrote, once seen as "the quintessential anti-hero . . . the free-enterprise system at its meanest," had been transformed into a yuppie hero by a culture obsessed with "do it to him before he to you."

Far more people associate Schulberg with the film that won him an Oscar for screenwriting: "On the Waterfront," starring Marlon Brando. Schulberg crafted one of the best-known and often-repeated lines ever spoken on screen, "I coulda been a contender." The full speech is here, and every word is a gem:

This film alone, which tops nearly every list of celebrated movies, ensures Schulberg lasting fame. But there's so much more.

His later triumphs included the great boxing film "The Harder They Fall" (1956), which gave Humphrey Bogart, playing a sports promoter, his last great movie role; and "A Face in the Crowd" (1957), which featured Andy Griffith in what many regard as his best role. Griffith played "Lonesome" Rhodes, a cracker-barrel prophet who self-destructs after he lands a national television show. It proved Griffith could be as powerful a dramatic actor as anyone before or since. It's a shame he retreated from that side of his talent.

Schulberg's work inspired a range of people in the entertainment business -- from Paddy Chayefsky to Spike Lee -- keeping him a relevant artist always worth revisiting. He was and is a giant.

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Obit as Equalizer

NYT columnist Frank Rich wrote last Sunday that the often-friendly relationship between the press and the Washington establishment has caused too few reporters to speak truth to power. He wrote that The Washington Post's obituary of former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, "... pointedly or not, included a photo of a...

By Adam Bernstein | July 28, 2009; 01:17 PM ET | Comments (0)

Controversial Afrocentric Scholar Dies

Ivan Van Sertima, a Guayana-born writer who died May 25 in New Jersey, created a stir for his 1977 book "They Came Before Columbus," which argued that blacks made a major contribution to civilization in the New World before Columbus sailed into the West Indies in the 15th century. Dr....

By Adam Bernstein | June 17, 2009; 02:40 PM ET | Comments (0)

Too Much Huey

I've often heard from obit fans something with which I completely agree: That it's not the predictable major obits that make the page exciting, but rather the utterly fascinating second or third-rung characters that provide fun and texture. You don't need to report on wastrels and third-tier actresses, but what...

By Adam Bernstein | June 16, 2009; 05:00 AM ET | Comments (1)

A Grave Problem

Lexy Chubrich of Tempe, Ariz., is an obit fan and recently wrote to us posing a question about the funeral of her grandmother, Sophie Kolember Chubrich, who died May 30 at 91. Lexy Chubrich writes: I've just returned from attending my grandmother's funeral in Chicago and just wanted to share...

By Adam Bernstein | June 11, 2009; 11:59 AM ET | Comments (1)

Q&A: Italian Americans in Jazz

Chicago-based author and educator Bill Dal Cerro contacted the obituary desk last week after I wrote about Sam Butera, the hard-driving tenor saxophonist whose musical partnership with Louis Prima in the 1950s and 1960s made them a major national act. Their prominence as Italian Americans who played jazz attracted the...

By Adam Bernstein | June 9, 2009; 11:07 AM ET | Comments (0)

Sam Butera, Sax Star, Dies

Sam Butera, who died June 3 at 81, was a hard-swinging tenor saxophonist who formed a rowdy and successful onstage partnership with entertainers Louis Prima and Keely Smith in the 1950s. Butera's not a household name. He's not a John Coltrane or a Coleman Hawkins. And frankly, when you listen...

By Adam Bernstein | June 5, 2009; 12:00 PM ET | Comments (0)

David Carradine's Best Work?

Early reports are that actor David Carradine was found dead today in Bangkok at age 72 and that suicide is the suspected cause of death. Barely a minute goes by without someone in the newsroom coming up and reciting something he did in the "Kill Bill" movies. Carradine may have...

By Adam Bernstein | June 4, 2009; 11:10 AM ET | Comments (4)

Poem for a Neighbor

An e-mail came to me the other day from Angela Scarlis, a poet who wanted to celebrate the life of her neighbor in Alexandria. Her friend was Louise Hurt, and she died May 19. Her death notice is here. "For me it is important that people can feel the pain...

By Adam Bernstein | June 3, 2009; 06:00 AM ET | Comments (1)

Peter Falk Family Battle

The LA Times reports an ugly family feud between Peter Falk's wife and daughter as the 81-year-old actor suffers from advanced dementia. Though Falk is mostly remembered for "Columbo," he was harrowingly good in a wide range of films. I think mostly of his portrait of a merciless thug in...

By Adam Bernstein | June 2, 2009; 11:27 AM ET | Comments (0)

Washington's Wolfman Jack

Don Dillard, who died May 28 at 74, operated a 250 watt station in Wheaton that was a force in bringing rock music to a local radio audience weary of Doris Day, Percy Faith and Eddie Fisher. Dillard's obit is here. Dillard was a powerhouse in the late 1950s and...

By Adam Bernstein | June 2, 2009; 06:00 AM ET | Comments (5)

Bad 'Association'

Why do we need news obituaries? The trouble with paid Death Notices is that families can claim pretty much anything, and who will be the wiser? Advertising staffs, like most of us in the news biz, are overwhelmed with requests for obits. Generally families are taken at their word when...

By Adam Bernstein | May 29, 2009; 01:12 PM ET | Comments (1)

Jane ("Cat People") Randolph Dies

Actress Jane Randolph, who died May 4 at 93, will be remembered for two of the scariest single scenes in any suspense film -- and they are the same film, "Cat People" (1942). She's stalked by a female/feline rival in the first scene as she walked by night to a...

By Adam Bernstein | May 27, 2009; 11:13 AM ET | Comments (0)

FDIC Chairman Dies

Bloomberg reports the death today of L. William Seidman, whom the news service said "led the U.S. out of the savings-and-loan crisis in the late 1980s and early 1990s as head of the government agency that seized hundreds of thrifts and sold their assets. He was 88." The Post will...

By Adam Bernstein | May 13, 2009; 03:46 PM ET | Comments (0)

Cereal Killer

The Wash Post on Sunday and the NYT today had obits about Robert Choate Jr., a civil engineer-turned "citizen lobbyist" in the 1960s who played a key role attacking the "empty calories" of breakfast cereals. He died May 3 at age 84. The low nutritional value of cereal became Choate's...

By Adam Bernstein | May 13, 2009; 12:21 PM ET | Comments (1)

Wikipedia, Obits and Faking

Wikipedia is often an easy place for journalists to get a fast overview of a life, but it carries it dangers. Consider the recent case of a Dubliner named Shane Fitzgerald, whose college experiment on globalization led many obituary writers astray when he placed fake quotation in a famous composer's...

By Adam Bernstein | May 7, 2009; 05:22 PM ET | Comments (2)

Redstone v. Reaper

Sumner Redstone, the 85-year-old chairman of media properties CBS Corp. and Viacom, gave a recent interview in which he jabs at other media moguls, including Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch; boasts of his sexual predilictions, particularly his attraction to married women; and, most alarmingly, of his belief he is impervious...

By Adam Bernstein | May 4, 2009; 11:19 AM ET | Comments (0)

Frankie "Musclehead" Manning Dies

As I noted yesterday in a brief blog item, Lindy Hop dance pioneer Frankie "Musclehead" Manning died. The full story is here. But there's only so much one can say about him with words. It's far better to experience him onscreen. Here he is, in overalls, from the exciting jitterbug...

By Adam Bernstein | April 28, 2009; 12:36 PM ET | Comments (2)

Lindy Hop Pioneer Dies

Frankie "Musclehead" Manning, 94, a Harlem dancer and Tony Award-winning choreographer who became widely celebrated as one of the pioneers of the "Lindy Hop," a breathlessly acrobatic swing dance style of the 1930s and 1940s, died April 27 at New York's Lenox Hill Hospital of pneumonia. Mr. Manning became a...

By Adam Bernstein | April 27, 2009; 03:33 PM ET | Comments (5)

Tilahun Gessesse, Leading Ethiopian Singer, Dies

Tilahun Gessesse, a dominant musical voice in his native Ethiopia, died April 19 in Addis Ababa. He was 68. One news story called him the ''Ethiopian Pavarotti," which is a bit of a stretch culturally even in the world of puffery agents. It also could be seen as an offense...

By Adam Bernstein | April 21, 2009; 05:21 PM ET | Comments (12)

Obit Writer RIP

It's not a criticism to say Gayle Ronan Sims, who died last night at age 61, would take four hours to do what most of us could in 10 minutes. She was extremely sympathetic, with a soft and soothing voice that made probing questions seem as gentle as an invitation...

By Adam Bernstein | April 17, 2009; 02:02 PM ET | Comments (2)

Jewish Woman Who Married Nazi Officer Dies

One of the more astonishing obits of the day. There's nothing much to add, except do not miss out. Via the Times of London. Edith Hahn-Beer escaped probable extermination as a Jew in wartime Germany by assuming a false identity, marrying a German and living out the Second World War...

By Adam Bernstein | March 25, 2009; 11:30 AM ET | Comments (0)

'Marty' Star Dies

Betsy Blair, who died March 13, did not have an extensive career in Hollywood -- she was blacklisted for her political beliefs. But among her starring roles was a memorable portrayal of a homely schoolteacher in "Marty," a terrific 1955 drama based on a Paddy Chayefsky teleplay and one of...

By Adam Bernstein | March 17, 2009; 12:44 PM ET | Comments (0)

Ambassador Gets the Bird

Nicholas Henderson, who died March 16 in London, was a British ambassador in high-profile assignments from 1969 to 1982: Warsaw, Bonn, Paris and ultimately Washington. He may be best-remembered for his instrumental role in steering the U.S. to support the British military operation that regained control of the Falkland Islands...

By Adam Bernstein | March 17, 2009; 12:33 PM ET | Comments (1)

Man Behind Initials of WTTG Dies

A leading engineer for the old DuMont TV network has died. His link to Washington was brief but enduring, having given his initials to WTTG (Channel 5). Thomas Toliver Goldsmith Jr. died March 5 at age 99. He was a retired director of research at the Allen B. DuMont Laboratories...

By Adam Bernstein | March 13, 2009; 02:01 PM ET | Comments (6)

O! Curtsy

Welcome to Friday the 13th. Today we had the obituary of Leonore Annenberg, an arts patron and society hostess who served as President Ronald Reagan's first chief of protocol and was the widow of publisher, philanthropist and ambassador Walter Annenberg. The New York Times obituary amusingly described the chief of...

By Adam Bernstein | March 13, 2009; 12:03 PM ET | Comments (0)

Obits of the Air

A Canadian entrepreneur wants an all-obits TV channel. Apparently, it's not the first....

By Adam Bernstein | March 11, 2009; 12:11 PM ET | Comments (0)

Newspaperman as Savior

Newspaper editor James Bellows died Friday aged 86 near Los Angeles. He made a career as the top editor at a series of failing newspapers -- the New York Herald Tribune during its last hurrah in the early 1960s, the Washington Star as it struggled as an afternoon daily in...

By Adam Bernstein | March 6, 2009; 04:19 PM ET | Comments (2)

Son of "Little Tramp" Dies

Sydney Chaplin, 82, a son of movie comedian Charlie Chaplin who went on to his own acting career in film and on Broadway, including a Tony Award-winning performance in the long-running musical "Bells Are Ringing," died March 3 at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He had a stroke...

By Adam Bernstein | March 5, 2009; 11:54 AM ET | Comments (0)

Playwright Horton Foote is Dead

Horton Foote, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American dramatist who wrote "The Young Man From Atlanta" and won an Oscar for his screenplay adaptation of the Harper Lee novel "To Kill a Mockingbird," died today at age 92. The Post will have a full obit tomorrow. Foote forged a writing career that...

By Adam Bernstein | March 4, 2009; 07:40 PM ET | Comments (0)

Pay Up

Ah, credit companies. Apparently not even death gets in the way of seeking the balance on one's credit card bill. The NYT had a front-page story today on one credit company and its approach to calling distraught relatives to collect on unpaid bills of the deceased. Reminds me of a...

By Adam Bernstein | March 4, 2009; 12:11 PM ET | Comments (0)

TV's McMahon, Barry Said to be Ailing

Professional sidekick Ed McMahon is seriously ill, which is sad news for those who recall the dependable TV personality in his heyday. He was mostly known for his longtime professional relationship with Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show." In one interview he gave Entertainment Weekly, McMahon recalled the pleasure of...

By Adam Bernstein | March 3, 2009; 12:48 PM ET | Comments (8)

Veteran D.C. Journalist Nicholas Blatchford Dies

Nicholas Blatchford, who died Feb. 1 at age 89, spent much of his career as reporter and editor at the old Washington Daily News. I seldom enjoy writing about reporters, as it tends to smack of self-regard. And mostly we talk to people and type for a living. Not the...

By Adam Bernstein | February 6, 2009; 05:09 PM ET | Comments (0)

Baugh of the Movies

The football great Sammy Baugh has died. His enormous skill on the gridiron and his all-American good looks made him a national name while playing with the Washington Redskins starting in the late 1930s. Hollywood saw potential and cast the Texas native in a cheapie Western serial at the start...

By Adam Bernstein | December 18, 2008; 11:53 AM ET | Comments (1)

"Where's Johnson?"

In researching yesterday's obituary of arts critic Clive Barnes, I found this fun excerpt from Time magazine: A few years ago during the presidency of L.B.J., Dan Sullivan, then second-stringer to Clive Barnes on the New York Times, was sent to Washington, D.C., to cover a play. Stewart Udall, then...

By Adam Bernstein | November 20, 2008; 01:51 PM ET | Comments (0)

The War and the Dead

Evocative story from CNN today about the last remaining veterans from the "war to end all wars." Meanwhile, the war is still being fought in Verdun, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel allegedly "snubbing" a tribute to World War I soldiers after French President Nicolas Sarkozy reportedly changed the venue of...

By Adam Bernstein | November 11, 2008; 11:25 AM ET | Comments (0)

John Leonard: His Own Worst Critic

The cultural critic John Leonard died Nov. 5 in New York. He had been many things, including book editor at The New York Times, author of a monthly column on books for Harper's Magazine, a television critic for New York magazine and a media critic for "CBS News Sunday Morning."...

By Adam Bernstein | November 7, 2008; 11:37 AM ET | Comments (1)

Edie and Ernie

Multi-talented entertainer Edie Adams died the other day. More than a great beauty, she was a highly talented vocalist, a Tony Award-winning stage actress and a gifted comic performer. She held her own on TV in the 1950s against her then-husband, comedian Ernie Kovacs, a man who once mimicked the...

By Adam Bernstein | October 23, 2008; 12:01 PM ET | Comments (0)

Paul Newman's Shrewd Move

Actor, director, philanthropist, race car driver and political activist Paul Newman died yesterday at 83. Television news in particular transforms every dead celebrity, no matter how insignificant, into a "legend" who will be "sorely missed." But based on the months I spent researching Newman to prepare his obit years ago...

By Matt Schudel | September 27, 2008; 01:24 PM ET | Comments (0)

Norma Desmond Revisited

Anita Page, probably the last living adult star of Hollywood silent pictures, has died. At her peak in the late 1920s she was second only in popularity to Greta Garbo, and the following video tribute conveys aspects of her appeal. Page said her refusal to bed studio executives led to...

By Adam Bernstein | September 9, 2008; 02:21 PM ET | Comments (1)

Two Obits of Chile Under Pinochet

I wrote today of the legacy of a U.S. ambassador to Chile during the early years of the Pinochet dictatorship. It's a life story I hope readers would find of interest for how the diplomat, David H. Popper, balanced U.S. policy to support anti-Communist military regimes, against public demands from...

By Adam Bernstein | July 31, 2008; 12:58 PM ET | Comments (0)

Report on Steve Fossett

An intriguing report on missing adventurer Steve Fossett, who was legally declared dead in February. But Lt. Col. Cynthia Ryan of the US Civil Air Patrol tells the The London Daily Telegraph Fossett's body "should have been found. ... It's not like we didn't have our eyes open. We found...

By Adam Bernstein | July 30, 2008; 07:26 PM ET | Comments (0)

Obiter v. Obiter

Alex Beam, a terrific columnist for the Boston Globe, takes on the obit world in a column today. Not sure who might care about all this but us handful of obit scribes. But for what it's worth, I know most of the people involved - I have attended both conferences...

By Adam Bernstein | June 3, 2008; 12:07 PM ET | Comments (0)

Harvey Korman RIP

Harvey Korman, who died yesterday, was among the masterful comic "straight men" of his generation on film and TV. Tim Conway and Carol Burnett were often more outrageous, but Korman's task could be harder, struggling to keep from laughing in light of the most implausibly hilarious situations....

By Adam Bernstein | May 30, 2008; 12:14 PM ET | Comments (0)

On Faith On Death

The Washington Post feature "On Faith" showcases the insights of LA Times obit editor Jon Thurber, one of the sages of the obit craft. He's sensitive and thoughtful in a very difficult job....

By Adam Bernstein | May 28, 2008; 07:10 PM ET | Comments (1)

A "Derogatory" Obit?

A reader wrote in last week to criticize what she called the "derogatory and negative" tone of the recent obituary for Huntington Hartford II, the A&P heir whose quest to be taken seriously as a patron of the arts led him to drain much of his enormous fortune. Hartford died...

By Adam Bernstein | May 26, 2008; 12:51 PM ET | Comments (0)

Conference of Death

Just returned from the inaugural meeting of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers (SPOW), held in Portland, Ore., May 8 to 11. In preceding months, there had been debate over the name, with several wags hoping for some creepy acronym that spelled out words like COFFIN (Congress of something something...

By Adam Bernstein | May 14, 2008; 12:56 PM ET | Comments (3)

Of Parakeets and Freezers

Washington Post obituaries will often include a person's hobby or interest. Often this means a vague enthusiasm for pets ("he liked dogs," "she adored lizards"). Today, I heard a vivid tale of animal bonding. Josephine Czapp, who died April 6 at 89, raised many kinds of pets. But she had...

By Adam Bernstein | April 19, 2008; 10:00 AM ET | Comments (3)

The Local Angle

John Wheeler, one of the best-known physicists of his generation, died April 13. Newsday's headline for his obit reminded me of the Bronx Home News account of Charles Lindbergh's 1927 Transatlatic flight: "Lindbergh Flies Over the Bronx on Way to Paris."...

By Adam Bernstein | April 17, 2008; 11:56 AM ET | Comments (0)

Burying the Compliment

Feminist health advocate Barbara Seaman died Feb. 27. The family later paid me the obit writer's highest compliment -- burying a copy of the story with her in the casket. They asked for a new copy for themselves. In a related story that appears to be exclusive to the New...

By Adam Bernstein | March 2, 2008; 02:59 PM ET | Comments (70)

Steve Fossett, Officially Dead

An Illinois judge yesterday declared the legal death of millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett, who vanished during a routine flight in September. His wife petitioned for the legal declaration, and the judge said there was no reason to believe he intentionally disappeared. Newspapers around the world, including The Post, ran his...

By Matt Schudel | February 16, 2008; 01:17 PM ET | Comments (4)

Britney Spears -- the Latest Craziness

A few weeks ago, John Rogers of the Associated Press wrote about preparing obits for young celebrities. Today Glamour magazine called, apparently following up on the same story. There's a ceaseless fascination with seemingly pre-mature deaths of pop singers and movie stars. So in that spirit, we bring you the...

By Adam Bernstein | February 5, 2008; 03:21 PM ET | Comments (1)

Heath Ledger and Gene Kelly

In writing about the surprising death of actor Heath Ledger, at 28, I found an intriguing tidbit in an interview he gave to a Norfolk reporter in 2001: his adoration of Gene Kelly. "I loved all those musicals," Ledger told the Virginian-Pilot. "Kelly was wonderful. I once bought myself a...

By Adam Bernstein | January 22, 2008; 08:34 PM ET | Comments (0)

Suzanne Pleshette

The Post, like many large news organizations, had an obituary for actress Suzanne Pleshette. But Time magazine's essay by critic Richard Corliss added insight to what Pleshette could have been -- her film career was mixed at best -- had she made it to Hollywood a generation earlier....

By Adam Bernstein | January 22, 2008; 02:04 PM ET | Comments (0)

Ahead of the News

The Nashville Tennessean yesterday reported the death of Slim Whitman, the country-western singer best known for his yodeling technique on songs such as "Indian Love Call" and "I Remember You." His version of the former was credited with saving earth in director Tim Burton's film "Mars Attacks!" (1996). The paper...

By Adam Bernstein | January 22, 2008; 01:52 PM ET | Comments (0)

Newspaper Promotes Self in Obit

The New York Post, a newpaper economical in its fairness and devotion to nuance, recently gave itself a strange bit of promotion in an obituary. The tone is perhaps expected from a newspaper that upon the death in December of blues and rock innovator Ike Turner used the headline: IKE...

By Adam Bernstein | January 16, 2008; 03:03 PM ET | Comments (6)


Had a blast yesterday piecing together the life of Eddie "Bozo" Miller, who ate his way into the record books. His son-in-law insisted Miller was truthful in everything but his age, which the hometown paper in Oakland incorrectly reported as 99. And typical for the mischievious Miller, he lied in...

By Adam Bernstein | January 11, 2008; 04:54 PM ET | Comments (57)

Dead Air

For those who cannot get enough of obituaries in print, I'll join Daily Telegraph obituaries editor Andrew McKie and New York Sun obituaries editor Stephen Miller for an hour-long discussion Wednesday on Kojo Nnamdi's WAMU-FM current affairs program. The segment airs from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. We did the...

By Adam Bernstein | December 17, 2007; 03:27 PM ET | Comments (3)

Block That Euphemism

Brinsfield Funeral Home in Leonardtown, Md., has started to call itself the Brinsfield "Life Celebration Home." An employee there told me today that this is a new development, designed to coincide with its "life celebration" packages such as DVDs, a memorial portrait of the deceased and a pamphlet with 10...

By Adam Bernstein | December 12, 2007; 11:39 AM ET | Comments (3)

I Don't Drink ... Wine

The best first paragraph of the day:...

By Adam Bernstein | November 21, 2007; 12:12 PM ET | Comments (0)

Ian Smith

It's been illuminating to read many takes on Ian Smith, the Rhodesian leader who in the 1960s and 1970s defied the transition to black rule in Africa. I would urge readers to look at three major British papers for their vastly different styles: The Telegraph, the Guardian and the Times...

By Adam Bernstein | November 21, 2007; 11:38 AM ET | Comments (0)

Far-flung Death News

Some newspapers have taken full advantage of harnassing video technology to obituaries. It can often add great value to the printed-word version. Today, London's Guardian newspaper offers video clips of a Tamil Tiger rebel leader who was killed by the Sri Lankan government in a raid. And for a fun...

By Adam Bernstein | November 2, 2007; 01:56 PM ET | Comments (0)


On the theory that a good correction is sometimes worth the price of a newspaper, here's this recent gem from LA Times: An obituary on Doolittle Raider Nolan A. Herndon in the Los Angeles Times gave his nickname as Sue. In fact, he was known only as Nolan Anderson Herndon....

By Adam Bernstein | October 18, 2007; 02:21 PM ET | Comments (0)


"The Dead Beat," Marilyn Johnson's 2006 book about obit writers, notes a trend she called "occupational clusters." That is when two inventors or three war heroes or five actors die within a few days of one another and appear on the same obit page. The New York Times is particularly...

By Adam Bernstein | October 18, 2007; 02:13 PM ET | Comments (1)

A "Red" Shipley Remembrance

Robert "Red Shipley, who died Oct. 6, was a fixture of the Washington area's airwaves for four decades. He spent the last 25 years emceeing WAMU-FM's "Stained Glass Bluegrass" Sunday program. Rob Bamberger, whose "Hot Jazz Saturday Night" radio show is always full of wry insight into terrific music, offered...

By Adam Bernstein | October 9, 2007; 11:36 AM ET | Comments (0)

False Death, False Information

The first sentence is not exactly Garcia Marquez, but it's eye-catching nonetheless. As my colleague Matt Schudel pointed out, an Albany newspaper reports the premature burial of a local man in his college alumni newspaper. This reminded me of a terrific story the Wall Street Journal published several years ago...

By Adam Bernstein | October 4, 2007; 04:02 PM ET | Comments (0)

That Was Some Lady

As a rule, British obituaries are bolder with more intimate details than American obits. By English standards, American obituaries can seem positively starchy and proper. In some respects, this is because the Brits seem to have a neverending stream of wealthy eccentrics and wastrels who make a lifetime of mischief...

By Adam Bernstein | September 27, 2007; 01:58 PM ET | Comments (5)

Death Du Jour

Lurid tales of 19th-century New York have always captivated me. They destroy the illusion fostered by generations of politicians of a better, cleaner America before (take your pick) Stravinsky, ragtime, jazz, rock and rap hastened our moral collapse. The New York Times today offered this marvelous woebegone account of a...

By Adam Bernstein | September 19, 2007; 10:39 AM ET | Comments (0)

Death Du Jour

Favorite detailed obit of the day comes from the Times of London and its terrific use of the word "yomp":

By Adam Bernstein | September 17, 2007; 06:06 PM ET | Comments (0)

Saint Noochie?

The Post offers a Sunday obit feature called A Local Life, which structurally can be more relaxed than the standard "news obit" that immediately tells the who, when, where, how and why of a story. I have tried to find subjects who are unpredictable, in some ways elusive. Two of...

By Adam Bernstein | September 17, 2007; 11:15 AM ET | Comments (0)

Fascinating Fake

The New York Times wrote an obituary recently for Joe O'Donnell, who professed to have been an official White House photographer for five administrations and taken defining images of those eras (Little John-John saluting his father's coffin in 1963, et al.). When a series of retired news photographers started questioning...

By Adam Bernstein | September 17, 2007; 10:34 AM ET | Comments (0)

Bad News in Obits

After writing an obituary for Washington jurist John Garrett Penn, I received vastly different reviews from readers for how the story handled an unpleasant aspect of the judge's career. And it speaks to a larger issue of how obituary writers handle unflattering facts on such a sensitive matter as an...

By Adam Bernstein | September 14, 2007; 12:37 PM ET | Comments (0)


As we go "live" with our obit blog, we hope to encourage readers to offer vivid anecdotes and remembrances about fascinating lives. Here's one from the e-mail bag, about a renowned scientist and mushroom hunter: Because you wrote the long obituary on Betty Hay, I thought you might be interested...

By Adam Bernstein | September 12, 2007; 01:52 PM ET | Comments (0)


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