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Whose Passing Would Summon These Words?

Never before in my life has it been so hard for me to accept the death of any man as it has been for me to accept the death of Theodore Roosevelt. A pall seems to settle upon the very sky. The world is bleaker and colder for his absence from it. We shall not look upon his like again.

-- John Burroughs

The great American naturalist John Burroughs was so moved by the death of Teddy Roosevelt that he wrote those words. The quotation appears in the new book that tells the riveting story of TR's post-presidency exploration of an unmapped river in South America, "The River of Doubt," by Candice Millard.

Immediately, I wondered, what living figure, whether in the world of politics or any other walk of life, would summon such sentiments upon his passing?

Increasingly in recent years, the deaths of prominent people have brought about commemorations that seem overwrought, exaggerated. The power of television and the celebration of celebrity have led to such odd spectacles as the recent outpouring of tributes to the widow of the actor Christopher Reeve. But if we try to separate the allure of celebrity from real admiration for extraordinary deeds and lives that made a difference, the roster of people whose passing might elicit comments like Burroughs' is awfully short.

Public figures, whether in politics, the arts or the sciences, are now generally laundered through the machineries of public relations, media training, legal liability vetting, focus grouping and all manner of ghostwriting. The result is a far more controlled and blander set of prominent people. Could any public figure today show the zest for life and the individuality that TR demonstrated in everything he did?

In politics, a John McCain or a Russ Feingold wins all kinds of superlatives for being justhismuch more frank than the average political bear. That's not greatness of a TR scale by any means.

Locally, our greatest figures are more celebrated for their notoriety than for their personal achievements. Marion Barry, William Donald Schaefer, Doug Wilder--these are larger than life figures, but they are beloved more for their outrageousness or wackiness than for any particular wisdom or singleminded devotion to a cause larger than themselves.

Do a search on "greatest living Americans" and you come up with names such as Milton Friedman, John Updike, Jimmy Carter, Colin Powell, Bill Gates and, well, Ronald Reagan (yes, I know.) Carter is an interesting choice--and like TR, he's far more respected for his non-presidential work than for his management of the government.

Is there an Edison, Einstein or TR in the bunch? Whose death would stir you to say something as moving as what John Burroughs wrote of Roosevelt?

By Marc Fisher |  March 31, 2006; 7:02 AM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Sociologists say that most people have around 12 people in their life that, if they died, would have a deep impact on said person. Like politics, it's all local.

Posted by: Social-lite | March 31, 2006 8:24 AM

There is only one politician whose death would evoke these emotions in me: William Jefferson Clinton

Posted by: Billye K | March 31, 2006 8:34 AM

It's a waste of time to love someone who can't love you back.

Posted by: Diane | March 31, 2006 8:38 AM

Any President's (or Ex-President's) death stirs me at my core, because I get a free day off. I remember when Reagan died and I got that Friday off; that was good. I also remember bitter dissapointment when Ford recovered from the flu recently. However, I know that in the long run, I have at least five more days off to look forward to.

Posted by: Tom Canick | March 31, 2006 8:49 AM

You've mentioned him already - I write in agreement. The death of Jimmy Carter would be deeply felt in my heart. I know there are many negative views of him out there, largely due to misunderstandings of the very things I love about him - he is deeply spiritual but does not impose this on others nor judge others because of their lack of spirituality; he spends his time and money helping those who need help; and he is trying - despite the partisan armies out there working against him - to improve the electoral system in this country so that we can stop being afraid of someone stealing another election.

Posted by: maggie | March 31, 2006 8:49 AM

Paul Wellstone and Howell Heflin (D-AL) stirred me like that when they passed. I can only think of Pres. Clinton and Pres. Carter, and MAYBE Howard Dean. Most people involved in politics these days are either reprehensible or merely ineffective. I don't know which is worse.

Posted by: bamagirlinVA | March 31, 2006 9:05 AM

Well, since you opened it up to non-political folks as well...a few months ago, when Luther Vandross died, one of my colleagues was very sad for a day or two. Trying to explain, she said, "You don't understand. I've been listening to his music for as long as I can remember. My parents played him for me when I was small. I danced to "Here and Now" with my husband at our wedding." I was mildly sympathetic, but still didn't quite get it, until it hit me like a ton of bricks: one of these days, probably in my lifetime, Bono is going to die as well. The thought was almost unthinkable -- not just because of his good works, but because U2 was the first band I ever loved, when I was 12 years old, and their music has accompanied me through high school, college, young adulthood and now into my 30s. I can't imagine a world without him. The day he goes, there goes my youth as well. Unimaginable.

Posted by: Doonesburied | March 31, 2006 9:13 AM

Bono? Wow. But who am I to talk? I was moved by the loss of Barry White.
You got me thinking about the odd phenomenon in which most folks seem to be keenly aware of which famous people are pretty much our own age--in my case, I've always noted, with some dismay, that I share a birth year with Michael Jackon, Rickey Henderson and Andy Gibb. On the other hand, also Prince.

Posted by: Fisher | March 31, 2006 9:20 AM

I am an ardent admirer of Theodore Roosevelt. Also of Harry Truman, Bill Clinton, John McCain and John Warner. It's a matter of trusting that what you hear them say is not vetted through committees or PR hacks, it's what they believe, and they are articulate and intelligent enough to speak spontaneously, from the heart and the mind. It doesn't matter whether or not I agree with them -- honesty is what moves me, and sadly we have little of that in our public servants today.

Posted by: Allison | March 31, 2006 9:43 AM

I would suggest the "Most Trusted Man In America"--Walter Cronkite. We will not see the likes of him again.

Posted by: jmsbh | March 31, 2006 9:45 AM

The Dalai Lama. Nelson Mandela. People who stand for something greater than themselves.

I doubt that would include most living politicians, with the possible exception of Jimmy Carter. He's really grown a lot since he left office.

Posted by: BZ | March 31, 2006 9:48 AM

The only public figure I've admired from the beginning is Jimmy Carter. Perhaps he wasn't the most effective President, but he was honest and moral, characteristics that are severely lacking in today's politics. I prefer to think he was just ahead of his time. What continues to inspire me is that he didn't allow a mediocre presidency slow his quest to help people. He has been the most effective former President I believe we've ever had. Not only has he written books, been involved in Habitat for Humanity and helped insure valid elections overseas, he has been the finest goodwill ambassador this country has ever had. Given our present leadership, we need all the help in that area we can get.

Posted by: Steve | March 31, 2006 9:49 AM

There is no figure whose death could remotely compare to the loss of a loved one (as mentioned above). I lost my wife a couple years ago at 26, a devasting blow and one that will hopefully never be matched (certainly not by any politician or celeb). There may be public figures whose contributions to the greater good invoke pride and respect, but their pedestals prevent me from being impacted by their passing. It's those that toil unknown, but do great things, that deserve our respect moreso than any public figure.

Posted by: ilikecheese | March 31, 2006 10:11 AM

I'd just like to note that I'm glad I'm not the only one who found the tributes to Dana Reeve (whose name I only know because of those tributes) to be odd. Not to dismiss the obvious trauma that death causes individuals, but I had never seen her featured in any kind of news story or feature, ever, and thus her "popularity" caught me off guard. Just very strange.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 31, 2006 10:12 AM

Kurt Vonnegut

Posted by: Anonymous | March 31, 2006 10:14 AM

well but a lot of those people are OLD, which to me makes a difference. They've already made their contributions. I was sad when Ronald Reagan died . . . but most of that was just realizing how removed I was from my childhood. I didn't know RR personally, and it's not like he was in the public conscience for the last 10-15 years. It was sad, but it's not like the world missed out on his contributions, he had already made his.

When Johnny Cash died, I was saddened, but he too was old. And has left behind a sizable impact on the world.

To me, a bigger shock would be when someone is lost before their time, when they could still make a contribution. I think that partially explains JFK's appeal -- the "what could have been" more than the what he did. And, sadly, when I look around, I see very few irreplaceable visionaries on the national or world stage who are still in their prime.

Posted by: OD | March 31, 2006 10:21 AM

I think I'll be rather affect when Pres. Clinton passes. Besides him - there aren't many politicos that I'm too impressed with that it would truly affect me if they died.

I'll second the Bono nod and add Michael Stipe and Tori Amos. Their music affected me like nothing else growing up.

Posted by: Danielle fr. Gmail | March 31, 2006 10:30 AM

I hate to say this but, I think this is just another of the meaningful things we have lost. There just aren't any TRs, or FDRs, or Trumans. Similarly abroad, there really aren't any Churchills, any Willy Brandts, DeGaulles, King Husseins.

There are just as many Einsteins, Helen Kellers and Florence Nightingales out there, but they have all been marginalized, co-opted, smothered in this new partisan era where political and ideological allegiances count for more than genius, talent and genuine compassion and love of our fellow man.

The qualities you mention that endear TR to us are qualities that in today's superheated partisan environment are spun as "wacko". The qualites you mention in Jimmy Carter are routinely dismissed by today's fat, sweaty talk show hosts as mushy, effete liberalism.

And just look at what happens to the nation's great scientists when they dare speak a scientific truth that threatens the fortunes of our industrial or political leaders.

There is a shopworn old axiom that apples today as it did in the Rome of Caesar's time: "The fault dear Brutus is not in our stars, but in ourselves."

Alas, the qualites of a TR, or any of the other great men of history who have indelibly imprinted themselves upon our psyches, are not welcome in this cynical age. The notable men of this century will pass into history with only the most vapid and insincere eulogies to mark that passing.

The greater more meaningful eulogies go to the littlest among us--the Rosa Parks, or the thousands of unsung doctors without borders who donate their marvelous talents to healing the suffering of poor men, women and chldren acros the vast expanses of the Third World.

The media will not hear those eulogies or read those epitaphs. Hopefull History will, and ignore the bloated murmurings and empty praisings of today's leaders who surround themselves with legions of experts who make fortunes divying out such hollow eulogies.

Posted by: Jaxas | March 31, 2006 10:30 AM

I still can't get over the death of John Lennon. I can't help but wonder what impact his voice would have had on the Iraq war.

Posted by: Anne Dickson | March 31, 2006 10:33 AM

I would agree on both Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and I would limit my mouning to the loss of these great men. Many people enjoy mocking their presidencies and exalting their post-presidential "growth," which I believe reflects a shallow understanding of their times in office and in the national and global political environments in which they served. Both men I was fortunate to meet several times

Posted by: poofter | March 31, 2006 10:37 AM

I agree with Bono and Clinton.

I know this may sound odd from someone in her mid-20s, but I was shocked and saddened when Peter Jennings died. Both my husband (29 y/o) and I cried watching his memorial service. Peter Jennings was in my home every night as a child, just after dinner and before Jeopardy.

I think that the time of death also plays an impact. If Carter died shortly after his presidency and didn't continue his good works (or if Reagan died shortly after his presidency and escaped a decade of illness out of the public eye), our views of them in death would be much different

Posted by: MD (initials not a doctor) | March 31, 2006 10:55 AM

Nothing moves more Washingtonians than the Washington Redskins. Black, white, rich, poor, the Redskins cross the entire social spectrum of the DC metro area. When Christian Adolph Jurgenson, better know as Sonny, passes, I think you'll see a huge outpouring from just as wide a spectrum or people that follow the Skins. Sonny's been a Washington institution longer than any politico. Much longer than most people live and work in the transient world of Washington. When Sonny passes those of us native Washingtonians will come out of every neighborhood and suburb inside and outside the Beltway.

Posted by: Keith | March 31, 2006 11:08 AM

I'm 27 and I was so sad when Peter Jennings died. My father watched his newcast exclusively, so growing up he was always "a guest" in our house every evening. Especially his reports during 9/11 really comforted me. When I heard he died, I called my mom (who is the type of person that is so not into famous people- worshipping, idolozing), and she told me she was really sad, like a family member died. That made me realize that what an impact he really did have on our household.

Posted by: NH in Rockville | March 31, 2006 11:15 AM

it will break my heart when Sonny passes.

I would say to Jaxas, it is not necessarily that there are no more TRs, FDRs, Trumans, Einsteins, et al. Rather, it is that (in spite of what Mark says about celebrities being filtered by PR reps) we know our celebrities (and I'm including politicians in that group) better than we used to. We tend to see those in the past as "great" because we don't see their warts. How would the Thomas Jefferson who wrote the Declaration of Independence be treated today? After all, he was a slave-owning womanizer who lived in staggering debt.

If you isolate what someone has done from who that person was as an individual, it is easy to celebrate what they did. But it means you have to ignore who they were.

Posted by: Me | March 31, 2006 11:19 AM

1)Paul McCartney- grew up as beatle fan, then bumped into him at Georgetown harbor
2)Larry Bird- boyhood idol, still remember how he worked hard, didnt showboat,nice guy,etc
3)Ted Kennedy- I dont agree w/all his politics,but a lot of what y'all are saying apply to him.
4)Sting- dont laugh,his music and his causes.Someone said Bono,and I agree, but grew up w/Police not U2 records.

Posted by: Doug | March 31, 2006 11:28 AM

The Dalai Lama.

Posted by: Melanie | March 31, 2006 11:34 AM

If the idea are people who lived rich, grand, full-steam-ahead lives that have affected the great consciousness, then BB King would have to make this list. Ditto Buddy Guy. Also, with the work going on with space tourism, it's possible that Richard Branson makes this list some day.
Depending on the fruits of his charitable work, Bill Gates could certainly be included.

I agree with whoever said we have better access to our politicos and celebs now. In TR's day, there was no 24 hr news channel to document every move. Legend was easier to build. I'm not sure this is a particularly bad thing.

Posted by: Soulie | March 31, 2006 11:35 AM

the comment about how Jimmy "grew" after leaving office ...
it sounded to me like the cliche about the twenty-something young man who was surprised to see how smart his Dad had become in just the last couple of years.

Jimmy was dead wrong about some things, and his mistakes created the hero John K. Singlaub, or allowed him to emerge. But the fiasco in the Iranian desert was the fault of incompetent generals and admirals, and Jimmy, like a man, like a true leader, took responsibility. What did Ronnie take responsibility for ? Did he ever say the bombing at the Beruit airport was his fault ? And what has Georgie taken responsibility for ? That's a joke, son.

Thanks for mentioning Rosa Parks. As I pondered the original question, I was sizing up Britney, and Brad and Jen, and Brad and Angelina, and Barack, and I noticed that I really only considered male persons as potential candidates. Reading Rosa's name helped me see that, at the edges, I was limited by blinders.

The War against Iraqis presents an opportunity for such a moral leader to emerge. Regardless of how it started, and I pray you can all let that go, thousands of innocents are being killed in our names every month. The person who ends that madness will be someone who does it for spiritual, not political, reasons. I wish she'd hurry up.

Posted by: Barron X | March 31, 2006 11:37 AM

Amen to Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. But also, I would add Elizabeth Taylor for a life lived to its fullest. Not only for achievment in film and theater, but business as well. Then, like Bono and Audrey Hepburn, utilizing the fame and money from earlier careers to work as a philanthropist in AIDS causes. Plus all of the vicarious thrills she has brought to us all through her zeal for life. When she passes and may it not be for many years, many of us will mourn deeply.

Posted by: Dave | March 31, 2006 11:39 AM

If Pope John Paul II ever dies, I'm going to be really sad.

Posted by: Doug | March 31, 2006 11:51 AM

Dick Cheney and George W. Bush

Posted by: Gustavo | March 31, 2006 11:59 AM

I think the "famous" death that most profoundly influenced me was that of Ronald Reagan. I still feel his loss and miss the grace and courtesy he extended those Presidents who came after him - a trait that today's living ex-Presidents do not seem to have in any measure whatsoever.

There are a number of people whose loss I would feel acutely, mostly because they were (and some still are) my role models as I was growing up: Coach Gibbs, Cal Ripken, Jr., Eddie Murray, Huey Lewis, Eric Clapton, Dr. Lee Robertson, Bruce Willis.

Posted by: Jimmie | March 31, 2006 12:12 PM

Rush Limbaugh.

Posted by: CaveMan | March 31, 2006 12:15 PM

Whose death would be the biggest global news story? Maybe Bill Gates, Paul McCartney, Tiger Woods, George W. Bush or Osama bin Laden (if confirmed).

Whose death would be the biggest loss to Humanity? I'd offer Stephen Hawking. And that one WOULD crush me.

Posted by: Rob | March 31, 2006 12:17 PM

Jerry Orbach / Det. Lennie Brisco...the entire law and order franchise has been ingrained in my memories of childhood.

my dad is an avid watcher, it was probably the first "grown-up" show that he consented to let me watch after forbidding it when i was younger, and i honestly believe i have seen virtually every episode under the sun, having watched from age 14 through the present (25).

my family nearly sent flowers when he passed away, we're so used to having him on the TV screen and "in" our home.

Posted by: Laura | March 31, 2006 12:18 PM

Like ilikecheese I believe that no loss of a public figure will touch me like the loss of my child, Cassandra Anne Akers, did. One year ago today we were in a battle for her life that she didn't win.... Feeling sadness that a public figured died is just a blink of an eye for me. I only know about them ,not the real person and they are not any more or less accessable to me once they die.
I think when I head about the loss of a public figure I wonder if the world will be effected by them no longer being here. In some cases yes (Mother Teresa) in most cases no (fill in the blank).

Posted by: Momma Daria | March 31, 2006 12:46 PM

I think Stephen Hawkins is close to an Einstein although probably not as well known as Einstein is.

Posted by: Craig | March 31, 2006 12:52 PM

WHo is the character that admired Billy CLinton for his *HONESTY*. WOW

Posted by: ramgas | March 31, 2006 12:55 PM

The death of Correta Scott King and Rosa Parks affected me deeply. I was very sad for several days afterwards. It was like a member of my family died.

The death of Peter Jennings also struck a chord.

Posted by: Cymone | March 31, 2006 12:56 PM

Bruce Springsteen - because he's given us his all as a musician, and when he's chosen to speak outside of the realm of his artistry, his thoughts show his concern for the average American - he sees the country through a prism of empathy that is rarely seen in this day and age

Posted by: John D In Houston | March 31, 2006 12:59 PM

Only in terms of public figures, for me, President Kennedy, I was 8, but I remember well how distressing it was for my whole family. That event felt like the end of my innocence as a child. JFK Jr. and Princess Diana. Just so tragic, such a waste. Not that either made a profound difference in the world, just people you felt connected to.

And let me explain Dana Reeve. Her death is something women get--women who read PEOPLE and watch the Today Show. She was the ultimate selfless caregiver, and to have lung cancer befall her and her family was just horrible. I can't think of a parallel for some men--maybe a sports hero, say a Roberto Clemente. But he, of course, was so much more well-known to the general public. I get that you're baffled because you were unaware of Dana Reeve, but don't belittle her or the reaction to her death because of it.

Posted by: mainemom | March 31, 2006 1:01 PM

Chuck Yeager

Posted by: elysian fields | March 31, 2006 1:09 PM

Bill Cosby. I grieved when he lost his son, and it will be so much worse when he dies.

Posted by: Hmmm | March 31, 2006 1:18 PM

For some reason, Gregory Hines' and Jack Kent Cooke's deaths really stung.

I agree re Clinton and Nelson Mandela.

What, no one will miss Oprah?

Posted by: criss | March 31, 2006 1:24 PM

Bob Dylan. His music and poetry; his ability to stir generations to think and to act. Anyone that has been to any of his concerts in the past 15 years would have seen how cross generational his music is. Regardless of being able to understand anything he says, he has the ability to still draw a crowd. His written word stands alone. His drive to stay true to himself through all this fame.

Posted by: Cajegirl | March 31, 2006 1:25 PM

You got it.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 31, 2006 1:25 PM

Reading the above lists is depressing, but not so much because of contemplating the loss of all these people. No, its rather a sense that if this is the best we can come up with in nearly 50 posts then we really do lack for greatness.

No one that anyone has mentioned would stir more than a momentary reflection in me. Maybe the Dalai Lama or Mandela. But while their lives have touched the world, I don't know that their deaths would necessarily stir the sense of loss that Burroughs felt with Roosevelt, and that the nation must have felt when men like Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR and Kennedy died.

Who are our true leaders? Who in public life is truly inspiring? Who matters for more than a news cycle? I'll tell you what, its not Clinton, or Carter, or Bush. I fear they don't exist.

Posted by: Arlington | March 31, 2006 1:38 PM

I know that Marc's question was about famous people passing, but I would suggest that the ones we truly should mourn are those whose greatness was unknown to us until we read their obit, especially if they are on the young side.

I'm thinking, in particular, of a 55-year old (OK, young by my standards) whose obit was in the Post earlier this week. He was the founder of Washington's Higher Achievement Program, "a rigorous, 30-year-old academic enrichment course for disadvantaged youngsters...(that) has prepared more than 10,000 D.C. students for admission to competitive high schools and colleges."

Even though I'd never heard of him, I was truly saddened by his death and the fact that sometime who had made such a difference was gone before his time.

Posted by: ralph | March 31, 2006 2:01 PM

It says a lot about the age of the people contributing to this blog that Jimmy Carter's name would appear more than once. You've got to be about 95 years old to think that man ever made a positive contribution to anything. And, if you are that old, you've got to be feeble to believe that his death is more tragic than, say, The Death of Disco.

Posted by: Get Real | March 31, 2006 2:13 PM

Get Real --

I think you hit the nail on the head.


Great topic, but what an unimaginative bunch you have posting today. Everyone with a brain must have left early for the weekend. Yikes -- why am I still here?

Posted by: You've got a point! | March 31, 2006 2:15 PM

I was not quite a teenager when Glen Brenner passed. I had lost family members and others close to me before. But only upon hearing of his death did I go to bed that night and sob. I even felt a little guilty for my reaction, or at least surprised. He was just such a bright light. WUSA has never recovered.

Posted by: Bmore | March 31, 2006 2:26 PM

I would probably say Jimmy Carter, and forget his party or ideology. His presidency was at best a mixed success, and I voted for John Anderson in 1980 even though I'm nominally a Democrat. But his many post-presidency accomplishments have benefited both the nation and the world. Think of him as the Democratic version of Herbert Hoover (although unlike Carter, Hoover's work for the public good both preceded and followed a lackluster term in office). Carter is currently America's greatest ambassador, just as Louis Armstrong was a half-century ago.

Posted by: Vincent | March 31, 2006 2:27 PM

Don't trust anyone under 30

Posted by: Anonymous | March 31, 2006 2:28 PM

How appropriate that this question is asked on March 31, 2006 - to end the month during which we lost Jack Wild, Peter Tomarken, and Buck Owens.

Posted by: Dennis | March 31, 2006 2:42 PM

Cronkite, Carter, Clinton, Vonnegut all of those of course. But, several other very special ones to me would be Helen Thomas, Studs Terkel, Gore Vidal and especially Noam Chomsky.

Posted by: Nan | March 31, 2006 2:43 PM

Bono!? Crimeny...

I'd have to go with Bill Clinton, if only because his passing would remind me that one of the most brilliant political minds in American history threw away a potentially profound, world-changing legacy in exchange for a few blowjobs. Once he's gone the possibilty for that legacy, already long lost, will be finally and completely gone. Tragic.

I'd also say Stevie Wonder: a true American icon and undoubtedly a musical genius. He has brought so much beauty to the world (albeit mostly in his younger years), that it will truly be a blow to see him finally pack up his oft-imitated voice and his funky clavi on his way out of the building. :(

Posted by: oogliemooglie | March 31, 2006 2:47 PM

The only death that has truly moved me was that of John Lennon. I can't think of a current or past politician that would do so.

Posted by: Kyle | March 31, 2006 2:47 PM

"It says a lot about the age of the people contributing to this blog that Jimmy Carter's name would appear more than once. You've got to be about 95 years old to think that man ever made a positive contribution to anything. And, if you are that old, you've got to be feeble to believe that his death is more tragic than, say, The Death of Disco."

Posted by: Get Real | March 31, 2006 02:13 PM

Get Real has been living in a cave for most of his or her life.

I would have to agree that Jimmi Carter has become one of the most important political figures in our lives. He has done more after his presidency than all of the republican presidents put together. GWB and Cheney will not contribute much either. JC is a solid man that actually has the attributes that most conservatives would be proud of if they could get beyond their misleading party politics that only bash the former president. I doubt Get Real is even old enough to understand politics, he is probably some mouthpice for his rich republican father who bought him a BMW for getting accepted to the nearest state university.

Posted by: Jon Adam | March 31, 2006 2:54 PM

Gregory Field Gannon. His obituary appeared in last Sunday's Post.

A source told me Gawler's has never had a larger crowd for anyone in its history.

This city lost a great man last Saturday morning.

May he rest in peace.

Posted by: Rich McManus | March 31, 2006 3:03 PM

John Glenn

It sounds a little corny, and I guess that's appropriate, but he's a true American hero.

Posted by: Ron | March 31, 2006 3:04 PM

Hugh Hefner is the only name that comes to mind. Maybe I can think about it and come up with another. Definitely not Larry Flynt, though.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 31, 2006 3:17 PM

I forgot Bill Moyer and Ted Kennedy.

Posted by: Nan | March 31, 2006 3:17 PM

Oprah Winfrey. She is a beacon for so many women, myself included.

Posted by: MPD | March 31, 2006 3:19 PM

Jon Adam--

Carter did so much damage to the country as President that it took Reagan a few years to repair it. Since leaving office, he's been a bitter old cuss, not learning from his earlier failures, and mostly trying to prop up the United Nations.

I wish someone would buy me a BMW! Maybe Jimmy Carter could help.

Posted by: Get Real | March 31, 2006 3:20 PM

Someone said that a lot of these people mentioned are old. Yes, The people I have named are indeed old, BUT, look at who they are. Everyone of them is out there in the world every day striving to make this a better world for all of us, and their loss will be a greater loss to humanity because there isn't going to be anyone who can replace them. Just as Paul Wellstone's death was a terrible loss.

Posted by: Nan | March 31, 2006 3:26 PM

Does anyone remember Wally Cox? I'll never forget him, or Mr. Peepers. Well, we still have Jarry Mathers. I really miss Nat Albright and his Sports Reviews. Oh dear, I'm afraid you just might not understand.

Posted by: Here today... | March 31, 2006 3:34 PM

William F. Buckley -- By sheer force of will and words he transformed conservatism from a marginalized group of writers & thinkers to the dominent political force of our lifetime. He used his magazine and television show to demonstrate conclusively the superiority of conservative thinking, launched the careers of countless conservative columnists and laid the foundation for conservative media. Without Buckley, Ronald Reagan would have been a forgotten actor, the Soviet Union would have won the cold war and true liberal democracy (as opposed to phoney political correctness) would not exist in the world today.

Posted by: Peter | March 31, 2006 3:35 PM

Get Real--

If you're going to waste the time of the public-at-large with your lame bomb-throwing, can you at least try and make it entertaining? Hear me now, young man: if you hope to be successful at the whole "trolling-for-a-reaction" thang, you really need to step it up on the humor front. Otherwise you risk coming off like just another snotty kid with an attitude problem.

No need to thank me for the free advice, and good luck in your future jackassery.

Posted by: oogliemooglie | March 31, 2006 3:37 PM

Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Bob Dylan, Walter Cronkite - all truly reasonable answers. Bill Cosby - yes, I felt loss with Lucille Ball and Red Skeleton.

Sandra Day O'Conner, Janet Reno, oh and Tom Robbins...

Posted by: DMM | March 31, 2006 3:37 PM

Any memeber of the press, any "movie star", or entertainer's death would move me to great joy.

Posted by: Golf Fox | March 31, 2006 3:42 PM


Plus, with his affected pseudo-British accent and queen-like mannerisms, Buckley was the archetype for the pompous, privileged snoot with a stick rammed firmly where the sun don't shine. How ironic that his public persona was as big a lie as the ideas he was selling. He would have been so much more convincing playing the part of a gay man.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 31, 2006 3:47 PM


Advice from someone who will miss Bill Clinton? Get real. Maybe this was your idea of "stepping it up on the humor front?"

On the other hand, Stevie Wonder strikes a chord.

Posted by: Get Real | March 31, 2006 3:52 PM

Diane Rehm. Her radio show has made such a difference to me.

Posted by: Soundkeeper | March 31, 2006 4:06 PM

George W. Bush




Posted by: dave | March 31, 2006 4:16 PM

I was in England when Princess Diana died, witnessing the amazing cultural impact of her death first-hand, and at the time I wondered who the U.S. equivalent could possibly be. It's hard to think of someone whose death would be so widely mourned. When JFK was killed, the entire country was shocked and saddened. Today, out country is a lot less naive, and a lot more pissed off.. meaning I don't think ANY politician's death would have that kind of impact. So turning away from politics:

Criss and MPD are right, it's totally Oprah. She bridges class, race, gender, politics... You only need to look at how many copies of freaking Anna Karenina were sold the second she chose it for her book club to understand the love & regard this country has for Oprah.

Posted by: blithespirit | March 31, 2006 4:27 PM

Agree with Bono. Also anyone young who dies suddenly always strikes me hard; I imagine Marilyn Monroe's or Elvis's death would have hit me hard had I been alive at the time.

Posted by: Logan Circle | March 31, 2006 4:31 PM

Nelson Mandela
Desmond Tutu
Carl Sagan (past tense)
Neil Armstrong
Mitch Snyder (past tense)
Elie Wiesel

Posted by: Tim | March 31, 2006 4:56 PM

Hands down, no question about it: General Chuck Yeager.

Posted by: Cement52 | March 31, 2006 4:58 PM

Standing at the fringe of society he raged at our concepts of right and wrong, the duke, Dr. gonzo, Hunter S. Thompson, self made mythological character, leader of the doomed will be missed. "He stomped the terra." He alone had the bravery to pull the trigger when the pain of living became too great. He was my only hero, but I also felt sad at the passing of Peter Jennings. He attempted to be a truthsayer, something that no politician will ever understand. I still have the obituary for Jerry Garcia on my bulletin board, 10 years after the fact.

Posted by: unsavoury | March 31, 2006 5:19 PM

Coming in late here. Lots of interesting choices above.

I, too, was surprised to see that so many people nominated Bill Clinton, because I feel much the same way about him as does oogliemooglie---that is, he wasted his tremendous talents and the opportunities he had to shape our government during a time of peace and prosperity so that we would be better prepared to face huge challenges that were known them---the aging of our society, for instance, an enormous demographic shift with profound implications that we are pretty much ignoring. So I will feel sad when Clinton dies, but it'll be sadness for lost possibilities rather than for the passing of someone who made a great difference.

Another lost possibility is RFK, who died far too young. I was pretty young when he was killed, but, based on what I've learned about him, I have the sense that he could have been the real deal---somebody who had the head and heart to know what to do and the political skills to make it happen.

In other domains, the loss of Johnny Carson touched me. As other have said, about Peter Jennings, I grew up with him in the house. He really was very good, and, although he lived a somewhat tumultuous personal life and was said to be cold in some ways, he always seemed fundamentally decent to me, and certainly he was greatly loved by many of the fine comics of his generation. He also left a mark in the entertainment world beyond the expression of his own talents in that he helped to launch the careers of many young comedians.

And, closer to home and however corny it may seem, my dad. When I read, "The world is bleaker and colder for his absence from it. We shall not look upon his like again," I thought immediately of him. He is 87 years old and in failing health, so I've had lots of opportunities to think about what it will be like to lose him, and my thoughts have been pretty much like thouse of Burroughs. He is, simply, an unusually fine person, and it'd be a betrer world if more people were more like him---including me!

Thanks for giving us this topic, Marc.

Posted by: JRG | March 31, 2006 6:06 PM

I think I will be pretty sad if Elton John dies. I really liked that alligator song when I was a little kid.

Posted by: annon | March 31, 2006 6:20 PM

I was deeply saddened by the death of Dale Earnhardt. He was one of a kind.

The only current politician that I would select would be John Edwards. At this point in time, however, Mr. Edwards has not had ample opportunity to prove his greatness. His death would certainly sadden me because I think that there is potential greatness within him.

Here are other famous people whose death would move me to write remarks.

Bob Dylan
Bruce Springsteen
Desmond Tutu
Ramsey Clark
Muhammad Ali
David Boies
Jeffrey Wiegand

Posted by: pmorlan | March 31, 2006 10:22 PM

Great stuff, folks---thank you for suggesting Johnny Carson, Hunter Thompson, Peter Jennings, Studs Terkel and Kurt Vonnegut.
Biggest surprises in your lists: David Boies, Diane Rehm, Red Skelton, Wally Cox and Hugh Hefner.
And the great big Huh goes to these suggestions: Noam Chomsky, Jack Kent Cooke and Bruce Willis.
Long live the lot of them.

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