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Bad News Comes in Fours

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What a weekend: We’ve lost not one or two, thought it was three, but, sadly, it turned out to be four beloved artists in what feels like one especially cruel fell swoop.

First, there’s the amazing Don Knotts, who died of lung cancer last Friday at the age of 81. As The Andy Griffith Show‘s Deputy Barney Fife and as a host of film characters including the man-turned-fish Mr. Limpet, the award-winning actor made it clear that so-called nebbishes were people of worth. That was an important message for this lifelong dork and no doubt for many others. And he was flat-out funny in a way that few TV comics even approach today.

It was so touching to see Andy Griffith on Today this morning. Knotts was Griffith’s best friend for about 50 years, and his grief was painfully visible. My prayers go out to him and to all mourning the loss of this amazingly talented funnyperson.

I’m also mourning the character actor Darren McGavin, who was 83 when he reportedly died from natural causes last Saturday. Mass audiences recall his 1983 performance as the grumpy dad in the film A Christmas Story, but to me, he will always be Carl Kolchak, the failed crime reporter who hunted vampires in the TV-movie and series The Night Stalker. Man, I loved that show and its mix of suspense and comedy; it’s hard to believe it left the air more than 30 years ago.

McGavin went on to enjoy a long career doing TV guest spots and film roles, and even worked alongside Don Knotts in 1976’s No Deposit, No Return and 1978’s Hot Lead and Cold Feet. He was a strong proponent of quality television with fleshed-out characters, and in speaking out on that issue, he made a great contribution to television’s artistic community. He is missed.

As is Octavia E. Butler, the award-winning science-fiction novelist best known for her landmark book Kindred. Butler died early Sunday of an apparent stroke at age 58. This genius writer made the sci-fi genre more diverse through her very existence – she was the first major sci-fi author who was both a woman and African-American – and through her novels’ characters. Even more importantly, Butler, like others in the genre such as Heinlein, Clarke and Vonnegut, made readers think about life’s larger issues. Be sure to check out her other books, among them Parable of the Sower, Parable of Talents) and Fledgling. She was a unique presence in her field, an important voice in the world and, at least for me, a great inspiration. The Earth is a sadder planet without Octavia Butler on it; thank goodness her words and ideas survive.

Finally, and this is a late addition, there is the actor and activist Dennis Weaver, whom I loved in both the television series Gunsmoke and McCloud. The 81-year-old died Friday from cancer at his home in Colorado.

Weaver had a long, successful career in TV that started with the 1952 show Horizons West and ended with last year’s series Wildfire. But he will be best remembered, I think, for playing Gunsmoke‘s lovable Chester and for his 1970s portrayal of US Marshal Sam McCloud (who was – no offense, Chuck Norris – way cooler than Walker, Texas Ranger, if you ask me).

He ought to be remembered by those who love the planet too: In recent years, Weaver devoted himself to social-justice and environmental concerns, founding the nonprofit Institute of Ecolonomics and working to end pollution. If you get the chance, do seek out the Hydrogen Hero’s 1993 documentary Drive to Survive, which champions the use of alternative-fuel vehicles.

Not only did Dennis Weaver entertain us for more than half a century, he worked to make a better, cleaner, safer world. Goddess bless him.

Condolences to all the loved ones and admirers of Octavia Butler, Don Knotts, Darren McGavin and Dennis Weaver. They made a real difference in the lives of millions of people. For that, we owe them thanks, and I wish them all godspeed.

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About NR Davis

  • About a week ago, my son and I were talking about movies that I loved as a kid. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, The Reluctant Astronaut, The Incredible Mr. Limpet (“a fish, a fish, I wish I were a fish – cuz fish have better lives than people”) were all on the list.

    My son loves The Andy Griffith Show and was heartbroken over Knotts’ death, just as he was over McGavin’s. He first saw Darren McGavin in The Delicate Delinquent and we’ve had to rent other movies with him ever since.

    Now we have even more reason to sit down and have a major movie weekend – we’ll celebrate the actors and remember them as they were.

  • ah…the ghost and mr. chicken.

    that bit with the organ playing itself scared the heck outa me.

  • Ach! Dennis Weaver, we hardly knew ye.
    I used to like “McCloud” almost better than “Columbo.” But my favorite performance of Weaver’s was in “Duel” which was, I believe, Speilberg’s first feature. In that film Weaver captured the spirit of the “average guy” better than most anyone.

    “There ya go.”

  • Nice tribute.

  • I’m afraid it’s the rule of Fives.

    Dont’ forget Curt Gowdy – another big piece of that same generation.

  • Oh, Ms. Williams, I feel so badly about omitting Curt Gowdy! When we heard the news over the weekend, spousal unit and I were immensely sad. We’re both longtime baseball fans, so Gowdy was a fixture in both our households while growing up. And seeing the footage of him covering past Olympic games was bittersweet to be sure. God bless Curt Gowdy, who was by all accounts a sportscaster and a gentleman.

  • judy pandelos

    Great tribute for the four great people we have lost.I loved Don Knotts in anything including Threes Company.I loved Darrin McGavin in the thriller show Kolchak-The Night Stalker.Last but not least Dennis Weaver though he was best known as Chester on Gunsmoke he out did himdelf in the movie Duel,now thats acting.I’m sorry I do not know the other two who passed from this world.I will try to find out more on both Butler and Gowdy.We all know that their stars shine brightly on us who are left behind.

  • I’d kill to see Mr. Furley’s face the minute he sees Jack Tripper in heaven already.

  • “I’d kill to see Mr. Furley’s face the minute he sees Jack Tripper in heaven already”

    Oh hell Matt, that is so friggin sad.(in that bittersweet kind of way)

  • Oh, Ms. Williams, I feel so badly about omitting Curt Gowdy

    Oh, Natalie, what can you do. Seems a shame that there were just so many all at once. And your comment about Gowdy was a nice little tribute anyway.