Bernhardt: Not so fast, Mr. Reaper

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 21, 2011

A few weeks ago, I noted with interest the passing of pianist Roger Williams. His music, at one time, could be heard up and down the radio dial back in the days when mellow ruled the airwaves.
I noted his passing with interest because I thought Roger Williams died years ago. I felt embarrassed not knowing that. My mom used to play his albums frequently, and I enjoyed his musical style.
It was another case of swiss-cheesing his memory with someone else. That happens to me a lot these days.
Iím usually pretty good at keeping up with the obituaries of stars I knew long ago. Itís a strange habit of mine, and I can play ěDead or Aliveî with the best of ëem.
I once won ten dollars from the sales manager at my workplace by betting him that Richard Dawson was still alive. He was sure beyond a doubt that Dawson had already departed this earth. I knew better, and needed the ten bucks.
Dawson is alive, by the way, though heís often mistaken for deceased simply because heís been out of the public eye for a long while.
I started digging around the other day and discovered a host of other celebrities I assumed had left us years ago. Again, I was wrong.
For example, you might be interested in knowing that the long-time soloist with the Billy Graham crusade, George Beverly Shea, is still with us. Heís 102 now. His voice was powerful enough that it will ring through the hallways of my memory long after heís gone.
Frank Cady is still alive. He played the old storekeeper Sam Drucker on ěPetticoat Junctionî and ěGreen Acresî back in the 1960s. Admittedly, he wasnít as old as the character he played, and heís still hanging in there at the age of 96.
Harry Morgan, Colonel Potter on M*A*S*H, is still with us too. Heís also 96.
Kirk Douglas and Ernest Borgnine are both 94, and Olivia de Havilland is 95, which may make her the only surviving principal cast member of ěGone With the Windî. Her sister, Joan Fontaine, is 92.
Phyllis Diller is still telling stories about her husband Fang at 95; well known game show and Saturday Night Live announcer Don Pardo can still blast ěitís a newww carrrrrî at 93; and Patty Andrews, one of the Andrews Sisters is also 93.
Mike Wallace of ě60 Minutesî fame is in his early 90s, though I read where he is not in good health. Marjorie Lord played Danny Thomasí wife in ěMake Room for Daddyî in the 1950s. Danny left us years ago. Sheís still with us at 93.
And, oh yes, 1940s crooner Tony Martin is alive and kicking at 97.
I point out these stirring examples of celebrity longevity to remind myself and all of us that we shouldnít assume that , just because someone has reached a ripe old age, theyíve pitched their last inning.
In a column I wrote about a year ago, I mentioned a fellow named Newton Minnow, the man who once referred to television as a vast wasteland.
Wondering what Mr. Minnow would think of TV today ěif he were still aliveî, I received a kind e-mail from his daughter assuring me that he is indeed alive and well. Iím sure Mr. Minnow and others like him would appreciate it if people like me would do a little simple research before sending them on to their eternal reward prematurely.
Itís also nice to know that if I want to know what Mr. Minnow thinks about todayís TV, I can ask him.
If youíre curious about a celebrityís mortal status, you might find the website ěwww.deadoraliveinfo.comî an interesting stop. Itís a database of such information, and also contains entertaining quizzes about the ages of personalities.
When youíve studied for a while, Iíll be glad to take you on, but for substantially less than ten dollars. I have a daughter in college now, and I feel less confident in my abilities than I did a few years ago.
Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury.
Use this site to find out if famous people are dead or alive. Very user friendly navigation and includes a search function and interactive quizzes.