Some people view obituaries as morbid stories, but in truth only one line of an obit deals with death. The rest of the story focuses on the amazing lives people lead. In 2013, these 13 obituaries were the stories that most resonated with me:
* Helen Thomas, reporter, columnist and dean of the White House Press Corps
Born in Brooklyn, Goldberg was raised in a home with a close, extended family that was headed by a strong matriarch, his grandmother. He was a huge sports fan and a wanderer who had a bit of trouble figuring out what he wanted to be when he grew up.
Goldberg was working as a waiter at the Village Gate club in Greenwich Village in 1969 when he met his wife and the love his life, Dr. Diana Meehan. They were a couple of hippies — a product of their time — and spent the early part of their marriage traveling around the world, then running a day care center in Berkeley, Calif. Their relationship would later serve as the backdrop of one of the most popular TV shows of all time.
Goldberg broke into show business in the mid-1970s, penning scripts for “The Bob Newhart Show,” “Lou Grant,” “The Tony Randall Show” and “The Last Resort.” He won his first Emmy Award in 1977 for his work on the CBS drama “Lou Grant,” a spin-off of the successful series “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
In 1981, Goldberg formed his own production company, UBU Productions. He would eventually produce nine TV shows, including the CBS program “Brooklyn Bridge,” a semi-autobiographical series about his childhood.
UBU Productions’ first endeavor, however, was “Family Ties,” a half-hour comedy about two left-wing parents raising three children, including a son who was very conservative. By its third season, “Family Ties” had become part of NBC’s much-touted and wildly popular “Must-See TV” Thursday night lineup. The show, which ran for seven seasons, earned Goldberg a second Emmy and transformed a very young actor by the name of Michael J. Fox into a star.
Goldberg later reunited with Fox for “Spin City,” another popular comedy that aired for six seasons on ABC. Interestingly, Fox once told Goldberg that if he hadn’t been cast in “Family Ties,” he would have given up acting entirely and returned home to Canada. Instead Fox found fame and fortune on the big and small screens. Actress Tracy Pollan, who played Fox’s girlfriend Ellen on “Family Ties,” later became his wife.
Goldberg received numerous honors for his work in Hollywood, including a Golden Globe, a Peabody, two Writers Guild Awards, five Humanitas Awards, the Producers Guild Award and the Valentine Davis Award. He was also a member of the Broadcasting Magazine Hall of Fame.
Even if TV audiences didn’t know his name, they certainly recognized Goldberg’s labrador retriever, who appeared in the closing credits of each show with the memorable tagline “Sit, Ubu, sit.” The tagline later served as the title of Goldberg’s 2008 autobiography. The book also featured the hilarious subtitle: “How I went from Brooklyn to Hollywood with the same woman, the same dog and a lot less hair.”
Goldberg is survived by his wife and two daughters, Shana Goldberg-Meehan, the Emmy-winning writer and producer of “Friends”; and Cailin Goldberg-Meehan, a freelance writer and contributor to The Huffington Post.
–This obituary previously appeared in The Huffington Post
Balelo was one of the deep-pocketed buyers featured on the show that depicts storage-unit auctions. The former owner of a chain of thrift stores, Balelo had a knack for bargaining and finding treasure among trash.
Nicknamed “Rico Suave” for his flamboyant style, Balelo once hosted a live auction right before Halloween while dressed as Superman. He carried a “man purse” (or “murse”), which he considered his good-luck bag; the murses became so popular with fans that he later sold them on eBay.
Balelo also was instrumental in helping Nicolas Cage recover a mint-condition copy of a 1938 Action Comics book that was stolen from the actor’s storage locker. The comic book was valued at $1 million.
Balelo owned Balelo Inc., a business that specializes in asset liquidations and closeout sales. Until recently, he ran a gaming store called The Game Exchange. Although Balelo loved working — “My work is my hobby nowadays” — his favorite past-times included flying private planes, listening to music, hanging out with friends and going to Vegas. A strong competitor with a no-holds-barred attitude, he was best known on “Storage Wars” for beating the competition by showing up to auctions carrying more than $50,000 in cash.
Balelo was arrested over the weekend for alleged possession of a controlled substance. He was reportedly distraught after being released from jail.
One of Balelo’s employees found his body inside a business warehouse in Simi Valley, Calif., on Monday morning. Armando Chavez, senior deputy medical examiner, refused to provide any information as to Balelo’s cause of death. An autopsy will be conducted on Feb. 12.
–This obituary previously appeared in The Huffington Post
[Update – Feb. 13, 2013: Balelo’s death has been declared a suicide by the Ventura County medical examiner’s office. His body was also found in a business warehouse in Simi Valley, Calif. An earlier report stated that he was found in his home garage.]
Acclaimed filmmaker and essayist Nora Ephron, who almost singlehandedly defined the romantic comedy genre of the 1980s and 1990s, died on June 26 of pneumonia brought on by acute myeloid leukemia. She was 71.
Born in New York and raised in Beverly Hills, Ephron was the daughter of screenwriters Henry and Phoebe Ephron, who wrote “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and “Desk Set.” Though life at home was often difficult — her father was in and out of mental hospitals and her mother was an alcoholic — writing became the family business. Nora and her sisters, Delia and Amy, all grew up to become screenwriters while her sister Hallie became a journalist and novelist.
After graduating from Wellesley College and working briefly as an intern in the Kennedy White House, Ephron moved back to New York City. There she toiled in the mail room at Newsweek, launched a satirical newspaper and became a reporter for the New York Post. Over the next four decades, Ephron would pen essays for numerous publications — including Esquire, The New York Times Magazine and The Huffington Post — and develop a reputation as one of America’s best known humorists.
Ephron began working on screenplays in the 1970s after penning a rewrite of William Goldman’s script for “All the President’s Men.” Although her version was not used in the final film, the experience gave her the opportunity to begin writing for the big screen. Concerned that Hollywood wasn’t ready for films by or about women, however, Ephron decided to try her hand at directing as well. Her directorial debut was “This Is My Life,” co-written with her sister Delia, and starring Julie Kavner as a single mom who wants to become a stand-up comedian.
Ephron’s stories featured strong female characters, realistic heroes and a charming blend of humor and romance. Her tales of happily ever after were often scorned by critics, but they found a devoted audience of female moviegoers who were always eager to see the latest Ephron “chick flick.”
Hollywood also honored her creative achievements with three Academy Award nominations for screenwriting (“Silkwood,” “When Harry Met Sally…” and “Sleepless In Seattle”). Ephron’s most recent film, “Julie & Julia,” based on the life of Julia Child and a New York-based blogger who aimed to emulate her, garnered Ephron more than a dozen award nominations and earned Meryl Streep a Golden Globe for best performance by an actress.
When she wasn’t toiling on a script or a directing a film, Ephron also wrote several plays and essay collections, including “I Feel Bad About My Neck,” which topped The New York Times bestseller list. In her final years, she continued to publish essays on a variety of subjects, from aging and feminism to politics and food.
“You do get to a certain point in life where you have to realistically, I think, understand that the days are getting shorter, and you can’t put things off thinking you’ll get to them someday,” Ephron told NPR in 2010. “If you really want to do them, you better do them. There are simply too many people getting sick, and sooner or later you will. So I’m very much a believer in knowing what it is that you love doing so you can do a great deal of it.”
Ephron wed three times. Her first marriage to novelist Dan Greenburg ended in divorce. Her second marriage to investigative journalist Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame also ended in divorce after she learned he had cheated on her with a mutual friend. That experience inspired her to write the 1983 novel “Heartburn,” which was later adapted into a feature film starring Streep and Jack Nicholson.
The Detroit native always wanted to be a broadcaster. In his teens, he worked the microphone as both a bingo caller and a carnival barker. But McMahon’s chance to break into show business was put on hold by World War II. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, and served as a flight instructor and test pilot. When the war ended, McMahon used the G.I. bill to study drama and speech at Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. To support himself during that time, he hawked vegetable slicers on the Atlantic City boardwalk and the Midwestern state-fair circuit.
McMahon’s first broadcasting gig was in radio, but soon he turned his attentions to the up-and-coming medium of television. He played a circus clown on the show “Big Top,” hosted more than a dozen programs in Philadelphia and tackled announcing duties for the music showcase “Bandstand.” Just as the networks came calling, however, McMahon returned to active duty to serve in Korea. There he flew 85 reconnaissance missions in the Cessna OE Bird Dog. He eventually retired from the service with the rank of colonel.
After he returned home, McMahon joined “Who Do You Trust?” a game show originally hosted by ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy sidekick, Charlie McCarthy. The newer version was hosted by an up-and-coming comedian named Johnny Carson, and McMahon was hired to be the show’s announcer. When Carson was offered the opportunity to take over “The Tonight Show” in 1962, McMahon went with him.
For three decades and 6,583 shows, McMahon introduced Carson with the trademark opening: “Heeeeere’s Johnny!” He would then sit on Carson’s right and serve as his sidekick. Through skits and celebrity interviews, standup routines and musical numbers, McMahon always kept the tone of the show light with his humorous commentary and hearty guffaws. And when Carson retired from the show in 1992, McMahon did as well.
Despite a talent for playing second fiddle, McMahon enjoyed standing in the spotlight. In the 1960s and 1970s, he emceed the game shows “Concentration,” “Missing Links,” “Snap Judgment” and “Who Dunnit?”. From 1983 to 1995, he hosted the amateur talent show “Star Search,” which helped launch the careers of numerous entertainers, including Britney Spears, Drew Carey, Rosie O’Donnell, LeAnn Rimes and Sinbad. McMahon co-hosted “TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes” with his old friend Dick Clark, and helped raise millions during the annual “Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon.” McMahon also lent his voice and likeness to dozens of commercial advertisements, most notably as the pitchman for the American Family Publishers’ sweepstakes.
His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located at 7000 Hollywood Blvd.
Privately, McMahon had a reputation for being a hardworking, stand-up guy with a penchant for imbibing. He played Bacchus, the Greek god of wine, at the 1978 Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, designed his own vodka and published “Ed McMahon’s Barside Companion,” a book that offered a “blend of ’round the bar games and bets, spirited stunts, jokes and tricks.” He even became known as “Mr. Budweiser” when he served as a spokesman for that beer company.
Celebrity suited McMahon, but fortune often slipped through his fingers. The last few years of his life were spent mired in pain and financial difficulty. In 2002, McMahon sued his insurance company, alleging that he and his wife Pamela were sickened by toxic mold that had spread through their Beverly Hills house. The McMahons also blame the mold for the death of their dog, Muffin. They won their legal battle a year later and received a $7 million settlement, but the money didn’t last for very long.
A fall in 2007 caused McMahon to suffer a broken neck, which required two operations. The pain from this injury kept him from working for nearly two years, which meant the unpaid bills quickly piled up. He even faced a possible foreclosure on his home, but was allowed to remain in the residence thanks to the kindness of strangers and private investors who learned of his troubles.
In an attempt to make light of his situation, and to make extra money, McMahon appeared in a commercial with once-bankrupt rap artist MC Hammer. The ad, which aired during the 2009 Super Bowl, promoted a cash-for-gold business.
McMahon married three times and was father to six children. When asked by Larry King how he wanted to be remembered, McMahon said, “I don’t plan to have a headstone. I hope to be floating in the sea…but if I had a headstone my epitaph would be: ‘He was a good broadcaster and a great Marine!'”