A Look Back

Categories: Misc.

hourglass.jpgSome 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 2010, these 10 obituaries were the stories that most resonated with me:

* Robert B. Parker, the bestselling mystery writer who created Spenser, a tough Boston private detective who was the hero of nearly 40 novels

* Tsutomu Yamaguchi, the only person who was ever officially recognized as a survivor of both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings at the end of World War II

* Eugene Allen, a former White House butler who worked for eight presidents

* Isaac Bonewits, an author, educator and archdruid emeritus of Ar nDraiocht Fein: A Druid Fellowship

* Jack Horkheimer, the award-winning astronomer who entertained millions as the host of the PBS show “Jack Horkheimer: Star Gazer”

* Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of former Senator John Edwards who publicly struggled with incurable cancer and her husband’s infidelity

* Daniel Schorr, a journalist who was barred from the U.S.S.R. for repeatedly defying Soviet censors and ended up on President Richard Nixon’s Enemies List

* Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), who served 51 years in the United States Senate, longer than anyone else in history

* Bob Guccione, the founder and former chief executive of Penthouse magazine

* Howard Zinn, historian, civil rights activist and author of “A People’s History of the United States”

To all of you who’ve lost someone dear, may they rest in peace.


Andy Irons

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Categories: Sports

airons.jpgFormer world champion surfer Philip Andrew Irons was hooked on the sport from his very first wave. In an interview with ISurfBecause, he described riding that wave as one of the purest moments of his life.
“I went left, right, left and the wave never broke. And I thought right then, ‘This is the coolest thing in the world,'” he said.
Born in Hawaii, Irons was raised by his mother, a shop clerk, and his father, a carpenter, in Kauai. He and his brother Bruce learned how to surf as children on the dangerous reefs of the North Shore. He joined surfing’s Top 44 on the 1998 World Tour when he was only 17 years old.
Irons struggled with anger issues, loneliness, substance abuse and a frustration with the promotional aspects of his career, but his inner demons were silenced when he was riding the waves. In the water, Irons’ talent and drive helped him to win three Quiksilver Pro France titles, two Rip Curl Pro Search titles and 20 elite tour victories including the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing four times from 2002 to 2006. He was inducted into the Surfing Walk of Fame in 2008.
His competitive nature also got him into trouble. Public, mid-competition fights with his brother were not uncommon, and his rivalry with champion surfer Kelly Slater made headlines for years. Slater had six world titles under his belt when Irons defeated him in 2002. Irons won again in 2003 and 2004, which earned him a reputation as a king-slayer. Slater emerged from semi-retirement, and reclaimed the title in 2005. The clash of titans came to a head the following year at the Pipeline Masters final when the pair battled the waves, and each other. After 35 grueling minutes, Irons earned a perfect 10 and won the competition.
Irons left the tour in 2009 to “get back to surfing for fun.” A year later he returned to the competitive arena to stage a comeback. Irons was supposed to compete in the 2010 Rip Curl Pro Search in Puerto Rico, but withdrew from the event for health reasons.
Irons’ body was found in a Dallas-area hotel room on Nov. 2. Cause of death is under investigation, though police said there were no signs of trauma or foul play. He was 32. At the time of his death, Irons’ wife, Lyndie, was expecting their first child.
[Update – Dec. 16, 2010: Andrew Axel Irons was born to Lyndie Irons, widow of Andy Irons, on Dec. 16.]
[Update – June 11, 2011: Autopsy results showed that Andy Irons died from a sudden heart attack due to severe hardening of the arteries. A secondary cause of death was listed as “acute mixed drug ingestion. Toxicology tests found found methadone, Xanax, benzoylecgonine and a “trace amount of methamphetamine” in his system.]

–Photo by Jose Goulao. Used with permission


Bob Guccione

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Categories: Business

Robert Charles Joseph Edward Sabatini Guccione, the founder and former chief executive of Penthouse magazine, was a man who took calculated risks. Some paid off, others cost him millions.

The Brooklyn native originally planned to become a Catholic priest, and even attended the seminary, but dropped out when puberty caused his hormones to kick in. He wed at 18 and fathered a daughter named Toni, but the marriage foundered, and Guccione headed to Europe to work as a painter and journalist. He wed a second time, to British singer Muriel Hudson, and fathered four more children (Bob Jr., Nina, Anthony and Nick); however, his habit of amassing large debts ended that union.

Unable to make a decent living as an artist, Guccione next decided to try his luck at pornographic publishing. With less than $2,000 on hand, he launched Penthouse in 1965 as a low-brow competitor to Playboy, the glamorous adult magazine run by Hugh Hefner. In the magazine’s early years, Guccione couldn’t afford professional talent so he ended up photographing most of the models. He enjoyed pushing boundaries with each spread, and bragged about his decision to publish “lesbians, threesomes, full-frontal male nudity, erect penises.” Tabloid journalism, a racy letters column and beautiful centerfold models known as “Pets” helped Penthouse find an audience in the U.K. and the U.S. At its peak in the 1970s, Penthouse reportedly sold nearly 5 million copies a month.

Penthouse also inflamed the public’s passions with its controversial offerings. Feminists and conservatives blasted its raunchy content. In 1984, the magazine ran a sexually explicit pictorial of Vanessa Williams, the first black woman to win the title of Miss America. The pictures cost Williams her crown, but generated $14 million in profit for Guccione.

A year later, Guccione offered the serial killer known as The Unabomber a monthly column in Penthouse if he promised to stop taking lives. Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a. The Unabomber, gave Guccione permission to print his unedited manifesto, but with one caveat: he reserved the right to murder one more person. Guccione refused to take the bait. A tip from Kaczynski’s brother led to his capture in 1996. Kaczynski later pleaded guilty to 10 counts of illegally transporting, mailing and using bombs and three counts of murder, and was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.

Penthouse began to lose readers in 1986 when U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese’s Commission on Pornography issued a report attacking the adult entertainment industry, prompting newsstands and convenience stores to pull the publication from their racks. In the 1990s, sales took a hit as subscribers began to seek out free porn and X-rated video online.

Although Guccione was once listed in the Forbes 400 ranking of wealthiest people ($400 million net worth in 1982), bad investments and risky ventures eventually cost him much of his fortune. He spent $17.5 million producing an X-rated version of “Caligula.” The 1979 film, which starred Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, John Gielgud and Peter O’Toole, tanked at the box office. He tried to open a $200 million casino in Atlantic City but a stubborn resident and a licensing issue stalled construction for years. Guccione was forced to pay $45 million in back taxes in 1985 and another $80 million in 1992. And in 2003, General Media, the publishing arm of Penthouse International, declared bankruptcy.

His personal life was no less tumultuous. Guccione’s third wife, Kathy Keeton, an exotic dancer who was entrusted with the financial management of his publishing empire, died in 1997 from breast cancer. Her death affected him deeply. He wed a fourth time in 2006, to exotic dancer April Dawn Warren, but spent much of their marriage battling throat and lung cancer. Relations with some of his children also fell apart over money matters. In recent years, soaring debts forced Guccione to sell off many of his possessions, including an impressive art collection and his 27-room mansion in Manhattan.

Guccione died on Oct. 20 of lung cancer. He was 79.


Del Scharber

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Categories: Medicine

dscharber.jpgDelphine Katherine Scharber was 23 years old and recently wed when her kidneys began to fail.
It was 1965, and doctors at the University of Minnesota had only been performing kidney transplants for two years. But the operation was a risk Scharber, and her mother Ottilia Winter, 52, were willing to take.
When she went under the knife, Scharber was one of the first volunteers to ever receive a kidney transplant, and her mother was one of the first living donors. Despite the newness of the procedure, the operation was a success and the donated kidney gave Scharber another 45 years to be married to her husband Bob, raise her daughter Julie, watch her grandsons play football and volunteer at her church. She also spent three decades working as a fiscal officer at the University of Minnesota-College of Education.
“She was always happy, always smiling,” said Diane Wiener, who volunteered with Scharber. “She once told me, ‘Every day I have is a gift. I could have not been here.'”
Kidney transplants are now one of the most common transplant operations performed in the U.S. At the time of this writing, the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network reports that more than 108,000 people are on a waiting list for a kidney. Although 58 percent of patients who receive kidneys from living donors survive for more than 10 years, Scharber was one of the longest-living kidney transplant patients in history.
Scharber died on Sept. 29 of a rare endocrine cancer. She was 69. At the time of her death, the donated kidney was still functioning.


Jack Horkheimer

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Categories: Education

jhorkheimer.jpgFoley Arthur “Jack” Horkheimer, the award-winning astronomer who entertained millions as the host of the PBS show “Jack Horkheimer: Star Gazer,” died on Aug. 20 of a respiratory ailment. He was 72.
Born in Randolph, Wis., Horkheimer was always in poor health. As a child, he suffered from severe allergies, depression and numerous phobias, including acrophobia (fear of heights) and agoraphobia (fear of crowds). Throughout his life, he also battled bronchiectasis, a degenerative lung disease.
Horkheimer’s father, the longtime mayor of Randolph, reportedly urged him to be an athlete, and his mother wanted him to become a priest. He preferred to please people, working as a disc jockey, a jazz organist, a playwright and a nightclub entertainer. After dropping out of Marquette University and the Honolulu School of Fine Arts in Hawaii, Horkheimer attended Purdue for six years, where he studied drama and worked as a writer/producer in Purdue’s Repertory Theatre. Once Horkheimer finally earned a bachelor’s degree, he moved to South Florida because the warm, humid air helped his inflamed lungs.
While Horkheimer never took an accredited astronomy course, his future would soon be written in the stars. A meeting with Art Smith, chief of the Southern Cross Astronomical Society, led to a job running the brand new Space Transit Planetarium (also known as The Miami Planetarium). With a $150,000 Spitz projector at his disposal, Horkheimer created multimedia stargazing shows that were a memorable mix of fact and fantasy. He called it “cosmic theater.”
“A planetarium is not for scientists. It’s not for the Ph.D.’s. It’s for the people,” Horkheimer said in a 1982 profile in The Miami Herald. “A planetarium is supposed to mediate between the scientists and the public. It’s to teach, to tantalize. Real astronomers aren’t supposed to be running planetariums. It’s living death for them. They’re supposed to be researching.”
Over the next 35 years, Horkheimer served as executive director of the planetarium, putting on shows and teaching the public about astronomy. He took his message to the masses with “Jack Horkheimer: Star Hustler,” a weekly TV series made available to all PBS stations free of charge. The one- and five-minute episodes offered astronomical lore and advice on what to look for in the night sky. The name was changed to “Star Gazer” in the 1990s to make it easier for children to find the correct Website.
With infectious enthusiasm and over-the-top showmanship, Horkheimer used “Star Gazer” to sell the idea of naked-eye astronomy with a memorable three-word motto: “Keep looking up.” Sky & Telescope Magazine described the show as “arguably the most successful five-minute program in television history.” When “Star Gazer” celebrated its 30th anniversary on Nov. 4, 2006, over 1,500 weekly episodes had been recorded. In recent years, those episodes have been offered on iTunes and YouTube in the form of a video podcast.
Horkheimer was a founding member of the International Planetarium Society, a founding co-editor of “The Planetarian” and a past editor of “Southern Skies.” He won numerous awards, including an Emmy and a Telly, but was most proud of his work encouraging young astronomers to explore the heavens. Each year, The Astronomical League presents The Jack Horkheimer Award for Exceptional Service by a Young Astronomer; the winner receives a $1,000 check and a high-quality telescope.
Horkheimer was a lover of good music, good food and champagne and once collected old Cadillacs and Lincoln Continentals. Although his lifelong contributions to popularizing astronomy were occasionally derided by some in the field for not being more academic, the International Astronomical Union honored his efforts by renaming “Asteroid 1999 FD9” to “Asteroid Horkheimer.”
Long before his death, Horkheimer penned a fitting epitaph:
“Keep looking up was my life’s admonition,
I can do little else in my present position.”

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