At the end of every year, we at Made Man salute gents who have left us over the last 12 months. This year, we were sadly spoiled for choice. Some true titans of music, literature, sports and cinema have fallen in 2016. With a little word about what you might learn from their examples, here are 16 who have left a big hole.
Robert Vaughn: Older readers know him from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Younger ones know him as the voice of personal injury lawyer Mark E. Salomone telling you to let the insurance companies know you mean business. Takeaway: Vaughn worked in everything from popular television shows to low-budget sci-fi to personal injury attorney commercials. Whatever you’re doing, do a lot of it.
Leonard Cohen: Even if you don’t know Leonard Cohen, you know Leonard Cohen. His signature “Hallelujah” has been covered more than 300 times, despite being little-noticed when he first released it. He’s the darker, more Canadian version of Bob Dylan. Takeaway: Cohen didn’t start his musical career until he was 33, after attempting to become a novelist and a poet. It’s never too late to change tracks.
Phil Chess: Born with the nearly unpronounceable name Fiszel Czyż in Poland in 1921, Phil Chess came to America in 1928 and later became a partner at Aristocrat Records. Phil and his brother Leonard remade the label as Chess Records, which produced some of the most influential R&B, blues and rock and roll of the mid-20th Century. Takeaway: With a little bit of vision, anyone can make it in America.
Edward Albee: The legendary playwright won three Pulitzer Prizes for drama, as well as two Tony Awards for Best Play. Non-theater types are perhaps most familiar with the screen adaptation of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Takeaway: Albee constantly got thrown out of school and home alike for pursuing his dream. Never give up.
Gene Wilder: When you’ve played Willie Wonka and Young Frankenstein (“Franken-STEEN!”) and starred alongside Richard Pryor multiple times, you hardly need any introduction. Wilder overcame traumatic teenage bullying and sexual assault to put smiles on faces all over the world. Takeaway: Never lose your sense of humor.
Gordie Howe: The basis for the Gordie Howe Hat Trick, whereby one scores, assists and gets into a fight in the same night, Mr. Hockey dominated the game, holding tons of records until Wayne Gretzky arrived in the 1980s. Takeaway: Howe is the only pro hockey player to compete in five different decades. Talent can get you to the next level, but only passion can keep you there.
Muhammad Ali: He called himself the greatest and, indeed, he might have been. He’s consistently ranked as the best fighter of all time. It’s estimated that his punches packed over 1,000 pounds of force. Takeaway: Walking away from the Nation of Islam was a huge deal for Ali. Never be afraid to admit you’re wrong.
William Schallert: You’ve seen William Schallert at least once. He has perhaps the most television acting credits of any man in history, appearing in everything from Perry Mason to Deep Space Nine to The Smurfs. Go ahead and look at that face. Where have you seen it before? Takeaway: Schallert might not have won any awards, but you know his face and, more to the point, he made a living doing what he loved.
Prince: When the whole world knows you by your first name, you’re world class. Prince wasn’t just a God-tier musician; he also had a Bowie-like capacity for reinvention that kept him relevant for years. He was also a one-man brand who could make a hit for anyone. Takeaway: Stay away from fentanyl.
Merle Haggard: It’s a minor miracle that Haggard lived to see 40, let alone nearly 80. After Hank, no one can claim more credit for the existence of modern country than Hag. Pour yourself a glass of Dickel, put Swingin’ Doors on the turntable and listen to Merle document the life of the common man in the 1960s. Takeaway: Merle Haggard was a pioneer who wasn’t afraid to move with the times. Anchor yourself, but don’t fear the new.
Garry Shandling: Before there was Jerry Seinfeld, there was Garry Shandling. The latter arguably invented the post-modern sitcom with It’s Garry Shandling’s Show and The Larry Sanders Show, which have been imitated by just about every successful sitcom since. Takeaway: Shandling was sitting pretty writing sitcoms when he bolted off on his own to do standup. If you hate what you do, do something else.
Umberto Eco: Eco was a novelist and also one of the few people who could call themselves a “semiotician” with a straight face. Eco believed all literary works are connected to each other, something he attempted to demonstrate through his own work. Takeaway: His work can be difficult, but you don’t have to be a genius to appreciate it. Eco’s catalog shows that “smart” literature can be made accessible to anyone.
Antonin Scalia: Known as the arch-conservative of the Supreme Court for decades, Scalia was the son of an Italian immigrant and by all accounts, insanely smart. A strict textualist, Scalia was conservative from an early age and brought the approach of his youthful literary criticism (if it’s not in the text, it’s not in the text) to the Supreme Court. Takeaway: Many enemies brings much honor.
Glenn Frey: Founding member of The Eagles, Frey also wrote “The Heat Is On,” which has been stuck in your head at least 20 times and is probably stuck in your head right now. In a band filled with frontmen, Frey was somehow able to stand out. Takeaway: The Eagles were supposed to get back together when hell froze over. They got back together and, so far as we can tell, hell is still hot. Know when to bury the hatchet.
Alan Rickman: The man, the voice, the legend. Rickman was known for being a virtuoso actor, capable of everything from Hans Gruber to the sheriff of Nottingham to Snape. Every time you see Rickman, you know it’s him, but you’re still able to disappear into the fantasy. That’s a hard rope to walk. Takeaway: Work on your voice. People will remember it.
David Bowie: Bowie wasn’t the great innovator he’s often credited as being. He was, however, one of the savviest early adopters who recognized the potential of glam rock, electronic music, grunge and jungle long before anyone else. The guy has come back from the dead more times than the villain in a slasher film. Takeaway: Keep your ear to the ground and don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself.