For me, at least, the latest round started with John Glenn, the Mercury Seven astronaut who swept around the world in Friendship Seven in 1962. That passing was December 8. My Mum says she remembers that flight, back when she was a young mother in Melbourne. One of the things that happened during his flight, as far as Australia was concerned, was that the people of Perth turned on their lights for him as he flew over.
There were a number of glitches both before and during the flight, including some worries about his heat shield, which could have ended with Friendship Seven returning as a ball of flame, but he got through it and came back to Earth a hero. Which was, in some ways, bad luck for him, because being a hero made him a sort of living national treasure and that kept him out of space until 1998, when he went up in the space shuttle, to test the effects of space on an older body. Yeah, sure. That was the only reason! ;-)
He also appeared as himself in an episode of the comedy series Frasier, in which, while the main characters are quarrelling in the back room of the radio studio, he is recording, telling the world he saw aliens out in space and hadn't been allowed to talk about it. He acted very well. Mostly, celebrities who appear as themselves are not that impressive.
And because this is a book blog, after all, not only the blog of a science fiction fan who loves her sensawunda, there's Richard Adams, author of Watership Down, who managed to convince generations of children and adults that rabbits can be epic heroes. A novel based on stories he had told his children was rejected about seven times before a small press took a chance on it and the rest is history. A million copy sales, a movie, a hit song...
He lived in Hampshire and when I was visiting a friend there we had a cold drink at the Watership Down pub - which, incidentally, kept rabbits in the garden. I was told - not sure if it's true - that the book was named for the pub. Anyway, a classic!
His passing was on Chrismas Eve. Vale Richard!
But at least John and Richard lived long lives and died peacefully.
Carrie Fisher was only sixty. That's not elderly these days. And while she had never been out of work, as a well-paid script doctor as well as an actor, she had been in the middle of a resurgence as a Star Wars actor.
I am old enough to remember when the original movie came out. I left school and slipped into a five pm session in the city. I was swept away by the adventure, the power of it. There was the Hero's Journey thing, of course, with Luke Skywalker. There was the beautiful fairytale princess appealing for help to Obi-Wan Kenobi, her "only hope."
And when you met the princess, she was not the helpless sweet young thing the message had led you to expect. Her first words to the hero were, "Aren't you a little short for a storm trooper?" And then she took over in the escape. Even when, in the third film of the series, she was wearing a slave-girl bikini and a chain, she used the chain to throttle the villain. And she was there in the first place because she had been caught rescuing her lover.
Then you saw her again, an older woman and leader of another rebellion. Okay, the actor didn't write the script, though she did turn out to be a very good writer, good enough to make a living fixing other people's scripts as well as writing bestsellers, but I don't think anyone else could have played this role. And it was only her second film!
And yesterday, the 28th of December, was my Dad's Yahrtzeit. It was the seventh anniversary of his passing. With respect to the celebrities above, this was the passing that meant most to me. In any case, Dad would have sneered at Richard Adams and Carrie Fisher as writers and said they were nowhere near being in my league! Dad was my biggest fan. He was so proud of his gifted family - on his deathbed, he was promoting my books and my nephew Mark's music to his doctors and nurses. But Dad had gifts of his own. He had a glorious baritone singing voice - his son and two of his grandsons have inherited his singing talent, though they're basses. He was the family handyman, something he had to teach himself since he was in a concentration camp in his teens, with nobody to teach him these things. And when he came to my place to fix things, he would leave delightful little cartoons with his notes to say he had been there.
I have a silver ring which he made for me, because he taught himself silversmithing, and a silver pendant shaped like an open book which I got for graduating as a librarian.
In his old age, he taught himself to use a computer and discovered the joys of the Internet. Unfortunately that diverted him from writing his autobiography, but he had a wonderful time!
My sister, brother-in-law and I went to the cemetery to clean his tombstone and say hi to him. I wore my Wolfborn t-shirt as it was published after he was gone, and told him all about it. And I couldn't help feeling he was listening with that delighted chuckle he always gave. I told my sister his classic joke which, for some reason, she hadn't known about.
Sleep well, Dad!