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RIP, Bill Gallo

The great sports cartoonist Bill Gallo has passed away at the age of 88.

Bill Gallo, treasured cartoonist and columnist for the New York Daily News, passed away Tuesday at the age of 88 due to complications from pneumonia. Gallo, a New York institution, worked for the newspaper for seven decades and was perhaps best known for portraying late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner as a Prussian general.


He was born in 1922, and he started work as a copy boy for the Daily News shortly after graduating high school. Gallo wound up serving in the Marines during World War II — where he saw action at Iwo Jima — and enrolled at Columbia University upon his stateside return.

Gallo also returned to the Daily News around that time and began making headway in his profession. He told the Associated Press that he dreamed of becoming a reporter like his father, Francisco, a writer and editor at La Prensa. He was also inspired by cartoonist Milton Caniff, who drew “Terry and the Pirates,” his favorite comic strip from youth.

Gallo created his own indelible characters, among them Basement Bertha and Yuchie, who represented downtrodden and devoted fans of the Mets. His most famous character — General Von Steingrabber — poked fun at Steinbrenner for his domineering ways and for his ability to co-opt so much of the newspaper’s sports pages.

Gallo’s cartoons were a must-read for me every day in the Daily News when I was a kid. You can see a sampling of them here. Be sure to go all the way to the end, where you’ll see his tribute to Yankees catcher Thurman Munson the day after Munson’s tragic death. I still get choked up looking at it, more than 30 years later. Rest in peace, Bill Gallo.

Bin Laden killed in Pakistan

About damn time.

Osama Bin Laden is dead, U.S. government officials confirm to TPM. Bin Laden was the founder and leader of the Al Qaeda terrorist network that perpetrated the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

His death comes nearly 10 years after the terrorist attacks that made him the world’s most wanted fugitive, and eight years to the day after President George W. Bush declared Mission Accomplished in Iraq.

Other than a lame joke about making sure we hang onto the original long-form death certificate just in case, I got nothing. Well, there is a Mark Twain quote that seems appropriate: “I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.” This is one we all should have read a long time ago. My sincere gratitude to the combat forces that did the job.

RIP, Joe Roach

Former Houston City Council member Joe Roach has passed away at the age of 49.

A Clear Lake-area Republican, Roach — a one-time chief prosecutor with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office — leaped onto the local political scene by defeating 30-year-incumbent City Councilman Frank Mancuso.

Roach served on the council from 1994-2000, flirting with a possible mayoral bid before returning to private life and a career as a defense lawyer.

Born Jones W. Roach Jr., a name he eschewed for the more familiar “Joe,” Roach, a dwarf, was a champion for people with disabilities.

“I think his City Council legacy and his national legacy was that he was the most powerful little person ever to serve in public office in the U.S.,” said council colleague and friend Rob Todd. “He showed that typical Houston spirit — that it’s not what you’re born with, but what you do with yourself and how hard you fight that counts.”


Nancy Sims, a Houston public relations specialist and consultant for Roach’s first City Council bid, said unseating Mancuso, who died in 2007, was a formidable challenge. Roach served one term as District E councilman before winning two terms in an at-large seat.

“He thought City Council needed fresh ideas,” she said. “One of the mail pieces we sent out said that he (Mancuso) had been there for longer than a mortgage.”

Sims also said Roach possessed a robust sense of humor.

“We literally ran his campaign using full-sized pictures of him,” she said. “We said he was ‘big enough for Houston.’ He loved that.”

KTRK has more. My sincere condolences to his family and friends. Rest in peace, Joe Roach.

RIP, Blake Edwards

The man who gave us the one true “Pink Panther” movies has passed away at the age of 88.

One of Hollywood’s most successful specialists in comedy, Edwards was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1922 and started out as an actor.

After appearing in about 30 films, he worked as a TV scriptwriter before becoming a director. His first significant success came with the 1959 film, Operation Petticoat, starring Cary Grant and Tony Curtis.

He then charmed audiences with his adaptation of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which gave Audrey Hepburn one of her most memorable roles.

In 1963, Edwards created one of film comedy’s classic characters. After Peter Ustinov dropped out before production, Edwards persuaded Peter Sellers to play the accident-prone Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther.

Mere words cannot adequately convey how much I love the Pink Panther movies. I simply refuse to acknowledge the recent remakes, which are abominations before God and man. Here’s a highlight clip to give you a small taste of what Inspector Clouseau is supposed to be like:

For hiring Peter Sellers to play this role, the world owes a debt to Blake Edwards that it can never repay. Rest in peace, Blake Edwards.

RIP, Carlos Guerra

I join Greg and Stace in mourning the loss of former Express News columnist and blogger Carlos Guerra.

Carlos Guerra, a former columnist at the San Antonio Express-News, was found dead Monday in Port Aransas, officials there said.

Officers with the Port Aransas Police Department found Guerra in the one-bedroom condominium where he was staying on Mustang Island, said Lt. Darryl Johnson.

The cause of death is unknown.

His body will be transferred to the Nueces County Medical Examiner’s Office, Johnson said.

Guerra, 63, retired from the Express-News in 2009.

Carlos had been staying at the Casa Condominiums since Nov. 3, said Port Aransas City Councilman Keith Donley, a friend and the condominium’s owner.

He was scheduled to check out Monday morning. When he hadn’t left by 1 p.m., housekeeping staff knocked on the door. Guerra didn’t answer, so they went inside and found him lying on his living room floor.


Though Guerra mostly kept to himself, he was known throughout the complex as a kind person.

“Everybody that knew him at Casa — I’m talking about the staff, whether it be housekeeping or the front desk — if you ask them, they’d say, ‘What a nice guy,’” Donley said. “Which is not a bad epitaph, is it?”

No, it isn’t. He was also a hell of a writer and a sharp thinker, and his death leaves a big void. Rest in peace, Carlos Guerra.

RIP, Leslie Nielsen

As Mel Brooks said when his friend Harvey Korman passed away, the world is a more serious place today.

Leslie Nielsen, the actor best known for starring in such comedies as Airplane! and the Naked Gun film franchise, died Sunday of complications from pneumonia at a hospital near his home in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. He was 84.

“We are sadden by the passing of beloved actor Leslie Nielsen, probably best remembered as Lt. Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun series of pictures, but who enjoyed a more than 60-year career in motion pictures and television,” said a statement from Nielsen’s family released through his rep.

Nielsen was born Feb. 11, 1926, in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. His acting career spanned several decades, starting in the 1950s with episodes of series including The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse and Tales of Tomorrow and encompassing several genres. But he became known in later years for his deadpan delivery in comedies featuring absurd situations, including 1980s’s Airplane!, a parody of Zero! Hour, Airport and other movies about flying.

Airplane! is, of course, one of the greatest movies ever made. The Naked Gun was sheer genius, too. Here are the opening credits to its first show, for those of you who never had the pleasure:

It goes on like that – if you’ve seen Airplane!, you’re familiar with the idea. Don’t care how many times I’ve seen it, it still makes me laugh. For more on Nielsen’s long and distinguished career, see Roger Ebert and Mark Evanier. Rest in peace, Leslie Nielsen.

RIP, Rep. Edmund Kuempel

State Rep. Edmund Kuempel (R-Seguin) has passed away at the age of 67.

Kuempel, a salesman with CMC Steel Texas in Seguin, is chairman of the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee, the panel through which gambling legislation typically flows.

A House member since 1983, he was formerly chairman of the House Administration Committee, the Committee on Retirement and Aging and the Committee on State Recreational Resources.

Kuempel, a graduate of Austin High School, is one of the most jovial members in the House, known for greeting women with a kiss on the cheek or hand.

Burka and the Trib have more. Kuempel collapsed during the 2009 session and was resuscitated by Rep. John Zerwas, who is an anesthesiologist. There will need to be a special election to replace him, which I presume we will hear about in a few days. The Licensing committee is the one that oversaw gambling legislation, so Kuempel’s passing may make the road for expanded gambling even rockier. But that’s a subject for another day. My sincere condolences to the Kuempel family for your loss. From all I’ve read, it’s clear that everyone who knew him liked him, and they will all miss him.

RIP, Mark Stevens

Mark Stevens, one half of the Stevens and Pruett radio team, has passed away.

Stevens spent 40 years in radio but enjoyed his greatest success in partnership with Pruett, first as Hudson and Harrigan at KILT (610 AM) beginning in 1974 and later under their own names at KULF-AM, KEGL-FM in Dallas-Fort Worth and KLOL (101.1 FM) in Houston.

At every stop along the way, he displayed the sense of humor and razor-sharp wit that remained with him throughout his struggle with Alzheimer’s, said his wife, Melissa Stevens.

“His laugh was infectious, and people responded to that,” she said. “He would laugh, and then everybody would laugh. Even through his illness, he had the caregivers laughing all the time. … He handled (Alzheimer’s) with dignity and grace.”

Stevens left KLOL in February 2000, but Melissa Stevens said Houston listeners never forgot his voice.

“He would be in a grocery store and would say something, and people would say, ‘Wait a minute, I know your voice,'” she said. “We have such good memories.”

To borrow from one of their tag lines, I admit it, I was an S&P fan back in the day. They made my morning commute a lot more enjoyable. Rest in peace, Mark Stevens.

Saturday video break: Happy birthday, John Lennon

He would have been 70 today. Feel old now?

We all do shine on indeed.

RIP, David Thompson

What a terrible shock.

We loyal patrons of Murder by the Book, Houston’s go-to place for all things murder and mystery, are devastated to learn of David Thompson’s sudden passing yesterday. David, a Murder by the Book fixture for 21 years, seemed to know the guts of every book, and had an infallible sense of connecting customers to their Holy Mystery Grail.

David met his wife, McKenna Jordan, while both were employees. Along the way, she bought the bookstore, and he founded a mystery publishing company, Busted Flush Press, which features both aspiring writers and established notables such as Reed Farrell Coleman.

I’ve been patronizing MBTB since I moved to Houston in 1988. I introduced my parents to MBTB many years ago, and they insist on visiting whenever they’re in town. What makes the place special is the people who work there, who can tell you more about a given book or author off the top of their head than a dozen Google searches. You could feel the passion, the love, that David had for mystery books every time you entered. Like any repeat customer, they’ve recommended more authors to me than I can count, with an extremely high batting average. Houston has lost a special person, and I’m deeply saddened by this news. My sincere condolences to McKenna and everyone at MBTB. For many more tributes to David and his life, see ‘stina, the MBTB Facebook page, and Sarah Weinman. Rest in peace, David.

Saturday video break: RIP, SRV

Twenty years ago yesterday, August 27, 1990, the world lost Stevie Ray Vaughan in a helicopter crash. Here’s a double shot of Stevie to commemorate him and mourn his loss today.

And of course, the greatest public service announcement of all time:

That still gives me goosebumps after all these years. God bless you, Stevie Ray Vaughan. May you rest in peace.

Friday random ten: Talk the talk

If you follow this blog for things other than random music, you know that I do a lot of candidate and officeholder interviews around election time. In honor of all that talking, here’s ten songs about talking:

1. Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love – Van Halen
2. Girls Talk – Dave Edmunds
3. I Talk To The Wind – King Crimson
4. If Music Could Talk – Steve Wynn
5. May I Have A Talk With You? – Stevie Ray Vaughan
6. National Talk Like A Pirate Day – Lambchop
7. Talk To Me – Southside Johnny and The Asbury Park Jukes
8. Talkin’ Bout A Revolution – Tracy Chapman
9. Talking Myself Down – The Go-Gos
10. Talking Old Soldiers – Bettye Lavette

What’s talking to you on your iPod this week?

I should note here that today is the 20th anniversary of the tragic death of Stevie Ray Vaughan. I considered doing an SRV Random Ten, but decided instead to honor the occasion in tomorrow’s video break. But I wanted to mention that here so no one thought I’d missed it.

Entire Song List Report: Started with “Lodi”, by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Finished with “Love Rollercoaster”, by The Ohio Players, song #3113, for a total of 137 tunes this week.

Ripping vinyl report: More old school this week, as I re-committed my four Trinity University Jazz Band albums (one for each year, naturally) to digital. They had been done early on after acquiring the USB turntable, but before the right input volume level had been determined, and before the turntable manufacturer had released a version of their software that automatically separated tunes into tracks. Now I just need to haul the albums over to a Kinkos to scan them in for cover art – the scanner we now have at home can’t handle anything as wide as that.

Weekend link dump for August 22

School days, school days, dear old golden rule days…

Help The Lunch Tray help hungry kids.


The AJGLU-3000 is humming along.

This ain’t your daddy’s burger joint.

Tales from the MLB draft deadline.

I have a real hard time keeping up with all the shibboleths these days.

Libertarian utopia looks an awful lot like manifest destiny.

Why do Republicans hate cost controls?

Timeline of a fear and smear scheme.

“Sacred ground” ain’t what it used to be.

Another reason why I don’t patronize Starbucks. Well, besides the fact that I don’t like coffee.

When good sandwiches go bad.

Don’t put all your bits in one basket.

When in doubt, listen to The Slacktivist.

Xenophobic jingoism is wrong no matter who does it.

Way to go, Trinity!

Most things in science and technology involve indirect measurements. Which we ought to do a better job teaching.

Good-bye, and good riddance.

Geez, if Ted Olson keeps this up, I’m going to have to really respect him.

You know, I’m actually glad to see Fox News give a million bucks to the Republican Governors Association. It’s more honest that way.

The tragic death of practically everything. Surprisingly, blogs were not mentioned, but since RSS died a few years ago it hardly matters anyway.

Five tips for dealing with that flood of email you get.

How come the Scott Pilgrim movie didn’t do so well at the box office?

What Harold says.

How to save the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

What do Rick Perry and Lindsay Lohan have in common?

What about those Ground Zero strip clubs?

RIP, Bill Millin.

RIP, Johnny Bailey, the best running back you’ve probably never heard of.

Saturday video break: Follow the bouncing ball

So Mitch Miller died this week at the age of 99. I’m not old enough to remember the “Sing Along With Mitch” TV show, but we did have a “Sing Along With Mitch” Christmas album when I was growing up, and I knew all those songs by heart. This is one that I’ve only ever heard on that album:

They don’t make ’em like that any more, that’s for sure. Rest in peace, Mitch Miller.

RIP, Bob Sheppard

Preceding George Steinbrenner in death was the legendary PA announcer Bob Sheppard, known as both the voice of Yankee Stadium and the Voice of God. If you watched the All Star Game on Tuesday night, you got to hear a recording of Sheppard introduce Derek Jeter; at Jeter’s request, a recording of Sheppard has announced Jeter’s turns at bat since Sheppard’s retirement in 2007, and will continue till Jeter hangs up his spikes. Let me again recommend Jay Jaffe and the links he provides – be especially sure to read Ed Alstrom’s words – for the best of what is being said about this extraordinarily well-loved man. Which makes me wonder – why isn’t he in the Hall of Fame? Surely he could fit in as a broadcaster. I smell a Facebook opportunity here.

Anyway. Robert Merrill, Eddie Layton, Sheppard, and Steinbrenner – if this isn’t the last vestige of my childhood saying good-bye, I don’t know what would be. If there is a heaven, Bob Sheppard is now announcing its new arrivals. Rest in peace, Bob Sheppard.

UPDATE: The Yankees paid tribute to Steinbrenner and Sheppard at last night’s game.

RIP, George Steinbrenner

It was kind of a rough week for the New York Yankees, as they lost two of their icons while I was on vacation. I’ll have something to say about Bob Sheppard, their legendary and longtime public address announcer, in a subsequent post, but for now let me extend my condolences to the Steinbrenner family and the entire Yankee franchise on the passing of The Boss, George Steinbrenner. I was fortunate enough to pick up a copy of the Daily News special edition with its wall-to-wall coverage. (See also Jay Jaffe‘s writeup and roundup for more.) There are two things that stand out in all of this that I want to highlight. One is that for all of Steinbrenner’s bombast and bullying and attention-grabbing behavior, the words most frequently used to describe him are “kind” and “generous”. I’ve heard stories like this of him stepping in to help people and organizations in need, often in an extremely low-key way, for decades. It’s as much a part of who George Steinbrenner was as all of the things that made him a pop culture villain. (And in typical fashion, Steinbrenner was gracious and a good sport about that.)

The other thing is that Steinbrenner was about one thing, and that was for his organization to be the best, and to be the champions. Everything he did, and that includes a lot of the bad things, was geared towards that. It’s a cliche to hear people gripe about the Yankees spending gobs of money to “buy” championships, and how that’s somehow supposed to represent what’s wrong with professional sports. I say it’s owners who don’t care about winning that are the problem. Steinbrenner wasn’t in it to cash checks, his team wasn’t just another asset in a media/real estate/whatever portfolio, and if every team had an owner with the same desire to bring home a trophy there’d be a lot fewer long-suffering fans out there. He cared about his team’s fans in a way that very few owners do any more, and that will be greatly missed.

I’ve been a Yankees fan for as long as I can remember, and that more or less coincides with his purchase of the team from CBS in 1973. I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around the thought that he won’t be around any more. He’ll never be forgotten, though, that’s for sure. Rest in peace, George Steinbrenner.

RIP, Sister Damian Kuhn

This is the sweetest story you’ll read all week.

One spring season when the Astros were in a particularly bad slump, Sister Damian Kuhn made her way to owner Drayton McLane’s office, dressed in her traditional blue habit and veil.

“She was our No. 1 fan, and she always took it personal,” recalled McLane. He told her it was time to start praying.

After a long sigh, she replied, “Drayton, my knees are bloodied. It’s going to take more than that!”

Now McLane and the baseball team’s players are struggling over a different loss — the death of Sister Kuhn on Monday, just months shy of her 90th birthday.

She, as a good Roman Catholic, and McLane, as a good Baptist, connected after he noticed the nun’s unabashed enthusiasm for the team whenever she managed to snare a ticket for a game at the Astrodome that otherwise would have gone unused.

“She was hard to miss in a crowd,” McLane said, since her head was covered with a habit instead of a ball cap.

Thinking it was unbecoming for a nun to shout, she once told the Houston Chronicle that she tried hard to just clap and give high-fives. She never jeered or heckled, and always believed that next crack of the bat might be an Astros’ home run.

It just tickles me that she thought shouting was unbecoming, but high fives were okay. Not that I’m arguing with a nun, mind you – I’m a good Catholic boy, I know better than that. Go read the whole thing, you’ll be glad you did. Rest in peace, Sister Damian.

Goodbye, old friend



This morning, Tiffany and I took our dog, Harry, to the vet. He did not come home with us. We’d known this day was coming for awhile. Harry was 15 years old, and his health had declined in recent months. We’ve been preparing the girls for it, telling them how Harry was going to be with God. We made the appointment for today last week, after a checkup confirmed that his time was short. We told family and friends what was going on. We did what we could to make his last few days as happy as they could be, which mostly meant extra hugs and treats, including some filet mignon (!) that my sister-in-law brought for him yesterday. We knew it was coming. We told ourselves it was the right thing to do, and it was. It was still one of the hardest things we’ve ever done.

I did not grow up with pets. Other than a month of cat-sitting for an absent roommate one summer during college, I’d never had to care for an animal before January of 1997, when Harry came into my life. My buddy Matt, who had been my housemate for six years in Houston, had just moved to New York for a job, and I was somewhat at loose ends. My boss at the time, who was a devoted dog lover, had been trying to convince me to adopt a pooch. Whether by fate or by accident, a friend of hers found this furry stray on the street, and the two of them had been foster-caring for him. Both had two dogs of their own, so they wanted to find someone else to keep him. Mary Ann, my boss, worked me over for a week before I finally agreed to give it a try. I had no idea what I was doing. The first full day I had him, a Monday, I let him into the back yard of the house I was renting to do his business, and when I checked on him five minutes later, he was gone; apparently, there was a hole in the fence of which I’d been unaware. I took a quick look around, but saw no sign of him. I called Mary Ann in a bit of a panic, as I was already late for work, and she drove over to look for him as I headed to the office. She found him – he must have just been exploring, and came back – and I took him for walks instead of letting him into the yard after that.

I started dating Tiffany a few months later. She was charmed by Harry – she’ll tell you that she fell in love with him first – but couldn’t abide the fact that he had the run of the house, including the couches. So off to obedience school we went. It was clear that Harry had been through this before, and was basically humoring me. He managed to overcome my ignorance in these matters to pass the class. That didn’t stop him from hopping on the couch whenever we weren’t looking, mind you. One tip we got from the trainer was to put tinfoil on the couches as anti-dog devices. We preferred using tinfoil baking pans, since the air conditioning or ceiling fans would sometimes blow regular foil off the couch. The problem was that the pans didn’t quite cover the cushions sufficiently. Harry learned to nudge the pans aside enough to create dog-sized sleeping spots for himself. We always found it too funny to get upset about.

When we moved into the Heights later that year, the first house we lived in had a closet that Harry claimed as his space. We put his dog bed in there, and he’d retreat to it whenever he needed some quiet, or when there was a scary thunderstorm outside. Frequently, though, we’d come home to see that he’d dragged his dog bed out of the closet and into the middle of the floor in the next room. Always to about the same spot, too. This puzzled us until one winter day when, as Tiffany was standing over Harry on his bed in that spot on the floor, the heat kicked on, and she felt the warm air blowing down right on to where he was. Clearly, this was no ordinary dog.

We were a little worried when Tiffany was pregnant with Olivia that Harry would feel put out by the arrival of a human puppy. But he adjusted just fine, and was always protective of the girls. It probably helped that he learned early on that small children were even better food providers than big people, mostly because they were less squeamish about sharing what they were eating. When Olivia started on solid food, she would put her fingers into her mouth after taking a spoonful of cereal; this helped her learn how to swallow. When she took her fingers out of her mouth, she would hold her hand over the side of her high chair, and Harry would be right there to lick it clean. When she started eating Cheerios, Harry would station himself at her feet, knowing that a few of them would inevitably hit the ground. Olivia’s signal in those days that she was full would be to take whatever we’d put on the high chair tray, and toss it on the floor for Harry. We referred to it as his tribute; this occasionally made for some embarrassing moments at restaurants and other people’s houses, but everyone thought it was funny. Audrey did the same thing – when she started at the same preschool Olivia attended, one of her teachers asked if we had a dog. When we said yes, she said she could always tell, because kids in houses with dogs always dropped the last bit of their food on the floor.

Harry loved people, but he had not been socialized to other dogs, and at best tolerated them. He really hated anything with a rumbly diesel engine. Buses and garbage trucks were his sworn enemies. I’d be out walking with him when we’d hear one of them in the distance, and he’d freeze, on point. The noise would get louder, and he’d start running in tight little circles, and when the offending vehicle passed by, he’d just go ballistic. The first time my folks visited and took him for a walk on their own, we warned them about this, but nothing could adequately prepare them for it. One way I knew that he was starting to slow down was when he stopped barking at trucks and buses. It’s been long enough that when Tiffany read to Olivia a book called “Dog Heaven” (which I have not been able to bring myself to read), which talks about how in heaven dogs get to do things like chase squirrels and whatnot, Olivia said “But Mommy, Harry doesn’t chase things”. Well, he used to, it was just that he preferred things with wheels.

I suppose we’ll get another dog some day. Olivia has been asking when we’ll get a puppy. I don’t know about that, but another rescue dog would be fine. I’ve often thought about the people who must have owned and loved Harry before we got him. I’ve tried to figure out how he came to be wandering the streets. He was housebroken, healthy, gentle and affectionate, so I can’t believe he was a behavior problem, and he was just too lovable to abandon for whatever reason. I guess he could have just gotten loose and wandered off – for the first year or so, I half-expected to hear from the people who’d had him before, that they must be out there looking for him. But if they did, they never found him. And if there is someone out there who is still grieving for their loss 13 years ago, all I can say is that we took good care of him, we loved him very much, and we grieve for him now. Goodbye, old friend.

RIP, Kelly Fero

Sad news.

Democratic political consultant Kelly Fero died this afternoon at his home in Austin. Details weren’t immediately available.

Fero was best known as an Austin-based consultant to John Sharp, Tony Sanchez, the late Jim Mattox and many, many others. He was a talented writer, a top-notch researcher, and had a repuation for smashmouth quotes and sharp elbows that earned him strong friends and strong enemies.


The Austin American-Statesman profiled him in 2008. And blogger and fellow consultant Nate Wilcox did a long interview with Fero later that same year.

He leaves a wife, Mary, two daughters, and three grandchildren.

I never met the man, but I corresponded with him quite a bit via email, and spoke to him on the phone several times. I liked him and respected his work. My sincere condolences to his family and friends. Rest in peace, Kelly Fero.

RIP, Soupy Sales

Soupy Sales, the world’s funniest pie-in-the-face man, has passed away at the age of 83.

As the star of “The Soupy Sales Show,” he performed live on television for 13 years in Detroit, Los Angeles and New York before the program went into syndication in the United States and abroad.

Ostensibly for children, the show had broad appeal among adults who found Sales’ puns, gags and pratfalls deliciously corny and camp. His cast consisted of goofy puppets with names like White Fang, Black Tooth and Pookie, and a host of off-camera characters, including the infamous naked girl.

The high point of every show came when a sidekick launched a pie into Sales’ face. Sales once estimated that he was hit by more than 25,000 pies in his lifetime.

The gag became more than hilarious; it evolved into a hip badge of honor. Frank Sinatra was first in a long line of celebrities who clamored for the privilege to be cream-faced, including Tony Curtis, Mickey Rooney, Sammy Davis Jr., Dick Martin and Burt Lancaster.

“I’ve never done a pretentious show; it’s always had a live feeling, the kind of thing that comes across when you don’t know what’s going to happen next,” Sales told author Gary Grossman in the 1981 book “Saturday Morning TV.” “I’ve never done anything simply because I thought I could get away with it. I’ve just wanted to do the funniest show.”

Mark Evanier wrote a wonderfully affectionate remembrance of Soupy a few years back, which I highly recommend, even if you’d never heard of him before today. And if you’ve only heard a little bit, bear in mind that only some of it is actually true. Rest in peace, Soupy Sales.

RIP, William Wayne Justice

One of the great protectors of civil rights has passed away.

U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice — beloved by some, loathed by others — changed Texas civil and inmate rights in ways few political figures have over the past half-century. Justice, who spent 30 years on the bench and once was dubbed “the real governor of Texas” for his rulings, died Tuesday at age 89.

Black children across Texas attend public schools because Justice enforced federal desegregation laws in 1970.

Hispanic children gained the same rights as blacks because of Justice’s rulings. His orders prompted bilingual education in Texas.

Texas must educate all children regardless of their immigration status because of a Justice decision.

Juveniles convicted of crimes were moved from incarceration in work camps to modern rehabilitation facilities at his command.

The most sweeping change of all was the Ruiz prison reform case that ended brutal conditions for inmates and prompted a massive building boom that gave Texas one of the largest and most modern incarceration systems in the nation.

Civil rights activists praised Justice during his lifetime, but in his hometown of Tyler he often was scorned.

“I’m basically a very shy, retiring person, but fate has put me in a situation where I’ve been in the midst of controversy,” Justice told biographer Frank Kemerer for a 1991 book. “Controversy is now kind of a way of life with me. But I have never particularly liked it.”

The Tyler Morning Telegraph, from his onetime hometown, has a nice writeup as well. They don’t make ’em like that any more. Rest in peace, Judge Justice. Stace and Harold Cook have more.

People and records, gone but not forgotten

Now that you know about Derek Jeter and various all-time base hits records for different franchises, go read Steve Goldman’s tribute to Lou Gehrig and what it means to leave behind a legacy. Bring some tissues if you’re the crying type, as this is a very moving story.

Weekend link dump for August 16

Holy crap, it’s almost football season already…

The case against Apple, in five parts. And the case for, in one.

Why Kevin Drum doesn’t fear government-run health care.

Once again, a big part of the reason why politicians lie is because there are no disincentives for doing so.

When link shorteners die. Or don’t.

Alright, Republicans, We Give Up. In the name of bipartisanship, of course.

The origin of FAIL.

RIP, Merlyn Mantle, widow of Mickey Mantle.

The $22,000 baby. Best health care system evah!

Among other things, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford has very expensive hair.

It is now safe to sacrifice your goat in Euless, TX.

Clearly, Facebook isn’t for everybody.

The real “death panels”.

Apparently, Stephen Hawking is British. Who knew? Still, we better check his birth certificate, just to be sure.

If NASA ca’t protect us from the killer asteroid menace, then what good are they?

The first LOLcat?

True tales of health insurance.

The winner’s curse.

It really can’t be said often enough: John Culberson is an idiot.

Unblock The Bloggess! And may I just say, I have never loved the internets as much as I love them right now.

Saturday video break: A John Hughes twofer

“Twist and Shout”, from “Ferris Bueller’s Day off”:

And the original video to Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me”, which was used in “The Breakfast Club”.

Thanks to Steven Goldman for that link. And if you haven’t read this story about John Hughes yet, put down whatever you’re doing and go read it now.

Mickey Leland, 20 years later

Twenty years ago today, US Representative Mickey Leland died in a plane crash while on a humanitarian trip to Ethiopia. His widow Alison Leland and State Sen. Rodney Ellis remember his legacy in today’s Chron.

Twenty years ago our city, our nation and much of the world waited for word on the fate of the missing delegation led by Congressman Mickey Leland. The delegation was on the way to oversee the delivery and distribution of essential supplies to famine-stricken Ethiopia. After an international search effort, we learned that his plane had crashed, killing the congressman, congressional staff members, USAID staff and American and Ethiopian supporters.

Today, as he is missed and remembered, many of his passions and causes live on.

Although he loved Houston, Leland’s efforts, vision and the size of his heart could not be confined to the boundaries of his congressional district or this nation. Leland understood that the struggle for basic human rights — food, clothing, shelter and health care — was necessarily a global one. Leland dedicated his life to giving back; championing the causes of the poor and disempowered.

As an activist, long before he ran for elected office, Leland set up free health clinics in areas of Houston where residents previously had little to no access to health care. He continued the fight in the Texas Legislature and in Washington for those less privileged, on issues such as alleviating hunger and poverty, protecting civil rights and expanding access to health care. We are still fighting all these battles today.

Here’s his Wikipedia entry if you want to learn more. I had just moved into Montrose in the summer of 1989, so Leland was very briefly my Congressman. I’m sorry I never had the opportunity to meet him. Rest in peace, Mickey Leland.

RIP, John Hughes

John Hughes, iconic 80s movie director, has passed away from a heart attack at the age of 59.

A native of Lansing, Mich., who later moved to suburban Chicago and set much of his work there, Hughes rose from ad writer to comedy writer to silver screen champ with his affectionate and idealized portraits of teens, whether the romantic and sexual insecurity of “Sixteen Candles,” or the J.D. Salinger-esque rebellion against conformity in “The Breakfast Club.”

Hughes’ ensemble comedies helped make stars out of Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy and many other young performers. He also scripted the phenomenally popular “Home Alone,” which made little-known Macaulay Culkin a sensation as the 8-year-old accidentally abandoned by his vacationing family, and wrote or directed such hits as “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” “Pretty in Pink,” “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” and “Uncle Buck.”

Actor Matthew Broderick, who starred in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” released this statement, “I am truly shocked and saddened by the news about my old friend John Hughes. He was a wonderful, very talented guy and my heart goes out to his family.”

Other actors who got early breaks from Hughes included John Cusack (“Sixteen Candles”), Judd Nelson (“The Breakfast Club”), Steve Carell (“Curly Sue”) and Lili Taylor (“She’s Having a Baby”).

Damn. I guess this means the 80s really are over. Rest in peace, John Hughes.

Thurman Munson, thirty years later

It was thirty years ago today that New York Yankees catcher and captain Thurman Munson was killed in a plane crash in Canton, Ohio. I was just rereading the post I wrote in 2004 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his death, and it still chokes me up after all this time. I don’t think I can really add anything to what I wrote before, so go read Moss Klein and this Daily News piece that ran in 04 and is being rerun today about Munson’s final hours and the two men who were in the plane with him and survived the crash. Rest in peace, Thurman Munson.

UPDATE: Here’s Reggie Jackson’s memories of Munson and the crash.

RIP, Frank McCourt

Bestselling author and former high school teacher Frank McCourt has died at the age of 78.

Frank McCourt, the retired high school English teacher who became a best-selling memoirist, liked to say he had disproven F. Scott Fitzgerald’s adage about there being “no second acts in American lives.”

McCourt, who had been gravely ill with meningitis after recently being treated for melanoma, died Sunday afternoon at age 78. He is best known for the first of three memoirs, Angela’s Ashes, about surviving an Irish childhood of near-starvation. It won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1997 and was turned into a movie in 1999 starring Emily Watson as McCourt’s long-suffering mother, Angela.

As McCourt put it, “I refused to settle for a one-act existence: the 30 years I taught English in various New York City high schools.”


He was 66 before he published a book. What took so long?

“I was teaching, that’s what took me so long,” he wrote. “Not in college or university, where you have all the time in the world for writing and other diversions, but in four different New York City public high schools.”

He would cite novels about professors “so busy with adultery and academic infighting you wonder where they found time to squeeze in a little teaching.” But when you teach high school classes all day, he said, “you’re not inclined to go home to clear your head and fashion deathless prose. After a day of five classes, your head is filled with the clamor of the classroom.”

His books turned him into a celebrity, or as he put it, “the mick of the moment.” He was even paid to go on cruises.

“I watched him sign his name in thousands of books,” says Patricia Eisemann, former publicity director of Scribner, McCourt’s publisher. “But of all the people who came to the readings, he was happiest when he’d hear, ‘Hello Mr. McCourt,’ and he’d look up and find a former student. That’s when his ever present smile grew wider.” In 1999, at a book party for ‘Tis, he said was having the decade of his life — at 69.

That, he added, was a good thing: “If all of this had happened to me in my 30s, I’d be dead by now from all the whiskey and all the fornication. I’d be in a state of paralysis.”

I totally believe that, based on my remembrance of the man. He was an unconventional teacher – I don’t know that he had a set lesson plan when he taught creative writing at Stuyvesant High School. We spent a fair amount of time talking about children’s books – “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” was the first book he had us read. He also had us write and illustrate a children’s book, which was evaluated by a group of fourth-graders. I lack artistic talent and was never able to think up a good plot, so I did miserably on that assignment. Some days the class was free-form discussion, with him asking us questions or having us ask him questions. And when the weather turned warm, in May, he’d sometimes just take us outside to the park across the street and let us enjoy the day. It was like being allowed to have a little senioritis, except we were just juniors.

Rest in peace, Frank McCourt. I plan to raise a glass and tell a story in your memory.

UPDATE: My friend Julia shares her memories.

Frank McCourt “gravely ill”

Sad news.

Frank McCourt is gravely ill with meningitis and is unlikely to survive, the author’s brother said Thursday.

Malachy McCourt said that his 78-year-old brother, best known for the million-selling “Angela’s Ashes,” is in a New York hospice, “his faculties shutting down.”

“He is not expected to live,” said McCourt, himself an author and performer.

Frank McCourt was recently treated for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, but his brother says he had been doing well until about two weeks ago, when he contracted meningitis.

“He was out and about, being active, doing talks and so forth,” Malachy McCourt said.

As you may know, McCourt was my English teacher for my junior year at Stuyvesant High School. (I received word of this via the Stuyvesant HS Class of 1984 Facebook group.) I got to talk to him again a few years ago when he spoke at the annual Planned Parenthood luncheon, and he was basically the same guy I’d remembered, just a lot more famous. Gave a really enjoyable talk, too. He’s a talented writer, and he will be missed.

RIP, Steve McNair

What a tragedy.

Former Oilers quarterback Steve McNair was found shot to death in Nashville, shocking former teammates and NFL personnel around the country.

McNair, 36, and a woman were found dead inside a condominium Saturday afternoon by the Nashville Police Department. Police identified the woman as Sahel Kazemi, 20, owner of the condominium.

CNN reported Saturday night a law enforcement source close to the investigation said the woman is McNair’s girlfriend. Witnesses said McNair was a frequent visitor there, according to the report.

The police said in a statement that they received a call at 1:35 p.m. They then went to the residence in downtown Nashville and found both victims dead. McNair was shot multiple times the Nashville Police said. Kazemi was shot once in the head and the pistol was found near her body. The department’s homicide detectives are investigating the deaths.

“I don’t have any answers for you now as to what’s happened, who’s responsible,” Nashville Police Department spokesman Don Aaron told the Associated Press. “There are persons who were around the complex today, visitors, who have been taken to headquarters for questioning, just to see what they know, what they may have seen. No one is in custody right now.”

McNair, the No. 3 overall pick by the Oilers in 1995, spent two seasons in Houston before the Oilers were moved to Nashville and renamed the Titans. He retired in 2008 after 13 NFL seasons.

By all accounts, McNair was a well-liked and respected player who would have become a legend in Houston had the Oilers franchise remained here. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends. Rest in peace, Steve McNair.

RIP, Farrah Fawcett

Not unexpected, but still sad.

Fawcett was voted “most beautiful” her sophomore, junior and senior years at Ray High School [in Corpus Christi]. Her freshman year at the University of Texas, where she was majoring in microbiology and minoring in art, Fawcett was voted one of the university’s 10 most beautiful coeds.

Back then, to local attorney and former state Rep. Bill Harrison and his group of friends, Farrah was just another girl hanging out with Harrison’s younger sister Kathy.

“We called her ‘Drippy (Fawcett),’” Harrison recalled. “She was just another little punk coming over to my sister’s house.”

When Fawcett was a sophomore and Harrison and his friends were seniors the boys took real notice.

Harrison introduced Fawcett to his best friend Gary Roberts, the guy she dated all the way through high school and into college.

Fawcett’s father thought that Roberts and his daughter were getting too serious so it was up to Bill Harrison to pick Fawcett up for dates, he said.

“He liked me because I was the son of a minister,” Bill Harrison recalled. “Gary would be sitting next to my date and I’d go pick up Farrah. And we’d go around the corner and Farrah would jump in the back with Gary and my date would get in the front.”

Roberts, now a Kerrville banker watched Fawcett evolve from a Catholic school girl into one of the world’s most renowned beauties.

She was more than that, of course. Her performance in The Burning Bed and Extremities proved she had acting chops. I’m not sure what happened to her career-wise after that, but whatever it was, she deserved better. Texas Monthly has more from their archives. Rest in peace, Farrah Fawcett.

The best thing I’ve heard about my hometown in a long time

A Staten Island restaurant employs genuine Italian grandmothers to do the cooking.

The 35-seat Enoteca Maria takes home cooking to a whole new level by bringing in genuine Italian grandmothers to cook for customers.

Each night, one of eight nonnas ties on an apron, checks out the ingredients in the refrigerator and rustles up a down-to-earth meal.

The women are from different regions of the pasta-loving nation who have no problem cooking restaurant-style after years of feeding big families.

Tired of their husbands nitpicking over their specialties, they jumped at the chance to slave over a hot stove for grateful diners at the St. George eatery.

“When I come here, I can do whatever I want. I can bake whatever I want,” said Teresa Scalici, 62, who has three kids and four grandchildren.

“My family have this everyday so they don’t appreciate it anymore. I prefer it here, because the people love me,” she added. “On Saturday nights the customers clap.”

Damn, that’s the best reason I’ve heard to visit SI in a long time. And if it’s in Saint George, it’s walkable from the ferry, so the rest of you New Yorkers can get there easily enough, too. Reading that story reminded me of my own Staten Island Italian grandmother, who I’ll bet could have shown them a thing or two. Rest in peace, Red. We love you still.

Debutant’s last post

As you know, Deborah Greer-Costello, better known as Debutant, passed away on May 18 after a long battle with leukemia. Her sister Stephanie, a/k/a Texans Chick, posted a final message from Deb based on conversations they had after her condition became clear. Go give it a read and remember what a remarkable woman Deb was, and if you are so moved, make a donation to her daughter Zoe’s college fund. Oh, and give blood, too. Thanks very much.

RIP, Debutant

I’m very sorry to say that Deborah Greer-Costello, better known as Debutant, passed away earlier this week from the leukemia that she had been fighting since 2005. I never met Deb in person, I only knew her through her writing and through her sister, my friend Stephanie Stradley, but it was easy to see what a vibrant and interesting person she was. From her death notice, it’s clear she accomplished much in her too-short life, including a lot after she first got sick.

As per her request, I’ll be visiting the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center shortly. I ask you to please do the same as well. Rest in peace, Debutant.