Saying good-bye is never easy, especially when it’s someone you may never have met but who in some way touched your life and put a smile on your face.
Such was the case this week with the deaths of Chuck Berry, Jimmy Breslin, Jerry Krause, Chuck Barris and Dallas Green.
No one influenced American rock and roll more than Charles Edward Anderson Berry, who passed Saturday, March 18 at the age of 90 at his home in Wentzville, Mo., not far from his birthplace of St. Louis. A guitarist, singer and showman extraordinaire, Berry had a string of hits in the 1950s that still make you want to jump out of your chair to sing and dance along: Maybellene, Roll Over Betthoven, Rock and Roll Music and Johnny B. Goode.
After his death, I went to youtube.com and found those songs performed by Berry in the company of other Rock and Roll legends past and present – the late John Lennon, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and Bruce Springsteen.
Late in his life touring somewhere with Richards, the lead guitarist for the Rolling Stones, Berry went to get his performance fee, probably in cash, before departing for his next gig. He left his guitar in its case in the dressing room, and Richards thought he’d take a close-up look at the instrument. He was holding the guitar when Berry returned – and punched him in the face.
“No one touches my guitar,” Berry told Richards who told Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon.
When Berry performed, everyone else was the second act – and everyone knew that, even Springsteen and his E Street Band during their mutual performance in Cleveland’s old Municipal Stadium at the Sept. 2, 1995 concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Keep in mind, as you watch Berry do his famous “Duck Walk” across the stage, that he was 70 when they performed “Johnny B. Goode.”
My favorite Chuck Berry classic was “Memphis, Tennessee.” My favorite song as a young teen, I learned the lyrics and how to play “Memphis” on the piano. That came in handy later in my life whenever a piano was around at a party. I unfortunately never had the moves that Berry showed here in this clip from Berry’s performance of it at the BBC Television Theatre in London on March 29, 1972. “The last time I saw Marie she’s waving me good-bye. With hurry home
“Last time I saw Marie she’s waving me good-bye … With hurry-home drops on her cheek that trickled from her eye … Marie is only six years old, information please … Try to put me through to her in Memphis Tennessee.”
Hurry-home drops trickle from my eyes whenever I hear “Memphis.” Thanks, Chuck.
Another Chuck, Charles Hirsch “Chuck” Barris, passed away Tuesday, March 21 at his home in Palisades, N.Y., just outside New York City at the age of 87. He was a television producer and creator of daytime game shows “The Dating Game” and “The Newlywed Game.” He also claimed in his autobiography, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” to be an assassin for the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1960s and ’70s, a claim the CIA, of course, denied.
Barris also was a songwriter and had a 1962 hit with “Palisades Park” by Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon about the famous amusement park in northern New Jersey not far from the George Washington Bridge. Cousin Bruce Morrow occasionally would do his radio show on 77 WABC radio from there on summer nights before the park closed for good in 1971.
But Barris, of course, was most famous for the show he created and hosted, “The Gong Show” that featured performers of various skill levels trying to impress a panel of Hollywood celebrities so not to be “gonged” off stage in the middle of their act. The show’s first episode was June 14, 1976 and it ran for 13 years with four different hosts, the best being Barris, who ad-libbed his way through four years. When the show dragged or needed some fill, Barris would call on characters to fill the air, like Gene Gene The Dancing Machine.
Yep, that was television in the old days. “I took my dog to a Flea Circus and he stole the show,” the “Unknown Comic” once joked. “The Unknown Comic” even got a chuckle from panelist Steve Martin.
Thanks for all the laughs, Chuck.
And thanks, belatedly, Jerry Krause, for those six NBA championships you engineered for the Chicago Bulls from 1991 through 1998. No question about it, without your keen eye for talented athletes to put around Michael Jordan and knowledgeable assistants to help head coach Phil Jackson, Da Bulls don’t win six. Krause, who considered himself a scout at heart and worked for both the Cubs and White Sox in his hometown and the Yankees and Diamondbacks, died Tuesday at the age of 77.
“Jerry was one of the hardest working guys I have ever been around, and he was one of the best talent evaluators ever,” Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said in a statement. “Jerry played an integral role in our run of six championships in eight years. He truly was the architect of all our great teams in the ’90s. I would not have been elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame if it were not for Jerry.”
Despite the fact that Krause surrounded Jordan with talented players like Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Horace Grant, Bill Cartwright, Toni Kukoc, John Paxson and Steve Kerr, among others, his Airness ridiculed Krause’s non-athletic look and called him “Crumbs” after Krause showed up with food crumbs on his clothes.
Jackson, a former New York Knicks player Krause once wanted to draft when he was with the Baltimore Bullets, was plucked from his head coach position with the Albany, N.Y., franchise in the Continental Basketball Association by Krause to become an assistant coach to Bulls head coach Doug Collins before succeeding Collins prior to the championship run. By the time it ended, general manager and coach hardly communicated.
Jordan and Jackson both held their grievances against Krause far too long, and their condolences upon his death seem hollow for that reason.
I like what Cartwright, who later coached the Bulls, had to say about Krause in an article authored by K.C. Johnson for the Chicago Tribune. “What kind of person you were, how tough you were, played a lot into what he (Krause) thought of you,” the former center said. “If he believed you were a good person, he had your back. Character really mattered to him.”
Which may explain why Kerr, who seemed ticketed to join Jackson when he went to New York to try and rebuild the Knicks, who are still downtrodden, ended up instead becoming the head coach of the Golden State Warriors and winning an NBA title.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Jimmy Breslin was 88 when he passed away Sunday, March in his hometown of New York City, where he worked through eight ink-stained decades as a columnist for the New York Daily News, Newsday, the New York Journal American and the New York Herald Tribune.
Breslin’s columns and journalistic pieces often were written from the viewpoint of every-day persons, like the gentleman who dug the grave at Arlington National Cemetery where assassinated President John F. Kennedy was buried on Nov. 25, 1963; and the policemen who drove the dying ex-Beatle John Lennon to the hospital after he was shot by Mark David Chapman on Dec. 8, 1980.
His Pulitzer for commentary, awarded in 1986, was for columns “which consistently champion ordinary citizens.” His contemporaries realized Breslin’s importance to the business as seen here during a discussion on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show Monday:
Breslin, like many of the people he covered and wrote about, was a larger-than-life individual. David Berkowitz, the infamous “Son of Sam” serial killer, wrote to him during his murder spree in 1977.
Breslin cultivated friends in the Mafia but that didn’t stop him from being savagely beaten by mobster Jimmy Burke in 1970 at a restaurant owned by Henry Hill (Burke and Hill were two mobsters who inspired Martin Scorsese’s movie, “Goodfellas”). In 1969, Breslin ran for president of the New York City Council on a ticket with fellow writer Norman Mailer, who was running for mayor.
Breslin also did a commercial for Piels beer.
As much as Breslin commanded respect in and out of his profession for his work, Dallas Green commanded respect because of his size (he was 6-foot-5 and weighed 260 pounds) and his loud demeanor.
“(Green) said what he felt was right, sometimes without tact but always with a directness and honesty that commanded the players’ respect,” then New York Yankees general manager Bob Quinn told the New York Times at 1989 spring training in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after the club hired Green, who managed the Philadelphia Phillies to the 1980 World Series championship and then got the Chicago Cubs within a game of 1984 World Series as their general manager.
Green, who died Wednesday at the age of 82, was a bull in a china shop whether on the field as a pitcher (he was 20-22 in a seven-year career for Philadelphia, Washington and the New York Mets), in the dugout as a manager (he had a 454-478 record as a manager for Philadelphia, the Yankees and the Mets) or in the front office (for the Phillies and the Cubs).
As a pitcher for the Phillies, Green surrendered the only grand slam in the career of Pete Rose, who later helped Green’s 1980 Phillies to their first title. Green also surrendered the 100th career home run of Mets outfielder Jimmy Piersall in a 1963 game. Piersall celebrated by running the bases backward, something that irritated Green, Commissioner Ford Frick and Mets manager Casey Stengel, who cut Piersall. Later, Piersall and Green became friends.
“I’ve had to work my butt off to get where I am,” Green told the Times. “Too many young ballplayers think they can get by on their talent. If this is the age of big bucks and guaranteed contracts, that doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed that you’re in the lineup. I want to see 90-foot ballplayers. If a man won’t hustle 100 percent, he doesn’t play, and I don’t care if his name is (Dave) Winfield, (Don) Mattingly or (Rickey) Henderson.”
With the Yankees, of course, Green worked for George Steinbrenner and he couldn’t last to September, going 56-65 before he was fired after calling his boss “Manager George” for meddling with his team. After lasting 3½ seasons with the Mets, he was let go and returned to Philadelphia where he worked in the front office as a senior advisor.
“Light travels faster than sound,” the late John Vukovich, a Phillies coach, said of Green. “But not with Big D. You usually hear him before he gets where he’s going.”
Baseball finally saw his tender side when his family was touched by tragedy. His 9-year-old granddaughter Christina-Taylor Green was one of six persons killed during a shooting incident directed at U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., in January of 2011.
“You know, I’m supposed to be a tough sucker,” Green said shortly after her death. “But I’m not tough when it comes to this. She embodied what’s good about kids and what’s good about growing up in the United States.”
In so many ways, so did Dallas Green.