Good People, Bad People, Dead People 35

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The close of 2011 signals the onslaught of the waves of “best of” year-end articles as far as the eye can see (for instance, my “Middin’ to Average Moments of 2010” last year). I rarely aspire to the norm and was recently pondering what post to add to the madness.

But then yesterday, the North Korean government announced the Dear Leader had passed away this weekend, on a train. Everyone knows how much I love trains. I took it as a sign from the Big He/She/It in the Sky was speaking directly to me….

Michael, this moment requires somber reflection of the year gone by. Thoughtfully reflect.

I chose another path.

Its been a big, big year for in the death business. Some big hitters have been knocked off this year. So, I attempt turn morbidity into…

The 2011 Travel Guide of Death

I love obituaries. Love them. So here are some highlights from the obits (click on the names) of these various huge figures in 2011, along with the location they are most associated with… in a way.

See, I can even make death relevant to travel.

So let’s look back at death and forward to travel. I think I might need to see if I can hit all these locations in 2012 — my personal overcoming death travel guide.

grim reaper cartoon laughing at death columbus dispatch newspaper


The Honored Dead (well, some honored…)

Kim Jong Il (North Korea) — Any list like this simply has to start with the most amusing person to have died in 2011. Yes he killed few million if his own people, imprisoned uncounted others, destroyed an entire country’s economy and agriculture, took North Korea back a century or two, but anyone that can inspire an amazingly funny website called simply “Kim Jong-Il looking at things” deserves a little respect from those of us that enjoy a good smile.

Speaking of respect — Here are the tears on North Korea state TV and Pyongyang overwhelmed with grief. It’s like Michael Jackson died again.

There literally is too much fun-fodder on Kim Jong Il, but here are a few highlights:

  • He was born inside of a log cabin beneath Korea’s most sacred mountain and on his birth, a shooting star brought forth a spontaneous change from winter to summer and a double rainbow appeared.
  • He didn’t defecate. Ever. This was according to the official biography on the North Korean state web site. The biography has since been taken down.
  • In 1994,  he shot an amazing eleven holes-in-one to achieve an unprecedented 38-under-par round on a regulation 18-hole golf course. It was the first time he’d ever played golf. Each of his 17 bodyguards verified the record-breaking feat.
  • He was said to keep a personal library of 20,000 foreign films, including the complete James Bond series, his favorite and was fascinated with Liz Taylor (in an ironic twist).
  • He kidnapped a South Korean actress and a director, in order to have them make movies for him.
  • He also had a taste for cognac. In 2003 Hennessy were forced to admit that Kim had been their largest buyer for two years running, with the North Korean leader believed to have spent an average of $700,000 a year on the French brandy.
  • He wrote six operas in two years. Each more amazing than the last.
  • He could magically control the weather, according to his mood.

Apparently, controlling the weather was easier than control over his own heart beat.

In his “honor” yesterday, I live-tweeted the news of his death, along with thousands of others. These were some of my contributions to the converation:

  • I am pretty sure he also invented the Slinky and the Hula Hoop.
  • I invited Kim Jong Il to #UTC11 with @nomadicchick and @hobonora. Knew that wimp couldn’t handle long train rides.
  • what is your favorite Kim Jong Il memory? Mine was when he discovered string theory over dinner and won the Nobel Prize for Physics.
  • ironic that Kim Jong Il died on a train, since he invented the internal combustion engine.
  • NEWS flash: Kim Jong Il actually died from embarrassment after beating Lebron James 15 to 2 in a game of one-on-one, from shame of allowing 2.
  • Kim Jong Il invented Twitter. And founded Apple. Steve Jobs was just a front man.
  • Kinda sad Kim Jong Il died before he could solve the Tupac and Biggie Smalls murder cases.
  • BREAKING: Kim Jong-Il’s last words:”Discovered Higgs Boson particle. Got US out of Iraq. My work here is done.”
  • since we all know here is no way Kim Jong Il could ever fall to a mundane heart attack it must be asked…anyone seen Chuck Norris today?

At some point in the future there is going to be a moment that I simply cannot wait for. North Korea is going to open up to the world, allow the internet in, and allow its citizens to travel and see the rest of the world and I am going to meet one of them out there somewhere and they are going to say… “what the hell??! Where did all this stuff come from?”

It’s as close as you are ever going to get to actually meeting someone from the 19th century.

kim jong il in field with military

Kim Jong Il, looking at more things, from yesterday's NY Times

Christopher Hitchens (U.K.) — One of my writing and intellectual idols. He wrote whatever he believed. Strongly. He could be amazingly incisive, thoughtful and make you think about a popular topic in a new way, as his did with his Mother Teresa send-ups (as I similarly, but much less effectively, did to the Dalai Lama, other one of his targets of ire). He could also be amazingly wrong, like he was on the Iraq War till his dying breath. But you always knew where he stood. I wish I could have shared a bottle of two of good wine with him, as I just listened for a change.

Osama bin Laden (Pakistan) — What can you say. Some historically horrible people died this year, which in my book makes it a pretty good year. Some deaths are to be mourned, some relished. Enough said on this monumental a-hole.

Moammar Gadhafi/Muammar el-Qaddafi/Moammar Kadafi/Muammar Gaddafiwhatever his name was, he’s dead also (Libya). Another one that I’m not exactly shedding tears over, but here are some amusing facts about the Colonel:

gadhafi in military uniform giving speech

not intending to dress up like a clown, but.... (AP)

  • He was protected by 40 well trained bodyguards – all of them women, reportedly all virgins who took a vow of chastity upon getting the job. The women, trained at an all-female military academy, were handpicked by Gaddafi. They wore elaborate uniforms, as well as makeup and high-heeled combat boots.
  • When he travelled abroad he camping out in the world’s capitals. The tent he brought was so heavy it needed to be flown on a separate plane. To complete the theme, Gaddafi often would  have a couple camels outside.
  • He called former Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice his “darling black African woman” and on a visit she made to Libya and gave her $200,000 worth of gifts, including a ring and a lute. But it wasn’t until rebels stormed his Tripoli compound that the depths of the dictator’s infatuation became clear. There among Gaddafi’s belongings was a carefully composed photo album made up of dozens of images of Condi.

Vaclav Havel (Czech Republic) — One of the most rare of people, an artist who rose to power and became the President of his country. In fact, by most accounts, he was the single person that held together the dissident groups that freed then-Czechoslovakia from the Soviet yoke. Fun fact from the obit: “On a trip abroad in 1995, he ignored awaiting dignitaries and lingered on an airport tarmac for a chat with Mick Jagger.”

Joe Frazier (Philipines) – Going to cheat a little bit for this great American boxer and go with the country of perhaps his greatest fight, the Thrilla in Manilla verses Ali. Defined in opposition to Ali, which must have been a difficult way to go through life.

Steve Jobs (Land of Dreams) — Apple, Pixar, iPhone, iTunes, iPod, iPad. A visionary that changed the way we looked at computers, music, movies, technology and the style of jeans and T-Shirts for formal press conferences. Fun fact from the obit: ” In his 20s, he dated Joan Baez; Ella Fitzgerald sang at his 30th birthday party.” Little known fact was that he was adopted.

Amy Winehouse (at the Bottom of a Bottle) — One good album, but it was one really damn good album. Of all the people on this list, I think that her demise was the least shocking. Did anyone really think she was going to see the other side of 30? A sad, self-inflicted loss of talent.


Elizabeth Taylor (hmmmm, let’s say Egypt) — If you haven’t watched some of the Elizabeth Taylor movies from her heyday, such as Cleopatra, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Butterfield 8, or Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, then you missed an amazing…. and amazingly hot, actress. Funniest note about her obituary: it was written by a guy that had been dead six years before she actually died. You see, most obituaries are written far in advance of someone’s death and left in the can for that inevitable day.

elizabeth taylor b&w butterfield 8

seriously smokin'...

Dev Anand (India) — I have no idea. Just trying to make it look like my list is less Western-centric. Apparently a big Bollywood actor. And I want to go to India, so there you go.

Betty Ford (her Southern Californian clinic, of course) — a much more interesting and fascinating woman than you’d think, given that most of us only know her for her clinic. Passionate feminist, crusader against cancer, pro-choice, and anti-addiction campaigner. Interesting note: she gave her husband’s concession speech after he lost the general election in 1976 to Carter, because Gerald Ford has lost his speech campaigning.

Seve Ballesteros (Spain) — As a golfer, wild, dashing, charismatic, quintessentially European, fiery. What is the golfer’s dream when they die? To have Jack Nicklaus say anything remotely as complementary as this: ““He was able to create shots, invent shots and play shots from anywhere. When he won at Royal Lytham in 1979, he played the 16th hole from a parking lot. I have watched him play 1-irons out of greenside bunkers, when just fooling around. He could get up and down out of a garbage can. He could do anything with a golf club and a golf ball.”

Andy Rooney (hmmmm, WWII vet, so let’s say France) — 1,097 televised commentaries during his lifetime. Three Emmy awards. Peabody winner. That’s not too bad. Cut his chops during WWII working for Stars and Stripes. I’d never have wanted to sit with him for thirty minutes of my time, but he was a character.

Sherwood Schwartz (Gilligans Island) — Look, I need a good beach location for my 2012 travels, so bear with me here. Schwartz started his career writing jokes for Bob Hope’s radio show in 1939 and later created both ‘Gilligan’s Island’ and the ‘Brady Bunch.’ He actually wrote the theme song to Gilligan’s Island also and if you are of a certain age, I bet you are singing that song to yourself right now.

mary ann ginger gillian's island

never could decide on "Mary Ann or Ginger?"

For my writing friends out there reading this now, perhaps take heed in what he had to say about the critic’s savaging his creations: “I honestly think I could sit down and write a show tonight that the critics would love, and I know it would be canceled within four weeks,” Schwartz said in a 1990 interview with The Times. “I know what the critics love. We write and produce for people, not for critics.”

Sargent Shriver (Ghana) — For those that don’t recognize the name or the country, Sargent Shriver was the husband of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and was the driving force behind the creation of the Peace Corps and help found the Job Corps, Head Start and other programs as he served in the Kennedy administration and as the “architect” of LBJ’s “War on Poverty.” Ghana was the first country to get Peace Corps volunteers, in 1961.

Arch West (Tex/Mex Land) — Who is Arch West? No less than the inventor of Doritos, a classic bit of American innovation that both pleases and brings you closer to death,  because someone needs to bring some munchies to this travel party. Highlight of his obit: “His wife of 69 years, the former Charlotte Thomson, died last year. When their ashes are buried together on Saturday, their daughter said, “We’re going to let everyone toss in a Dorito.””

Damn it. If should have made this a Top 10 list.

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About Michael Hodson

I’m an attorney that took off on my birthday in December of 2008 to circumnavigate the globe without ever getting on an airplane. After 16 months, 6 continents and 44 countries, I made it all the way back home. Right now, I am back on the road writing about it all.

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