November 11, 2000
Statistically, people in show business are not too much more apt to face unexpected demise than you or I. They're just famous and we're not; so everyone hears about it. In our times it's likely to be death by vehicle. James Dean by Porsche. Jayne Mansfield also by automobile. Vic Morrow by helicopter. The airplane has a lot to answer for, from Will Rogers on down. Roy Orbison, Patsy Cline, John Denver. Stan Rogers. Of course, musicians are more at risk, what with extended cross-country and often around-the world touring. Drug overdose carries off members of this group with monotonous regularity. Still. Add in unhealthy life styles, crazed fans, and suicide. The ways are many and varied.
Some have gone out in less mundane ways. Probably the best example of this was actor John Wilkes Booth, gunned down in a Virginia barn by the U. S. Army (or perhaps shooting himself) after assassinating a president. Medical meddling can also prove fatal. Film siren Jean Harlow died of an inflamed gall bladder, after her Christian Science mother refused any aid but prayer, insisting to the last, "Doesn't she look better?" When film actor Warner Baxter, of 42nd Street fame, died in 1951, it was during a period when lobotomies were considered a miracle cure. Undergoing one to ease arthritis pain, he was dead within three weeks.
English librettist William S. Gilbert, retired and living at his estate at Grim's Dyke, died while giving two young ladies a swimming lesson in his private lake in 1911. One started to panic, he went to her rescue, and suffered a fatal heart attack.
Several television and film stars died under mysterious circumstances. When Mario Lanza died in Rome in 1959 there were rumors flying around that he'd been murdered by mobster Lucky Luciano, for refusing to sing at a charity event. George Reeves, television's Superman, would often threaten suicide, using a gun loaded with blanks, which he'd hold away from his head so as not to leave powder burns. On June 16th, 1959, he pulled the usual stunt. Only this time there was a real bullet in the gun. And yet he would have had to have held it a foot or more away - as before, there were no powder burns. Go figure, Sherlock!
All of this is leading up to what might be the oddest of show biz demises - death by critic. For this one we have to go waaay back, back to 1396. To Bursa, on the Turkish shore of the Sea of Marmara. The slapstick comedy duo of Karagoz and Hacivat perform nightly before a large crowd of construction workers. The boys are going over like gangbusters; the coins fly their way. There's only one slight problem. The construction project is falling seriously behind. This is definitely not a good thing. Especially when the project is a great mosque. The disgruntled customer is Bayezid I, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, known as Ilderim the Thunderbolt. He is not amused. The Royal executioner gets to take the curtain call at this performance.
For Classical 91.5 and 90-point-3, this is David Minor
*perhaps pople named Rogers should stay away from airplanes.
Burk, Margaret & Hudson, Gary - Final Curtain: Eternal Resting Places of Hundreds of Stars, Celebrities, Moguls, Misers & Misfits (Santa Ana, California, Seven Locks Press, 1996)
Goodwin, Jason - Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire (New York, Henry Holt, 1999)
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Scourge of the Medieval Mediterranean to Sick Old Man of Europe. If the rise and fall of empires is your cup of tea, or if you just want to travel to exotic places and times, you owe it to yourself to visit the Ottoman Empire. Take a people who, under Mithridates, battled the Romans in the years preceding the Christian era, add further centuries, a Muslim world split between rival followers of Mohammed and a Christian world split between Rome and Constantinople, then explode that world outward into Egypt, North Africa, and the Balkans, and you have the Ottoman Empire.
One of the better introductions to this world can be found at the University of Calgary website
You'll find a summary of the empire, complete with pictures and links to a glossary of terms, most of them which will pop up when you just point at the link. If you want to explore the subject further, point your browser to the phrase "Ottoman Empire". It will point you to encyclopedia articles, as well as a number of sites that will investigate the ways the empire has influenced events in our own time in Kosovo, Serbia, Croatia and Bulgaria.
The Game's Afoot ! ! - SH
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© 2000 David Minor / Eagles Byte