Well, singer Jerry Vale died on Sunday, which raises a critical question:
Jerry Vale was still alive?
I remember listening to Jerry Vale or, more accurately, having to listen to Jerry Vale, as a child. In our little apartment in Queens, my mother had the kitchen radio permanently tuned to New York’s WNEW-AM, which played all standards, all the time. So ingrained is this station on my psyche that fifty years later, I can still name the main DJs: Gene Klavan in the morning, William B. Williams’ Make Believe Ballroom midday, Ted Brown in the late afternoon. This was in the 60’s, and I can tell you that being able to sing along with Frank Sinatra’s version of “It’s Almost Like Being in Love” did not make me a hit at parties.
While my friends listened to the latest rock (what is now, sadly, called “classic rock”) on WNEW-FM, I’d be stuck with WNEW-AM’s crooners: Perry Como, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole. And Jerry Vale. I couldn’t wait until I got my drivers’ license. It’s not that I wanted to go anywhere; I just wanted to listen to the car radio.
All these folks would also pop up on the variety shows that populated TV at the time, which is not surprising, since the variety shows at the time were hosted by the likes of Dean Martin and Andy Williams. All these guys seemed to me to be pretty near death then. I mean, Jerry Vale must have been in his 30’s.
I’m constantly shocked by the passing of people who I could have sworn had died years ago. Mickey Rooney, for instance. What was he doing still being alive when he died on April 6th? And Tony Musante. He was on some cop show I liked in the early 70’s. You probably never heard of him. Well, too late now.
The reason for my surprise at the deaths of such people is the fact that, once a celebrity is out of the public eye, they may as well be dead. They, of course, might vehemently disagree, and I’m sure many celebrities lead long and productive lives long after they fade from the spotlight. But since I don’t know about it, they’re dead to me.
For instance, Bobby Sherman, the 60’s teen idol, was dead until recently. But then he turned up on one of those “Where Are They Now” sites, and he’s now alive and well and working in the California highway patrol or some such thing. He will continue to live until I forget about that article, at which time he will die again and cease to exist until he actually dies, when he will return to life just long enough for me to say “Bobby Sherman was still alive?” And then he will die again.
Occasionally a name will come up in conversation and I’ll have no clue if it should be preceded by the words “the late.” Red Buttons, for example. For some reason, I think of Red Buttons much more frequently than any sane person should. I can never remember if he’s dead or alive.
Fortunately, there are websites such as deadoraliveinfo.com where I can just look up Red Buttons and see that he died almost eight years ago. I really should have known that, considering how often I think of him, and I probably did know that at some point. In fact, I’m sure I thought he was dead before he died and that I was dumbfounded at his real-life passing. But within months of his death, his demise slipped my mind and now I’m perpetually unsure of his status. Even though I just looked it up–as I was writing this post–if you ask me in a couple of months whether I think Red Buttons is dead or alive, I will give the matter much consideration before shrugging and looking it up again.
On the other hand, I don’t have trouble remembering that Red Skelton is no longer with us. Or Red Barber. Buttons seems to be the only Red I keep losing track of. Maybe I just have to keep reminding myself that all the Reds are dead.
Thanks to deadoraliveinfo.com, I can also be totally shocked by the death of celebrities before they die. There’s a list of currently breathing famous people over the age of 85 that I could have sworn were dead but aren’t, which is quite astonishing, and enables me to experience anticipatory stupefaction in advance of their deaths. I mean, really: Zsa Zsa Gabor is still alive? Professor Irwin Corey is still alive?
But I’m going to be awfully surprised when they die.
See you soon.