Here's my take on some of those who left us these last twelve months. As I always say, it's not intended to be a comprehensive list, because, as the late Diana Mosley used to drawl to me with aristocratic ennui, "People die non-stop", which is very true. But here's some of the passings I noted, sometimes for newsworthy reasons, sometimes for more personal ones, with more at the links - from congressmen to caliphs to conductors, suspected murderers to suspect suicides to courtroom cardiac arrests:
ABU BAKR al-BAGHDADI, failed caliph
After dragging three kids and two missuses down into a dead-end tunnel, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi blew himself and his family to Virgin Central. He left his head, more or less intact, which I wouldn't be averse to Trump putting on a spike across the street from The Washington Post. The Post's obituaries department, to general derision from the Internet, marked the Caliph's unexpected self-detonation with the headline "Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State, dies at 48".
Which, aside from anything else, must have baffled those readers who had been assured by media bien pensants for years that what the BBC insists on referring to as "the so-called Islamic State" has nothing to do with Islam.
CHRISTOPHER BOOKER, pioneer Euroskeptic
When the UK voted to exit the EU in 2016, he could have claimed a large part of the credit for changing public attitudes. Instead, with somewhat characteristic pessimism, he predicted Britain's leaders would bollocks Brexit as they bollocks everything.
MARK BRAMBLE, 42nd Streeter
"We had a song in Barnum," remembers Mark Bramble. "It was my favorite. Cy Coleman wrote a wonderful melody; it had wit, humor, style - and it was awful. We brought the story to a complete halt so we could go into this big production number. The audience knew it, and they were right. I always sit in the middle of the stalls, and you can feel whether the audience is with you or not. If they're not, then whatever it is has to go, even though it may be your favorite song or favorite scene." Bramble leans in close for his next line, the big article of faith. "You should always remember," he says, "the audience never lies."
CLAUS von BÜLOW, the film critic's critic
Sir: In his review of Maria Full of Grace (Arts, 26 March) Mark Steyn mentions Colombia and its capital Bogota six times and yet he makes the mistake of saying that the film is about heroin-smuggling. Colombia has no opium harvest and therefore no heroin, but it is the world's largest producer and illegal exporter of cocaine. This is an important factor in US foreign policy and should be of interest to Mr Steyn in his other role as a political columnist.
Claus von Bülow
PAT CADDELL, far-sighted pollster
To the end he was an incisive analyst of underlying trends, and always worth listening to. I quoted him in After America:
It is never a good idea to send the message, as the political class now does consistently, that there are no democratic means by which the people can restrain their rulers. As the (Democrat) pollster Pat Caddell pointed out, the logic of that is "pre-revolutionary".
I think that was just an off-the-cuff green-room aside of Pat's at the time I put it in the book, but he started saying it out loud.
CAROL CHANNING, eternal Dolly
At the Lunt-Fontanne, those who'd seen Carol Channing first time round declared that nothing about her performance had changed. I can well believe it. Trouble is, everything else in the world has changed utterly...
She is efficient. She does Dolly's shtick, all the bits of business (to use a couple of other quaintly greasepainted terms), brilliantly. But what's a crowd-pleaser without the crowds? That last afternoon, virtually every number stopped the show, impregnable in its defiance:
Before The Parade Passes By
I'm gonna go and taste Saturday's high life!
But it's a Sunday matinée - and the parade has passed by, in every sense.
MARTIN CHARNIN, Annie's Daddy Bigbucks
One December, he was in the old Doubleday's bookstore on Fifth Avenue, Christmas shopping. He chanced to see a lavish book of old Little Orphan Annie comic strips. Charnin knew a friend who'd love the coffee-table anthology, so he picked it up, bought it, and then joined the line for complimentary gift-wrapping. "It was a long line," he told me. "Very long. So I decided to skip the gift-wrap and took it home - unwrapped."
Which is how he happened, that evening, to find himself reading the book. He stayed with it into the small hours, and the following morning asked his attorney to contact the Tribune and get the stage rights.
JOHN CONYERS, pantsless parliamentarian
Like most of his colleagues, lifetime legislator John Conyers didn't bother reading the 2,700-page health-care bill he voted for. As he said with disarming honesty, he wouldn't understand it even if he did: "They get up and say, 'Read the bill.' What good is reading the bill if it's a thousand pages and you don't have two days and two lawyers to find out what it means after you read the bill?"
It would be churlish to direct readers to the video posted on the Internet of Representative Conyers finding time to peruse a copy of Playboy while on a commuter flight to Detroit.
DORIS DAY, a dog's best friend
I was interested to know whether "Move Over, Darling" and "It's Magic" really sum up Doris Day. "Well, I think they're part of who I am," she began, and a cacophony that sounded like the Singing Dogs reunion tour rent the air. "Uh-oh," she explained, "that's Buster Brown. He's a cross between a German short-haired pointer and an English sheepdog..."
"About your work with André Previn..," I said, struggling over the barks to stay on track.
"He looks like a wire-haired pointer," said Doris. Which, to be honest, I couldn't quite see, until I realized she was still talking about Buster Brown. "And I have a beautiful shitsu called Wesley Winfield."
JOHN DINGELL Jr, hereditary peer
John Dingell Jr has been a Michigan congressman since 1955. For the 22 years before that, his constituents were represented by John Dingell Sr. Between the first Duke of Dingell and the second, the Dingell family has held the seat for a third of the republic's history. If that's what Michiganders are looking for in a political system, why not stick with the House of Lords?
STANLEY DONEN, rain maker
Donen was born in Columbia, South Carolina, the son of a man who ran a ladies' wear store. He liked the movies, so his parents gave him an 8mm camera. He especially liked Fred Astaire, so they got him dance lessons. At 16, he was dancing on Broadway in the chorus of Rodgers & Hart's Pal Joey (1940), starring Gene Kelly; at 17, he was hired by Kelly to assist with the choreography on another show, Best Foot Forward; at 19, he was in Hollywood, working on the movie Cover Girl; at 25, he co-directed On the Town; at 30, he made Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. At an age when most of today's directors are just out of film school, Donen had the kind of résumé you could retire on.
JEFFREY EPSTEIN, post-Suicide Watch suicide
I take it as read that the guy's an industrial-scale pedophile, if only because it seems to be the only thing anybody knows about him - including how he made his billion dollars. He apparently requires three "massages" a day by underage girls. So, upon being informed that Mr Epstein is flying his "Lolita Express" around Africa with Bill Clinton, Kevin Spacey and a softcore porn actress called Chauntae Davies on board, I'm disinclined to accept the official explanation that this is an Aids-relief "humanitarian" mission.
ALBERT FINNEY, not so angry young man
For a while Finney was grouped with the so-called "angry young men" of gritty kitchen-sink dramas. A scion of Salford Grammar School, he would later concede that his own childhood hadn't, in fact, been quite that "gritty", and he was not by nature that "angry" (quite the opposite in my limited experience), but he kept his working-class vowels through the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and he belonged to the first generation of British actors who didn't aspire to drawl "Anyone for tennis?" as though born to it.
PETER FONDA, easy rider
Even with Nicholson in Easy Rider half-a-century earlier, he was content just to be. While Jack and Dennis Hopper roared off down the highway, Fonda seemed to be left there in the dust: long, lean, laconic, and looking — even in the middle of a supposed "counterculture" movie — as if he were modelling for a Madam Tussaud's effigy of his father. Père et fils shared a distinctive saggy-shouldered celebrity, both men perambulating as if their centers of gravity were located in their knee ligaments: I would have liked to see either do the "Broadway Rhythm" number in Singin' in the Rain.
JERRY HERMAN, take-home tunesmith
The penultimate time we sat down for a newspaper story I assumed it would be the last: He had a sunken skeletal face, a hacking cough that sent the needle of my tape-recorder off the dial, and a Niagara of sweat poured off him for the full hour. Back then, everyone on Broadway was dying of Aids, because that's all you could do with it. But Jerry Herman became the first celebrity to survive it...
CLIVE JAMES, antipodean all-rounder
In the month since he died, I have tried and failed to put down in writing an appreciation of Clive James. In a certain sense, that's appropriate: he was one of those writers other writers envy, because he said it better - wittier, sharper, more profoundly. But that's not why I can't get it down on paper. Rather, my perspective is clouded by a great kindness he did me almost three years ago. The link above directs to a Guardian column he wrote about one edition of our Song of the Week. A few readers will appreciate the significance of the date at the top of the page: that weekend a dishonorable billionaire and his minions had just yanked the rug out from under me, left me in a near half-million-dollar hole, and had embarked on a dirty-tricks media operation and a campaign at the highest level to get me blackballed by Rush and Fox. We know how that eventually worked out, but it's not the outcome a prudent person would have bet on in late February 2017. I have no idea why Clive picked that week to remind me, at the absolute low point of my career, that I had a life and reputation that pre-dated the hell to which Katz had consigned me - and that this awful man would not be the final judge of my worth. Yet it was Clive's Guardian column that persuaded me not to surrender to the abyss, but to try to grab a ledge on the plummet down and then figure out how to climb back up. I can never thank him enough for that. He pre-announced his own allegedly impending demise so long ago that even his missus began making jokes about it. But he certainly helped save my life with that characteristically shrewd analysis. And one day I will have put enough distance between that grim time and now to be able to give a great and generous man the eulogy he deserves.
USMAN KHAN and JACK MERRITT, "British man" and post-British man
As Mr Khan was known to be eager to blow up London landmarks, a condition of his release was that he was forbidden to visit Britain's capital.
So how did he get to be there on Friday? Ah, well, he'd asked to attend the fifth-anniversary celebrations for Cambridge University's "prison rehabilitation" programme, "Learning Together" - which exists to "bring together people in criminal justice and higher education institutions to study alongside each other in inclusive and transformative learning communities". And the authorities seem to have been flattered by Mr Khan's interest in their event, so granted him a one-day exemption to visit the capital.
Jack Merritt was a 25-year-old Cambridge criminology graduate and an administrator of the "Learning Together" programme. He had written the dissertation for his Doctorate of Philosophy on the "over-representation" in the British prison system of young ethnic-minority males, such as Usman Khan. Jack Merritt saw Usman Khan as his friend, proof of the validity of his thesis, a testament to the success of the programme. Usman Khan saw Jack Merritt as the other, the infidel. So he killed him.
MICHEL LEGRAND, a Frenchman in Hollywood
Norman Jewison wasn't sure what he wanted, but he knew what he didn't want. He called in Alan, Marilyn and Michel and told them to write a song for Steve McQueen in the clouds, but it wasn't to be a song about the plot or the character or a song about falling in love, the kind of ring-a-ding Hollywood theme song Sammy Cahn could have written in his sleep. Because of the film's and the character's coolness, Jewison wanted something that hinted at a restlessness or anxiety underneath the scene: Thomas Crown is gliding, relaxing ...but he's also thinking about pulling off a big-time robbery. It's what Marilyn Bergman called "a dream for a songwriter": There's no dialogue, no sound effects, nothing to get in the way of the song; just Steve McQueen in a glider in the sky...
So the three writers played the scene over and over, and then set to work.
JONATHAN MILLER, polymath
Jonathan Miller did a little bit of everything - satire, opera, neurology - and did it very well. As is the way with deep thinkers, he would often over-think, which could render the simpler pleasures somewhat incomprehensible. After Ned Sherrin's "Loose Ends" one Saturday, we all repaired to the George, the ghastly BBC pub round the corner. And, as the crowd thinned and the beer flowed, he bemoaned to me that his boys had no interest in any of the things he was engaged by - art and literature and so on - but just liked footie and telly and getting pissed. I found this oddly moving - both the situation, and his befuddlement by it.
MOHAMED MORSI, a Brother but not a keeper
Still high on the Facebook Revolution fevers, Obama, McCain, Hillary Clinton et al all insisted that democracy is a beautiful thing and Mr Morsi was entitled to billions of American taxpayers' hard-earned dollars. Hillary's jet was barely out of Egyptian air space before the new president issued one-man constitutional amendments declaring himself and his Muslim Brotherhood buddies free from judicial oversight and announced that his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, would be retried for all the stuff he was acquitted of in the previous trial. By this stage he wielded total control over parliament, the judiciary, and the military to a degree Mubarak in his jail cell could only marvel at. Old CIA wisdom: He may be an SOB but he's our SOB. New post–Arab Spring CIA wisdom: He may be an SOB but at least he's not our SOB.
But don't worry. As America's director of national intelligence, James Clapper, assured the House Intelligence Committee, the Muslim Brotherhood is a "largely secular" organization. The name's just for show, same as the Episcopal Church.
ROBERT MUGABE, rubber baron
Mr Mugabe accused Her Britannic Majesty's Government of a secret plan to impose homosexuality throughout the Commonwealth. There's a conspiracy theory we can all get behind. He subsequently warmed to his theme and called Tony Blair a "gay gangster" leading "the gay government of the gay United gay Kingdom". A Downing Street spokesgay denied the charge:
The Prime Minister is not a gay gangster.
ANDRÉ PREVIN, cool conductor
A few days after the interview (but before it was published), he wanted to get hold of me in a hurry to clarify a point and somehow managed to track me down at my parents' pad, where I'd gone for the weekend. My mother was in the middle of berating me for pursuing a career in writing (waste of time, never going to get anywhere, should stop being such a layabout and get a proper job) when the phone rang. "Hello," she said, and then after a moment a subdued "Oh, right." She passed the receiver over: "André Previn for you."
Perfect timing. I'll always be grateful to him for that.
HAROLD PRINCE, Broadway intellectual
I once discussed "take-home tunes" – the songs you leave the theatre humming – with Harold Prince, perhaps the most celebrated Broadway director of his generation, the man who staged Evita and Sweeney Todd and Phantom of the Opera. "Put it this way," he said. "I was asked to direct Hello, Dolly! They played me this title song, and I said, 'This is for a scene where a woman who doesn't go out visits a restaurant?' They never mentioned directing Hello, Dolly! to me again."
LEON REDBONE, premature geezer
I assumed from the sound that he was some aged fellow from the Mississippi Delta, maybe been playing around New Orleans for years. In fact, he was twenty-five when he made that record, and not some Louisiana backwoodsman who'd found his way to Bourbon Street, but an Armenian born in Cyprus who moved to London, and thence to Toronto.
LES REED, unusual songwriter
Patient: Give it to me straight, Doc.
Doctor: Well, I'm afraid you've got Tom Jones Disease.
Patient: Tom Jones Disease? I've never heard of it. Is it common?
Doctor: Well, it's not unusual.
No, it's not...
ALVIN SARGENT, rebooted writer
I'm not sure why a nonagenarian who won Best Screenplay Oscars for Julia and Ordinary People should find himself ending his days as a master of superhero "franchises" and their attendant "reboots", especially when he's barely twenty minutes younger than Stan Lee. But it surely had something to do with his long relationship with the much younger studio exec Laura Ziskin - which always reminds me of the old saw about the actress so dumb she slept with the writer. Miss Ziskin was a blonde who slept with the writer, but she was smart and powerful, and one consequence was that Alvin didn't get consigned to the scrap heap by the usual twelve-year-old studio vice-presidents.
JOHN SIMON, turn stoner
When Diana Rigg starred on Broadway in Ronald Millar's Abelard and Héloise, John Simon, drama critic of New York magazine, was not impressed by her nude scene: "She is built," he wrote, "like a brick mausoleum with insufficient flying buttresses." I spent an agreeable ten minutes talking to her in a cocktail dress - Diana, that is, not me - and Mr Simon's description would not be mine. But the actress found the line unforgettable, and it inspired her to put together a very droll book, for which she asked her colleagues to send her their most vicious reviews. It appeared under the witty title No Turn Unstoned - which she performs as a one-woman show to this day. A remarkable number of the all-time greatest stones were hurled by John Simon. I knew how much he loved the theatre, and he could often take pleasure in the smallest amusement - I once asked him about a satirical off- Broadway revue in which he was untickled by everything except a single couplet: "When did Michael Jackson/Become Anglo-Saxon?" But, even at his most merciless, he was a welcome change from the flabby cheerleader school of drama criticism - as Dame Diana recognized.
BERNARD SLADE, Partridge Family founder
Slade's other sitcom for Sally Field, "The Girl with Something Extra", was not a hit. But it would make an excellent title for a TV pilot with Jessica Yaniv.
FREDDIE STARR, hamster gourmand
The charge collapsed in court when the gardener was unable to reliably state whether Mr Starr was circumcised or not (I forget which was the correct answer). Naturally, the chap unable to describe the tip of the penis at issue bore the name of Coxhead.
JOSEPH C WILSON IV, tea sipper
Joe Wilson had been fantasizing for over a decade and a half about the first sentence of his obituary:
Joseph C Wilson IV, the Bush I administration political appointee who did the most damage to the Bush II administration.
~There were others who took their leave in these last days, some of whom we may get to in the first days of 2020. And there were others whose passing we noted in audio format, which doesn't lend itself as easily to excerpting as above. But Mark Steyn Club members should feel free to add their comments on the departed of these last twelve months...