Money doesn’t buy happiness; never a truer cliché. I’d never heard of Kate Spade but, there again, I guess I wasn’t her target audience. Her real name was Katherine Noel Brosnahan but she called her brand of ‘affordable’ handbags – $150 to $450 still seems a lot for a bag – “kate spade handbags”, using her husband’s surname as part of the marketing spiel. She launched the bag in January 1993 and they were such a hit that six years later Neiman Marcus bought 56% of the brand, and the remaining 44% in 2006, selling the brand on in 2006 for £124 million. At 55, Brosnahan/Spade hanged herself in New York city, leaving a note for her 13 year-old daughter telling her to “ask Daddy”.
Alessandra Appiano, the glamorous Italian novelist and journalist, threw herself from the eighth floor of a hotel at the age of 59 on 3 June. Bhaiyyu Maharaj, regarded by some in India as a spiritual guru, shot himself at his home in Indore aged 50. David Selberg was an ice hockey player in Sweden; he killed himself on 18 June at the age of 23. Charles William, the US professional wrestler perhaps better known by his ringside name of Rockin’ Rebel, shot and killed his wife before turning the gun on himself, aged 52, on 1 June.
It wasn’t a month to be an American rap artist. Jimmy Wopo (born in Pittsburgh Travon Da Shawn Frank Smart) got shot in a drive-by gunning aged 21; XXXTentacion (Christian name Jahseh Dwayne Ricardo Onfroy) was shot and killed in a robbery in Florida; he was 20.
It wasn’t a month to be an American rap artist
And still the Second World War throws up its list of creeps and heroines. Georg Heinrich Patrick Baron von Tiesenhausen, who was born in Riga to an aristocratic Baltic German family in 1914, died at the astonishing age of 104 on 3 June. He was conscripted to the Wehrmacht in 1941, permitted to carry on with his university studies and, after graduation, joined the Peenemünde Army Research Center, working on the development of the V2 rocket (pictured below). He was one of the more than 1,600 German scientists swept up by the Americans as part of Operation Paperclip after the war ended, offered sanctuary from the Russians in exchange for their brain-power, no matter what their political affiliation had been. But no-one can have worked at Peenemünde without knowing of the forced labour concentration camp nearby and from which it drew its workers.
From a creep to a heroine. The only woman to have her wedding dress exhibited in the Imperial War Museum in London was Gena Turgel (née Goldfinger), who was born in Krakow in 1923, the youngest of nine children. Various members of her family were shot by the invading Nazis and she and her mother were removed to the Krakow ghetto and thence to the Płaszów labour camp. She was moved first to Auschwitz-Birkenau; then to Buchenwald; and finally to Bergen-Belsen, where she met and married a British soldier and married in a dress made from the silk of a British parachute. She died aged 95, in England.
Reinhard Hardegen was the 24th most successful U-boat commander of the Second World War, having sent 22 Allied ships – and many of their sailors – to the bottom of the Atlantic. He was saved from a grisly end by being posted as an instructor and then as overseer of new weapons’ testing. In the final days of the war he was a battalion commander of the Marine Infantry and took part in ferocious fighting against the British, and probably avoided being killed by being hospitalised with diptheria. After the war he took up oil trading and was very successful, and became a Christian Democrat MP in Bremen, for 32 years. Some people are just very very difficult to kill – Hardegen was one of them. He lived to 105.
For anyone who can’t remember just how ghastly “entertainment” was in the 1950s, check out this video of Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson, a husband and wife team, crooning “Sing Little Birdie”. Pearl is still with us, I believe, at 95, but Teddy is now carousing with others, as he died in June aged 98. Mary Wilson, long-suffering wife of the former UK Prime Minister Harold, had a stroke and checked out at 102. Peter Stringfellow, the British nightclub owner and by all accounts a really nice person made it to 77 but cancer – which he kept private – did for him. Leslie Michael Grantham, convicted murderer and UK TV soap star, died aged 71.
Several notable academics left the scene in June. Born Stanley Louis Goldstein, Stanley Cavell’s heart gave out when he was 91. An American philosopher who wrote a great deal about Wittgenstein, he was also a great fan of movies and helped to found the Harvard Film Archive in 1979. He had early thought his true calling was to play alto sax for a jazz band but a stint at the Juilliard School of Music in New York City convinced him otherwise. His 1969 book Must We Mean What We Say introduced readers to a less stuffy approach to academic philosophising. Nina Baym, the American literary critic and historian, who widened the field of literary studies to include lesser known female writers, died at 82 from complications arising from dementia. Ogobara Doumbo, the prominent medical scientist who from his base at the University of Mali led the fight against malaria, died aged 62. The Swedish neuropharmacologist Arvid Carlsson, who won the 2006 Nobel Prize for Medicine for his work on Parkinson’s disease, and who fought hard against the quackery known as homeopathy, died aged 95.
He got one thing right – playing Elton John’s music in his kitchens was grounds for instant dismissal
I can’t resist noting the deaths of quirky people. Stephen Reid died aged 68. He was a member of the Stopwatch Gang, a group of three Canadians who between 1974 and 1980 robbed almost 100 banks and stole some C$15 million. The gang gained its name because one of the three – Paddy Mitchell and Lionel Wright as well as Reid – wore a stopwatch round his neck while doing the robberies, which were always done in two minutes or under. They were armed but unfailingly polite and non-violent. Reid did time in more than 20 Canadian prisons and during his 21 year sentence for Stopwatch Gang robberies took up creative writing. Yakov Brand, a Russian, managed to combine a career as a heart surgeon with that of TV presenting. A heavily-built man, he died on 12 June aged 63. Daichi Nobe, a 21 year-old Japanese stunt man, died after an accident during training; he jumped 15 metres onto an air mattress and was left unconscious. Johnnie Keyes, a black American porn movie participant, lived to the age of 78; his main claim to fame it seems is that he performed prodigious sexual acts in a film called Behind the Green Door, a classic of its kind. For a man of constant exertions it is perhaps fitting that he died of a stroke.
Daichi Nobe, a 21 year-old Japanese stunt man, died after jumping 15 metres onto an air mattress
Few of us will be graced by the award of the Golden Rooster Award for Lifetime Achievement; but there again, few of us live to be a 100 year-old Chinese movie director. Yan Jizhou made classic war movies in the 1950s, and he knew the experience of war at first hand, having fought the Japanese during the Second World War and with the communists during the civil war that followed. During the Cultural Revolution he was denounced as a counter-revolutionary; his movies were described as “giant poisonous weeds; Mao’s vicious wife wanted to lock him up for 20 years; but he survived largely thanks to his protector, the army general Li Desheng. Yan died in Beijing on 21 June.
his movies were described as “giant poisonous weeds”
Until next month – stay out of the sun.