RIP June 2018

The chef, the bag-maker, and the porn actor - this month feels a bit like a Peter Greenaway movie: full of weird and wonderful people with only the flimsiest of connections...

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.

kate spade

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

Smoke Dawg (born Jahvante Smart) wasa a Canadian rapper but that didn’t save him – he was still gunned down, in the Toronto Entertainment District on 30 June, aged 21. Mind you, it wasn’t a month to be a female Turkish nightclub singer either – Hacer Tülü, a Turkish nightclub singer, was shot and killed in a club on the seafront in Bodrum at 40.

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.

V2 Air Force

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.

Anthony Bourdain

He got one thing right – playing Elton John’s music in his kitchens was grounds for instant dismissal

Anthony Bourdain (pictured), an American chef who gained notoriety for a 2000 book  – Kitchen Confidential, which advised never to eat fish in a restaurant on a Monday among other fairly obvious stuff – hanged himself in France, aged 61. He once said that a Chicken McNugget was the most disgusting thing he’d ever eaten, but that was before the unwashed warthog rectum. 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

Abdul Kadir was actually called Michael Seaforth but he converted to Islam in 1974 and changed his name. He was arrested in Trinidad and Tobago in June 2007 and extradited to the US, where in August 2010 he (along with a co-conspirator) was found guilty of plotting to blow up John F. Kennedy airport, and sentenced to life in prison, where he died aged 66. The American punk guitarist Steve Soto, a founder member of the punk-surf group Agent Orange died in his sleep aged 54. Édouard-Jean, the 3rd Baron Empain, who was born in Budapest, has died in his native France aged 80; he was best-known not for being chief executive of the Schneider industrial group but for having been kidnapped when he was 40 and held for 63 days in 1978; although eventually released unharmed he declared that he was never the same afterwards.

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”

William Speakman-Pitt, known by all as Bill, was a physically big (6′ 6″) man, tough; just the kind that wins a Victoria Cross. He got his on 4 November 1951 in the Korean war, fending off enemy attacks by charging and chucking hand grenades left right and centre. He was a private in the Black Watch at the time. He had a difficult but not unusual childhood, the bastard child of a domestic servant, and spent 22 years as a professional soldier, leaving the army in 1967 after he stole money from a woman’s purse. He was married and divorced three times, and liked a drink. In 2015 he finally settled down a bit, living as a Chelsea pensioner. He lived until he was 90.

Until next month – stay out of the sun.

Picture sources: Laws Laws ZOIT G, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, Neeta Lind