RIP March 2019

Japanese tattooists, an English philosopher, international rock stars, and a sprinkling of mafiosi - all these and more took some permanent leave in March.

There is a deep irony to the death of Julian Nott at 74. A larger-than-life man – he was more than six feet tall – he soared to heights rarely reached by others, yet he died on the ground, bashed about by his own balloon cabin. Nott was a hot air balloon pioneer who held almost 80 world ballooning records, including one that saw him drift upwards to more than 55,000 feet. He died in March while test flying an experimental balloon in a remote part of California. The balloon began to lose altitude, but he landed it safely, and was packing up the cabin when it tumbled down a steep ravine with him inside. He died later from his injuries. He lived in the US and held dual British and American citizenship, but will be buried in England.

Another adventurer, Jack Absalom, checked out in March. Absalom was an Australian painter who from an early age developed a profound knowledge of indigenous life in his country. He discovered his talent relatively late, when he was in his mid-40s. He came to wider public notice when the Australian Broadcasting Corporation alighted on him  to present programmes covering outback survival. He was 91 when he died. Pierre Chanoine-Martiel was another high-flyer – he made the first commercial flight of the supersonic aircraft Concorde, beating several speed records – and he too went in March, aged 97.

An adventurer of a different kind, Mary Warnock was one of Britain’s most prominent philosophers, who was head of Girton College, Cambridge, between 1984-1991. She specialised in questions concerning morality, and became particularly interested in existentialism. She became more widely known for chairing various government-backed commissions, including the Committee of Inquiry into Human Fertilisation and Embryology during 1982-1984. She supported euthanasia, arguing in 2008 that people with dementia should be given the right to die if they chose, if they felt they had become a burden to their family or the state – a somewhat incoherent position since people with dementia are not normally considered to be sufficiently compos mentis to make any decision. Warnock was 94 when she died. Edna Barker went at 82; another pioneer, she played 15 Test matches for the English women’s cricket team in the 1950s and 60s.

Is the surname Bhutto cursed? Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Prime Minister of Pakistan during 1973-1977 was deposed in a military-led coup in 1977, and was hanged in April 1979 following a trumped-up trial. His daughter Benazir Bhutto, who also served Pakistan as Prime Minister, was blown up by a suicide bomber in Rawalpindi on 27 December 2007. And Jawaid Bhutto, 64, has now been shot dead by a noisy neighbour with whom he had been in a dispute in Washington D.C. This Bhutto – no relation – was a philosopher and a teacher and a peaceful man, who died a random meaningless death, in a city where such things happen all the time.

A chancer of a different type was Ehu Arye Laniado, who died on the surgeon’s table from a heart attack during an operation to have his penis made bigger. He was 65

Scott Walker (pictured), born an American but who became a British citizen in 1970, was 76 when he died in London. A singer with a rich and distinctive baritone voice, he was born Noel Scott Engel in Ohio and early in his life he became fascinated by European cinema. He teamed up with John Maus and Gary Leeds and formed the Walker Brothers, Walker being the name that Maus used to get a fake ID so he could play in clubs while underage. The Walker Brothers had a string of hits in the 1960s before they broke up in 1967, reuniting in 1975. Scott returned to solo recording in 1981 and his music and subject-matter became increasingly outré. One of his later records, Tilt, released in May 1995, featured lyrics that dealt with the life and murder of Pier Paolo Pasolini, cockfighting, the First Gulf War, a conflation of the trials of Adolf Eichmann and Caroline of Brunswick (former wife of King George IV), and a man talking to the corpse of Che Guevara. Bizarre, but someone has to do it…

Keith Flint, singer with The Prodigy, hanged himself at the age of 49, as did John Kilzer, the American singer and songwriter, who was aged 62. Justin Carter, the American country singer, accidentally shot himself at the age of 35 while doing a music video – never carry a loaded pistol in your pants. The American rap singer Nipsey Hussle, born Ermias Joseph Asghedom, was shot dead on 31 March in Los Angeles. Roger Charlery, better known perhaps as Ranking Roger (pictured), a singer with the two-tone band The Beat in the 1980s, died from cancer at the age of 56. The Japanese actor turned singer Yuya Uchida succumbed to pneumonia aged 79. The tattoo artist Yoji Harada, who swapped Tokyo for Chicago and then later New York, died aged 46.

“It’s no sin to make a profit.” So a judge told John Bloom when he was sued for undercutting a competitor. It was such a good line that Bloom used it as the title of his 1971 book. Bloom was a British retail buccaneer whose company, Rolls Razor, hit its peak in the 1960s, selling cut-price white goods, before it collapsed drowning in debt in 1964,  with Bloom declaring bankruptcy. He was 87 when he died. A chancer of a different type was Ehu Arye Laniado, who died on a French surgeon’s table from a heart attack during an operation to have his penis made bigger. He was 65. It is not thought the heart attack was caused by viewing the post-op result. He started his working life as a masseur in Tel Aviv, but quickly graduated to trading diamonds and  reputedly became a billionaire.

Suspicious deaths come in many shades; anything Russian is often a little sniffy. Thus the death of Natalia Fileva at 55 is bound to arouse suspicion. She was one of Russia’s richest women and co-owner of one of Russia’s biggest airlines, S7, also known as Siberia Airlines. She was travelling in an Epic LT single-engine turboprop aircraft private aircraft when it crashed near Frankfurt, en route from France. Osvaldo Raffo was perhaps Argentina’s most famous forensic scientist ever, who performed in his career more than 20,000 autopsies. This highly experienced and honest forensic expert in 2015 conducted an autopsy on Alberto Nisman, who was a special prosecutor in the case of the 1994 car bomb in the centre of Buenos Aires, the country’s worst terrorist outrage to date – 85 people were killed and many hundreds injured. The car bomb was placed close to the AMIA building, a Jewish community centre. Nisman was found dead at home in Buenos Aires, one day before he was going to present his report, which in all likelihood would have incriminated top government officials. He had been shot in the head; a suicide, it was said, except that Raffo declared it murder. Now Raffo is dead – shot through the head; a suicide, it is said…

Alphonse D’Arco, aka the “Professor”, who was a New York mafia boss until he saw the light and turned government witness, died from kidney failure at the age of 86

Significant criminal deaths this month were those of One Goh, the South Korean-born shooter responsible for seven deaths at Oikos University  in California in April 2012. He was 50. Francesco Paolo Augusto Calì, better known as ‘Frankie Boy’, was an American mafiosi of the Gambino family, with close familial ties to Sicilian mafia clans; he is supposed to have built up the family’s heroin and Oxycontin business. Money and power could not stop him being shot 10 times from a 9 mm handgun outside his home on Staten Island on 13 March, when he was 53. Angus Sinclair was serving life imprisonment with a minimum of 37 years for the so-called World’s End Murders. In 1977 Sinclair murdered two teenage girls who were last seen alive leaving the World’s End pub in Edinburgh. He probably killed at least four other women; he died in prison age 73. Carmine Persico, aka ‘The Snake’, was aged 85 when he died in jail on 7 March, still officially (if that is possible for a mafia gang) the boss of the Colombo crime syndicate in America, where he had been since 2015, serving a sentence of 139 years for various crimes including murder. Alphonse D’Arco, aka the “Professor”, who was a New York mafia boss until he saw the light and turned government witness, died from kidney failure at the age of 86.

Finally, a personal homage to Zofia Czerwińska (pictured), the Polish actress who died aged 86. She captured my heart when I saw her play Lili, the barmaid, in Andrzej Wajda’s 1958 movie Ashes and Diamonds. It might be more than 60 years old, but it’s still one of the best films to depict the immediate post-war conflicts that arose in post-war Eastern Europe.

Until next month – stay well.

Picture source: Unknown photographer, Kens Korner, Starscream