Features

RIP October


Actors, musicians, psychotherapists...survivors. All fell to the scythe in October. Some remarkable people, testifying to the indefatigable nature of the human spirit, exited the stage. Read on.

It’s not often that actors appear in the Guinness Book of Records, but the one-man show Brief Lives, where he portrayed the 17th century antiquarian John Aubrey, gained the British actor Roy Dotrice his place, with 1,782 performances. Dotrice may be more familiar to a contemporary audience as Pyromancer Hallyne, in the second series in 2012 of Game of Thrones. A wireless operator and air gunner in the Second World War, he was shot down over enemy lines in 1941. When he got back to England he was delighted to find he was due a substantial sum in accumulated back pay – which he blew in six months on parties and the occasional break at the Savoy hotel. He died aged 94.

The French actor Danielle Darrieux (pictured) lived to 100. Her career spanned eight decades – one of the longest in the history of movies – and saw her appear in more than 110 films, the finest probably being The Earrings of Madame de…, directed by Max Ophuls in 1953. She also starred in another fascinating film by Ophuls, La Ronde, released in 1950. Considered to be a masterpiece of French cinema, the critic Andrew Sarris called The Earrings of Madame de… “the most perfect film ever made”. Darrieux’s breathtaking beauty captivated many men (three marriages) and lasted well into old age. Anne Wiazemsky, granddaughter of the novelist François Mauriac, made her first movie, Au Hasard Balthazar (directed by Robert Bresson) in 1967, when she was just 18. She later appeared in several films by Jean-Luc Godard, to whom she was married 1967-79. She died, at 70. When Au Hasard Balthasar was first shown Godard, then a critic with Cahiers du Cinema, said “everyone who sees this film will be astonished”. Fu Quanxiang, considered one of China’s finest female performers of Shaoxing opera (the second most popular of more than 360 different opera genres in China) died aged 94.

A less well-known – but equally remarkable – woman was Harriette Thompson, a classical pianist who taught piano at Boston University, lived to the age of 94. She was first afflicted by oral cancer in 1986, but survived that and took up running marathons in 1999 when she was 76, first to help raise money for a cancer charity but then just because she enjoyed it. When she was 91 she ran the San Diego marathon in seven hours, seven minutes and 24 seconds, beating the previous US marathon record for her age group women runners by nearly two hours. As she ran that race, she wore white tights to cover the open wounds on her legs, caused by from radiation treatment for her cancer. Larisa Ilinichna Volpert, three times Soviet women’s chess champion and who taught Russian philology at the University of Tartu in Estonia, made it to 91. Honorine Rondello, the French supercentenarian (those who have lived to at least 100), died at the age of 114.

Despite starvation, malaria, cholera, beatings and a septic wound from a scorpion sting – cured by a doctor who applied maggots to eat the diseased flesh – Lucas endured.

Another remarkable survivor was Tony Lucas, who died in October aged 98. Captured by Japanese troops when Singapore fell in 1942, this artillery officer then spent the rest of the war as a POW, earning the nickname ‘Tomato Lucas’ because he managed to grow a tomato plant from a seed found in a tin of tomatoes. He and many others were then put to work on the so-called Death Railway, a 258 mile stretch of railway used by the Japanese as a supply line into Burma. Despite starvation, malaria, cholera, beatings and a septic wound from a scorpion sting – cured by a doctor who applied maggots to eat the diseased flesh – Lucas endured. Greedy superior British officers were loathed almost as much as the Japanese. He later recalled that two lieutenant colonels were especially hated and narrowly escaped having their throats cut by ordinary soldiers. One of them was nicknamed ‘Marmalade Moore’; he “somehow got two dozen jars of marmalade and kept them under his bed. He didn’t share anything.”

Lucas no doubt screamed at some of the pain he suffered and witnessed, and the world’s screaming ‘expert’, Arthur Janov, joins him in the hereafter, dying at the age of 93. Janov gained notoriety in the 1970s – although now is almost forgotten – from expounding his “primal scream” therapy. His patients – who included many of the rich and famous, such as Yoko Ono and John Lennon – would be asked to regress to their first years, sometimes their birth, and scream out their repressions. Janov argued that his therapy could cure everything from stuttering, drug addiction, epilepsy, and could end wars. Even though the American Psychiatric Association took homosexuality off its list of psychiatric disorders in 1973, he nevertheless contended that it was a ‘curable’ condition.

Sylke Tempel, a German journalist who was editor-in-chief of Internationale Politik, died at the age of 54; she was hit by a tree during a storm. 

The range of musicians who slipped off in October included Augustin Mawangu Mingiedi, the Congolese leader and founder of L’orchestre folklorique T.P. Konono Nº1 de Mingiedi, better known simply as Konono N°1. Mingidie was a lorry driver who found fame playing the likembé; he succumbed to complications from diabetes at the age of 56. Heather Slade-Lipkin, who died at 70, started formal piano lessons at the age of six, and rose to become professor of piano at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, where she tutored many in piano and harpsichord. The American rock musician Tom Petty had a fatal heart attack at the age of 66. The Bosnian pop singer Azra Kolaković, who had uterine cancer, died when she was 40. Borislav Oslovčan was a former bassist with the Serbian punk rock group Pekinška Patka (Peking Duck), who riffed his last at the age of 56. Alvin DeGuzman, an American guitarist with the band The Icarus Line, died from cancer at 38. No more crooning for Antoine Dominique “Fats” Domino Junior (pictured), who died aged 89. Of Fats, Elvis Presley once said: “Let’s face it: I can’t sing it like Fats Domino can. I know that.” 

Sylke Tempel (pictured), a German journalist who was from 2008 editor-in-chief of Internationale Politik, died at the age of 54; she was hit by a tree during a storm. Iona Margaret Balfour Opie, famous for co-writing with her husband Peter Opie The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (1959), survived Peter by 35 years after Peter; she died aged 94. Their contribution to European folklore is inestimable; in 1998 she donated to the British Library the Opie Collection of Children’s Games and Songs. Another wartime French resistance heroine, Jeanne Brousse, a member of the Righteous Among Nations, an honour awarded by Israel to recognise non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust, departed aged 96. She described herself as “an ordinary woman who lived through extraordinary times.” The French Holocaust denier Serge Thion, who in 2000 was sacked from the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) where he was employed as a sociologist, died aged 75. He once wrote: “Genocide is nothing else but a political label aiming at the exclusion of a political leader or party beyond the bonds of humanity. It leads us to believe we are good, that we have nothing to do with these monsters.” Yvonne Burney died aged 95. She was christened Yvonne Jeanne de Vibraye Baseden, and was the daughter of a British man and French woman. At 22, she was the youngest Special Operations Executive (SOE) to be parachuted into occupied France. Captured, she ended up in Ravensbrück concentration camp.

The Hungarian porn actress Tera Bond will titillate no more; she went aged 39.

The professional Ivorian football player Georges Griffiths was shot in Ivory Coast when he was just 27, while he tried to stop robbers from stealing his car. Mlondi Edward Dlamini, who played for the South African football team Maritzburg United, was killed in a car accident, at just 20. The Hungarian porn actress Tera Bond will titillate no more; she went aged 39. The roster of unexplained deaths of Russian diplomats continued, with the demise of Alexander Gorban, aged 63. He was was Russia’s ambassador to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization and succumbed to “a serious illness” according to official reports. Daphne Anne Caruana Galizia (pictured below), the Maltese journalist and exposer of corruption amongst politicians on her island home, was murdered by a car bomb, aged 53: no one has yet been arrested for the crime, nor is likely to be.

But the potentially most influential (yet largely unknown) person to die in October was Ingetraut Dahlberg, who lived to the age of 90. Dahlberg was born in Cologne in 1927 and when aged 10 was given a camera for Christmas, which she used document everything she thought was important. This early obsession with classifying stuff fed into her later life. She trained in philosophy, history, theology and biology and became a world expert in the classification of knowledge. She developed the Information Coding Classification (ICC), which covers and classifies almost all known knowledge fields. Her doctoral thesis was titled The universal classification system of knowledge, its ontological, epistemological, and information theoretical foundations. In other words, she helped push further the dream of many earlier philosophers – the construction of a systematic hierarchical ordering of all that is known, and to which new knowledge can further be added and classified.

Even death can be classified: under the categories of ludicrous, tragic, meaningless, and thought-provoking.

Until November’s roll-call.

Picture sources:   Studio HarcourtHeinrich-Böll-StiftungHeinrich KlaffsZugraga