Three Who Will Be Missed

Posted on August 3, 2017 by Martin Oaks under Memorial
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One of the occupational traits of being in the death care business is that you follow obituaries closely. Sometimes it seems that individuals, who have in some way touched your life, seem to pass away in clusters. Such a cluster occurred for me near the end of July of this year.

Playwright and actor, Sam Shepard; actress, Jeanne Moreau; and Major League Baseball star, Lee May, all passed away within a four day period of time. For vastly different reasons, each death was especially touching.

Jeanne Moreau

Seeing Jeanne Moreau

My first experience in seeing Jeanne Moreau on screen was when I was in college taking film classes. I was just learning about the “New Wave” movement when I came across François Truffaut’s “Jules and Jim.” I first saw the film about eight years after it was made, and was completely entranced. Remember now, this was a different time period in America: convention was being thrown out every available window. This film seem to perfectly capture that era. The real revelation was Moreau’s riveting performance; even now it is impossible to imagine another actress in that role.

Equally of interest was the notion that the film was based on a book written by Henri-Pierre Roche when he was 74 years old. It was his first novel — quite an accomplishment for a senior citizen, especially given the youthful spontaneity of the themes in the work.

Moreau went on to have a prolific career well into her 80’s (she was 89 when she died on July 31, 2017).

Sam Shepard

The Passing of Sam Shepard

Passing away at the age of 73 on July 27, 2017 was the intense and complicated Sam Shepard. It is hard to begin to sum up this very talented man’s various careers.

Never a commercial playwright, he nonetheless produced some 55 works, one of which, “Buried Child” (1978), won a Pulitzer Prize. His influence on other writers is impossible to understate – the dark, sometimes comic, always absorbing nature of these plays will be forever remembered. But, playwriting is only a portion of his legacy.

Although he was a somewhat reluctant actor, anyone who has seen “Days of Heaven,” or “The Right Stuff” (his performance as Chuck Yeager earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in the latter), can feel the power of his presence before a camera. He did more than 50 films, and dozens of roles on television, but I was never convinced that acting was his true passion.

Other interests included writing songs with Bob Dylan; he even collaborated with Dylan on a screenplay for “Renaldo and Clara,” a 1978 film that Dylan directed.

Lastly, Shepard was quite at home, and apparently quite effective, as a teacher. His workshops, classes, and seminars have been widely praised. Sadly, he also fought a number of personal demons – twice he was arrested on alcohol related charges (once in 2009 and once in 2015). He will cast a long shadow on both American Film and American Theater.

Lee May

Major League Baseball Player Lee May

Completely out of the realm of film, Lee May was a very prominent figure in Major League Baseball.  Known as the “Big Bopper,” he passed away at the age of 74 on July 31, 2017. May was an incredible hitter (3 consecutive multi HR games, something that has only happened 3 other times in MLB history) who played for the Cincinnati Reds (7 years), Baltimore Orioles (6 years), Houston Astros (3 years), and the Kansas City Royals (2 years).

May was a member of “The Big Red Machine,” but when he was part of a trade with the Houston Astros for Joe Morgan, he missed the 1975 and 1976 pinnacle years of that team.

Never making it to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, May was named to the Orioles, Reds, and Alabama’s Sports Halls of Fame.

I had several opportunities to interview him, and consider myself lucky to have had those opportunities.

Jeanne Moreau, Sam Shepard, and Lee May, RIP.


Mandatory Credit: Photo by FLORA BLOT/REX/Shutterstock (6634a)
VARIOUS – 1964

Sam Shepard Cause of Death: How Did the Actor & Playwright Die?

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