Monday, January 26, 2015

The Abe Vigoda Awards

Premature obituaries are hardly a new phenomena.  As soon as it became fashionable to have a printed announcement of someone's demise human error kicked in and mistakes were made.

In the modern era it has actually become more common.  Our electronic age lends itself to both hoaxes and to instantaneous widespread screw ups.  The most famous example of this occurred on 16 April 2003 when was hacked and their working files for obituaries of famous people were released.  Some of them were rather laughable.  Both Dick Cheney and Bob Hope were described as "the Queen Consort" and "the UK's favorite grandmother" as bits and bobs of The Queen Mother's obituary got mixed in.  Fidel Castro's political life was also cast in a somewhat different light when portions of Ronald Reagan's obituary were grafted on.  "Lifeguard, athlete, movie star" are a bit peculiar but it must be said that Fidel was once a promising enough baseball player to attract some interest from professional scouts.

In some cases a premature obit could be regarded as fabulous tribute.  It meant that you had not only attained a level of recognition in this life but that you were also around to read about it.  Having run across a few such examples over the years I thought it would be fun to assemble a group of honorees for The Abe Vigoda Award, given for being the best sport when incorrectly declared dead.


1. Mark Twain.  Although Twain's comments on his death are certainly the most famous in this genre it should be noted that they did not come in response to an official obituary.  In 1897 a reporter was sent to inquire on his status at a time when Twain was incorrectly thought to be in poor health.  In later remarks Twain said that "The report of my death was an exaggeration".  True, but the exaggerating was mostly in this instance being done by Twain himself!  The quote is usually botched with the "..rumors of my death.." format.

2. Rock musicians (group award).
Alice Cooper - "I'm alive and drunk as usual".
Axl Rose - "If I'm dead do I still have to pay taxes?"


1. Friedrich Gulda I confess, I had never heard of this fellow until doing a bit of research on premature obituaries.  He was an Austrian pianist and by all accounts a delightfully eccentric kook. His attire at one recital was said to resemble that of "a Serbian pimp".  In 1999 he faxed an announcement of his death to promote a concert which he then dubbed a "Resurrection Recital" complete with - rather atypically for European classical performances - go go dancers.  As a conspiratorial participant in his supposed demise he does not make the A list but it should be noted that he always said he wanted to die on Mozart's birthday and in 2000 he did just that.

2. The Association of Dead People I am not in this instance pointing a finger at any specific individual responsible for dishonorable reports of premature demise.  No, I am throwing a bouquet of shame at the entire legal system of the Uttar Pradesh region of India.  Evidently it very common practice there to have people declared dead so that others can claim legal deed to their property. Corruption and bureaucratic inertia make it so difficult for average folk to fight this that an Association was formed to combat the predatory scam.


Cats and Number 10 Downing Street seem to be some sort of a thing.

There actually is a position titled Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office given either officially or informally to the cat in residence at the home of the Prime Minister.  This has been on some level true since the time of Henry VII and in recent times there has actually been a small allowance from the Treasury dedicated to the upkeep of said Mouser.  In 1929 this was a reasonable one shilling a day. In the 21st century it has risen to 100 pounds per annum, which begs the question of how many mice the Chief Mouser is actually catching and eating these days.

Humphrey held the post during the Margaret Thatcher era and in 1995 the Government issued as statement that he was missing and presumed dead.  Fortunately he was found idling at the nearby Royal Army Medical College and a statement "from" Humphrey indicated that while he had had a grand time he was happy to be back and was looking forward to the upcoming Parliamentary session.

In 1997 there were reports that Cherie, wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair, hated the cat so much that she had arranged for it to be killed.  Alan Clark MP demanded on the floor of Parliament that the Government prove that Humphrey was in fact alive and well.  Number 10 complied with photos of The Chief Mouser posing with the day's newspaper.  (The Blairs presumably have never had to arrange a substitute goldfish on short notice....).

Mrs. Blair and Humphrey. From the cat's expression I doubt she was saying "Welcome back".
In November of 2009 Canadian Transportation Minister John Baird caused a brief commotion when he texted "Thatcher has died".  True enough, but he was referring to his cat of the same name.  The Iron Lady soldiered on until 2013.


Third Place

Rudyard Kipling.  When a magazine reported him dead he wrote to them saying: "I have just read that I am dead.  Don't forget to delete me from your list of subscribers."

Second Place

Jon Heder. Best known...actually almost exclusively known for his role as the quirky, dim witted odd ball Napoleon Dynamite Heder responded to reports of his death by saying: "Yeah, and apparently its not true."

First Place and After Lifetime Award Winner

Of course, Abe Vigoda Himself.

Mr Vigoda was described as "the late" in a 1982 issue of People magazine.  The news at the time was widely believed and for reasons that make sense if you think about them for a moment.  Although actually a very athletic fellow he always looked old and tired. His most memorable role was as Tessio in The Godfather, where he was last seen being led away to certain off screen demise.  And he had a role in Joe versus the Volcano, a lamentable bomb that exterminated the careers of all concerned other than Tom Hanks.

In addition to being "dead" longer than anyone else on the list Mr. Vigoda has been a better sport about it than most folks.  After the People magazine screw up he posed on the cover of Variety magazine in a coffin.  He appeared on David Letterman and breathed on a mirror to prove that he only looked dead.  And he seems to have been at least tolerant of the implausible Abe Vigoda is Dead meme that has now lasted 33 years and counting.

If you want to keep score you can go a webpage that is constantly updating a single fact: Abe Vigoda's continued dead or alive status.

Abe will, presumably, turn 94 on 24 February, 2015.  You can wish him a Happy Birthday.  But perhaps it would be wise to check first.

fetch the mirror

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