While news is still trickling in about Heath Ledger's apparent accidental sudden death yesterday. Toxicology reports won't reveal much for another 12 days at most. I'm still kinda reeling I guess. I'm trying to keep up with news but no one knows anything yet and at the same time I wonder why I wanna know more. He's dead. No additional knowledge or perspective into the moments leading up to or after will change that. I guess part of the shock that people want to know the whys and hows of events like these.
This news definitely overshadowed any breaking events from Sundance or the Oscar nominees that were announced yesterday morning. It also made me think of some of the other recent deaths in the film and television world. Specifically three actors, two veterans of television and one being another actor who has died far too young.
Suzanne Pleshette (1937-2008)
Husky-voiced actress Suzanne Pleshette died on January 19th at age 70 of lung cancer. She is best known for her role in "The Bob Newhart Show" where she matched wits and sarcasm with Newhart. It was their marriage and interaction which made the show successful for so long. A native New Yorker, Pleshette had already had a full career on stage and screen by 1971, then apparently when TV producers saw her on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, they noticed a certain chemistry between Suzanne and another guest, Bob Newhart. She was soon cast as wife to Mr. Newhart’s Chicago psychologist, and the series ran six seasons, from 1972 to 1978, as part of the CBS Saturday night lineup. I mostly caught the show in reruns where it seemed somewhat dated (especially now) but no less clever and hilarious.
This past Halloween I was watching Hitchcock's 1963 film "The Birds" and realized she was in it. I must have forgotten that she was the brunette that used to have a thing with Rod Taylor's Mitch. Of course, his attention was focused on Melanie Griffith's momma, Tipi Hedron but I kinda liked Pleshette's character over Hedren. After some digging, I found that Pleshette had some say in her character's demise. She told Hitchcock it would look good if her ear was all bloody and hanging off, so he sent her to the prop department. When it came to shooting the scene, Hitchcock had Annie facing the other way, so the viewer never sees the ear, which Pleshette recalled "was part of his delicious sense of humor."
Pleshette had been married twice and mourned the loss of her third husband, actor Tom Poston, just last year. She had married Poston, Bob Newhart's costar in his show "Newhart" in 2001. She was previously married to her "Rome Adventure" costar Troy Donahue, that 1964 marriage ended after eight months. Her second husband was Texas oilman Tommy Gallagher, to whom she was wed from 1968 until his death from lung cancer on 2000. She had been scheduled to receive her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on January 31, 2008, which would have been her 71st birthday.
Allan Melvin (1923-2008)
Allan Melvin was an American character actor who appeared in several television shows and is probably best remembered for his role as Sam the Butcher, Alice's boyfriend on "The Brady Bunch". I also remember Melvin for his other classic 70's role as Barney Hefner, Archie Bunker's neighbor and pal on "All in the Family" and would later have a more prominent role in the early 80's spin-off, "Archie Bunker's Place". Besides these two roles, Melvin also had reoccurring roles on "The Phil Silvers Show" which ran thru the 1950's, "The Dick Van Dyke Show" as one of Rob's old army buddies and he was a frequent patron on "Alice". Melvin also made eight guest appearances on The Andy Griffith Show in eight different roles.
One thing I didn't know was that Melvin worked primarily as a voice-actor after "Archie Bunker's Place" went off the air in 1983. This wasn't any new venture for Melvin though, having voiced such cartoon characters as Magilla Gorilla, the lion Drooper on The Banana Splits Adventure Hour, and Bluto on The All-New Popeye Hour in the 60's. He provided several characters' voices for the TV show H.R. Pufnstuf and the voice of Vultan, King of the Hawk Men on The New Adventures of Flash Gordon. Turns out he had a well-oiled voice and was a great mimic of voices.
Melvin died on January 17th at age 84 from cancer. We'll miss ya, Barn!
Brad Renfro (1982-2008)
Brad Renfro debuted at the age of 12 for his role in 1994's "The Client" with Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones. A Tennessee native, he acted in 24 movies and several television episodes since then. A year after his debut, he played Huck Finn in 1995's "Tom and Huck" with Jonathan Taylor Thomas. Then in 1996, he was cast as young Michael Sullivan for Barry Levinson's "Sleepers" based on the novel by Lorenzo Carcaterra. Renfro's character was portrayed as an adult by Brad Pitt. Renfro went on to act in other films, including 2001's "Ghost World" and "Bully" and 2005's "The Jacket" with Keira Knightley and Adrien Brody. He also appeared in an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent and completed filming on the unreleased film "The Informers", co-starring Winona Ryder, Mickey Rourke and Billy Bob Thornton.
Much of his career was marred by an unfortunate pattern of substance abuse and occasional petty crime. In 2006, he spent 10 days in jail for convictions of driving while under the influence and attempted heroin possession. It is unknown whether or not his death on January 15th was due to any substance abuse. His body was found in his Los Angeles apartment, after he had reportedly spent the previous night drinking with friends. He is survived by one son, known only as "Y Renfro".
I dunno what happened with Renfro. It seems a cyclical pattern of drug abuse and legal trouble had followed him for quite some time, almost like he couldn't come out of it. He was raised by his grandmother in Knoxville but it's unknown whether he was close at all with any family. I found a lonely quote from him, "Everybody thinks I'm, like, a bad boy. I've had my day, but I just sit at home and play the blues mostly," as well as a plea to his fans, "If you've never tried drugs, DON'T. And if you have, pray".Yet another untimely life was taken far too young.