By Vikas Datta
New Delhi–It is the inevitable and unavoidable outcome of human existence but still death seems tough to countenance. Even when it beckons those whom we never knew personally or had seen face-to-face but cheered in films, sang along when playing their songs or appreciated or benefited from their contributions across a wide spectrum of activity. This year was no different.
The year saw a wide spectrum of people — actors, astronauts, authors, bankers filmmakers, monarchs, singers, statesmen, scientists, sportspersons, thinkers, et al — shuffle off the mortal coil and achieve immortality.
While our attention, as usual, went more to the celebrities, a prime loss this year was English physicist Sir Peter Mansfield (b.1933, died February 8), whose studies in nuclear magnetic resonance made magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the human body possible and won him the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (shared with American chemist Paul Lauterbur, who also did key research in the field).
The statesmen who died this year included former Iranian President Akbar Hasemi Rafsanjani (b. 1934, died Jan 8), a conservative but pragmatic cleric-leader, known as the “Shark” for his lack of facial hair; Irish politician and Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuinness (b. 1950, March 21), a key figure in the US-brokered Good Friday Agreement that brought hope of peace to Northern Ireland; and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl (b. 1930, died June 16) under whose charge Germany was reunited and Europe became more integrated.
Also departing was Polish-born American diplomat Zbigniew Brzezinski (b. 1928, died May 26), President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, in whose time the US began arming the Afghan Mujahideen — with results we know too well. He was not convinced he had done any wrong with this, maintaining: “What was more important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of central Europe and the end of the Cold War?”
Among other notable leaders were US-deposed Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega (b. 1934, died May 29), former Bangladesh President Abdur Rahman Biswas (b. 1926, died November 3), the first President of united Yemen Ali Abdullah Saleh (b. 1947, died December 4) and Communist-deposed last Romanian monarch Michael I (b. 1921, died December 5).
Also to be mentioned here is English model and showgirl Christine Keeler (b. 1942, December 4), the key person in the Profumo scandal which rocked the Harold Macmillan government in the 1960s.
Two redoubtable soldiers who marched off this year happened to be both Air Force officers — with one of them having possibly saved the world. Soviet Air Force Colonel Stanislav Petrov (b. 1939, died May 19) kept his cool when his systems indicated that US nuclear missiles were on the way and his gut reaction it was a technical glitch turned out to be correct. Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh (b. 1919, died September 16), who joined the fledgling outfit at its inception and saw its transition into a world-class service.
Police officer K.P.S. Gill (b. 1934) who is largely credit with crushing the Punjab militancy died on May 26.
Then, we also bid adieu to well-known screen faces like Sir Roger Moore (b. 1927, died May 23); John Hurt (b. 1940, died January 25); Adam West, the first to play Batman (b. 1928, died June 9 ); Jerry Lewis (b. 1926, August 20); French icon Danielle Darrieux (b. 1917, died October 17); Gorden Kaye, the lead in TV sitcom “Allo Allo” (b. 1941, died January 23); and Clifton James, who played a redneck US sheriff in two James Bond films (b. 1920, died April 15).
In India, we mourned the versatile Om Puri (b. 1950, died January 6), Vinod Khanna (b. 1946, died April 27) and Shashi Kapoor, who reinvented himself from a lover-boy to a more nuanced actor and filmmaker (b. 1938, died December 4)
Also dying were American author William Peter Blatty (b.1928, died Jan 12), who adapted his cult book “The Exorcist” to an Oscar-winning film, and director Jonathan Demme (b. 1944, died April ), known among others for “The Silence of the Lambs”.
A large number of singers also saw their voices stilled — Al Jarreau (b. 1940, died February 12), Chuck Berry (b. 1926, died March 18), Gregg Allman (b. 1947, died May 27), Glen Campbell (b. 1936, August 8), Don Williams (b. 1939, died September 8), Tom Petty, (b. 1950, died Oct 2), Antoine Dominique “Fats” Domino (b. 1928, died October 24) and Johnny Hallyday, who introduced rock’n’roll to France (b. 1943, December 5).
Also to be mourned were Indian vocalists Kishori Ammonkar (b. 1931, died April 3) and Girja Devi (19, died October 24) and sitar exponent Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan (b. 1927, died January 4).
We will also miss ‘Playboy’ founder Hugh Hefner (b. 1926. died September 27), American Nobel economist Kenneth Arrow, (b. 1921, died February 21), Russian theoretical physicist and mathematician Ludvig Faddeev, who moved us ahead towards quantum computing (b. 1934, died February 26), American boxer-turned-standup comic Jake LaMotta, (b. 1922, died September 19), Turkish Olympc weightlifter, “Pocket Hercules” Naim Suleymanoglu (b. 1967, died November 18) and Czech tennis player Jana Novotna (b. 1968, died November 19.)
Those who won’t be missed are Italian mafia gangster Salvatore ‘Toto’ Riina (b.1930, died Nov 17) and American cult leader and murderer Charles Manson (b. 1934, died November 19).