Throwback Thursday examines films from the past, “classic” films that might not be in the current cultural zeitgeist but can still be important, interesting, fun, or all of the above.
We lost a lot of great entertainers in 2016, and a couple really hit home for me personally, as I’m sure some did for you as well. Some people might question why we put celebrities on a pedestal when people in Syria are being ravaged, killed, and displaced; when people are being shot in the streets and at schools; when there is so much real world hate, anger, and frustration, why do we make a big deal about celebrity deaths? The simple answer is that they provide us comfort. Whether it’s a musician who wrote the perfect song for a moment in our life, to watching a feel-good movie, or just being entertained. For those times when we want a good cry or if we want a movie to help us reflect on things. Entertainment isn’t the be-all end-all, and it shouldn’t be, but these celebrities have been there for us through all of these things, and that is why it saddens us when we lose someone. They can feel like family.
This is a list of just a few of the entertainers we lost this past year. It isn’t all encompassing, but I wanted to highlight what certain celebrities were known for and also recommend some of their hidden gems.
January 8, 2016: David Bowie
Primarily known as a singer/songwriter, Bowie had an extensive filmography. He is best known for playing Jareth the Goblin King in Labyrinth (1986) and Thomas Newton in 1976’s The Man Who Fell to Earth. I would recommend his turn as Pontius Pilate in Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and mysterious FBI agent Phillip Jeffries in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Even his cameos in Basquiat (1996) as Andy Warhol and The Prestige (2006) as Nikola Tesla are highly entertaining.
January 11, 2016: David Margulies
A wonderful character actor, you’d know him if you saw him. His big role was as New York City’s mayor in the Ghostbusters films. He had an extensive career dating back to the ’70s. I would recommend checking him out in 1980’s Dressed to Kill as Dr. Levy. He also showed up in quite a few episodes of The Sopranos as Tony’s lawyer Neil Mink.
January 14, 2016: Alan Rickman
Between Die Hard (1988), the Harry Potter films (2001–2011), and Love Actually (2003), I don’t think there’s a person who hasn’t seen a Rickman film. His career covered all the bases. Seek out his independent film from 2008, Bottle Shock. He plays a wine shop owner who helps discover the California wines. Acting opposite Bill Pullman and Chris Pine, it’s a little-seen gem in his illustrious career.
January 16, 2016: Abe Vigoda
If you’re a film lover you probably recognize him from The Godfather (1972) as Tessio, but he’s most remembered for his role as Fish on Barney Miller (1974–1981). Put on an underrated film, Joe Versus the Volcano (1990), and watch him ham it up as Chief of the Waponis. Pay attention to his voice and you might recognize him from Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), a cartoon that some people say is still the best Batman film ever made.
February 15, 2016: George Gaynes
Fondly remembered as the Commandant in the Police Academy series, if you’re an ’80s kid you might also recognize him as Henry on Punky Brewster. I would recommend checking out the amazing Vanya on 42nd Street (1994), which allowed him to stretch his dramatic chops, or his funny role as John Van Horn in Tootsie (1982).
February 25, 2016: Tony Burton
Known for his role as Rocky Balboa’s trainer in the Rocky movies, keep a sharp eye out for him in Hook (1991) as Bill Jukes but more importantly the classic Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) as Wells, a convict with a little more to unravel.
February 28, 2016: George Kennedy
Hopefully you’ve seen him in Cool Hand Luke (1967) as Dragline. It’s one of my favorite films and an outstanding role. He also played a great foil to Leslie Nielsen in the Naked Gun films. A lesser-seen film nowadays, I would recommend his role as Major Max Armbruster in The Dirty Dozen (1967), a war movie starring a who’s who of 1960’s film stars. Even with Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, and Ernest Borgnine, Kennedy still stands out.
March 29, 2016: Patty Duke
Although Patty Duke not only had a TV show named after her but also won an Oscar for her role as as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker (1962), I would direct your attention to The Swarm (1978), a film about a killer bee invasion in Texas. It performed terribly on release but has developed a cult following. Duke plays the plucky waitress Rita.
April 17, 2016: Doris Roberts
She always seemed to play a motherly type, but she did it so well. Best known for her role on Everybody Loves Raymond as Marie Barone, she also played Frances in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. If you can track them down, though, I would recommend her role as Mildred Krebs on Remington Steele. She was definitely a jack of all trades and had no problems standing toe to toe with Pierce Brosnan and Stephanie Zimbalist.
August 29, 2016: Gene Wilder
Known for his work with Mel Brooks, teaming up with Richard Pryor, and as the true Willy Wonka, Wilder had a wonderful career. I would recommend checking out a couple of the films he directed and starred in: The Woman in Red (1984) and Haunted Honeymoon (1986), both of which co-starred his wife Gilda Radner. The jokes don’t always land properly, but the casts in both films look like they’re having fun and that fun is picked up by the viewers.
November 24, 2016: Florence Henderson
She was America’s mom in her role as Carol Brady on The Brady Bunch, and she impacted a whole generation of TV addicts. I would point out the first 10 minutes of Shakes the Clown (1992) where she does everything she can to play against type in the “Citizen Kane of alcoholic clown movies.” While you’re at it, keep an eye out for another cameo in the film from Robin Williams as a mime who doesn’t quite understand that they’re not supposed to talk.
November 25, 2016: Ron Glass
Another actor we lost this year will best be remembered for his role on Barney Miller (seriously, check the show out, it was brilliant) as Detective Ron Harris. Primarily a television actor, he still dabbled with film; the highlight of his career for a lot of people was his role as Shepherd Book in Serenity (2005), and if he doesn’t make you feel something in that, then you might be dead inside.
Thank you to these 12, and for all the other performers we lost this year. You’ll be remembered for all the roles listed above and so many more. You helped us laugh, you made us cry, and you told truths. Thank you.
Most of these films can be found on both Blu-ray and DVD. Netflix mileage may vary, but streaming offerings change frequently, so keep an eye out. Feel free to discuss further in the comments below; just keep it respectful.
If you think there’s a film Throwback Thursday should cover in the future, please let me know in the comments.