Gone but Not Forgotten

Article excerpt

"Some people are so afraid to die," said Henry Van Dyke, "that they never begin to live." One thing these people--the senator and the dancer, the preacher and the pop star, the historian and the Angel--had in common? It wasn't true for any of them.

Natasha Richardson

b. 1963

Any actor whose career lasts longer than a decade can lay claim to being "Hollywood royalty." Richardson was a true blueblood. She had Oscars on her mother's side (Vanessa Redgrave et al.) and on her dad's (Tony Richardson); her husband, Liam Neeson, is no slouch, either. She made movies, too (The Parent Trap, The Handmaid's Tale), and she won a Tony for her heartbreaking Sally Bowles in Cabaret. Think about her big song now and she'll break your heart all over again: "Start by admitting, from cradle to tomb isn't that long a stay. Life is a cabaret, old chum, only a cabaret, old chum, and I love a cabaret!"

Ernest May

b. 1928

As a historian of international relations, he specialized in studies of how decision making goes wrong, whether it be the miscalculations of the French at the beginning of World War II or American thinking on Vietnam. Hailed as a scholar who could comfortably make the transition from academia to public service, he served on the 9/11 Commission that severely criticized the failures of American intelligence agencies.

Robert McNamara

b. 1916

Kennedy's secretary of defense was a former Ford Motor Co. president who applied systems analysis and metrics (read: body counts) to the conduct of the Vietnam War. One of the conflict's architects whom David Halberstam dubbed, with withering irony, "the best and the brightest," McNamara ultimately repented his bean-counting hawkishness. He probably wished people would remember him as head of the World Bank--or the man who put seat belts in Fords.

Jack Kemp

b. 1935

He looked like a campaign manager's dream: a professional football player turned politician. But the Buffalo Bills quarterback, nine-term Republican congressman, and cabinet member was not easily pigeonholed. A voracious reader and independent thinker, this self-described "bleeding-heart conservative" was often at odds with GOP orthodoxy, particularly on such issues as immigration reform.

Corazon Aquino

b. 1933

After her husband, Benigno, was murdered as he prepared to run for election against Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, she reluctantly took his place. Aquino called herself a "plain housewife," but she proved to be much more than that. When Marcos declared himself the winner, she led a nationwide protest that overthrew the corrupt dictatorship and made her president in 1986. She used her seven years in office to reform the government, limit the power of the presidency, restore democracy to the Philippines, and prove that cynicism and realism aren't always the same.

Michael Jackson

b. 1958

We'll never know if Michael got Michael the way we did. Did he know how freakishly talented we thought he was--and how his talent for being a freak impressed us almost as much? There's one clue that Michael saw himself clearly: his album titles. Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad, Dangerous, and History--they sum him up pretty well, right? If only that were true of his final album: Invincible.

Claude Levi-Strauss

b. 1908

The French intellectual helped to popularize the study of anthropology, but he also appealed to nonspecialist readers. Whether tabulating a trove of native myths from the Americas or lecturing on the motifs in the Ring cycle, Levi-Strauss did it with a poetry--and an outreach to other disciplines--that was rare among most academics.

Robert Novak

b. 1931

Disheveled and absent-minded (he was known to put lit cigarettes in his pockets), the coauthor of one of the longest-running political columns never shied from a fight. …