Boomer Icons Who Passed On in 2016

2016 was a tough year for boomers. We lost a massive number of historical and cultural giants that helped shaped our boomer years. Here are just some of this illustrious group:

Leonard White – January 2
As a television producer, Mr. White brought boomers the now-classic TV spy series, The Avengers.

Robert Balser – January 5
His name was hardly a boomer household word, yet boomers know his work. Balser was an animator who co-directed Yellow Submarine (along with Jack Stokes, who died in 2013). He also worked on the cartoon series Jackson5 and the animated movie Heavy Metal.

David Bowie – January 10
A colossus among boomer-era rock musicians, Bowie was ever inventing and showing us another side of his collection of talents, from singing to song writing, acting to producing, ever the supreme showman. Here is what Mister Boomer had to say about one of his recordings: “Wild Is the Wind”: A Boomer Story.

Glenn Frey – January 18
Frey, a boomer himself, was the founding member of the Eagles. The band’s southwestern-rock style was present in multiple hits in the 1970s, making them a favorite of many later-era boomers.

Paul Kantner – January 28
In 1965 Marty Balin approached Paul Kantner to join his new band, the Jefferson Airplane. The band, fronted by lead singer Grace Slick, went on to become a symbol of the psychedelic scene in San Francisco during the Summer of Love with the blockbuster boomer hits of Somebody to Love and White Rabbit. Kantner wrote music himself, but the closest he had to a hit was the song Wooden Ships, which he co-wrote with David Crosby and Stephen Stills. After the dissolution of the band, Kantner formed Jefferson Starship. Mister Boomer was not a big fan of Starship, but thoroughly enjoys Airplane to this day including Today, a Kantner-penned song featured on the Surrealistic Pillow album from 1967.

Maurice White – February 3
The co-founder of Earth, Wind & Fire, White was the band’s lead singer. He also co-wrote many of their hits, including September, Sing A Song and Shining Star. In the dark days of disco (in Mister B’s estimation), Mister B would request Earth, Wind & Fire songs from the DJs to avoid having to hear disco music.

Harper Lee – February 19
Boomers will recall Lee as the author of To Kill A Mockingbird, a novel about race and class in the Depression-era South. In 1962 it was made into a motion picture starring Gregory Peck. Many early boomers read the book in school, but most boomers saw the film at some point in their developing years.

Nancy Reagan – March 6
Born Anne Frances Robbins, Nancy Reagan was a film actress before boomers knew her as Ronald Reagan’s wife and America’s First Lady. She was an influential figure in Reagan’s White House, and boomers will recall her role in creating the “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign.

Keith Emerson – March 11; Greg Lake – December 7
Two-thirds of the iconic group, Emerson, Lake and Palmer died this past year. Emerson was the founding member and keyboardist of ELP and before that, the Nice, which also featured a blending of rock, jazz and classical music. Bassist Greg Lake met Emerson while the Nice was touring with King Crimson. Together they formed ELP, and recruited Carl Palmer on drums. Their first record was released in 1970. Mister Boomer was a big fan of music that fused other genres, especially jazz and classical.

Patty Duke – March 29
Boomers will always remember Patty Duke for her Academy-Award winning performance in The Miracle Worker, and, of course, for the television series that bore her name. Read Mister Boomer’s take on the show: Boomers, Now Isn’t That Special (Effects)?

Prince – April 21
Prince Rogers Nelson was himself a Baby Boomer, having been born in 1958. A musician, songwriter and musical innovator, he burst onto the music scene in 1976, influencing countless legions of musicians who followed.

Muhammad Ali – June 3
Boomers first knew him as Cassius Clay, a boxer of immense talent who became the Heavyweight World Champion, but was willing to give it all up by declaring his conscientious objector status for the Draft in 1967. He took the name Muhammad Ali in 1964. Boomers will always remember and respect him for his support of the Civil Rights movement and anti-war stance, aside from his being “the Greatest” in the boxing ring.

Margaret Vinci Heldt – June 10
The world will remember Margaret Vinci Heldt for giving us the Beehive hairdo. Read Mister Boomer’s exploration: Boomers Say a Fond Goodbye to More Icons of the Era

Glenn Yarbrough – August 11
Yarbrough began his musical career as lead singer for the Limeliters (1959-63), but most boomers will always remember his classic hit, Baby the Rain Must Fall, from 1965.

Gene Wilder – August 29
Like most boomers, Mister B first heard of Gene Wilder from his starring roles in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Blazing Saddles and two of Mister B’s favorites, Young Frankenstein and The Producers. In the late 1970s and early ’80s, Wilder did a series of films with Richard Pryor that are beloved by later boomers, including Silver Streak and Stir Crazy. He married Gilda Radner, one of the original cast members from Saturday Night Live, in 1984.

Edward Albee – September 16
This American playwright brought us Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which ultimately became a boomer cultural phenomenon as a film starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

Arnold Palmer – September 25
Considered one of the greatest professional golfers who ever lived, most boomers will recall their fathers sitting in front of the TV on weekends in the 1950s and ’60s, a beer in the hand while watching Arnold Palmer on the PGA circuit. Arnold Palmer also gave us the drink that bears his name, a mix of lemonade and iced tea.

Tom Hayden – October 23
Boomers will recall Hayden as the radical founding member of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in the 1960s. Known for his activism in Civil Rights and against the war in Vietnam, he went on to marry Jane Fonda and from 1993 to 200 served in the California state legislature, first as an assemblyman, then as state senator.

Robert Vaughn – November 11
Best known to boomers for his starring role in The Man from U.N.C.L.E., this actor became part of the pop culture landscape.

Florence Henderson – November 24
Ms. Henderson had appeared in numerous movies and TV shows as both an actress and singer during our younger years, but most boomers will always remember her as the mom on The Brady Bunch.

John Glenn – December 8
One of the original seven U.S. astronauts, boomers watched as he became the first American to orbit the Earth (1962). In 1974 he became a U.S. Senator, representing his home state of Ohio, where he served for 24 years. In 1998, at age 77, he became the oldest man to travel to space, going up a second time with the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery. After John Glenn, Mister B and his teammates on a city league baseball team called themselves The Astronauts.

Henry Heimlich – December 17
If his name sounds familiar, it’s because we boomers were around before Dr. Heimlich came up with the life-saving maneuver that bears his name. Boomers saw the adoption of the method for helping choking victims and the signs posted at every restaurant and government building.

Carrie Fisher – December 27
What else can be said about Carrie Fisher? Boomers knew her for Star Wars, of course, but also as the once-wife of Paul Simon.

There were many others who passed on this past year, of course, who made their mark in the annals of boomer history. We have, as the old saying goes, lived in interesting times.

Which boomer icons will you remember, boomers?

Boomers and Mister Boomer Played Baseball

While recently walking to meet friends in a nearby park, Mister Boomer happened upon a Little League baseball game in progress. It immediately transported him 50-plus years back to his stint in Little League in the early 1960s.

Boys in Mister B’s neighborhood were obsessed with baseball in any form, from sandlot to Little League to the majors. Baseball card collecting was a huge part of their daily discussions. They’d trade cards among themselves and put duplicates or lesser-player cards in the spokes of their bicycles, which they rode to the baseball fields for all-day games during the summer. So it was understood that the first chance a boy had to play team baseball, he’d try out. A boy could play four years of Little League, then go on to Pony League play as a teen. Worst case scenario, city recreation baseball was open to all, regardless of ability.

Thus it was that Mister Boomer came to play organized team baseball. He had tried out for Little League, but failed to get picked up by a team. Instead, he and a couple of school  friends signed up for the city league. The teams in the city league could choose their own names, so after much debate, the boys decided on a name that was inspirational and timely; they would be known as The Astronauts. While the season gave Mister B practical team experience, it wasn’t Little League, with their formal uniforms and dedicated practice times. So the following year, Mister B tried out for Little League again, and this time, was put on a team that was sponsored by a local drug store.

A neighborhood kid was on the same team, so the boys would ride their bikes to practices and games together. The season started before school was out for summer, so time was tight getting home from school, wolfing down some dinner and riding to the field. Most of the team was already at the field when Mister Boomer arrived and parked his bike. A few minutes later the coach called the boys together to announce the line-up. His side was to be the home team in this game, so they would be in the field first. Mister Boomer was assigned right field, and would be batting fifth.

The first inning began without incident, and in short order Mister B’s team was at bat. The lead-off boy hit a ground ball up the middle and was safely on first base. The second batter hit a pop-up fly ball for the first out. The next batter hit another single, advancing the original runner to third base. Mister Boomer waited in the on-deck circle, wondering if he would get his turn at bat when the fourth batter was given a walk. That meant as Mister Boomer stepped into the batter’s box for his first official Little League at bat, the bases were loaded with one out.

Mister Boomer felt his heart racing, and, as many movies have described, he experienced a slowdown in time. He watched as the pitcher did his wind-up, but it appeared to be in slow motion. Mister Boomer glanced at the first base coach, as instructed, and was given the go-ahead to hit at will. Mister B hated to let any ball go by if he thought it was within his hitting range. He watched as the ball left the hand of the pitcher and was coming in a little high and to the outside of the strike zone, but Mister B was determined to give it a swing. Visions of hitting a ground ball to the infield that could be turned into a double play and end the inning rushed through his head, but he powered the bat in an arc that just barely missed the sweet spot. As a right-handed batter, the slight undercut of the ball, coupled with a minute late swing, caused it to acquire a fly ball trajectory into the opposite direction — right field.

As Mister Boomer dropped the bat and ran furiously toward first base, he could see the surprised look on the right fielder’s face as the ball sailed over his head. The first base coach was signaling Mister B to “go, go, go” as the right fielder picked up the ball in the grass and threw it as hard as he could — toward first base but over the first baseman’s head. Team members scrambled to get the ball, which was now in the area where parents had parked their folding chairs. Mister B could hear the air rushing through the earholes of his helmet as he peered back to see what was going on, and promptly tripped over second base. Falling face first into the dirt, shouts of “Get up! Go, go, go!” echoed though his head as he got to his feet and ran toward third base. The throw was nowhere near third base, and ended up in left field as Mister Boomer saw the third base coach waving him in to home with a windmill turn of his arm. Mister B kicked it into high gear and stepped across home plate as the throw came in to the catcher. He had a hit at his first time at bat in Little League, and it was an inside-the-park home run.

More than a home run, he had a grand slam home run, with four runs being scored. He was elated as he was greeted by his teammates and parents of fellow team members cheered. Mister B played the rest of the game in a fog, despite getting a couple more hits. His team won handily, but after the game was over, he was informed that his grand slam was the result of the other team being charged with three errors, and that took a little wind out of his sails. But he was happy he had a hit in his first at bat, and it was a home run.

Mister Boomer went on to play three years in Little League on the same team, and had the chance to play every position but catcher and pitcher. His combined batting average was over .400 and he learned to bat equally well as a left hander as right, giving his coach another weapon in the battle for diamond supremacy. In his second year, the team made it to the playoff games. Mister B was proud to be able to move to a field with real team dugouts, visitor stands and beautifully manicured grass, but his team was eliminated in the first round.

Baseball was a big part of Mister Boomer’s early life, but as soon as he entered high school, he stopped playing in any form, as neighborhood kids were all off in different directions, and dreams of learning how to drive appeared on the horizon.

Did baseball — or another sport — occupy your summer vacations, boomers?