Boomers Lost More of Their Life Influencers in 2021

Time marches on, and many people we knew as household names have passed away, now to be left to history. How many of these people who left us in 2021 had any influence, positive or negative, in your life, boomers?

JANUARY
January 3: Gerry Marsden, born September 24, 1942. Boomers well remember him as lead singer of Gerry & the Pacemakers, with hits such as Ferry Cross the Mersey, You’ll Never Walk Alone and Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying. See Mister Boomer’s account: Boomer Music Giants Pass On to Reveal Stark Contrast

January 16: Phil Spector, born December 26, 1939. Musican, songwriter and producer; See Mister Boomer’s account: Boomer Music Giants Pass On to Reveal Stark Contrast

January 22: Henry (Hank) Aaron, born February 5, 1934. After playing in the last Negro League World Series in 1952, Aaron was signed to the Milwaukee Braves farm team. In 1954 he got called up to the Major Leagues. In 1956, he won his first batting title and was National League MVP in 1957. He broke Babe Ruth’s long-standing home run record on April 8, 1973. He finished his career in 1976 with 755 home runs, a record that stood until Barry Bonds broke it in 2007.

FEBRUARY
February 8: Mary Wilson, born March 6, 1944. Mary was one of the founding members of The Supremes, from 1961-70, when Diana Ross left the group for a solo career. The group reformed as the New Supremes and had additional hits in the early 1970s.

MARCH
March 9: Roger Mudd, born February 9, 1928. He was the weekend and weekday substitute anchor for Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News in the 1960s. When CBS gave the slot to Dan Rather, he moved to NBC, co-anchoring with Tom Brokaw until being named a host of Meet the Press.

March 30: G. Gordon Liddy, born November 30, 1930. In 1971, he became the White House Staff Assistant to the President of the United States (Richard Nixon). In 1972, he took the position of General Counsel of the Republican presidential campaign and the campaign finance committee. As the mastermind of the Watergate break-in and subsequent cover-up, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 1973. Jimmy Carter released him after five years.

APRIL
April 19: Walter Mondale, born January 5, 1928. Mondale was a U.S. Senator from Minnesota from 1964-76, then the Vice President of the United States under Jimmy Carter from 1977-81. He became the Democratic nominee in the 1984 presidential election, losing to Ronald Reagan.

April 28: Michael Collins, born October 31, 1930. Collins was an Air Force test pilot selected for the third group of NASA astronauts in 1963. His first space flight was as the pilot of Gemini 10 in 1966. Nonetheless, he will forever be remembered as the pilot who kept Apollo 11 in orbit as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the lunar lander to the surface of the moon, conducting the first moon walks.

April 29: Johnny Crawford, born March 26, 1946. Johnny was best known to boomers as one of the original Mouseketeers (1955), and as Marcus McCain, son to Chuck Norris’ Lucas McCain on the TV Western, The Rifleman (1958-63).

MAY
May 29: B.J. Thomas, born August 7, 1942. He is best known by boomers for such hits as Hooked on a Feeling (1968), I Just Can’t Stop Believing (1970) and Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head (1969) from the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid movie.

JUNE
June 4: Clarence Williams III, born on August 21, 1939. In the TV cop series Mod Squad (1968), he played Linc Hayes, a former delinquent who became a cool undercover cop, sporting an Afro and all manner of 1960s fashion.

June 4: Richard Ernst, born August 14, 1933. Ernst was a chemist who won a Nobel prize in 1991, for his work on nuclear magnetic resonance that led to the development of the MRI.

June 29: Donald Rumsfeld, born July 9, 1932. Rumsfeld was U.S. Secretary of Defense under President Gerald Ford (1975-1977), then again for President George W. Bush (2001-2006).

JULY
July 28: Ron Popeil, born May 3, 1935. A prolific inventor and TV pitchman, Popeil is credited with creating the first TV infomercial and the ubiquitous phrase, “but wait… there’s more!” Early in the 1950s he took his product pitches to TV, and became a fixture on TV throughout the Boomer Era. Boomers will recall commercials for the Pocket Fisherman, Ronco Chop-O-Matic, Hair in a Can Spray, and many others.

AUGUST
August 7: Jane Withers, born April 12, 1926. Known for numerous child actor roles from the 1930s and 40s, but boomers will probably remember her best as Josephine the Plumber in Comet Cleanser TV commercials (1963-74).

August 21: Don Everly, born February 1, 1937. Read Mister Boomer’s account: Boomers Lose a Second Everly Brother

August 29: Ed Asner, born November 15, 1929. An actor boomers will recall seeing in his many guest appearances on TV shows like The Untouchables (1959), Route 66 (1960), The Fugitive (1963), Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964), and The Invaders (1967). His Lou Grant news editor character began on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970), then the character was given his own spinoff show, Lou Grant (1977-82).

August 24: Charlie Watts, born June 2, 1941. He was the drummer for The Rolling Stones from 1962 until his death.

SEPTEMBER
September 4: Willard Scott born March 7, 1934. Scott played Bozo the Clown on TV (1959-62), then became the first Ronald McDonald for McDonald’s (1963-65; the character was called Donald McDonald then). In the 1980s he became known for wishing people who had reached the age of 100 a Happy Birthday on NBC’s The Today Show when he presented the national weather forecast. Mister B recalls watching Bozo on TV.

September 14: Reuben Klamer, born June 20, 1922. Klamer was the co-inventor of The Game of Life (1960). Milton Bradley invented the game in 1860, but boomers will recall playing the board game version engineered by Reuben Klamer one hundred years later. The game is still around, but has undergone multiple revisions since 1960. Mister Boomer’s sister used to like playing it.

September 28: Tommy Kirk, born December 10, 1941. In 1955 he became a member of The Mickey Mouse Club and appeared in many Disney movies during the 1950s and ’60s. Included in his string of boomer-memorable films were: Old Yeller (1957), The Shaggy Dog (1959), Swiss Family Robinson (1960), The Absent Minded Professor (1961), and Son of Flubber (1963), among others.

OCTOBER
October 16: Betty Ann Lynn, born August 29, 1926. She is best remembered as Thelma Lou, the girlfriend to Barney Fife (Don Knotts) on The Andy Griffith Show (1961-66).

October 22: Jay Black, born on November 2, 1938. As lead singer for Jay and the Americans, boomers will remember his impressive voice and many hits, including, Come a Little Bit Closer (1964), Cara Mia (1965), and This Magic Moment (1969). The band split in 1973, but Jay continued to perform as Jay and the Americans well into the 2000s.

October 26: Mort Sahl, born May 11, 1927. Mort was a satirist and comedian called part of a new breed of comics when he entered the scene in 1960. He became the first entertainer to be featured in the cover of Time magazine.

NOVEMBER
November 11: Graeme Edge, born on March 30, 1941. A co-founder and drummer of The Moody Blues, Edge was a poet, musician and songwriter. He was a Hall of Fame drummer who also contributed spoken phrases on Nights in White Satin (1967). Mister B had a chance to see The Moody Blues live in 1973.

November 13: Philip Margo, born April 1, 1942. Margo became famous for his vocals with The Tokens on the hit, The Lion Sleeps Tonight (1961).

November 21: Mick Rock (Michael Smith), born November 28, 1948. Mick was a photographer who captured memorable images of practically every rock band of the 1970s, including David Bowie, The Ramones, the Sex Pistols, Talking Heads, Roxy Music, Queen, and Blondie, to name a few.

DECEMBER
December 2: Richard Cole, born January 2, 1946. Cole was the tour manager of Led Zeppelin from 1968-80.

December 5: Robert (Bob) Dole, born July 22, 1923. Dole was a war hero who was left with a severely injured arm in World War II. He was a representative from Kansas in the U.S. House of Representatives (1961-69), and a Senator (1969-96). He became the Republican nominee for president in 1996, losing to Bill Clinton.

December 9: Alfred (Al) Unser, born May 29, 1939. Unser, part of a race car driver dynasty, was only one of five men to win the Indianapolis 500 four times. His brother Bobby, also a champion race car driver, died on May 2, 2021. Mister Boomer’s father used to listen to the Indy race on a transistor radio when the family went on Memorial Day picnics.

December 9: Lina Wertmueller, born August 14, 1928. She was a film director and screenwriter of 1970s classics, such as Swept Away (1974) and Seven Beauties (1975).

December 10: Michael Nesmith, born December 30, 1942. Most boomers know he was the goofy guy in the knit cap in The Monkees, and his mother invented White Out. But he was also an accomplished songwriter, having penned Different Drum (1964), which became a hit for Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys in 1967.

December 14: Ken Kragen, born on November 24, 1936. Kragen was the executive producer for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (1968-69), The Pat Paulsen’s Half a Comedy Hour (1970) and the producer of the TV movie, Pat Paulsen for President (1968) among many, many others. He was, for a while, the manager for The Smothers Brothers, as well as Pat Paulsen and Lionel Ritchie. There probably aren’t many boomers who have not seen some of his work. In 1985, he helped organize the We Are the World benefit record.

December 15: bell hooks (Gloria Jean Watkins), born September 25, 1952. A true boomer, hooks was a feminist author, social activist and professor. She explored the connections between race, gender and class.

December 19: Sally Ann Howes, born July 20, 1930. She will best be remembered for her role in the film, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) starring opposite Dick Van Dyke.

December 31: Betty White, born January 17, 1922. She wasn’t a boomer, but became a boomer favorite from her roles on TV programs, from The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970) to Golden Girls (1985) and beyond. But many boomers do not know she was the first woman to co-produce a sitcom, in which she also starred, called Life With Elizabeth (1953-55). The show presented three “sketches” in each episode of the life of a married suburban couple, introduced by a narrator.

The cultural impact this group of people had on the Boomer Generation is enormous, and of course, there were many, many others. Which 2021 passing struck you in particular, boomers?

Boomers Counted Down the Days

As boomer children, countdowns of various sorts were practically an everyday occurrence. There were seasonal countdowns throughout the school year; as the Space Race got going, the “T-minus …” phrase of the NASA countdown clock became household words; and Top 40 countdowns on your transistor radio played daily. The whole concept of countdowns is on Mister Boomer’s brain this week because a co-worker gave him a countdown clock to install as his screensaver. The countdown has now begun at his workplace for the time next year that Mister B joins the ever-growing number of boomers who have retired. Be that as it may, let’s explore what countdowns meant to boomers forty, fifty, or sixty years ago.

At the start of the school year, the students who couldn’t wait for the next summer vacation might set themselves up a countdown calendar until the next summer vacation, but for most boomers, countdowns became necessary as the holiday season drew near. About this time each year, countdowns cropped up as Thanksgiving approached. In Mister Boomer’s experience, while many boomers enjoyed Thanksgiving, it was more important as the beginning of the countdown to Christmas. Sometime between the Sunday following Thanksgiving and the first Sunday in December marked the beginning of the Advent Calendar for religious households. The Advent Calendar was itself a countdown device, in which the dates varied year to year and also might be of a different duration based on religious denomination. The point is, boomer kids were counting down the days to Christmas, when they could open their gifts from Santa Claus.

Of course, boomers watched the end-of-year countdowns on their family’s TV. For many years that countdown was delivered by Guy Lombardo, until boomer families could afford a second TV in their homes or finally convince their parents to ditch Mr. Auld Lang Syne in favor of Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. A good many boomers watched that countdown for decades.

The drudgery of winter school classes after the holidays necessitated a reminder countdown of the days until summer vacation. Winter or spring breaks did little to replace the ultimate school year countdown to come. By the time May arrived, many a boomer “X’d” out days on a calendar that counted down the time until there would be “no more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks.” As boomers grew, there was the countdown until graduation day. For many more boomers than generations before them, that meant resetting the school countdown clock with college attendance.

When it came time to launch rockets into space, NASA’s live narrated countdowns amped up the excitement of boomers like Mister B, who watched intently on a black and white TV set rolled into his classroom. The phrase, “5,4,2,1… blast off!” became commonplace, especially among boomer boys. NASA preferred “lift off” to “blast off,” as there is a technical definition difference involving using a rocket to “blast off” under its own power as opposed to “lift off” of a manned capsule into space on top of a rocket. NASA used countdowns even before the first manned space flights. In Mister Boomer’s research on the subject, as far as anyone seems to recall, the use of countdowns to mark the launch of rockets was first seen in science fiction literature somewhere in the 1920s. It may be interesting to note that audible countdowns were not employed in the early days of German rocketry prior to and during WWII, then later in the Soviet space program. Instead, silent counts were observed via a clock. The Soviet Union did adopt them after a time, possibly as a way to interest the Russian public in their early besting of the Americans’ space progress.

Countdowns were a regular thing in boomer-era popular music. Boomers listening to their favorite radio stations could hear countdowns of the Top 40, or a DJ could play a countdown of the most requested songs of the week. In 1970, when the last boomers were just six years old, Casey Kasem began airing American Top 40 as a music countdown radio show. The Billboard charts were used to create the countdown lists. The countdown show still exists, with Ryan Seacrest as the host.

Countdowns mark the passage of time, shorter or longer term. It seems only right that boomers, who have witnessed so many countdowns through the years, have faced or now face the countdown to mark the end of their full-time working lives.

How about you, boomers? What did countdowns mean in your lives? Was the countdown to Christmas the most important thing in your life at the time?