Saturday, December 30, 2006

They come in 3s.

The proverbial "they" say that deaths come in threes.

That's probably because "they" are aware of two newsmakers, two colleagues, two relatives or any two people, whom they have known or heard about, who may or may not be connected to them in some way, who have died on the same day or within a short time of one another.

Then they wait for the third shoe to drop, which is peculiar when you think about it, since most of us wear only two shoes at a time.

They're reading the obit pages. They're watching the cable news crawls more closely. They get up early to watch morning television shows in case someone famous died overnight. Surely they'll find a third decedent to complete the hat trick.

On Christmas, James Brown, internationally recognized as the Godfather of Soul, died. His music is, as they say, is part of the soundtrack of our lives. He influenced and will continue to influence generations of musicians and genres of music that go way beyond R&B, funk and rock 'n' roll.

Some of his less-than-steller offstage behavior landed him in court and/or jail, but that didn't diminish our affection for him. After listening to a James Brown song or seeing him perform, we could always say, "I feel good!"

His farewell funeral tour, which included stops at memorial musical-, preaching- and love-fests at the Apollo Theater in New York City, a small church in North Augusta, N.C., and James Brown Arena in Augusta, Ga., was barely announced when along comes Ford.

Gerald Ford, who had a short stint as president of the United States, died Tuesday, Dec. 26.

They're calling Ford "the accidental president." Appointed, never elected to national office. He landed in the White House on the support of what in the big picture amounted to only a handful of Michigan voters and by virtue of, well, his virtue.

His reputation as a good guy, an honest man and agreeable Congressman tipped the scale in the decision of his predecessor, Richard Nixon, in selecting him to replace the disgraced Spiro Agnew as vice president. And that, of course, automatically made him president when Nixon resigned as president.

Like Brown, Ford's funerary events are taking place at several venues: in Palm Desert, Calif., Washington, D.C., and Grand Rapids, Mich.

Unlike Brown with his offstage behavior and jail time, Ford upset a lot of people by pardoning Nixon for crimes he may have committed in office. Ford himself later got a pardon of sorts for granting the Nixon pardon in the form of a Profiles in Courage award from the Kennedy clan.

We'd been waiting for the death of the 93-year-old ex-president, whose frequent hospital visits in recent years had newspaper editors ready to stop the presses. But we were stunned when the 73-year-old hardest-working man in show business died.

As happens after just about every pair of notable deaths, I speculated with friends and family on "Who will be the third?"

Although we could mention elderly and/or ailing newsmakers from the United States and, oh, I don't know, maybe Cuba, in our private musings about "The Third," we talked about No. 3 being someone different from Ford and Brown. Maybe someone on a lesser plane of fame, significance. Maybe female. Younger than those we might expect. Possibly one of those tabloid celebrities, whose contributions to the world, if any, will quickly be forgotten.

Boy! Were we wrong! Out there in plain sight, a death sentence (you'll excuse the expression) hanging over his head. I never would have thought that Saddam Hussein would seemingly come out of nowhere to catapult to No. 3 on death charts. But he did. Dec. 29. Executed. Hanged. For crimes against humanity.

As eulogies, memorial events and our mourning for Gerald Ford and James Brown continue, reporters and pundits will remind us of the life that Saddam Hussein lived and the countless lives he ruined.

That's a good thing - reminding us. I'm glad that disturbing images of torture and murder committed under SH's regime in Iraq are shown on TV while assorted voices discuss his life and the significance of his death.

We should not forget. As "they" also say: Those who forget history are destined to repeat it.

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