Saturday, January 28, 2017
A celebrity-death double whammy: TV and movie star Mary Tyler Moore died at the age of 80 this past January 25, and barely a day ago, Sir John Hurt passed away at 77.
Moore is mostly remembered for her positive portrayals of strong, driven, principled women on broadcasts like "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and, later, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," neither of which I remember very clearly. I do remember Moore as a luminous, smiling, constantly upbeat presence; it's impossible to imagine anyone saying anything negative about her. I note with some irritation that Moore's diabetes has been mentioned in various articles celebrating her life, with the implication that diabetes is ultimately what killed her. But as near as I can figure it, the cause of death, in her case, was mostly age: she died "from cardiopulmonary arrest complicated by pneumonia after having been placed on a respirator the previous week." Respirators, nasal cannula, and other breathing aids are often vectors for infection; my mother acquired the superbug MRSA after entering the Fairfax Hospital ICU, when she was given nasal cannulae to aid her breathing after an operation. Sterilization methods are far from perfect* in US hospitals, which are, perhaps ironically, where people end up with all manner of serious infections.** Moore's death was fairly typical.
I just rewatched the opening sequence of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" on YouTube. I do remember the iconic hat-throwing moment—an affirmation of freedom, open horizons, and bountiful possibilities. I just wish I could remember any of the episodes. When I was a kid in the 70s, I was probably more preoccupied with shows like "Happy Days" and "Laverne and Shirley." And unfortunately, I never saw "Ordinary People," for which Moore received an Oscar nomination (she played opposite Donald Sutherland, who apparently did similarly excellent work but was snubbed by the Motion Picture Academy). That said, it's sad to hear of Moore's passing. The world could use more of her pep and positivity.
John Hurt—Sir John, really—was known to me for three iconic roles: as Joseph Merrick in "The Elephant Man," as the ill-fated Kane in "Alien," and as Winston Smith in "1984." Hurt, whose surname described his dolorous mien perfectly, was divinely created to play roles that included suffering, anguish, and terror. Even as Mr. Ollivander the wand-maker in the Harry Potter series, Hurt radiated a tragic aura mixed with hard-won wisdom. Hurt, too, had a Sutherland-family connection: he was involved in a webisode series produced by and starring Kiefer Sutherland titled "The Confession," which featured a twist ending that I should have seen coming, but somehow didn't. As with so much of his other work, Hurt in "The Confession" played a man with a painful past that had come back to haunt him.
The world is a poorer place without these two folks. It's sad to see them go, but we can be thankful for the happiness and entertainment they brought the rest of us.
*Sterilization of hospital equipment is normally chemical, thermal, or a combination of both. Absolutely perfect sterilization is nearly impossible, of course, and all it makes is a single microorganism, multiplying by powers of two, for any danger to arise again. Equipment will generally follow a multi-step sterilization procedure, e.g., via autoclave; the procedure will have, say, a 90% effectiveness, after which another procedure will eliminate maybe 90% of the remaining pathogens, and so on. The process is asymptotic: you approach zero microbes, but almost never quite reach that state.
**The technical term for "in-hospital infection" is nosocomial infection. An arguable subtype of nosocomial infection is iatrogenic infection, i.e., infection caused by a doctor or other health-care professional. Another reason to be leery of hospitals. And doctors.