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… and now for… the rest of the story

The revelation that Robin Williams had Parkinson’s Disease adds new meaning to the comparison I made between him and Michael J. Fox a couple of days ago.

CNN Breaking News

2:53 PM

Robin Williams was sober, but was struggling with depression, anxiety and the early stages of Parkinson’s disease when he died, his widow said today.

Williams was found dead in his Northern California home Monday from what investigators suspect was a suicide by hanging.

“It is our hope in the wake of Robin’s tragic passing, that others will find the strength to seek the care and support they need to treat whatever battles they are facing so they may feel less afraid,” Susan Schneider, said in a written statement.

Michael J. Fox posted this comment:

“Stunned to learn Robin had PD. Pretty sure his support for our Fdn predated his diagnosis. A true friend; I wish him peace.”

Why didn’t Williams reach out to Michael? I assume we will never know. Williams played Oliver Sacks in the movie “Awakenings,” about the use of L-Dopa, which is the basis for Sinemet, the most effective medication for managing the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease.

Dead Performers Society

Who is this?

Superstar

  1. Sean Penn
  2. Bono
  3. Robin Williams
  4. I can’t tell!

Robin Williams’ suicide is tragic, and yet perhaps it was inevitable. Like Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death by overdose was. Robin Williams was doing drugs with John Belushi the night he died, and that was 32 years ago, so in a way the only real surprise here is that he managed to double his lifespan.

Michael J. Fox and Robin Williams both returned to TV last fall, and both of their series were cancelled. I watched the premiere episodes of “The Michael J. Fox Show” in New Haven, with a group of doctors, scientists, and Parkinson Disease patients from the Institute for Neurodegenerative Disorders. We were spared having to sit through the commercials, because Mike had provided the Institute with a DVD copy.

Fox has often said that one positive outcome of his Parkinson’s diagnosis was that it got him to stop drinking. Before that he was downing at least two bottles of wine every night and, as we all know, Michael isn’t a large guy.

Williams checked himself into rehab in July, so presumably he was using alcohol and/or drugs again. I don’t know if losing his TV series had anything to do with Robin’s downward spiral into depression, but I assume that Michael is disappointed that his own show was cancelled. Neither depression nor Parkinson’s Disease are easy to live with, and the unrelenting progression of Parkinson’s causes many patients to become depressed and, yes, some of them commit suicide. [See my follow-up - Dograt] Instead of thinking how sad it is that Robin Williams killed himself, I’m thinking what an inspiration Michael J. Fox is.

By the way, episodes of “The Michael J. Fox Show” are still available online from NBC, at this link. Not everything in the sitcom worked for me, but I enjoyed it a lot, especially the really off-the-wall bits they did. The one tweak I would have made? Drop the “taking to the camera” gimmick, aka “breaking the fourth wall.”

Come to the Sunshine

Something that Denro and I talk about incessantly is how drastically music changed year-to-year in the 1960′s. The best place to go for a thorough and insightful exploration of Sixties popular music is Andrew Sandoval’s unique and outstanding online show, Come to the Sunshine.

Andrew Sandoval, "Come to the Sunshine"

Andrew Sandoval, “Come to the Sunshine”

After Pop gave way to the Psychedelic shake-up of 1967, 1968 was the year when underground FM stations started to take over the older teen market. The influence of FM on AM could be heard in records like this one, which became an unlikely top 20 hit.

What made underground, aka Hippie, radio possible in the Sixties? The same thing that was behind other 60′s happenings like NASA, the pre-Internet Arpanet, and the Vietnam War. The United States Government, that’s what.

To promote the adoption of FM stereo radio, on January 1, 1967 an FCC mandate went into effect that required radio broadcasters to no longer simulcast their AM signals over their FM stations. College-aged disc jockeys started to flood the airwaves in major cities, formats changed overnight, and instead of playing the latest singles they played album cuts.

The iconic Boston station, WBCN, had an overnight format change, but it didn’t happen because of the simulcast requirement. What made ‘BCN possible was the desperation of the owner of a failing all-Classical station. Former ‘BCN disc jockey Carter Alan, who is now on WZLX in Boston, has the story in his excellent book, “Radio Free Boston: The Rise and Fall of WBCN.”

Cerfing the Net

It’s going to be a while, probably well into 2015, before we see Stephen Colbert on CBS, shorn of his faux cable news persona. The truth is that I am rarely staying up late enough on weeknights anymore to watch Colbert, so I use the DVR catch up on the weekends.

Internet pioneer Vint Cerf was on The Colbert Report recently, and although he was interesting he took too much credit for himself and Bob Kahn. Why no mention of Bob Taylor, who originally envisioned the Arpanet and got it up and running before joining Xerox PARC? Cerf should also have given an up-front shout-out to Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web which is, let’s face it, what most people think the Internet is.

4-Panel Pastis Pastiche

Every day I receive a large selection of comic strips from GoComics in one of my e-mail bags, for which I pay a smidgen less than $12/year. One of those strips is “Pearls Before Swine,” by Stephan Pastis (yes it’s Stephan, not Stephen). Last week, on Wednesday, I saw this.

GoComics

The second panel of “Pearls” sure looked like it was either Pastis trying to draw like Bill Watterson, or perhaps it was by Watterson himself, but maybe just a bit out of practice. On Thursday I had no doubt that we were seeing the return of Bill Watterson to a syndicated comic strip for the first time since December, 1995, when he brought “Calvin & Hobbes” to a poignant, if early, end.

On Friday, Michael Cavna, The Washington Post’s comics blogger, made the official announcement. Pastis tells the back story at this link. I’ve stitched Watterson’s four panels together into a single strip.

Click to enlarge!

Click to enlarge

For myself, what makes Watterson’s return to (what those older than myself call) the Funny Pages truly special is its connection to cartoonist Richard Thompson, whose Parkinson’s Disease prevents him from continuing his own superb comic strip, “Cul de Sac.” The original art from last week’s “Pearls Before Swine” will be auctioned and the proceeds donated to the Michael J. Fox Foundation. I am, for personal reasons I have been asked to keep private, hooked into Michael’s disease and his foundation, and that was even before “Cul de Sac” first appeared in The Boston Globe.

The connection between Thompson, Pastis, Watterson, and M.J. Fox is Chris Sparks, the guy behind Team Cul de Sac. This is Chris enjoying holding onto the original art while he can. It will be on display at the Heroes Con in Charlotte, NC from June 20-22.

ChrisSparks

Watterson seems to be slowly entering the public eye again, through his art, if not in person. Besides drawing the poster for the documentary “Stripped” that I mentioned back in February, he drew this picture in recognition of the recent retirement of Lee Salem. Salem was the guy at Universal Press Syndicate who bought “Calvin & Hobbes” but who missed seeing the potential in “Dilbert.”

Lee Salem

Here’s another look at the “Pearls Before Swine” original art. I’d love to know what Watterson uses when lettering, because the ink on his originals never looks very black compared to the line art. If it’s a type of India Ink he must dilute it.

Pearls