Thursday, March 30, 2006

What a great pick this would have been...

Eugene Landy, Therapist to Beach Boys' Leader, Dies at 71

Eugene Landy, the psychotherapist who was variously called a savior and a snake oil salesman for his unorthodox, round-the-clock treatment of Brian Wilson, the famously dissolute leader of the Beach Boys, in the 1970's and 80's, died on March 22 in Honolulu. He was 71.

The cause was pneumonia, said his wife, Alexandra Morgan, who added that Mr. Landy was also suffering from lung cancer.

A clinical psychologist, Mr. Landy was widely credited with helping Mr. Wilson stage a comeback in the early 1980's after he had spent years mired in depression and substance abuse. But by the end of the decade, Mr. Landy had insinuated himself into Mr. Wilson's life so thoroughly that he was acting as his business partner, record producer and occasional songwriting partner.

At the start of 1992, as a result of the settlement of a suit by Mr. Wilson's family, Mr. Landy was barred by court order from contacting Mr. Wilson.

"Landy definitely transformed Brian's life and knocked him off of what was a suicidal death spiral in the early 1980's," Peter Ames Carlin, the author of a forthcoming book about the Beach Boys, said in a telephone interview yesterday. "But his new lease on life came with a deed restriction, which was that Landy wanted to be part of Brian's creative and financial lives."

Mr. Carlin's book, "Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall and Redemption of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson," is to be published by Rodale Books in May.

Through a spokeswoman, Mr. Wilson declined to comment yesterday.

Formed in 1961, the Beach Boys quickly dazzled listeners with a string of hits, many with words and music by Mr. Wilson. But by the mid-1970's, Mr. Wilson had stopped working with the band and had withdrawn into a life of drugs and alcohol.

Enter Mr. Landy in late 1975, hired by Mr. Wilson's first wife, Marilyn. Mr. Landy promoted what he called "24-hour therapy," marshaling a team to oversee each patient every moment of every day for as long as needed. At first, Mr. Wilson appeared to respond to Mr. Landy's treatment protocol, which included pushing him to exercise, padlocking the refrigerator and, on mornings when Mr. Wilson wanted to stay in bed, dousing him with cold water.

By the end of 1976, concerned about Mr. Landy's influence, Mr. Wilson's associates dismissed him. But in late 1983, with Mr. Wilson again sliding into dissolution, Mr. Landy was rehired.

Again, the treatment seemed to work: within two years, Mr. Wilson was looking trim and healthy. But as his associates increasingly charged, it was becoming difficult to tell whether the patient was in thrall to the therapist or the other way around.

Mr. Landy's team of professional minders lived with Mr. Wilson 24 hours a day, and before long, Mr. Wilson was Mr. Landy's only patient. As Mr. Landy told The Los Angeles Times in 1991, he charged $35,000 a month for his services.

Though Mr. Landy said publicly that he had stopped working as Mr. Wilson's therapist by 1987 or thereabouts, their relationship continued for several more years. In the late 1980's, the two formed a company, Brains and Genius, to collaborate on records, books and other ventures.

Mr. Landy is credited as the executive producer on "Brian Wilson," Mr. Wilson's 1988 solo album. Mr. Wilson also named Mr. Landy as a beneficiary in his will, though Mr. Landy publicly said he was unaware of that fact.

In 1989, after the California Board of Medical Quality Assurance accused Mr. Landy of "grossly negligent conduct" in the Wilson case and others, he voluntarily surrendered his license for at least two years.

Eugene Ellsworth Landy was born in Pittsburgh on Nov. 26, 1934. He apparently suffered from dyslexia; he told reporters that he dropped out of school in sixth grade without having learned to read. As a young man, he knocked around the fringes of show business, working in radio and pop music — he managed the jazz guitarist George Benson — before returning to school.

Mr. Landy earned a bachelor's in psychology from California State College, Los Angeles, in 1964; a master's in psychology from the University of Oklahoma in 1967; and a Ph.D. in the field from Oklahoma the next year.

His first three marriages ended in divorce. Besides his wife, Ms. Morgan, whom he married in 1975, he is survived by a son from his second marriage, Evan, of Santa Monica, Calif.; and one grandchild.

He was the author of "The Underground Dictionary" (Simon & Schuster, 1971), a lexicon of counterculture slang for the uninitiated.

In December 1992, a California court fined Mr. Landy $1,000 for violating the court order. On Mr. Wilson's birthday the previous June, Mr. Landy had gone to visit him.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

No Pickin', No Grinnin'

Singer Buck Owens, the flashy rhinestone cowboy who shaped the sound of country music with hits like "Act Naturally" and brought the genre to TV on the long-running "Hee Haw," died Saturday. He was 76.

Owens died at his home in Bakersfield, said family spokesman Jim Shaw. The cause of death was not immediately known. Owens had undergone throat cancer surgery in 1993 and was hospitalized with pneumonia in 1997.

His career was one of the most phenomenal in country music, with a string of more than 20 No. 1 records, most released from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s.

They were recorded with a honky-tonk twang that came to be known throughout California as the "Bakersfield Sound," named for the town 100 miles north of Los Angeles that Owens called home.

"I think the reason he was so well known and respected by a younger generation of country musicians was because he was an innovator and rebel," said Shaw, who played keyboards in Owens' band, the Buckaroos. "He did it out of the Nashville establishment. He had a raw edge."

Owens, elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996, was modest when describing his aspirations.

"I'd like to be remembered as a guy that came along and did his music, did his best and showed up on time, clean and ready to do the job, wrote a few songs and had a hell of a time," he said in 1992.

An indefatigable performer, Owens played a red, white and blue guitar with fireball fervor. He and the Buckaroos wore flashy rhinestone suits in an era when flash was as important to country music as fiddles.

"When people start looking back on his career, they are going to be surprised by the number of things he did first," said guitarist
Roy Clark, who worked with Owens on "Hee Haw." "He left a great legacy in country music."

Among his biggest hits were "Together Again" (also recorded by
Emmylou Harris), "I've Got a Tiger by the Tail," "Love's Gonna Live Here," "My Heart Skips a Beat" and "Waitin' in Your Welfare Line."

And he was the answer to this music trivia question: What country star had a hit record that was later done by the Beatles?

"Those guys were phenomenal," Owens once said.

Ringo Starr recorded "Act Naturally" twice, singing lead on the Beatles' 1965 version and recording it as a duet with Owens in 1989. The song, by
Johnny Russell and Voni Morrison, tells of a poor soul who foresees a movie career playing "a man who's sad and lonely, and all I gotta do is act naturally. ... Might win an Oscar, you can never tell."

In addition to music, Owens had a highly visible TV career as co-host of "Hee Haw" from 1969 to 1986. With Clark, he led viewers through a potpourri of country music and hayseed humor.

"It's an honest show," Owens told The Associated Press in 1995. "There's no social message — no crusade. It's fun and simple."

Owens himself could be rebellious, choosing among other things to label what he did "American music" rather than country.

"I took a little heat," he once said. "People asked me, `Isn't country music good enough for you?' "

He also criticized the syrupy arrangements of some country singers, saying "assembly-line, robot music turns me off."

After his string of hits, Owens stayed away from the recording scene for a decade, returning in 1988 to record another No. 1 record, "Streets of Bakersfield," with
Dwight Yoakam.

Yoakam said he saw Owens just days before his death.

"Even though he seemed in a somewhat fragile physical state, he was emotionally exuberant and still living life in a forward motion, discussing a variety of plans for his future," Yoakam said in a statement. "I will cherish, forever, the musical moments he graciously shared with me during his life. I will be eternally grateful for his fatherly chastisements, encouragement and, ultimately, his friendship and love."

He spent much of his time away concentrating on his business interests, which included a Bakersfield TV station and radio stations in Bakersfield and Phoenix.

"I never wanted to hang around like the punch-drunk fighter," he told The Associated Press in 1992.

He had moved to Bakersfield in 1951, hoping to find work in the thriving juke joints of what in the years before suburban sprawl was a truck-stop town on Highway 99, between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area.

"We played rhumbas and tangos and sambas, and we played Bob Wills music, lots of Bob Wills music," he said, referring to the bandleader who was the king of Western swing.

"And lots of rock 'n' roll," he added.

Owens started recording in the mid-1950s, but gained little success until 1963 with "Act Naturally," his first No. 1 single.

Alvis Edgar Owens Jr. was born in 1929 outside Sherman, Texas, the son of a sharecropper. With opportunities scarce during the Depression, the family moved to Arizona when he was 8.

He dropped out of school at age 13 to haul produce and harvest crops, and by 16 he was playing music in taverns.

He once told an audience, "When I was a little bitty kid, I used to dream about playing the guitar and singing like some of those great people that we had the old, thick records of."

Owens' first wife,
Bonnie Owens, sometimes performed with him and went on to become a leading backup singer after their divorce in 1955. She had occasional solo hits in the '60s, as well as successful duets with her second husband,
Merle Haggard.

One of her two sons with Owens also became a singer, using the name Buddy Alan. He had a Top 10 hit in 1968, "Let the World Keep on a-Turnin'," and recorded a number of duets with his father.

In addition to Buddy, he is survived by two other sons, Michael and John.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Puckett dead at 45 following stroke

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Kirby Puckett died Monday, a day after the Hall of Fame outfielder had a stroke at his Arizona home. He was 45.

Puckett died at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. He had been in intensive care since having surgery at another hospital following his stroke Sunday morning.

The bubbly, barrel-shaped Puckett carried the Twins to World Series titles in 1987 and 1991 before his career was cut short by glaucoma. His family, friends and former teammates gathered at the hospital Monday.

Puckett was given last rites and died in the afternoon, hospital spokeswoman Kimberly Lodge said.

"On behalf of Major League Baseball, I am terribly saddened by the sudden passing of Kirby Puckett," commissioner Bud Selig said. "He was a Hall of Famer in every sense of the term.

"He played his entire career with the Twins and was an icon in Minnesota. But he was revered throughout the country and will be remembered wherever the game is played. Kirby was taken from us much too soon -- and too quickly," he said.

Puckett broke into the majors in 1984 and had a career batting average of .318. Glaucoma left the six-time Gold Glove center fielder and 10-time All-Star with no choice but to retire after the 1995 season when he went blind in his right eye.

Out of the game, the 5-foot-8 Puckett put on a considerable amount of weight, which concerned those close to him.

"It's a tough thing to see a guy go through something like that and come to this extent," former teammate Kent Hrbek said Monday night.

"That's what really hurt him bad, when he was forced out of the game," he said. "I don't know if he ever recovered from it."

Asked what he would remember the most from their playing days, Hrbek quickly answered, "Just his smile, his laughter and his love for the game."

Puckett was elected to the Hall of Fame on his first try in 2001 and thrilled the crowd in Cooperstown when he said, "I'm telling you, anything is possible" during his induction speech.

His plaque praised his "ever-present smile and infectious exuberance."

"This is a sad day for the Minnesota Twins, Major League Baseball and baseball fans everywhere," Twins owner Carl Pohlad said.

Puckett's signature performance came in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series against Atlanta. After telling anyone who would listen before the game that he would lead the Twins to victory that night at the Metrodome, he made a leaping catch against the fence and then hit a game-ending homer in the 11th inning to force a seventh game.

The next night, Minnesota's Jack Morris went all 10 innings to outlast John Smoltz and pitch the Twins to a 1-0 win for their second championship in five years.

"If we had to lose and if one person basically was the reason -- you never want to lose -- but you didn't mind it being Kirby Puckett. When he made the catch and when he hit the home run you could tell the whole thing had turned," Smoltz said Monday night.

"His name just seemed to be synonymous with being a superstar," the Braves' pitcher said. "It's not supposed to happen like this."

Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk echoed Smoltz's sentiment.

"There was no player I enjoyed playing against more than Kirby. He brought such joy to the game. He elevated the play of everyone around him," Fisk said in a statement to the Hall.

Puckett's birthdate was frequently listed as March 14, 1961, but recent research by the Hall of Fame indicated he was born a year earlier.

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Pufnstuff sheds tear today

Artful Dodger actor Jack Wild dies aged 53

LONDON (Reuters) - Actor Jack Wild, best known for playing the Artful Dodger as a teenager in the 1968 film "Oliver!," has died from cancer aged 53.

Nominated for an Oscar for that role aged just 16, he went on to star in the U.S. television series "H.R. Pufnstuf" and in several films before his career began to derail, in part because of excessive drinking from an early age.

"Jack died peacefully at midnight last night after a long battle with oral cancer," his agent Alex Jay said on Thursday.

"He always said he was an entertainer. He wanted 'The Entertainer' to be played at his funeral," Jay added, referring to the Scott Joplin tune used for the film "The Sting."

Wild, also a heavy smoker, was diagnosed with cancer in 2001 and underwent an operation in 2004 to remove part of his tongue and several vocal cords. As a result he lost his speech, but appeared on stage after the surgery miming his part in a pantomime.

Wild married his long-term partner Claire last year.