As years go, 2016 has been a right bitch.
Horrific human tragedies on a daily basis, with an unimaginable 16 wars currently taking place in our world right now that are responsible for a minimum of 1000 casualties in 2016 alone, most notably in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and West Africa. Millions upon millions of innocent people dislodged from their homes and leaving them so desperate for sanctuary that they are willing to risk their lives to get to the gates of a safe haven, only to be judged, interrogated and scrutinised at every opportunity thanks to the omnipresent fear of terrorism and inherent distrust in people of different backgrounds it brings. Following on from the horrifying Paris Bataclan shootings last November, 2016 has seen further mindless terrorist attacks strike at the heart of Europe with major and tragic incidents in Brussels, Nice and Berlin. The world is completely on edge, with tensions between the United States and Russia at a new post-Cold War high. The fear of a third World War is building.
Making matters worse, here in the UK our polarised society was pushed to new extremes with a very bitter Brexit campaign, providing a result you can’t help but think was partly fuelled by xenophobia and hatred. Not to be outdone, the American’s decided that a lying, racist, chauvinist, climate change denying, bag of hot wind with a gun-ho attitude and zero experience in public office should be in charge of the nuclear launch codes!
Yet despite all this global gloom, 2016 looks likely to be immortalised as a year where we lost so many cherished global icons. A relentless procession of deaths, some untimely or unexpected, has left the world somewhat darker, emptier and duller than it was at the 12th chime of the clock on 31st December 2015.
None more iconic than the Starman himself, David Bowie, who became the first casualty of 2016’s great cull when he passed away aged 69 on the 10th January 2016 the day after the release of his majestically sublime Blackstar album. Having been diagnosed with terminal cancer the prior year, he recorded this album as his final gift to the world; his very poignant goodbye. The world collectively mourned the passing of a truly global superstar, a man that was known and respected in every corner of the globe, in a way rarely seen before. It was a sign that our fallible idols were mere mortal after all.
Unbeknownst to us all, it was merely the opening act, setting the bleak tone for the year that would follow.
Four days later we lost the quite brilliant Alan Rickman, also 69, following a battle with cancer. A bona fide pillar of British cinema, he brought multiple iconic characters to life, notably Severus Snape, The Metatron, the Sheriff of Nottingham – and who could forget the menacing Hans Gruber? Glenn Frey, lead singer of supergroup The Eagles was the next to depart this mortal coil when he passed aged 67, following a long and crippling battle with rheumatoid arthritis. That wasn’t the lot for month number one either, as on the final day of January the joyous Sir Terry Wogan lost his short battle with cancer, aged 77. The man who woke up a nation as the longest serving BBC radio breakfast host was also renowned for his chat shows and charity work with Children in Need – a British institution is ever there was one.
February brought little rest bite with Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White dying on the 8th aged 74. March saw three British national treasures taken from us in the form of magician Paul Daniels, Beatles producer George Martin and comedian Ronnie Corbett. Dutch and Barcelona footballing legend and “total football” pioneer Johan Cruyff also lost his battle with cancer on the 24th March, aged 68. While all were a good age, it was still a shock with many big name deaths coming quite so frequently.
April is perhaps one of the most tragic of months. Producer and former Mrs. Liza Minenelli David Guest had a fatal stroke on the 12th April. Then the day following the shock death of comedian Victoria Wood, aged just 62, on the 20th April, the world awoke to even more tragic news with the death of cultural pop icon Prince. Aged just 57, he died following an overdose of pain medication prescribed to treat a bout of influenza he was suffering. Legend is a word thrown around far too often in this day and age, but that’s exactly what Prince was and while all the previous deaths had rightfully caused tremors of shock around the word, Prince’s was different given his relative young age.
The world truly lost it’s greatest when the definitive Muhammad Ali finally lost his final fight on the 3rd June. A unquestionably global phenomenon that transcended sport and became a pillar of hope and courage in the very testing times of 60’s and 70’s America. Simply the greatest sportsman ever to live, his death at 74 was not entirely out of the blue given his crippling fight with Parkinson’s, yet it still sent a wave of grief across the globe at the loss of this giant of a human being.
From the old and ill to the young and healthy, the next name came in the form of talented young actor Anton Yelchin who was killed in a freak accident at his home on 19th June, aged just 27. When a person has barely lived a life it’s always extra tragic, and this was no exception. While 52 is a good sight older, the death of comedian Caroline Aherne on 2nd July also reeked of a life cut tragically short.
August was a time for two icons of films to take their final bows; R2D2 star Kenny Baker on 13th August aged 81 and then Mr. Willy Wonka himself, the fantastic Gene Wilder, who was bravely fighting Alzheimer’s disease until the end on 29th August. September 25th was the day the sport world lost another giant in the form of legendary golfer Arnold Palmer, aged 87.
September would see us say goodbye to Herschell Gordon Lewis, the ‘Godfather of Gore.’ Lewis was instrumental in the dawning of the splatter film, and his sleazy horror comedies with blood and guts would give rise to a whole new breed of horror film from there on out. In November, another massively influential BBC radio personality died in Sir Jimmy Young, passing, aged 95, on the 7th November 2016 in what was a double dunter with influential singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen also passing the same day, aged 82. These deaths were followed by the charismatic Robert Vaughan on the 11th aged 83 and finally Fawlty Towers star Andrew Sachs on the 23rd, aged 86. On the 25th November it was announced the polarising yet vividly iconic Cuban revolutionary and President Fidel Castro has died aged 90.
December never eased up. Lauded prog-rock musician Greg Lake died on the 7th December, aged 69; celebrated American astronaut John Glenn on the 8th, aged 95; actress and socialite Zsa Zsa Gabor on the 18th, aged 99; and one half of Status Quo, Ricak Parfitt, who passed on Christmas Eve aged 68.
And then in some sort of gut wrenching, twisted joke, 2016 decided that even Christmas Day wasn’t safe with the tragic and completely unexpected death of pop superstar George Michael of heart failure aged just 53.
Despite the harrowing obituary list of outstanding men and women who have shaped our very world with their art, personality and influence, many had reached an age where their mortality was in question. With the celebrity obsessed, internet world we now live in, these icons herald back to simpler times where celebrity and acclaim was earned through talent, not from being the latest YouTube or reality TV star. Given that the age of the global superstar has been dramatically watered down by modern technology, over consumerism and an interconnected world, many of the cultural giants from the golden era of the mid-to-late 20th century are now reaching a point where there time on this dear green earth will be coming to an end. While they have ensured there immortality in the gifts they have given us, I think 2016 is only the start as the world mourns the loss of some of its many inspirational characters, more will be around the corner. It has reached a crescendo where social media is awash with speculation as to who will be next, and given that many of the behemoths of culture we all grew up worshipping are getting older and older, it’s only natural to expect more deaths.
The fact is, they just don’t make them like they used to, and that is the underlying tone to this procession of deaths in 2016. It still really sucks and as it’s so fresh in our minds, this past year will carry that tag of the year so many of our heroes were taken from us.
Yet 2016 wasn’t all bad. We now have a tsunami of articles highlighting the successes of the past 12 months and reasons to celebrate and be positive.
As the viral post from Matt Strange pointed out there has been many advances in science this year and many positive steps towards protecting our environment and curing disease.
Sporting wise, 2016 was an Olympic year with unprecedented success for many countries and landmark achievements for countless athletes that competed. For us in the UK, not only did a British tennis player win Wimbledon, he also toppled the immovable Serb to finish World Number One. With Leicester City, a 5000-1 shot won the Premier League and the European championships saw Iceland, the smallest of nations, make their mark.
With the various entertainment mediums we are being spoiled. Fantastic and revolutionary TV programming is pushing boundaries constantly. Film production is increasing and making use of video on demand services to bring us a host of wonderful stories. Video games are getting bigger and bolder, with new cutting edge technologies revolutionising how we can interact with virtual worlds. And as music streaming services become the norm, diversity in music is at an all time high with multiple new artists finding a market where previously they may have struggled.
Personally, I had the holiday of a lifetime spending a month travelling around Italy for my honeymoon – and everyone reading this will have their own positive memories from 2016.
Oh…and 2016 is also the year a fantastically awesome pop culture website called That’s Not Current was unleashed upon the universe!
Yet there is no escaping that as we now stand at 2017’s door we have 2016’s legacy bearing heavy on our shoulders; Brexit, President Trump, renewed Cold War tensions, turmoil in the Middle East and the harsh truth that our heroes and idols of years gone by will not live forever.
More tragic deaths will follow in the years to come. So maybe this is just the new norm? Or maybe they were all just getting out before it all goes to hell?
So really the only overriding negative about 2016 is that we as a society are more splintered than ever before, and we need to try and put differences aside and come together. Yet, the countless high profile deaths have found a way to bring many together and that is a positive. The lesson from this year is that we should be fully aware that nothing lasts forever, heroes will fall, but their legacies are immortal and that should be reason to rejoice. Celebrate and be thankful for what these people gave the world and don’t get caught up in the despair and sadness of mortality, however tragic it may be.
But clearly not happy with the conclusion I have drawn, in a desperate final act of brutality ensuring it has the final word, 2016 decided to take Princess Leia…and then her mother Debbie Reynolds the very next day! For what seemed like the 100th time this year our hearts were once again broken with the world becoming that little bit darker at the loss of the brilliant, bold and beautiful Carrie Fisher, aged only 60.
So, weighing it all up…
Fuck you 2016! And good riddance!