It isn’t every year that the trainspotters who make note of the deaths of the famous and near-famous get a holiday present like the passing of North Korean communist autocrat Kim Jong-Il. Ordinarily this next sentence would be where you’d expect to read a slightly sheepish apology for speaking ill of the dead, but Kim deserves all the ill we can speak. Notwithstanding the hysterical sorrow of his countrymen as circulated around the world via YouTube, he was a brutal dictator who helped keep his country back decades and wracked it with repression and privation. According to accounts filtering out from the most closed nation on the planet, millions have died in recent years from starvation alone. The silver lining here, one supposes, is that it’s almost impossible to imagine anyone worse taking over.
The rest of 2011* was not without other deaths worth a grim little happy dance—cold comfort, maybe, but a world without Osama bin Laden is better off. But as happens every year, we look back on 12 months of passings we find harder to accept blithely, from screen icon Elizabeth Taylor to Mac daddy Steve Jobs, from sideman’s-sideman Clarence Clemons to playwright/president Vaclav Havel, from irascible essayist Christopher Hitchens to irascible standup Patrice O’Neal, from heavyweight champ Joe Frazier to featherlight drummer Paul Motian, to name but a few. And as we always do, we here at City Paper offer a salute to a few departed souls whose deaths may not have caused much stir but whose lives made the world they left behind a very different place.
* The initial version of this article referred to 2010. Yes, really.