The only lady of our Death Quintet was Phyllis Diller. She was everywhere during the 60s”cameo appearances, variety shows, game shows, the sitcom The Pruitts of Southampton, and celebrity roasts. The costumes, makeup, hair! Her message was that she didn”t care, and neither should you.
These four were already established or at least on their way when the 60s dawned. As they made their way through the era’s turmoil, they were already adults”they were our parents” generation in so many ways. They were funny and they were sad, but they were adults. As with the rest of their peers, they had passed through the ice and fire of the Depression and World War II, taken their licks, mourned their own dead, and kept on. From that experience came both as light and frothy a comedy and as heart-wrenching a drama (for the actors among them) as the world has ever seen.
Our last decedent was quite different. In many ways, one-hit wonder Scott McKenzie was the 60s. Certainly, his “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” has been referred to as a “generational anthem” so often that there must be something to it. When driving through the Bay Area I invariably wind up singing it, and it seems to capture how the Haight-Ashbury folk would want to be remembered. The song’s video seems like a paean to eternal youth. Yet compared to that of his elders, McKenzie’s evocation of Bayside utopia seems like an insubstantial dream – the idealism of the inexperienced versus the richness of reality. What is most unfortunate is that, despite the passage of time, both the entertainers and political leadership of McKenzie’s generation still seem locked in that far-away youthful dream; they have not really acquired any substance. Oddly enough, McKenzie’s death was due to a condition that Andy Griffith overcame back in the 80s.
With the older quartet, many feel despondent at the passing of our parents” generation and the unpleasant realization that for better or worse, we are the adults now. With Scott McKenzie, it is the unwelcome reminder that the same fate awaits us all. When our time comes, I hope we shall have entertained as well as our predecessors did, even if we have to grow up first to do it.
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