“Death, be not proud,” John Donne affectingly wrote, “though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so. For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow die not…” I’ll warrant some of the poor buggers in this week’s column are praying John Donne is wrong and they’re dead as the deadest doornail known to man. If it’s possible that shame has an energy all its own, these guys have found the secret to immortality.
It all started with this story of a Texas family that decided death is no good reason to be dishonest about a schmuck. (I agree.) They published an obituary in a local newspaper that referred to the deceased as a “horse’s ass” and added that his passing was proof that “evil does in fact die”.
“Leslie Ray ‘Popeye’ Charping was born in Galveston on November 20, 1942 and passed away January 30, 2017, which was 29 years longer than expected and much longer than he deserved,” the obit began. “Leslie battled with cancer in his latter years and lost his battle, ultimately due to being the horse’s ass he was known for.
“He leaves behind two relieved children; a son, Leslie Roy Charping, and daughter, Shiela Smith, along with six grandchildren and countless other victims, including an ex-wife, relatives, friends, neighbours, doctors, nurses and random strangers.”
The skewering didn’t end there. The piece described in detail his bad parenting, “commitment to drinking, drugs, womanising and being generally offensive”, and his attempt to escape criminal charges by joining the navy.
“Leslie was surprisingly intelligent,” the obituary went on (yes, it goes on!), “however, he lacked ambition and motivation to do anything more than being reckless, wasteful, squandering the family savings … Leslie’s hobbies included being abusive to his family, expediting trips to heaven for the beloved family pets, and fishing… Leslie’s life served no other obvious purpose, he did not contribute to society or serve his community, and he possessed no redeeming qualities besides quick-witted sarcasm which was amusing during his sober days.”
Perhaps the biggest stinger was delivered at the end: “With Leslie’s passing he will be missed only for what he never did; being a loving husband, father and friend. No services will be held, there will be no prayers for eternal peace, and no apologies to the family he tortured. Leslie’s remains will be cremated and kept in the barn until Ray the family donkey’s wood shavings run out. Leslie’s passing proves that evil does in fact die and hopefully marks a time of healing and safety for all.”
I’ve got to tell you, even I’m feeling a little sorry for Leslie right now, horse’s ass or not. But I was sufficiently intrigued to find out whether there were any other strange obituaries out there. My curiosity was rewarded. On the more benign side, the writer of Elizabeth Taylor’s New York Times obituary was long dead by the time she herself died and it was published. (It took another three writers to update it – busy lady.)
Then there’s one Val Patterson, who decided to confess all his sins in an obituary he wrote himself before he died. (Most of these sins were lies, which is kind of funny because of all places, he decided to come clean in Salt Lake City.) Most notably, Dr Val Patterson confessed to not being a doctor at all; he received his PhD certificate through an administrative error on the university’s part and never bothered to correct it, which is not entirely unlike what Pallo Jordan said (where’s mine, guys? Hint, hint). Rather disarmingly, Val adds that he never even found out what the letters PhD stood for.
Perhaps the most touching, though, was one Aaron Purmort, who (together with his wife) left behind an obit for his baby son when he found out he had brain cancer. Listing the cause of death as a radioactive spider bite, he added that he had been secretly married to Gwen Stefani and that his son would grow up to avenge his death and fight a villain named Cancer that had plagued human beings for far too long. (I read it three times and cried every time.)
But to return to the original question – no, the unfortunate Leslie was not the only (un)dearly departed to receive a stinker of an obituary. One Marianne Theresa Johnson-Reddick was told her fortune backwards by her six surviving children when she died in her late 70s, having – in a nutshell – beaten them for years, starved them at times, and run a brothel from her home.
“How could anyone write a scathing and public obituary showing such disdain for a parent? For me, it was a natural, normal process for ending and celebrating the death of someone who camouflaged themselves as a mother,” daughter Katherine Reddick told XOJane. She and her brother sang “Ding, dong, the witch is dead” over the phone when they received news of their mother’s passing.
“My entire childhood and as a young adult, I felt comfort in her absence – and shame and fear in her presence. I felt absolute fear of her potential to hurl her evil against anyone who dared to express the smallest amount of love, compassion, or care upon her children,” Reddick added.
Which leads me to the deaths of the better-known. How does one deal with a public farewell for people with enemies? The Independent, for example, was rather more polite about former South African president PW Botha than the Guardian or the New York Times. If it were fair game, I could think of some fun epitaphs for more contemporary political figures.
Here lieth Donald Trump. He tried to overcomb.
Here lieth Donald Trump. He had toupe the ultimate price.
Or Grace Mugabe, maybe, who this week made an unprecedented scientific discovery when she announced that girls were more likely than boys to fall pregnant.
Here lieth Grace Mugabe. Beloved wife, first lady. PhD kindly donated by Val Patterson.
Haai, shame, no.
Seriously, though. What will we say when the subject is more ambiguous, disputed, or just turned out to be a disappointment? When it’s Robert Mugabe, who became derailed and nowadays appears to be living on out of sheer malice? When it’s Donald Trump, villain to so many and hero to others? When it’s President Jacob Zuma, undeniably a divisive figure, but who still has legions of supporters? Heck, when it’s Vladimir Putin? Angela Merkel? Boris bloody Johnson? Never mind politicians, even. How about the droves of artists and musicians that were once brilliant and with every passing day sink deeper into a giant pool of generic shlock? (I’m looking at you, Madonna.)