Monday, September 5, 2016

The Hollywood Book of Death: The Bizarre, Often Sordid, Passings of More than 125 American Movie and TV Idols

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Rating: 2.5 Stars

I mean, eh. It was okay, but this is not the kind of book you read straight through, even though that is what I did. It's a sort of reference book with information about a variety of stars and how they passed away, divided by sections into murders, suicides, etc. In addition, for several of the stars, the author gives at least paragraphs-worth and sometimes pages-worth of information on the star's rise and fall. For quite a bit into the book I did not recognize any of the celebrities mentioned, save Jayne Mansfield and James Dean. And to be honest, I only know who Mansfield is to begin with because her daughter plays one of my most favorite television characters ever, the amazing Mariska Hargitay. An interesting fact about Mansfield's death (that I knew prior to this book) was that Hargitay and her brothers were in the backseat of the car when the accident occurred and none were seriously injured.

I went through a phase in college of being completely obsessed with celebrity gossip. This was when Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, and Lindsay Lohan were at their height. Oh how we begged they would go away, even while devouring every article we could about them. If only we had known that those three would give way to the Kardashian juggernaut. Ah, simply times. Anyway, seeing as how I still have some residual affection left over for celebs, especially those of the golden days of Hollywoodland, I was most interested in the book to begin with. It's morbid, that is for sure, but by nature I think we are all fascinated by death on some level and the death of celebrities is equally as intriguing because given their time in the spot light, we feel like we know them.

There were a lot of people I was interested in to read about and I learned some interesting tidbits that I did not know before, such as that Judy Garland tried to kill herself so many times before she died of an overdose, or that Marilyn Monroe's phone records from the day she died mysteriously disappeared.

The Phil Hartman bit was especially sad to me. He was one of my favorite SNL cast members and I loved NewsRadio. When he was murdered, it absolutely devastating to me. I was 15 at the time and watched the news cycles endlessly, as they replayed the stories over and over. I remember feeling so awful for their children, who were so young, and also because of the fact that they had been in the home at the time of their father's murder.

I can't even begin to discuss Farley's death. That was another one that hit me hard, as another cast member from what are arguably SNL's best years since Belushi, Murray, Ackroyd, etc.

There was a large section of text devoted to River Phoenix and I feel like until reading this book to jog my memory, I had completely forgotten that Joaquin and River are brothers. I was only ten when River died and I never really knew what the Viper Room was at that age, but I had watched Stand By Me by that time (I was a mature ten year old).

As I neared the end of the text (at 59%) I could not help but notice the absence of a couple young actors who I had liked as a youth and as an adult - Heath Ledger, Paul Walker, Jonathan Brandis and Brad Renfro, to name a few. Ledger's death hit me especially hard because he was so impossibly talented, he had a young daughter; it was all just too awful. I did not realize this book had been published in 2001, and that is the problem with books like this - they are hopelessly and forever out of date. So many celebrities have died since 2001, the book would easily be doubled in length to include new content. But it would also be in need of an update pretty much every year, and that is why I typically shy away from books of this kind.

The additional information in the appendixes offers a list of notable movie and tv stars who had passed away up to 2001 and those marked with an asterisk were included in the book (appendix A) and then a list of cemeteries where notables are interred (appendix B). The bibliography contained some interesting books I would like to read, mostly biographies I would like to read to gain a bit more in-depth knowledge of certain stars.

While this was interesting, I would definitely say do not buy it. As mentioned above, it is hopelessly out of date and that alone makes it not such a great investment. Luckily I snagged it via BookBub for I think $.99, so it was not so bad.

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