An incomplete tribute to the heroes who made it through 2016

Feature | by Stephen Whitworth

Greetings, survivors! If you’re reading this, you made it! You lived through 2016, a year with more celebrity and superstar blood on its metaphorical hands1 than any in recent memory! And by “recent memory”, I mean that thanks to five shocking, high-profile deaths — David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, Leonard Cohen and Carrie Fisher — it seemed like the Grim Reaper was unusually bloodthirsty over the last 12 months2, beating out other recent years in its feckless murder of cool people.

It wasn’t just that quintet of beloved and charismatic pop culture icons that passed away — we also lost Gordie Howe, Gene Wilder, Anton Yelchin, M*A*S*H padre William “Father Mulcahy” Christopher and two Barney Miller co-stars: Abe Vigoda and Ron Glass.

Kinda sucks! Worse, my German friend3 Ferdinand has a worryingly plausible theory: he points out that since pop culture is an ever-expanding thingamabob with more music, TV and movies being created all the time, we can expect to notice more and more famous deaths every year.

To this theory, I say: fair point but BOOOOO. And to 2016, I say: DOUBLE boo! You sucked and nobody liked you. Besides dead celebrities, you killed one of my favourite dogs (R.I.P. Hannah), got Donald Trump elected president (WTF) and generally made me crabbier than I’ve been in two decades. So fuck you! Ha ha! To celebrate my rejection of your mean-spirited, celebrity killing and otherwise stinky ways, I present a sparkling roster of superstars and awesome people who have prevailed over your shitty little crucible. For our readers, I present: the survivors of 2016! Long may they be awesome.

BETTY WHITE The former Golden Girl seems to be going strong as 2017 gets rolling, and that’s a good thing: her saucy, tell-it-like-it-is attitude and penchant for showing up on talk shows wearing boa constrictors is totally adorable. Betty White: you are the Goldenest of Girls, and long may you reign!

MARGARET ATWOOD The Queen of Can-lit charges into 2017 with a lot of work on her desk (look for volumes two three of the Angel Catbird series from Dark Horse Comics in February and July), battling shitty-ass politicians and the forces of ignorance and mean-spiritedness on Twitter and occasional op-eds.

WILLIAM SHATNER The best captain of the starship Enterprise continues to demolish expectations for octogenarians, maintaining a lively if occasionally touchy Twitter feed, and meet-and greeting fans with more energy than someone a quarter his age. While some might suspect there’s a little bit too much ego under that spectacular hairpiece (seriously: so excellent), most everyone loves the Shat. Look for his new book on horses, Spirit of the Horse: A Celebration in Fact and Fable, in May. Personally, I’m betting he’ll warp to 100 years old, at least.

TOM WAITS AND NICK CAVE No one expected these two titans of strange, dark music to leave us in 2016, but 2016 was exactly the kind of year that would be out to get them. At 67 and 59 respectively, the pair won’t be with us forever but every day they remain on this earth is a triumph for anyone who finds beauty in the poetically weird, terrible and unexpectedly beautiful aspects of life.

DAVID SUZUKI Prairie Dog’s long-time columnist is looking good at 80. Suzuki is still fighting the good fight for sustainable development and a general demand that Canada and the world keep the greater health of the planet in mind. Climate change is real, too many species and habitats are endangered and the views he puts forward aren’t radical, whatever certain friends in the daily print media suggest.

RACHEL NOTLEY It still seems like a miracle the NDP is governing conservative Alberta, but as the province becomes younger, more urbanized and frankly, more tolerant, it just makes sense voters would turn away from a tired PC party and the unhinged, right-wing Wildrose. That said, anyone who follows Facebook pages like, say, The Republic or Western Canada has a clear sense of how entitled, ignorant and deplorable Alberta’s far-right wingnuts are. I’m glad Notley made it through 2016 and I hope no one tries to hurt this brave agent of change in 2017.

NEIL DeGRASSE TYSON Again, you wouldn’t think this was the kind of life where we’d have to worry about the health of a 58-year old science educator, but if we learned one thing last year it’s that the Grim Reaper keeps its own schedule. Look for his new book, Astrophysics For People In A Hurry, in May.

THE SASKATCHEWAN NDP Despite a walloping in the last provincial election, the party of Tommy Douglas is still around. Will they make tangible gains in the upcoming Saskatoon byelection? Let’s hope so: even Sask. Party supporters ought to acknowledge this province deserves a stronger opposition. It’ll be interesting to see what drama a spring leadership convention will hold. Stay tuned!

LINDY WEST The hilarious feminist comedian and author of Shrill: Notes From A Loud Woman started 2016 by quitting Twitter, which she describes as “unusable for anyone but trolls, robots and dictators”. In a recent column, West describes Twitter as “a machine where I put in unpaid work and tension headaches come out.

“I write jokes there for free,” writes West in The Guardian “I post political commentary for free. I answer questions for free. I teach feminism 101 for free. Off Twitter, these are all things by which I make my living – in fact, they comprise the totality of my income. But on Twitter, I do them pro bono and, in return, I am micromanaged in real time by strangers; neo-Nazis mine my personal life for vulnerabilities to exploit; and men enjoy unfettered, direct access to my brain so they can inform me, for the thousandth time, that they would gladly rape me if I weren’t so fat.”

Lindy West is great and the world is a better place for her. I’m glad she made it through 2016. Now go buy her damn book.

DICK VAN DYKE It seems amazing that the star of Mary Poppins is around but damn rights he is, and he spent this past fall campaigning hard against Donald Trump. The charismatic 91-year-old recently signed on to a Mary Poppins sequel, and it’ll be a hoot to see him on screen again even if it’s a cameo.

PRESIDENT OBAMA Eight years leading a super-racist, ignorant county and he never got shot. Some will criticize Obama for not delivering on the promise of “hope”. Fair enough. At the same time, I think his two terms will be memorable for the stuff that didn’t happen on his watch: nuclear confrontations, war with Iran, and , frankly, civil war in U.S. streets — something I think we might’ve seen if Donald Trump hadn’t won. Let’s face it; that guy’s supporters are creeps at best and dangerous at worst.

THE LEADER-POST AND STARPHOENIX Not sure how long they’ll stay afloat but glad they made it through the year. Saskatchewan needs its daily papers.

SHIRLEY MACLEAN Still alive! I’ll always remember her brilliant performance in Being There. One of my favourite movies!

COREY HART AND GOWAN Long live Strange Animals and Boys In Boxes.

KEITH RICHARDS Somehow survived 2016. WTF. Well, good. I wouldn’t bet against him making it through 2017, either. Don’t wanna know the secrets of his dark magic but glad he’s still around.

MY 85-YEAR OLD-DAD Go Peter! Wooo!

MY PET SNAKE, KLAUS Did you know a pet snake can live over 20 years? Me neither, but I’ll take it. Happy 23, Klaus—I look forward to feeding you frozen thawed mice into the next decade of this century!

Happy New Year, Survivors!

1. Years aren’t things that literally have hands.

2. It probably wasn’t — it’s all just perception — but why let a good framing device go to waste?

3. Germans know stuff. Smart stuff.