The Tana Toraja regency on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi has an unusual death ritual: Every few years, families reunite to exhume the bodies of their deceased relatives, clean up the inside of their coffins, and sometimes give their ancestors a fresh change of clothes.
RIP Joan Rivers
Joan Rivers died on me—literally.
I’ve loved Rivers since I first saw her on Kathy Griffin’s My Life on the D-List in 2007, the same year Britney Spears shaved her head and Lindsay Lohan posed for her first mugshot. Rivers lacked decorum, which is a fancy way to say she believed in cursing in public. For years, I’ve wanted to interview Rivers, and a few weeks ago, I learned I finally would speak to the grand dame herself. In between making fun of Fashion Week guests’ hideous outfits on Fashion Police, she would have sat down for an interview with me.
But then she stopped breathing during surgery on August 28 and died a week later on September 4 in New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital. She was 81.
Joking about Rivers’s death may seem tacky, but that’s what Rivers would want us to do. Shortly after her husband, Edgar Rosenberg, killed himself, Rivers went to dinner with her daughter, Melissa, at Spago. Looking at the prices on the menu, Rivers reportedly said to Melissa, “If Daddy were here and saw these prices, he’d kill himself all over again.” They burst into laughter, and the other customers looked at them like they were insane.
But as one of the first ladies of comedy, Rivers understood that humans—especially outcasts like women and gay men—must laugh at unfortunate circumstances if they want to survive.
Artists Pay Tribute to Robin Williams
Although you might have never uttered the words “I’m a huge Robin Williams fan,” I could probably rattle off at least five of his movies that you love, or that at the least made you very happy for a while. Robin Williams was omnipresent through a lot of our childhoods. Somehow, through the range and progression of his roles, he was able to rise up and meet my generation at whatever level of maturation we were at, from the age of about four onward until he stopped existing.
Learning how to channel grief is hard, especially when it’s over someone you didn’t know personally. I draw pictures, as do a lot of people I know. Robin Williams was a fan of comics and illustration, so I asked people to submit drawings of him in tribute.
Out of hundreds of submissions, here are the 15 I thought were best.
The Sad Demise of Nancy Lee, One of Britain’s Young Ketamine Casualties
Ketamine is that crazy wobbly-leg drug. The wacky-student drug, the post-club chill-out aid, the new-gen LSD that gives users the power to become—according to 1970s K-hole explorer and dolphin whisperer John C. Lilly—“peeping toms at the keyhole of eternity.” But its reputation as a popular recreational drug, since filtering into the mainstream via the gay-clubbing and free-party scenes in the 2000s, does not tell the whole story of what’s going on in modern British K-land.
Apart from a brief paragraph in the Brighton Argus’s obituary column, Nancy Lee’s drug death went unreported. There was no shock factor: She hadn’t collapsed in public from a toxic reaction to a pill or a line of powder in a club. Instead, at the age of 23, Nancy had died slowly over seven years, her body trashed by a steady diet of ketamine.
Nancy started using ketamine at age 16 when she made new friends. Most teenagers getting high in the local Brighton park were necking cider and smoking skunk, but Nancy and her group of indie-kid outsiders used the open spaces to take ketamine. It was cheap, at 12 grams for about $150, and, important for Nancy, it transported her away from real life.
“She was sensitive and very caring, but Nancy was a misfit,” her father Jim, a college lecturer, told me. “She was bullied at school because of a bad squint and for being a tomboy. She had a victim mentality, a feeling that the world was against her.” It’s just that Nancy ended up finding solace in ketamine. “If someone were to design the perfect drug for a teenager who is depressed and doesn’t have much money, this would be it,” Jim said.
Eric Garner and the Plague of Police Brutality Against Black Men
If you haven’t heard about Eric Garner yet, let me fill you in. He was a 43-year-old father of six who lived in Staten Island, and he died in the street on Thursday after as many as four New York police officers choked him and slammed his head on the ground. The NYPD told the Associated Press that they stopped Garner because he was selling untaxed cigarettes, something he’d been arrested for before. However, witnesses who spoke with local news website Staten Island Live have basically said that’s bullshit. Ramsey Orta, who was on the scene and shot a now infamous video that is making the rounds, can be heard in the clip saying that all Garner had done to get bothered by the police was break up a fight.
In the video, Garner denies any wrongdoing and asks why he’s being hassled. “Every time you see me you want to mess with me,” he says in an exasperated tone that most men of color across this country can relate to. Garner, who was 400 pounds and has been described by people who knew him as a “gentle giant,” suffered from chronic asthma and police claim his death was the result of a heart attack suffered during the arrest.
Police say that Garner made a “fighting stance” and resisted arrest. Which, based on the video clip, is complete nonsense, considering we can see him pleading to the officers, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!” before going completely silent as several officers pile on him.
The video of Garner’s death is disgusting, but I can’t say I was shocked or even outraged the first time I watched it. At this point, as someone who’s read and written about some of these stories time and time again—and who’s had firsthand experiences with the way cops treat black males—this kind of reprehensible shit is not surprising at all. After so many cases like Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell, you start to feel desensitized by the seemingly insurmountable injustice that plagues communities of color.
Click here for last week’s episode.
Hey, Young Person—in Case You Plan on Dying, Here’s How to Write a Will
Being in the 15–24 year old demographic is pretty freakin’ sweet. Nobody expects you to be responsible or employed, and you’re still living at home, playing Angry Birds: Star Warson the phone your parents bought you. This frees up a lot of time for unbridled drug use, alcohol poisoning, reckless driving, climbing structures that would best be left unclimbed, moshing, punching people in the head, and other stupid shit that is liable to get you killed. As a generation we’ve got the highest number of accidental deaths, by far. Mostly thanks to car accidents. Thanks.
The fact is, you’re going to die. Probably sooner rather than later. And when that happens, who do you think will get all of your wacky, vintage junk? That’s right, your lame parents. And what are they going to do with it the moment they’re done grieving? That’s right, it’s going straight in the fucking trash where it belongs, now that you’re dead.
For your pre-mortal benefit, we called up Florida estate attorney Grady H. Williams Jr., LLM, of FloridaElder.com (whose hold music was Bobby Fuller’s “I Fought the Law”) for some info about getting a will and testament set up so you’ll have one less thing to worry about while texting Aaron the story of you getting sucked while off going 90 in the Civic.
VICE: Mr. Williams, what happens to my stuff if I don’t have a will and I drive into the ocean on my scooter because I’m distracted by a Google Glass update?
Grady H. Williams Jr.: Here’s the deal: If you don’t have a will that is legally enforceable upon your death, then your state or jurisdiction has a default will for you called an intestate succession. That’s legal talk for how the state legislature thinks your property, your stuff, your legal rights should be passed upon your death, based on your marital status. If you’ve got someone like my son, for example—who as far as I know is single with no kids—if he deceases tomorrow, then his mother and I are his heirs. Whereas if he had a one-year-old child we didn’t know about, that child would become his heir.
So it’s probably important to set up a will if you don’t want your mama, baby mama, or baby baby to inherit your collection of female-bodybuilder VHS porn, or whatever.
Depending on what you’re trying to accomplish versus what your default position is, yes, it may be very important to you. On the other hand, if you don’t have anything, or if you’re perfectly happy with your parents or children or wife getting everything, that may be OK.
Rewatching Nicolas Cage’s Windtalkers Is a Terrible Way to Memorialize the Last Navajo Code Talker
On June 4, former Marine Chester Nez, the last of the Navajo radio operators of World War II, died at 93. The announcement came from Judith Schiess Avila, his biographer, who worked on Nez’s book, Code Talker. Despite coming at a sad time, I hope the PR she got in the past few days boosted sales of what I hear is a pretty good book (I haven’t read it), because the only piece of media we journalists have had any interest in now that the last code talker is dead, is Windtalkers, a 2002 box office flop featuring Nicolas Cage.
No, Cage doesn’t play one of the Navajos. That would be racist. Instead, he plays one of those white protagonists in a movie about a minority group at war. Like Matthew Broderick in Glory, or Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai, Cage’s white face theoretically makes the whole thing much more palatable than one of the actual Navajo faces, like this one, which belongs to Nez.
Press coverage considers the film one of Nez’s accolades. The Washington Post puts it in a paragraph with his military honors, saying Nez “was honored a generation later, receiving the Congressional Gold Medal in 2001. ‘Windtalkers,’ a 2002 film starring Nicolas Cage, was based on the code talkers’ story.”
My suspicion is that they, like most of America, gave Windtalkers a miss. It was not a hit, so it’s weird that it’s our reference point for this moment in American History. It’s like memorializing the author Edgar Rice Burroughs by talking about John Carter.
The entertainment and media industries don’t consider a Native American story to be a smart move if you want to make money. Some anonymous people I know who represent talent confided in me that when something having to do with Native Americans gets submitted, they’re vary wary, or they just skip it outright. No one wants to spend their entertainment dollar on anything having to do with Native Americans. Apparently Dances with Wolves was a fluke.
The Last Interview with the Godfather of Ecstasy, Who Died Yesterday at 88