Monday, October 30, 2023

Matthew Perry 1969-2023

I didn’t know him personally, but reading and hearing about Matthew Perry‘s struggles with addiction and sobriety, I heard something that made me understand him a little… as much as you can know someone who dealt with it for almost all of his adult life.

In one interview he said he was desperate to fit in to the world, not just of making TV shows and movies, but just to fit in.  Amen, brother.  It is something a lot of people in the arts deal with: trying to make it in a very fickle and unforgiving business, being judged by people who have the same issues, and going literally from rags to riches and back again in one season of a TV series that may be beautifully crafted but has the wrong time slot.

By every outside measure, he had a successful career: a hit show that earned him millions per episode.  But he knew, as anyone who knows that sobriety and peace is ever fleeting, that it wouldn’t last or make him happy.  So even as he struggled more than 60 times to get sober he reached out to help others.

He once wrote,  “When I die, I know people will talk about Friends, Friends, Friends.  And I’m glad of that, happy I’ve done some solid work as an actor, as well as given people multiple chances to make fun of my struggles on the world wide web… but when I die, as far as my so-called accomplishments go, it would be nice if Friends was listed far behind the things I did to try to help other people.  I know it won’t happen, but it would be nice.”

I’ll remember him for being with me on the journey.

Friday, September 29, 2023

Dianne Feinstein

I first heard of Dianne Feinstein when I was sitting in my Jeep Wagoneer outside the Grand Traverse County courthouse in Traverse City, Michigan, in November 1978 when I was about to file a report on a trial I was covering for WBNZ, the radio station in Benzie County where I was the news director.  The breaking news was about the assassinations of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.  As the next in line, Ms. Feinstein had the burden of addressing the media about the events.  My coverage of the trial of Benzie County Sheriff Bert Higgins for sexual assault was swept away.

I don’t remember what she said, but even under the horrendous pressure of the moment, she sounded calm and attempted to reassure the city and the country that justice would prevail and that the works and legacies of Mr. Moscone and Mr. Milk would not be forgotten.

Depending on who you ask, she was either a flaming liberal (the AP) or a mild-mannered centrist (Washington Post).  In recent months, she was described as way too old and frail at 90 to be serving in the Senate although she had announced she would retire when her term was up in 2025.  Now the skirmish is on to see who will succeed her.  There are a lot of already-announced candidates, and Governor Gavin Newsom has the task of appointing a replacement for the remainder of the term.  Let the gaming begin.

What I think matters most is that she stepped up in the middle of a tumultuous time in her hometown and weathered the tempest-tossed seas of state and national politics to serve the people of her state.  That always seemed to be her priority, as well it should have been.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Monday, July 31, 2023

A Little Night Music

Were it not for Allen, I’d never have heard of Pee-wee Herman, the alter-ego of Paul Reubens.  Somewhere in a box, I have a collection of homemade VCR tapes of “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.”

Rest in peace, Pee-wee.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Farewell, Sombra

I am mourning the passing of my former housemate Josh’s best friend Sombra, who allowed us to share this house with her for more than three years. I can see her now, sitting in front of the patio door, gazing out as life went by. I can see her crouched under the table waiting for Josh to come home. I can hear the pitter-patter of her feet as she does her zoomies. And I can hear the rather demanding meow when it’s time for dinner.

Just because she’s gone physically doesn’t mean she’s gone forever. You were a good friend to her, Josh, and in her own way, she showed she was to us, too.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

George Booth – 1926-2022

We all have mentors inspire us from afar.  For me as a playwright, it was Lanford Wilson.  But if I could draw, it would have been George Booth. I never met him, but I knew his world: from the scraggly dogs and cats, the band with Mrs. Rittenhouse doing the Baby June split, and the overall mysteries of everyday life.  So I took the advice in some fashion from this cartoon that graced The New Yorker.


Friday, September 9, 2022

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Queen Elizabeth II

From the BBC:

Queen Elizabeth II, the UK’s longest-serving monarch, has died at Balmoral aged 96, after reigning for 70 years.

Her family gathered at her Scottish estate after concerns grew about her health earlier on Thursday.

The Queen came to the throne in 1952 and witnessed enormous social change.

With her death, her eldest son Charles, the former Prince of Wales, will lead the country in mourning as the new King and head of state for 14 Commonwealth realms.

In a statement, Buckingham Palace said: “The Queen died peacefully at Balmoral this afternoon.

“The King and the Queen Consort will remain at Balmoral this evening and will return to London tomorrow.”

Friday, August 19, 2022

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Ray Liotta — 1954-2022

Ray Liotta was a classmate of mine at the University of Miami in 1973. I was a senior; he was a freshman. He was taking the required class in scenery and set building (where we also drafted running crews for plays), and I was a shop assistant. I was handed a list of props to go get from the warehouse, and Ray was told to go with me. On the drive over to the warehouse, he asked me how to make it in the Drama Department. Being the sage adviser, I said, “Well, try out for every show, and if you don’t get in, make yourself useful backstage.” I guess he took my advice. He was a sweet, funny, and genuinely nice guy, and he did amazing work at the Ring Theatre in a production of “Of Mice and Men,” among other shows, including as one of the Von Trapp kids in “The Sound of Music.”

I hold him in the Light.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

A Little Night Music

Rest in peace, Gary Brooker: founder, piano player, and lead singer for Procol Harum.

“A Whiter Shade of Pale” takes me back to Room 212 in Arden Hall at St. George’s School, Newport, Rhode Island, the summer of 1967, where I was serving an eight-week sentence of summer school before joining the freshman class in September (vide “Dark Twist”). The sound of that song coming out of the tinny speaker of my clock radio tuned to WBZ from Boston… and I can feel the dank humid summer, smell the odors of old varnish and whatever emanated from the bathroom, and the misery of homesickness and trying to learn the quadratic equation (which I still don’t know why I needed to learn in the first place). It is a memory that I don’t cherish, but at least the music was good.

Friday, December 31, 2021

Farewell, Betty White

She started on television in 1939 when it was still experimental, and performed on it into the 2010’s.  And not a mean cell in her body.

I’m old enough to remember her before “Password,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and “The Golden Girls.”  She loved people, but her true cause was animal welfare, and the one and only time I saw her in person was when she was speaking at an event at the University of Colorado.  She was in the lunch line along with everyone else, and I was working the catering line.  I handed her a plate and her silverware, and she thanked me as if I’d just handed her a diamond.

Go in peace, and if there’s an afterlife, I hope you are reunited with your loving Allen Ludden.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Saturday, August 28, 2021

“Not Just Sitting, But Marching”

This afternoon in a quiet gathering at the little chapel on Northport Point, Michigan, dad’s ashes will be placed in the stone wall near the woods that he loved to walk through in summer, fall, winter, and spring. My sister Lucy and some friends and family will be there to share some memories written by her, my brothers Jud and Chris, and myself, and place some mementos in the niche with him.

They’ll sing the old hymn that concluded every service at the chapel: “I Feel the Winds of God To-Day” that includes the line, “It is the winds of God that dry my vain regretful tears, Until with braver thoughts shall rise the purer, brighter years.” Dad loved sailing, so even though he was not religious, the idea that out on the water, be it Lake Minnetonka, where he sailed with his twin, or Grand Traverse Bay, he was remembering those purer, brighter years.

Today would have been his 95th birthday, so after the ceremony they will gather to raise a glass of really good Scotch and share memories and animal jokes. And we will recall that on the morning Dad died, May 25, 2020, Mom wrote to us, “I want you to know, if you don’t already, that your father adored all of you, alone or together. He was so proud of you, how you’ve conducted yourselves as grown-ups, and how you’ve kept close to him even as the miles kept us apart. You were his greatest accomplishment, truth be told. All individuals in your chosen paths, but contributors to your communities in your own ways. Please keep his memory enshrined by going forward as he would have you do… giving back and making sure that wherever you are you’re not just sitting, but marching.”

We are, Dad.

Philip Williams – 1926-2020

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Busy Day

There’s a lot going on.

  • The last day of the Supreme Court term with a couple of major decisions due, along with the possible retirement of Justice Breyer.
  • Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense for Gerald Ford and George W. Bush, has died.
  • Bill Cosby’s conviction was overturned by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and he’s been released.
  • The Trump Organization and its top executive will be indicted for tax fraud today.
  • A Federal court has blocked Florida’s new law that penalizes social media companies from blocking politicians.
  • It’s still really hot.

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Sunday Reading

Charles P. Pierce on vaccine “reluctance.”

On the list of my childhood heroes with Odysseus, Zorro, and Bill Russell was Dr. Albert Sabin. Polio was a live issue in our house because my mother had spent a year in an iron lung after she’d contracted the bulbiospinal form of the epidemic disease. This turned her into the lifetime medico-phobe that she was until the day she died. This filtered down to me, and it was only intensified by the fact that I had to get a polio shot every couple of years. I came to dread needles.

The second cause of my trypanophobia—yeah, there’s a clinical word for it—came when I was about six years old and subject to mysteriously high fevers. They put me in the hospital and, very late at night, an orderly the size of LeBron James came and wheeled me into a treatment room. He then took me under my arms and bent me forward. I vividly remember feeling that something very bad was about to happen because they needed this huge person to handle a first-grader. A few seconds later, I had my first (and only) spinal tap. I can still feel the pain that ran up all the way into my ears. I have trust issues regarding medical procedures that I’ve worked very hard to overcome over the past 25 years. I also hate pain.

Anyway, I came to dread the polio shots, but my parents insisted on them. My father managed to get me off the ceiling by talking about how many shots he had to get in the Navy during World War II. He told me that, just before the needle went in, I should grit my teeth really hard. That worked well enough, I found. (I may once have eaten a lip.) But I still dreaded the inevitable booster shots, even though they’d keep me out of the iron lung.

The first miracle regarding polio had come in 1955, when I was two years old. Dr. Jonas Salk developed his vaccine using inactivated polio virus. As soon as I was old enough, I began to get my shots. Then, in 1961, Albert Sabin took away all of my anxieties with a sugar cube.

Sabin developed an oral vaccine against polio. The nuns took us all down to the cafeteria and they handed us this weird tasting sugar cube. (I remember it as tasting surprisingly tangy, like really sharp cough medicine.) That was the end of polio shots in my lifetime. I’ve made my peace with needles. I get my shingles shot, and my pneumonia preventative, every year. I’ve made my peace with IVs after two recent hospital stays. I even give a pint of blood every month as therapy for a genetic blood condition.

So, when the opportunity came to take the Moderna vaccine, I grabbed it like it was the last train to glory. A month apart, I reported to the Thomas Menino YMCA in Hyde Park for my two Dolly shots. After the second one, I fairly flew across River Street to my car, taking deeper breaths than I had taken in over a year. All of which is why I understand many of the people who are reluctant to take the vaccine, my fellow trypanophobes. They should grit their teeth, hard, and get the damn shots, it’s true, but I understand how their minds work. It’s the other ones, the stupid and the stubborn, that I find infuriating. Albert Sabin found them infuriating, too.

It was 1956 and there was a great bogeyman on the other side of the world behind an iron curtain, and great mushroom-shaped clouds of panicky rhetoric. It was not the most auspicious time to go into the research business with Soviet scientists. However, even godless Communists had children, and those children contracted polio the same way that the children of imperialist running dogs did. Sabin had been working on a vaccine that depended on attenuated live polio virus. In 1956, a Soviet scientist named Mikhail Chumatov brought a team to the United States to study Salk’s approach to the problem. Chumatov’s team also stopped in at Sabin’s lab.

In June of 1956, after long negotiations with the FBI, Sabin was cleared to fly to Leningrad to work with Chumatov. Their partnership was so fruitful that, when Sabin’s funding ran out in the United States, Chumatov and Sabin were able to test their vaccine in Russia and, also, in Hungary, where a massive polio outbreak had occurred in 1957, not long after the Soviet Army had crushed the Hungarian revolution. The Salk vaccine had come from the U.S. Now the Sabin vaccine was coming from the same place whence the tanks had rolled. In 2014, Dora Vargha wrote a long study of the start-and-stop cooperation between the United States and Hungary over the polio vaccines, and how that cooperation was caught in the middle of Cold War politics.

While the revolution of 1956 deepened the Cold War divide in the eyes of the United States, the Hungarian government used some of the outcomes of the uprising to lift the Iron Curtain and temporarily allow personal avenues to cut through between East and West. In fact, the shipment of the treasured vaccine was preceded by personal packages containing single doses and over a year’s efforts in domestic production…What is remarkable about this customs policy, and the encouragement of personal aid from family members and friends living abroad, is that through these announcements the state called on precisely the people it wanted to silence, punish, or destroy: émigrés who had left the country on various occasions from World War II onward because of the communist regime.

This all involved the importation of the Salk vaccine from the United States. Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union, Sabin and Chumatov continued their research into the attenuated live virus approach. In 1959, there was another serious outbreak in Hungary that shook the people’s faith in the Salk vaccine. At about the same time, Sabin and Chumatov had a vaccine ready for testing on human beings. And, while the United States was resistant to widespread testing, the citizens of the Soviet bloc did not have the complications inherent to individual freedom.

The scientific exchange between Sabin and Chumakov led to the largest field trial in the history of polio, involving over 16.5 million people across the Soviet Union. Parallel to the Soviet campaign, smaller but equally important trials were conducted in Czechoslovakia and Hungary. In 1958–59, Czechoslovakia organized relatively large field trials of a vaccine prepared from the Sabin strains, while Hungary tested the vaccine in one county in November 1959.

This cooperation across the Iron Curtain in the development of the vaccine did not extend to its implementation. In April of 1955, badly manufactured doses of the Salk vaccine had caused a number of vaccinated individuals in California to develop the disease. This had shredded public confidence in the vaccine, and the kept Hungarian press accused American scientists of using the country’s children as guinea pigs. By the time the Sabin/Chumatov vaccine came online, the Hungarian attitude toward vaccinations had changed dramatically. They had had two outbreaks in the intervening years, and Hungarians seemed to have more confidence in vaccines coming from the East.

Once he’d developed his vaccine, Sabin moved on to championing mass vaccination as a means of “breaking the chain” of polio’s contagion. (He had been won over on the subject of mass vaccination of children by the success that Cuba had seen with it.) His vaccine was uniquely suited to this approach because it was more easily stored and more inexpensively distributed. And that, eventually, is how it happened that I walked down the stairs from my classroom and into the school auditorium, where somebody handed me a sugar cube and all my fears dissolved.

There is nothing new in anti-vaccination movements. There have been backlashes against nearly all breakthroughs in that area of science, beginning with the crude inoculations as a defense against smallpox. In the early 1900s, after many states had passed mandatory vaccination laws, anti-vaccination movements got such statutes repealed in seven states, including California. In 1905, Massachusetts beat back a similar challenge to mandatory vaccination laws passed by many of its cities and towns. In Jacobson v. Massachusetts, the Supreme Court ruled:

The liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States does not import an absolute right in each person to be at all times, and in all circumstances, wholly freed from restraint, nor is it an element in such liberty that one person, or a minority of persons residing in any community and enjoying the benefits of its local government, should have power to dominate the majority when supported in their action by the authority of the State. It is within the police power of a State to enact a compulsory vaccination law, and it is for the legislature, and not for the courts, to determine in the first instance whether vaccination is or is not the best mode for the prevention of smallpox and the protection of the public health.

So now we call it “vaccine reluctance,” even though every person refusing to be vaccinated is a danger to public health. There’s more political ideology mixed in with vaccination policy in this country right now than there was in Hungary or the Soviet Union during the Cold War. That’s just strange.

A Tribute to a Blogger — Tom Watson on the passing of Lance Mannion.

The great Lance Mannion has left us and his passing requires a testament to his gifts and generosity in a venue appropriate to his prolific blogging life. This particular slab of granite will be carved here, upon this ancient turf, this feed, this blog, this Typepad. For this is where Lance lived and created his world of words, where he sowed such a rich wildflower meadow of scents and colors and shapes and stories. His work was a gift to me and so many thousands of others, very lightly remunerated, and yet so consistent that we took yet another wordsmith spring for granted and the sudden killing frost of mortality has wiped the blooms away. There will be no more posts. No more musings on literature and film, television and media, politics and culture.

It was here where Lance Mannion joined the immortals of our game. He ranks with Steve Gilliard, Gehrig’s “luckiest man” to that Ruthian loss and – in my view – the Iron Horse of the liberal blogging era, a man who kept going long after all the RSS feeds dried up and Twitter injected its instantaneous meanness of spirit into what now passes for discourse. Those gauzy days of the aughts seem distant now, but they were a time of superheroes – writers who wore their disguises like marvelous capes and masks and costumes. I shudder at their remembered majesty and might. “Lance Mannion” invented himself, because he could. Because we all could. Lance was part Bing Crosby part Jack Lemmon and part Damon Runyon. But he also injected hardcore liberalism into middle American tastebuds, like Peter Parker’s radioactive spider. Tolerance crossed with curiosity was his superpower. And so he rambled with the Self-Styled Siren, with the Viscount LaCarte, with Neddie Jingo, with Blue Girl, with Shakespeare’s Sister, with M.A. Peel, with Jon Swift, with Majikthise, with Digby, and all the other crazy superhero bastards (including those of us foolish enough to use our real names). Keep your Rat Pack, brother, that was my crowd.

Lance Mannion was the witty guy down at the end of the best bar in town. You walked into the joint happy to see him there every damned night. You left with his jocular Fred MacMurray banter ringing in your ears, smoother than the most expensive Scotch.

Dave Reilly had a harder road.

Lance was my muse, but Dave was my friend. He was a brilliant writer, out of the Iowa Writers Workshop, and a devoted family man who hit some very tough times in late middle life. We went to the Clinton Global Initiative together. We hung around a few Democratic victory parties together. He joined my newcritics blogging venture back in the day. He was a regular at the Hillman Prizes. We marched with the Teamsters at Occupy Wall Street. And then harder times closed in. He had some serious health challenges. And his wife Adrienne – herself a brilliant journalist the very reason why Lance Mannion lionized Lois Lane – became ill. To blog readers, she’s the Blonde or Mrs. M. They were an incredibly close couple, and they loved their boys deeply and publicly. But in this time in this country for a blogger and a newspaperwoman, the economic bar was high even without the healthcare crisis.

Dave would always send a Christmas card. Now and again a postcard. My favorite – as he knew – was the one from Hyde Park, after a visit to FDR’s Presidential library, a place we both revered. He was a very thoughtful man; I was not always as thoughtful in return. Money was tight. The blog raised a bit, but perhaps not enough. The cracks through which a guy like Dave can fall in our society are too damned wide.

If you read the Lance Mannion blog – and by God, it should be preserved – I recommend the posts about his family. He created “Mannionville” and populated it with people. Pop M. The Blonde. Mom Mannion. His boys, Ken and Oliver Mannion. The barista at Barnes & Noble. The guy at the hardware store. A world where people knew each other and cared. That’s where Dave and Lance came together, the place where the blogging superhero took off his mask. They were the same. A loving father, husband, and son. I suspect that’s how he will be remembered the best.

But to me, he’ll always wear a cape.

Doonesbury — For every action…

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Walter Mondale — 1928-2021

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Walter F. Mondale, a preacher’s son from southern Minnesota who climbed to the pinnacle of U.S. politics as an influential senator, vice president and Democratic nominee for president, died on Monday. He was 93.

Known as “Fritz” to family, friends and voters alike, Mondale died in Minneapolis, according to a statement from his family.

“As proud as we were of him leading the presidential ticket for Democrats in 1984, we know that our father’s public policy legacy is so much more than that,” read the Mondale family statement.

Former President Jimmy Carter, who chose Mondale as his running mate in 1976, called his friend “the best vice president in our country’s history.”

“He was an invaluable partner and an able servant of the people of Minnesota, the United States and the world,” Carter said in a statement. “Fritz Mondale provided us all with a model for public service and private behavior.”

After serving four years under Carter, Mondale was the Democratic nominee for president in 1984. He lost to the incumbent, President Ronald Reagan, in a historic landslide.

“A night like that is hard on you,” Mondale wrote in his 2010 memoir, “The Good Fight.”

Even in defeat, Mondale made history by choosing as his running mate Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to run for vice president on a major-party ticket. It followed a series of political landmarks in a public career that spanned seven decades.

A protégé of Hubert H. Humphrey, another Minnesota politician who rose to the vice presidency and lost a presidential election, Mondale served as a U.S. senator from Minnesota for a dozen years. He played a lead role in the passage of social programs, civil rights laws and environmental protections that defined President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “Great Society.”

As vice president from 1977 to 1981, Mondale transformed the office from what had historically been a punchline into what both he and Carter called a true governing partnership. Mondale’s role as chief adviser and troubleshooter, working from a West Wing office near the Oval Office, became a model for successors including George H.W. Bush, Al Gore, Dick Cheney and Joe Biden.

“The first person I called was Fritz,” Biden once said about the time President Barack Obama offered him the No. 2 position.

“Just as George Washington set the contours for the presidency, Mondale more than anyone else made the vice presidency into a robust and constructive institution,” said vice presidential scholar Joel K. Goldstein, a law professor at St. Louis University.

He never had much of a chance against Ronald Reagan in 1984, but after his long career in Minnesota, in the United States Senate, as vice president, and then ambassador to Japan, that campaign for the presidency shouldn’t be what defines his legacy. Most of all, he was a decent man who never took himself too seriously, saving that for his goals of serving his state and working for goals such as fair housing and equality. May we all have such a legacy.

Saturday, April 17, 2021


No matter how you feel about royalty or monarchies, you cannot help but feel sorrow for her loss.  They were married for over 73 years.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Sunday Reading

The Passing of Prince Philip — Rebecca Mead in The New Yorker.

The last new thing that the public learned about Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who died on Friday morning, at the age of ninety-nine, was his observance, or lack thereof, of Zoom etiquette. This was revealed by his grandson Prince Harry, in a televised interview with James Corden, in late February. “My grandfather, instead of, like, pressing ‘Leave Meeting,’ he just goes doof,” Prince Harry said, miming the swift shutting of a laptop. The anecdote was charming, demonstrating Harry’s fondness for his elderly relative, and also suggesting that the Duke, like so many of us, was impatient with the constraints of technology. But it also offered the opportunity for viewers to wonder about the scene at Windsor Castle after the Duke had smartly closed the laptop lid. What observations did Prince Philip—who was never known for mincing words—make to the Queen, or even to a conveniently stationed equerry, about the choices of his grandson, or about the varied fates of his other descendants, a total of four children, eight grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren? What must Prince Philip, who lived in the public eye for more than seven decades, have thought when he reflected upon the accomplishments and the travails of the family and institution of which he was long the patriarch, if not ever the head?

Prince Philip was royal twice over before he even married the then Princess Elizabeth, in 1947. Born on Corfu, in 1921, he was a prince of the Greek royal family—which was soon to be deposed and then later restored, but eventually abolished—and of the Danish royal family, which endures, if with considerably less pomp than attends the British monarchy. Before his marriage, he had served as a commander in the Royal Navy during the Second World War. Though he knew that his bride would eventually become the monarch, the prospect must have seemed at some distance, given that his father-in-law, George VI, was just in his early fifties. In the event, Elizabeth acceded to the throne in 1952, rendering Philip the world’s most prominent plus-one. Over the decades, much has been made of the sublimation of ego and masculine pride required of him, being not just the husband of the Queen but also her subject. (“I’m just a bloody amoeba,” he once grumbled, of his offspring taking his wife’s family name, Windsor, rather than his own adopted surname, Mountbatten.) One of the ways in which he might justly be honored, in the forthcoming commemorations of his life, is as a husband who, publicly, at least, was for the most part gracious in his acknowledgment of his spouse’s priority.

A recent poll of the British public placed Prince Philip fifth in popularity among members of the Royal Family: lagging behind the Queen, now ninety-four —whose status as most cherished is unassailable—and also behind Princes Harry and William, and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge. It is hardly a surprise that Philip, who was allergic to ingratiation of all sorts, should be less popular than the charismatic fauna of royals in their thirties. That he outstripped Prince Charles, the future King (No. 7), Princess Anne (No. 8), and Princes Edward and Andrew (Nos. Nothing) is not necessarily cause for constitutional alarm, but it does suggest that, with the death of Prince Philip, the British crown loses some of its lustre. He commanded public respect not just because of his advanced years but because, despite being supplied, like all the royals, with a life of remarkable luxury, he took seriously the self-abnegation that being a member of the most privileged family in the nation demands. Among his progeny, the example he set has been only sometimes followed—and, although one can hardly blame subsequent generations of royals for finding surprisingly thankless the roles into which they have been born or have married, Philip seems to have borne his submission to a life of service more thoroughly than almost any of his heirs.

He did not retire from public life until 2017, at the age of ninety-six, after which point he spent most of his time living in comparatively simple fashion at Wood Farm, a cottage on the Sandringham estate, in Norfolk—where, according to Charles Moore, in the Telegraph, he decreed that “the walls should be white and the ceiling the same color as the carpet.” While there, he continued to drive a coach and horses for recreation. He did not surrender his driver’s license until he was ninety-seven, when, while behind the wheel of a Land Rover, he crashed into another vehicle, inflicting thankfully non-life-threatening injuries on the driver and passenger of the other car. It may have been Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s own irrepressible impulse toward recklessness that informed his choice of metaphor in paying tribute to the Duke as an “expert carriage driver,” who “helped steer the Royal Family and the monarchy so that it remains an institution indisputably vital to the balance and happiness of our national life.”

In a nation currently as unbalanced and as unhappy as the United Kingdom—where the wearying restrictions of social distancing, quarantine, and closure have, in recent months, offered little to hope for, and where the effects of Brexit, from sluggish exports to rioting in Belfast, might have been better anticipated by those who have ushered them in—the death of a ninety-nine-year-old man after a life lived well does not come exactly as tragic news. If one thinks, though, of the Queen not as a sovereign but as a spouse deprived of her life’s companion, it’s easy enough to summon sympathy. Even a public loss is, like every loss that has happened in the past year, particular to those going through it. Private grief can only be imagined, like whatever transpires in the empty air after the decisive closing of a laptop lid. (Doof.) Even before the coronavirus required the imposition of severe restrictions on the observations of funerals—restrictions from which the monarchy is not exempt—Prince Philip had made his own preferences clear. He is not to be given a state funeral of the sort that will occur at the Queen’s inevitable demise. Instead, he will be buried at St. George’s Chapel, on the Windsor estate, in about a week’s time, with a service expected to be attended by no more than thirty mourners.

Doonesbury — “An old man, broken with the storms of state.”