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A Few Joyce Words-- The Final Bell

The Final Bell
    I recall the day Sinatra died. I opened the door to retrieve the paper from the porch. It was seasonably cool. I slid back the plastic sleeve and unfolded the mass of bundled pages and adverts. I read the headline; blinked at the photo. The Chairman of the Board, 82, was no longer with us.
March 10th, 1997. My sister Christine and I had driven up to St. Mary’s, Ga. for the weekend. She would hang with her high school friend Sarah. Sarah’s husband Brian and I would watch football. He snuck me drinks even though I was underage.
    I awoke on the floor of Sarah and Brian’s second floor apartment. The news was on. The night before, in Los Angeles, rapper Notorious B.I.G., real name Christopher Wallace had been gunned-down in an act of street violence.
    Other than my two grandmothers’ passing’s-on and that of my Air Force buddy in 2001, no other persons’ passing has ever affected me the way those two icons had. My grandmothers, parents and the rest of the world had been huge fans of Ole Blue Eyes. For my generation, at least those interested in Hip-Hop music and culture, Biggie Smalls was sure to be our “Frankie Baby.”
    In the last 48 hours, two other legends of the same respective periods of the former passed away. The 1960’s and 70’s were marred by much controversy and marked by huge talents. One, a boxing legend and cultural-counterpart to the iconic Muhammad Ali, was Smokin’ Joe Frazier, 67. The other, whose career began well before Wallace’s and was on the precipice of resurgence, was Heavy D, 44.
    Joe Frazier rose through the ranks of boxing after winning the ’64 Olympic Gold Medal. In 1970 he earned the Heavyweight Championship Title vacated by Muhammad Ali who had his belt stripped for conscientiously objecting to the draft. Ali would taunt, harass and publically embarrass Frazier at every opportunity from then on until the two fought. And after. Their three bouts are part of boxing lore that harkens to a time when the sport was one of this country’s most revered events. The “Thrilla in Manilla” is a constant slot-filler on ESPN Classics. Kids, run and Youtube that.
    Heavy D, a.k.a. Dwight Errington Myers, entered the rap scene around the same time as Parental Advisory for Explicit Lyrics. Yet his weren’t. The “Overweight Lover Emcee” was known for rap songs about relationships. Up-tempo beats and dance moves men similar in size would struggle to pull off made him as easy to poke fun at as he was to fall in love with. He was an entrepreneur, a producer of hits for his group, Heavy D and the Boys, and for others. Hev’ was a friend to contemporaries and fans.
    For me, Sinatra and Frazier were icons of a previous generation that felt more like uncles I’d never met. Their legends lasted longer than their active careers and their followings linger today. Biggie (Wallace) and Heavy D (Myers) were guys I grew up listening to, watching and aspiring to one day be like. They were the cool, strong and successful guys whose accomplishments didn’t seem so impossible but would never really be duplicated. Even as teenager I knew this to be true.
    Certainly losing my grandparents to cancer impacted me more. And as much as I hate to divulge this, the abrupt death of my friend and fellow Airman Andre has really stayed with me. Hauntingly so. In those I am not alone. I share those burdens with my family and friends.  As for Frank, Christopher, Joe and Dwight, legions of fans whether one, a few or of all four will continue to mourn the losses of these men for years and years to come. More sadly still, friends, family and famous icons that might only feel like such will leave us before we, or they, are ready to say goodbye. But for today, and just for today I choose to remember them each fondly and with love and admiration, and will try to do so tomorrow and the next day as well. One person, one emotion, one day at a time.


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