obits

Rest in peace, Denise Nickerson…

When I was a child, I loved watching The Electric Company. Thinking about it now, despite its early 70s funkiness, it really was a great show. The cast was mostly made up of very talented people who had serious musical theater cred– people like Morgan Freeman, Rita Moreno, Irene Cara, Todd Graf, and even Bill Cosby, many years before he became a jailbird. For a year or so, Denise Nickerson, who memorably played Violet Beauregarde in the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory was also on The Electric Company.

Here she is singing lead on “Sweet, Sweet Sway”…
Here is Denise with Skip Hinnant, playing Fargo North. She was very girlish as she taught us about punctuation.

I was also a big fan of The Brady Bunch. Denise Nickerson also guested on that show, playing Pam Phillips on an episode called “Two Petes in a Pod”.

Denise had geek appeal…

But she’s probably best known for her role as Violet. I never actually saw Willy Wonka until a couple of years ago. Bill used to quote lines from it all the time and I’d never know what he was talking about. One thing that strikes me in all of the roles Nickerson played is how cute she was. She really had an adorable perky quality and was very talented as an entertainer. I guess I can’t blame anyone for leaving show biz, but I think she had a knack for it.

Violet turns into a blueberry.

Denise Nickerson died a couple of days ago, a year after having suffered a severe stroke from which she was unable to recover. Her son and his wife had been caring for her in their home. They went out, and she apparently overdosed on her medications. She was rushed to a hospital, where she suffered a seizure. Her family elected to take her off life support, and she died a short time later.

In addition to the credits I’ve listed above, Nickerson was also on Dark Shadows, which I’ve never seen. She stopped acting in 1978, but did participate in some events surrounding her best known roles. Personally, I think I liked her best for her turn on The Electric Company. She played Allison, a member of The Short Circus. Since reading is one of my favorite things to do, I appreciate those who helped me learn how. The Electric Company was one of my best tools for learning how to read. It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago that I watched that show in school and at home, but the years have really passed in a hurry. Nickerson was 62 years old, which seems crazy to me. Has it really been 48 years since Willy Wonka? Jeez, I’m getting old.

I wish her family and friends peace, as they grieve the loss of their talented loved one. I’m sure she’ll be missed.

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stupid people

The Brady Bunch isn’t a benchmark for real life…

I could be writing about Donald Trump’s unfortunate and blatant lies about how doctors and mothers “execute” healthy babies after birth. Obviously, he’s feeling the heat as the next election comes up, trying to rally the stupid and gullible to vote for him. I certainly could come up with a few minutes worth of ranting about his latest outrageous untruths, which, in my view, really should knock him out of contention for a second presidential term, in and of themselves. But I’m not going to go there right now. I’d rather write about The Brady Bunch.

I happen to be a super fan of The Brady Bunch. I was born in 1972, midway through its run. By the time I was a small child, the show was in syndication. I used to love to watch it, because the Bradys seemed like such a perfect family. One memorable episode that has recently come into news was one from 1969, in which all of the Brady kids come down with the measles at the same time. Apparently, anti-vaxers have been using that quaint sitcom episode as an example of what it’s like to have measles. They’re saying that the Brady kids didn’t suffer when they had the measles. They weren’t very sick, and were able to eat and play Monopoly to their hearts’ content while their parents slaved to make them well again. They got a few days off from school and lived happily ever after… at least until The Bradys aired in 1990. Yes, it’s an idyllic episode and one of my favorites. But it’s not reality.

As I got older, I realized that The Brady Bunch didn’t represent reality, even though I still liked watching the show. Unfortunately, it seems that some people are using this old sitcom as “proof” that all of the hullabaloo about vaccinations is just a bunch of hooey. It surprises me that people are really that dumb, but just like the ones who believe doctors and mothers are “executing” newborn babies, there are people out there who think it’s alright to spread the measles and skip the vaccines.

Lots of people have had measles and survived the experience just fine, but there have also been folks who have suffered dire consequences of having come down with the viral illness. Some people have even died. A couple of weeks ago, an Israeli flight attendant who was vaccinated as a child but lost her immunity, came down with measles and wound up in a coma. One potential complication of measles is encephalitis, which is a potentially deadly brain inflammation. That’s what happened to the flight attendant, who was presumably in good health before she got sick with this “harmless” childhood disease. Her doctors have said they’re now hoping for the best.

In New York City, where there’s a measles outbreak going on, twenty-nine people have had to be hospitalized due to the disease. Six of those people have had to be in intensive care. If they survive, there will be quite a huge hospital bill waiting for each of them. If they don’t survive, their nexts of kin will be dealing with the bills.

Another major potential complication of measles is pneumonia, which is sometimes fatal, particularly for those who are already immunocompromised. Even if pneumonia doesn’t kill you, it’s not a very pleasant illness and it often requires medical help to overcome. That means a loss of time, money, and productivity.

I realize that people don’t like to be told what they should or shouldn’t do. No one wants to be “forced” to have unwanted shots. Some people still resent seatbelt and helmet laws. But, speaking as someone with an advanced degree in public health, I’m here to tell you that vaccines are scientifically proven to reduce the risks related to these childhood illnesses. The vaccinations are proven to be an effective way to cut down on measles infections. Sure, it’s a mild illness for many people, but why take the chance of getting it when all you have to do is get a little shot? Why take the chance that you might spread it to someone who will get very sick and possibly even die?

Same thing goes for the mumps. People think of it as no big thing, but one of the potential complications is meningitis, which is a deadly spinal infection. Encephalitis, which is a brain infection, is another potentially serious complication of the mumps. It can also lead to swollen testicles, swollen ovaries and breast tissue, and hearing loss. Most people won’t experience these serious complications, but why risk getting the mumps if you don’t have to? Are you that eager to see your genitals swell?

The science behind vaccinations has been around for hundreds of years. Some of the vaccines that people are avoiding have existed for decades and have proven to lower the risk of contracting these diseases. But really, I just want to know… why in the hell would anyone get their information about measles from a 50 year old episode of a show like The Brady Bunch? Do people go to Spongebob Squarepants to learn about marine biology? Even Sherwood Schwartz, the man behind The Brady Bunch and its measles episode, had his children vaccinated against the disease. I’m sure he had no way of knowing his cute little measles episode would turn into an excuse for people to be foolish and risk their health, or that of their children’s.

If you’re going to look to The Brady Bunch for an idea of how measles might affect the average person, I think you should also look to the old show, ER, for another view. The 2001 episode, “A Walk in the Woods” shows just what can happen when those “rare” complications strike in a childhood illness. The link (it no longer works, so I deleted it) will take you to the full episode and, hopefully, some food for thought… especially if you have young children. And, unlike The Brady Bunch, it’s a relatively modern look at a so-called harmless disease.

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