One thing about being famous and dying -- you don't want to do it too late in the year.
Early December, great; you'll be fresh when every media outlet puts together its "They Will Be Missed" list (We're looking at you, Van Johnson). Late December and you find yourself left off the lists that are put together early (Jerry Orbach and Susan Sontag, we hardly knew ye, since you both died December 28, 2004).
With that in mind, and assuming Roger Clemens doesn't croak from an HGH overdose in the next couple of days, here are the top five Houston deaths of 2008:
("Big," of course, meaning notable, tragic, newsworthy, etc.)
5. Cary Winscott. Not a big name, to be sure, but a big part of the antic and edgy goings-on at Infernal Bridegroom Productions (Notable death, 2007). He was only 38, and his death hit hard in the alt-theater community.
4. Louie Welch. A five-term mayor of Houston (he'd run and lost three times previously), Welch was the prototypical good ol' boy mayor of the `60s and early `70s. He didn't take kindly to blacks protesting at TSU, and he gained national fame when he didn't realize he was speaking into an open mike when he gave his studied analysis of how to deal with the nascent AIDS crisis, which was "Shoot the queers."
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3. Tom Jones. Not the Welsh stud-singer, but the guy who was in many ways the heart and soul of Houston's Art Car community. Killed by a drunk driver while he was standing outside the Art Car Museum chatting with friends.
2. Ron Stone. Longtime anchor for KPRC. Although he sometimes came across as too pollyannish when it came to Houston and Texas, he knew how to get a story and tell it. Part of an era when local news anchors stayed in their jobs seemingly forever.
1. Michael DeBakey. One half of the Hatfields & McCoys of heart surgery (Denton Cooley being the other half), DeBakey was an opera star -- immensely gifted, but also a diva who demanded and reveled in attention. He put Houston on the map for something other than oil and NASA, and was the first person to ever lie in state in City Hall. Even now Denton Cooley is plotting to make sure he gets the same treatment, we're sure.)
Special mention: Jerry J. Moore. We thought it extremely odd that this mega-rich, flamboyant, publicity-loving real-estate developer went to the Great Beyond this year without so much as a peep from the Houston Chronicle. For our pains in pointing that out, we got roasted in the comments section of our item (We're apparently "a piece of garbage" and a "liberal freak"). So, to this list of notable 2008 deaths, we guess we should add Our Reputation Among Friends & Family of Jerry J. Moore.
-- Richard Connelly