STAN LEE PASSES — Marvel’s Stan Lee passed on Monday and the Age of 95. Boy, what a life he had. Personally, he took me on the ride of my life. As I’ve said before, I was always an Avengers-fan first and foremost (and, if you’re curious, second was the Fantastic Four) and have mostly enjoyed their movies. Imagine seeing my childhood heroes brought to life on the big screen. His life has been well documented by now, but the thing that struck me most was the fact, that he always wanted to make comics that he would be proud of.
As a writer and editor for Marvel Comics, Lee became the most famous comic book creator in the history of the medium — he was the only creator in the field whose fame rivaled that of the characters he created. His career began in 1941 when – at age 17 – he got his first published work, a prose story that appeared in the fifth issue of Captain America Comics. It was the 1960’s, however, when Lee minted his reputation and tapped into a vein of pop-culture creativity that made history.
“No one has had more of an impact on my career and everything we do at Marvel Studios than Stan Lee,” Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige said in a Monday statement, one of many industry reactions to Lee’s death. “Stan leaves an extraordinary legacy that will outlive us all. Our thoughts are with his daughter, his family, and the millions of fans who have been forever touched by Stan’s genius, charisma and heart.”
Feige finished his statement with the single word most associated with Lee — “Excelsior!” — an interjection that the Marvel writer and editor used for decades to capture his enthusiasm and sees of grandeur. As a persona, Lee was relentlessly enthusiastic about comics and comic book characters and his huckster charm made him an ambassador for American pop culture across the world. Filmmakers and studios made it a tradition of giving Lee cameo appearances in Marvel film adaptations — he appeared in three dozen of them, starting with X-Men in 2000. Here’s a great YouTube clip of ALL of Lee’s cameras – pretty impressive for sure: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HnByuUqMeko&t=61s
Lee was born Stanley Leiber but opted to “save that name” for serious writing — he assumed as a teenager that comic books were a brief stop and that he would be a novelist and playwright in short order. Instead his career in comics would span seven decades. In lieu of moving upward to a more respectable medium, Lee helped transform the four-color American comic book into a powerhouse of pop culture creation and a major concept factory for Hollywood.
In fact Marvel’s three most recent blockbusters, all released over a mere five months, were adaptations of Lee creations — Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and Ant-Man and the Wasp — and have grossed more than $3.7 billion, nearly matching the price Disney paid for Marvel in 2009. Since that purchase, Marvel has generated six of the top 20 global-grossing films, topped this summer by Infinity War crossing the $2 billion mark. On television, Marvel heroes are featured in 10 live-action series (spread across ABC, Fox, Netflix, FX, Hulu and Freeform) as well as five more animated franchises.
None of that would have happened if Lee hadn’t listened to his wife, Joan Lee, back in 1961. Marvel Comics was faring badly at the time — the comic book industry appeared to be on its last legs — and Lee was certain he would soon be out of a job. His wife counseled him: Before you leave, do one comic book that you will be proud of. Lee did just that and made history in the process.
It was Fantastic Four No. 1 in 1961, which teamed Lee with Jack Kirby, and its landmark success changed everything for Lee and for the imprint. It signaled the arrival of a new and dynamic brand of superheroes that were far different than the old-guard heroes of industry leader DC Comics (which published Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern). The Fantastic Fourbickered with each other — one looked like a monster and none of them had secret identities. They were at times driven by ego, shame, profit, jealousy or pride. Fans loved it.
The Marvel melding of superhero concepts with the melodrama of soap operas continued with Spider-Man, created by Lee and Steve Ditko, whose first appearance came in Amazing Fantasy No. 15, in 1961. Peter Parker who was a bespectacled, scrawny teenager who often lost his battles, fretted about paying his bills, and routinely suffered indignities at the hands of school bullies and disinterested girls. Lee would say often that the character was the closest to his heart and to his own experience growing up in New York as a bookish kid with big dreams and a small life.
Joan Lee died last year also at age 95; the two had been married for 69 years. The comic book legend’s life became a swirl of turmoil after her passing set off a power struggle among friends, advisors, attorneys and managers. In August, a judge ordered Keya Morgan, a memorabilia dealer and one-time adviser, to stay away from Lee for three years amid allegations of elder abuse. Collegaue Roger Friedman has a great take on Lee’s sad last years; sad indeed. Check it out here: https://www.showbiz411.com/2018/11/12/marvel-comics-genius-stan-lee-dead-at-95-after-a-year-from-hell-thanks-to-greedy-associates-family
Tom Lallas, attorney for the comics pioneer, said in a Monday statement: “Stan Lee is, and forever will be, an American icon. All superhero fans around the world mourn his passing. There will never be another like him. Since the death of his beloved wife Joan on July 6, 2017, his most fervent desire was to join her. May they hold each other in the blissful, warm embrace of their love for eternity.”
The trying times for the aging comics pioneer were compounded when Ditko died earlier this year, a passing that weighed on Lee. The two were considered the last living links to the “Golden Age” of comics, which began with the June 1938 introduction of Superman, the first superhero, and ended in 1950.
The “Silver Age” of comics was the era, however, when Lee proved his mettle. The introduction of the Fantastic Fourand Spider-Man signaled the beginning of the Marvel Comics surge that redefined comics and superheroes — and created the intellectual property that have powered some of the biggest movie franchises in history. The heroes and villains that were churned out of Marvel in the 1960’s would later lead to franchises for Sony (Spider-Man), Fox (X-Men, Fantastic Four) and Marvel Studios (Avengers, Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man), and Lee had a direct hand in most of those creations.
Lee working with artists such as Kirby, Ditko, John Buscema, Wally Wood and Don Heck would fill the skies of the so-called Marvel Universe not just with superheroes but with aliens, gods, vampires, monsters and mutants, a bizarre pantheon that was cosmic in scale but also defined by heartfelt tales of yearning and outsider ethos.
The X-Men (created by Lee and Kirby) had amazing powers but they were reviled and misunderstood as mutants. Bruce Banner was a brilliant scientist but overwhelmed with guilt due to the uncontrollable rages of his alter ego, the Hulk, also created by Lee and Kirby. The same tandem introduced the forlorn Silver Surfer, a gleaming space traveler who sacrificed his freedom to save his home world.
Lee and Kirby became the Lennon and McCartney of the comic book world during the 1960’s but by the end of the 1970’s Lee was looking to Hollywood for the next act of his long and illustrious career. (The last true Marvelsuperhero Lee created for the company’s ongoing monthly adventures came in 1979 with She-Hulk, the female cousin of the green Goliath.) Lee moved to the West Coast in 1981 and became a familiar voice on Saturday morning cartoons that featured the likes of Spider-Man and the X-Men.
Marvel made its first leap to the big screen in 1986 with the ill-fated Lucasfilm adaptation of Howard the Duck. As hard as it is to imagine now, the reputation of Marvel in Hollywood up thought the 1990’s was as a sad, second-place brand compared to DC Comics, which had mega-success on the big screen with Superman (1978) and Batman (1999). It wasn’t until Fox’s X-Men in 2000 and Sony/Columbia’s Spider-Man in 2002 that Marvelbecame a screen sensation on par with its publishing-world success story. Lee was right there on screen with his creations, ready for his Hollywood close-up and all the heroic success that followed. An ill-fated deal with New World Entertainment (and, Ronald Perelman) resulted in some pretty cheesy movies including Spiderman and Captain America.
It’ll be interesting to see how Marvel proceeds without Lee’s omnipresence. Kevin Feige is a worthy acolyte, and has thus far, made some pretty remarkable moves … but, does he share Lee’s vision? We’ll have to wait and see.
Robert Downey Jr., the star of Iron Man, summed up his view of Lee’s contributions with a Monday Instagram post: “I owe it all to you. Rest in piece Stan.”
THE FAME GAME —Great article from Ultimate Classic Rock: Fame and fortune can seem like a dream come true, but it’s often fleeting. Some rockers have tried holding tight to both for as long as they could, while others let it slip away. A select group of stars has gone so far as to run for the hills, eschewing all the trappings that come with the job.
We’ve collected some of the biggest names in classic rock who chose to walk away from the spotlight.
Ironically, it’s sometimes the mystery behind their disappearance from public life that helps fan the flame of fame. When you’re a member of one of the biggest rock bands in the world — like Queen, Guns N’ Roses or Kiss — why back away? It adds just enough mystique to keep these figures in the public’s mind years after they’ve left the stage.
For some, it was a tough battle against drugs and alcohol or mental illness; for others, it wasn’t their choice as their bandmates kicked them to the curb and solo careers didn’t pay the same dividends. And then there are those who simply had enough of the music business and gave it up to raise a family as they lived off their royalties. For a few more, we may never know their motivation.
But for better or worse, the rock stars below left it all behind, either temporarily or forever.
Steve Perry led Journey through their most commercially successfully period, from 1977-87 and again in the late 90’s, but he eventually felt burned out from constant touring. He remained out of the public eye for two decades, even declining to perform with his old band when it was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He eventually returned with a solo album in 2018, inspired by a promise he made to his late girlfriend.
An icon of the 60’s and a founding member of Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett was ousted from the band in 1968, following a period of erratic behavior attributed to drug use and suspected mental illness. He didn’t see his bandmates again until 1975 when he crashed a “Wish You Were Here” recording session as they worked on “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” which happened to be about him. Though he continued to produce on occasion, he mainly remained hidden in his Cambridgeshire home until his death from cancer in 2006 at age 60.
There’s been much ado about media-shy Izzy Stradlin’s departure from Guns N’ Roses in 1991, following a final performance at Wembley Stadium that August. He’s since said it was partially over a new contract that offered him a smaller portion of royalties. He filled in for his replacement at a few shows in 1993, but otherwise he’s led his own band and helped out in the early days of Velvet Revolver, the band that included some former Guns N’ Roses bandmates and Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland. Reportedly, Stradlin came as close as sound checking with his old band during a 2016 Guns N’ Roses reunion before walking away again, allegedly over money.
John Deacon was nowhere to be found when Bohemian Rhapsody, the biopic about his old Queen bandmate Freddie Mercury, hit theaters in 2018. That’s no surprise, since he was always the quietest of the foursome. Following Mercury’s death, he played only three more times with his surviving bandmates before receding from the spotlight to his Putney home. His final appearance with Queen occurred in 1997 at the Paris premiere for the AIDS-inspired Ballet for Life, where they performed “The Show Must Go On” with Elton John.
Even though Vinnie Vincent helped reinvigorate Kiss in the early 80’s, he was sacked in 1984 due to contract disputes and some onstage antics. He then spent a few years leading the Vinnie Vincent Invasion but, after contributing a few songs to Kiss’ 1992 album Revenge, he retreated from public life. His absence ended in 2018, when he appeared at a Kiss fan expo and announced solo shows.
After forming Starship from the ashes of Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship, Grace Slick left the band in 1989 only to reform Jefferson Airplane the following year. She soon left that band too, saying rock music is for young artists. Since then, she has largely focused on her visual art and stayed away from showbiz.
After a brush with death, Cat Stevens reached the height of his career in the early 70’s with Tea for Tillerman and Teaser and the Firecat. But after another near-death experience later in the decade, Stevens devoted himself to Islam, changing his name to Yusuf Islam. Instead of writing and performing music, he spent his time working with charitable organizations and didn’t reemerge musically until after 9/11. His first new album since then, An Other Cup, arrived in 2006.
After helping to pioneer funk in the 60’s and 70’s, Sly Stone went underground in the 80’s, the result of drug use and deteriorating relationships among band members. But after staying to himself for the better part of three decades, Stone popped up again for an appearance at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony for his band and at a Grammys tribute. In 2007, he performed several shows with the Family Stone. He has even participated in a documentary about his life and work.
John Frusciante was only 18 when he joined the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who achieved their breakthrough success two years later with Blood Sugar Sex Magik. It sent him running from the sudden spotlight, and he quit the band the following year as he retreated into addiction. After cleaning up, Frusciante rejoined the Peppers when the band fired Dave Navarro, but again called it quits in 2009 when the Peppers went on hiatus.
Bill Withers had already gone through a few careers — including a stint in the Navy — before he rose to stardom with a long string of hits in the 70’s. But when he clashed with record executives over release of his music, he decided to walk away from the business in 1985 after releasing the album Watching You Watching Me. He retreated from public life to raise a family, granting few interviews and declining further offers to perform. He did show up to accept his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 but did not perform.
SHORT TAKES — Monkee-Micky Dolenz headed East for a series of media-rounds for The Monkees Xmas album.We’ll have a take with Mr. D shortly when he arrives. Stay tuned … Sighting: PR-pasha David Salidor at the new Warhol-exhibit at MOMA in NYC … We just listened to new first-ever Xmas album from Eric Clapton. While his fan-base immediately embraced the album, posted comments on Amazon were evenly divided between good and not-good. A new book, Slowhand, from noted biographer Philip Norman is out and we’re awaiting a copy. Oddly, I’m just re-reading his fantastic one on Elton John (Sir Elton: The Definitive Biography) …
In our continuing downsizing of our music collection (in preparation for a home renovation) we came across 2002’s Escapology from Robbie Williams. Ever track on this album is just brilliant. Why Williams wasn’t a bigger star in the U.S. is a complete mystery to me. Sensational album … Check out The Improper’s story on DJ-Tony Smith. Right here: https://www.theimproper.com/music/16330/tony-smith-star-new-york-city-disco-scene-now-relives-it-satellite-radio/ and, NYC gets its first snow storm tomorrow. Hunker down mates!
NAMES IN THE NEWS — Mike Greenly; Curtis Urbina; Brad LeBeau; Joe Giaco; Helene Millman; Marion Perkins; Beth Wernick; Marsha Stern; Randy Jones; James Edstrom; Keith Girard; Derek Storm; Jeff Smith; Bobby Bank; Steve Walter; and, CFS.