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Barry ZeVan

He tells stories

Reflections: Verne Gagne; Avalanches; Riots; Jerry Stiller

VERNE GAGNE - In my opinion, when death comes to someone about whom one cares, and has been a friend as well as business associate, there's never a time when "the time is right". To me, that thought certainly is germane to Verne Gagne's passing last night. Not only was he an icon in the rough world of wrestling but also the antithesis of "tough" as a human being. He was one of the most affable, warm, kind and generous people I ever had the privilege and honor to know, and for whom to do some work. I interviewed a lot of stars who I'd known throughout the years to appear on Verne's AWA wrestling television show in the early 1990s. The show was telecast globally. I remember, during a trip to the U.K., watching one of them from my hotel room in London at 4 a.m., GMT. Among the most memorable interviews, which also included Verne, were with longtime mutual friends Don Rickles, Jerry Lewis and Charo. Jerry Lewis truly loved Verne. Prior to that Las Vegas-based interview, one could see the warmth between Verne and Jerry was genuine. The admiration of millions of Verne's fans, many of them here in Minnesota, is also genuine. This is a very sad day. Blessings, heartfelt condolences and love to Donna, Greg and Cathy, shared, I'm sure, by everyone whose lives Verne's touched.

NEPALESE AVALANCHE - Mother Nature is the ultimate decision-maker. Very sadly, as in Nepal's earthquake and its effects on Kathmandu, the Nepalese villeges and citizens, and Mount Everest's sherpas and climbers, Her decisions leave us mere mortals with reminders of our helplessness when tragedies of this sort occur. I experienced one avalanche in my life. It was while producing and filming a ski documentary for Portillo, Chile, on the Chilean-Argentine border. While filming, I saw a formidable avalanche develop on one of the mountains where I'd been filming only a half-hour previously, It was directly across the valley from the mountain on which I was standing. I filmed it (still have the footage) but because the film was meant to entice skiers to visit Portillo and the surrounding area, I chose to not put it in the final version. Perhaps a wise decision, perhaps not, in retrospect.  

BALTIMORE RIOTS - What is alleged to have been egregious negligence on the parts of those who arrested Freddie Gray, not paying attention to his legitimate pleas for medical attention, is, in my opinion and the opinions of the majority, disgraceful, irresponsible and wrong. Unfortunately, once again, the legitimate anger of those incensed by others insensitivity has been demonstrated to the extreme. Even Mr. Gray's parents have decried the violence. Hopefully, someday, in some way, those who express grief and anger can do so without desecration and destruction of property and injury to those who also share their anger and grief.

JERRY STILLER - He's one of the genuinely dearest people I've been privileged to know. Jerry has been urging me to write my memoir/biography for a very long time. Last month, in writing, he gave me permission to entitle the book, THANK YOU, JERRY STILLER. The title reflects my appreciation for his many urgings. I've begun writing it. It's not a "tell all" book, but rather a combination of very unusual, kaleidoscopic, unpredictable, blessed, cursed, rich, very poor, sad and happy life experiences, as well as stories told to me from the mouths of some of the world's most celebrated and interesting people, most of whom I was blessed to know "when". My wife suggested I subtitle it, Private times with very public people. That covers part of it. It's also written with acknowledgement, in gratitude, to those helped guide and teach me along the way, even during this 77th year. Most never knew how very much they meant to me. It's about time they be recognized, not just as a personal catharsis, but in reality. I'm hoping to complete the book before I croak. Otherwise, I guess it won't be completed.

Thanks for taking the time to read these geezer thoughts. Blessings always.

Bob Simon, Brian Williams, Jon Stewart and Lizz Winstead

BOB SIMON - Last night's horrendous accident which ended his life was another reminder of how fragile and unpredictable life is. Bob Simon was truly worthy of all the plaudits and kudos uttered about him since last night's tragedy. Why that limo was traveling at twice the speed limit has raised conspiracy theorist's eyebrows. Hopefully no conspiracy to end his life was the reason for what happened. 

I never met Bob Simon, but I did have the good fortune to know his former boss and 60 MINUTES creator, Don Hewitt, as well as Don's ex-wife, Frankie, who ran Ford's Theater in D.C. during the years I was on television in that city (1974 through1977). Don always acccepted my phone calls when I had a story idea. He was a giant, but not above taking phone calls and listening to ideas. I also knew, as did some of you, one of Bob's fellow 60 MINUTES correspondents, i.e., the late and great Harry Reasoner, who cut his broadcasting eye-teeth here in the Twin Cities. 

In my opinion, and the opinion of so many, Bob's untimely death will certainly leave a gaping hole in the CBS firmament. Broadcasters from all the networks echoed their genuine sadness at the loss of one of the best in the business.

BRIAN WILLIAMS - I never met Brian either, but whatever possessed him to utter what he uttered, from the Iraqi story to the apparent fiction about what he saw during his Hurricane Katrina coverage, perhaps no one except Brian will ever know. He was perpetually at the top of the television news ratings "mountain" and certainly didn't need to embellish any story to get more ratings, which create more and higher revenues, and of course, about what the commercial media business is, allowing that element of the business to exist and flourish. As the adage states, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it". Brian didn't need to fix anything. Nothing was broken, but sadly, he chose to "fix it" and may have broken his career as a respected anchor. Without melodrama, but I think true, he also broke a lot of viewership trust, which could obviously  adversely impact the television news business for a very long time. Just as so many of us were shaking our heads when Pete Carroll made the call for the Seattle Seahawks to throw a pass instead of running the ball to easily win another Super Bowl, I think a lot of us are shaking our heads regarding Mr. Williams's decisions. As Jon Stewart said a few nights ago, "Why, Bri? Why?". Another head-shaker.

JON STEWART AND LIZZ WINSTEAD - Leaving for different pastures later this year, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert both owe their big breaks to Minneapolis comedienne, writer and THE DAILY SHOW creator, Lizz Winstead. Lizz is a longtime friend to me. We share the same birthday, August 5th, although I'm eons older than Lizz (and everyone).  Thanks to Lizz, THE DAILY SHOW did a four-minute satirical reflection about my career (which she wrote) when Craig Kilborn was hosting the show. (Craig wasn't born in Minnesota, but called Hastings his home prior to getting his big break into the television business, also thanks to Lizz) With all the attention Stewart's departure is getting, I thought it might be good to remember the person who created the vehicle that made his name a household one, justifiably. Kudos to Lizz. (BTW, her brother is Bloomngton, Minnesota's Mayor. Quite a family.) Brava, Lizz.

Thanks, as always, for taking the time to read my geezer thoughts.