In Memoriam: Ivan Reitman (1946-2022)

By: Shawn McKee

Each year brings the inevitable loss of another cultural icon. It seems this has been happening a lot lately, especially for those of us who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

The recent passing of Ivan Reitman at 75 is another reminder of irreplaceable talent in a fast-paced, ever-changing world. Reitman was one of the most reliably talented in his field. As the director, producer, and/or writer of countless seminal classics, his work behind the camera helped define the essence of modern American comedy. His films launched the careers of several comedic legends throughout the ‘80s, while reveling in absurd, wildly original concepts that always delivered.

Reitman’s strength lied in his dedication to offbeat premises and the realism necessary to keep them grounded. His track record wasn’t perfect, but there’s a reason his films remain so beloved today. He respected audiences and sought primarily to entertain. But none of that would have been possible without an adept storytelling methodology and greater understanding of the comedy formula overall.

Reitman was born in the Slovakian town of Komárom in 1946 to parents who were both Holocaust survivors. His family later immigrated to Canada, where Reitman studied music and directed several short films. After years of TV and stage production gigs, his first professional foray into film production began with two films from Canadian horror legend David Cronenberg, Shivers (1975) and Rabid (1977).

Soon after, he found early success as producer behind the anarchic comedy hit Animal House (1978), notable for its memorable ensemble cast, including the great John Belushi. Reitman’s directorial debut Meatballs (1979) gave Bill Murray his first starring role as a clownish camp counselor. This was followed by another Reitman-directed comedy hit Stripes (1981), starring Murray and Harold Ramis, who sadly passed away in 2010.

Stripes further set the tone of the anti-establishment comedy prevalent during that time and featured Murray and Ramis as two aimless slackers who join the Army on a whim. Reitman seemed to have a knack for cultivating comic talent in what critics deemed the “slob genre,” mainstreamed by movies like Caddyshack (1980). But nothing could contend with the multi-million dollar cultural phenomenon that followed.

Ghostbusters exploded into cinemas in 1984 and quickly became the highest grossing comedy of its time. The supernatural special effects extravaganza was scripted by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, introducing a group of eccentric scientists who start their own ghost-catching business. Everything about the film has become a mainstay in our culture. The ubiquitous Ray Paker Jr. song and merchandise that followed continue the endearing legacy of a cherished film and its subsequent franchise.

As director, Reitman was primarily responsible for establishing a realistic backdrop to make the story more believable, and thus, more effective. Aykroyd initially envisioned the Ghostbusters battling supernatural entities in space. After several rewrites with Ramis and additional guidance from Reitman, the story was set in its now iconic location in the heart of New York City. Reitman hired effects wizard Richard Edlund and his company to deliver the groundbreaking special effects, including the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man’s downtown rampage. Reitman knew that for the film to work, everything needed to be convincing. He also expertly merged comedy, suspense, and horror into the proceedings. The results are pure movie magic and a testament to his directorial abilities.

Reitman followed his biggest hit with the moderately successful comedy drama Legal Eagles (1986), starring Robert Redford, Debra Winger, and Daryl Hannah. The idea stemmed from Reitman to emulate the sophisticated legal thrillers of the 1940s. But its impact paled in comparison to his next comedy, Twins (1988), starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (in his first comedic role) and Danny De Vito as two “twins” reunited after being separated at birth. By this period, Reitman displayed a mastery of the form and once again delivered a fantastical premise with heart, suspense, comedy, and broad appeal.

Ghostbusters II (1989) was released during a summer of blockbusters that included Batman, Back to the Future Part II, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It held its own and successfully brought back the original cast for more supernatural adventures in NYC. As a child, Ghostbusters II was the first film of the franchise I saw in theaters. It left me enthralled, even rivaling Batman as my favorite movie of the year. Today, the film holds up just as well as the original, despite what the naysayers say. Reitman’s direction remains reliably solid, utilizing the effective chemistry of the film’s key players and equally impressive special effects.

Kindergarten Cop (1990) saw Reitman once again team up with Schwarzenegger to deliver a raucous comedy blockbuster based on an improbable concept turned real. In this case, Schwarzenegger’s hard-edged detective character goes undercover as a kindergarten teacher to catch a bad guy. The movie was criticized as being too intense for children, which speaks to Reitman’s knack of fusing several genre elements together. Reitman was still at the top of his game, delivering the comedy hit Dave in 1993, the successful but embarrassing Junior (1994), and his welcomed return to science fiction comedy with Evolution in 2001.

When not directing, he produced dozens of notable films throughout the ‘90s and 2000s. He never stopped working, even producing the latest incarnation of the Ghostbusting franchise, Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021), directed by his son, Jason. For someone beholden to comedy, it’s evident by the sheer quality of his work that he took his profession and work seriously.

The passing of a film director may not have the same impact as an actor, musician, athlete, or noted celebrity. The same could be said for scientists, authors, physicians, or anyone whose grand achievements occur outside of the limelight. We only know what we see. To me, a director’s work represents one piece of their catalog. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, but I always look for the stylistic similarities.

I remember seeing the Twins trailer in the coming attractions before The Land Before Time (1988). It showed two newborn babies crying, still in the hands of doctors, with caption across both infants that read, “Danny De Vito” and “Arnold Schwarzenegger.” I was intrigued, especially when Reitman’s name was listed in the credits. I recognized his name from the sleeve of my worn-out VHS copy of Ghostbusters. Today, I remain grateful for his work. He gave us with laughter, excitement, and a love for the memorable characters and situations that will live on for generations to come.

In Memoriam: Howard Hesseman (1940-2022)

By: Jesse Striewski

I wasn’t around in the ’70s, so my first impression of actor Howard Hesseman did not come from the hit TV show WKRP in Cincinnati as it had for many before, but instead the ’80s high school sitcom Head of the Class. As a kid at the time with four older brothers and sisters, all mostly high school aged by then, it was easy for me to fall in love with the show and relate to its characters, who I was able to equate to my older siblings. And it was just as easy for me to picture Hesseman’s portrayal of Charlie Moore as someone who could have just as easily been a teacher of mine as well.

Originally a native of Oregon, he rose to prominence in the ’60s as a member of the improv comedy troupe The Committee, as well as an underground DJ for a San Francisco-based radio station, a job that would no doubt help shape his eventual iconic role as Dr. Johnny Fever on WKRP. By 1968, he landed acting gigs in his first film Petulia, and first TV show, a memorable appearance on the hit police show Dragnet.

Throughout the ’70s, he continued to make notable appearances on such classic shows as Sanford and Son, Laverne and Shirley, and The Bob Newhart show, before eventually landing the career-changing role on WKRP in 1978, a job that would keep him occupied until 1982. By the ’80s he was appearing in such big name films such as Clue (1985) and, one of my personal favorite films of all time, 1984’s This is Spinal Tap.

Hesseman also appeared in what would eventually become my favorite Police Academy film (something I would even relay to series producer Paul Maslansky when I spoke to him last year for Rewind It Magazine), 1985’s Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment, before landing the Head of the Class role the following year in 1986 (which would last until 1990).

When I also spoke to actress and Head of the Class co-star Khrystyne Haje last year for Rewind It Magazine, she had nothing but praise when it came to her time working with Hesseman, stating; “I always admired Howard’s work, and he became just such a mentor to us all. He’s not only a gifted actor, but he’s also a great comedic actor, and was a great example to me as well. He was really invested in the character he played, and it was an honor to get to work with him.”

Hesseman continued acting well into his 70s, both revisiting his role as Dr. Johnny Fever again on The New WKRP in Cincinnati in the early ’90s, and replicating it via several appearances on That ’70s Show in 2001. His last television appearance was on a 2017 episode of the ABC comedy Fresh off the Boat. He passed away just two days ago on January 29 due to complications from colon surgery. He left behind a wife of 33 years, Caroline Ducrocq, and a void in the entertainment world like few others. He will be missed dearly by many for years to come.

In Memoriam: Bob Saget (1956-2022)

By: Jesse Striewski

I can remember it like yesterday; gathering around the living room TV set with the entire family every time something new or interesting was set to premiere, long before Netflix or any of the numerous “plus” networks around today. And when shows like Full House and America’s Funniest Home Videos, starring/hosted by funny man Bob Saget, first dropped, I was there to take in everything each had to offer.

Saget was born on May 17, 1956 in Philadelphia, PA, where he attended film school at Temple University. In the early ’80s he appeared in random bit parts in such films and TV shows as Full Moon High (1981) and The Greatest American Hero (1983) before he received his first real “break,” albeit brief, on The Morning Show in 1987, which served as a precursor to his most famous role as morning TV host Danny Tanner on Full House, which premiered on September 22 of that same year. He also appeared alongside legendary comedian Richard Pryor in Condition Critical that year as well.

By 1989, he was America’s favorite dad, so it made sense for him to host America’s Funniest Home Videos that year, the first video clip show of its kind long before YouTube. He would maintain his hosting position up until 1997 (two years after Full House‘s cancellation), leaving big shoes to fill for everyone who has hosted since.

In 1998, he was directing the late Norm Macdonald in Dirty Work, a box office bomb but guilty pleasure none the less. He also made one of the most memorable and talked about cameo appearances to date in Half Baked, also in 1998.

He made his return to TV in 2001 with the short-lived Raising Dad, before landing a recurring role on Entourage starting in 2005, as well as narrating the main character’s voice on How I Met Your Mother that year, a gig that would last him until 2014. He also returned alongside many of his former castmates for the Netflix sequel series Fuller House from 2016-2020. Saget’s most recent work was an appearance on Nickelodeon’s Unfiltered last year, and he will also be appearing posthumously in the upcoming film Killing Daniel.

Saget had just begun a stand up comedy tour when, on January 9, he was found unresponsive in his Ritz-Carlton hotel room in Orlando, FL (a forty minute drive from where I write this tribute). I don’t know why I didn’t make more effort to catch his show at the Hard Rock Live just two nights prior, but I had started kicking around interview ideas prior to his tour (something I now regret not pursuing harder).

Although there’s still many unanswered questions regarding the circumstances of his death, one thing is for certain; Saget leaves a hole in the hearts of many of us. His passing comes just days after the loss of loveable Golden Girl Betty White, and both loses are prime examples of not knowing what one has until it’s gone. Both Bob and Betty were special in their own unique ways, and their legacies are sure to stand the test of time.

In Memoriam: Norm Macdonald (1959-2021)

By: Jesse Striewski

Few comedians in recent memory have been as sharp or quick-witted as Norm Macdonald; he had the ability to perfectly sum up everyday issues in creative ways that most of us may have overlooked, all while making us roll on the floor with laughter. And he possessed the demeanor of “just one of the guys” that made him all the more relatable in an older sibling kind of way. So when the sudden news of his passing after a long battle with cancer swept across airwaves this past Tuesday, September 14, many of us felt as though we had indeed lost that big brother we all loved.

Macdonald was born on October 17, 1959 in Quebec City, Canada, and rose to prominence as a stand up comedian in the mid-1980’s. His first television appearance was on Star Search in 1990, and soon after he found himself writing for the likes of such shows as Roseanne and The Dennis Miller Show, before eventually landing every comic’s dream job on Saturday Night Live in 1993.

His first film was a supporting role in the 1995 Adam Sandler vehicle Billy Madison, in which he played slacker friend Frank. But his first leading role came in the unforgettable form as Mitch Weaver in the Bob Saget-directed Dirty Work, which also starred Artie Lange, and the late Chris Farley (in his final role ever) among many others. Although widely panned at the time, it has since found its way into many hearts with a cult level status.

During his time on SNL, he became arguably one of the best Weekend Update anchors in the show’s storied history, before ultimately being ejected from the show in 1999. He then briefly had his own program on ABC, The Norm Show, which ran from 1999-2001. Other film parts include Screwed (2000), as well as providing the voice of Lucky in all five of the Dr. Dolittle films. He also had recurring roles on such popular shows as My Name is Earl, and The Middle, and would often guest on his friend Conan O’Brien’s show. Macdonald’s last appearances include lending his voice to the 2019 Netflix feature, Klaus, as well as guesting on the talk show Quarantined, in 2020.

As a teenager myself in the mid-90s, I was fully along for the ride of SNL-driven comedy films that flooded movie theaters at the time. I was there when Macdonald appeared in his previously mentioned first film Billy Madison, and being the pack rat that I am, still even have my original ticket stubs from went I went to see Dirty Work and Screwed on the big screen (see photo below). His films undoubtedly played a vital part of my own youth, and judging by the outpouring of love from fans and celebrities across every and any social media platform these past couple of days, he is not about to be forgotten anytime soon. Rest easy, Little Chubby.

Original ticket stubs from the author’s collection of the Norm Macdonald films Dirty Work (1998) and Screwed (2000).

‘Saved By The Bell’ Star Dustin Diamond Dead at age 44

By: Jesse Striewski

Just a few short weeks after originally announcing his battle with stage four small cell carcinoma/lung cancer, Dustin Diamond, who will forever be remembered for portraying Samuel “Screech” Powers on the late ’80s/early ’90s hit teen TV show Saved by the Bell and it’s numerous spin-offs, has passed away. He was just 44 years old.

Diamond was born in San Jose, CA on January 7, 1977, and began acting in 1987. After appearing in a few bit roles, including the 1988 feature film Purple People Eater, Diamond landed the role (that would forever change his life) of Screech on the Disney Channel-produced Good Morning, Miss Bliss in 1988, which would eventually be retooled as Saved by the Bell just one year later. The show would last until 1993, and get its first spin-off, Saved by the Bell: The College Years, that very same year. While The College Years was short-lived (it ran for only one year), Diamond would reprise the role of Screech once more in Saved by the Bell: The New Class, which ran for seven additional seasons on NBC.

Since playing Screech, Diamond has appeared as himself numerous times over the years, in such films as 2003’s Pauly Shore is Dead, as well as on reality series’ such as Celebrity Big Brother in 2013. Other notable roles throughout his career include multiple appearances on the hit show The Wonder Years, and a brief part in the 1989 Tony Danza film She’s Out of Control.

Diamond’s agent, Roger Paul, revealed to news outlets earlier today that he had passed away in an unannounced Florida hospital with his father by his side. Paul confirmed in a statement; “He was diagnosed with this brutal, relentless form of malignant cancer only three weeks ago. In that time, it managed to spread rapidly throughout his system; the only mercy it exhibited was its sharp and swift execution. Dustin did not suffer. He did not have to lie submerged in pain. For that, we are grateful.”

Dan Block, a marketing agent for Insurance King who collaborated with Diamond several times on multiple commercials since 2017, tells Rewind It Magazine he has been building a new model from the ground up of Screech’s robot Kevin (dubbed KEV3000) from the original show, which he had planned on using in future commercials with Diamond. “Dustin called him Kevin 2.0,” he tells me. “He wanted to take it to comic cons and stuff.” He continues; “I’m still going to do the ads, but with Dustin’s dad Mark instead hopefully (who played the chemistry teacher in Saved By The Bell). We haven’t signed anything yet, but figured I’d get the robot done first, then take it from there.” Once completed, Block’s creation will no doubt help keep Diamond’s memory alive for future generations to come (see photo below).

For those of us who watched for years as Diamond quite literally grew up on the small screen as one of America’s favorite nerds as Screech (perhaps behind only Jaleel White’s Steve Urkel character on Family Matters) this is a sad day indeed. But Diamond’s memory will forever live on, each time a re-run of Saved by the Bell is aired in syndication, whether it’s being viewed simply out of nostalgia by the show’s original fans, or being introduced to new generations for the first time to new ones, Screech will always be there, somewhere. Rest in power, Mr. Powers.

In Memoriam: John Lennon (1940-1980)

By: Jesse Striewski

December 8, 1980; former Beatle John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono, were returning to their New York City apartment at the Dakota after a long day at the recording studio, approximately 10:50 p.m. Obsessed fan Mark David Chapman, who had even met Lennon earlier that afternoon when he approached him for an autograph, pulled out a .38 special revolver, and struck Lennon at close range with four out of five of the shots he fired. After being rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, Lennon was pronounced dead on arrival at 11:00 p.m., and the world was never the same again.

These events transpired just three months before I ever even entered this world, but they still strike a nerve each and every time I think about them.

Lennon’s mark changed the face of music forever, first as a member of The Beatles in the 1960’s, where he and bassist Paul McCartney penned some of the greatest songs ever written. Then in the ’70s, where his fights and contributions to societal change were just as great as his solo work. By 1980, with the release of the Double Fantasy album, Lennon was on the verge of a comeback that we will never know just how far it could have taken him.

I grew up in a world that was both without John Lennon, while at the same time, completely influenced by him. Along with the likes of Elvis Presely and The Beach Boys, the music of The Beatles, like so many others, was one of my first introductions to music ever, and made the biggest impression on me more than any of the other previously mentioned acts. Even at a young age, I gravitated naturally to John, who was always the “rebel” of the group. And now, being nearly the same age as him at the time of his death, and a father, I relate to him now more than ever.

Forty years after his senseless death, John Lennon remains as influential and vital as ever. They say true legends never die, and Lennon was no exception to this. Every time an aspiring young musician picks up a guitar for the first time and plays that first chord, Lennon’s presence is still there. No matter how much time may pass, John will always be with us.

In Memoriam: Eddie Van Halen (1955-2020)

By: Jesse Striewski

It’s easy to throw out cliche phrases like “legend” or “pioneer” when talking about the loss of a fallen rock hero. But few have come and gone that have been more deserving of such terms than Eddie Van Halen. And while it’s not always easy to put into words exactly why we grieve so much for a person we may have never even met, I can only do the best I can to try to explain how and why the loss of a titan like Eddie Van Halen and his music effected us all so deeply and personally, while remembering the life of a man who forever changed the face of rock music as we know it.

Van Halen were originally formed in Pasadena, CA in 1972 by classically trained Dutch brothers Alex and Eddie Van Halen, who added high school friend Mark Stone (who ironically passed away last month as well, just days before Eddie) on bass, and eventually vocalist David Lee Roth. Originally calling themselves both Genesis and Mammoth before settling on the name Van Halen in 1974, the “classic” lineup was finally solidified by the addition of bassist Michael Anthony.

In 1976, shortly after seeing them perform, KISS mastermind Gene Simmons produced the band’s first demo recording and rallied for a record deal for the group. Despite little coming from Simmons’ assistance, it didn’t take long for the band to land a deal with Warner Bros. and release their massive self-titled debut album by 1978, quickly becoming apparent this new act would soon dominate the rock world, led by this “new” guitarist, who almost instantly earned the rightful title of “guitar god.”

By the time I came into this world in 1981, Van Halen were already on their fourth album, and I had four older siblings to each introduce me to various bands, including Van Halen. My oldest sister, Tammy, owned a copy of the band’s 1982 effort Diver Down that was in our collection of vinyl records right alongside to Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Journey’s Escape (and I still own each one of these to this very day). These early albums all left permanent imprints on me, and instilled a lifelong association between music, and historical moments in my own life.

More albums from the band’s catalogue were soon to make it into my collection; a cassette copy of 1984 (where Eddie re-invented the wheel again by incorporating synth in the band’s sound) was gifted to me as a birthday present one year from my grandmother, Mary (R.I.P.). A hand-me-down tape of 5150, the band’s first effort with frontman Sammy Hagar from 1986, was given to me by another older sister of mine, Wendy. And when it was still their “new” album, 1991’s For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge became the first album on CD format I ever bought. Again, I still own each and everyone of these to this day.

By the time I took up playing bass around the age of 14, several of the band’s tracks became standard practice for me (what bassist didn’t start off honing their craft by playing “Runnin’ with the Devil” endlessly?!). And even though I was not a guitarist like Eddie, his dedication to being the best rubbed off on me, and I began taking practicing more seriously than school work itself (I even briefly took bass lessons from a guy named Ken who was the biggest Van Halen fan I have ever met).

Then, years later, I was a single father by the time Christmas of 2007 rolled around. My father Terry surprised me with two tickets to see Van Halen at the old Amway Center in Orlando that following February, on their first tour with singer David Lee Roth since 1985. It was honestly one of the best things I have ever been gifted, and I couldn’t think of anyone better to share my other ticket with then my big sis who started me on this journey to begin with, Tammy.

I remember that 2008 concert like it was yesterday; we arrived fashionably late, and I could hear the sounds of “I’m the One” echoing from inside the arena as we approached the front gates. From then on, it was a night full of not only the usual expected classics, but many favorites like “Little Dreamer,” “I’ll Wait,” and “Atomic Punk” also found their way in the set. And although I was initially disappointed that longtime bassist Michael Anthony was not included on this tour, it gave me a certain hope seeing Eddie’s son Wolfgang Van Halen playing alongside his father on stage. But most importantly, witnessing Eddie play his solo that night was unmatched by any guitarist I have seen live before, or since.

By the time the band released their first new album (and what would ultimately prove to be their last) for some time, 2012’s A Different Kind of Truth, I had already been a freelance music journalist for a number of years. I gave the album a mediocre review in a local, now-defunct magazine at the time, and in hindsight, I’d rather have a dozen less-than-stellar Van Halen albums albums than none at all.

I was standing in the middle of a store with my wife and son when I looked down at my phone this past Tuesday afternoon and learned that Eddie had passed away. It was a time-stopping moment that hit as hard as though someone in my own family had actually died. The music of Van Halen was deeply engrained in me at an early age as much as anything from The Beatles or The Rolling Stones had been, and realizing that we’re now living in a world without Eddie Van Halen still in it was a heartbreaking revelation. But Eddie will never really be gone. He created a legacy that will truly live on for generations to come; how lucky we all were to be able to walk the Earth as the same time as him, even if only for a short time.