Opinion

Sometimes we all feel like wearing black

There is some bitter truth to the notion that we are all affected and, in a weird way, excited by death — unless it is someone very close to us. Then we are simply grieved, angered, saddened or distraught, depending on who it was that died, and how we were doing in our relationship with them when they passed.

But last week, when John Ritter and Johnny Cash died within 24 hours of each other, you couldn’t go anywhere without someone bringing it up.

Ritter’s death was extremely sad.

He was young, mid-50’s like me, and he hadn’t been sick, according to most of his friends.

Deaths like Ritter’s bring fear into the picture. We think, “If it could happen to him, it could happen to me.”

Sure, we all know intellectually that we will die. But something like the sudden death of John Ritter brings the bad news front and center in our conscious mind.

Because, in some weird way, we feel like we knew him.

Anyone of a certain age watched “Three’s Company,” Ritter’s biggest career hit.

In “Three’s Company,” for those of you with short-term memory loss, Ritter played a lucky bachelor guy living with two pretty young women.

They weren’t sleeping together and so all the situations that cropped up on the show were basically a safe,“clean” tease.

It was a one-good-idea program, like lots of television sitcoms, that the producers beat to death.

But Ritter was good in it.

Charming, naive, sort of pathetic, in other words, the new ’80s man women said for a while they wanted.

Ritter’s best performance ever was in Billy Bob Thornton’’s incredible “Sling Blade.”

Ritter was so good in that movie that I didn’t realize it was him until a friend pointed it out.

So, despite shallow beginnings, by the time of his death, Ritter had become a very talented actor.

Ritter’s dad was an old cowboy actor-singer, Tex Ritter, whose most famous song was a little ditty called “Blood on the Saddle.”

It was a very forgettable tune.

But there are a few singers, who despite not having much of a voice, burn their way into our heads.

Johnny Cash was one of those people.

“I Walk the Line,” and “Folsom Prison Blues,” are unfogettable once you hear Cash sing them.

One is an anthem for following our beliefs wherever they take us. And the other is a great song about what happens when our mistakes or bad deeds take us away from those we love and slam us behind bars.

Recently, Cash’s longtime wife, June Carter-Cash died. The photos of Johnny at the funeral made it pretty clear he wasn’t going to be around all that much longer.

But the foreknowledge doesn’t cut the sadness really.

I grew up on Johnny Cash’s music back in Cincinnati, walked away from it and all country, trading Cash and others in for the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

But in recent years, as I add some gray to my pelt, country has made a comeback with me. Not formulaic crud like most of Garth Brooks and others of his ilk who aren’t really country people.

But Steve Earle, Merle Haggard, early Willie, Waylon, these guys speak to me, and their songs of hard hearts, tough lives and bad luck resonate because we all know life doesn’t take prisoners.

So I found myself thinking last week that a world without Johnny Cash was a diminished place.

That craggy monument of a face, coupled with a voice no one else could come close to copying, will both be missed.

I never knew Johnny Cash but I’ll miss him just the same.

Mr. Cash added something to our little world and although he might be replaced, there will be never be anyone who ever really takes Johnny Cash’s place.

He was a man who sang it straight and true and seemed to mean every word of it.

Put on one of his CDs and say your own goodbyes.

He deserves it.

Dennis Wilken is a former Port Orchard Independent reporter.

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