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This image released by "Jeopardy!" shows Alex Trebek, host of the game show "Jeopardy!" Trebek's final week of episodes was Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. All five episodes were taped in late October. / Jeopardy! via The Associated Press

A sure sign of aging is paying closer attention to the obituaries. For baby boomers, "a time to mourn" is at hand.

Death is no longer something for our parents' generation to worry about. Fewer and fewer of us boomers even have parents who are still alive.

It has recently occurred to me that, at 62, the next years of my life will be filled with news of deaths that feel personal.

That's not to be maudlin, but just to state a plain fact. I suspect the obit writers at national publications are working overtime on writing the advance pieces on celebrities who aren't even sick yet.

This new reality is really just a byproduct of aging. For many of us now in our 60s, our cultural icons are in their 80s.

In just the last year we've lost Alex Trebek (80), Charley Pride (86), Kenny Rogers (81), Little Richard (87) and Regis Philbin (88).

That's not to mention the young celebrities who died tragically on the cusp of midlife such as former NBA star Kobe Bryant (41) and actor Chadwick Boseman (43).

There were also famous centenarians who died in 2020 whom you might not have known were still living. Olivia de Havilland (104) and Kirk Douglas (103) come to mind. De Havilland as Melanie in "Gone With the Wind" and Douglas staring in "Spartacus" are firmly in many boomers' memory banks.

For the others, the memories are more visceral, each connected to a time and a place.

Sean Connery — When I was a kid, my parents would go to the Sundown Drive-in theater in Columbia, Tennessee, to watch James Bond movies. I remember sitting in the back seat of our Rambler station wagon and being told to "go to sleep" when the love scenes started.

Charley Pride — I associate the late country music star with mornings in the 1970s, when my mother would play the radio in the kitchen of our duplex, and "Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'" was constantly on the playlist of her favorite local radio station.

Kenny Rogers — One of my first assignments as a cub reporter at The Chattanooga Times was covering the Kenny Rogers concert that was one of the first official events at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Roundhouse. I have a clear memory that the acoustics were horrible and people couldn't believe the steepness of the upper-level seats. But Rogers was at the height of his career, and everyone had a blast.

Regis Philbin — Philbin always reminded me of a terrier, his banter more of a bark than a conversation. I remember his give-and-take with Kathie Lee Gifford on "Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee" as the background noise of the 1990s.

Little Richard — Many people don't know it but the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer spent most later years splitting time between a downtown Nashville hotel and a home in Lynchburg, Tenn.

Alex Trebek — I will always associate Trebek with the year 2020. Because of COVID-19, I became a nightly viewer of Jeopardy! Like millions of others, I watched Trebek battle cancer for months, while continuing to host the game show beloved by Americans.

Clue: He defined courage in 2020.

Answer: Who is Alex Trebek?

Email Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

 

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