The musically flamboyant Celia Cruz. The stoic Gregory Peck. The fierce and graceful Katherine Hepburn. The sultry Barry White. Not to mention Gregory Hines, Bob Hope, Bobby Bonds, Strom Thurmond, Robert Stack, Johnny Cash’s wife.

Yes, it is a well known fact that as humans, one of the final acts (final act, if you do not believe in ghosts) we are meant to complete on this Earth is the process of dying, but I don’t think anyone in this generation remembers a season with such a rash of notable deaths. Whether it was the intense heat or some weird alignment of the planets (hey, Mars is the closest it has been in 60,000 years), the summer of 2003 will definitely be remembered as a time where many icons of our country passed away into the great beyond. Who knew that when Mr. Rogers died on Feb. 27 that it would be a foretaste of more unfortunate endings to come.

Obviously I didn’t know any of these people personally; all my recollections of them are from CDs, movies, television and general pop culture. But who among us haven’t had those all too familiar “romantic” (I use that term loosely) fantasies with Barry White’s “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” playing in the back of our minds. Furthermore, who hasn’t looked at Strom Thurmond in the past 30 years with amazement, wondering how someone could work for the government for as long as he had without having some sort of deadly heart attack. I know us kids have little to no respect for things created before the Berlin Wall fell, but for those who have seen “The African Queen” with Hepburn and Bogart, we can plainly see why Hepburn was nominated for Oscars an astounding 12 times, only recently surpassed by Meryl Streep.

These people weren’t the heroes most of us had growing up. Strom Thurmond never jazzed it up like Bill Clinton during his election campaigns. Gregory Hines tap danced instead of going West Coast and doing the “C-Walk.” In my opinion, this group of people was part of the last generation of substantive celebrities. These people were admired for their talent, grace and subtle leadership instead of flamboyant personalities, ace marketing teams or for committing illegal acts. I’m sad to see them go since they had a place in making all of us who we are today.

If you ask me, this is a call to all of us now to start replacing these notable people in their respective places in the world. The baby boom generation is getting old and will soon have to hang up their worldly status. It is time for Gen X and to an extent our generation to become the new celebrity icons of the future. One of us will grow to fill the void of Strom Thurmond in government – serving the country for more than half a century. Another will be the Celia Cruz, breaking barriers and bringing an international flavor to the music industry of America. Another must fill the shoes of Mr. Rogers by filling the minds of children. Personally, I am waiting until Denzel Washington passes on so I can take his place in the world.

No matter who your hero is nowadays, we all can take a lesson from the generation that is slowly transitioning from the television sets to the history books. They lived through traumatic times; Bob Hope entertained troops from World War II to the Gulf War and Robert Stack was solving “Unsolved Mysteries” just as long as John Walsh has been tracking down America’s ost Wanted. They’ve made people laugh, cry, curse, dream and often do more than one at the same time. It is only fitting that we take time to remember how each contributed to the world in their own way – then, once done, find out (in true American fashion) how we can move in and take their place.

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