The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Friday, September 26, 2003

God, everyone (famous) is dying lately. There was a wave of celebrity deaths two weeks ago, and now today, we learn that George Plimpton, renowned literary figure, has died at 76.

He had such a wide-ranging career, from being a patron to a generation American writers (notably through his tireless work on The Paris Review) to various dabblings in acting (notably, to me, his voice work as the pompous-sounding George Templeton Strong in Ken Burns' "The Civil War").

Also on a personal note, I think one of the primary associations I'll always hold of Plimpton is his stint in the early 80s as the celebrity product-pitcher for the old Intellivision Videogame System (their baseball game, specifically). I never owned one of them--and with those rotten disc-centric control pads, I didn't want to--but that spot somehow burrowed its way into my childhood subconsciousness, and remains there to this day.

But sports is where Plimpton made his mark as a pop cultural figure, and he'll always occupy a special place in the hearts of sports fans. There couldn't have been an unlikelier friend to the sporting world: An upper-West Side diplomat's son, with the snootiest accent this side of John Houseman, and "dilettante" written all over him. And yet he dove into the world of sports, not only by lending the poetry of his written accounts, but by experiencing them (even if under controlled circumstances).

Is it a stretch to consider his brand of "participatory journalism" in the world of sports a progenitor of Hunter S. Thompson's gonzo journalism, and an indirect precursor to today's embedded journalists? Maybe, but I think there's some connection there.

So, thank you George, for Paper Lion, for the legend of Sidd Finch, greatest pitcher to ever come out of Tibet, and, to paraphrase, for convincing us all that there's nothing inherently wrong in having fun.