DDP 2023: Bananarama

And so the door closes on 2023. Sure, we laughed as pack of cocky billionaires steered a Logitech game controller into Davey Jones’s Locker, and stood in horror as war waged in Gaza. But overall, in contrast with 2022’s obvious shape, the past year has felt largely a retread. Putin’s still a fuckwit, the Tories are still fuckwits, Trump’s still a fuckwit, and Musk’s still a fuckwit. Charles III got officially coronated and Margrethe II announced her abdication, but the most important regal event was the late Napoleon XIV getting succeeded by Josephine XV. The 2023 DDP race itself had echoes of a past competition: As with 2020, a fresh committee face defied the constraints of early submission and went straight to DDP glory.

Where was the rolling media coverage for me, you mangy mutts?

But before all that, let’s plow through a final round of cadavers:

K. M. Peyton had the childhood dream of many a young girl – to own a horse. It wasn’t feasible in London, so she channeled her equine affinity into writing about them instead. Her most famous work was the Flambards series, and she finally bought a horse of her own when nearly 50. She was 94 and ponies up a unique hit for Brown Bananas.

Richard Franklin dying in the middle of Doctor Who sounds like something happened to his character, but no, news of his IRL death was announced during the latest Christmas special. Franklin’s Captain Mike Yates, a senior officer of UNIT, was a pillar of the Pertwee era. Yates helped fend off alien invasions before falling from grace after being brainwashed by BOSS. Beyond Who, Franklin stood as a parliamentary candidate four times for four parties, and had a brief stint on Emmerdale wherein he gets killed by a bull. He was 87 and picked by two teams, including a stylish party pooper joker for Time’s-up Team. There may be more on him (time, not Franklin) later this writeup…

Another Christmas Day departure came arrived in the form of Henry Sandon. Sandon was considered the world’s leading expert on Royal Worcester porcelain, which, given there’s about three DDP obits a year for experts on Royal Worcester porcelain, is no small feat. His knowhow of vintage pottery made him a mainstay of Antiques Roadshow, where his most celebrated moment was excitedly assessing an unassuming owl mug as a valuable from 1680 worth £20,000. He was 95 and Windsor’s OBE gauged high value in this antique.

And completing the Christmas death trio is someone straight from Santa’s naughty list. Wrestler and murderer Jim Breaks was a popular 70s ITV grappler, known as “Cry Baby” for his habit of staging tantrums in the ring. In 2017 he beat his girlfriend to death, but escaped legal repercussions due to senile dementia. He was 83 and Grappling with Mortality, and indeed the rest of us, won’t be shedding any tears.

David Kernan was most noted for his Sondheim interpretations in musicals such as A Little Night Music and Side by Side by Sondheim. On film he was in Zulu and Carry On Abroad, and on TV he was in Upstairs, Downstairs and The Avengers. He was 85 and picked by Lost of the Lost.

Wolfgang Schäuble was one of the most influential politicians in modern Germany to never become chancellor. The longest-serving member of the Bundestag, he was a key figure in negotiating German reunification once the Berlin Wall fell. He survived an assassination attempt shortly afterwards, and was wheelchair-bound the rest of his life. In Merkel’s government he was prominent as her Minister of Finance, where his masterminding of austerity keeps him loathed in Greece to this day. He was 81 and picked by Oscar The Beast.

No one DIES like Gaston… Gaston Glock started off as a curtain rods manufacturer before switching in his middle age to the guns that made “Glock” a household name. In 1999, an employee who embezzled funds sicced a hitman on our Gaston, who tried to assassinate him with a rubber mallet. Surely a Glock should’ve been used to get the job done? He was 94, and died a decade almost to the day after fellow premier gunsmith Mikhail Kalashnikov. These guys seem to like dying as we’re all rushing our teams in. Talk about jumping the gun…

The previous two cadavers survived assassination attempts, but Tom Smothers had to settle for a fistfight with Bill Cosby (over Smothers’s disdain for Cosby’s squeaky clean apolitical image, rather than inside scoop of other things). Smothers was the elder of the Smothers Brothers, the musical comedy brother duo who broke ground with counterculture-friendly 60s variety programme “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour”. The show often fought with censors as it skewered LBJ in the thick of Vietnam and resuscitated Pete Seeger’s TV career after his blacklisting, and was abruptly cancelled at the peak of its popularity. Fittingly a duo hit, he was 86 and died months after a stage 2 lung cancer diagnosis, all the while stage 4 James Whale and Linda Nolan seem hellbent to outlive us all.

2021 and 2022 both saw Drop 40 hits on the first and last day of the year. 2023 only maintained the first half of the bargain, and THANK FUCK. That’s not to say 31 December 2023 was any slouch, with three low-key hits. First up is Eddie Bernice Johnson, one of many black politicians who was galvanised to run for office by LBJ’s civil rights legislation bolstering their rights. The Dallas-based Johnson was a member of the US House of Representatives for 30 years, with her final term ending in early 2023. She was 88 and picked by two teams.

Ana Ofelia Murguia was long respected in the realm of Mexican cinema with roles such as The Queen of the Night and Nobody Will Speak of Us When We’re Dead. However, she might not have gotten a QO in time were it not for a lifeline from Pixar, having voiced the great grandmother in Day of the Dead tearfest Coco. Her final role was in a TV drama about past deadpooling legend José José. She was 90 and Zero Hit’s Wishlist remembers her.

Stand-up comedian Shecky Greene was a mainstay of Vegas nightclubs and among the few survivors of the Borscht Belt. His madcap comedy routine could also be seen in guest spots on The Johnny Carson Show, and he also acted in History of the World, Part I, and TV roles including Laverne & Shirley, Mad About You, and, this being the US, The Love Boat. His favourite story, which he maintains was true, involved Frank Sinatra saving his life by telling five of Ol’ Blue Eyes’s henchmen to stop beating Shecky up. Despite a long rickety health history that included drug/alcohol addictions and bouts with cancer, he was seemingly made of Carterite and lived to 97. He was picked by two teams.

Further underlining the substitution cakewalk this final week was, the most popular hit among this batch was still barely a double digit pick. One of those great advantages of the written word is how “Up Yours Delors” wouldn’t work if you said it out loud – “Delors” doesn’t sound like that. Either way, Jacques Delors must’ve done something right if the Sun hated him that much. Delors was president of the European Commission from 1985 to 95, where he was considered architect of the modern EU for his role in creating the single market and the Euro. So popular was he in France that he’d likely have won the 1995 presidential election had he ran, and he became the third (and last to date) Honorary Citizen of Europe in 2015. He was 98 and picked by twelve teams, including joker points for Partridge As Reaper.

Thank fuck the final week’s headliner wasn’t Jimmy

Congratulations are due to Banana’s Peel Slippers, who won the year he joined the DDP Committee under the team entry side. It is the committee role that imposes the greatest handicap as it is the role that actually enters the teams thus knows who is picking who before January. And TBH for having to do all those Pelé and ex-Pope substitutions alone the victory would be 1000% deserved. In interests of fairness Banana’s teams were submitted way back in mid-December before he input any teams. As with Reptile in 2020, the tradeoff of missing out on a last-minute hospice pick or two in favour of not overthinking every pick appears to have paid off in spades. Also takes the piss out of my host handicapping being picking Clarence “Frogman” Henry and John Tyler’s grandkid!

Banana was long touted as a competitive team to watch and for years was seemingly able to rack up wins in all deadpools except for the mother of them all (sound familiar). His 2018 debut was nowhere near contention but subsequent placings of joint 16th and joint 12th were marked improvements. He lagged in 2021, but proved that a blip with a second place finish in 2022. Usually, a second place finish dooms the silver medalist to a steep plummet the following year, but Banana managed to break the shackles.

It was a year where many canon names – Jonnie Irwin, James Whale, Steve McMichael, SOS Simon Cowell – underwhelmed and so the riskier picks told the story. Roberto Dinamite and Chris Snow weren’t guaranteed deaths, Teresa Taylor, Tim Lobinger, and Ryan Minor weren’t guaranteed obits. Robert Zimmer was a unique US University President with glioblastoma who would’ve never stood a chance in hell of a QO were it not for the reinstatement of Yahoo – and even the Yahoo nod barely happened.

As with 2022, 2023 had a consensus joker among consensus jokers as Gianluca Vialli spent Christmastime hospitalised with end-stage pancreatic cancer. The ball got rolling, however, with fellow pancan athlete Frank McGarvey, who took the only team to joker him (Scottish footy theme They think it’s all over) to the top on New Year’s Day. Day in the Death took the lead with a daily double (alas for him, no Alt Obits rules here) of a Vialli joker and Bill Campbell, though it was short lived with the death of Roberto Dinamite bringing to the top familiar face David Quantick’s Showbiz Pals. To Kill A Gabor Sister, within a month of returning to the DDP fold, took the lead with the well-sussed hit of TikTok star Randy Gonzalez.

Banana first took the top after Tim Lobinger, and the spring was a shootout between all the teams that held the lead to this point (except the Scottish footballers one). Ryuichi Sakamoto was the one real erroneous omission for Banana, and took Rad back to the top, then Day in the Death returned on the back of good fucking riddance Carolyn Bryant Donham. Spade rebounded with Denny Crum before Banana landed the Robert Zimmer hit, and despite a close race no one took his lead since.

One curious subnarrative to 2023, a consequence of the shaky hitrate among the canon, was how for a long time, one of Banana’s greatest threats was… Banana. His B team had some crafty uniques like Rodion Amirov, Miroslav Blazevic, and Henry Dickerson, and cult picks like Zoleka Mandela and Christopher Fowler, that meant even in November he was a hit away from taking the lead from himself. Johnny Ruffo’s death poured cold water on that potential upset.

Trust no one, not even yourself

Instead rounding off the top three was more traditional fare. The silver went to Fade to Black, who jokered Johnny Ruffo, and shared the punts on Taylor, Minor, Lobinger, along with Banana-eschewed risk Donham. He did this despite a handicap of 19 picks (three of his picks jumped the gun, and a fourth was DQed on fame grounds), and could’ve come even closer (albeit not by enough to win) had Yahoo picked up on Daniel N. Paul. 2024’s champion, or 2024’s joint 67th place? We shall see…

The bronze went to Reptile’s The Love Boat, marking a second podium placement for the former champion. He shared seven of Banana’s eleven hits plus Sakamoto and the Unabomber.

Some names lower down the upper echelons who are worthy of specific shouts: Windsor the Troll, who hadn’t placed in the top 50 (and only once in the top 100) since 2013. This time his more casual stylings defied gravity, aided massively by a Frank McDougall unique. Day in the Death’s 4th place finish marks his best performance yet, and The Living End’s 11th place is the deadpooling giant’s best since 2016.

Rookie of the year went to Faucheuse’s main list, who finished in joint 28th place.

The Theme Team League was won by G-named gaggle God’s Gonna Gettem, who ousted Pazuzu Bad Boys, toot toot, yeah, beep beep, in the final days with Gaston Glock.

2022 was always going to be a tough act to follow for celebrity deaths, but at this point we have so many celebrities it’s virtually impossible to have a nega-enema year. Indeed, if the competitive race was a bit of a wet noodle the Reaper’s been putting in more elbow grease than ever, with the hits record of 312 smashing the previous total. The headliner was the indomitable Tina Turner, while the most frequently picked was George Alagiah. Alagiah capped off a Drop 40 whose 13 fallers included both the beloved (Bobby Charlton, Shane MacGowan, Tony Bennett, Bob Barker, Harry Belafonte – figures the Banana Boat guy goes in the year of Banana) and the utter bastards (Henry Kissinger, Rolf Harris, the Unabomber). The best call might’ve been through Reptile’s Russian punts team; while dozens risked Putin, only Reptile took a chance on Yevgeny “to the right of Putin” Prigozhin.

Whether or not 2023 was simply the best deadpooling year, there’s no denying Tina gave it some legs

Indeed it was a year where the good, the bad, and the ugly all went. Other musician deaths included David Crosby, Burt Bacharach, Sinead O’Connor, Jeff Beck, Cynthia Weil, Gordon Lightfoot, Gary Rossington, Randy Meisner, Astrud Gilberto and Steve Harwell. Film deaths included Glenda Jackson, Raquel Welch, Ryan O’Neal, Alan Arkin, Michael Gambon, Joss Ackland, Topol, Gina Lollobrigida, Piper Laurie, William Friedkin, Sylvia Sims, Walter Mirisch, Stella Stevens, Kenneth Anger, Helmut Berger, and Gill-Man Ricou Browning. TV staples included Michael Parkinson, Jerry Springer, David McCallum, Norman Lear, drag queens Paul O’Grady and Barry Humphries, Len Goodman, Terrence Hardiman, Doreen Mantle, Pee-wee Herman, Steve Halliwell, Brigit Forsyth, and Mike Yarwood. Political farewells included Rosalynn Carter, King Constantine of Greece, Daniel Ellsberg, Betty Boothroyd, Winnie Ewing, Martti Ahtisaari, Sandra Day O’Connor, 170-year-old Dianne Feinstein and the utter sod quartet of Pervez Musharraf, Silvio Berlusconi, Nigel Lawson, and Pat Robertson. Sport included commentators John Motson and Dickie Davies, football figures Terry Venables, Gordon McQueen, and Just Fontaine, and US stars Jim Brown, Bobby Knight, and Dick Butkus. Wrestling had a sad triple whammy of the Iron Sheik, Adrian Street, and Terry Funk that had you think the death of hypochondriac Superstar Billy Graham was an apology in advance. Other deaths included cartoonists Bill Tidy and Al Jaffee, artist/Picasso muse Francoise Gilot, Nuremberg prosecutor Ben Ferencz, mogul Mohammed al-Fayed, fashionista Mary Quant, Dolly the sheep scientist Ian Wilmut, astronauts Frank Borman, Walter Cunningham, and Ken Mattingly, and authors Fay Weldon, Milan Kundera, and Cormac McCarthy.

But we’d be remiss not to highlight the victims of Sulu. The enigmatic figure warned the DeathList forums in late 2022 with a strange message of “not everybody that makes 99 makes it to 100”. We should’ve listened. Barker was the biggest example, but the curse of Sulu also felled classical pianist Menahem Pressler, ventriloquist Jimmy Weldon, Fiddler on the Roof lyricist Sheldon Harnick, Warren Buffett sidekick Charlie Munger, economist Robert Solow, US politician Al Quie, and actor Mike Nussbaum.

Mr. Sulu, set the centenarian phasers to “off”

The Ghost of Competitive DDPs Past haunted the List of the Missed this year. Just about the only prior competitive superstar we all got sick of to still be on the DDP was, well, Superstar. But wrestling theme teams couldn’t exactly come to the rescue for Gino Odjick, Christy Dignam, Jeffrey Foskett, or DJ Casper, and Bobby Caldwell, Cornelius Price, and Nick Hitchon plummeted from multiple serious teams in 2022 to zero teams period in 2023. Perhaps the LotM headliner was Friend Matthew Perry, who was consistently picked for his drug vices from 2018-22. Other misses include Jane Birkin, Tom Sizemore, US sitcom stars Lisa Loring, Cindy Williams, and Suzanne Somers, former Chancellor Alistair Darling, Elvis’s little girl Lisa Marie Presley, Shaft star Richard Roundtree, musicians Jimmy Buffett, Gary Wright, Denny Laine, Gangsta Boo, and Huey “Piano” Smith, fascinating Gooseberry obits never written like Ed Fury, Mystic Meg, Dick Fosbury, and Gerry O’Hara, giant monster movie maestro Bert I. Gordon, underwater explorer Don Walsh, fashion icon Paco Rabanne, Burt Young off the Rocky movies, trans trailblazers Georgina Beyer and Rachel Pollack, Nazi fighter Traute Lafrenz-Page, and if any of those saddened you, a reminder we also lost champagne popper Cardinal Pell.

Novelist Martin Amis was picked in 1998 and never again, but perhaps the weirdest alumnus of the 2023 LotM? Soul singer Johnny Johnson used to be a perennial pick for Gris Gris. He fell off the radar in the 1970s and it was long-reputed that he died of cancer in 1979 – sites like discogs and last.fm still state this. It was enough for Gris Gris to stop picking him… only it turns out Johnson lived until this past March, living a reclusive, God-bothery life. Though we still did Sir Creep a favour as Johnson made zero obit splash outside of the Legacy pages.

Creep also vowed to pick wrestling promoter Jerry Jarrett for Gris Gris, but didn’t. Unlucky for him as he’d be a hit, but instead was never picked in the DDP. Other names we didn’t consider at all included The Full Monty actor Tom Wilkinson, Breaking Bad star Mark Margolis, The Wire/John Wick actor Lance Reddick, poet Benjamin Zephaniah, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, Brooklyn Nine-Nine star Andre Braugher, Hair actor Treat Williams, The Entertainer and Alfie actress Shirley Anne Field, “Money” singer/Temptations scribe Barrett Strong, comic book artist John Romita Sr, NHL star Bobby Hull, Drop the Dead Donkey actress Haydn Gwynne, Smith Andy Rourke, journalist John Pilger, first to be diagnosed with autism Donald Triplett, last Plan 9 survivor Gloria Dea, children’s TV producer Trevor Hill (who also broadcast Eisenhower’s D-Day announcement!), top 2024 picks that never were cricketer Heath Streak, racecar driver Cale Yarborough, and McCain campaign prop Joe the Plumber, and the premature death of Fusa Tatsumi, whose passing invoked a hysteria ala Princess Di or Michael Jackson among our 110 Club diaspora.

What we will call the Ronnie Hellström Memorial Corner once again hosts a slew of names that probably should’ve QOed. Floyd Sneed drummed for Three Dog Night when they were a hitmaking machine – admittedly moreso in the US than UK, but he barely got stateside coverage to begin with. Tom McLeish was a respected theoretical physicist and a Fellow of the Royal Society. Arnaldo Forlani was a former Prime Minister of Italy (with scandal, to boot!), Ivan Silayev the Soviet Union. Eve Bunting was a popular US children’s author of Northern Irish origin. Chris Stone going from the AFL to Belgian first gentleman seemed like a story the Mail would lap up. Gerard Collomb was a Macron minister. All these misses and yet Henry Dickerson QOed!

Lastly we would be remiss to not give a shoutout to Reptile as he prepares for retirement. Few can question the hard work he’s put in for the past four years entering the celeb deaths, updating the Drop 40, and sorting out bugs while never losing his zen. My predecessor msc, when still in co-host capacity, was fond of pointing out a story where the DDP was unable to start to due one line of code, Reptile took the time to pilfer through the many lines of code, found the bug, and sorted everything out without complaint. That sums up Reptile well and his rest is well earned.

And now, time is on our side, yes he is. Reptile will be succeeded in his committee post by time, DDP staple and runner of the Ronnies theme team. time’s already been assisting with entering hits these past couple of weeks and has warmed to the task quickly, so we’ve nothing but faith in him to keep up the good work.

Onward to 2024 then. Get the feeling it’ll be something of a peanut gallery, a wrinkly crinkly one to boot. If 2024 breaks 2023’s hit record I might end up making Napoleon XIV look sane…

Play us out, Harry…