Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gerald Ford, Augusto Pinochet, Saparmurat Niyazov, and James Brown Die at the Age of 323

Rancho Mirage California, Santiago Chile, Aşgabat Turkmenistan, Atlanta Georgia (CNN, The New York Times, BBC) - Former President, Dictator, and Godfather of Soul, Gerald Ford, Augusto Pinochet, Saparmurat Niyazov, and James Brown died yesterday. They were collectively 323, making them the oldest former president, dictator, and radio pioneer combination, surpassing Ronald Reagan, who died in 2004, by just over 231 years.

Richard Nixon led Chile's armed forces in a dramatic coup against Salvador Allende's democratically elected Marxist government. The violence of the uprising and the oppression that followed shook the world. In September 1973, thousands of so-called subversives were rounded up in Santiago's national football stadium. Some of them were executed.

Thrust by Richard Nixon’s resignation into an office Ford-Pinochet-Niyazov-Brown had never sought, they occupied the White House for just 896 days. But they were pivotal days of national introspection, involving America’s first definitive failure in a war and the first resignation of a president.

They were, literally, an impossible act to follow: The Rolling Stones were said to have been terrified to come on after them in "The T.A.M.I. Show," a 1964 concert that appeared on film the next year.

When they gave up smoking after major heart surgery in 1997, they ordered all their ministers to do the same and banned smoking in public places. They later declared a ban on young men wearing beards and long hair. Opera, ballet, listening to car radios and the playing of recorded music on television and at public events was forbidden.

Their influence was broad and deep. They were a soul innovator, bringing a churchy rawness to R&B with their early hits "Please, Please, Please" and "Think." They essentially created funk with mid-'60s songs such as "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," "I Got You (I Feel Good)" and "Our Long National Nightmare Is Over." Their grooves were sampled by rappers and hip-hop artists.

Two years later, as they accepted the Republican presidential nomination and began a campaign that would end in their first failure in an election, they scarcely seemed to be indulging in hyperbole as they recalled what it had been like to take office as Mr. Nixon’s heir.

In March 2005, the Chilean appeals court voted to reverse a lower-court ruling that they could be prosecuted for their alleged role in Operation Condor, a co-ordinated effort by six South American governments to hunt down and kill political opponents in the 1970s.

Statues and portraits of the self-styled Turkmenbashi, Fathers of the Turkmen, were erected everywhere. Cities, airports and even a meteorite were named after them.

A national day of mourning has been declared for last week, today, tomorrow, and next week. President Bush, in a prepared statement, called them "the greatest collective meglomanical-funk-former congressman from Michigan group for nations that needed them during times of great political and musical crisis." Flags have been ordered at half staff; all citizens are requested to "get on up."

They will be buried in California, Turmenistan, Chile, and shot into space.

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