Obituary Guide

Review: The Portable Obituary

Obituary Guide dot com, September 24, 2007

David McConkey

The new book The Portable Obituary: How the Famous, Rich, and Powerful Really Died by Michael Largo makes for fascinating - if irreverent – reading.

A cheeky and even disrespectful reference work, the book is an alphabetical listing of famous deaths – from Alexander the Great to Guy Williams (Zorro). But it is also much more.

Largo illustrates how the way his subjects lived is often related to how they died. He documents how their “deeds, intimate habits, and lifestyles, good and bad, ultimately influenced their mode of death and, in due course, determined their role in history and culture.”

The Portable Obituary can be read for sheer interest and satisfying our sometimes morbid curiosity. As Largo says, “Who wouldn’t want to know what happened to the inventor of the bar code, or the Popsicle, or the disposable camera?”

Largo writes in a serendipitous style, wandering where his research and fancy take him. John and Lionel Barrymore’s account leads to an entry explaining the role of alcoholism in death. Rock Hudson’s to a note about actors and AIDS. Brian Jones (late of the Rolling Stones, found dead in a swimming pool) to a description of other musicians and their deaths by “misadventure.”

A good obituary is an illumination of a life lived. As Michael Largo, the author of The Portable Obituary: How the Famous, Rich, and Powerful Really Died points out, “Life, famous or not, can only be understood backward.”

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