Three world figures died within hours of each other just before the New Year: Gerald Ford, Saddam Hussein and James Brown.
The American media chose to give the execution of Mr. Hussein its top priority, wondering if his hanging was a wise move. Afterward, they marveled at his “go to blazes” last words to his enemies. Even in death, “The Butcher of Baghdad” remains a media hero.
James Brown, the “Godfather of Soul,” died suddenly of pneumonia after a brief Atlanta hospitalization. His final exit was unlike his trademark stage show endings, where he would be wrapped in a cape, drenched in sweat, and led off the stage, exhausted, only to return for repeated curtain calls always at the feigned brink of collapse.
Perhaps if he had lingered on his deathbed for a few weeks or months, it would have been a more fitting James Brown final goodbye.
The third world figure was the late 38th president, Gerald R. Ford, who died at 93 from complications of being 93. Ford had the temerity to die in the same news cycle as the two men already mentioned, not to mention when Congress was in holiday recess.
Perhaps the media’s choosing to continue their coverage of weekend football or the continued search for JonBenet’s killer or the speculation about the possibility of imminent world destruction from an asteroid and/or a tsunami rather than to honor Mr. Ford was “because that’s what the late president would have wanted.” Those were Pete Rozelle’s words when the late former NFL commissioner announced the NFL had decided to play its full schedule of games two days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963.
President Gerald R. Ford was one of the most powerful men in American history. Obscured by the “Grand Rapids boy makes good at Michigan and later at Yale Law School” story is the fact that he served as a U.S. Congressman from Michigan for a quarter century.
While in Congress, he was the top Republican leader. He also served on the Warren Commission that looked into the Kennedy assassination mystery.
By August 1974, the presidency of Richard M. Nixon was awaiting the impending tsunami from Watergate. Nixon’s vice president, Spiro T. Agnew, resigned due to alleged malfeasance while governor of Maryland. Nixon chose Ford to be vice president and then resigned a few days later.
Ford appointed former New York Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller to be his vice president. A few days after that, Ford pardoned Nixon, thus sealing Ford’s doom as to ever being elected even dog catcher again.
And so two men, without the benefit of a national election, became president and vice president of the United States. Nelson Rockefeller wanted the presidency so bad he could taste it. He had to settle on getting only as close as a heartbeat away. And America had as close to a bloodless coup as any history book will ever admit.
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