How come one of your favorites didn’t make the tribute?
One of the big moments at awards shows like the Oscars and the Grammys is always the In Memoriam video. For a few minutes, we offer solemn silence as we watch a video spotlighting notable people who have died in the year since the last broadcast. We see faces of the dead, sometimes with short clips highlighting the work of the most noteworthy ones. It’s a lovely way to honor major players and industry insiders alike.
But as the video ends, so does the solemn silence — often because we’re yelling about the people who were omitted. Sometimes it’s a big star who was bafflingly skipped. Other times, it’s a cult figure we love who never got their due in life — and missed it again in death. Either way, it can be maddening to wait for one particular name, to look forward to seeing one particular face, and never have it happen.
Viewers of both the Oscars and the Grammys this year took offense at notable In Memoriam snubs. And they definitely weren’t a handful of cult figures, only noticed by their biggest fans. They were big stars and award nominees whose omissions felt confusing and shocking to the people who loved their work.
“Last night was one of the best @TheAcademy Awards shows I’ve seen. Fantastic performances, smooth flow, and almost a perfect show. The only failure was leaving film icons like Andy Vajna, Carol Channing, R. Lee Emery, Dick Miller and others out of the In Memoriam tribute.” —Arnold Schwarzenegger
Carol Channing was just one of the Oscar nominees who was surprisingly omitted from the tribute video during the February 23 broadcast. Also missing were Stanley Donen, who was nominated for directing the classic musical “Singin’ in the Rain,” and Sondra Locke, nominated for Best Supporting Actress for “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.” Donen’s death was announced just a day before the broadcast, so timing may have been an issue, but not so for other notable snubs.
“I know you can’t fit everyone in, but the absence of Verne Troyer, R. Lee Ermey, and Sondra Locke was noticeable for the #Oscars In Memoriam.” —Rhett Bartlett
Not everyone on the “missed list” was an Oscar nominee like Donen, Channing, and Locke. Actors Troyer and Ermey were popular but never Oscar-nominated. But being nominated for an Oscar isn’t a qualification for the honor of a placement in the In Memoriam video. That fact made people all the more upset as more minor industry figures were honored while some of their favorite stars weren’t.
“Absolutely shameful you left all these actors (including two Oscar nominees) out of the Memorium but yet you include publicists and costume designers. Show some respect to every actor who died.” —@MikeyG76
Similar controversy raged after the February 10 Grammy Awards broadcast, and fans of heavy metal were especially upset. The In Memoriam segment honored Aretha Franklin, Mac Miller, Aviici, and other stars of the music world who have died since last year’s Grammys. One it missed, though, was Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul.
“Dear @RecordingAcad: This is a picture of Vinnie Paul. Though you did not think he and other prominent Rock musicians worthy of your memorial segment, there are millions of us who disagree. Shame on the #Grammys for their vile disrespect to so many talented human beings.” —Lou Brutus
Paul died in June at 54 as a result of heart disease, leaving behind legions of fans of Pantera’s iconic heavy metal music. He was the brother of Pantera guitarist Daryl Abbott, who died in 2004 after being shot onstage. They were the band’s founders, and it’s worth noting that Pantera was no flash in the pan. Founded in 1981, the band was active for 20 years before the brothers moved on to form Damageplan. And Pantera received four Grammy nominations over the years for Best Metal Performance.
It’s hard to say why the Recording Academy skipped including Paul in their tribute. He seems like an obvious choice, thanks to his history of nominations. Back in 2005, his brother and bandmate was one of the first musicians featured in the In Memoriam video (though some would argue that Abbot was the better-known face of the band, and the sensational manner of his death certainly made it bigger news than Paul’s death from natural causes). And the Grammys took plenty of heat a few years ago for another omission from the heavy metal world: Jeff Hanneman, guitarist for Grammy-winning metal band Slayer, didn’t make it to the 2014 In Memoriam video. Fans were upset then, just as they are now.
“And then the @RecordingAcad left Vinnie Paul Abbott out of the In Memoriam reel. Thanks for reminding metalheads you don’t really care about our fallen heroes, #GRAMMYs! RIP Vinnie Paul.” —Kerrang Magazine
Paul wasn’t the only notable omission from the Grammys’ In Memoriam tribute. Also left out of the video were Pete Shelley, lead singer of influential punk band the Buzzcocks; Scott Hutchison of indie band Frightened Rabbit; and rapper XXXTentacion. Fans of their music were understandably upset, too.
The Recording Academy’s website offered a complete list of music industry deaths in the past year that went far beyond those included in the video — it’s more than 750 names long. The Oscars offered a less-comprehensive photo gallery of 212 industry notables. It includes the omitted people, even late entry Donen.
It’s all but impossible for the Grammys to include every single music-industry death in their In Memoriam video, just as it is for the Oscars to include everyone who’s ever had involvement in a film and died in the past year. To keep the In Memoriam videos down to a watchable length, each organization had to choose only the most notable and recognizable people to include. Compared to the full lists, only a handful of people make it to the video.
It’s a massive challenge for anyone to curate the perfect list of notable people to pay tribute to. Any time we can’t include absolutely everybody, somebody is going to feel left out. The best thing we can do is consider our audience — the people who are most likely to read or watch what we’ve created.
At Legacy, we’ve learned what kinds of things the people who typically visit our pages tend to look for. There are notable people who we as individuals really love, and we’ll always argue in favor of including them in our year-end or monthly tributes. But we also know that there are so many notable people who die all the time. Our personal favorites might not be the ones who lots of people care about. So we put aside personal preferences in order to create something that’s likely to resonate with the largest number of people.
I’d be willing to bet that there was somebody at the Academy arguing passionately for Channing to be included in the Oscars video — just like my editor here hoped that beloved sci-fi author Ursula K. Le Guin would score a spot in our 2018 year-end video tribute. In the end, she didn’t make the curatorial cut, because genre novelists usually don’t seem to resonate with our audience the way singers, actors, and World War II heroes do. That’s logical, but it still makes him a little sad, and I suspect the Academy insiders who were fighting for Channing — or for Abbott, or Troyer, or Marshall — feel the same way.
It’s hard to stay quiet when one of your heroes doesn’t get the recognition you think they deserve. We feel real grief after the death of a musician or an actor — or any other public figure — who we love. It doesn’t matter that we never met them if their work spoke to our soul and made our world a better place. One way to remember and honor their life is to speak up about the public tributes you think they deserve. The outrage in the wake of the recent In Memoriam omissions now might pave the way for more complete tributes in the future.