The New York Times obituaries Wednesday served a feast for 1960s aficionados.
A. Alvarez, the British critic, poet and reporter who chronicled Sylvia Plath's final days, died Monday at age 90, according to his Times obituary. The newspaper also noted the death of Robert Hunter, born Robert Burns, who wrote the Grateful Dead's lyrics. Hunter died Monday at age 78.
Dr. Robert McClelland, one of the surgeons who operated on the mortally wounded John F. Kennedy, was also remembered. McClelland, who died Tueday at 89, also worked on Kennedy's alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, after he was fatally shot by Jack Ruby.
Alvarez's study of suicide, "The Savage God," introduced me to the saga of Plath. The Times obituary quoted Alvarez's recollections of Plath visiting him in the last days of her life, reading him the electric poems published in her posthumous "Ariel." The survivor of his own suicide attempt, Alvarez regretted not taking action to save the poet.
He also published a ground-breaking anthology of poets Thom Gunn, Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Plath and others. He went on to write a nonfiction work on competitive poker that, according to the Times, popularized the pastime.
Hunter also gained renown as a wordsmith, writing the lyrics to Dead classics like "Uncle John's Band," "Truckin'" and "Dark Star." Hunter's words, joined with the music of his childhood friend Jerry Garcia. gave the band its identity. While his work lay on the other side of the poetic spectrum from Plath and Alvarez, they all achieved widespread popularity from the English lyric.
McClelland joined the surgical team that sought to save the president's life in the emergency room of Dallas' Parkland Hospital on Nov. 22, 1963. Two days later, he performed surgery on the dying Oswald.
The surgeon disputed the findings of the Warren Commission that Oswald had acted alone. He believed from his examination of Kennedy in the emergency room that the fatal, large wound at the back of Kennedy's head had not come from Oswald, shooting from behind the president's car. McClelland believed the shot causing the wound had been fired from the front, coming from a gunman stationed on the famous grassy knoll.
Watching the Abraham Zapruder film strengthened his belief in a second gunman. Completing a trifecta of treating Kennedy assassination figures, McClelland years later performed a cancer operation on Zapruder.
The lives of A. Alvarez, Bob Hunter and Bob McClelland covered a large slice of 1960s history and culture. Kennedy, Plath, the Dead are faces in a gallery of the age that might have been painted by Andy Warhol.
As the Trump-congressional collision dominated the Times' front page, the obituaries gave a historical longview of political tumult and cultural changes.