Newsmakers ’09: Exits

Paula Adbul, Wayne Gretzky and others that "bowed" out this year.

‘Guiding Light’
Go to the light, a voice said, and, after 72 years on the air, it did. Guiding Light, the longest-running scripted program in broadcast history, had declined to an average of just 2.1 million viewers an episode, making it the least-watched of the remaining soaps. So CBS executives extinguished the town of Springfield and its denizens—Reva, Josh, Lizzie and all—forever.

Paula Abdul
Stoned, drunk or flaky? It’s always been hard to tell with Abdul. So when she announced she was leaving the judge’s table on American Idol, the question became whether she was quitting or just playing hardball. Fox ended the speculation by tapping Ellen DeGeneres; Abdul’s subsequent TV impersonation of Ellen—less straight up than a strange variation on drag—closed the deal.

Wayne Gretzky
A casualty of the Phoenix Coyotes’ financial ill-fortune, Gretzky stepped down as coach in September, even as Jim Balsillie and Gary Bettman competed for the team’s future. Later, a dispute over millions in salary Gretzky says is still owed him caused some to wonder whether he’d attend the Hockey Hall of Fame inductions of former teammates Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille and Steve Yzerman. Always the gentleman, Gretzky did come. “The game is bigger than any individual or any person,” he said.

Rachelle Lefevre

Not by garlic or a stake in the heart, but by scheduling conflict, Montreal actress Rachelle Lefevre last summer found herself exterminated from the role of creepy Twilight vampire Victoria in the second sequel, Eclipse. Filming for the adaptation of the Mordecai Richler novel Barney’s Version, in which she’ll appear as Barney’s first wife, Clara, was slated to overlap with Eclipse, so producers dropped Lefevre in favour of Bryce Dallas Howard, daughter of director Ron Howard.

View-Master scenic reels

Slipped into that plastic viewer, with its distinctive fire-engine red colour and a side-trigger to move between images, the 3-D scenic reel was the next best thing to being there. The Grand Canyon threatened real vertigo, the glacial cools of the Rockies actual hypothermia. But citing long-diminished sales, Fisher-Price has stopped making the scenic reels (it will continue with TV and movie-related discs). Meaning our children will no longer gaze at the View-Master’s astonishing verisimilitude with the pock-marked moon or red Mars.

Oscar De La Hoya
Dubbed “the Golden Boy,” he was a throwback to the classic Hollywood pugilist. A Mexican-American raised in hardscrabble east L.A., De La Hoya promised his dying mother he’d win gold in the 1992 Olympics; he did, then went on to become one of history’s most successful pro boxers. Good looks and scrappiness made him widely popular, but he was an outright hero to America’s Hispanic population. After his last bout in May before retirement at 36—he lost to Filipino Manny Pacquiao—De La Hoya ap­proached his old trainer, Freddie Roach. “You were right, Freddie. I don’t have it anymore.”

‘High School Musical’ cast
Four years after its television debut in 2006, the cast of High School Musical—the Disney franchise so at home in sterile Salt Lake City, where it is filmed—has graduated, never to return. What to do? Replace Zac, Vanessa and Ashley with a new crew of post-pubescent vocalists, who will also no doubt be outfitted with the Antares Auto-Tune pitch-correction software, for High School Musical 4: East Meets West (which sounds exotic, but likely goes no farther east than Minneapolis).

Monthly beer allotments

For years, Molson retirees enjoyed a benefits package that could surely only exist in the booze-fuelled fantasy lives of Bob and Doug McKenzie: lots of free beer. Retirees in St. John’s got six dozen bottles a month. But in June, Molson said it would cut the quota of complimentary beer it allots its retirees to a monthly dozen in St. John’s. Five years from now, retirees across Canada will get no beer at all. Current workers will see their allowance slashed to 52 dozen bottles a year. Union grievances and protests are expected to go flat.

Radio-Canada’s ‘Bye Bye’
Once a very funny way for francophones to call in the New Year, Radio-Canada’s year-end television event had in recent years devolved into an offensive, unfunny caricature of Québécois humour. Indeed, last year’s review, which featured controversial sketches mocking Barack Obama and singer and child-abuse survivor Nathalie Simard, drew tough criticisms from the CRTC. Adieu, adieu, Bye Bye.

For its 18 km of unspoiled 18th- and 19th-century riverside landscape and its historic old town, UNESCO named Germany’s Dresden Elbe Valley a UN World Heritage Site in 2004. Last summer, it took the rare step of rescinding the distinction—just the second time it’s done so—after “the Florence of northern Europe” went ahead with plans to build a modern bridge in the middle of the heritage zone. Dresden had rejected a tunnel alternative and the structure was backed by a local referendum, creating an unbridgeable gap between locals and UNESCO.

Karlheinz Schreiber
The former arms dealer and self-styled international man of mystery avoided extradition from Canada for a decade. This to the obvious horror of Brian Mulroney, who describes taking cash from Schreiber as “my second-biggest mistake in life,” the first being ever agreeing to meet him. There’s no chance they’ll bump into each other at the ATM these days—the Mounties escorted Schreiber to Germany in August.

Almost 10 years after Europe restricted their use and close to six months after the U.S. said it would do likewise, Canada placed a partial ban on phthalates, a family of compounds better known as “rubber duck chemicals” for their frequent use in softening plastics in toys. The chemicals are believed to impede the production of testosterone, particularly during fetal development, when high phthalate levels may feminize males.

Best polka album
Despite protestations by some that polka remains a vibrant musical form, the Grammy Awards have discontinued their award for best polka album. This vastly reduces the chances that Canada’s polka king, Walter Ostanek of St. Catharines, Ont., who has been nominated for 21 Grammys and won three, will ever be nominated again.

The Lockerbie bomber
Three Canadians were among the 270 victims of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. In August the Scottish government agreed to repatriate the ill Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the only man convicted in the terrorist act, on compassionate grounds. Back in Libya, he got a hero’s welcome. Terminal prostate cancer was the bomber’s ticket home; we’re still awaiting his final exit.

Chinese Uighur detainees
The odyssey continues for a group of Chinese Muslims captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan after 9/11 and sent to the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay. Quickly identified as non-combatants, the Uighurs could not be returned to China for fear of persecution, and no other big power would have them. In November, six landed in the Pacific island nation of Palau, a former U.S.-run trust territory that will be their refuge until another country—possibly Australia—agrees to take them permanently. Meanwhile, they may learn to love fruit bat cooked in coconut, a local delicacy.

It was the film used to capture the image of the beautiful green-eyed Afghan girl for National Geographic and the basis for the infamous Zapruder reel that caught the murder of president John F. Kennedy, sparking a thousand conspiracy theories. It could only be thus: Kodachrome, introduced 74 years ago but discontinued in June, was at once too real and too vivid. Singer Paul Simon recognized in its bright hues a promise reality could not keep: “Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day,” he sang. Digital photography, which offers a starker reality, led to the end of its colourful optimism.