RIP .. Elwy Yost and Amy Winehouse .. two very different lives and deaths

Jul 23rd, 2011 | By | Category: In Brief

Elwy Yost as a panelist on CBC quiz show “Flashback,” 1962–1968 — training for his later TVO triumph of “Saturday Night at the Movies,” 1974–1999. Photo: CBC.

Beyond their shared humanity, Elwy Yost, the Canadian former host of the TV Ontario show Saturday Night at the Movies, and Amy Winehouse, the English “singer-songwriter, known for her powerful contralto vocals and her eclectic mix of musical genres,” had almost nothing in common — except that they both died during the third full week of July, 2011.

Elwy Yost passed away on Thursday, July 21, in Vancouver, where he had celebrated his 86th birthday just over a week before. The lifeless body of Amy Winehouse was discovered at her house in north London on the afternoon of Saturday, July 23. She was a still youthful 27 — the same age as fellow reckless pop singers Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison, at the times of their deaths.

Elwy Yost at the lobby of the Sutton Place Hotel in 1999, the year he retired from “Saturday Night at the Movies.” RICK MADONIK/TORONTO STAR.

Some kind of sadness almost always surrounds the death of someone you like — even if you only know them through mass media. (Which is certainly the only way I have known Elwy Yost and Amy Winehouse.) But it is a gentle sadness in Elwy Yost’s case.

He had a full life and died in old age. He was the genial host of the TV Ontario show Saturday Night at the Movies from 1974 to 1999. I was one of those who often looked in on his show. His move from Toronto to Vancouver in 1989 seemed to say something about how Toronto was growing less hospitable to his kind of talent. But he kept on doing his TV Ontario show for another decade  — until his mid 70s. Martin Knelman in the Toronto Star this past Friday observed that Elwy “was reluctant to say anything critical” about the movies he loved so much. That may have been one of his attractions for those who found him attractive. I was sad to hear of his death, but pleased he had managed to see his 86th birthday.

Amy Winehouse as an English schoolgirl, before any of her adult careers began.

Hearing about the death of Amy Winehouse made me much sadder, in a different way. The initial reports are that her death is for the moment, “unexplained.” But who can doubt that, one way or another, she drug-and-alcohol-abused herself to death, at a far too early age?

Without being any deep fan, I liked her “eclectic mix of musical genres” — and especially its jazz overtones. And something of what I casually gleaned about her onstage persona made me sympathetic towards her obviously troubled nights and days. I don’t find her death hard to explain. Despite much improvement since, say, even the late 18th century, the world we humans inhabit remains an appalling place. Most of us manage to forget this most of the time — for a host of good reasons. It is always unusually sad when troubled singer-songwriters like Ms. Winehouse just lose their way, far too early in their time on planet earth.

Amy Winehouse, before and after her career as a serious drug user and abuser began.

There may be some additional current consolation in the capacity of the still quite recent You Tube brand of countervailing human progress to help us remember both these not-at-all-alike people. Here are four of Elwy Yost’s interviews of (or about) the movie stars he loved so much: “Vintage Greer Garson Interview Circa 1985 TVO PART 1” ; “Judy Davis interview (part 1 of 2)” ; “Gregory Peck on ‘The Gunfighter’” ; and “Elwy Yost on meeting Henry Fonda.” And here are four of Amy Winehouse’s intriguing eclectic songs: “Back To Black” ; “Rehab” ; “Tears Dry On Their Own” ; and “You Know I’m No Good.”

Of course, the world goes on. Just two doors north of us there is a sign out front announcing that on July 21 (the same day Elwy Yost died) a new daughter was born. As old as I am myself, I also find it unusual that people are now announcing such things to the larger universe with signs on their front lawns (provided, as best I can make out, by a diaper service). But I’m glad they are. It reminds me not to get too sad about Elwy Yost, and especially Amy Winehouse. The world goes on, and we must finally go with it.

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