Michael Jackson was only 50 when he died on June 25. Claude Lévi-Strauss was 100 when he passed on Oct. 30. Jackson was undoubtedly the more famous of the two, a household name all over the planet, and the ludicrous hype of his later career and his tabloid notoriety don't dim the appeal of the millions of records he sold, even now. Anthropologist Lévi-Strauss's name is known to a small fraction of the planet's better educated citizens, but few 20th-century thinkers have as profoundly influenced the way we understand ourselves as a species. Can it be said that one or the other's influence was greater, or that his life mattered more?
Maybe it could, but we're not gonna start that argument here. The point is, fame does not necessarily equal influence in the grand scheme of things. Plenty of people who were famous in one way or another died over the course of 2009 with all the fanfare befitting their Q ratings: TV-news clips, prominent print obituaries, various OMGs and RIPs on Twitter, etc. Ted Kennedy, Farrah Fawcett, John Updike, Merce Cunningham, David Carradine, Steve McNair, Robert S. McNamara, Walter Cronkite, John Hughes, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Les Paul--the list goes on. But what we're doing here, as we do in this space each year, is take a moment to remember a few of the less celebrated citizens of the world who helped shape it in a way disproportionate to the size of their renown. They each deserve a public RIP in some way, and here it is.