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People Who Died

Our Annual Salute to the Late Near-Great and Unjustly Obscure

Autumn Whitehurst

Posted 12/25/2002

There's been more than enough death to go around this year, and it hardly warrants celebrating. Beyond the lost friends and family members, the human cost around our city, our country, and our planet is ever more dear. And yet, there are individuals who died whose accomplishments in life had enough impact that their deaths made news and made people pause.

The past 12 months have claimed notables from the world of statecraft (Sen. Paul Wellstone) and beatcraft (Jam Master Jay), veteran performers (Richard Harris) and young stars (Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes), icons (Dee Dee Ramone) and the infamous (Linda Lovelace), and sages of all sorts (from Stephen Jay Gould to Billy Wilder). Maryland has suffered recent losses accompanied by mourning and celebration (Johnny Unitas, Philip Berrigan) as well as outrage (the sniper victims, the Dawson family).

But there are others whose passing didn't get the public notice their lives and achievements might deserve. And frankly, we're fascinated by those folks.

Take James Stinson. A Detroit native who worked as a truck driver, he died of heart trouble on Sept. 3 at age 32, leaving behind a wife and seven children. But he also left behind a legacy as the guiding force behind the mysterious Drexciya, a little-known but legendary techno unit. Stinson and his cohorts (who never printed their names on their recordings and seldom gave interviews) spun a mythology about African slaves who were thrown overboard during the Middle Passage, adapted to aquatic life, and established their own separate and autonomous kingdom under the sea. Drexciya's dozens of recordings served as a sort of soundtrack for the idea, a fluid and soulful made-in-Detroit aquaboogie. Now that's a life story, obscure as his life may have been.

In that spirit, we convene our second-annual tribute to those dearly departed who did or thought or created something (often something odd) during their time on Earth that has touched our lives somehow, even if we had no idea who they were at the time. These are People Who Died, 2002.

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