Charles Schulz is finished. There's another Sunday strip in the can, waiting to be published, but he's out of the comics business. He's retired to deal with a nasty disease that few recover from.
He had a great run. Fifty years of success in any endeavor is admirable. Although Peanuts hasn't been consistently funny for the past ten years it never got embarrassingly pathetic, trite or preachy. Knowing when to quit is the final skill every artist needs to master.
Take George Carlin. Please. He was the second funniest stand-up comic of my generation. His brilliant observations and commentaries were so funny and so dead-spot-on they've become part of our everyday language. But now he's s tired old man desperately fishing for laughs and usually failing miserably. The library charged me a quarter to reserve his book, "Brain Droppings." It wasn't worth it.
By comparison, Richard Pryor, the funniest stand-up of our generation, is suffering a chronic illness that prevents him from performing. On one level that's sad and depressing, but it's also good to know we'll always remember him at his peak, instead of as a washed up hack doing inane commercials for long distance service.
People handle deterioration differently. Muhammad Ali is so affected by his punch-induced Parkinson's he can't even speak, yet he has so much class and style you can almost see it glowing around him. By contrast Janet Reno, displaying the same symptoms, comes across like a scared, cornered Pekinese.
Some people seem immune to deterioration. Aretha Franklin was recently featured on a TV special which included a clip of her singing opera, filling in for Pavarotti. She sounded operatic for about three notes, then hit a note that was pure Aretha. If she were singing two miles away on a foggy night through a nine-dollar karaoke system with marbles in her mouth her voice would still be recognizable, and still sound better than any recent pop star of either gender.
Most artists don't know when to quit and dilute their legacy by putting out miserable, inferior stuff in their last few years. Schulz has avoided this fate. So let's rejoice that his legacy is intact, wish him as much pleasure and as little pain as possible in the time he has left, and send him a fond farewell. You're a good man Charles Schulz. Thanks for fifty years of funny.
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© 2000 Dave Hitt
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