“I don't say he's a great man. Willie Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being... So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall in his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person.” -- Death of A Salesman
"When I take the dirt nap, they'll put a statue like that for me at the newsstand." -- Greg Burgess
Jon Crowley over at Hollywood Thoughts, known for his definitive essays on Disneyana and Hollywood history, has literally made the world pay attention to the death… and life… of Greg Burgess.
Greg was the ZZ Top-looking guy who worked at the Sherman Oaks Newsstand at the corner of Van Nuys and Ventura. His passing Monday at the age of 59 might have gone unnoticed, if not for Dodger Jon and his touching, Pulitzer-worthy essay on the death of a newsman.
A tip of the Tabloid Baby hat to L.A. Observed for linking to Hollywood Thoughts. The story sped through Cyberspace. Other bloggers posted memories, and the L.A. Daily News today runs a feature-length obit on a guy who probably never thought twice about how important he was to the lives of other people:
"He brought smiles to the faces of passing motorists. Heard the cares of customers. Handed out toys to children. And for decades was a fixture at the landmark Sherman Oaks Newsstand.
Gregory Mark Burgess, the artist clerk whose smile had cheered passers-by at Van Nuys and Ventura boulevards since the early 1980s… News of his death raced this week across the blogosphere. Drew calls of condolences from Jay Leno's office. And shocked a Sherman Oaks community longing for the ZZ Top-like hot-rodder perched each evening with a copy of your favorite news mag or paper.
“He was the jewel of the neighborhood,” said Jon Crowley… “He knew everybody. He cared for everybody. He belonged to everybody. He was the outdoor bartender... but instead of pouring a drink, he'd pour out words of wisdom.”
Burgess, a native of Columbus, Ohio, was raised in Covina and the inland town of Perris, where he developed a life-long love of hot rods, Harleys and high-heeled curves. A hell-raiser, he raced drag bikes, wrenched on top-fuel dragsters-- and spent at least one night in jail for joy-riding the fire chief's car…
Sunday through Thursday, rain or shine - Burgess always had a joke. A smile. Some advice. Or a copy of your favorite "Forbes" or "Easy Rider" tucked beneath the register. Leno of "Tonight Show" and Max Baer of "The Beverly Hillbillies" were regulars….
When he wasn't peddling news, the man whose favorite artists are Jackson Pollack and Von Dutch loved to tour art galleries, cars shows or create "rockabilly" art with homemade frames. His company, Scavenger Enterprises, fashioned model cars.
…Once, when eyeballing art in Orange County... Burgess noticed a statue of the famous Laguna Beach greeter. "He said, 'When I take the dirt nap, they'll put a statue like that for me at the newsstand."'
A statue for newsguy Greg?
Wouldn’t that be something. A statue for all the newsmen, artists, writers and folks who mean so much but never get the credit or more than a passing nod.
Get moving, Hollywood Thoughts.
We’ll make the first donation. Let’s get Leno… and Max Baer... and ZZ Top...to follow.