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The Kennedy Center Dis-Honors
Even the best of the best have had their lemons
It’s Washington’s answer to the Oscars, the closest thing to American pop-culture knighthood. At a star-studded gala Sunday, singer Neil Diamond, actress Meryl Streep and three other entertainers — Broadway star Barbara Cook, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins — will be saluted with the Kennedy Center Honors, recognizing their luminous lifetime contributions to the performing arts.
As the glowing words and heartfelt encomiums flow from the Kennedy Opera House stage, no one will mention that Mr. Diamond was the first man to win a Golden Raspberry Award for worst actor, courtesy of his star-destroying turn in 1980’s “The Jazz Singer.”
Or that Mr. Ma lent his considerable talents to the soundtracks of 1997’s “Seven Years in Tibet” and 2005’s “Memoirs of a Geisha,” a high-class pair of turgid cinematic turkeys to rival anything roasted on Thanksgiving.
Or that Mr. Rollins … well, you catch our drift.
A wise man — possibly the Apostle Paul, probably Osgood Fielding III from “Some Like It Hot” — once noted, “Nobody’s perfect.” In the cases of Mr. Diamond, Miss Streep and the rest of this year’s honorees, that maxim is worth remembering. Otherwise, their formidably accomplished, mostly spotless resumes would be unbearable.
With that in mind, we present our first-ever Kennedy Center Dis-Honors, kidding only because we love.
The good stuff: Five decades in show business, more than 115 million records sold worldwide, eight No. 1 singles. Oh, and before he became a famous voice, the 70-year-old Mr. Diamond was a skilled swordsman, earning a fencing scholarship to New York University. No kidding.
Career lowlight (I): As previously mentioned, Mr. Diamond won the first-ever worst-actor Razzie for “The Jazz Singer.” The good news? He also earned a Golden Globe nomination for the same role. The really good news? Making “The Jazz Singer” shelved Mr. Diamond’s plans to star in a film version of “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” with Barbra Streisand.
Career lowlight (II): Mr. Diamond’s tune “America” was the theme song for Michael Dukakis‘ 1988 presidential bid. Nothing against rousing, slightly cornpone immigrant-themed show-tune anthems; it’s just that any connection to one of the feeblest political campaigns of the modern era — M1A1 Abrams battle tank photo-op, anyone? — is a clear-cut case of guilt by association.
Career lowlight (III): In the 1960s — a time frame that likely explains much — Mr. Diamond recorded “The Pot Smoker’s Song,” a bizarre ditty that contains jarring, William Shatner-esque spoken-word interludes about shooting drugs into one’s spine and a peppy “Sesame Street”-style chorus of “la la la/pot, pot/gimmie some pot/forget what you are/you can be what you’re not.” With all due respect, no amount of psychedelic assistance is enough to unhear this tune.
Relevant statistic: A Google search of “Neil Diamond worst song lyrics of all time” yields just 463,000 results.
Quotable: In the 1991 film “What About Bob?” Bill Murray’s character notes, “There are two types of people in the world — those who like Neil Diamond and those who don’t.” Regarding both Mr. Diamond’s mammoth musical oeuvre and his habit of performing in colorful sequined shirts, truer words never have been uttered.
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About the Author
Patrick Hruby is an award-winning journalist who holds degrees from Georgetown and Northwestern. He also contributes to ESPN.com and The Atlantic Online, and his work has been featured in The Best American Sports Writing. Follow him on Twitter (@patrick_hruby) and contact him at PatrickHruby.net.
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