It’s official: 2016 has been hard on our society, taking more of our best and brightest than ever before. There were too many people taken from us to comment on here, but we want to take some time to remember some of those whose beautiful smiles enriched our lives.
When you think of musical icon David Bowie, it may not be his smile that first leaps to your mind. Of course, you’ll think of his music, but that means you should think of his teeth, which were vital to Bowie’s persona.
Last year, an artist called attention to this when she constructed a sculpture of Bowie’s original dentition, as he sported during his Ziggy Stardust years. The reason why this matters is that it was part of the rationale behind the creation of Ziggy Stardust that music should look how it sounds. So the question raised is whether his “authentic” teeth were indicative of more authentic music.
However, the cosmetic dentistry used to construct Bowie’s new smile for his new look after retiring Stardust was an integral part of his reinvention, making it a key part of his iconography.
Actor Alan Rickman created one of the most enduring smiling villains in Hans Gruber from Die Hard (1988), which not only ushered in the “super” action era, it’s become a signature Christmas movie. Rickman had a talent for delivering his evil lines with malicious glee through his smug smile. He later brought this talent to his portrayal of Severus Snape, an instructor at Hogwarts who seems set on making Harry Potter’s life difficult.
And let’s not forget his creation of Alexander Dane, the put-upon Shakespearean actor forced to constantly reprise his role as a caricatured alien on a Star Trek spoof series. Always second to a hammy Tim Allen, Rickman showed that his characters only remaining joy was in his ironic wit.
The Reagans were already Hollywood royalty when they landed in the White House, so Nancy Reagan knew how to light up a room with her smile. Despite featuring in 11 films from 1946 to 1959, Nancy Reagan never quite became a household name.
But she won fame as the greatest supporter of her husband’s political career. She showed grace and poise as First Lady, and even many of her husband’s toughest critics found themselves with little negative to say about her role. Whether speaking to the American public or hosting former dignitaries, such as Raisa Gorbachev. Although the two women had an icy relationship befitting their Cold War opposition, in public they acted more perfect diplomats than their husbands.
Prince’s death was shocking partly because of his youth, but also because of his apparent energy. He maintained a vigorous performance schedule almost right up to his death, delighting his millions of fans. His death was part of the ongoing opioid pain reliever epidemic sweeping the nation.
Prince’s smile was always for the fans, and it gave the delivery of his lyrics an intimacy that held up, whether he was performing to an arena of thousands or in a recording booth alone. It was part of the reason why his amazing talent as a vocalist and lyricist was able to somewhat overshadow his amazing talent as a guitarist. And it was probably part of the reason why he never became a movie star: he and his smile were too much Prince to ever be anyone else. That’s okay: we loved Prince too much to ever wish him anyone else.
Although Prince made his reputation with rock and pop songs, it shouldn’t be forgotten that he had significant insights into deeper social and political issues. His name change to an unpronounceable symbol representing both male and female genders made him a trans icon long before Caitlyn Jenner, and his fight with label Warner Bros highlighted many of the issues of artist compensation that would become increasingly fraught with the digital age.
Muhammad Ali may be known for the fury of his fists, but not far behind was the fury of his wit, and his ineffable smile added a lot to the charm and wisdom of his words. In the ring, he had a tough demeanor, captured in the image of him standing over a fallen Sonny Liston.
But outside the ring he was outspoken and could be fun. He never lost sight of the seriousness of the issues he was grappling with: he knew he was putting racism to the mat inside the ring and outside of it by taking on his Islamic moniker and refusing to be drafted. Still he took time to joke around, once putting tape and a padlock over his mouth before a fight. And his famously gap-toothed smile was never far from the surface when he was with friends and family.
His combination of smiling and smack-talk has definitely influenced later generations of fighters.
Gene Wilder was in the mid-70s one of America’s most recognizable comedic actors. In a short period of time he was able to create some of the most memorable figures in comedy, such as Young Frankenstein and Willy Wonka.
His manic smile allowed him to lend relatability to events that might otherwise seem impossible. And as Willy Wonka, the perpetual polite smile led gravitas to his final outburst against Charlie and his grandfather at the end of the film. This contributed to his resurfacing in the cultural consciousness as a meme asking us in a patronizing tone to “Tell him again” some highly ironic fact.
As Carol Brady on The Brady Bunch, Florence Henderson was the most iconic image of TV motherhood, save perhaps Barbara Billingsley (June Cleaver). Helming a nontraditional family through the upheavals of the 70s was not easy. But Henderson brought to Carol Brady a smiling ease that made it seem all right.
For several generations of Americans, her portrayal of Carol Brady was a joy and a comfort when our own moms were neither so joyful nor so comforting. It was not without truth that people complained that 2016 had killed “our Mom,” and it’s hard to imagine that the future won’t be a little bit dimmer without Henderson’s understanding smile.
If Florence Henderson was “mom” to several generations of Americans, Alan Thicke also had a claim to be Dad to another generation on Growing Pains. Starring as Dr. Jason Seaver, television dad to Kirk Cameron and two other kids, Thicke has his hands full trying to maintain his warm and understanding manner. But this Canadian actor played a stay-at-home dad who managed to keep it all together while working as a psychologist out of his study. In the words of Leonardo DiCaprio, who played Thicke’s adopted son in the series’ final season, said, “quite frankly, no one was cooler.” And it was his affable smile that helped keep him cool despite all the hijinks he had to deal with.
Although we will miss these people and their wonderful smiles, we are happy to have been blessed with them for so many years, and we look forward to discovering the new beautiful smiles that life holds for us. Maybe one of them will be your own.