Amidst all the parties, new gifts, and huge meals that mark the holiday season, let's take a moment to remember some of the great guys who passed on this year. Let's hope they made it to Guy Heaven, where the beer is always cold, the pizza's always hot, and the cable always free.
10. Stephen J. Cannell
Although the name may not be as familiar as some of the other guys on this list, if you've watched any amount of TV over the last 40 years, odds are you've seen a Stephen J Cannell show. Over his long career, he produced such dude classics as The A-Team, Baretta, Hardcastle and McCormick, The Rockford Files, and 21 Jump Street. In his later years, he turned mostly to novel writing and cranked out detective novels at a pace of one a year. Even though he died this year, they guy still released two books. Cannell was a hard worker who busted his balls for years to bring audiences top quality cops and robbers stories. Hell, the guy brought B.A. Barracus, Faceman, Hannibal, and Murdoch to our TV screens. For that he deserves a place in the dude hall of fame and the undying respect of everyone who's ever said, "I pity the fool."
9. Gary Coleman
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Life ain't easy when you peak creatively and professionally before your tenth birthday. Gary Coleman had a hit TV series and bags of cash long before he hit puberty. Unfortunately for him, Fate loves few things more than screwing with child stars. He spent the rest of his life living down the role that made him a household name. But, you know what? At least he did with a sense of humor. Coleman knew he was never going to be the star of a hit TV show again and even if he cured cancer, everyone was still going to yell, "Whatchoo talking about, Willis?" at him for the rest of his life, so he had fun with his legacy. He did the reality circuit, did a ton of self-deprecating cameos, and kept smiling, despite his lackluster career and personal problems. In the process, he inspired the hundreds of ex-child stars who are desperately trying to hold on to their shrinking bit of fame. It's okay to pander, as long as you do it with a wink.
8. Merlin Olsen
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If only they still made NFL players like Merlin Olsen. After an all-star career as a defensive lineman for the L.A. Rams, where he was part of the dreaded "Fearsome Foursome" defensive line, Olsen avoided every pit and valley that ex-athletes seem to fall in. He transitioned almost painlessly into an even more successful career as a broadcaster, actor, and commercial pitchman. A dyed-in-the-wool gentle giant, he made his mark on the world by terrorizing opposing teams on the field, but looked and acted like the nicest uncle anybody ever had off it. Merlin Olsen was a stand-up, old fashioned guy who was tough as nails. Sure he starred in some pretty sappy shows and scored somewhere between Pat Robertson and your elementary school vice principal on the "cool dude" scale, but that's who he was. And there are a lot worse things to be remembered as than the toughest nice guy around.
7. Robert Culp
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Robert Culp first came to fame playing a tough secret agent with Bill Cosby on the 60s series I Spy. Over the next 40 years, he carved out a more than respectable career trading on his gruff voice, square jaw, and tough guy manner, most famously as Bill Maxwell, the FBI agent who tied to keep a leash on The Greatest American Hero. He never had a huge role and pretty much stuck to TV, but Robert Culp was a welcome presence on hundreds of shows. He could play anything, and always turned in a great performance. He had slowed down in recent years, but still found time to branch out into video game work (he provided the voice of the bad guy in Half-Life 2) and was about to direct a big screen version of Terry and the Pirates. Still, we'll always remember him as the quintessential tough guy in a tie. Like many of the characters he played, Culp was a no-nonsense hard worker and consummate professional who got the job done. That's what being a dude is all about.
6. Tom Bosley
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Okay, so no one ever accused Tom Bosley of being a tough guy. Over his long, long Hollywood career, Bosley could be a badass, but so could anyone put up against a teenaged Ron Howard or a septuagenarian Angela Lansbury. But even though he's best remembered as the dad on Happy Days and the sheriff of the quaint, but bloodsoaked small town of Murder, She Wrote, Bosley deserves a spot on this list. He wasn't fancy, he wasn't dangerous, and he was about as cool as your dad falling asleep after eating too much turkey on Thanksgiving, but darn it, he was a dude plain and simple. He spoke from the hip, didn't stand for any nonsense, and knew how to be funny without being crude. He was a real man and the world is always in short supply of those. We'll miss you, Mr. Cunningham. And whatever your name was on Murder, She Wrote.
5. Tony Curtis
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If you were looking for a classic example of an American life well lived, you could do a lot worse than Tony Curtis'. He grew up in the rough and tumble Bronx of the ‘50s, narrowly avoided a life of crime, served on a submarine in WWII, had a long and storied career as an actor in classic flicks like The Defiant Ones, Some Like it Hot, and The Boston Strangler, was a serious painter whose works sold for tens of thousands of dollars, and married five drop dead gorgeous women - including one who was 48 years younger than him at the time. But his life wasn't all starlets, fat paychecks, and cherry pies. Curtis had his share of battles with drugs and alcohol, nearly died a couple times, and lost a son to drug addiction. But he persevered, and lived his life the way he wanted to no matter what anybody said. He hit the highs and the lows with class and will always be remembered as an American icon. Oh yeah, he also was Jamie Lee Curtis' old man, which is pretty cool in its own right.
4. George Steinbrenner
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There may be some baseball fans who question George Steinbrenner's inclusion on any list except world's greatest jerks, but it's pretty hard to argue with his career as a Major League Baseball owner and manager. Despite his legendary temper and revolving door policy towards employees, Steinbrenner was the architect behind one of the winningest sports franchises in history. Sure, he was a megalomaniac who slagged his own players in the press. Sure, he was paranoid, broke every rule in the book, and was once banned from managing. And yes, he did once give money to Richard Nixon. But he was a character and half of the fun of the big leagues is watching the larger-than-life nutjobs and gasbags who run it. Even if you disagreed with every decision Steinbrenner ever made, you had to agree the guy had style. Maybe he was a jerk, but he was an original. And in the final analysis, that's what he'll be remembered for.
3. Dino De Laurentiis
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Another guys' guy we lost this year was Dino De Laurentiis, the legendary film producer. Born to a humble spaghetti salesman in Italy, he rose to the heights of movie producerhood, bringing the world such bro classics as Serpico, Death Wish, Conan The Barbarian, King Kong, Maximum Overdrive, and even the greatest horror comedy of all time Evil Dead 2. De Laurentiis produced a lot of junk, too, but it was always good junk. Less interested in making Academy Award-winning dramas and more interested in getting people in the theater, he wasn't afraid to crank out cheapie sequels and throwaway genre pics to make a fast buck. He may not have always been the high-falutin' critics' favorite, but odds are if you've ever spent a hungover Sunday watching a cheesy but cool action flick made between 1968 and 2005, you owe De Laurentiis a debt of gratitude. Or at least a high five.
2. Dennis Hopper
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What do you say about Dennis Hopper? One of the last great originals in a business that loves conformity and safety, Dennis Hopper built an amazing career on his own terms. From his start as a whacked out filmmaker and actor who captured the surreal, drugged out madness of the sixties to a respected character actor, Hopper did great work, and perhaps more importantly, he always looked like he was having a great time doing it. He did what he wanted, indulged himself to the limits of human capacity, and made a bundle in the process. Sure, he starred in his share of duds (anyone remember the Super Mario movie?) but he always seemed above petty considerations like success or failure. He was a guy who just did what he did, and if people dug it, cool. No compromises, no regrets. We bet he died with a big fat smile on his face.
1. Leslie Nielsen
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At the beginning of his career, Leslie Nielson used his good looks and authoritative voice to play a series of boring yet serviceable hero types. He puttered along for several years, putting together a solid, but unremarkable string of roles. That is until the Zucker bothers (creators of the Airplane movies and the premier smartasses of their generation) cast him as the doctor in Airplane! Using his considerable straight man talents for comedy, Nielson discovered that he may have been a pretty good actor, but he was a kickass comedian. From then on, he became a huge star playing a series of oblivious boobs who only sound like they know what's going on, most famously in the Naked Gun flicks. Neilson was hilarious, totally willing to make fun of himself, and everyone else, and by all accounts was a stand up guy offscreen too. Surely, he was one of the funniest actors of his generation. Just don't call him Shirley.