In keeping with a longstanding tradition – which some now claim has ancient ties to yearly rites of passage in the New Year – we present to you now our lowest form of human entertainment, our annual death poll. Yes, it’s sick. It’s twisted. It’s warped. It’s cruel. It’s weird. And it’s back! This merry exercise, which is rumored to be one of the 12 days of Festivus, takes a stand against mourning, makes the sad happy, turns a frown upside down, and spits in the eye of morbidity. After thousands of years observing the human condition and considering all the possible outcomes we have determined that nobody born into this world escapes death. Not one! Why not have a little fun with that? Why spin the art of prediction, practice the craft of prophecy or cast an eye to the future on boring and depressing things like natural disasters, the value of the dollar or the eventual winner of the World Series? Why dabble in the predictive mundane when you can take real, famous, important or rich people and cast them ahead of time to their eventual fate? Every year we see the same thing: a year-end stream of death, sad and endless, of the notorious who leave the earth – many unexpectedly and usually under sad circumstances. In shock and sadness, we note their passing with negative energy and vague declarations of “He was so great!” or “She will really be missed!” or “What a loss!” You can turn those year-end expressions to happier sentiments of “Did you see that one coming?” or, my personal favorite, “Was he on your list?” Let me give you an example. Last week when Zsa Zsa passed away, instead of groans of loss and grief, I was showered with “Congratulations!” (Poor Zsa Zsa was on my list for years). Yes, it is an annual celebration of bucket kickers. And it is harder than you think. Every New Year’s weekend for more than 30 years now I have agonized over who will buy the farm in the future. It is serious business to determine just who will be pushing up daisies in the year ahead. Scarier still, come next year, you have to account for your skill in death prognostication. Can you imagine how such foresight will look on your resume? Now, such a daring exercise isn’t without risks. It is important to always insert this disclaimer before engaging in such scandalous predictive activity: we don’t actually WISH death on anyone in the New Year. In fact, if someone survives our list, we congratulate them! It is not easy to get this right. Fidel Castro, a stubborn survivor of our list for many years, failed to make our list this past year. So naturally, when he kicked off, we were HAPPY for him. (This is a game in which there are only winners. That’s pretty hard in any business, let alone the art of death and dying). And there are a few rules to this. You can’t just put your list out there without a degree of accountability. You have to stand up to your list of last year – bear your soul, as it were – when it comes to your skills of selective death. That being said, I can happily report, after a several year drought of getting death almost completely wrong, a pretty decent year in 2016 in the tombstone sweepstakes. Here is who I said last New Year’s weekend would check out in 2016: 1. Pope Benedict 2. Pope Francis 3. Billy Graham 4. Kirk Douglas 5. Zsa Zsa Gabor 6. Muhammad Ali 7. Shirley MacLaine 8. Angie Dickinson 9. Sean Connery 10. Angela Lansbury I got two out of ten, not my best year, but certainly a better performance than in recent years. To those eight who survived my list, congratulations. You win again. You are a cockroach in the race of life, a survivor of the first order. And now, after minutes of heartfelt contemplation, here is who I predict will kick the bucket in 2017: 1. Kirk Douglas (more than a DECADE on my list, truly an independent spirit) 2. Olivia de Havilland 3. Doris Day 4. Jerry Lewis 5. Shirley Jones 6. Bob Dole (back on the list after a reprieve of a few years) 7. Valerie Harper 8. George H.W. Bush 9. Betty White (not a popular pick, but I wasn’t the one that jinxed her) 10. Don Shula There are many, many others who could have easily made this list. I left off Jim Nabors, Clint Eastwood, June Foray, Ross Perot, Jimmy Carter, Buzz Aldrin, Robert Duvall, James Earl Jones, Ed Asner, Hal Linden, William Shatner, Willie Mays, Rod Carew, Dick Van Dyke and Dan Rather. All great candidates! And there are many more. There are all kinds of strategies to employ in this exercise. You have to take into account overall age, health, lifestyle and environment. Sometimes it is tempting to aim for the low hanging fruit of life, people like Charlie Sheen or Lindsay Lohan – the fast living who become the suddenly dead. You could take a look at my list this year and accuse me of playing it safe. Look at all those 90+ year old lifers! But years of doing this has given me wisdom and I chose who I chose based on experience. My average year is one or two. A good year is three. Once I think I got as many as five. It is not easy to do well. Why do this? Because life is too short. And is it fair to pick on celebrities? Absolutely. Elvis has been gone for 40 years and he still made more last year than most of us will make in a life time. There needs to be a price paid for celebrity, even while they are dead. Rest in peace, by all means, but entertain us to the end. Haha.