Comments & Curiosities: Imagine the aging process

Ronald Reagan is coming to Newport Beach. Well, his statue is anyway.

The idea is the brainchild of Newport Beach Councilman Keith Curry, a long-time Reagan admirer, and not just from afar. Curry was a member of the Reagan administration in the 1980s, serving five years as a deputy director at the Federal Transit Administration — a special agency in charge of making sure no transit project happens quickly.

In October, Curry suggested renaming Bonita Canyon Sports Park after Reagan, but the votes fell short. In the spirit of never stop fighting until the fight is done, Curry then suggested a statue of Reagan be placed in the new Civic Center to commemorate the Great Communicator.

At Tuesday's City Council meeting, not only were the votes there but they were unanimous. The plan is to raise $50,000 for a larger-than-life statue of Reagan, which will hopefully be cast, buffed up and bolted down by the summer. And here is a nice twist to the story: with Feb. 6 marking Reagan's 100th birthday, the timing for Newport Beach to tip its commodore's cap to president of the United States 40 couldn't be better.

To be honest with you, that's the part that jumped out at me — Reagan would be 100 years old if he were still with us. When a famous person crosses over, we tend to remember them as they were, and it's hard to relate to what they would look like if they were still on this side of the divide also known as life. True, Reagan was 79 when he left the White House, but he was a robust, commanding presence who looked much younger than his years.

Because we saw little of him after that, that image remains frozen in our mind's eye. The "mental illusion" of someone who would be, umm, fully mature today is even more pronounced when it's someone who moved on long before their time. My trusty mouse and I discovered that when we rooted around in the folder marked "Famous/Departed/Early." While we're on U.S. presidents, try John F. Kennedy. He would be 93. Can you picture a 93-year-old JFK? I cannot. Then again, Jackie Kennedy would be 81, as would Audrey Hepburn.

Of course, because movie stars and famous rockers tend to use up their time on this Earth really, really fast, the "age" effect is even more striking. Elvis would be 76, thank-q-veramush, and Jimi Hendrix would be 68, purple haze and all. Would he still be wearing a red bandana at 68? Hope not. Two more rockers more likely to turn up at the Oasis Center than the Honda Center — Frank Zappa, 70, and this is a mind bender — Jim Morrison, 67. Come on, baby, light my fire, just be careful.

Janis Joplin — who was my favorite over the top, hair-on-fire '60s rocker — would be 67. Take another little piece of my heart, I have more stents than I need. Mama Cass would be 69, and no, she did not choke to death on a ham sandwich, so let's deal with that persistent urban myth here and now. Mama Cass was 32 when she died, sadly, of heart failure, in her sleep, following a sold-out Mamas & Papas concert at the London Palladium.

No one knows how the annoyingly constant "ham sandwich" myth started, but one theory is that the police report of her death noted that a partially eaten sandwich was found near her bed. Somehow, some way, someone gloamed onto that, deciding it was not only a ham sandwich but a lethal one. Not true.

Sal Mineo, also Italian and also from the Bronx, would be 71 today, Jayne Mansfield would be 77 and Marilyn Monroe would be...wait for it...84 years old. Sigh. A kiss on the hand may be quite continental, but low heels are a girl's best friend. Doesn't matter, I don't care, she would still be causing traffic accidents everywhere she went and that mole would be exactly where it's supposed to be. Let's see who else? Hopefully, James Dean would have dealt with the demons of his youth because he would be 79 today and Ricky Ricardo, aka Desi Arnaz, would be 93. Lucy, I'm home, I think.

So there you have it. Ronald Reagan and Jimi Hendrix, "California Dreamin'" and half a sandwich, hold the ham. It's all connected. I leave the details to you. I gotta go.

PETER BUFFA is a former Costa Mesa mayor. His column runs Sundays. He may be reached at

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