Monday, August 11, 2008

You'll Always Be The Duke

Shockingly, Isaac Hayes died today in Memphis at age 65. I can’t honestly say that Hayes was one of those people that I ponder frequently, but his presence as an actor and musician is undeniable. His score for Shaft is beyond seminal – it immediately became musical shorthand for brash, in your face hipness, and for nearly 4 decades it has withstood even the clumsiest ironic usage. Say what you will, it’s as much a piece of Americana as anything by Cole Porter. Although Hayes appeared in less than a handful of Blacksploitation pictures as an actor, he provided the soundtrack that started it all; his presence is felt every time Fred Williamson lights up a cigar, each time Ron O’Neal kicks a crooked cop in the stones, and every time Samuel L Jackson tries to co-op their legacy.

Though Hayes will be irrevocably tied to a specific genre, he only appeared in two Blacksploitation films (both released in 1974), Tough Guys, an Italian-produced actioner that featured Hayes as an ex-cop set to bring down a Chicago mobster played with Fred Williamson, and the more polished Truck Turner, featuring Hayes and Yaphet Kotto as dueling hitmen. But Hayes’ appearance in features became strangely infrequent; in spite of a fabulous turn as the Duke in John Carpenter’s Escape from New York (“Yoooo’re the Duuuke”) and an hilarious image spoofing in I’m Gonna Get You Sucka – sometimes known by its alternate title, Keenen Ivory Wayans’ I’ll Never Make You Laugh Again – his film career seemed to mysteriously stall out There was always lots of television work, including several guest shots on The Rockford Files, and a recurring role on South Park, which Hayes probably never thought would end up as the most controversial of his career.

Hayes’ (a newly minted Scientologist) departure from the show came on the heels of the 2005 episode, Trapped in the Closet, featuring the animated adventures of Lord Xenu & Friends. Hayes, proving that a lack of humor is a common bond among all religious zealots, quit the show in a huff, and for the first time in his professional life, Isaac Hayes was decidedly uncool.
It's extra sad that such a great musician would end a career on a discordant note.

The above image is from the yet to be released Soul Brother and came from Hayes’ official website (which had not yet posted anything about his passing. It is, considering recent events, both eerie and amazingly sad.