Monday, August 14, 2006

Gongs and Pacificism

Today's New York Times has a beautifully written obit. The obit masterfully draws out, but doesn't trumpet, wonderful paradoxes. The online version has a picture of the gong.

Ken Richmond, 80, Gong-Striker Familiar to Filmgoers, Dies

Ken Richmond, the 6-foot-5, ripple-armed wrestler who for decades was seen striking the gong that heralded the opening credits for dozens of films produced by the J. Arthur Rank Studio in England, died on Aug. 3 at his home in Christchurch, on England’s south coast. He was 80.

The cause was a heart attack, said Mr. Richmond’s frend, Chris Saunders.

The famous “golden gong’’ never rang for Mr. Richmond, however. It was actually papier-mâché, and as he often joked, “If you hit that gong, you would have gone straight through.”
It was in 1954 that Mr. Richmond was paid a one-time fee of £100 — about $280 at the time — to bare his chest, grease his body and take a slow, delicate swing at a gong about five feet across.

Mr. Richmond was actually the Rank company’s fourth mock ringer, and its last; the studio closed in 1980. At 265 pounds, Mr. Richmond brought his own athleticism to the job. He was a heavyweight wrestler who won a bronze medal at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland, and a gold medal at the 1954 Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Kenneth Richmond was born in London on July 10, 1926. His father abandoned the family when Mr. Richmond was 3, according to his friend, Mr. Saunders. Mr. Richmond’s wife, Valentina, died in 1996. During his amateur wrestling career, Mr. Richmond began appearing as an extra or playing small roles, like that of the wrestler Nikolas in Jules Dassin’s 1950 film noir classic “Night and the City.” He also worked as a deckhand on whaling ships.
A Jehovah’s Witness for most of his life, Mr. Richmond was jailed as a conscientious objector in World War II. In later life, he was a door-to-door missionary for his church.
“He was a pacifist,” Mr. Saunders said. “The only time he ever mentioned using his strength, except as a wrestler, was when a burglar broke into his house. He grabbed the burglar and put him in a sleeper hold until the police came.

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