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Thursday, September 21, 2017

September 21, 1998

Before I go ahead with today's Throwback Thursday posting, I want to congratulate Josh for winning Big Brother 19.  It was definitely an unexpected, but incredible twist of fate that he took home the half million.  Good job for being a dragon slayer, Josh. 

Now, as for today's subject...well, unfortunately this subject met an untimely end...but made the most of her time on this earth given how "fast" it went.  More on that in a moment - but for now, let's celebrate the last day of summer with a list of historical events for September 21!

1776 - After being occupied by British forces, parts of New York City are burned to the ground

1780 - Benedict Arnold gives the British the plans to West Point during the American Revolutionary War

1912 - Animator Chuck Jones (d. 2002) is born in Spokane, Washington

1921 - A storage silo explodes in Oppau, Germany - the blast kills well over five hundred people

1931 - Actor Larry Hagman (d. 2012) is born in Fort Worth, Texas

1933 - The first "Lucha libre" match is held in Mexico

1934 - Honshu, Japan is devastated by a typhoon which kills over three thousand people - also on this date singer Leonard Cohen (d. 2016) is born in Westmount, Quebec

1937 - "The Hobbit" by J.R.R. Tolkien is first published

1938 - The Great Hurricane of 1938 makes landfall in Long Island, New York, killing between 700 and 800 people

1942 - Over 2,500 Jews are slaughtered by Nazis in Dunaivtsi, Ukraine

1965 - The North American XB-70 Valkyrie makes its maiden flight from Palmdale, California

1974 - Author and actress Jacqueline Susann dies at the age of 56

1981 - Sandra Day O'Connor is unanimously approved to become the first female Justice of the American Supreme Court

1993 - "NYPD Blue" debuts on ABC

1996 - The Defense of Marriage Act passes the United States Congress

1998 - "Will & Grace" debuts on NBC

2001 - Ten days after the 9/11 attacks, America: A Tribute to Heroes is broadcast by thirty-five network and cable channels - the television special raised over $200 million for families of loved ones who died September 11, 2001

2007 - Actress Alice Ghostley dies at the age of 84

And for celebrity birthdays, we have quite a few people turning one year older.  Happy birthday to Don Preston, Dick Simon, Dickey Lee, Bill Kurtis, Fannie Flagg, Jerry Bruckheimer, Richard Childress, Don Felder, Stephen King, Artis Gilmore, Bill Murray, Marta Kauffman, Ethan Coen, Dave Coulier, Corinne Drewery, David James Elliott, Nancy Travis, Rob Morrow, Cecil Fielder, Angus Macfadyen, Cheryl Hines, Faith Hill, David Jude Jolicoeur, Ricki Lake, Anne Burrell, Melissa Ferrick, Alfonso Ribeiro, Luke Wilson, Liam Gallagher, Paulo Costanzo, Autumn Reeser, Nicole Richie, Maggie Grace, Lindsey Stirling, and Emma Watkins!

Whew!  I'm exhausted!  Let's just go ahead and see where the Throwback Thursday post takes us today.

September 21, 1998.  Nineteen years ago today.

Now, this happens to be the date that the show "Will & Grace" debuted in, and certainly it would have been a great topic of discussion as it is coming back to the small screen next week.  But then I remembered that something else happened on this date that was quite sad...not necessarily because of the way that this famous athlete died, but how she died. 

In order to begin this story, I'll tell you a personal tale.  No, I didn't know this person very well, but I do remember how I heard the news that she had died.

I should preface this by telling all of you that I have an obsessed love for all things related to game shows.  When I was home sick from school, all I wanted to watch were game shows.  My favourite YouTube clips are video compilations of stupid game show answers.  And I have made it no secret that one of the things on my bucket list is to be a contestant on a game show.  I don't even care if I win or lose.  I just want to be a contestant for the experience.

I very vaguely remember the old "Hollywood Squares" game show.  It was the one where you had to play tic-tac-toe by answering whether a celebrity square was lying or telling the truth about a certain statement read by the host.  I was too young to remember the days when Paul Lynde was the center square (he died when I was a year old), but do remember when Joan Rivers was in the middle.  I liked the show back then.  I was way too young to get the jokes, but I liked seeing the famous people playing the game.

So when "Hollywood Squares" was revived in the fall of 1998, I was really excited.  Hosted by Tom Bergeron, the center square featured Whoopi Goldberg (back in the days after she was a famous Hollywood starlet, but before she turned into a shrieking harpy on "The View").  And I admit that those first couple of years of the show were halfway decent.

The new show debuted on September 14, 1998, and was a success the first week.  But on the week of episodes beginning September 21, 1998, it was jarring to see Whoopi Goldberg appearing in a separate clip before the show began.  I thought...that's odd.  Is the show being cancelled already?

Then she announced that one of the celebrity guests for the shows that would be airing the week of September 21-25 had died.  That was REALLY shocking.  Especially when you consider that the person who died was not only a famous athlete in her own right, but that she was only 38 years old.  

The celebrity that died was Florence Griffith-Joyner.  Or, Flo-Jo, as the media lovingly referred her as.  She passed away on September 21, 1998 after having an epileptic seizure in her sleep.

Her death certainly cast a bit of a gloom on the week of shows that aired.  Watching her be witty, charming, and warm to all of the contestants and other celebrities she appeared on the show with, it was hard to believe that she was gone.  She really was one of those larger than life personalities that you often heard so much about.

Of course, Flo-Jo had far more talent than being a game show panelist.  In fact, at one point, she was considered to be the fastest woman in the entire world!  Now that is definitely a title to hold!

You see, Flo-Jo made her living as a track and field star.  And that love for all things athletic began at a very early age.  Born in California on December 21, 1959, Florence Griffith's interest in sports began when she was in elementary school.  She joined the Sugar Ray Robinson Organization and ran track meets on weekends.  This prepared her to join the track team in high school and to enter track and field competitions.  When she was just in her teens, she won the Jesse Owens National Youth Games back to back in 1974 and 1975!  By the time she had graduated from high school in 1978, she had already set the school records for the sprinting and long jump events.

She was so good in the sport that she was an early contender to be a competitor in the 1980 Summer Olympics.  Of course, we all know that thanks to a boycott of the Summer Olympics by the United States and several other nations, Flo-Jo's Olympic dreams had to be put on hold.  But she continued to train rigorously and earned a degree in psychology in 1983.

By the time the 1984 Olympic Games had come to Los Angeles, Florence was ready to take them on, earning herself a silver medal for the 200-meter sprint.  But it wouldn't be until 1988 that Flo-Jo would REALLY make a name for herself.

For starters, the nickname of Flo-Jo came about after her 1987 marriage to triple-jump gold medallist Al Joyner.  I guess Flo-Jo sort of rolled off the tongue a bit better than Florence Griffith-Joyner.  For another, Flo-Jo was getting attention for the elaborate track outfits she wore while competing.  With brightly coloured one-legged track suits and impressive fingernail designs, she certainly stood out in a fashion perspective.

But even more impressive, she stood out for her incredible natural talent.  When she took part in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, Flo-Jo made history.  She won four medals that year, a silver in the 4x400 meter event, and three gold medals in the 100m, 200m, and the 4x100m events!  In the case of the 100m and 200m events, Flo-Jo performed so well that she broke the record for the fastest time ever recorded by a female athlete in those events - a record that has stood ever since!  It amazes me that after she competed in the 1988 Olympics, she retired from the sport while she was on top because she really was a force to be reckoned with.

After her retirement, she decided to embark on a different career path.  Certainly fashion was one industry she dabbled in (after all, she did design her own track outfits).  But she also did some acting on the side and appeared on various talk shows and game shows - such as "Hollywood Squares".

Sadly, when Florence Griffith-Joyner died in 1998, there was some talk that her death was related to steroid use.  It had been a nasty rumour that had been flying around for years - dating back to the 1988 Olympics where she had performed so well.  Many athletes had suspected that her fast times were caused by steroid and drug use, and many believed that she had cheated to get to where she was.  It was a claim that Flo-Jo had always denied, and several tests concluded that she had no illegal drugs in her system.  The autopsy results showed that she only had over-the-counter painkillers in her system the day she died. 

It wasn't until after her death that her family revealed that she had a cavernous hemangioma - a condition that made Flo-Jo susceptible to seizures.  She was treated for these seizures at several points during the early 1990s.  Whether it was this condition that prompted her to go into retirement, it's hard to say.  There hasn't been any confirmation to this, but it would seem like a logical reason.

All in all...September 21, 1998 was a really shocking day in the world of sports...and the track and field community lost a real legend.

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