The Celebrity Death of 2016 No One Talked About

by Michael Channing

Can we still talk about celebrities who died last year? The consensus is we lost a lot of culturally important folks. Some losses hit us harder than others, as we each felt differing levels of connection to the celebrity in question. Not a lot of overlap between Nancy Reagan and Phife Dawg fans.

I love David Bowie as much as everyone else. There was even a time when I memorized the entirety of the Outside album, a record that barely exists as a footnote in all the articles I've read about him and which he wrote by randomizing lines with a computer. And while I confess I was never a follower of Prince, I have listened to the Batman soundtrack more times than I've talked to my mother on the phone. But there was one celebrity death that truly made my heart ache last year, and he's not on any of the loss lists from 2016, perhaps because everyone is just copying the same list from everyone else.

His name is Joe Dever.

Joe Dever at Lucca comic book convention in Italy

He was a writer. He molded the bricks that became part of the construction of me. He wrote gamebooks. Sort of like Choose Your Own Adventure books, but with an inventory of items and list of skills that carried from book to book in the series. There was a battle system, hit points, and experience levels. You played the role of Lone Wolf and increased your skills and gathered equipment to face further challenges in later books. I got into the series on book eight, but soon made friends with a guy who had all the books--their spines creased from multiple reads, the character sheets worn bare from countless erasings and rewrites--and our little group passed those around till we had all gone on that long adventure. The great thing was, though we had a shared endeavor, we each had slightly different experiences. When we compared notes, one of us would have a met a monster that the rest had avoided, or one of us had gone through without a particular weapon or item that all the others had recognized as indispensable. The books gave me an escape, filled the lonely hours with excitement and adventure that I could reread for a different outcome each time. For the group, these books bound us tightly together. We were the nerdy guys, the strange guys, the escapists who found no comfort in the harsh and boring reality everyone else endured. We were the Musketeers who fought unseen wars against trolls and wizards. Yeah, we were weird, but the Lone Wolf books gave us a setting where it was okay to have dreams outside the norm. Finding his books sparked my interest in Dungeons & Dragons, which led me to board games and polyhedral dice. New avenues of nerdom opened and welcomed me in. I connected with friends, and we hung out and went to shows and conventions and whiled away many a night at the gaming table. All because I thought the book with a guy on the cover fighting a snake with a flaming sword looked neat. Which is why I will always be indebted to Joe Dever, who died November 29, 2016.

my own stack of Joe Dever books

The way I found out about his death made it hurt even more. Planning an essay about my favorite book series for last year's Novel November, I considered writing about the Lone Wolf books. I waffled back and forth and ultimately decided not to since I couldn't remember much about the plot of the story, just the pleasure of having them as part of my childhood. I already had an entry that said the same thing about another series, and I didn't want to write the same entry twice. So I decided to hold off till I had the chance to reread a few of them. As I was thinking about these books and enjoying the warm feelings they stoked in my soul, I visited Dever's Wikipedia page and saw he was experiencing a resurgence in Europe and working on more books. Awesome, I thought, he's found new fans and is getting the attention he deserves. Then a week later I checked his page again, the nostalgia fires still burning, and the first line said Joe Dever “was” a writer and game designer.

“Was,” not “is.”

He had died while I was thinking about him for the first time in years. Just as I was planning to revisit his books, he was taken away. I was in a dark cloud that day, and for days after. An enormous and important piece of my childhood was gone. Okay, that wasn't true because I still have the books. I can even read them online now. But the man who gave me so much enjoyment, the man who bound me tighter to my friends, was gone forever. His family have vowed to complete the books he started, but after that there will be no more new Lone Wolf books or fantasy combat books, or video games. The world has been cheated of so much more greatness.

And, as irrational as it is, I felt guilty. I didn't make him die by reading his wiki-page or by choosing not to include his work in one of my little essays, but try telling that to my weary heart. I felt guilt just the same. I let his books sit too long on my shelf, untouched, unenjoyed. With this little remembrance, I hope to pay back a tiny fraction of the debt I owe to Dever. Find his books; start at the beginning of a series (he had a few actually, beyond the most famous Lone Wolf) and read all the way to the end. Share with your friends and see how rarely two people read the same book. Go check out that online collection I mentioned and play for free. If we can agree on one thing about last year, it's that the world can be cruel, and everyone needs an escape sometimes.

Flight from the Dark by Joe Dever, the first Lone Wolf Book

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