February 23, 1987 – A milestone day – at the time immersed in Jewish-Russian dissidents and the ongoing Iran-Contra investigation – but also reflecting on the loss of two Popular Culture giants. A day to be distracted, for sure.
Starting with news of the release of Jewish dissident Yosef Begun and the celebration as he stepped of a train in Moscow; free, rail but still defiant after spending some 3 years in a political prison for promoting Hebrew education. Begun’s Moscow homecoming drew a crowd of scores of Jewish activists, and he did not disappoint them. Begun reiterated to the crowd that he signed no statement promising anything to the Soviet authorities, that in fact he appealed to the Soviet Parliament by proclaiming his innocence. He spoke as a man unchanged by almost 4 years of prison. To Soviet Jews, Begun was a hero, a symbol of Jewish community. Begun did give the Soviet authorities credit for his release, saying it was a sign that democracy was at work and that he hoped his release would spell a similar outcome for other Prisoners of Conscience who, unlike Begun were still in prison.
And the ongoing investigation into the Iran-Contra coverup continued. President Reagan told reporters at a gather of the Nations Governors the night before that he was not involved in a coverup of the Iran-Contra affair. But the President said he would not comment on any other aspect of the scandal including the fate of his embattled Chief-of-Staff Donald Regan, until after the Tower Commission report was released later on that week. Many in the Reagan inner circle, however felt that it was time for the Chief of Staff to resign. And on it went.
The other milestone came in the deaths of two Popular Culture icons – Andy Warhol and television and talkshow pioneer David Susskind. Andy Warhol, who had died the previous night from a heart attack following complications during gall bladder surgery was 59. Warhol became the high-priest of the school of Pop in the 1950s with his iconic painting of a Campbell’s Soup Can. Critics called Warhol everything from a Charlatan to a visionary; Coca-cola bottles, dollar bills, bananas and cows were seen by some as sophisticated and shrewd commentary on the culture of our time, or perhaps they were all put-ons. He was a commercial illustrator who came up with a brilliant idea and stretched society’s notion of what was art. His silk screens became part of a new wave – Art as Business and Celebrity as Art. During his lifetime he cultivated more celebrity than any artist of his generation. It was Warhol who coined the phrase: “in the future, everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes”.
Susskind, who also died the night before, was a pioneer of Television’s Golden Age of TV drama and a long-time talk show host. He died of an apparent heart attack at age 66.
And that’s just a little of what happened on this February 23, 1987, as reported by The CBS World News Roundup.