It Was Raining Hard in Frisco…By Mark W. Law (Jul 16th, 2010)
"It was raining hard in 'Frisco,
I needed one more fare to make my night.
A lady up ahead waved to flag me down,
She got in at the light…"
- 'Taxi' by Harry Chapin
29 years ago today, on Thursday, July 16, 1981, just after noon, a man was driving in the left lane on the Long Island Expressway at about 65 mph on the way to perform at a free concert scheduled for later that evening at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, NY. Near exit 40 in Jericho he put on his emergency flashers, presumably because of either a mechanical or medical problem (possibly a heart attack). He then slowed to about 15 miles (24 km) per hour and veered into the center lane, nearly colliding with another car. He swerved left, then to the right again, ending up directly in the path of a tractor-trailer truck. The truck could not brake in time and rammed the rear of his blue 1975 Volkswagen Rabbit, rupturing the fuel tank by climbing its back and causing it to burst into flames.
The driver of the truck and a passerby were able to get the man out of the burning car through the window before the car was completely engulfed in flames. He was taken by police helicopter to a hospital, where ten doctors tried in vain for 30 minutes to revive him.
It is almost ironic that the writer of one of the anthems of the '70's – Harry Chapin – would pass away in a traffic accident. 'Taxi' may have only reached #24 on the Billboard Top 100 but it was one of those songs that every teenager in 1972 knew at least half the words. Later, on the birth of his son Joshua, he sat down and wrote a song that would eventually reach #1 and make him a millionaire – Cat's In The Cradle.
Cat's In The Cradle spoke volumes about Chapin's life and family beliefs. One report quotes his widow saying soon after his death — "only with slight exaggeration" — that "Harry was supporting 17 relatives, 14 associations, seven foundations and 82 charities. Harry wasn't interested in saving money. He always said, 'Money is for people,' so he gave it away." Despite his success as a musician, he left little money and it was difficult to maintain the causes for which he raised more than $3 million in the last six years of his life.
But his legacy lives on.
On December 7, 1987, on what would have been his 45th birthday, Chapin was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his campaigning on social issues, particularly his highlighting of hunger around the world and in the United States. His work on hunger included being widely recognized as a key player in the creation of the Presidential Commission on World Hunger in 1977.
He was also the inspiration for the anti-hunger projects USA for Africa and Hands Across America, which were organized by Ken Kragen, who had been Chapin's manager. Kragen, explaining his work on these benefit events, said, "I felt like Harry had crawled into my body and was making me do it."
Philanthropist, champion, songwriter, father, Harry Chapin passed away 29 years ago today.