Sunday, May 31, 2009

Alum Kenneth Kahn, Attorney and "The Carny Kid" author dies at 66.

A Lincoln alum, Kenneth Kahn, died Wednesday in Peru, as reported today in the L.A. Times. Kenneth retired as a full-time attorney earlier this year and was in Peru as part if his desire to fulfill travel dreams to South America. The Times obituary states that he suffered massive injuries as a result of a fall while mountain climbing and died in a hospital. He was 66. "Kenneth Kahn dies at 66; L.A. defense attorney moonlighted as a comedian," L.A. Times, May 31, 2009.,0,2040913.story

You can read the L.A. Times obituary by Dennis McLellan, linked above, for a very enlightening review of Kenneth’s past. He had represented several notable defendants during his career as a criminal defense attorney, including the real-life Andrew Daulton Lee, from the movie, “The Falcon and the Snowman," with Sean Penn as that character. The L.A. Times also noted that he was a comedian, too, which was a part of Kenneth's life that was completely unknown to me.

I did not know Kenneth while I was a student at Lincoln, since he was there many years before I ever came, a graduate of the '59 or '60 classes, I'd guess. I did not ever get to know him well on a personal level, but I remember meeting Kenneth from his participation a few years back while he was active in the Alumni Association activities. He returned to Lincoln on Career Days to tell students of his past that included attending Lincoln High and living in the Ramona Gardens housing project. Kenneth was very absorbed in that task and his goal was to affect students lives, many of whom might be the so-called “at risk” students, to motivate them to succeed. All this and more was related in the book he wrote, “The Carny Kid: The Survival of a Young Thief,” (2005). The title came from his experience working at a carnival for a time during his younger years.

I remember Kenneth one time during an address he made to the alumni, describing some of what he put into his book, a summary of his life that included a home life with troubled and missing parents and drug addiction. He said that he found some relief from the problems in his life by being in school and becoming involved in activities there. His obituary lists many details of his experiences. He mentioned one former LHS teacher, Raymond Lopez, as one big influence on his life, too. I remember Mr. Lopez at school in my days, too, with a pencil behind his ear, working with journalism or leadership classes. In later years, Mr. Lopez, also an LHS alum, came to alumni school events to share his experiences.

Kenneth returned to the LHS campus during that period to speak to students and show them that they could accomplish much for themselves regardless of their surrounding circumstances. He funded awards for Lincoln students and he was among the speakers during the graduation in June. That year was 2005, if I recall correctly. The other thing that I remember about that graduation was, and others in attendance probably remember, too, that he was particularly annoyed by the seated graduates who continued to produce and bat these "99-Cents Store" beach balls during his presentation, creating a notable distraction.

For the uninitiated, the beach ball item is an annoyance that has arisen at each of graduations that I have attended at Lincoln, and possibly at other schools, too. I don’t know anything about what the school effort has been at any year to deal with this prankish but rude behavior, other than to chase after the balls and deflate them. And this year, you can expect that to happen again. Well, Kenny didn’t take it too well since he had a lot of himself in that message he was giving. He managed to continue his speech and the graduation continued.

The whole story of Kenneth Kahn was very remarkable and I wondered what happened to him since I don’t remember if his alumni participation was dampened by the experience at graduation or if other things intervened. The news of his death came to me, as many news items do, from the L.A. Times today and it was a bit of a shock to see that a person that you know, whether very well or not, has died. Some of my former professors and classmates and other professionals have been among that group and it each time it just makes you think how short our time on Earth really is. The best I can say on that shortness here is that we should all try to make things better for others besides for ourselves. Doing what we can to help out, especially by sharing our experiences and knowledge is one way, and to do that for a young person is really one important thing most of us can do, starting with their own families. You don't need any degrees or certificates to make a difference. We will miss Kenneth, but he made his life matter and he helped many during that life.