Tag Archives: Famous Deaths

2015 Goodbyes

Each New Year I take a look at people of note who passed away during the previous 12 months.  That list is subjective, of course.  The main web site I refer to is unceremoniously called dead people server (www.dpsinfo.com), and they list around 50 people this year, which is too many to comment on here, so I’ve picked some, and you can look at the rest, if you want.  This week I’ll focus on entertainers.

Betsy Palmer meant different things to different people.  To me she was a panelist on “I’ve Got A Secret,” the game show hosted by Gary Moore in the late 50’s and early 60’s.  To others she was a talented stage and screen actress.  More people, sadly, know her from “Friday the 13th” movies, where she played Mrs. Voorhees.

Marjory Lord played Danny Thomas’ wife on “Make Room for Daddy” on television.  Dick Van Patten was a daddy of eight on “Eight is Enough,” along with dozens of other TV and movie roles.

More iconic television personalities from my youth passed into the next realm last year.  Among them were two “Laugh-In” regulars: Gary Owens, the legendary radio host and emcee, and Judy Carne, the British hottie, and one-time wife of Burt Reynolds.

Elly Mae Clampett headed back to the hills as Donna Douglass passed away.   Al Molinaro, who played a cop on “The Odd Couple” and the proprietor of Arnolds drive in on “Happy Days” died of gall stones, which I didn’t know could be fatal.  That’s Al for you.

Leonard Nimoy of “Star Trek” fame lived reasonably long and prospered.  Martin Milner was the wiser partner in “Adam 12,” and one of two main characters in “Route 66,” among dozens of other roles.  Here’s something: He was married once, for 58 years, until death did they part.

Speaking of which, you know Ben Stiller?  Well, his mom and dad were a great comedy team, called Stiller and Meara – and Jewish guy and an Irish gal.  Funny, right?  Well, they were.  Jerry Stiller is still with us (he was the dad on “King of Queens”), but Anne Meara died last year.

Marty Ingels is somebody you might not have known.  He was married to the beautiful Shirley Jones of Marion the Librarian fame.  But I mention him because he was in an odd but wonderful TV show with John Astin (later to play Gomez Addams) called “I’m Dickens, He’s Fenster.”  It was a bit ahead of its time.

Dean Jones was the protagonist in about 300 Disney movies in the 1960’s.  Melody Patterson was “Wrangler Jane” in the wonderful “F-Troop” TV series.  Yvonne Craig was “Bat Girl,” the only secret Alfred seems to have kept from his boss.

Finally, the original British “Avengers,” featured John Steed and Emma Peel.  John, played by Patrick McNee, always had an umbrella for rain and for a weapon.  Emma, played by Diana Rigg, had wit and great beauty.  Well, McNee has left us to fend for ourselves.

Sawyer Sweeten, who played one of the twins on “Everybody Loves Raymond” committed suicide last year due to career, social, and money problems.  He was 19.  “MASH’S” Trapper John, otherwise known as Wayne Rogers, died on New Year’s Eve, as did Natalie Cole, daughter of Nat King Cole.  Both were great singers who died too young.

Lesley Gore was not concerned about global warming, but was concerned about crying at her party, and sang a pre-feminist anthem written by John Madara and David White called “You Don’t Own Me,” which is one of my favorite songs from that era.  She was 69.

Ben E. King and B.B. King died a month apart.  Ben was best known for “Stand by Me,” which was a great song.  B.B. was a blues icon.  Our older daughter heard B.B perform live before she was born in Duluth, Minnesota.

Country singer Lynn Anderson never promised us a rose garden, and James Horner’s Heart Went On, but only until his small plane crashed last year.  He wrote the “Titanic” soundtrack, but also the music for “Apollo 13,” “The Wrath of Kahn,” and “Avatar.”

Omar Sharif was a dashing actor in Lawrence of Arabia and Dr. Zhivago, and less dashingly an internationally known bridge expert.  The card game, not the structures.  Louis Jourdan was another dashing actor, as was Rod Taylor.  They are dashing no more.

Anita Eckberg starred in “La Dolce Vita,” so I hope her life was sweet.  Stan Freberg made life fun for a lot of people through his radio comedy and his many decades of funny commercials.  Wes Craven was a gifted director who seemed to think about death a lot.  Now he is seeing it first-hand.

James Jude invented CPR.  He died July 28th.  Two days later Louis Sokoloff died.  He invented the PET scanner.  Three days later Howard Jones died.  He and his wife did the first in vitro fertilization of human babies.

Next week a few more, and some observations about the changing of the guard.

Meadowlark Lemon was a fabulous basketball player and an even better clown who entertained millions with the Harlem Globetrotters over 25 years.

Two other African Americans of note died last year.  Edward Brooke was the first post-Reconstruction black person elected to the United States Senate.  He was a Republican from Massachusetts.  Julian Bond was a civil rights activist, and founder of the Student Non-violence Coordinating Committee and chaired the NAACP.  He lived for 100 years.

You have never heard of Charles Townes, have you?  He was co-inventor of the laser.  Zap.  Who is John Nash?  He had a Nobel Prize in economics, but he also had a movie made about him.  It was called, “A Beautiful Mind.”  It was about him going, um, nuts.

Rod McKuen was a very popular poet, which means academic poets didn’t much like him.  Here’s a stanza from one of his poems:

“It’s nice sometimes to open up the heart a little and let some hurt come in. It proves you’re still alive.”

Colleen McCullough wrote “The Thornbirds” in which a beautiful woman kept having affairs with a handsome priest.  Jean Nidetch didn’t write a novel or have an affair with a priest, as far as I know, but she did found Weight Watchers which has helped a lot of people over the years.

Jack Carter was a comedian who was one of the first to bridge the gap between joke telling and storytelling.  He always had a cigar.  Paul Prudhomme always had a crawfish.  He was one of the early celebrity chefs, making New Orleans cuisine.  He was quite round.

You know, millions of people died last year.  Some were famous, some weren’t famous at all.  Some were our friends and family.  Some had no friends or family.  Some were killed because of their religion or ethnicity.

We tend to mourn some deaths more than others, either because the people are close to us, or because of their fame or newsworthiness.

Who will we be mourning next year at this time?  It’s impossible to tell.  Maybe someone will be mourning us?  Either way, I guess it won’t hurt to spend some of our time in the next year making things right with the people we care for, and most importantly, if what we’ve been told since childhood is true, we should be sure to wear clean underwear.


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January 2015 Obituaries

The Departed

It’s my own little New Year’s tradition to write about people who didn’t make it to the new year.  There are plenty of articles and news features about those who have passed, but somehow that doesn’t stop me from writing mine.  I think it must be therapeutic.  This week I’m focusing on the comedians who left us.

Robin Williams is at the top of most lists of comedians, and comedians who died last year.  He was brilliant and troubled in equal measures.  He could be manic and hilarious, or, in his dramatic roles, intensely sensitive.  It’s odd, but his money fears caused him to work in a lot of recently made movies that have coincidentally been released since he died.  Like all modern era performers, he is gone, but his work is not.

Mike Nichols was a German-born comedian whose comedy days came a little before my time, but the recorded bits he did with Elaine May were very creative and funny.  He was mostly known as an actor and film director.  “The Graduate” was just one of many notable films he made.

Joan Rivers seems to have been on TV forever.  One of a few breakthrough female comedians, she is unfortunately most known for plastic surgery, sniping at stars on the red carpet, and for making Johnny Carson angry.  But, if you listen or watch her performances, she was really funny.

Sid Caesar probably had a lot in common with Robin Williams, both in comedic genius and self-destructive tendencies.  He was a top star in early television, hosting “Your Show of Shows” which was viewed by 60 million people each week.  I’d guess that was the number of people with televisions in the early 50’s.

David Brenner came from Philadelphia, and was among the earlier “observational” comics, talking about the humor in real life.  John Pinnette was very heavy, and very funny.  He lost a lot of weight, and he was still very funny.  But, his ill health caught up with him last year.  If you can, go to www.youtube.com and search for his clips.  His routine about a family outing to a water park is guaranteed to make you laugh.

Jan Hooks was on Saturday Night Live, where she did funny skits, and a few very dramatic skits as well.  She was really something.  She later appeared on “Third Rock From The Sun” as the odd and sexy downstairs neighbor.

Tim Wilson was a red-neck comic and musician.  He also really well educated, making him both earthy and erudite.  He would have hated being described that way.

Comedy is a funny business.  Smokey Robinson wrote and sang about “The Tears of a Clown,” and there seems to be a lot of truth in that.  Comedians may not be any odder than other performers, but the contrast between their on-stage personas and their real lives is sometimes pretty stark.

More next week on folks we lost last year.


The Departed Pas Deus

This week I’ll say goodbye to singers we lost last year.  Well, not “lost,” but you know what I mean.  Some are familiar to everyone, and some just to the oldsters or youngsters or hipsters out there.

Singer Joe Cocker spent much of his career as a raging alcoholic who still managed to get through a blistering performance each night, emptying a whiskey bottle along the way.  He was a great, bluesy rocker.  His least characteristic song, “You Are So Beautiful” was his biggest hit, along with his duet with Jennifer Warnes (“Up Where We Belong”).

Bobby Keys wasn’t famous, but in a way he was.  He played saxophone for some folks you may have heard of: The Rolling Stones, B.B. King, the aforementioned Joe Cocker, John Lennon, Barbara Streisand, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Carley Simon.

Jimmy Ruffin sang “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” and other Motown hits.  Big Bank Hank was a rapper who did not record for Motown.

Jack Bruce was the bass player for Eric Clapton’s band, Cream. Those of us of a certain age still like some of their music.  Also of that era, and yet not, Paul Revere and the Raiders were a great rock and roll band, fronted by keyboardist Paul Revere Dick.  They dressed in revolutionary era costumes, and always had fun.  Everything seems so deadly serious now, doesn’t it?

Tommy Ramone was a hall of fame member of The Ramones.  Johnny Winters was one of two great blues players in his family, along with Edgar.  They were/are both albino, which might come up in a trivia game sometime.

Bobby Womack was another hall of famer who passed away, along with Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers.  Jesse Winchester wrote hits for others, like Elvis Costello, Patti Paige, and Jimmy Buffet.

There are a number of musicians who I either never heard of or cared much about who died.  The winner in this category is Jason McCash, bass player for the “Doom Metal” band called “The Gates of Slumber.”  He died at 38.  He was closer to the gates than he thought.

Franny Beecher?  He was a guitarist for Bill Haley and the Comets, the days before the music died.  Bob Casale played with the band Devo throughout their time together.  Fergie Fredriksen  was a singer for the band Toto.

Pete Seeger was an iconic folk musician/political activist for five decades.

As I said, a number of other fine musicians left us last year, and I decided to pick and choose from the list.  No disrespect is meant for those I excluded.

Musicians are a funny bunch.  For many the lifestyle almost assures a shorter than average life, but the need to create and perform and hear the applause seems to trump that sad fact.


The Departed, Pas Trois

Time to talk about actors and other creative artists who died in 2014.

James Garner seemed like a really nice guy.  He was an Oklahoma kid who made it big after serving in the military and returning with no prospects.  He was Maverick and Jim Rockford.  His corniest role (The Notebook) may have been his best.

Mickey Rooney and Shirley Temple were both child stars.  He set the bar high for boyish shenanigans, and she for sweetness.  She didn’t act beyond her youth, and eventually became a diplomat.

Lauren Bacall’s death was one of those that shocked me, frankly, because I didn’t know she was still alive.  There’s something to be said about fading away graciously.

Eli Wallach was in “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” which is a great movie title.  He was a very prolific actor, and was in films into his 90’s.

Harold Ramis was a writer, actor, director… you name it.  Speaking of naming it, “Ghostbusters,” “Caddyshack,” “Groundhog’s Day,” and many more.  He passed away at 70.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman was a gifted actor, and, apparently, a troubled man, dying of an accidental drug overdose.  Alcohol was the cause of death for Elizebeth Pena, who acted in “La Bamba,” “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” Jacob’s Ladder,” and others.  Peaches Geldof, model and actor, and daughter of Rocker Bob Geldof, overdosed on heroin.  Misty Upham was a young Native American actress who fell off a cliff.

Maya Angelou served as Poet Laureate of the United States, in addition to being an award winning author, focusing on the black experience.  She was also an actress, producer and director.

Casey Kasem made a REALLY long distance dedication in 2014. It got ugly when his wife and children began to fight over his body, which temporarily went missing.

Gilligan’s friend The Professor (Russell Johnson) made it off the island, and Ann B. Davis finally got out of the Brady’s house.  Bob Hoskins made it out of Tune Town, where he pursued Roger Rabbit.  And the great Ruby Dee also left us.

That’s my famous person’s list for 2014.    Perhaps someone dear to you, or a big influence on your life lost theirs in 2014.  They were surely more important to you than any celebrity.

I think we can feel sad about the loss of famous people in a way that is much more emotionally safe than when we lose people we care for, or even people we might smile at when we would run into them at the store.  Actors act out our fears and our fantasies while we safely watch, and finally they experience their ends of life in front of us, but at a safe distance.

Here’s hoping that you don’t lose anyone who is special to you in 2015!

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A Better Place Part III

This is the third in a series of observations about people who died last year. They are all relatively famous. They are not, though, any more important than friends, neighbors, and relatives we’ve lost.

It’s easier to talk about famous people passing, because they were never really quite real to us. Brothers, fathers, aunts, and sisters were a real part of our lives, and it is a challenge to get our heads and hearts around their passing.
In the world of sports, David “Deacon” Jones, the LA Rams lineman famous for his play, and for coining the term “sacking the quarterback” died. So did former New York Giants player and broadcaster Pat Summerall died, as did former coach Bum Phillips. Nice name.

Former Giant Dave Jennings died, as did Frank Chamberlin – a recent Titan – of brain cancer.
Speaking of shots to the head, boxer Ken Norton (one of five boxers to beat Mohamad Ali) and Tommy Morrison (who boxed in Rocky 5) were down for the count.

Race car drivers Dick Trickle (a Wisconsin man with an unfortunate name) Jason Leffler, Allan Simonsen, and Sean Edwards all died. All but Trickle died racing. He ended his own life.
In the world of baseball, 70 former major league players died, but few names stand out. Stan Musial does, having won seven batting titles. Frank Castillo played with the Cubs, and Ed Herrmann played for the White Sox. Long-time Orioles manager Earl Weaver was on an Orioles fantasy cruise when he expired. Definitely not his fantasy.

Remember the Billy Jack movies? Tom Laughlin was the creator and star of those good versus evil movies. Conrad Bain was Mr. Phillip Drummond, the man who adopted two black boys, Arnold and Willis. Ed Lautner was in lots of roles, usually not playing a nice guy. Harry Reems had a long… career in the porn industry before going into legitimate theater.

Hiroshi Yamauchi who ran Nintendo didn’t play baseball, but he did buy the Seattle team.
Two people who knew how to play the game in Washington died: Lindy Boggs, congresswoman from Louisiana, and former Speaker of the House Tom Foley.

Two people with multiple careers died last year. Ester Williams was a famous swimmer turned actress. She acted in a movie made at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan, where they built her a pool.
Father Andrew Greeley was, as you might guess, a priest. In addition, he was the writer of provocative novels, like “Cardinal Sins.”

So many great and infamous people died last year, and yet among those who were born, there are surely as many with the potential for importance, or even greatness. Maybe greatness and heroism we can’t even imagine.

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A Better Place — Part II

One thing I’ve learned over the years of researching the recap of people who have died in the year gone by is that each list I find includes or omits people who appear, or don’t appear on other lists.  My review of those who have passed is no different.  I pick and choose, and I’m sure I overlook people you wouldn’t, and vice versa.

That being said, in this second installment of 2013 passings, the world of politics lost some major figures of change in their respective countries.  Nelson Mandela led South Africa into the modern age.  Hugo Chavez led Venezuela into a communist system, and Margaret Thatcher moved the British towards free markets from their socialist morass.

Frank Lautenberg was the last surviving WWII vet in the Senate.  Ed Koch was a long-time New York City mayor, and, I believe, the first judge on The People’s Court.

Some authors who had definite points of view, but not as politicians, also died last year.  Tom Clancy and Vince Flynn wrote thrillers that sometimes bore a striking resemblance to actual events in the world of global intrigue.

Chris Kyle was a writer, but mostly a retired Navy Seal.  I mention his death in part to pay tribute to the other special ops heroes and other military who died last year.

A hero from an earlier day, Scott Carpenter, the Mercury astronaut, made his last orbit around the sun in 2013.  When I was in first grade I thought he was the best.

In the world of journalism — kind-of — Dear Abby joined her twin sister in wherever the after-life brought them.  Helen Thomas, a journalist/thorn-in-the-side-of-presidents, asked her last question.  Roger Ebert, who won me over with his amazing courage, succumbed to the cancer that had left him disfigured and unable to speak.  He has two thumbs-up from me.

Dr. Joyce Brothers was the first psychologist to become a household name.  Surgeon General G. Edward Koop was a stern voice for better health and not smoking, and the only surgeon general I can bring to mind.

We lost some amazing inventors, including Douglas Englebart, who invented the computer mouse, Andre Cassagnes, who invented the Etch-a Sketch, and audio engineer Amar Bose, who designed arguably the best speakers in the world.

Two other inventors, of a sort, were Robert Edwards, who did the first in-vitro fertilizations, and Virginia Masters, who didn’t actually invent sex, but researched it with Dr. Johnson.  They weren’t into in-vitro.

Two Temptations died last year.  Richard Street and Damon Harris harmonized in that Motown group.  Van Cliburn was a piano phenomenon, and was almost a household name – not bad for a classical pianist.

Next week we’ll wrap up the 2013 list of celebrity demises.  I hope.  Doing this list each year makes me not take things for granted!

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A Better Place — Probably

Long-time readers may recall that at the start of each new year I like to reflect on people of note who have gone along to their great reward — being optimistic, since the warmer place is a possibility. This year I’m starting with show business sorts – mostly actors and musicians.

As I have somehow managed to survive into my sixth decade, I’m finding that too many of the people who passed away last year were either much younger than I, or were fixtures throughout my life. Both groups lead me to consider my mortality, which I’d rather not. The young ones tend to die of lifestyle-related factors, while the older folks just got old. Their lifestyles may have been factors too, of course, but not as dramatically.

For instance, young Paul Walker, who made a fortune starring in movies about driving recklessly, died in a car that may have been driven recklessly. Cory Monteith of “Glee” fame succumbed to drugs or depression or both. Lisa Robin Kelly, who played the older sister on “That 70’s Show” was freed from her life of substance abuse while at a rehab facility.

Country singer Mindy McCready ended her life after deciding she couldn’t live without her boyfriend, who had ended his life a few months prior. She left two kids under ten.

Some people who were important to me, each in their own way, included Marcia Wallace (no relation) who was Carol the receptionist in the “Bob Newhart Show,” and Edna Krabapple in “The Simpsons.” Jean Stapleton was a great actress, known best for her portrayal of Edith Bunker in “All In The Family.”

Annette Funicello was a teen hottie, but before that, a Mouseketeer. In the beach movies she was always sexy, but not sexual, and drove Frankie Avalon crazy. Bonnie Franklin drove me crazy, but not in a good way. Her claim to fame for me was starring as Valerie Bertinelli’s mother on “One Day At A Time.”

James Gandolfini was Tony Soprano on screen, but apparently a warm and wonderful man in real life. Allan Arbus played Sidney Freedman the psychiatrist on “MASH.” His character is what every therapist should be. Dennis Farina was a detective on “Law and Order,” taking over for Jerry Orbach who died just a few years ago.

In the music world, in addition to Mindy McCready, Richie Havens passed away, as did “Doors” piano player Ray Manzarek, who – in my opinion – was the musical soul of that group. His playing on the song “Riders on the Storm” holds up very well.

Patty Andrews of “The Andrews Sisters” died last year, as did Jeff Hanneman, guitarist from “Slayer.” I don’t imagine they were friends. Lou Reed was a rock sub-culture icon, and Bobby Bland was a blues artist who played in a group with B.B. King back in the day.

George Jones was a long-time country star. Phil Ramone was a music producer who worked with many greats, including Madonna, Barbara Streisand, Frank Sinatra, and Paul McCartney.
Comedian Jonathan Winters also passed on last year. Many comedians of his era and since say he was the funniest human ever born, and virtually invented comic improvisation, working without a net on live TV.

Check here later for parts II and III.

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