My friend Joel called me on Christmas Day to inform me of the passing of Eartha Kitt (more on her below). Shortly before New Year's Eve, I began compiling a list of notable and not so notable celebrities who slipped the mortal bonds of Earth during this past year.
Here's what I came up with:
Johnny Grant - the unofficial Mayor of Hollywood. Since 1980, Grant presided at all those "Hollywood Walk of Fame" ceremonies for celebs over the years and received his own star - go figure.
Grant died on January 9, 2008 from natural causes. He was 84.
Way back in 1953, Edmund Hillary climbed Mount Everest because it was there. He was later knighted for being the first man to reach the summit of Everest.
Hillary died on January 11, 2008 from heart failure. He was 88.
For any Chicago Cub fan worth his salt, they know the name Don Cardwell. Traded to the Cubs in May, 1960, Cardwell's debut was spectacular - a no hitter versus the St. Louis Cardinals hitless (sweet music).
WGN-TV captured it and repeated this feat for generations to watch - especially during rain delays and Cub retrospectives. Cardwell went on to have a fair career and was traded to the Mets where he appeared in the 1969 World Series for them.
Cardwell died on January 14, 2008 from Pick's disease, a form of dementia. He was 72.
You might not know the name Allan Melvin but you'll recognize the face. A character actor deluxe, his first TV show of note was "Sgt. Bilko" where he played Cpl. Henshaw.
He became famous as Sam the Butcher on "The Brady Bunch" and became one of Archie Bunker's second bananas on first "All In The Family" and "Archie Bunker's Place".
Melvin died on January 17, 2008 from cancer. He was 84.
Bobby Fischer was six years old when he and his sister bought a chess set from the candy store located below their Brooklyn apartment. Fischer read the instructions and a prodigy was born.
After beating Boris Spassky to win the World Chess Championship in 1972, Fischer became a celebrity. He then refused to play chess, became a recluse, he was a fierce anti-Semitic, and applauded the terrorists on September 11, 2001.
Fischer died on January 17, 2008 from kidney failure. He was 64.
Suzanne Pleshette made her film debut in 1958 opposite Jerry Lewis in "The Geisha Boy". She had a fine television and film career throughout the 1960s (remember her appearance in Hitchcock's "The Birds"?) but gained a signature role as Bob Newhart's wife on "The Bob Newhart Show" in the 1970s.
Pleshette died on January 17, 2008 from respiratory failure (ohh, that husky voice). She was 70.
Eugene Sawyer was an alderman in Chicago's city council who aligned himself with Mayor Harold Washington during his tumultuous reign in the 1980s. After Washington's sudden death in 1989, the council split in two with one faction wanting to appoint Washington's successor (Ald. Tim Evans) while the other faction wanted a compromise candidate (Sawyer).
In the end, Sawyer was appointed Mayor of Chicago and did nothing to rock the boat for the final two years of the term he filled. He was defeated by now-current Mayor Richard M. Daley in 1989 and retired from public life.
Sawyer died on January 19, 2008 from a series of strokes. He was 73.
Heath Ledger. Died from an accidental prescription drug overdose on January 22, 2008. He was 28. Too soon.
Living with a famous father is never easy. For Christian Brando, it was sheer torture. Trying to live in the shadow of his dad Marlon (both formulatively and figuratively) was a harrowing experience.
Christian killed his sister Cheyenne's boyfriend Dag Drollet, pled guilty to manslaughter, Marlon took the stand as a character witness (talk about the pot calling the kettle black!), and spent six years in prison.
Brando died on January 26, 2008 from pneumonia. He was 48.
Margaret Truman was the only child of Bess and Harry Truman. After taking up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Margaret embarked on a singing career and was the subject of a famous letter written by her dad to a Washington Post music critic who criticized her singing.
After leaving Washington and raising a family, she soon began writing murder mysteries and books concerning her father. She published over 30 books ("Murder On Capitol Hill", "Murder at the Smithsonian", and "Murder In The White House" which was turned into a Wesley Snipes movie) from 1980 to 2008.
Truman died on January 29, 2008 in Chicago. Her ashes went to Independence, Missouri to be buried next to her parents. She was 83.
Allan Grant was a photo lab assistant where he printed many of Alfred Eisenstadt's pictures for the first time. He worked freelance for LIFE in 1945 and became a full-fledged staff photographer in 1946.
Some of his famous pictures include Howard Hughes at the controls of the Spruce Goose, other celebrities (including Marilyn Monroe's last photo shoot), and a famous pix of Richard Nixon hosing down his Bel Air, CA house in tie and slacks to prevent an oncoming wildfire damaging his home (Google Images didn't have it).
Grant died on February 1, 2008 from Parkinson's related pneumonia. He was 88.
Barry Morse found fame in the 1960s when he played Lt. Phillip Gerard on the television series "The Fugitive" with David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble. For four years, Morse and Janssen did great television culminating with the final episode - 30 million viewers (72 share - three out of four homes!) watched the ending.
He continued to appear on the stage, on TV, and in films throughout the 1980s and 1990s while establishing many charitible organizations related onstage and off.
Morse died on February 2, 2008. He was 89.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who introduced Transcendental Meditation to the world beginning in 1958, a full ten years before the Beatles became disciples. He wrote books, appeared on The Dick Cavett Show, and helped millions with his Indian regiment of meditation up until his retirement on January 11, 2008.
Three weeks later, on February 5, 2008, while in a yoga position (go figure), the Maharishi achieved the highest level of total fulfillment. No cause was given and he was possibly 91.
Roy Scheider was a busy actor throughout the 1970s, working on such great films as "Klute", "The French Connection", "The Seven-Ups", and "Marathon Man". He acted in films, television, and even lent his voice to an episode of "Family Guy".
No one could act better with a cigarette tattooed to his lips better than Roy. Two prime examples are "Jaws" where he played Sheriff Brody ("You're gonna need a bigger boat...") and playing Joseph Gideon aka Bob Fosse in the film "All That Jazz".
Scheider died on February 10, 2008 from a staph infection. He was 75.
Teo Macero attended the Julliard School of Music and joined Charles Mingus' Jazz Composers Workshop as a writer and sax player. In the jazz world of the 1950s (John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Stan Getz, Miles Davis), Macero soon realized he needed to do something other than play sax.
So in 1957, he joined Columbia as a jazz producer and found his niche. He teamed up with Miles Davis and produced most of Davis' classic albums (Kind Of Blue, Sketches of Spain, Bitches Brew) and entered the realm of legend.
Macero died on February 19, 2008. He was 82.
William F. Buckley was a conservative commentator who once threatened to deck Gore Vidal live on television when they debated the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
When his TV show "Firing Line" came on Saturday mornings on PBS, it usually meant "Sesame Street" and "The Electric Company" were done and I needed to go play.
Buckley died on February 27, 2008 from empheysma. He was 82.
Jeff Healey lost his eyesight at the age of eight months due to retinoblastoma, a rare cancer of the eyes. Three years later, Jeff picked up a guitar and placed it in his lap and began to learn to play it.
From 1988 to 2003, he released eight albums all featuring his work with rock, blues, and jazz music. Healey was an avid record collector (30,000 78 RPM records!) and even got a show on CBC Radio playing selections from his collection.
Jeff's cancer returned and he spent most of 2007 battling it and recording his final album "Mess Of Blues". A month before its release, Healey succumbed to cancer on March 2, 2008. He was 41.
Gary Gygax wanted a game that would be imaginative, daring, even hypnotic to play. With his partner Dave Arneson, he developed Dungeons & Dragons, one of the first role-playing games to take the country by storm.
I'll be the first one to admit it - I was a D&D geek. My main character was Kharis Jawbone, a grunt that survived a massacre to become the most powerful warrior at Sandridge School recesses. I never went for any other dice (glass, colored, crystal, etc) other than the ones that came in the starter box. Even though I was snickered at, my magic 20-sided die never (and I mean NEVER) let me down.
Gary built his D&D empire from his home in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and always did the sci-fi gamer convention circuit (which I never got into - my D&D friends and I gave up the game when adolescence hit).
Gygax died on March 4, 2008 from an abdominal aortic aneurysm. He was 69.
Ivan Dixon landed the role of SSgt. Ivan Kinchloe, the radio operator for on "Hogan's Heroes". For five years, Kinch helped Col. Hogan, LeBleu, Carter, and Newkirk outwit the witless Sgt. Schultz and Col. Klink at Stalag 13.
After he left the series, Dixon became a noted TV director. He directed episodes for "The Waltons", "The Rockford Files", "The Bionic Woman", "Magnum P.I." and "The A-Team".
Dixon died on March 16, 2008 from kidney complications. He was 76.
Arthur C. Clarke was a RAF radar instructor from 1941 to 1946 when he proposed telecommunication satellites as a form of communicating around the globe and perhaps elsewhere.
After his service ended, he began writing intelligent, well-thought out science fiction stories such as "Childhood's End" and "The Sentinel". It was that last story that prompted Stanley Kubrick to contact Clarke about writing "a good science-fiction movie". That became "2001: A Space Odyssey" and a mini-franchise was born.
Clarke died on March 19, 2008 from heart failure. He was 90.
Neil Aspinall was a boyhood friend of George Harrison and Paul McCartney and was an important cog in the success of the Fab Four. He was their road manager and personal assistant in the early days; a job he kept throughout the crazy days of Beatlemania.
After the death of Epstein in 1967, the Beatles formed Apple Corp. and asked Aspinall to be its leader. He agreed "only until they found someone to do it full-time". He left his temporary job at Apple in April, 2007 after overseeing the remastering of the entire Beatle catalog.
Aspinall died on March 23, 2008 from lung cancer. He was 66.
No one made a more forceful screen debut in the 1940s than Richard Widmark. As the sociopathic killer Tommy Udo, Widmark's performance in "Kiss Of Death" (where he pushed Mildred Dunnock down a flight of stairs in a wheelchair) was so disturbing that it earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination.
This launched a solid movie career than spanned four decades. Widmark's films of note include "Night and the City", "Panic In The Streets", "Pickup On South Street", "Judgement At Nuremburg", "How The West Was Won", and "Murder On The Orient Express" where he played the murder victim Ratchett.
Widmark died on March 24, 2008. He was 93.
If you grew up in Chicago in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s (like me), your parents and maybe even you probably listened to Wally Phillips on WGN Radio. His radio show from 1965 to 1986 was consistedly the #1 rated radio show and a regular listening audience of 1.5 million at a time when Chicago's population was over 3 million (a 50 share).
Wally did crazy stunts like calling pay phones to see who would answer, track down local celebrities while on vacation to ask them innane questions, and help old ladies from Skokie who would call in to ask for driving directions to a certain restaurant downtown - all accented with quick sound bytes of goofy noises and voices.
Phillips died on March 26, 2008 from Alzheimer's disease. He was 82. My friend Scott Marks wrote a lengthy obituary recalling Wally's career at his site if you're interested.
Moses. Ben-Hur. The circus boss from "The Greatest Show On Earth". The astronaut facing the Statue Of Liberty in "Planet Of The Apes".
"TAKE YOUR STINKIN' PAWS OFF ME, YOU DAMN DIRTY APE!" "DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL..."
We mustn't forget "SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!" and his most recent quote "From my cold dead hands!"
Charlton Heston died minus a gun on April 5, 2008 from pneumonia. He was 84.
Ollie Johnston was born in California and attended Stanford University where he worked on the student newspaper with a buddy named Frank Thomas. These two would be hired by Walt Disney in 1935 along with seven other core animators to help create Disney films.
From "Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs" in 1937 up to "The Rescuers" in 1977, Frank and Ollie contributed their animation skills to these movies while establishing their 12 basic principles of animation (check out the documentary "Frank and Ollie" for more info).
Johnston died on April 14, 2008. He was 95.
If you've watched the film "Casablanca" a hundred or more times, you recognize the character - the young Bulgarian bride who is about to sacrifice her honor to Capt. Renault to secure her and her husband's visas to America.
Joy Page was Jack Warner's stepdaughter and reluctantly agreed to the casting in "Casablanca" after Page won the part on her own merits. Several years later, she married Robert T. Orr, an actor turned executive who became the head of WB Television. Joy soon heard the accusations of nepotism again and promptly quit the business. Pity.
Page died on April 18, 2008 from complications of stroke and pneumonia. She was 83.
Eddy Arnold was a popular country singer in the late 1940s and 1950s. Arnold soon became one of the main proponents of the Nashville Sound along with Jim Reeves and Chet Atkins in the 1960s.
Eddy recorded his first record in December, 1944. His last recording came in 2005 at the age of 87!
Arnold died on May 8, 2008. He was 89.
When I was 10 years old, I purchased a MAD Magazine that contains a full color replica of an original MAD comic book from the 1950s. It was then that I discovered the amazing talents of Will Elder, one of MAD's first artists who perfected the "chicken fat" style of cartooning (gags from wall to wall).
Will left MAD along with its editor Harvey Kurtzman in 1957 to collaborate on many different projects. His greatest post-MAD creation was the Playboy comic character "Little Annie Fanny".
Elder died on May 15, 2008 from Parkinson's disease. He was 86.
In 1952, Dick Martin teamed up with Dan Rowan to form a comedy team. They played every club, made appearances on television, and waited for their big break. After appearing as summer replacement hosts on Dean Martin's TV show in 1966, they got it.
"Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" was a landmark show - fast paced, anything goes. It ran from 1968 to 1974 and always was a Nielsen hit. After the duo stopped working together, Martin acted occasionally and went into directing TV episodes of "Family Ties" and "Newhart"
Martin died on May 24, 2008 from respiratory complications. He was 86. Say good night, Dick.
Jimmy McGriff was an ex-Army MP turned Philadelphia cop who had known Jimmy Smith since their childhood days. Smith was recording for Blue Note and encouraged McGriff to take up the organ.
Learning how to master the Hammond B-3 from Smith's teacher no less, McGriff soon developed into a wizard of the keys, reaching his peak between 1962 and 1965 on Sue Records. His 1964 "Christmas With McGriff" album is a must for any Christmas music fan.
McGriff died on May 24, 2008 from multiple sclerosis. He was 72.
Sydney Pollack went to New York in the 1950s to become an actor. He soon turned into a TV director, directing episodes of "The Fugitive" and "Alfred Hitchcock Presents".
Hollywood came calling and Pollack began directing and producing movies. Among these were "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?", "The Way We Were", "Tootsie", and "Out Of Africa" (winning the Best Director Oscar).
Pollack died on May 26, 2008 from stomach cancer. He was 73.
Harvey Korman worked on television for six years on many different shows. His two best known roles were playing The Great Gazoo on "The Flintstones" and being the top second banana on "The Danny Kaye Show".
However, he became famous thanks to his appearances on "The Carol Burnett Show" (frequently breaking up in laughter opposite Tim Conway.) from 1967 to 1977. In 1974, Korman made his best known film role as Hedy Lamarr in "Blazing Saddles" ("That's Hedley!")
Korman died on May 29, 2008 from an abdominal aortic aneurysm. He was 81.
Chuck Berry may have been the father of rock-n-roll but Bo Diddley was the wild stepchild. His driving rhythms were dubbed "the Bo Diddley Beat", and his handmade guitar eminated sounds no one had heard before.
Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton all took inspiration from "The Originator" whose career spanned over 50 years. He was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
Diddley died on June 2, 2008 from heart failure. He was 79.
Paul Sills loved improvisation. So much so that in 1955, he formed the Compass Players with Shelley Berman, Mike Nichols, and Elaine May, becoming the first improvisational theater in the United States.
This soon became The Second City and Sills directed many of its early stars such as Alan Arkin, Joan Rivers, Avery Schrieber, and Alan Alda. The Second City soon became a magnet for many comedy stars (Belushi, Radner, Aykroyd, Farley, Myers, Fey).
Sills died on June 2, 2008 from pneumonia. He was 80.
Jim McKay was covering his last sporting event for CBS when a call came through from a producer at ABC. The producer was Roone Arledge who asked McKay to host a brand new sports show that "spanned the globe to seek the constant variety in sports".
"Wide World Of Sports" made McKay a household name. However, it was his coverage of the tragic events of the Munich Olympics in 1972 that transformed him into a legend. McKay covered 11 Olympics in total, his last being the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
McKay died on June 7, 2008 from natural causes. He was 86.
Cyd Charisse had suffered from polio as a child. To strengthen her leg muscles, she was encouraged to take up ballet dancing. Her legs recovered and led to a career as a dancer with dozens of appearances opposite Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in numerous MGM musicals. Her legs were insured for $5 million dollars in 1952.
After the demise of the movie musical, Charisse made nightclub appearances with her singer husband Tony Marvin. One of her last dancing appearances was in Janet Jackson's "Alright" music video in 1990.
Charisse died on June 17, 2008 from a heart attack. She was 86.
Comedy Central named George Carlin the second greatest stand-up comedian of all time (Richard Pryor #1). In my opinion, they got it wrong.
Carlin had a landmark Supreme Court decision to his credit concerning his "Seven Dirty Words You Can't Say On Television" and commented on any subject deemed taboo (politics, religion, etc). He spoke his mind, wrote best-selling books, and influenced a whole generation of comics (Lewis Black, Jon Stewart).
Carlin died on June 22, 2008 from heart failure. He was 72.
Don S. Davis was a theater major in the 1960s before joining the U.S. Army in 1965. After serving three years, he resumed his theater studies, eventually teaching drama at many colleges before Hollywood noticed him.
He began appearing on television shows and landed a seminal role as Major Briggs on "Twin Peaks" in the early 1990s. He was a baseball manager opposite Tom Hanks in "A League Of Their Own" and landed his best known role as Major General Hammond in "Stargate SG-1".
Davis died on June 29, 2008 from a heart attack. He was 69.
In 1956, Larry Harmon approached Capitol Records to license the character Bozo The Clown for television. He soon syndicated the TV show to local markets around the U.S. and created several dozen "Bozo" cartoons for use on these shows.
"Bozo's Circus" in Chicago was the most popular and successful locally produced children's program in the history of television. For forty years, this show entertained a generation of Chicago kids - one of which was Dan Castellaneta who based his voice for Krusty The Klown on "The Simpsons" from Bob Bell's voice - the Chicago actor who originally played Bozo.
Harmon died on July 3, 2008 from heart failure. He was 83.
Bobby Murcer was an outfielder who played for the New York Yankees, then San Francisco Giants before joining the Chicago Cubs in 1977 via free agency. His intensity paid off - the 1977 Cubs spent most of the summer in first place.
During one memorable at-bat that year, he jawed with the home plate umpire not once but twice rather animatedly over questionable back-to-back strike calls. Bobby then hit the next pitch in the bleachers and as he stepped on home plate, he stuck his tongue out at the umpire. Different era indeed!
After his stint with the Cubs ended, he returned to the Yankees to play out his career and become a popular TV broadcaster for the team.
Murcer died on July 12, 2008 from brain cancer. He was 62.
When I began this blog three years ago, one of the first Christmas CDs I reviewed was that of Jo Stafford's excellent 2005 compilation. It was one of the first reviews where I looked at the artist's career and established the blueprint for many of my reviews to come.
One of the areas I briefly covered was her comedy career with her husband Paul Weston. You have to respect an artist who decided to create a new genre in comedy - I must add those albums to my wish list.
Stafford died on July 16, 2008 from heart failure. She was 90.
Estelle Getty was an entertainer in Yiddish theater and in the Catskills Borscht Belt theaters for decades. She made several appearances in film - most notably as Harvey Fierstein's mother in "Torch Song Trilogy" and as Cher's mother in "Mask".
At the tender age of 62, Getty won the role as Sophia Petrillo on "The Golden Girls", winning two Golden Globes and seven consecutive Emmy nominations for Best Supporting Actress in Comedy (winning once in 1988).
Getty died on July 22, 2008 from Lewy body dementia. She was 84.
Louis Teicher (seated) was one half of the famed piano duo Ferrante & Teicher. Last September, I reviewed a 1992 compilation of two of their Christmas albums and gave a full rundown on their careers.
Teicher died on August 3, 2008 from heart failure. He was 83.
Skip Caray was the son of legendary baseball broadcaster Harry Caray. Skip's first play-by-play job came via the St. Louis Hawks basketball team in the 1960s, relocating with the team to Atlanta in 1968.
It was in Atlanta that Skip latched on with the Atlanta Braves and became a legendary baseball announcer like his father. When the Braves were dreadful in the early 1980s, Skip began a TV broadcast by saying "And, like lambs to the slaughter, the Braves take the field!"
Caray died on August 3, 2008 from bronchitis. He was 68.
Bernie McCullough was a South Side guy. Rooted for the White Sox, worked hard in various jobs, and was always a funny guy cracking wise. In the early 1990s, he shortened his name to Bernie Mac and became a stand-up comedian.
He soon became one of the best comedians on the stand-up circuit and Hollywood took notice. He made appearances in films like "Friday" and "Booty Call" but soon reached a wider audience with his own TV show for five seasons and more higher profile films like "Ocean's Eleven" and "Bad Santa".
Mac died on August 9, 2008 from complications of pneumonia. He was 50.
Isaac Hayes worked for Stax Records in the early 1960s, perfecting recordings for artists like Otis Redding, Booker T. & The M.G.s, and Sam & Dave. Then in 1969, he released "Hot Buttered Soul" which showcased his emerging singing and songwriting talents.
This culminated in the 1971 release of the motion picture soundtrack to "Shaft" - his best known work and for which he won an Oscar for "Best Original Song". Hayes soon caught the acting bug and made appearances in films like "Escape From New York", "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka", and lending his melodious voice as Chef on "South Park" for nine years.
Hayes died on August 10, 2008 from a stroke while jogging on his home treadmill. He was 65.
Jerry Wexler was a journalist turned record producer for Atlantic Records who created the term "rhythm and blues". He was one of the music industry's first A&R guys who helped sign and/or produce stars like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Led Zeppelin, Wilson Pickett, Dusty Springfield and Bob Dylan.
Jerry was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and was quoted by a documentary filmmaker several years before his death what he wanted on his tombstone: "Two words: 'More bass'."
Wexler died on August 15, 2008 from heart failure. He was 91.
If you were a kid growing up in Chicago in the 1970s, you may have watched wrestling in Channel 26. One of its stars was Killer Kowalski, a wrestler whose claw hold was deadly if applied for more than 2 minutes.
To fully appreciate the life and career of Kowalski, you need to visit the obituary written by my friend Scott Marks. Until this year, I never would have pegged Scott as a wrestling guy but his memories for old school wrestling (and women wrestlers in particular) are fascinating and disturbing all at once.
Kowalski died on August 30, 2008 from a heart attack. He was 81.
In the early 1970s, Jerry Reed emerged from a prolific career as a session musician to record music of his own. With singles like "Amos Moses" and "When You're Hot, You're Hot", Reed quickly became a country star and got a TV variety show all his own.
He was a frequent co-star with Burt Reynolds (first "Gator", then the first two "Smokey And The Bandit" movies), continued to make fun singles ("She Got The Goldmine, I Got The Shaft"), and appearances in film and on TV.
Reed died on August 31, 2008 from complications of emphysema. He was 71.
"In a world where Christmas music is dominated by the same 50 songs on the radio every December..." In my dreams, that would have been the script I would have sent to Don LaFontaine, the VOICE of more than 5,000 movie trailers and commercials.
Working out of his home studio and making oodles of money with his voice talents, LaFontaine made very few appearances in front of the camera - the most notable was his GEICO commercial in a customer's kitchen.
LaFontaine died on September 1, 2008 from complications from pneumothorax. He was 68.
Richard Wright met schoolmates Roger Waters and Nick Mason in the early 1960s and soon formed a band with them. Teaming up with Syd Barrett, they formed Pink Floyd.
Wright did some early singing and songwriting with the band and was soon overshadowed by Barrett at first, then Waters. During the recording of "The Wall" in 1978, Waters forced Richard out of the band but kept him on as a studio musician - profiting heavily from straight fees instead of shared losses with the group (karma!).
Wright died on September 15, 2008 from cancer. He was 65.
Norman Whitfield moved from New York to Detroit to help his brother-in-law run his chain of drug stores. However, he soon found himself as a songwriter, then producer for Motown Records for Berry Gordy.
From 1966 to 1974, Whitfield transformed The Temptations from a doo-wop quartet to a psychedelic soul group. He also produced albums for Rare Earth and Edwin Starr ("War"). In 1974, he formed his own record label and continued to produce music for most of his life.
Whitfield died on September 16, 2008 from diabetes. He was 68.
Edie Adams was "Miss Television 1950" and moved to New York. It was there she met an up-and-coming TV comedian named Ernie Kovacs (one of my personal heroes). She worked with him, fell in love, and married Ernie.
Throughout the 1950s, Adams appeared in several Broadway hits ("Wonderful Town", "L'il Abner") and made several film appearances ("The Apartment", "Lover Come Back") while Ernie worked brilliantly in television and neglected to pay income taxes (91 cents out of every dollars was taxed near the end).
Kovacs died tragically in a car crash in 1962, leaving Edie with a massive debt to pay the IRS. She took every gig she could get (famously for Muriel cigars), paid down the debt, and then secured every scrap of Kovacs footage she could lay her hands on to preserve Kovacs' career (making Edie another of my personal heroes).
Adams died on October 15, 2008 from pneumonia and cancer. She was 81.
Estelle Lebost was a painter and visual artist / set designer for a Catskills hotel when she met a young comedian named Carl Reiner. They fell in love and married in 1943 and their first son was named Rob (whatever happened to him?)
Carl soon became a top banana for Sid Caesar and eventually created "The Dick Van Dyke Show". After a long career for her husband, Estelle thought "Why not me?".
At the age of 60, Estelle decided to become a cabaret singer, released seven CDs to her name, and uttered a memorable line in "When Harry Met Sally..." ("I'll have what she's having.") directed by her son Rob.
Reiner died on October 25, 2008 from natural causes. She was 94.
Delmar Watson was one of nine siblings from the same family. Together, they made over 1,000 appearances in films in the 1930s and 1940s.
No longer a kid actor in 1948, he decided to become a newspaper photographer and covered many events over the next 30 years. It was Delmar who snapped the famous photo of Sophia Loren peeking at Jayne Mansfield in the famous battle of the bosoms.
Watson died on October 26, 2008 from prostate cancer. He was 82.
Studs Terkel was the modern-day Will Rogers. He loved people, talking to them, listening to their stories, and filing it all away in many great books ("Working", "The Good War") and relating these stories on his Chicago radio program that lasted from 1952 to 1997.
He was for the little guy. In 2006, Studs was one of the plantiffs who unsuccessfully sued AT&T for giving the National Security Agency customer telephone records without a court order.
Terkel died on October 31, 2008 from compilcations due to a fall. He was 96.
Yma Sumac was the Peruvian Songbird - a soprano beauty whose exotic lounge records of the 1950s with Billy May and Les Baxter became instant classics. She toured the world with her amazing voice, made several films and attempts in Broadway musicals, and continued to push the envelope - in 1971, she released a rock album entitled "Miracles"!
Sadly, she recorded no known Christmas music and was reintroduced to a new generation of fans with several of her songs in commercials and in the cult classic "The Big Lebowski".
Sumac died on November 1, 2008 from cancer. She was 86.
Cecil Stoughton was a captain in the U.S. Army Signal Corp that was assigned to the White House Signal Agency at the same time President John F. Kennedy and family took up residence there.
Stoughton took many of the famous pictures of Camelot - John-John peeking out under JFK's desk, the only pix of JFK, RFK, and Marilyn Monroe together, and documented nearly everything - he was in the motorcade that day in Dallas and took the famous LBJ swearing in picture aboard Air Force One.
Stoughton died on November 3, 2008 from complications of a hip replacement. He was 88.
Herb Score was a rookie pitcher with the Cleveland Indians in 1955, setting a rookie record for strikeouts with 245 that stood for nearly 30 years. The sky was the limit for this youngster until fate stepped in.
In 1957, Score was hit by a line drive off the bat of Gil McDougal, smashing several bones in his face and scarring his psyche. He never pitched as good after that and spent another four years in the Majors before hanging up the spikes. Score quickly turned to broadcasting and was a Cleveland Indian fan favorite for decades.
Score died on November 11, 2008. He was 75.
Mitch Mitchell was a talented drummer who got inspiration from jazz drummers like Max Roach and Joe Morello. This inspiration soon rubbed off on Jimi Hendrix, who constantly fed off Mitchell's brilliant drumming.
Mitchell was part of the Jimi Hendrix Experience and played for Jimi from 1966 to around 1970. After Hendrix's death, Mitchell helped to complete several posthumous singles like "Rainbow Bridge" and "The Cry Of Love". Mitch kept active in the music scene (almost became a drummer for Paul McCartney) and toured constantly, keeping the music and legacy of Hendrix alive.
Mitchell died on November 12, 2008 from natural causes. He was 61.
Irving Brecher was a theater usher turned joke writer. Knowing of Milton Berle's reputation as a joke stealer, he placed an ad in Variety that read: "Positively Berle-proof gags. So bad not even Milton will steal them." Berle hired him the next day.
This led to a move to Hollywood where he signed with MGM and contributed to "The Wizard Of Oz", "Meet Me In St. Louis", and two screenplays for The Marx Brothers. Groucho called Irving "The Wicked Wit of the West".
He went on to create "The Life Of Riley" for radio first, then on television with William Bendix and Jackie Gleason respectively. Gleason didn't work out so Bendix worked both on radio and TV.
Brecher died on November 17, 2008 from a heart attack. He was 94.
Paul Benedict played the Mad Painter in a series of films for "Sesame Street" in the early 1970s. He also made an great appearance as a guru in the 1971 Norman Lear comedy "Cold Turkey".
Thanks to this film, Lear remembered Benedict who needed a wacky neighbor when he was developing his "All In The Family" spin-off "The Jeffersons". Paul played Mr. Bentley for eight of the ten seasons the show was on the air.
Benedict died on December 1, 2008 from unknown causes. He was 70.
Beverly Garland was a B-movie actor - her best known film was Roger Corman's "Swamp Women" in 1955. Her luck changed when she was the love interest for Fred MacMurray on the TV show "My Three Sons".
With her business saavy, Garland soon became a hotel owner. Beverly Garland's Holiday Inn in North Hollywood was owned and operated by Beverly, hosting many Hollywood Collector's Shows over the years.
Garland died on December 5, 2008. She was 82.
After the sudden death of Michael Conrad who played Sgt. Phil Esterhaus on "Hill Street Blues", it fell to well respected stage veteran Robert Prosky to fill his shoes.
Sgt. Stan Jablonski was Prosky's signature role. Even though his line "Let's do it to them before they do it to us" wasn't as memorable as "Let's be careful out there...", Robert did a fine job for several seasons on the Hill.
Prosky died on December 8, 2008 from complications of a heart procedure. He was 77.
Bettie Page... forever young and beautiful.
Page died on December 11, 2008 from complications of a heart attack. She was 85.
Van Johnson was a Broadway actor who came to Hollywood at the dawn of World War II. While many of the major stars fought in WWII, Johnson became a leading man at MGM in films like "A Guy Named Joe" and "Battleground".
Johnson had a solid film career than spanned several decades. In the 1950s, he appeared in "Brigadoon" and "The Caine Mutiny" and a boatload of TV appearances from the 1960s through the 1990s.
Johnson died on December 12, 2008 from natural causes. He was 92.
Career FBI man W. Mark Felt sat in a waiting room at the White House in 1969 when he met a Naval aide named Bob Woodward. This chance meeting soon led to a relationship that toppled the presidency of Richard Nixon.
Felt was "Deep Throat" and gave Woodward vital information regarding the Watergate scandal over a period of two years. Woodward kept his identity a secret until 2005 when Felt broke his silence.
Felt died on December 18, 2008 from heart failure. He was 95.
Majel Barrett was a bit player in Hollywood throughout the 1950s and 1960s (she was in the credits to "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?). She won a role in the pilot for "Star Trek" where she met the creator Gene Roddenberry.
They dated throughout the run of the show and married after it was cancelled in 1969. Since then, Majel was involved in every incarnation of "Star Trek" - up to and including the new J.J. Abrams film. She completed her work as the voice of the computer for the film on December 4, 2008.
Barrett-Roddenberry died on December 18, 2008 from leukemia. She was 76.
Ann Savage was a B-movie actress in the 1940s and made over 30 films in a short time span. However, her role as Vera in the 1945 movie "Detour" secured her place in movie history.
No other film noir fatale had a juicier role than Savage and she played it to the hilt. She spits, snarls, rages... and those were the love scenes!
Savage died on Christmas Day - December 25, 2008 - from complications of a stroke. She was 87.
Eartha Kitt was dubbed "the most exciting woman alive" by Orson Welles. She made only three Christmas records in her lifetime - 1953's "Santa Baby", 1954's "This Year's Santa Baby", and 1955's "Nuttin' For Christmas", all singles for RCA Victor.
Eartha made films ("St. Louis Blues", "Anna Lucasta"), tantalized TV viewers on variety shows and in nightclubs, and was the only person alive who could push the memory of Julie Newmar as Catwoman out of the minds of "Batman" watchers when she donned the leather jumpsuit for a brief time ("G-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r" indeed!).
Kitt died on Christmas Day - December 25, 2008 - from colon cancer. She was 81.
Freddie Hubbard was a jazz trumpeter who took bebop and transformed it to a new level in the 1960s and 1970s. His career spanned 40 years and played with a majority of the great jazz legends.
Hubbard died on December 29, 2008 from a heart attack. He was 70.
Bernie Hamilton was an actor who appeared in over 20 films in the 1960s and 1970s. But it was his role as by-the-book Capt. Harold Dobey in "Starsky And Hutch" that made him famous. For four years, he played the role and looked like one more stunt by his duo of cops might give him a heart attack.
After "Starsky and Hutch" ended in 1979, Bernie spent the next 20 years in the music business producing R&B and gospel records under the record label Chocolate Snowman.
Hamilton died on December 30, 2008 from cardiac arrest. He was 80.
To quote Edna St. Vincent Millay:
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.