Updated: Thursday, December 28, 2017, 3:40 PM
Poet Ludwig Jakobowski put it best: “Don’t cry because they are past! / Smile because they were!”
The year 2017 was, if you follow that advice, a year of smiles, as we pondered the great lives brought to a close, world-changers who sang, invented, acted, pitched, wrote, and did so many things that escorted us to better lives. So, as babies are being born (this very minute, perhaps) who will grow up to change the future world, we remember a few of those who remade our present one.
Philadelphia-born, Temple-educated Edie Windsor, 88, whose Supreme Court case was a breakthrough in the fight for same-sex marriage. Zhou Youguang, 111, created the Pinyin system that brought Chinese into the Roman alphabet. Arthur Janov, founder of primal scream therapy, was 93. Hugh Hefner, 91, brought the men’s magazine into the mainstream. Joan Tisch, arts patron, philanthropist, and sports club owner, was 90. Stan Neston, 89, created G.I. Joe. Charles Manson, 83, masterminded the horrific Tate-Labianca murders of 1969. Adnan Khashoggi, 81, was the ur-type of the flamboyant, billionaire international arms dealer. Omar Abdel Rahman, 78, was convicted of leading the 1993 bombing plot in New York. Christine Keeler, 75, was at the center of the 1963 Profumo scandal in the U.K. Norma Leah McCorvey Nelson, 69, was “Jane Roe” in the epoch-defining 1973 Roe v. Wade case. Liz Smith, 94, would have reported on them all.
The Phils lost quite a few: Jim Bunning, 85, a Hall of Famer who pitched a perfect game, had a long career in Congress for Kentucky. Beloved Roy “Doc” Halladay, 40, helped get the Phils to the playoffs in 2010-11 (remember the playoffs?). Dallas Green, 82, managed the 1980 World Championship team. World Series-winning catcher Darren Daulton, 55, died after battle with brain cancer. Rollie Massimino, 82, coached Villanova’s first NCAA title basketball team. Dan Rooney, 84, was a longtime owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and later an ambassador to Ireland. Ed Garvey, 76, led two NFL strikes. Tennis star Jana Notovná, 49, won at Wimbledon.
Politics and society
John Anderson, third-party candidate in the 1980 presidential race, was 95. The National Organization for Women saluted its second leader, Aileen Hernandez, 90. Zbigniew Brzezinski, 89, was a counselor to presidents and a national security adviser. Helmut Kohl, 87, was one of Germany’s great reunifiers. Longtime New Mexico senator Pete Domenici was 85, as was longtime civil rights champion Roger Wilkins. The United States had to go to war to oust Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega, 83. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, 82, was a canny moderate leader who helped shape post-revolutionary Iran. Maverick civil rights figure Roy Innis was 82. And Martin McGuinness, 66, once an IRA and Sinn Féin man, became a politician of peace between the Irelands.
Billionaire financier David Rockefeller, 101, helmed the Chase Manhattan Corp. Waffle House thanked its two founders: Thomas Forkner, 98, and Joseph Rogers, 97. Masaya Nakamura, 91, ran the company that created Pac-Man and that drove the arcade game craze. Brenda Barnes, 63, the Pepsi exec who left her position to raise a family, prompted a national conversation on how much of “it all” women can have.
Jerry Lewis was 91; now there’s hilarity in heaven. Also 91 was Robert Hardy, who played Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge in the Harry Potter films. Splendid Emmanuelle Riva, 89, was unforgettable in Hiroshima, Mon Amour, and, 53 years later, Amour. Roger Moore, 89, was perhaps the suavest of a suave bunch, the filmic James Bonds. Martin Landau, 89, won an Oscar and two Golden Globes. Chuck Low, also 89, was a frequent presence in Robert De Niro films, including Goodfellas. Fabulous John Hurt, 77, was great as Caligula in I, Claudius, great in The Elephant Man, and greatly violated in the first Alien film. John Heard, 72, was the dad of the family in Home Alone. Stephen Furst, 63, achieved immortality as Flounder in Animal House. Charlie Murphy, 57, brother of Eddie, was a talented comedian and screenwriter. And Jonathan Demme, 73, put Philadelphia on the big screen.
Mary Tyler Moore, 80, changed the way women were seen on TV. June Foray, 99, was the voice of Rocket J. Squirrel and more than 100 other cartoon characters. Joseph Wapner, Judge Joseph of The People’s Court, immortalized in Rain Main, was 97. Roy Dotrice (Game of Thrones‘ Grand Maester Pycelle) was 94. Character-acting great Harry Dean Stanton (Paris, Texas) was 91, as was Earle Hyman, Shakespearean actor and Russell Huxtable on The Cosby Show. Don Rickles, 90, perfected the comic insult, and Robert Guillaume, 89, of Benson was the first African American to star in Phantom of the Opera. Holy satin briefs, but Adam West, 88, was a sight as TV’s Batman. Lower Merion High School grad Chuck Barris, 87, made a big boom with The Gong Show (and his claims that he was a CIA assassin). Jim Nabors, 87, earned a generation’s love in The Andy Griffith Show and Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. Brilliant comic Dick Gregory, 84, elevated his art into trenchant social commentary. Also 84 was the great Roger Smith, who played Jeff Spencer in 77 Sunset Strip and who was spouse and manager of Ann-Margret. Frank Vincent, 78, played memorable Phil Leotardo in The Sopranos. Roger Ailes, 77, was a media consultant to presidents and architect of the Fox media empire, after he got his start working on the Mike Douglas Show in Philadelphia. Don Ohlmeyer, 72, produced Monday Night Football and helped steer NBC to its golden sitcom era.
Conservative champion Kate O’Beirne was 67, and commentator Alan Colmes, 66, was the brave liberal mascot on many a Fox show. Fresh-faced Bill Paxton (Big Love) was 61, as was Miguel Ferrer (NCIS: Los Angeles). Sweet Erin Moran of Happy Days was 56. Nelsan Ellis (True Blood) was 39. Reality-TV pioneer Danny Dias (Road Rules) was 34; Stevie Ryan, a pioneer YouTube celebrity with Stevie TV, was 33; and Michael Nance (Bachelorette) was 31.
Tell Tchaikovsky the news: Chuck Berry, 90, helped take rhythm and blues into rock and roll, and inspired generations of rockers, the Beatles, the Stones, anyone who wants to play guitar like ringing a bell. Like him, Fats Domino, 89, led the first generation of rock stars; he injected his songs with New Orleans barrelhouse and blues. Singer, TV star (Touched by an Angel), and minister Della Reese was 86. Ultimate teen heartthrob David Cassidy, 67, fronted the Partridge family (and Tiger Beat magazine). And Glen Campbell, 81, was a vocalist and guitarist extraordinaire, Wrecking Crew member, Beach Boy, and Wichita lineman; you’ll hear him singing in the wire.
The marvelous, flexible voice of Al Jarreau, 76, helped bring jazz colors to pop music. Cuba Gooding Sr., 72, sang “Everybody Plays the Fool” with the Main Ingredient. Guitarist J. Geils was 71. The Allman Brothers gave a thumbs-up to two founders, both 69: Butch Trucks and Gregg Allman. And speaking of jazz colorings, Walter Becker, 67, one-half of the duo who brought you the inimitable Steely Dan, has reeled in the years.
Beloved across generations, Tom Petty, 66, made American rock music for 40 years, never backing down. AC/DC cofounder Malcolm Young was 64. Philly’s Joni Sledge, 60, now leads the celestial host in singing “We Are Family,” and Chris Cornell, 52, joins in with one of the finest voices of his rock generation. Rapper Prodigy of Mobb Deep was 42, and Chester Bennington of Linkin Park was 41.
Among the poets, John Ashbery, 90, was considered by many the most influential U.S. poet of his time. Nobel Prize winner Derek Walcott, 87, was an accomplished master of form and music. Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, 84, a poet who wrote of passion and freedom, was something of an international rock star. Another Nobelist, Liu Xiaobo, 61, was a civil rights activist in China, imprisoned for his work. Now freedom is his.
Among the prose stylists, open wide the gates for John Berger, 90, who mastered everything from art criticism to journalism to screenplays; William Peter Blatty, 89, who gave us the head-turning novel The Exorcist; Brian Aldiss, 92, dean of speculative fiction; Robert M. Pirsig, 88, who did Zen and repaired motorcycles; Robert Silvers, 87, cofounder of the New York Review of Books; Colin Dexter, 86, who created Inspector Morse; Kate Millet, 82, whose Sexual Politics helped ignite the late-20th-century women’s movement; and Robert James Waller, 77, who wrote The Bridges of Madison County. And Sam Shepard, 73, actor, musician, novelist, and playwright, all but created a genre of outsider American theater.
Among journalists, hail, Simeon Booker, 99, civil rights reporter and the first African American journalist hired at the Washington Post. Longtime New York reporter and TV guy Gabe Pressman was 93. Critic and essayist Nat Hentoff, 91, helped shape the tastes of his times. Jimmy Breslin, 88, was a reporter, a nonfiction writer of astonishing output and impact, and a nationally read columnist. S.I. Newhouse owned the New Yorker, Vogue, and other prominent publications. And TV anchor Michele Marsh was 63.
Farthest travelers of all were the astronauts. Eugene Cernan, 82, was the human being who most recently (1972) walked on the moon. Fellow spacemen Richard Gordon, 88, and Paul Weitz, 85, now join him in the greatest spacewalk of all. H. Boyd Woodruff, 99, did work at Rutgers that led to the breakthrough called streptomycin. Julius Younger, 96, was a member of Jonas Salk’s team that developed a polio vaccine. Lloyd Conover, 93, did work that led to the discovery of tetracycline. Arthur Rosenfeld, 90, was the “father of energy efficiency.” Oliver Smithies, 91, who earned a Nobel, demonstrated the genetic basis of certain diseases. And the work of Peter Mansfield, 83, led to the development of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Mildred Dresselhaus, 86, was an eminent physicist, and the face of a GE ad on TV asking, “What if female scientists were celebrities?” Well, yeah: What if? Marian C. Diamond, 90, professor of anatomy, studied Einstein’s brain, and, against much male-dominated skepticism, promoted the truth: That the brain can keep developing and changing throughout life. And thank you, Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani, 40. In becoming the first woman to win the prestigious Field Prize, you proved that (1) women can do math, thanks; and (3) in the end, it all adds up.
Read full story: Great lives and world-changers: Celebrities who died in 2017