In Memoriam 2017: Film, Television, Music, Sports, Literature, the Arts”¦
Every year is tough to look back on the losses of public and beloved figures, but 2017 seemed like an exceptionally hard year for losses, particularly in the music industry. Many seminal figures of their craft died either unexpectedly or suddenly, all tragically. As the heavy remorse still lingers over the loss of these titans and experts of their respective fields, there is also the comfort, if perhaps the only comfort, in knowing that their works, images, and what they left behind will endure and continue to endure, long after we are gone too. Their remembrances are like graffiti on the soul, a welcomed branding of their art and unbridled zest for life that in many cases, that will remain with us and touch us forever. Here’s a list of some notables that we lost in 2017.
The sudden passing of this American legend was one of the most harrowing and unexpected of 2017. The prolific and seminal guitarist/songwriter, who churned out hit after hit, kind of like a Bob Dylan meets Billy Joel in terms of a consistent and memorable wellspring of songs, died in October at the age of 66. With songs like “American Girl,” “Refugee,” “Breakdown,” “I Won’t Back Down,” “Free Fallin,” and with stints in bands like The Traveling Wilburys and a later in life status as a living legend, Tom Petty’s musical life and what he gave to it will never be forgotten for generations to come.
The Soundgarden frontman had a kind of blazing intensity, but coupled it with an almost operatic pathos and quiet surge that elevated him from the “Seattle-cynicism-by-numbers” most of his fellow 1990s grunge-era Seattle brethren were also doing at the time. With an almost Freddie Mercury flair in his vocal range, Chris Cornell blazed on performances like “Black Hole Sun,” “Rusty Cage,” the superb “My Wave,” and stints in supergroups Temple of the Dog and Audioslave. Cornell tragically committed suicide at the age of 52 following a Soundgarden performance in Detroit, Michigan.
As the lead singer and co-founder of The Allman Brothers, not to mention the writer of some of the band’s biggest successes in songs like “Melissa,” “Midnight Rider,” and the seminal contemporary blues pot boiler “Whipping Post,” Gregg Allman remains one of rock and roll’s most potent and wholly true blue front men in musical history. Allman’s raspy yet firm-rooted voice combined with his always on par organ/keyboard playing, acted as main components in the Allman Brothers’ sound, direction, and musical shape and his passing at the age 69 in May remains one of rock and roll’s biggest losses. Longtime Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks, who had been with the band since the beginning and played in tandem with the band’s second drummer Jaimoe, died in January, also at the age of 69.
An absolute pioneer of rock and roll, the music of Fats Domino remains one of the most successful and influential in history. Using a kind of fusion of early R&B music with blues at its core, but done in a kind of manner which played right alongside his contemporaries at the time like Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, with songs that have entered American folklore like “Blueberry Hill,” “Ain’t that a Shame,” and one of the catchiest and most energetic songs ever written for the genre, “I’m Walkin,” solidified his place in not only a kind of Hall-of-Fame status, but one bordering on mythos considering his scope, influence, and continual reach, consciously or unconsciously. He was 89 when he passed away last October.
Even more important to the blueprint and success of early rock and roll than the aforementioned Fats Domino, Chuck Berry remains like the Marlon Brando of the genre, the lord who singlehandedly changed and shaped the game, much like Brando did in his field. It is impossible and unthinkable to mention the history of rock and roll without mentioning Berry, almost in a way mentioning him first. Like Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry wasn’t just only an early progenitor of the rock and roll sound, attitude, and amplification thereof, but he was also a teacher in how to PRESENT rock and roll, how to showcase it physically, spiritually, literally, and soulfully. His songs, like “Maybellene,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Rock and Roll Music,” and “Johnny B. Goode” without question, could be included in a primer to how to start playing guitar and rock and roll, songs that were covered by The Beatles and had a profound influence on both them and The Rolling Stones and then everyone else on down. Berry was 90 when he died last March.
While best remembered for turning the world on with her smile as the star of her long-running and legendary self-titled sitcom, Mary Tyler Moore also grabbed the entertainment industry with both hands as a consummate dancer, singer, and even dramatic actress, as evidenced by her Oscar-nominated turn as the icy and troubled mother who has to endure a painfully close to home tragedy in the very serious 1980 Academy Award-winning film Ordinary People. Moore, who died in January at the age of 80, was also the co-head and founder of MTM Enterprises (with her husband, the TV executive Grant Tinker), which produced memorable shows such as The Bob Newhart Show, Rhoda, Lou Grant (both spinoffs of her own program), WKRP in Cincinnati, St. Elsewhere, and Hill Street Blues.
Finding success as a teen idol on the 1970s music-sitcom The Partridge Family playing the front man in the titular group, David Cassidy, who came from a family with both parents who were highly successful actors (stepmom Shirley Jones and father Jack Cassidy), never found the kind of dizzying fame again after the show ended in the early 70s, but remained a stalwart kind of icon of 1970s pop culture, and always gleefully relished in reliving that time by appearing in programs revisiting the era and never taking himself or his image too seriously. It was because of that attitude that allowed David Cassidy to remain in the public eye as still the kind of seemingly sweet guy he always was and always seemed to be. He died in November at the age of 69.
The king of the comedic insult and zingers, Don Rickles nevertheless became one of the most endearing and beloved figures in not only the comedic, but the entire entertainment world. People from Frank Sinatra on down in the industry lauded him, befriended him, and always seemed to be in a fun-loving submission to his constant comedic control, timing, and downright, but always with a good natured center, quick wit for the put down, that even in his final years, still had the razor sharp precision that was expected of him. Rickles died in April at the age of 90.
Like Rickles, Jerry Lewis also held his own and had considerable legendary weight in the comedic and entertainment world. And absolutely tireless performer and a master of control, Lewis was best known as a rubbery limbed spastic comedian who would do anything to get a laugh, be it bellowing high pitched, sudden screams, using his limbs and physicality to provoke laughter and sustain it. He was a consummate filmmaker who directed, co-wrote, produced, staged, and timed many of his films and was one of the first people (if not the first person) to use the “video assist” which is standard practice in filmmaking in today’s day and age. And most importantly, he was a humanitarian, who raised over a billion dollars for Muscular Dystrophy. Controversial, intense at times, stubborn, taciturn, and yet a true genius who still divides people in terms of their opinions about him and his status in the comedy pantheons, Jerry Lewis was a once-in-a-lifetime colorful figure and who will remain one for all time. He was 91 when he died in August.
Best remembered for playing James Bond in seven films from the mid 1970s to the mid 80s and on television as The Saint during the 1960s, Roger Moore had a kind of swagger like the characters he’s most remembered for, dapper, erudite, charming, and classy. Appearing intermittently in the industry after his retirement from playing Bond in 1985, Moore will always remain one of the favorite Bonds, as evidenced by his work in memorable films such as Live and Let Die, The Spy Who Loved Me, and The Man With the Golden Gun. Moore passed last May at the age of 89.
In many ways, Bill Paxton seemed to be everybody’s favorite character actor, because he seemed to have an organic, natural, effortless, and likable ease to slip into so many different roles, and in so many different kinds of films, such as Weird Science, Tombstone, Apollo 13, and the many collaborations with James Cameron, such as The Terminator, Titanic, Aliens, and True Lies. His big grinned, sometimes goofy and comic relief laden characters could also take dramatic and unexpected turns with performances such as his Golden Globe-nominated stint on HBO’s Big Love or his Emmy-nominated role in Hatfields and McCoys. He was 61 when he died in February.
The wild-eyed and wild-haired producer, responsible for such legendary game shows as The Newlywed Game and The Dating Game, found sudden and unexpected fame when he appeared in front of the camera on the amateur-hour-out-of-control program The Gong Show. That show became a massive success during the mid 1970s and remains one of the more outlandish and even ridiculous visual artifacts from that decade to this day, even spawning a remake which was also a success and aired a few months after Barris’ death at the age of 87 in March.
With his memorable cadence in how he spoke, inflecting early William Shatner-as-Kirk style pauses, Adam West took the character of Bob Kane’s Batman using that aural formula, and combined with the hubris of the mod mid-1960s times, led a virtual pop cultural revolution in television that remains to this day the benchmark for how to combine camp and fun action into a comic book adaptation. There isn’t an actor who donned superhero tights and who delivered deadpanned lines that doesn’t owe a huge debt to the work West did on the Batman television series. Typecast forever in the role, sometimes to his chagrin, West plundered on after Batman with a career that always seemed to have the bat wings spread in the shadows. Later generations will remember him as the voice of Mayor Adam West on Family Guy, a role in which he seemed to finally embrace the image that has made him so memorable to so many people. West died in June at the age of 88.
As the publisher and founder of Playboy magazine, Hugh Hefner became associated with a kind of middle-road sexuality, almost bringing it to a level of mainstream when said magazine debuted in the 1950s with Marilyn Monroe on the cover and as the first “centerfold,” something which became as iconic as the publication would become. Hefner also had many notable figures in Playboy in the many storied, memorable, and even controversial at times interviews it published. It also showcased fiction and non-fiction stories from many authors who later found success. But despite this, Hefner’s image to most of the world remains as a kind of playboy himself, a randy entrepreneur who seemed to helm the ship of the biggest and coolest party; even during his advanced years he never seemed to let up, even when sales of Playboy gave way to an internet industry that made the magazine seem rather tepid and impotent in the modern age. Hefner was 91 when he died in September.
As Joanie Cunningham on the tribute to the 1950s sitcom Happy Days, Erin Moran didn’t seem to have much to do early on the program other than the usual kind of sibling rivalry with her brother Richie, or getting advice from The Fonz on how to handle boys. But as the show progressed and with the appearance of Scott Baio as Chachi, it created a sub-dynamic of a romantic relationship for the two characters and even a spinoff, on the ill-fated Joanie Loves Chachi. She made sporadic appearances on television post-Happy Days‘ cancellation in the mid 1980s, but always remained a memorable TV figure due to the still high profile success of reruns of the program in syndication. She was only 56 when she died in April.
Tobe Hooper co-wrote, co-produced, and directed what remains still one of the most scariest and uncompromising films ever made in the horror genre, the unsettling Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The film, which was released almost 45 years ago, has not lost one iota of its intensity or guttural, discomforting power. Another memorable film Hooper directed was the Steven Spielberg-produced Poltergeist, which also displayed his flair for the genre, and the film remains another of the top shelf horror films of all time. Hooper was 74 when he passed away in August.
Whether it was his role as Salvy in Raging Bull, Billy Bats in Goodfellas, Phil Leotardo on The Sopranos, or even the quick if you blink you’ll miss it role in Do the Right Thing, Frank Vincent had an absolute penchant for playing characters that not only got under other characters’ skins, but also the audience’s as well. One of the greatest examples ever of someone that you “love to hate” every time you see him, Vincent, who mainly played Mafia heavies as the aforementioned titles suggest and who mainly worked with Martin Scorsese and usually with Joe Pesci on screen in tow as an adversary, the actor nonetheless remains one of the more memorable and unique faces and voices in the mob film and television genre. He died in September at the age of 80.
A voice actress on par with the likes of the great Mel Blanc (who she also worked with from time to time), June Foray was a master at creating voices for many memorable animated features, standouts being the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel on Bullwinkle, Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and as Granny in many memorable Warner Bros. cartoons, particularly ones with Sylvester the Cat and Tweety Bird. Foray also did voices for scores of Hanna-Barbera Productions and endless other productions that spanned genres well into the 21st century. She also made rare on-screen appearances in sitcoms such as Green Acres, Bewitched, and The Brady Bunch. Foray’s voice had that instantly recognizable lilt and youthful lift to it on screen for decades, even when she was in her 90s still working in the sound booth. She was a few months short of being 100 years old when she died in July.
One of the greatest filmmakers of the modern age, a master craftsman who could maneuver easily through genres and hit bulls eyes time and time again with wonderful films like Melvin and Howard, Something Wild, the highly lauded Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, and Academy Award-winning films like Philadelphia and the now legendary Silence of the Lambs, which netted Demme an Academy Award for direction, Jonathan Demme seemed to get the best from some of Hollywood’s A-list, like Tom Hanks, Anthony Hopkins, and Jodie Foster, all who won Oscars under his directing tutelage. The New York native died in April at the age of 73.
An actor of tremendous caliber, the British-born John Hurt was for many people whilst alive, one of the greatest actors in the world. And that statement is not conjecture by any means. Just a quick glance at some of the popular highlights of Hurt’s career, like in A Man For All Seasons, or as the ultimate ill-fated metaphoric guinea pig in Alien, to the titular role in The Elephant Man, confirms this statement. It solidifies it when you add to the mix roles in I Claudius, Midnight Express, and later appearances to be found by newer generations in films like the Hellboy series and Harry Potter, not to mention TV’s Doctor Who. Hurt was a true bonafide national treasure in every sense of that statement. A true artist of his craft, Hurt died in January at the age of 77.
Not to be confused with the aforementioned actor, the American-born John Heard may not have been a household name, but he was a venerable character actor and familiar face who cropped up in films and television productions that were memorable and adventurous. His projects ranged from films like Martin Scorsese’s highly underrated After Hours, Awakenings, Cat People, and The Pelican Brief, and he may be best remembered for his appearances as the dad in the Home Alone films. Heard also had a memorable albeit brief stint on The Sopranos in which he was nominated for an Emmy Award. He died in July at the age of 71.
Harry Dean Stanton
One of the most coolest and beloved cult figures and character actors in Hollywood history, the extremely prolific Harry Dean Stanton had a career which spanned over 60 years and included scores of films, in which he had prominent roles or made small appearances, and which were all memorable. A selected shortlist of the countless number of projects he appeared includes In the Heat of the Night, Cool Hand Luke, The Godfather Part II, Alien, the almost as revered in cult status as Stanton is Repo Man, Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, and After Hours and turns with David Lynch in Wild at Heart and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. He worked right up until his final days, starring in the film Lucky last March. He died in September at the age of 91.
Richard Hatch was a character actor who appeared in various productions during the mid to late 20th century, but is best remembered for playing Captain Apollo on the original incarnation of the Battlestar Galactica TV series. Before and after his stint on that scifi series, Hatch was a soap opera actor who appeared during the earliest days of the long-running ABC program All My Children, had guest appearances on police drama programs such as Cannon, Barnaby Jones, Hawaii Five-O, the middle America 1970s smash hit rural drama The Waltons, and meat-and-potatoes kind of roles in shows like The Love Boat and Murder She Wrote. He went on to join the cast of the SciFi Channel’s reboot of Battlestar Galactica. But it is the original Battlestar Galactica which he will most be remembered for, certainly by science fiction aficionados. Hatch was 71 when he died in February.
Dick Gregory was mostly known as a comedian, but he was much more than that. An activist, social critic, and outspoken voice and visionary to an African-American community experiencing much of the turbulent fallout of the 1960s, Gregory was at the forefront as a guiding voice to many of the issues of the day, exposing them for what they were, and trying to supply solutions to them. He also became one of the first people to raise consciousness about possible conspiracies in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Later in his career, as the 70s went into the 80s and beyond, Gregory became a sort of an elder statesman and successful speaker and author, penning books on spirituality. Gregory was 84 when he died in August.
George Romero was of the master directors in the zombie genre and in many ways the pioneering one. His Night of the Living Dead remains successful and importantly influential on so many levels: it was almost an indie film before the term even existed, it paved the way for a kind of low budget/high narrative quality of literally thousands of films which followed, none with the kind of flair and ragtag yet almost class that Romero’s film manifested, and it was one of the first films to show gore realistically in a way, and not in the kind of slapdash fervor it had been shown in many horror films prior. And while arguably nothing that came after Night of the Living Dead was as successful perhaps on a aesthetic level, George Romero had a career which always remained with a foot in the horror genre, be it indirect sequels to Night of the Living Dead like Dawn of the Dead, which for some is Romero’s true masterpiece, to films like Martin, Creepshow and Monkey Shines. Without question, there might have never been The Walking Dead without the influence and visionary scope of Romero, and to this day, there are fans who still find it unthinkable that it had never worked out where Romero had participated on the TV program on some level. Romero was 77 when he died in February.
As the co-founder and songwriter of Steely Dan, Walter Becker, along with other co-founder and songwriter Donald Fagen, created mini-masterpieces of pop music, mired in cynicism and dripping with musical sarcasm, with stretches of a jazz, rock, and soul pastiche to create a unique and only-they-could-do-it style that remains on high on radio and consciousness around the world to this day. Becker’s guitar and bass work on memorable songs such as “Reeling in the Years,” “Rikki Don’t Lose that Number,” “Hey Nineteen,” “Peg,” and many more, will remain in the musical ether timelessly. Becker died in September at the age of 67.
As a keyboard player, as a bassist, and as a singer in progressively adventurous rock bands such as King Crimson, Roxy Music, Uriah Heep, Wishbone Ash, Yes, and later the supergroup Asia in the 1980s, John Wetton was a talented and utterly reliable and creative musician, best remembered for Asia’s hit song “Heat of the Moment.” Wetton was 67 when he died in January.
As the wisecracking Benson on the show of the same name which originated on the sitcom Soap, Guillaume found two-time Emmy-winning success. He also cut his teeth playing characters on various Norman Lear-helmed programs such as Good Times, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, and All in the Family and appearances in storied stage productions such as Guys and Dolls, Golden Boy, and Porgy and Bess. He appeared less frequent after Benson ended in the mid 1980s, yet remained a memorable name in TV annals. Guillaume was 89 when he died in October.
Campbell’s memorable songs like “Gentle on My Mind,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Southern Nights,” and “Rhinestone Cowboy” have endeared him to countless fans for almost half a century. A singer, songwriter, guitarist, and actor, whose likable presence had gentle and genteel charm, he won countless awards and has solidified his place in musical history for all time. Campbell was 81 when he died in August.
With a career spanning almost 70 years, there wasn’t much that Martin Landau couldn’t do. From an early appearance in the Hitchcock classic North by Northwest, to a regular starring role on TV’s original version of Mission: Impossible to high profile film roles in later in his career such as Francis Ford Coppola’s Tucker, Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, and his Oscar-winning performance as Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, Landau was a well-liked, respected, and beloved actor in the industry and in the public eye as well. He was 89 when he died in June.
One of the co-founders of AC/DC, which remains one of the greatest and most successful hard rock bands in music history, guitarist Malcolm Young, along with his brother Angus, sculpted rock riffs which were at first glance simplistic but ultimately, in its repetitive, throat choking, powerful glory, became some of the most bone crunching music ever made. It was that “just-the-riffs-ma’mm” attitude and seemingly musical ease that led the band to having sales of more than 200 million albums worldwide, with an endless, unstoppable stream of its presence still top shelf and still paramount to countless fans to this very day. The work of the Young brothers, and their singers, which have went from people like the late Bon Scott to Brian Johnson to Axl Rose, created a symbiosis and lightning in a bottle kind of style and energy that happens once in a lifetime. Young, who was one of the true pioneers of the band’s sound and direction, died at the age of 64 in November, and is still and will always be missed by legions upon legions of loyal AC/DC fans all over the globe.
We also remember the following who passed in 2017, for their contributions to the entertainment industry and to the arts:
Monty Hall: (Game Show Host, producer, creator of Let’s Make A Deal) Chuck Low: (Actor, Goodfellas, The Sopranos) Keely Smith: (Singer and ex-wife of band leader Louis Prima) Dick Enberg: (Legendary sports TV broadcaster and game show host) Powers Boothe: (Actor, Tombstone, Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones) Martin Eric Ain: (Bassist, co-founder of Celtic Frost) Chuck Mosley: (Singer, Faith No More) Stephen Furst: (Actor, National Lampoon’s Animal House, St. Elsewhere) Clyde Stubblefield: (Drummer for James Brown, “Funky Drummer”) Pat Dinizio: (Musician, guitarist, songwriter, leader of The Smithereens) Gerald B. Greenberg: (Film Editor, won Oscar for editing The French Connection) Dominic Frontiere: (Film and TV composer, The Outer Limits, The Fugitive, Hang Em High) Rose Marie: (Comedian and actress, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Hollywood Squares) Butch Trucks: (Musician, drummer of The Allman Brothers Band) Richard Anderson: (Actor, The Six Million Dollar Man) Michael Parks: (Actor, Kill Bill, Red State) Bernie Wrightson: (Comics creator, artist, Swamp Thing; Frankenstein Alive, Alive!) William Peter Blatty: (Author, screenwriter, The Exorcist) Eugene Cernan: (American astronaut) Miguel Ferrer: (Actor, RoboCop, Iron Man 3) Mike Connors: (Actor, Mannix) Barbara Hale: (Actress, Perry Mason) Geoff Nicholls: (Musician, keyboardist for Black Sabbath) Al Jarreau: (Musician, singer) Robert James Waller: (Author, The Bridges of Madison County) Allan Holdsworth: (Musician, guitarist, composer) Clifton James: (Actor, Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun) Glenne Headly: (Actress, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Dick Tracy) Anita Pallenberg (Actress, style icon, former partner of Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones) John G. Avildsen: (Film director; won the Academy Award for Rocky) Prodigy: (Rapper, actor, author; half of duo Mobb Deep) Michael Bond: (Author, Paddington Bear books) Michael Nyqvist: (Actor, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol; John Wick Gord Downie: (Musician, frontman for The Tragically Hip) Grant Hart: (Drummer, Husker Du) Nelsan Ellis : (Actor, played Lafayette on True Blood) Chester Bennington: (Musician, frontman for Linkin Park) Sam Shepard: (Actor, The Right Stuff) Bruce Forsyth: (British actor, game show host The Price Is Right) Brian Aldiss: (Science fiction author, “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long,” basis for the Steven Spielberg film A.I. Artificial Intelligence) Sib Hashian: (Drummer, Boston) Jay Thomas: (Actor, Murphy Brown, Mr. Holland’s Opus) Len Wein: (Comic book creator and writer, Swamp Thing, X-Men Jake LaMotta: (American boxer, subject of Raging Bull) Barry Dennen: (Actor, singer, played Pontius Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar) Daisy Berkowitz: (Lead guitarist and co-founder of Marilyn Manson) George Young: (Musician, producer of AC/DC, brother of Angus & Malcolm Young) Karin Dor: (German actress, Bond girl, You Only Live Twice, Topaz) John Hillerman: (Actor, Magnum, P.I., The Betty White Show, The Hogan Family) Charles Manson: (Infamous figure, cult leader, musician; mastermind of Mansion Family Murders) Della Reese: (Actress, singer, Harlem Nights, Touched by an Angel) Rance Howard: (Actor, Gentle Ben, Nebraska; father of Ron Howard & Clint Howard) Dave Hlubek: (Guitarist, Molly Hatchet) Warrel Dane: (singer of Sanctuary and Nevermore) Jim Nabors: (Actor, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C..) Sue Grafton: (Author, best known for “alphabet series” detective novels, “A” Is for Alibi) J. Geils: (Guitarist, founder of the J. Geils Band) Trish Doan: (Musician, bassist of Kittie) Joey Alves: (Musician, former guitarist of Y&T) Paul O’Neill: (Musician, guitarist and founder of Trans-Siberian Orchestra) Jeff Decker: (Musician, former guitarist of Thor) David Zablidowsky: (Bassist, Adrenaline Mob and Trans-Siberian Orchestra) Jane Train: (Musician, singer of M80; tour manager of Adrenaline Mob) Eric Eycke: (Singer, Corrosion Of Conformity) Mario Maglieri: (Owner of The Rainbow Bar, the Whisky-a-Go-Go, and The Roxy. Bill Tolley: (Drummer, Internal Bleeding) Keni Richards: (Drummer, Autograph)