I’m stepping back into the ever moving vortex of “time.” It’s only August, but this year we’ve already lost too many icons of our generation. Here’s a brief recap of just a few of the greats of “our time” that may have slipped under your radar.
When it comes to Hollywood, I can only say that they sure “don’t make ‘em like they used to.” We will all miss:
Tab Hunter, 1950’s heartthrob: In July Tab passed away from cardiac arrest at the age 86. He was charming, handsome and every school girl’s dreamboat. He was a true 50’s teen idol, actor and like so many other teen idols – singer! He gave Elvis a run for his money on the charts in 1957 when he recorded Young Love on Dot Records. In 1955 he starred in the World War II movie Battle Cry. He even had a short lived TV show on NBC, the Tab Hunter Show. Some of his other films: Island of Desire (’52), Gunman’s Walk (’58), That Kind of Woman (’59) and Grease 2 (’82). John Waters cast him alongside drag star Divine in Polyester(’81) and later on starred again with Divine in Lust in the Dust (’85).
Bradford Dillman: Passed away in January from pneumonia complications at age 87. Strikingly handsome, he was a star of stage, screen and Broadway. Dillman got his acting break in 1956 when he was chosen for the role of a tortured playwright in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Some of his other films showing off his acting versatility: Compulsion (’59), Escape From the Planet of the Apes (’71) and The Way We Were (’73). He played a police captain in Sudden Impact (Dirty Harry sequel in ’83), portrayed Francis of Assisi (’61), played John Wilkes Booth in The Lincoln Conspiracy (’77)– and of course, we can’t forget his scary 1976 classics like the killer bee flick The Swarm and killer fish Piranha.
Nanette Fabray: She was a child performer in vaudeville and in Hollywood films in her teens. She became a Broadway actress and singer. In the 50’s she received 3 Emmy Awards as Sid Caesar’s comic partner on TV. Her happy-go-lucky manner and sunny disposition landed her roles in 1940’s musicals including: High Button Shoes, Love Life, Arms and the Girl, and Make a Wish. In 1953 she starred in Band Wagon along with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. She frequently appeared on TV variety shows and guest shots on shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, One Day at a Time and Coach, where she played the mother of Shelley Fabares, her niece in real life. She left us at ’97 years of age.
John Mahoney, aka, Martin Crane: Anyone who’s a fan of Frasier, can’t help but love and remember British-born John Mahoney. The show just wouldn’t have been the same without Frasier’s cantankerous father, Martin Crane. He didn’t get his start in acting until he was 37. In 1986 he won a Tony Award for his Broadway performance in John Guare’s The House of Blue Leaves (he played a zookeeper with show biz dreams). He later landed a role on Cheers that included cast member Kelsey Grammer. When Frasier was spun off as its own show, Grammer asked Mahoney to take the part of his father. Mahoney played it to the hilt as a widowed police officer who “took one” in the hip. After Frasier, he had roles on Hot in Cleveland and played Betty White’s love interest in the HBO drama In Treatment. He left us too early at age 77 – thanks for the laughs John – you were the best!
The World of Music took some heavy losses this year, but some of these subtle passings deserve a second look:
Hugh Masekela: South African anti-apartheid activist, singer and trumpeter. Hugh mixed American jazz with African folk. He passed away in Johannesburg at age 78 in January. He had been a virtuosic jazz musician in South Africa and in 1960, landed in New York. He was known for his anti-apartheid songs such as Soweto Blues and Bring Him Back. He was a friend of Jimi Hendrix and played trumpet on some of the songs by The Byrds. In ’67 he performed at the Monterey Pop Festival. In 1968 he won a Grammy for his song Grazing in the Grass from the album: The Promised of a Future Home.
Ray Thomas, co-founder of The Moody Blues: The group was established in 1964 in Birmingham, England. This British flutist and singer-songwriter, along with his band members, blended a mix of synthesizers, guitars and classical orchestral arrangements. They became known as progressive rock pioneers in the late 1960’s. Who can forget their 1967 album, Days of Future Passed with the haunting hit single Nights in White Satin. In January he passed away at age 76 in Surrey, south of London. Sadly, he missed being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with his bandmates in April.
Eddy Clearwater, Chicago Bluesman: Mississippi-born singer/guitarist had a seven decade career. He was noted for his showmanship, often sporting wide brimmed Stetson hats and large American Indian headdresses. Clearwater also had a soft spot for the American Indians and actually was part Cherokee (his grandmother being a full-blooded Cherokee). Though well-renowned as a bluesman, his music also embraced gospel, soul and rock and roll. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2016. In 1958 he recorded his first single, Hillbilly Blues, however, his label dubbed him Clear Waters (a play on the name Muddy Waters). His first full length album was The Chief (’80). He succumbed to health issues at age 83.
Yvonne Staples, gospel singer: Who couldn’t help but snap their fingers and start moving and groovin’ to the powerful soul songs of the Staple Singers? Riding high during the 70’s music era, this family soul group hit the charts hard with songs like I’ll Take You There (their first #1 hit) and Respect Yourself. Yvonne performed with her sisters Mavis and Cleotha along with their father, Roebuck “Pops” Staples. She was never interested in the limelight, but originally stepped into their singing group when her brother, Pervis, left for military service in 1971. In 1999 she and her family were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2005 received a lifetime achievement award from the Grammys. She left us at age 80.
OTHER LOSSES THIS YEAR INCLUDE:
Verne Troyer, actor played Mini-Me in Austin Power’s films: How sad that he checked out at the young age of 49. He played the pint size version of Mike Myer’s Dr. Evil in two of the Austin Powers movies: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999) and Goldmember (2002). He was born on New Year’s day in 1969 in Sturgis, Michigan. He also appeared in dozens of movies and TV series including Boston Public, Jack of All Trades, Men in Black, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and several reality TV shows such as: Celebrity Wife Swap.
Mort Walker, creator of Beetle Bailey: Growing up, the Funnies in the newspaper was the first section I’d flip to. Always guaranteed to be there along with Brenda Starr, Reporter and Blondie, was goofy guy Beetle Bailey who always managed to get into trouble and stir up a commotion at Camp Swampy. He was a constant thorn in Sgt. Snorkel’s thigh. Beetle Bailey debuted in 1950 and appeared in comic books, games, TV cartoons, toys, etc. and even landed on a postage stamp in 2010! Multi-talented Walker didn’t stop with Beetle Bailey. In 1954, he wrote another winning comic strip, Hi and Lois (illustrated by Dik Browne). He began his career at age 18 as a card designer and then became chief editorial designer at Hall Brothers (later known as Hallmark Cards).