In Memoriam 2015: Film, Television, Sports, Literature, the Arts…
Another year has come to an end. 2015 was full of life in so many vivid ways: creatively, intensely, and tragically, but also wonderfully presenting its own set of challenges and obstacles to overcome in the new year. And as a year also brings, we also lost many shining figures in the entertainment world among other fields.
Here’s a rundown of some of those figures who touched our lives and will continue to touch our lives always as we remember some of the key people in Television and Film, in front of the camera and behind the scenes, people who are legends, pioneers, luminaries, inspirations, and above all, timeless.
Nimoy, best known to audiences till the end of time as Spock on Star Trek, had plenty more up his sleeve as an actor on television, giving surefooted and intense performances on programs such as Mission: Impossible (in which he was a regular near the end of the show’s run) and Columbo (as a deliciously evil and coldblooded surgeon), not to mention his informative “expose and try to confirm the urban legends” dealing with the supernatural, conspiracy theories and the like, week after week on In Search Of. But Nimoy was much more than that, he was an extremely likable, affable and good natured soul who seemed to the nicest and coolest guy on the block. He was loved by everyone, even those who didn’t have much an affinity for science-fiction or Star Trek. Nimoy was 83 when he died on February 27th
Hansen was best known to cinematic horror audiences as “Leatherface,” the sadistic and chilling predator in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, who wielded the vicious chainsaw and sliced his way into terror infamy. Hansen, who hailed from Iceland, also scoped out a career in almost 40 films, all mired in the horror spectrum. He remains, like Jason from the Friday the 13th franchise or Michael Myers from Halloween, an absolute staple and icon of the genre.
Best remembered for two roles, which were essentially the only roles of his career, Murray the Cop on the sitcom version of The Odd Couple and as Al who owned the eatery Big Al’s on TV’s long running sitcom Happy Days, Al Molinaro started his career in show business when he was past his forties and was able to solidify his place in the medium’s history. With a kind of aw-shucks sweet demeanor and a puppy dog kind of face which exuded a charm that borderlined on a congenial family member like a popular uncle or matriarch, Molinaro seemed to be on screen exactly what he might have been off-screen, and that actually parlayed itself as a strength for his talents. Molinaro was 96 years old when he died from complications of a gallstone on October 31st.
Wes Craven, the master of the film macabre with films such as the popular 80s Nightmare on Elm Street series, which showcased the equally popular legendary figure of horror Freddy Krueger, had already set his bloody mark in filmdom’s stone with hair-standing-on-end pictures such as The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes years before he found a new generation of audiences with the Nightmare on Elm Street scarefests. Craven left a legacy on the silver screen that will not be soon forgotten, and destined to be resurrected every Halloween in perpetuity. Craven died of brain cancer on August 30th, at the age of 76.
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper
Piper, one of the true superstars of Wrestling and an integral figure during the heyday of the WWF in popular culture, was able to sort of switch on a nice guy/tough guy personality, seemingly at will. Dressed in a kilt for the most part during wrestling appearances and parlaying a bombastic, say-what’s-on-your mind swagger, Piper is also remembered for playing the lead part in the classic John Carpenter sci-fi yarn They Live. Piper died in his sleep from Cardiac Arrest at the age of 61 on July 31st.
Composing the scores for some of Hollywood’s most biggest films like Titanic, Braveheart, Cocoon and Apollo 13, Horner made a career and lent a strong presence and shades of musical light and dark to the productions he worked on. Spanning genres and styles, the Oscar winning Horner is mostly remembered for the high profile work he did with James Cameron. He died in a plane crash at the age of 61 on June 23rd.
Dick Van Patten
Patten, who made a career of playing everyman and supporting character figures, is best remembered for playing the sensible and fair dad on the ABC sitcom Eight is Enough, during the mid to late 1970s. Patten was also in many Mel Brooks productions, usually playing offbeat characters. Also an activist for animal rights, Patten was 86 when he died from complications of diabetes on June 23rd.
Sir Christopher Lee
Enjoying a career that lasted almost 70 years, Christopher Lee is most known to contemporary audiences from his appearances as Saurman in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings series and known to older audiences for his performances in the eerie The Wicker Man and the James Bond classic The Man With The Golden Gun. Lee had an elegance about him, a cinematic erudite manner which put him on par with the likes of contemporaries and peers like Peter Cushing and Sir Ian Mckellen and to a lesser extent, a Ben Kingsley. Lee was 93 when he died of respiratory failure and heart problems on June 11th, at the age of 93. (See our feature, Christopher Lee: Remembering A Legend.)
The mother of Ben Stiller and the wife of Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara honed her comedic talents in a comedy duo with her husband that lasted decades, and created a comic persona which embodied a kind of sassy toughness and spunk which was quintessentially mid 20th Century New York City, replete with stereotypical accent and take-no-prisoners brashness. She appeared on dozens of game and variety shows starting in the late 1960s and even showcased a flair for the dramatic with her turn as an alcoholic waitress on the All in the Family spinoff Archie Bunker’s Place in the late 1970s. Meara was 85 when she passed away on May 24th.
Gene Gene The Dancing Machine
Gene Gene, who was a stagehand on the 70s smash hit TV program The Gong Show, was once brought out on stage by the show’s creator/host Chuck Barris as a fun whim, which later turned into a sensation of the most bizarre order. “The Dancing Machine,” whose act simply consisted of sashaying a one-two step number to a jazzy big band number (Count Basie’s “Jumpin’ At The Woodside”) while off camera stagehands threw huge foam props of mannequin arms and legs, became a staple of the show, and almost as popular as the show itself. A zeitgeist within a zeitgeist, Gene Gene The Dancing Machine, (born Gene Patton) died at the age of 82 on March 15th.
Bennett was at the helm of many of the mid 1970s fantasy programs such as The Six Million Dollar Man and its spinoff, The Bionic Woman. He also produced some of more successful Star Trek film releases such as the second installment The Wrath of Khan and the third, The Search for Spock. He also dabbled in more dramatic fare, such as producing The Mod Squad and the miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man. Bennett was 84 when he died on March 6th
With his nonsensical no-nonsense delivery and instantly recognizable voice, which remained urgent and pseudo-proud, Gary Owens was a full-fledged announcer of the professional kind, yet seemingly one mired in parody as he may be most remembered as the announcer for Laugh-In, the stratospheric successful variety show during the late 1960s. On it, Owens would spout one liners and statements of the most bizarre and ludicrously funny variety, often straight-laced and straight-forward. Owens had a career that lasted decades, announcing hundreds of ads, commercials and the like. Other than arguably Don Pardo, Gary Owens was the epitome of what an announcer was, is and should always be. He died from complications of diabetes at the age of 80, on February 14th.
We also remember the following who passed in 2015, for their contributions to the entertainment industry and to the arts:
– Edward Herrmann (actor, Lost Boys, Gilmore Girls)
– Rick Ducommun (actor and Comedian)
– Betsy Palmer (actress, Friday the 13th)
– Grace Lee Whitney (actress, Star Trek)
– Sir Terry Pratchett (author)
– Seth Kushner (writer, photographer)
– Yvonne Craig (actress, Batman)
– Uggie (canine star of The Artist)
– Melissa Mathison (screenwriter, E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial)
– Yogi Berra (3-time MVP catcher, hall-of-fame baseball player with the New York Yankees)
– Omar Sharif (actor, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, Funny Girl, Top Secret)
– Fred Thompson (American politician; actor, Law & Order)
– Frank Gifford (New York Giants quarterback, Monday Night Football announcer)
– Maureen O’Hara (actress, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Parent Trap)
– Sawyer Sweeten (child actor, Geoffrey Barone on TV’s Everybody Loves Raymond)
– June Fairchild (actress, the “Ajax Lady” in Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke)
– Richard Bonehill (expert swordsman and horseman, played a stormtrooper, Rebel soldier, and many other characters in the Star Wars universe)
– Joe Franklin (Local New York City talk show stalwart and Hollywood collectables maven)
– Taylor Negron (character actor, Young Doctors in Love)
– Nigel Terry (King Arthur in Excalibur)
– Amanda Peterson (actress, Can’t Buy Me Love)
– David Canary (actor, All My Children)
– Robert Loggia (actor, Scarface, The Sopranos, Jagged Edge)
– Meadowlark Lemon (American Hall of Fame basketball player; Harlem Globetrotters)
– Bobbi Kristina Brown (daughter of Whitney Houston & Bobby Brown)
– Jackie Collins (New York Times bestselling author, Hollywood Wives; sister of actress Joan Collins)
– George Clayton Johnson (writer, Star Trek)
– E.L. Doctorow (author, Ragtime)
We’ll have a separate 2015 In Memoriam post for those in Music.