Facebook was abuzz yesterday with the news of the death of singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse at the age of 27…and at the risk of being thought a terrible person, I’m not entirely sure I understand why this came as a surprise to so many people. Winehouse was certainly a major musical talent (though I will admit I wasn’t much of a fan) but her substance abuse problems and struggles with other inner demons dictated that what remaining time she was going to spend on this planet was borrowed at best. (Her passing did make me stop and consider that my long-held theory Winehouse was just a fictional creation of comedienne Sarah Silverman may have been ill-conceived.) Amy Winehouse—described by one of my Facebook friends as “the Janis Joplin of my generation”—was found dead at her London home on July 22.
Actor Tom Aldredge also had his final curtain call on July 22; a distinguished stage thesp who appeared in productions of Into the Woods, On Golden Pond, and The Little Foxes and was five times nominated for a Tony Award, Aldredge is probably familiar to non-theatre attendees for his roles on TV’s The Sopranos (as Hugh DeAngelis) and Damages (as Uncle Pete). His film resume includes appearances in the likes of The Mouse on the Moon, The Rain People (he’s the owner of the drive-in theater; which was filmed at an actual drive-in in Clarksburg, WV), Sticks and Bones, Full Moon High, Seize the Day, *batteries not included, What About Bob?, Message in a Bottle, and Cold Mountain. Aldredge died from lymphoma at the age of 83 in Tampa, FL. (Edward Copeland has written a nice tribute to Tom at his blog that’s worth a look-see.)
You’ve no doubt listened from time to time to some of the classic oldies hits from the R&B group the Coasters—like Young Blood and Searchin’—and if you were curious as to who the individual was performing those kickin’ sax solos…well, it was none other than tenor saxophone great Gil Bernal, who has played his final gig July 17th at the age of 92. Gil started his professional career in 1950 in Lionel Hampton’s band, and later achieved fame for providing licks to such hits as Smokey Joe’s Café, Yakety Yak, and Duane Eddy’s Rebel Rouser. He’d go on to work with such legends as Ray Charles, Spike Jones, and Quincy Jones— as a matter of fact; Bernal’s sax can be heard on the soundtracks to both In the Heat of the Night and In Cold Blood. (Jones had played with Bernal previously in Hampton’s musical aggregation.)
We also bid a fond farewell to the man responsible for assigning the name of “Barbie” to the best-selling toy (and also the inventor of my nephew Davis’ favorite toy diversion, the Hot Wheels cars); Elliot Handler, a co-founder of the Mattel Corporation (he’s the “el”), was inspired to use the name of his daughter Barbara for the doll that was introduced in 1959 courtesy of his wife Ruth. Handler died of heart failure on July 21 at the age of 95. And the individual who designed the eye-poppingly garish horizontal wheel for the game show Wheel of Fortune has had his last spin at the age of 79—art director Ed Flesh, whose resume included a glut of game shows (Press Your Luck, The $25,000 Pyramid, etc.) and talk fests hosted by Oprah Winfrey and her first husband, David Letterman*, passed away from congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease on July 15.
Other notables who have since left this world for a better one:
Michael Latimer (June 25, 69) – British stage, screen and TV actor whose oeuvre includes A Man for All Seasons and the series Van der Valk and This Year Next Year (the author of his obit in The Telegraph online notes that he also “suffered for his art” in 1967’s Prehistoric Women)
Marion Konyot (June 26, 86) – Veteran British dancer-performer who was one of the last stars of vaudeville and that glorious era of variety
Marketa Kimbrell (July 6, 82) – Actress and acting teacher best known for her role as the widow that Rod Steiger romances in the 1965 film The Pawnbroker; later co-founded a theatre company that brought stage productions to disparate communities as prison inmates, coal towns, migrant camps, etc.
Bob Fraser (July 12, age unspecified) – Actor-writer-producer best known for creating the TV sitcom Marblehead Manor (a show on which he also starred) and for his work as a show runner on TV’s Benson (he appeared on this series on occasion as well, playing Senator Tyler)
Donald Grody (July 13, 83) – Actor-playwright-activist who was the executive director of Actors’ Equity from 1973-80; did a smidgen of movie and TV work including films like Heart of Spider and Last Call
Eric Delaney (July 14, 87) – British musician-drummer who pioneered the technique of playing timpani with wire brushes
Antonio Prieto (July 14, 85) – Italian actor-singer who’s perhaps best known as one of the bad guys (Don Miguel Rojo) in the spaghetti western classic A Fistful of Dollars
Helen Beverley (July 15, 94) – Yiddish theatre actress who appeared in such films as Green Fields and The Light Ahead; was married at one time to actor Lee J. Cobb
Frankie Daye (July 15, 77) – One-time MGM child actress in the 1930s; later appeared in such movies as The Gang’s All Here (at 20th Century-Fox)
Jim Kincaid (July 17, 76) – Longtime news anchor for Hampton Roads, VA station WVEC who once worked as an ABC News correspondent in the 1970s
Alex Steinwess (July 17, 94) – Graphic designer and art director who invented the first packaging for “LPs” and created custom artwork for some of the earlier album covers
Joe Lee Wilson (July 17, 75) – Jazz vocalist who performed with such notables as Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Archie Shepp, and Freddie Hubbard
Sidney Cooper (July 18, 92) – Composer-arranger who was a member of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show band; also worked on TV shows headlined by Eddie Fisher and Steve Allen and appeared in such Woody Allen films as Bullets Over Broadway and Everybody Says I Love You
Bernard Gavzer (July 18, 90) – Emmy Award-winning television producer, Associated Press reporter and Parade columnist
Lil Greenwood (July 19, 88) – Mobile, AL jazz vocalist who performed with Duke Ellington’s band and also made appearances on such TV shows as Jazz Party and Good Times
Allison Harte (July 21, 58) – Pioneering Grand Rapids, MI female DJ who died tragically in a swimming accident
Elwy Yost (July 21, 86) – Veteran Canadian TV host whose film buff tastes were regularly displayed on such programs as Saturday Night at the Movies and Magic Shadows
Linda Christian (July 22, 87) – Film and TV actress whose film appearances include Green Dolphin Street, Tarzan and the Mermaids, The Happy Time, and The V.I.P.’s…but is probably best remembered as the first “Bond Girl,” having appeared in the original TV production of “Casino Royale” on Climax!
*His joke…not mine.