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Final goodbye: Recalling influential people who died in 2019

This year saw the deaths of people who shifted culture through prose, pragmatism and persistence

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Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., speaks Aug. 7 during a luncheon at the National Press Club in Washington. Cummings died from complications of longtime health challenges, his office said in a statement on Oct. 17. (Associated Press files)
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., speaks Aug. 7 during a luncheon at the National Press Club in Washington. Cummings died from complications of longtime health challenges, his office said in a statement on Oct. 17. (Associated Press files) Photo Gallery

A lauded writer who brought to light stories overshadowed by prejudice. An actress and singer who helped embody the manufactured innocence of the 1950s. A self-made billionaire who rose from a childhood of Depression-era poverty and twice ran for president.

This year saw the deaths of people who shifted culture through prose, pragmatism and persistence. It also witnessed tragedy, in talent struck down in its prime.

In 2019, the political world lost a giant in U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings. He was born the son of a sharecropper, became a lawyer, then an influential congressman and champion of civil rights.

Cummings, who died in October, was chairman of one of the U.S. House committees that led an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump and was a formidable advocate for the poor in his Maryland district.

Another influential political figure, U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, died in July. Stevens was appointed to the high court as a Republican but became the leader of its liberal wing and a proponent of abortion rights and consumer protections.

Wealth, fame and a confident prescription for the nation’s economic ills propelled H. Ross Perot’s 1992 campaign against President George H.W. Bush and Democratic challenger Bill Clinton. He recorded the highest percentage for an independent or third-party candidate since 1912. He died in July.

The death of Toni Morrison in August left a chasm in the publishing world, where she was a “literary mother” to countless writers. She helped elevate multiculturalism to the world stage and unearthed the lives of the unknown and unwanted. She became the first black woman to receive the Nobel literature prize and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

Among those in the scientific world who died in 2019 was Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, the first person to walk in space. Leonov died in October. Others include scientist Wallace Smith Broecker, who died in February and popularized the term “global warming” as he raised early alarms about climate change.

In April, Hollywood lost director John Singleton, whose 1991 film “Boyz N the Hood” was praised as a realistic and compassionate take on race, class, peer pressure and family. He became the first black director to receive an Oscar nomination and the youngest at 24.

Doris Day, a top box-office draw and recording artist who died in May, stood for the 1950s ideal of innocence and G-rated love, a parallel world to her contemporary Marilyn Monroe. She received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004.

The year also saw the untimely deaths of two young rappers, leaving a feeling of accomplishments unfulfilled. Grammy-nominated Nipsey Hussle was killed in a shooting in Los Angeles in March. Juice WRLD, who launched his career on SoundCloud before becoming a streaming juggernaut, died in December after being treated for opioid use during a police search.

Here is a roll call of some influential figures who died in 2019 (cause of death cited for younger people, if available):

JANUARY

Eugene “Mean Gene” Okerlund, 76. His deadpan interviews of pro wrestling superstars like “Macho Man” Randy Savage, the Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan made him a ringside fixture in his own right. Jan. 2.

Bob Einstein, 76. The veteran comedy writer and performer known for “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and his spoof daredevil character Super Dave Osborne. Jan. 2.

Daryl Dragon, 76. The cap-wearing “Captain” of Captain & Tennille who teamed with then-wife Toni Tennille on such easy listening hits as “Love Will Keep Us Together” and “Muskrat Love.” Jan. 2.

Carol Channing, 97. The ebullient musical comedy star who delighted American audiences in almost 5,000 performances as the scheming Dolly Levi in “Hello, Dolly!” on Broadway and beyond. Jan. 15.

Antonio Mendez, 78. A former CIA technical operations officer who helped rescue six U.S. diplomats from Iran in 1980 and was portrayed by Ben Affleck in the film “Argo.” Jan. 19.

Russell Baker, 93. The genial but sharp-witted writer who won Pulitzer Prizes for his humorous columns in The New York Times and a moving autobiography of his impoverished Baltimore childhood. He later hosted television’s “Masterpiece Theatre” on PBS. Jan 21. Complications after a fall.

Michel Legrand, 86. An Oscar-winning composer and pianist whose hits included the score for the ’60s romance “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and the song “The Windmills of Your Mind” and who worked with some of biggest singers of the 20th century. Jan. 26.

James Ingram, 66. The Grammy-winning singer who launched multiple hits on the R&B and pop charts and earned two Oscar nominations for his songwriting. Jan. 29.

Harold Bradley, 93. A Country Music Hall of Fame guitarist who played on hundreds of hit country records and along with his brother, famed producer Owen Bradley, helped craft “The Nashville Sound.” Jan. 31.

FEBRUARY

Kristoff St. John, 52. An actor best known for playing Neil Winters on the CBS soap opera “The Young and the Restless.” Feb. 4. Heart disease.

Frank Robinson, 83. The Hall of Famer was the first black manager in Major League Baseball and the only player to win the MVP award in both leagues. Feb. 7.

John Dingell, 92. The former congressman was the longest-serving member of Congress in American history at 59 years and a master of legislative deal-making who was fiercely protective of Detroit’s auto industry. Feb. 7.

Albert Finney, 82. The British actor was the Academy Award-nominated star of films from “Tom Jones” to “Skyfall.” Feb. 8.

Jan-Michael Vincent, 73. The “Airwolf” television star whose sleek good looks belied a troubled personal life. Feb. 10.

Betty Ballantine, 99. She was half of a groundbreaking husband-and-wife publishing team that helped invent the modern paperback and vastly expand the market for science fiction and other genres through such blockbusters as “The Hobbit” and “Fahrenheit 451.” Feb. 12.

Lyndon LaRouche Jr., 96. The political extremist who ran for president in every election from 1976 to 2004, including a campaign waged from federal prison. Feb. 12.

Andrea Levy, 62. A prize-winning novelist who chronicled the hopes and horrors experienced by the post-World War II generation of Jamaican immigrants in Britain. Feb. 14.

Wallace Smith Broecker, 87. A scientist who raised early alarms about climate change and popularized the term “global warming.” Feb. 18.

Karl Lagerfeld, 85. Chanel’s iconic couturier whose accomplished designs and trademark white ponytail, high starched collars and dark enigmatic glasses dominated high fashion for the past 50 years. Feb. 19.

David Horowitz, 81. His “Fight Back!” syndicated program made him perhaps the best-known consumer reporter in the U.S. Feb. 21.

Peter Tork, 77. A talented singer-songwriter and instrumentalist whose musical skills were often overshadowed by his role as the goofy, lovable bass guitarist in the made-for-television rock band The Monkees. Feb. 21.

Stanley Donen, 94. A giant of the Hollywood musical who, through such classics as “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Funny Face,” helped provide some of the most joyous sounds and images in movie history. Feb. 21.

Katherine Helmond, 89. An Emmy-nominated and Golden Globe-winning actress who played two very different matriarchs on the ABC sitcoms “Who’s the Boss?” and “Soap.” Feb. 23.

Andre Previn, 89. The pianist, composer and conductor whose broad reach took in the worlds of Hollywood, jazz and classical music. Feb. 28.

MARCH

Luke Perry, 52. He gained instant heartthrob status as wealthy rebel Dylan McKay on “Beverly Hills, 90210.” March 4. Stroke.

Ralph Hall, 95. The former Texas congressman was the oldest-ever member of the U.S. House and a man who claimed to have once sold cigarettes and Coca-Cola to the bank-robbing duo of Bonnie and Clyde in Dallas. March 7.

Birch Bayh, 91. A former U.S. senator who championed the federal law banning discrimination against women in college admissions and sports. March 14.

Dick Dale, 83. His pounding, blaringly loud power-chord instrumentals on songs like “Miserlou” and “Let’s Go Trippin’ ” earned him the title King of the Surf Guitar. March 16.

Valery Bykovsky, 84. A pioneering Soviet-era cosmonaut who made the first of his three flights to space in 1963. March 27.

Ken Gibson, 86. He became the first black mayor of a major Northeast city when he ascended to power in riot-torn Newark, N.J., about five decades ago. March 29.

Nipsey Hussle, 33. A Grammy-nominated rapper. March 31. Killed in a shooting.

APRIL

Sydney Brenner, 92. A Nobel Prize-winning biologist who helped decipher the genetic code and whose research on a roundworm sparked a new field of human disease research. April 5.

Ernest F. “Fritz” Hollings, 97. The silver-haired Democrat who helped shepherd South Carolina through desegregation as governor and went on to serve six terms in the U.S. Senate. April 6.

Richard “Dick” Cole, 103. The last of the 80 Doolittle Tokyo Raiders who carried out the daring U.S. attack on Japan during World War II. April 9.

Georgia Engel, 70. She played the charmingly innocent, small-voiced Georgette on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and amassed a string of other TV and stage credits. April 12.

Alan Garcia, 69. A former Peruvian president whose first term in the 1980s was marred by financial chaos and rebel violence and who was recently targeted in Latin America’s biggest corruption scandal. April 17. Apparent suicide.

Mark Medoff, 79. A provocative playwright whose “Children of a Lesser God” won Tony and Olivier awards and whose screen adaptation of his play earned an Oscar nomination. April 23.

John Havlicek, 79. The Boston Celtics great whose steal of Hal Greer’s inbounds pass in the final seconds of the 1965 Eastern Conference final against the Philadelphia 76ers remains one of the most famous plays in NBA history. April 25.

Richard Lugar, 87. A former U.S. senator and foreign policy sage known for leading efforts to help the former Soviet states dismantle and secure much of their nuclear arsenal but whose reputation for working with Democrats cost him his final campaign. April 28.

John Singleton, 51. A director who made one of Hollywood’s most memorable debuts with the Oscar-nominated “Boyz N the Hood” and continued over the following decades to probe the lives of black communities in his native Los Angeles and beyond. April 29. Taken off life support after a stroke.

Ellen Tauscher, 67. A trailblazer for women in the world of finance who served in Congress for more than a decade before joining the Obama administration. April 29. Complications from pneumonia.

Peter Mayhew, 74. The towering actor who donned a huge, furry costume to give life to the rugged-and-beloved character of Chewbacca in the original “Star Wars” trilogy and two other films. April 30.

MAY

Peggy Lipton, 72. A star of the groundbreaking late 1960s TV show “The Mod Squad” and the 1990s show “Twin Peaks.” May 11. Cancer.

Leonard Bailey, 76. The doctor who in 1984 transplanted a baboon heart into a tiny newborn dubbed “Baby Fae” in a pioneering operation that sparked both worldwide acclaim and condemnation. May 12.

Doris Day, 97. The sunny blond actress and singer whose frothy comedic roles opposite the likes of Rock Hudson and Cary Grant made her one of Hollywood’s biggest stars in the 1950s and ’60s and a symbol of wholesome American womanhood. May 13.

Tim Conway, 85. The impish second banana to Carol Burnett who won four Emmy Awards on her TV variety show, starred in “McHale’s Navy” and later voiced the role of Barnacle Boy for “Spongebob Squarepants.” May 14.

I.M. Pei, 102. The versatile, globe-trotting architect who revived the Louvre with a giant glass pyramid and captured the spirit of rebellion at the multishaped Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. May 16.

Claus von Bulow, 92. A Danish-born socialite who was convicted but later acquitted of trying to kill his wealthy wife in two trials that drew intense international attention in the 1980s. May 25.

Bill Buckner, 69. A star hitter who made one of the biggest blunders in baseball history when he let Mookie Wilson’s trickler roll through his legs in the 1986 World Series. May 27.

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Thad Cochran, 81. A former U.S. senator who served 45 years in Washington and used seniority to steer billions of dollars to his home state of Mississippi. May 30.

Patricia Bath, 76. A pioneering ophthalmologist who became the first African American female doctor to receive a medical patent after she invented a more precise treatment of cataracts. May 30. Complications of cancer.

Leon Redbone, 69. The blues and jazz artist whose growly voice, Panama hat and cultivated air of mystery made him seem like a character out of the ragtime era or the Depression-era Mississippi Delta. May 30.

JUNE

Dr. John, 77. The New Orleans singer and piano player who blended black and white musical styles with a hoodoo-infused stage persona and gravelly bayou drawl. June 6.

Pat Bowlen, 75. The Denver Broncos owner who transformed the team from also-rans into NFL champions and helped the league usher in billion-dollar television deals. June 13.

Gloria Vanderbilt, 95. The intrepid heiress, artist and romantic who began her extraordinary life as the “poor little rich girl” of the Great Depression, survived family tragedy and multiple marriages and reigned during the 1970s and ’80s as a designer jeans pioneer. June 17.

Judith Krantz, 91. A writer whose million-selling novels such as “Scruples” and “Princess Daisy” engrossed readers worldwide with their steamy tales of the rich and beautiful. June 22.

JULY

Tyler Skaggs, 27. The left-handed pitcher who was a regular in the Los Angeles Angels’ starting rotation since late 2016 and struggled with injuries repeatedly in that time. July 1. Choked on his own vomit and had a toxic mix of alcohol and painkillers fentanyl and oxycodone in his system.

Lee Iacocca, 94. The auto executive and master pitchman who put the Mustang in Ford’s lineup in the 1960s and became a corporate folk hero when he resurrected Chrysler 20 years later. July 2.

H. Ross Perot, 89. The colorful, self-made Texas billionaire who rose from delivering newspapers as a boy to building his own information technology company and twice mounted outsider campaigns for president. July 9. Leukemia.

Rip Torn, 88. The free-spirited Texan who overcame his quirky name to become a distinguished actor in television, theater and movies, such as “Men in Black,” and win an Emmy in his 60s for “The Larry Sanders Show.” July 9.

John Paul Stevens, 99. The bow-tied, independent-thinking, Republican-nominated justice who unexpectedly emerged as the Supreme Court’s leading liberal. July 16.

Li Peng, 90. A former hard-line Chinese premier best known for announcing martial law during the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests that ended with a bloody crackdown by troops. July 22.

Art Neville, 81. A member of one of New Orleans’ storied musical families, the Neville Brothers, and a founding member of the groundbreaking funk band The Meters. July 22.

Chris Kraft, 95. The founder of NASA’s mission control. July 22.

Harold Prince, 91. A Broadway director and producer who pushed the boundaries of musical theater with such groundbreaking shows as “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Cabaret,” “Company” and “Sweeney Todd” and won a staggering 21 Tony Awards. July 31.

AUGUST

Toni Morrison, 88. A pioneer and reigning giant of modern literature whose imaginative power in “Beloved,” “Song of Solomon” and other works transformed American letters by dramatizing the pursuit of freedom within the boundaries of race. Aug. 5.

Peter Fonda, 79. The actor was the son of a Hollywood legend who became a movie star in his own right after both writing and starring in the counterculture classic “Easy Rider.” Aug. 16.

Jim Leavelle, 99. The longtime Dallas lawman who was captured in one of history’s most iconic photographs escorting President John F. Kennedy’s assassin as he was fatally shot. Aug. 29.

Valerie Harper, 80. She scored guffaws, stole hearts and busted TV taboos as the brash, self-deprecating Rhoda Morgenstern on back-to-back hit sitcoms in the 1970s. Aug. 30.

SEPTEMBER

Jimmy Johnson, 76. A founder of the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios and guitarist with the famed studio musicians The Swampers. Sept. 5.

T. Boone Pickens, 91. A brash and quotable oil tycoon who grew even wealthier through corporate takeover attempts. Sept. 11.

Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, 83. A former Indonesian president who allowed democratic reforms and an independence referendum for East Timor following the ouster of the dictator Suharto. Sept. 11.

Eddie Money, 70. The rock star known for such hits as “Two Tickets to Paradise” and “Take Me Home Tonight.” Sept. 13. Esophageal cancer.

Ric Ocasek, 75. The Cars frontman whose deadpan vocal delivery and lanky, sunglassed look defined a rock era with chart-topping hits like “Just What I Needed.” Sept. 15.

Cokie Roberts, 75. The daughter of politicians and a pioneering journalist who chronicled Washington from Jimmy Carter to Donald Trump for NPR and ABC News. Sept. 17. Complications from breast cancer.

Barron Hilton, 91. A hotel magnate who expanded his father’s chain and became a founding owner in the American Football League. Sept. 19.

Jacques Chirac, 86. A two-term French president who was the first leader to acknowledge France’s role in the Holocaust and defiantly opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Sept. 26.

OCTOBER

Diahann Carroll, 84. The Oscar-nominated actress and singer who won critical acclaim as the first black woman to star in a non-servant role in a TV series as “Julia.” Oct. 4. Cancer.

Ginger Baker, 80. The volatile and propulsive drummer for Cream and other bands who wielded blues power and jazz finesse and helped shatter boundaries of time, tempo and style in popular music. Oct. 6.

Rip Taylor, 88. The madcap, mustached comedian with a fondness for confetti-throwing who became a television game show mainstay in the 1970s. Oct. 6.

Robert Forster, 78. The handsome and omnipresent character actor who got a career resurgence and Oscar nomination for playing bail bondsman Max Cherry in “Jackie Brown.” Oct. 11. Brain cancer.

Alexei Leonov, 85. The legendary Soviet cosmonaut who became the first person to walk in space. Oct. 11.

Elijah E. Cummings, 68. A sharecropper’s son who rose to become a civil rights champion and the chairman of one of the U.S. House committees leading an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump. Oct. 17. Complications from longstanding health problems.

Bill Macy, 97. The character actor whose hangdog expression was a perfect match for his role as the long-suffering foil to Bea Arthur’s unyielding feminist on the daring 1970s sitcom “Maude.” Oct. 17.

John Conyers, 90. The former congressman was one of the longest-serving members of Congress whose resolutely liberal stance on civil rights made him a political institution in Washington and back home in Detroit despite several scandals. Oct. 27.

John Walker, 82. An Arkansas lawmaker and civil rights attorney who represented black students in a long-running court fight over the desegregation of Little Rock-area schools. Oct. 28.

NOVEMBER

Gert Boyle, 95. The colorful chairwoman of Oregon-based Columbia Sportswear Co. who starred in ads proclaiming her “One Tough Mother.” Nov. 3.

Charles Rogers, 38. The former Michigan State star and Detroit Lions receiver was an All-American wide receiver who was the school’s all-time leader in touchdown catches. Nov. 11.

Walter J. Minton, 96. A publishing scion and risk taker with a self-described “nasty streak” who as head of G.P. Putnam’s Sons released works by Norman Mailer and Terry Southern, among others, and signed up Vladimir Nabokov’s scandalous “Lolita.” Nov. 19.

Yasuhiro Nakasone, 101. The former Japanese prime minister was a giant of his country’s post-World War II politics who pushed for a more assertive Japan while strengthening military ties with the United States. Nov. 29.

DECEMBER

Juice WRLD, 21. A rapper who launched his career on SoundCloud before becoming a streaming juggernaut and rose to the top of the charts with the Sting-sampled hit “Lucid Dreams.” Dec. 8. Died after being treated for opioid use during a police search.

Rene Auberjonois, 79. A prolific actor best known for his roles on the television shows “Benson” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and his part in the 1970 film “M.A.S.H.” playing Father Mulcahy. Dec. 8.

Caroll Spinney, 85. He gave Big Bird his warmth and Oscar the Grouch his growl for nearly 50 years on “Sesame Street.” Dec. 8.

Paul Volcker, 92. The former Federal Reserve chairman who in the early 1980s raised interest rates to historic highs and triggered a recession as the price of quashing double-digit inflation. Dec. 8.

Marie Fredriksson, 61. The female half of the Swedish pop duo Roxette that achieve international success in the late 1980s and 1990s. Dec. 9.

Danny Aiello, 86. The blue-collar character actor whose long career playing tough guys included roles in “Fort Apache, the Bronx,” “Moonstruck” and “Once Upon a Time in America” and his Oscar-nominated performance as a pizza man in Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.” Dec. 12.

Lee Mendelson, 86. The producer who changed the face of the holidays when he brought “A Charlie Brown Christmas” to television in 1965 and wrote the lyrics to its signature song, “Christmas Time Is Here.” Dec. 25. Congestive heart failure.

Jerry Herman, 88. The Tony Award-winning composer who wrote the cheerful, good-natured music and lyrics for such classic shows as “Mame,” “Hello, Dolly!” and “La Cage aux Folles.” Dec. 26.

Don Imus, 79. The disc jockey whose career was made and then undone by his acid tongue during a decadeslong rise to radio stardom and abrupt plunge after a nationally broadcast racial slur. Dec. 27. Complications from lung disease.

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