As 2015 comes to a close, we take time to remember those we lost. There are those whose work made the world a better place, such as civil rights leader Julian Bond and Sir Nicholas George Winton, who rescued Jewish children from the Nazis. And there are those such as Leonard Nimoy, B.B. King, Yogi Berra, Maureen O'Hara, and gospel singer Andraé Crouch, just a few of the celebrities who entertained us and made us smile. We invite you to join us as we look back at these inspirational figures we lost in 2015.
Actress and comedienne Anne Meara brought joy to millions over the course of a career that spanned decades. She first achieved success as part of a comedy team with her husband of 61 years, Jerry Stiller, and she went on to great individual success in movies and on television.
Meara was born in Brooklyn, New York, and got her start with a comedy troupe called the Compass Players. After she teamed with Stiller, they became regulars on The Ed Sullivan Show, bringing them national acclaim.
With the decline of variety shows like the Sullivan program, Meara's career turned away from her work as one-half of a comedy duo and more toward comedic character work on sitcoms and in movies.
Meara worked as recently as 2014 and her husband remains active today. What's more, the family tradition established by Stiller and Meara is carried on by their son, actor and comedian Ben Stiller.
New York Yankees great and Baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra was an inspiring figure, beloved by fans of all ages (and of all teams). And he was clearly a positive thinker. After all, what could be more inspiring than his familiar quote, "It ain't over til it's over"?
A native of St. Louis, Illinois, Berra signed with the Yankees in 1943. After serving with the Navy in World War II, he made his major league debut in 1946, and was a key cog on the Yanks' championship teams of the 1940s and '50s. He appeared in 21 World Series as either a player, coach or manager and was on the winning side in 13 of them.
Berra was selected to 18 All-Star teams, and was named American League MVP three times. The Yankees retired Berra's uniform number 8 in 1972 and honored him with a plaque in Yankee Stadium's Monument Park in 1988.
Actress Maureen O'Hara, perhaps best known for her role opposite John Wayne in The Quiet Man, brought joy to millions in a career that spanned 60-plus years. Born and raised in the Dublin suburb of Ranelagh, she began her acting career at age 14 at the Abbey Theatre. In 1939, she made her movie debut in Alfred Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn. She moved to Hollywood that same year, starring opposite Charles Laughton in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and she quickly became a favorite of movie audiences everywhere.
O'Hara remained active—and feisty—till the end. As recently as 2014, she was interviewed by Robert Osborne in front of a packed house during the TCM Film Festival in Los Angeles.
Frank Gifford was an NFL Hall of Famer and an accomplished sports commentator. He was awarded the NFL's Most Valuable Player Award in 1956 and was named to eight Pro Bowls. As a sports commentator, Gifford was known for his work on Monday Night Football, Wide World of Sports and in ABC's coverage of the Olympics.
Actress Jayne Meadows enjoyed a prolific career in films and on television that spanned more than half a century, and her marriage to multi-talented comedian Steve Allen was in its 47th year when he passed away in 2000.
Meadows was born in China to American missionairies. Her career began on Broadway in 1941, and her success quickly led to a contract with MGM. Her early roles tended to be manipulative and conniving "other women" characters in B pictures. Television came calling in the 1950s, and it was there that Meadows really blossomed. Her warm, outgoing personality made her a popular guest star on variety programs and game shows.
Meadows married Allen in 1954, and their lives and careers were intertwined from the moment forward; they were creative partners for the next 46 years.
Social activist and civil rights leader Julian Bond was an accomplished politician, professor, and writer.
Bond served four teams in the Georgia House of representatives and six terms in the Georgia State Senate, and from 1998 to 2010, he served as chairman of the NAACP. Bond was also the first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center and was on the faculty of several prominent universities, including American, Drexel, and Harvard.
In 2002, Bond was named recipient of the National Freedom Award, from the National Civil Rights Museum.
Dick Van Patten began as a child actor on radio, appeared in 27 Broadway shows, was featured in a number of Mel Brooks' comedies and enjoyed a long, successful career on television, most notably as Tom Bradford on Eight Is Enough.
Van Patten, who went on to found the Natural Balance line of pet foods, once said of the animals he loved so much, "The only honest reaction and true loyalty we get is from our animals. Once they're your friends, you can do no wrong."
Sir Nicholas George Winton, known in some circles as the "British Schindler," organized the 1945 rescue of 669 children from the Nazis on the eve of World War II.
Headquartered in Prague, Winton's organization helped children from Jewish families escape from Czechoslovakia. Winton found homes in Britain for the children, many of whom would lose their parents to the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Winton was knighted in 2003 for his role in organizing the Czech Kindertransport, as the campaign was known. In 2010, he was named a British Hero of the Holocaust by the British Government.
Winton was honored by the Czech government in a number of ways. He was awarded the Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, Fourth Class, by President Václav Havel, he was awarded the Cross of Merit of the Minister of Defence, Grade I, and the Czech government nominated him for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize.
Lauren Hill was a freshman student-athlete at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinatti who was afflicted with terminal brain cancer.
Hill inspired millions across the country and around the world by not letting the cancer prevent her from achieving her dream of playing basketball at the collegiate level. With her condition worsening, the NCAA agreed to allow Mount St. Joseph to play Hiram College two weeks prior to the originally scheduled game date so Hill could participate.
The game sparked such interest that it was moved from Mount St. Joseph's Harrington Center to the 10,250-seat Cintas Center on the campus of Xavier University. Hill saw action in that and three other games, scoring ten points on five layups. Thereafter she was honorary assistant coach of the team.
Hill, an activist for cancer research, raised $1 million with a Cincinnati telethon for The Cure Starts Now Foundation.
Hill, who received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree from Mount St. Joseph, was named to the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference all-conference first team "in recognition of her courage and outstanding leadership." Her picture appeared on a Wheaties cereal box, and she was also awarded the Pat Summitt Courage Award, just ten days before she passed away on April 15, 2015.
Lillian Vernon was a German-born entrepreneur who built her a mail-order catalog empire from modest beginnings.
Born Lilly Menasche in Leipzig, Germany, Vernon and her family fled Nazi Germany in 1933 first for Amsterdam and then, in 1937, New York City.
Vernon began her business in 1951 as a young bride in Mt. Vernon, New York. She designed a matching handbag and belt that were personalized with the buyer's intials, and launched the enterprise with $2,000 she and her husband had received as wedding gifts.
In 1954, she created her first catalog, an eight-page mailer, and began to broaden the variety of products she offered to her customers. In 1992, she told Forbes magazine, "I wouldn't sell anything I wouldn't use myself."
Vernon's son David Hochberg has said that, among the famous names on Vernon's client list, were Nancy Reagan, Betty White, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gregory Peck and Hillary Clinton.
Blue guitarist Riley B. "B.B." King was born on a cotton plantation called Berclair, near the town of Itta Bena, Mississippi, though he considered the neighboring town of Indianola home.
King was among the best-known blue musicians of all time, performing more than 200 concerts a year into his 70s. In 1956, he performed 342 shows.
King's roots were in gospel music. As a boy, he received his initial training on the guitar from his pastor and he frequently acknowledged that he learned the power of music at church.
King, who placed sixth on Rolling Stone magazine's 2011 list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
Actor Dean Jones is best remembered for starring in such Disney favorites as The Love Bug and That Darn Cat! but his career, which spanned more than forty years, was a rich and varied one. He was also active in the legitimate theatre, starring in 1970 in the original Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim's Company, and touring for years in a one-man show entitled Saint John in Exile.
In 1995, Jones, who appeared in 10 Disney pictures, was inducted into the Disney Legends Hall of Fame.
Andraé Crouch was an influential gospel singer, songwriter, arranger and producer known to many as "the father of modern gospel music." Crouch incorporated many elements of popular music into his gospel music, energizing and enlivening that musical genre.
Crouch, who contributed musical arrangements to films such as The Color Purple and The Lion King, won seven Grammy Awards, was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1998, and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2004.
Neurologist Oliver Sacks devoted his life to the study of the human brain, and he gained renown as an author by writing best-selling accounts of his patients' disorders, including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.
The New York Times called Sacks a "poet laureate of contemporary medicine" and "one of the great clinical writers of the twentieth century."
Awakenings, Sacks' memoir of his work with patients battling encephalitis lethargica, was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro.
In 1988, Sacks was awarded the CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for "services to literature."
Paul Prudhomme was a celebrity chef who specialized in Creole and Cajun cuisine. Though a priest gave Prudhomme the name Paul on his birth certificate (he felt the child should have the name of a saint), in his youth, he was known as Gene Autry Prudhomme.
Raised on a farm near Opelousas, Louisiana, Prudhomme opened his first restaurant, a hamburger joint named Big Daddy O's Patio, in 1957; the venture was short-lived. In the ensuing years, Prudhomme worked at a variety of chef positions around the country, but it was in 1975, when he became the executive chef at Commander's Palace in New Orleans, that Prudhomme really made his mark. The restaurant, which had been struggling, became a destination eatery and Prudhomme was its star attraction.
In 1979, Prudhomme and his wife opened K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen in the French Quarter to great acclaim, and in 1984, his cookbook, Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen, was published, solidifying his celebrity and reputation.
In 1984, in recognition of his work with Cajun and Creole cuisines, Prudhomme was named a Chevalier (Knight) of the French Ordre National du Mérite Agricole.
Leonard Nimoy, the actor who taught us all to "Live Long and Prosper," inspired a generation of Star Trek fans as Mr. Spock.
Nimoy was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Ukrainian Jewish immigrants. He began acting in community theatre at age eight and earned his first movie roles in 1952, but he was given only small roles until 1966, when Star Trek debuted. He would receive three Emmy nominations for his work as Mr. Spock, the half-human/half-Vulcan science officer on the USS Enterprise.
In addition to his work as an actor, Nimoy went on to success as a director and a writer, and he also worked steadily in the theatre, appearing in such plays as Fiddler on the Roof, Oliver, Camelot and Equus.
Nimoy once revealed that a Jewish ritual helped him create his character's signature Vulcan salute.
Actor Omar Sharif set many a heart aflutter in such movies such as Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, and Funny Girl.
Sharif was born and raised in Egypt, and it was there his acting career began, but he soon became in demand for both British and American productions.
Sharif, who spoke Arabic, English, Greek, French, Spanish and Italian, was nominated for an Oscar for his supporting role in Lawrence of Arabia. During his storied career, he won three Golden Globe Awards and a César Award (the French equivalent of the Academy Awards).
In addition to his success as an actor, Sharif was at one time ranked among the world's best bridge players.
Actress Donna Douglas was born and raised near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a southern girl just like Elly May Clampett, the character she played on "The Beverly Hillbillies." A beauty contest winner, Douglas launched her career in New York City, where she where she worked as a model and did guest spots on television series, including the lead role in a highly regarded Twilight Zone episode entitled "Eye of the Beholder."
After retiring from acting, Douglas remained active, performing gospel music and speaking to church groups. She also published a children's book, Miss Donna and Mulberry Acres Farm.
Dr. Schuller began his ministry in 1955, addressing his flock from the concession stand roof of a rented drive-in theatre. His weekly "Hour of Power" program, which debuted in 1970, was once viewed by as many as 1.3 million viewers in 156 countries.
Born Meadow Lemon III in Wilmington, North Carolina, Meadowlark Lemon went on to become the "Clown Prince of Basketball," perhaps the most beloved member of the world-famous Harlem Globetrotters. After seeing the Globetrotters featured in a newsreel when he was 11 years old, Lemon ran home from the theatre and told his father he would play for them one day.
From 1954, when Lemon joined the team, to 1979, when he left first to form his his own comedic basketball team, Meadowlark Lemon’s Harlem All Stars, Lemon played in more 16,000 games with the Globetrotters, averaging 350 contests a year.
He went on to become an ordained minister in 1986, and in 1998, he received a Doctorate of Divinity from Vision International University. In 1994 Meadowlark and his wife, Dr. Cynthia Lemon, founded Meadowlark Lemon Ministries.
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