by Brett Leveridge
As 2019 comes to a close, we pause to remember many of the inspiring individuals who left us over the past 12 months. There are those who motivated us with their literary accomplishments, such as novelist Toni Morrisoni, poet Mary Oliver and author Rachel Held Evans; those who used their talent and courage to open doors that were previously closed, including Frank Robinson, Don Newcombe and Jessye Norman, and many, such as Doris Day, Tim Conway and Carol Channing, who entertained us and made us smile.
Doris Day, born Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff in Cincinnati, Ohio, experienced success in virtually every arena of show business. She excelled as a band singer, recording artist, on the radio and television and in motion pictures. In the 1950s, Day had a string of very popular hits, many of which were introduced in the equally popular movies she appeared in. Day was ranked the biggest box-office star in the country four different times (1960, 1962, 1963 and 1964) and made the "Top 10" a total of 10 times (1951–52 and 1959–66).
After nearly four decades in show business, Day devoted the final three decades of her life to her favorite cause: advocating for the care and proper treatment of animals.
Toni Morrison, an inspiring and influential author, editor and educator, was the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award. She also was the first black woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Prior to the publication of her first novel, The Bluest Eye, in 1970, Morrison taught English at Howard University before becoming the first African-American woman to serve as a fiction editor at the publishing company Random House.
Among her many other accolades and awards, Morrison was selcted by the National Endowment for the Humanities for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities, and on May 29, 2012, President Barack Obama presented Morrison with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2016, she received the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction.
Rachel Held Evans was one of the prominent and accomplished young writers and thinkers in the Christian sphere. She began as a blogger and rose to acclaim as a New York Times bestselling author. Her approach to life was an open and searching one, as she sought answers to questions that so many of us confront in our faith journeys, and her work spawned a far-reaching community of people who wrestle with what it means to be a believer in 21st century and how the church can be made more inclusive.
A widely acclaimed international opera star, Jessye Norman credited such great African-American singers as Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price with paving the way for her career, but she left an indelible mark all her own. She refused to be hemmed in by the strict expectations the world of opera can sometimes impose—"pigeonholes are for pigeons," she once said—and so she instead performed a wide range of material and roles.
The much-decorated soprano won four Grammy Awards for her recordings and a fifth for lifetime achievement. She also was the recipient of the Kennedy Center Honor in 1997 and the National Medal of Arts in 2009.
Actress, singer, dancer, and comedian Carol Channing put her charming and effervescent spin on roles she made her own on Broadway and in the movies. She debuted on Broadway in 1941 as an understudy for Eve Arden in the musical Let's Face it!, and she earned acclaim as Lorelei Lee in the 1949 production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but she'll always be most fondly remembered as Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! (1964).
Channing, who was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1981, remained active well into her nineties. The day after she passed on January 15, 2019, the lights on Broadway were dimmed to honor her memory.
Though the former TV heartthrob is perhaps best remembered for his work on the popular television program Beverly Hills 90210, over the course of his career, Luke Perry also found success in movies, on the Broadway stage and on many other television programs, including Riverdale, on which he was starring at the time of his death as Frederick "Fred" Andrews, Archie's father and owner of Andrews Construction.
Perry was also in demand for voice-over work for various animated series, including The Simpsons and Family Guy, and he provided the voices of both Saint Stephen and Judas Iscariot in The Word of Promise audio Bible.
Mary Oliver, who published dozens of poetry and essay collections during her decades-long career, lived for more than 40 years in the small town of Provincetown, Massachusetts, on outer Cape Cod.
Oliver, who was known for her affinity for nature and animal life, won several awards for her work, including a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award.
Tim Conway began his career as a disc jockey and sometime TV personality in Cleveland, Ohio, but in 1961, on the advice of actress Rose Marie, who visited the station where Conway worked, he moved to New York City where, again with Rose Marie's help, he was hired as a regular player on The Steve Allen Show.
That led to the role of Ensign Charles Parker on the sitcom McHale's Navy and later to a short-lived sitcom of his own, The Tim Conway Show. But it's for his work on The Carol Burnett Show, where he was a regular from 1975-78, that Conway is most fondly remembered. In addition to on-camera work, Conway also was a busy voice actor, including his portrayal of a seagull on the popular animated series SpongeBob SquarePants.
Valerie Harper, who began her career in the 1950s as a chorus girl and dancer on the Broadway stage, was a four-time Emmy winner who brought joy to millions with her warm and witty work on sitcoms, such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda and Valerie.
A humanitarian, Harper co-founded, with actor Dennis Weaver, a charitable organization called L.I.F.E. that was devoted to helping feed those in need in Los Angeles. Harper touched perhaps even more hearts and lives, however, with the courage and strength she displayed in her final years. Diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in March 2013, she was expected to live just a few more months, but she defied the odds—and inspired millions—by living another six years.
Lee Iacocca was a bestselling author and former chairman of both the Ford Motor Company and the Chrysler Corporation. He oversaw the development of the Mustang and the Pinto while at Ford in the 1960s, and, while serving as its CEO, was instrumental in renewing Chrysler during the 1980s, a time when the company was struggling mightily.
The son of immigrants who believed in the American Dream, Iacocca demonstrated his love for the U.S.A. when he served, at President Ronald Reagan's request, as chairman of the commission to raise private funds for the renovation and restoration of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in time for the statue’s 100th birthday in 1986.
Frank Robinson excelled both as an outfielder and a manager in Major League Baseball. A 14-time All-Star, Robinson was the only player to be named Most Valuable Player of both the National League and the American League. In 1966, while playing for the Baltimore Orioles, he won the Triple Crown, leading the AL in batting average, home runs (49), and runs batted in. He also was named World Series MVP that season, as the Orioles swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in four games.
In 1975, Robinson became the first African-American manager in major league history, when he led the Cleveland Indians as player-manager. Robinson was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982, his first year of elibility.
Georgia Engel is best remembered as Georgette Franklin, the devoted and long-suffering girlfriend (and later wife) of Ted Knight's oafish character Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but her career was a long and varied one. She started on stage, appearing as Minnie Fay in the Broadway production of Hello, Dolly! in 1969. It was while appearing in a tour of playwright John Guare's The House of Blue Leaves that she was spotted by Mary Tyler Moore and her then-husband, producer Grant Tinker. She was cast as Georgette, playing the role from 1972 to 1977. Engel later portrayed Pat MacDougall on Everybody Loves Raymond from 2003 to 2005.
Over the course of her career, Engel received five Primetime Emmy Award nominations, and continued doing stage work and appear in movies.
Don Newcombe was a righthanded pitcher whose groundbreaking career was filled with firsts. He began his professional career with the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League, before signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Dodgers assigned him to the Nashua Dodgers of the New England League, the first racially integrated U.S. baseball team of the 20th century.
Newcombe reached the majors in 1949 and went on to become the first pitcher in history to win the Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, and Cy Young Awards during his career. In 1949, he became the first Black pitcher to start a World Series game, and in 1951, he was the first African-American pitcher to win 20 games in a single season. Newcombe won the inaugural National League Cy Young award in 1956, and that same season, was named the NL's MVP.
Newcombe struggled with alcohol abuse for some years, even pawning his World Series ring to feed his addiction, but he achieved sobriety in 1966 and went on to help many others do the same.
Peter Tork gained fame as a member of the The Monkees, the very popular pop group that emerged from a hit NBC-TV comedy series of that name. Though they were sometimes jokingly referred to as the Prefab Four, Tork and the Monkees sold 35 million albums in 1967 alone and notched several Top 10 hits, three of which reached no. 1 on the charts.
Singer, bass player and keyboardist Tork was one of two band members (along with Michael Nesmith) who was already a musician before signing on to join the Monkees. Raised in Connecticut, he spent the first half of the 1960s as part of the folk scene in New York's Greenwich Village, and after the Monkees, he continued to play and record music and also spent time as a school teacher of music, social studies, math, French and history.
In a career that spanned more than sixty years, Diahann Carroll enjoyed success and acclaim on stage, screen and television. She was nominated four times for Primetime Emmys, received a Best Actress Oscar nomination in 1975 for the film Claudine, and in 1962, became the first African-American to win a Tony Award in a leading role.
Her comedy series Julia, which debuted in 1968 and featured Carroll as a single mother and nurse, was groundbreaking in its day for featuring an African-American actress in a non-stereotypical role.
John Havlicek is widely considered to have been one of the greatest basketball players of all time. In 1962, he was drafted by both the NBA's Boston Celtics and the NFL's Cleveland Browns, but Havlicek opted to play basketball professionally, and it would be hard to argue that he made the wrong decision.
A thirteen-time All-Star, Havlicek was with the Celtics for 16 seasons, winning NBA titles in eight of those campaigns, including his first four with the team. He was one of just four players in NBA history to have won that many titles. In 1984, Havlicek was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and more than 40 years after his retirement, he remains the Celtics' all-time leading scorer.
Misaka was a second-generation Japanese-American who excelled at basketball at a time when Asian Americans were not always welcome on athletic teams. The 5-foot-7-inch point guard won the 1944 NCAA tourney as a member of the University of Utah Utes, and after a stint in the U.S. Army, he rejoined the Utes, leading them to the championship of the 1947 National Invitational Tournament.
In 1947, the year Jackie Robinson broke the color line in Major League Baseball, Misaka was drafted by the New York Knicks of the Basketball Association of America (later the National Basketball Association), becoming the first non-white player and the first player of Asian descent to play in the BAA/NBA. Misaka's stint in the league was brief—he saw action in just three games—but historic. After being let go, Misaka declined an offer to join the Harlem Globetrotters and returned to Utah, where he pursued a career as an electrical engineer.
They say if you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life, and that can certainly be said of Anthony Mancinelli, who, at 108, was the oldest barber in the world.
Anthony, who was born in Italy and came to the United States with his family as a child, began cutting hair at the age of twelve and never stopped for the next 96 years. He liked the work and enjoyed the interaction with his customers, so he saw no reason to retire. That's a life well-lived, don't you agree?
Author and playwright Herman Wouk excelled at bringing history to life in his fiction and plays. It was his experience during World War II, serving aboard a destroyer-minesweeper in the Pacific, that inspired his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Caine Mutiny, which was adapted into a motion picture of the same name that earned seven Academy Award nominations. Wouk's theatrical adaptation of the novel, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, opened a few months before the movie, was a great success. Directed by actor Charles Laughton, it ran on Broadway for more than a year.
Wouk published nearly two dozen works of fiction and non-fiction, including the best-selling novels The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. Wouk, an Orthodox Jew, also wrote the non-fiction work This Is My God, an explanation and exploration of Judaism intended for Jews and non-Jews alike.
Alabama native Bart Starr experienced only middling success as a quarterback at the University of Alabama, and he wasn't a standout during his first few years playing for the Green Bay Packers, either, but beginning in 1959, when Vince Lombardi was named head coach of the Packers, Starr's on-field fortunes quickly reversed.
Starr went on to enjoy a 15-year career with the Packers, leading the team to five NFL championships, in addition to winning the first two Super Bowls (he was named the game's Most Valuable Player in both). He was named NFL MVP for the 1966 season, and his number was retired by the Packers.
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