Obits

Updated December 1

The following are 12 personalities and/or public figures (some more familiar than others) that have passed on in the past several weeks. Most recent deaths are shown at the top. Note: some deaths are not reported for days, even weeks. That is why some obit updates do not appear on the top. Once again, obits are listed in order of date of death, most recent date on top.

 

Jim Nabors
June 12, 1930 - November 30, 2017

Jim Nabors, the star who played the clumsy deputy sheriff Gomer Pyle on "The Andy Griffith Show" and eventually starred in his own spinoff, has died. He was 87. Nabors' husband, Stan Cadwallader, told the Associated Press his longtime partner had died peacefully at home in Hawaii by his side. Cadwallader says Nabors' health had been declining for the past year. His immune system also was suppressed after he underwent a liver transplant about 20 years ago. Nabors, a native of Alabama, became an instant success when he joined "The Andy Griffith Show" in the spring of 1963. The character of Gomer Pyle, the unworldly, lovable gas pumper who would exclaim "Gollllll-ly!", proved so popular that in 1964 CBS starred him in "Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C." In the spinoff, which lasted five seasons, Gomer left his hometown of Mayberry to become a Marine recruit. His innocence confounded his sergeant, the irascible Frank Sutton. Audiences saw another side of Nabors in appearances in TV variety programs, his booming baritone. The contrast between his homespun humor ("The tornado was so bad a hen laid the same egg twice") and his full-throated operatic arias was stunning. For two seasons beginning in 1969, CBS presented "The Jim Nabors Hour," on which he joshed with guest stars, did sketches with Sutton and fellow "Gomer" veteran Ronnie Schell, and sang country and opera. In 2013, he made headlines for marrying Cadwallader. The couple met in 1975 when Cadwallader was a Honolulu firefighter. "It's pretty obvious that we had no rights as a couple, yet when you've been together 38 years, I think something's got to happen there, you've got to solidify something," Nabors told Hawaii News Now at the time. "And at my age, it's probably the best thing to do."

 

 

Jim Nabors

Rance Howard
November 17, 1928 - November 25, 2017

Veteran Hollywood actor Rance Howard, the father of director Ron Howard, has died. He was 89. Ron Howard announced his father's death on Twitter. He praised his father for the ability to balance ambition with great personal integrity. The elder Howard was the father of actor Clint Howard and grandfather of actresses Bryce Dallas Howard and Paige Howard. Rance Howard had been married to the late Jean Speegle Howard. They met as teenagers doing a touring children's production in Oklahoma of classic fairy tales like "Snow White" and "Cinderella." They married on the tour dressed in their costumes, with the bride dressed as Snow White and groom as a huntsman. The elder Howard's acting career spanned several decades since the 1950s. He appeared in several of Ron Howard's films, including "Apollo 13," "A Beautiful Mind," "Splash," "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," "Parenthood" and "Grand Theft Auto." Howard attended the University of Oklahoma, where he went to drama school. Other film credits include "Chinatown" and the 2013 drama "Nebraska." On television, he appeared on many series including "Seinfeld," "Murder, She Wrote," "NCIS: Los Angeles," "Grey's Anatomy" and Ron Howard's starring series, "Happy Days." On The Waltons, Howard portrayed Dr. McIver in five different episodes, one of which included Ron.

 

Rance Howard

David Cassidy
April 12, 1950 - November 21, 2017

"Partridge Family" star David Cassidy died after suffering liver and kidney failure, his publicist confirmed. He was 67. "David died surrounded by those he loved, with joy in his heart and free from the pain that had gripped him for so long," JoAnn Geffen said. "Thank you for the abundance of love and support you have shown him these many years." Born into a show business family, Cassidy rocketed to stardom on ABC's "The Partridge Family," a sitcom about a widow (played by Cassidy's real-life stepmother Shirley Jones) and her five children who form a rock band and tour the country. The cast also featured Susan Dey, later of "L.A. Law" fame, as sibling Laurie Partridge and Danny Bonaduce as sibling Danny Partridge. As eldest son Keith Partridge, Cassidy became a global heartthrob as the face, and voice, of the Partridge Family's biggest hit, "I Think I Love You." The song spent three weeks on top of the Billboard chart at a time when other hit singles included James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles' "The Tears of a Clown." After "The Partridge Family" ended in 1974, Cassidy devoted himself to recording and songwriting, but struggled to match the success of his early-20s, with none of his subsequent albums, including the awkwardly titled "Didn't You Used To Be?", making a significant dent in the U.S. charts. Cassidy did score a minor hit with "I Write the Songs" before Barry Manilow's chart-topping version and found success overseas with "The Last Kiss," featuring backing vocals from Cassidy admirer George Michael.

He made occasional stage and television appearances, including an Emmy-nominated performance on "Police Story." Meanwhile, "The Partridge Family" remained popular in re-runs and Cassidy, who kept his dark bangs and boyish appearance well into middle age, frequently turned up for reunions and spoke often about his early success. This past February, Cassidy revealed to PEOPLE Magazine that he was battling dementia after he struggled to remember song lyrics and fell off the stage at a show in California. His mother, Broadway actress Evelyn Ward, died in 2012 after suffering from the same illness. At the same concert, Cassidy announced he was retiring after 50 years in the entertainment industry, saying the grind of touring combined with arthritis had taken its toll. Cassidy is survived by two children, musician Beau Cassidy and actress Katie Cassidy, with whom he acknowledged having a distant relationship. "I wasn't her father. I was her biological father but I didn't raise her," he told PEOPLE earlier this year. "She has a completely different life." Cassidy himself was estranged from his father, actor Jack Cassidy, and he would long express regret about Jack being mostly absent from his life after David's parents split up when he was 5.

 

 

David Cassidy

Della Reese
July 6, 1931 - November 19, 2017

Della Reese, the husky-voiced singer and actress who spent almost a decade playing a down-to-earth heavenly messenger on the CBS series "Touched by an Angel" and became an ordained minister in real life, died at her home in Encino, Calif. She was 86. Ms. Reese had been under contract to Jubilee Records for three years when, in 1957, she had her first big hit record, the romantic ballad "And That Reminds Me." Named the year's most promising "girl singer" by Billboard, Variety and Cash Box, she was soon making regular appearances on the leading television variety shows of the day. Her biggest hit was "Don't You Know", adapted from "Musetta's Waltz," an aria from "La Bohème", which reached No. 2 on the Billboard singles chart in 1959. But she became best known as an actress, particularly in the sentimental drama series "Touched by an Angel," which had its premiere in 1994 and evolved into one of prime time's top-rated shows. It placed in the Nielsen Top 10 from 1996 to 2000, with an average of more than 20 million weekly viewers at one point. In the show, Ms. Reese, by then in her 60s, was cast as Tess, a stern but loving supervisor of angels who guided a softhearted and less experienced angel, Monica (Roma Downey), in helping humans at crossroads in their lives. The series told reassuring stories of forgiveness and second chances with mild irreverence. ("You get your little angel butt back to the city," Tess told Monica in one episode.) Reese contended that no career switch was involved. "Every time I sang the blues, I wasn't blue," she said in a 2008 interview for the Archive of American Television, alluding to her emotional connections and delivery as a vocalist. "I was already acting."

 

 

Della Reese

Mel Tillis
August 8, 1932 - November 19, 2017

Country music singer Mel Tillis, whose six-decade career included hits such as "I Ain't Never" and "Coca Cola Cowboy" and who never let his stutter get in the way of him becoming a legend, died at Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Fla.. The music legend is believed to have died from respiratory failure after he never recovered from intestinal issues he has been battling since 2016. He was 85. Tillis recorded more than 60 albums and had 35 top ten singles in his decades-long career. His 1979 "Coca-Cola Cowboy" was one of his biggest hits, along with "Southern Rains" in 1980 and "I Believe in You" in 1978. Tillis also appeared in television shows such as "Hee Haw" and "Hollywood Squares," as well as movies, including "Smokey and the Bandit 2." He also did commercial work for Wataburger, according to the Tennessean. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and in 2012, former President Barack Obama awarded Tillis the National Medal of Arts. His daughter, Pam Tillis, who is also a country music singer, inducted him into the Grand Ole Opry in 2007. Her rep released a statement on her official Facebook fanpage saying the death "was sudden and unexpected."  "Pam's father was dearly loved and one of a kind," the statement read. In 1976, Tillis received Country Music Association's Entertainer of the Year and was also inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

 

 

Mel Tillis

Earle Hyman
October 11, 1926 - November 16, 2017

Earle Hyman, a classically trained actor of steady grace, imposing presence and consummate skill, died at the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, NJ. He was 91. Hyman's career on and off-Broadway spanned more than six decades and a multiplicity of Shakespearean roles at Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival. But it was as Dr. Cliff Huxtable's sympatico dad Russell on NBC's The Cosby Show that Hyman reached his widest audience, earning him an Emmy nomination in 1986. In addition to classic performances in roles ranging from the title characters in Othello and Henrik Ibsen's The Master Builder, to the bombastic James Tyrone in Papp's all African-American production of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, Hyman also had memorable performances in contemporary works. In the original 1980 Broadway production of Edward Albee's The Lady From Dubuque, a play that left the critics and audiences baffled, Hyman played a soft-spoken, karate-chopping enforcer and partner to Irene Worth's canny Angel of Death. The role earned him his only Tony nomination. Hyman was an early and dedicated advocate of color-blind casting. "I am 65 years old and I am still saying that all roles should be available to all actors of talent, regardless of race. Why should I be deprived of seeing a great black actress play Hedda Gabler?" he once asked. Among Hyman's notable film and television performances were as Panthro in Thundercats and roles in television films of Julius Caesar, Coriolanus and Macbeth. In his last New York stage appearance, in 2009, he played Ferapont in Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters, in a Gatehouse Theatre production presented by the Classical Theatre of Harlem.

 

 

Earle Hyman

Ann Wedgeworth
January 21, 1934 - November 16, 2017

Ann Wedgeworth, a Tony Award-winning actress most widely known for roles on sitcoms Evening Shade and Three's Company, died following a lengthy illness at a New York area nursing home, her family has announced. She was 83. Wedgeworth, who won a National Society of Film Critics Award for her tough but poignant performance in 1985's Sweet Dreams. She played the mother of Jessica Lange's Patsy Cline, and won the 1978 Tony Award for best featured actress in a play for Neil Simon's Chapter Two. Born in Abilene, Texas, Wedgeworth moved to New York City in the late 1950s and soon joined The Actors Studio. She debuted on Broadway in 1958's Make a Million, and went on to take roles is such stage productions as Period of Adjustment and Blues for Mister Charlie. She appeared in A Lie of the Mind, Sam Shepard's off-Broadway play, in 1985. Her costar in the production, Geraldine Page, had married Wedgeworth's ex-husband, actor Rip Torn. Wedgeworth's other credits include Scarecrow, Bang the Drum Slowly, Thieves, Steel Magnolias, Hard Promises, Made In Heaven, Love and a .45, and 1977's Handle with Care, for which she won her first National Society of Film Critics Award. She also starred in many TV roles, including Filthy Rich and Roseanne (she played the mother of John Goodman's Dan), Wedgeworth's Lana Shields of ABC's Three's Company became one of her best known. The character was essentially a substitute for Audra Lindley, who had been spun off for her own sitcom The Ropers.

 

 

Ann Wedgeworth

Liz Smith
February 2, 1923 - November 12, 2017

Gossip columnist Liz Smith, whose mixture of banter, barbs, and bon mots about the glitterati helped her climb the A-list as high as many of the celebrities she covered, has died. Literary agent Joni Evans told The Associated Press she died in New York of natural causes. She was 94. For more than a quarter-century, Smith's column, titled "Liz Smith", was one of the most widely read in the world. Its success was due in part to Smith's own celebrity status, giving her insider access rather than relying largely on tipsters, press releases and publicists. Smith started her own column at the New York Daily News in 1976. Known as the "Dame of Dish," she helped usher in the era of celebrity journalism in print and television. Her reporting on Donald and Ivana Trump's divorce made front-page news as did her work on Woody Allen and Mia Farrow's impending parenthood. According to the New York Daily News, Smith got her start as a CBS Radio news producer for Mike Wallace. She then moved on to such prestigious outlets as Cosmopolitan and Sports Illustrated before pivoting to the Daily News, which was syndicated in almost 70 newspapers across the country. Across more than three decades, Smith wrote for The New York Post, New York Daily News and Newsday. In 1978, during a strike at the News, Smith helped usher in the era of celebrity journalism on television by joining WNBC-TV for three nights a week commentary. Ten years later she jumped to Fox, and she later did work for the cable channel E! Entertainment Television.

 

 

Liz Smith

John Hillerman
December 20, 1932 - November 9, 2017

John Hillerman, who won an Emmy for playing Tom Selleck's foil Jonathan Higgins on the long-running CBS hit Magnum, P.I., died at his Houston home. He was 84. Hillerman was in his late 30s when he began to score bit roles in such high-profile films as They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (1970), The Last Picture Show (1971) and What's Up, Doc? (1972), High Plains Drifter and Paper Moon (both 1973). He then landed a small but memorable role as Howard Johnson in Mel Brooks' 1974 classic Western spoof Blazing Saddles. He's the one who was charged by the people of Rock Ridge to welcome their newly appointed sheriff (Cleavon Little). But everything changed in 1979, when he landed the role of his career. Selleck starred in Magnum P.I. as Thomas Magnum, a quirky, multilingual ex-jock who solved crimes out of his beachfront villa called Robin's Nest. Enter Hillerman as Jonathan Quayle Higgins III, a British Army vet who was caretaker of the estate. Hillerman starred through the series' entire eight-year, 158-episode run. Hillerman earned four consecutive Emmy nominations for the role from 1984-87, finally winning the last time. He also won a Golden Globe on his first nom for the role in 1982 and followed it with nominations the next four straight years. After Magnum ended in 1988, Hillerman appeared in the 1989 miniseries Around the World in 80 Days and recurred on the sitcom Valerie. His final credit was the 1996 feature A Very Brady Sequel. He also appeared in a trio of short-lived Broadway shows in the late 1950s and early '60s.

 

 

John Hillerman

Jack Bannon
June 14, 1940 - October 25, 2017

Jack Bannon, who played assistant city editor Art Donovan on the Emmy-winning TV series "Lou Grant," and who since 1995 has lived in Coeur d'Alene with his wife, Ellen Travolta, died at age 77. His career stretched back to 1964, when he made his debut in the TV sitcom "Karen." He would go on to make appearances on shows such as "The Andy Griffith Show," "Petticoat Junction," "The Beverly Hillbillies," "Daniel Boone," "Mannix," "Barney Miller," and "Charlie's Angels." But it was "Lou Grant" that most closely defines Bannon's career. The show was a spin-off of the iconic "Mary Tyler Moore Show," as Ed Asner's gruff editor relocated from a Minneapolis TV station to the newsroom of the fictional Los Angeles Tribune. It was an unusual move, taking the character from a 30-minute comedy to an hourlong drama that often delved into social commentary, but it seemed to work. The show ran for five seasons on CBS, and won an Emmy for outstanding drama. It also won two Golden Globes and the Peabody. His film credits include the 1969 horror film "Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice," starring Ruth Gordon and Geraldine Page, 1970's "Little Big Man" with Dustin Hoffman and Faye Dunaway, and the 1990 Jean-Claude Van Damme action flick "Death Warrant," as well as the regionally produced films "Navajo Blues" (1996) and "The Basket" (1999). Bannon's mother, Bea Benaderet, was a noted radio and television performer. She did several voices for the "Fibber McGee and Molly" radio show, and was a two-time Emmy nominee for best supporting actress for her work on "The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show." She was Kate Bradley on "Petticoat Junction" and "Green Acres" and the voice of Betty Rubble on the "The Flintstones."

 

 

Jack Bannon

Fats Domino
February 26, 1928 - October 24, 2017

Fats Domino, the genial, good-natured symbol of the dawn of rock and roll and the voice and piano behind enduring hits like "Blueberry Hill" and "Ain't That a Shame," died at the age of 89. A contemporary of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, Domino was among the first acts inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and was reportedly only second to Presley in record sales thanks to a titanic string of 11 top 10 hits between 1955 and 1960. Those hits, which also included "I'm Walkin'," "Blue Monday" and "Walking to New Orleans," sounded like nothing that came before. Thanks to his New Orleans upbringing, Domino's signature songs fused Dixieland rhythms, his charming, Creole-flecked voice, and his rolling-river piano style. His hits, most co-written with his longtime producer and partner Dave Bartholomew, became rock standards, covered by Led Zeppelin, Cheap Trick, Randy Newman, Ricky Nelson, and John Lennon, among many others. Lennon, who remade "Ain't That a Shame" (first called "Ain't It a Shame" on Domino's recording) on his 1975 Rock & Roll album, said the song had special meaning for him: It was the first tune he ever learned to play, on a guitar bought for him by his late mother. "It was the first song I could accompany myself on," he said in 1975. "It has a lot of memories for me." He scored nine gold singles, although he never had a No. 1 record on the pop chart. (Frustratingly, Pat Boone's vanilla remake of "Ain't That a Shame" did go No. 1 in pop in 1955.) In 1960, Domino released his last top 10 hit, "Walking to New Orleans."

 

 

Fats Domino

Robert Guillaume
November 30, 1927 - October 24, 2017

Robert Guillaume, known for his Emmy, Tony and Grammy-winning work, as well as TV sitcoms "Soap" and "Benson," died at home in Los Angeles, after a long battle with prostate cancer. He was 89. Among Guillaume's achievements was playing Nathan Detroit in the first all-black version of "Guys and Dolls," earning a Tony nomination in 1977. He became the first African-American to sing the title role of "Phantom of the Opera," appearing with an all-white cast in Los Angeles. Fans may also know him as the voice of Rafiki in Disney's "The Lion King," for which he won a Grammy award for spoken-word recording in 1995. The star read the audiobook of the movie in the voice of the iconic character. Prior to his film and sitcom success, he guest-starred on sitcoms such as "All in the Family," "Good Times," "Sanford and Son" and "The Jeffersons." According to Variety, it's these guest roles that led to his supporting role on "Soap." His character as an acerbic butler of a governor's mansion became so popular that ABC was persuaded to launch a spinoff, simply called "Benson," which lasted from 1979 to 1986. The series made Guillaume wealthy and famous, but he regretted that Benson's wit had to be toned down to make him more appealing as the lead star. The career of Robert Guillaume (pronounced with a hard "g": gee-yome) almost ended in January 1999 at Walt Disney Studio. He was appearing in the TV series "Sports Night" as Isaac Jaffee, executive producer of a sports highlight show. Returning to his dressing room after a meal away from the studio, he suddenly collapsed. Fortunately, St. Joseph Hospital was directly across from the studio. The 71-year-old actor was taken there and treated for a stroke, which was minor, causing relatively slight damage and little effect on his speech. He returned to the second season of "Sports Talk," and it was written into the script that Isaac Jaffee was recovering from a stroke. Because of slim ratings, the second season proved to be the last for the much-praised show. Guillaume resumed his career and traveled as a new spokesman for the American Stroke Association. He also made appearance for the American Heart Association.

 

 

Robert Guillaume

 

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