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.
A western lowlands gorilla named Koko, famous for having learned a simplified form of American Sign Language (ASL), died in her sleep at her Californian reserve at the ripe old age of 46. The gorilla's talent for communicating has intrigued primate researchers, but it was her human-like affection, intelligence, and love of kittens that really captured our hearts. Her birth in San Francisco Zoo on Independence Day, 1971, inspired her full name of Hanabiko, fireworks child in Japanese. By her first birthday her caregiver, animal psychologist Francine "Penny" Patterson, was already showing her how to use her hands to communicate basic ASL signals. It's not clear how many hand signs Koko learned to understand during her lifetime, with speculation that they exceeded 1,000. She reportedly mastered at least one universal symbol, an extended middle finger that would be recognised virtually anywhere in the western world. It was this human connection that made Koko more than just a study subject. She was a media celebrity. Koko has been the subject of documentaries, books, and numerous studies. Her mastery of the recorder might not have sold records, but it did challenge thinking on how non-human primates can learn to modify their breathing. Her connection with an adopted kitten she named All Ball made headlines in 1984, when Koko learned her beloved pet was struck by a car and killed. Cat, cry, have-sorry, Koko-love, came the signs. And then, Unattention, visit me. Now it's our turn to mourn Koko.
American TV celebrity and food writer Anthony Bourdain was found dead in his hotel room Friday (June 8) in France while working on his CNN series on culinary traditions around the world. He was 61. CNN confirmed the death, saying in a statement that Bourdain was found unresponsive Friday morning by friend and chef Eric Ripert in the French city of Strasbourg. It called his death a suicide. Bourdain achieved celebrity status after the publication in 2000 of his best-selling book "Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly." The book created a sensation by combining frank details of his life and career with behind-the-scenes observations on the culinary industry. It was a rare crossover, a book intended for professional cooks that had enormous mass appeal. Bourdain went on to achieve widespread fame thanks to his CNN series "Parts Unknown", and was filming an upcoming segment for the program when he was found dead, according to CNN. "His love of great adventure, new friends, fine food and drink and the remarkable stories of the world made him a unique storyteller. His talents never ceased to amaze us and we will miss him very much," CNN said.
William Phipps, the voice of Prince Charming in the animated Disney film Cinderella and a prolific actor who appeared in more than 200 film and television productions, has died. Phipps passed June 1 at UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica at age 96 from lung cancer complications, according to his friend, author Tom Weaver. Phipps was best known for his many roles in 1950s science fiction films, where he was one of the genre's main players. Among his appearances were the films Five, The War of the Worlds, Invaders From Mars, Cat Women of the Moon, and The Snow Creature. Phipps voice-over gig as Prince Charming was a direct hire by Walt Disney himself. It brought Phipps a whopping $100 for an afternoon's work. Among his other roles were in the RKO Westerns The Arizona Ranger and Desperadoes of Dodge City, both released in 1948; as a servant to Marlon Brando's Antony in Julius Caesar; as the French Impressionist painter Emile Bernard in Kirk Douglas' Lust for Life (1956); and as Quentin in Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993). In television, he had a recurring role as Curly Bill Brocius on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp and also appeared on The Twilight Zone (the 1960 episode "The Purple Testament"), Perry Mason, Rawhide, 77 Sunset Strip, Gunsmoke, F Troop, Batman, The Virginian and Mannix. Phipps moved to Maui in the late 1960s, but came back to portray Theodore Roosevelt in the 1976 ABC miniseries Eleanor and Franklin, which won 11 Emmy Awards. He later performed the role in a commercial for Maxwell House coffee.
Clint Walker, the hulking star of TV's Cheyenne who also appeared in such classic films as The Ten Commandment and The Dirty Dozen, died from a heart problem. He was 90. Walker was best known for playing Cheyenne Bodie, the strapping, brooding, mean title drifter in the 1955-63 ABC Western Cheyenne. Roaming from town to town and job to job in the post-Civil War West. The series did a slow build, breaking into the year-end Primetime Top 25 at No. 12 in its third season, where it peaked amid the crush of Western fare. Around then, a contract beef with producer Warner Bros led Walker to quit the show. The studio replaced him with an unknown actor, Ty Hardin, who would go on to star in Bronco, but Walker returned in early 1959 and finished out the series' seven-season run. Soon after arriving in L.A., he was introduced to Cecil B. DeMille, who cast him in the 1956 blockbuster The Ten Commandments. That led to Walker's casting in Cheyenne, and he would go on to make several films during the series' 108-episode run. In the mid-1960s, he appeared in such features as the World War II drama None but the Brave, the only film Frank Sinatra directed, Maya and The Night of the Grizzly. They were followed by probably his second-best-known role, as Samson Posey, one of the condemned soldiers who are picked for a suicide mission into Nazi Germany in Robert Aldrich's star-packed 1967 classic The Dirty Dozen. Walker would get his second starring role in a TV series with Kodiak, playing Alaska State Patrolman Cal "Kodiak" McKay. Filmed on location in the 49th state, the drama aired one season on ABC in 1974. Walker continued to work in films and TV, more sporadically, into the 1990s. His final credit was a voice role in the 1998 action-figures movie Small Soldiers. In May 1971, Walker narrowly escaped death in a skiing accident at Mammoth Mountain, California. In a fall from a ski lift, Walker was pierced through the heart with a ski pole.
Joseph Campanella, a prolific character actor whose career on the big and small screens spanned more than a half-century, died at his home in Sherman Oaks, CA. He was 92. Among his nearly 200 credits were a regular in the role in first season of the 1967-75 CBS cop drama Mannix, for which he earned an Emmy nom, and a Daytime Emmy-nominated late-'80s/early-'90s role as Harper Deveraux in the long-running NBC soap Days of Our Lives. He also appeared as Jonathan Young in nearly 100 episodes of CBS' soap The Bold and the Beautiful from 1996-2005. With a face known to most fans of TV from the latter half of the 20th century, Campanella started his career in 1950s television, guesting on such classic series of that decade and the next as Suspense, Route 66, The Big Valley, The Wild Wild West, The Fugitive and Mission: Impossible. After his Mannix stint he continued to work mostly in TV into the 1970s, appearing on Night Gallery, Gunsmoke, Marcus Welby, M.D., and many others. He also co-starred in the rat-infested 1972 cult classic film Ben and narrated the star-studded 1978 miniseries Pearl. The New York City native rode the 1970s TV movie throughout that decade, including The President's Plane Is Missing and, amid the disaster-movie crush, Skyway to Death. He also found guest roles on such popular series as Ironside, McCloud, Medical Center, Police Woman, The Rockford Files and, like seemingly every other TV actor of the era, Fantasy Island. In 1976, he began a sporadic but long-spanning stint as a recurring on Norman Lear's One Day at a Time. The younger brother of the late actor Frank Campanella, he found more TV work throughout the '80s on series including Quincy, M.E., Hotel, Murder, She Wrote, Dallas, Mama's Family and a recurring role on the Charlton Heston-led Dynasty spinoff The Colbys. In the late '90s and 2000s, Campanella appeared in nearly a dozen episodes of the CBS family dramedy That's Life and recurred on The Practice. His final credit was the 2009 movie Lost Dream.
Tom Wolfe, the white-suited wizard of "New Journalism" who exuberantly chronicled American culture from the Merry Pranksters through the space race before turning his satiric wit to such novels as "The Bonfire of the Vanities" and "A Man in Full," died of an infection in a New York City hospital. He was 88. An acolyte of French novelist Emile Zola and other authors of "realistic" fiction, the stylishly-attired Wolfe was an American maverick who insisted that the only way to tell a great story was to go out and report it. Along with Gay Talese, Truman Capote and Nora Ephron, he helped demonstrate that journalism could offer the kinds of literary pleasure found in books. His hyperbolic, stylized writing work was a gleeful fusillade of exclamation points, italics and improbable words. An ingenious phrase maker, he branded such expressions as "radical chic" for rich liberals' fascination with revolutionaries; and the "Me" generation, defining the self-absorbed babyboomers of the 1970s. Wolfe was both a literary upstart, sneering at the perceived stuffiness of the publishing establishment, and an old-school gentleman who went to the best schools and when attending promotional luncheons with fellow authors would make a point of reading their latest work. He scorned the reluctance of American writers to confront social issues and warned that self-absorption and master's programs would kill the novel. He was astonished that no author of his generation had written a sweeping, 19th century style novel about contemporary New York City, and ended up writing one himself, "The Bonfire of the Vanities." His work broke countless rules but was grounded in old-school journalism, in an obsessive attention to detail that began with his first reporting job and endured for decades. "Nothing fuels the imagination more than real facts do," Wolfe told the AP in 1999. "As the saying goes, 'You can't make this stuff up.'"
Margot Kidder, the actress best known for playing the iconic Lois Lane opposite Christopher Reeve in the "Superman" movies, died in Montana, according to her personal manager. She was 69 years old. "I can confirm that Margot passed away peacefully in her sleep," Kidder's manager, Camilla Pines, said. Kidder starred in the comic book franchise beginning in 1978 and played the gutsy reporter for almost a decade until 1987's "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace." The original "Superman," widely considered the best cinematic telling of the character, will celebrate its 40th anniversary on Dec. 15. Born Margaret Ruth Kidder in 1948, the actress also appeared in the 1979 cult classic, "The Amityville Horror." In addition to her on-camera roles, she was hired for voiceover work and was a frequent guest at comic conventions. Kidder was a prolific actor with credits in shows like "Boston Common" and "Smallville" over the years, and she was working up until last year, according to IMDB. She also became a champion for mental illness after suffering some very public breakdowns in the late 1990s. In 1996, Kidder told People magazine that her manic depression caused "mood swings that could knock over a building." "This is the pattern of my life," she told the magazine.
Robert Mandan, who starred as Chester Tate on the television series "Soap," has died at the age of 86, according to multiple news sources. Mandan's friend, screenwriter Gary Goldstein, told the Hollywood Reporter that the actor died on April 29 after suffering a long, undisclosed illness. Mandan's role as the womanizing Chester Tate on the pioneering satire "Soap" was his best known. "Soap" aired on ABC from 1978 until 1981, the show was critically acclaimed. Mandan acted in actual soap operas in the beginning of his career. He starred on "Search for Tomorrow" and "Edge of Night." The character actor made appearances on numerous television series including "Three's Company," "All in the Family," and "The Golden Girls." One of his last appearances was in the soap "General Hospital" in 2006. Mandan was a feequent special guest on the CBS game show The $25,000 Pyramid during the 1980s. He also appeared on many other game shows, including Match Game, Family Feud, Super Password and The Hollywood Squares. Goldstein told the Hollywood Reporter that Mandan did a lot of local theater later in his career.
Verne Troyer, who is best known for playing Mini-Me in the Austin Powers franchise, has died. He was 49. "It is with great sadness and incredibly heavy hearts to write that Verne passed away today. Verne was an extremely caring individual. He wanted to make everyone smile, be happy, and laugh. Anybody in need, he would help to any extent possible," his family confirmed in a statement shared on Instagram. "Verne hoped he made a positive change with the platform he had and worked towards spreading that message everyday. He inspired people around the world with his drive, determination, and attitude. On film & television sets, commercial shoots, at comic-con's & personal appearances, to his own YouTube videos, he was there to show everyone what he was capable of doing," the statement continued. On April 2, Troyer was rushed to the hospital for a "reported poisoning." The Los Angeles City Fire Department confirmed that they were called to the actor's North Hollywood home. Law enforcement sources told TMZ that Troyer was "extremely upset, drunk and suicidal." In the statement, Troyer's family wrote: "During this recent time of adversity he was baptized while surrounded by his family. The family appreciates that they have this time to grieve privately. Depression and Suicide are very serious issues. You never know what kind of battle someone is going through inside. Be kind to one another. And always know, it's never too late to reach out to someone for help."
Bruno Sammartino, professional wrestling's "Living Legend" and one of its longest-reigning champions, has died. Sammartino was 82. Sammartino was wrestling's biggest box office draw in the 1960s and 1970s and held the World Wide Wrestling Federation championship for more than 11 years (4,040 days) over two title runs. He was born in Italy and his family immigrated when he was a child to Pittsburgh, where he learned how to become a pro wrestler. The promotion now known as WWE said Sammartino sold out Madison Square Garden , known as the mecca of professional wrestling, 187 times over his career. Sammartino and WWE had a bitter falling out in the late 1980s that lasted until the company's greatest star accepted his induction into the Hall of Fame in 2013. He was inducted by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sammartino defeated Buddy Rogers in just 48 seconds to become the second-ever WWE Champion in front of nearly 20,000 fans on May 17, 1963 at the old Madison Square Garden. He held the title until 1971. His second reign began in 1973 and it lasted until he was pinned by "Superstar" Billy Graham in 1977. Sammartino became a broadcaster for the company in the 1980s and later became outspoken about the company's evolving philosophy that put the emphasis on entertainment. Sammartino and Hulk Hogan are the biggest long-term box office draws in WWE history and two tagged together in the "Legend's" final match.
With her cloud of snow-white hair, signature three strand pearls and compelling presence, Barbara Bush's image was what she laughingly called "everybody's grandmother." But the feisty, outspoken Bush was also a tireless advocate for literacy , an author, experienced campaigner and both wife and mother of a U.S. president. Bush, 92, died, shortly after her family announced she was in failing health and would decline further medical treatment in favor of "comfort care." There were no details of her specific health problems. The announcement was made in a statement from the office of former President George H.W. Bush. "A former First Lady of the United States of America and relentless proponent of family literacy, Barbara Pierce Bush passed away Tuesday, April 17, 2018 at the age of 92. She is survived by her husband of 73 years, President George H. W. Bush; five children and their spouses; 17 grandchildren; seven great grandchildren; and her brother, Scott Pierce. She was preceded in death by her second child, Pauline Robinson 'Robin' Bush, and her siblings Martha Rafferty and James R. Pierce." Along the way, she wrote two books about the family dogs, "C. Fred's Story" and the best-selling "Millie's Book," with profits benefitting literacy. After her husband left the White House, she wrote a best-selling autobiography "Barbara Bush: A Memoir" in 1994 followed by "Reflections" in 2004. Bush once explained that people liked her because "I'm fair and I like children and I adore my husband."
Harry Anderson, who earned multiple Emmy nominations for playing Judge Harry T. Stone on the NBC comedy Night Court, was found dead at a home in Asheville, NC. He was 65. No cause of death was reported. Anderson appeared in three Season 1 episodes of NBC's Cheers as local flim-flam man/magician Harry "The Hat" Gitties, including a memorable sting episode in which he starred. That role, which he would reprise a few times later on the then-rising sitcom, led to his landing the lead in Night Court. The sitcom also starring John Larroquette, Markie Post and Richard Moll followed the wacky goings-on in a Manhattan night court and its staffers led by Stone, a boyish, grinning, jeans-and-sneakers jurist who was unconventional to say the least. It debuted in January 1984 as a midseason replacement and the lead-out of Cheers. The show went on to be part of its primetime lineup for the next nine seasons. Anderson, also an accomplished magician, would earn three consecutive Emmy nominations for the role from 1985-87, and he stayed with the series through its 193-episode run. Night Court was a top 10 show in all of primetime for its third and fourth seasons as it and Cheers gained in popularity. That fall, Anderson returned to TV as the star of Dave's World, the CBS sitcom in which he played syndicated newspaper columnist Dave Barry. It lasted four seasons through 1997. Anderson also made multiple appearances on Saturday Night Live in the early and mid-'80s, including a hosting gig in February 1985.
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