Science

PASSINGS: Shannon Tavarez, Denise Borino-Quinn, Liang Congjie, Harry Mulisch

Shannon Tavarez

Young actress in 'Lion King'

Shannon Tavarez, an 11-year-old girl who starred on Broadway in "The Lion King" and whose battle with leukemia won the hearts of many, died Monday at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. She died of acute myelogenous leukemia, a type of leukemia common among adults but rare among children.

Tavarez, who played the young lion Nala, received an umbilical-cord blood transplant in August. The procedure was performed as an alternative to a bone marrow transplant because a strong bone marrow match could not be found.

The search for a match was especially daunting because Tavarez's mother is African American and her father is Latino, from the Dominican Republic. For bone marrow transplants, minorities and those of mixed ancestry have a more difficult time finding good matches because there aren't as many people from those groups signed up as potential donors.

Tavarez was forced to quit the show in April. She beat out hundreds of other hopefuls last year to earn her spot playing Nala, the childhood pal and eventual girlfriend of Simba, hero of "The Lion King." She split the role with another girl, performing four shows a week for six months.

In a hospital interview after being diagnosed, the young actress from the New York borough of Queens talked about her love for the theater.

"It's an indescribable feeling, being on stage," she said. "I portray this character with fears, but who is so tough. I feel like that's who I am."

Singers Alicia Keys, Rihanna and 50 Cent campaigned to help find a bone marrow donor, and cast members held bone marrow registration drives outside the Minskoff Theatre, home to the musical.

Denise Borino-Quinn

Mafia wife on 'The Sopranos'

Denise Borino-Quinn, 46, who unexpectedly won a role as a mafia wife on "The Sopranos" after she attended an open casting call, died Oct. 27 at a hospital in Morristown, N.J., after battling liver cancer.

A New Jersey native, Borino-Quinn had no acting experience when she was hired in 2000 to play Ginny Sacrimoni, the mafia wife with a weight problem on the HBO cable TV series. The character quickly became popular with fans and was featured in an October 2002 episode.

Borino-Quinn had attended the casting call mostly to support a childhood friend and was shocked when she was hired.

"It has been the greatest ride of my life. I found my niche," Borino-Quinn said in a 2006 Times article. "This is something I'm good at. I don't look at it as work."

When she wasn't acting, Borino-Quinn was employed as a legal secretary and office manager at a law firm in New Brunswick, N.J.

Her husband, Luke Quinn Jr., died in March.

Liang Congjie

Environmental activist in China

Liang Congjie, 78, a pioneering Chinese activist who helped found the country's first environmental organization, died Thursday in Beijing of complications from a lung infection, according to Friends of Nature, the group he helped form.

Considered the first environmental nongovernmental organization to be legally recognized in China, Friends of Nature was created in 1994 by Liang and colleagues to raise public awareness about the country's vast array of environmental problems.

Liang, a historian who worked and taught at the Academy for Chinese Culture, decided to set up the organization after hearing about the activities of international environmental groups such as Greenpeace and realizing that China had no domestic equivalent.

Friends of Nature has focused on the plight of endangered species such as the Tibetan antelope and on threatened forest lands, while working to raise environmental awareness at public schools and nurturing other environmental groups.

The group often eschewed an aggressive approach to activism, choosing to urge the government to enforce existing environmental laws. But it was also recognized for high-profile actions to promote environmental protection.

During the 1990s, the group produced a surreptitious videotape of officials collaborating to illegally cut down virgin forest. Broadcast nationally, the tape prompted then-Prime Minister Zhu Rongji to order a ban on logging virgin forests.

Liang, a Beijing native, received a U.N. award for his environmental work in 2005.

Harry Mulisch

Celebrated Dutch novelist

Harry Mulisch, 83, who turned his experiences as the son of a Jewish mother and a Nazi collaborator father into some of the Netherlands' most renowned works of fiction, died Saturday of cancer at his home in Amsterdam.

Mulisch's 1982 novel, "The Assault," was seen as helping the Dutch come to terms with the German occupation of the Netherlands during World War II. It looks at the difficulty of attributing innocence and guilt to those who resisted the Nazis, those who cooperated with them and the many who didn't take sides.

An adaptation of "The Assault" won the Academy Award for best foreign-language film of 1986.

Mulisch was born in Haarlem, the Netherlands, on July 29, 1927, to an Austrian father and a Jewish mother from Antwerp, and his own life came to reflect the turbulent 1930s and war-torn '40s.

"I didn't so much experience the war," he once wrote. "I am the Second World War."

Many of his early works portrayed people in wartime. His immigrant father worked in a German-controlled bank and dealt with looted Jewish assets, including art. He was able to use his influence to save Harry's mother — but not her parents — from deportation and death in Nazi gas chambers. He was imprisoned after the war as a collaborator.

Mulisch's novels have complicated plots and are often sprinkled with science, philosophy and arcane subjects such as alchemy. He often left quotations in other languages untranslated.

"I don't care about readers. A novel is not communication with the public, but with the novel, and so with myself," he said in a 2001 interview.

His well-regarded 1992 novel, "The Discovery of Heaven," explores the relationships among man, science and God, as an angel attempts to influence a man to return the tablets bearing the Ten Commandments to heaven.

-- Times staff and wire reports

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