PASSINGS: Elaine Koster, Phelps 'Catfish' Collins, Jack Parnell, Dave Dixon, Matthew R. Simmons, Travis Harrelson

Elaine Koster

Publisher with a knack for new talent

Elaine Koster, 69, a publisher and literary agent with a knack for new talent who gave a second chance to an obscure horror writer named Stephen King and took on an unknown Khaled Hosseini and his novel "The Kite Runner," died Tuesday at St. Luke's Hospital in New York, according to Hosseini's publisher, Penguin Group (USA). The cause of death was not available.

As publisher of the New American Library in the 1970s, Koster paid a then-enormous $400,000 for the paperback rights to King's "Carrie," which had sold poorly in hardcover, and was later credited with helping to make a blockbuster out of Erica Jong's "Fear of Flying."

In 1998, she started the Elaine Koster Literary Agency. Her most notable find was Hosseini, whose manuscript for "The Kite Runner" had been turned down by numerous other agents. Now, millions of copies have been sold.

Born Elaine Landis in 1940, she grew up in Manhattan and graduated from Barnard College in 1962. Besides working at New American Library, she was president and publisher of Dutton and worked with literary and commercial authors, including Joyce Carol Oates and Toni Morrison.

"Her ability to recognize well-written commercial fiction … as well as important literary fiction, was unparalleled," King, who had been working part time as a teacher when "Carrie" was first published, said in a statement. "She may have been the key figure in the ascendance of the paperback in the marketplace during the 1970s and 1980s."

Phelps 'Catfish' Collins

Funk guitarist played with James Brown's band

Phelps "Catfish" Collins, 66, an R&B and funk guitarist who was the older brother of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame musician William "Bootsy" Collins, died Aug. 6 of cancer at home in his native Cincinnati.

Catfish Collins played with James Brown's J.B.'s, Parliament-Funkadelic and in his brother's Rubber Band. The brothers backed up James Brown on classics such as "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine" and later joined Parliament-Funkadelic. They also performed on the soundtrack to the 2007 Judd Apatow comedy "Superbad."

Jack Parnell

Bandleader on 'The Muppet Show'

Jack Parnell, 87, a British jazz drummer who served as bandleader on "The Muppet Show," died Sunday at his home in Southwold, eastern England, after a yearlong battle with cancer, his family said.

As musical director at British broadcaster ATV from the late 1950s, he oversaw the music for the long-running variety show "Sunday Night at the London Palladium," produced specials featuring Tom Jones and Barbra Streisand, composed theme tunes and served as musical director of "The Benny Hill Show."

Parnell shared two Emmys for the 1974 TV special "Barbra Streisand … And Other Musical Instruments."

In 1976, ATV began producing "The Muppet Show," a musical variety show with a cast of Jim Henson puppets and celebrity guest stars.

Parnell conducted the orchestra for the whole of the series' five-year run, although the ostensible bandleader was the pop-eyed Muppet conductor, Nigel.

Dave Dixon

Helped bring NFL team and Superdome to New Orleans

Dave Dixon, 87, a businessman who worked to bring an NFL team to New Orleans and was the catalyst behind construction of the Louisiana Superdome, died Sunday in New Orleans. He had been ill since January, said his son, Frank.

Dixon, a New Orleans native, persuaded city officials to pursue a football franchise in the 1960s. He staged an NFL double header in 1963 at Tulane Stadium, drawing a crowd that nearly filled the 80,000-seat capacity. The city was awarded an NFL expansion team, the Saints, on All Saints Day in 1966.

Dixon immediately started thinking about a domed stadium. The Superdome opened on Aug. 3, 1975. But it wasn't until last season that the Saints, a perennial loser, brought home a Super Bowl victory to a city still recovering from 2005's Hurricane Katrina.

Katrina ripped off part of the Superdome's roof. It also failed as a shelter for the flooded city. Thousands of people who had nowhere else to go flocked to the stadium. Within days, the building was tattered, and filthy inside from mold, debris and raw sewage.

Over the next year, the Superdome was rebuilt. The Saints' success has played a role in helping the city by giving it something to celebrate.

Dixon, a wealthy antiques dealer, also worked with Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt to found World Championship Tennis. Dixon also conceived the idea for the United States Football League, which operated from 1982 to 1985.

Matthew R. Simmons

Leading proponent of the 'peak oil' theory

Matthew R. Simmons, 67, an energy investment banker and a leading proponent of the "peak oil" theory that contends the Earth is running out of crude, died Sunday when he accidentally drowned in a hot tub at his home in North Haven, Maine, officials said.

Simmons started Houston-based Simmons & Co. in May 1974 with a focus on the oil-services industry. The firm expanded to offer research, institutional sales and investment banking in the energy industry. Simmons promoted the idea that world oil reserves are peaking, and he explored the implications in a 2005 book, "Twilight in the Desert."

In 2007, Simmons founded the Ocean Energy Institute, a think tank and venture capital fund in Rockland, Maine, to promote offshore wind energy research and development.

Travis Harrelson

Renowned ukulele player

Travis Harrelson, 80, considered one of the world's best ukulele players, died Aug. 1 of cancer at his home in Seal Beach, said his son, Tracy.

Harrelson performed, taught and bought and sold vintage ukuleles.

His style of strumming, how he used his right hand while the left hand played chords, was "not only hard to imitate, it was hard to describe," said Jim Beloff, who produced "The Joy of Uke," instructional videos that featured Harrelson. "Seemed like you needed additional hands and fingers to do what he was doing."

Many of Harrelson's favorite guitar players were jazz musicians, his son said, and he tried to incorporate that style into his playing. Harrelson was a regular at local shows featuring ukulele players and performed with his late partner Don Wilson at several of former punk rocker Jonathan Richman's concerts. He and longtime friend Eddie Montana performed on the 2008 CD "Holy Ukuleles!"

Travis Miles Harrelson was born Aug. 15, 1929, in Long Beach to Finis and Lenore Harrelson. His mother loved Hawaiian culture (his sisters are named Aloha and Leilani), and Harrelson started playing the ukulele as a youngster.

He was a Navy aerial photographer during the Korean War and started a photo service business in Reseda in 1960. He also worked as a photographer for North American Aviation.

— Times staff and wire reports

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