PASSINGS: Ursula Thiess, Bill Wagner, Algirdas Brazauskas


Ursula Thiess

Actress was married to Robert Taylor

Ursula Thiess, 86, a German-born actress who was married to actor Robert Taylor, died June 19 at an assisted living facility in Burbank, said her son, Terry Taylor. The cause was not given.


Thiess began modeling in Germany in the late 1940s and was billed as a “rising German model” on the cover of Life magazine in 1951. She made her U.S. film debut in “Monsoon” in 1952.

Her movie roles included “The Iron Glove” (1954), “The Americano” (1955) and “Bandido” (1956). Her last film role was in “Left Hand of Gemini” in 1972.

She married Taylor in 1954 and appeared in his TV show “The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor” in 1960 and ’61. They also had a daughter. Taylor died in 1969.

She was born Ursula Schmidt in Hamburg, Germany, on May 15, 1924. She married producer George Thiess in 1942 and had a son and daughter. They later divorced. She also was married to film distributor Marshall Schacker, who died in 1986.

Bill Wagner

Helped revitalize N.Y. wine industry


Bill Wagner, 83, a winery owner who played a major role in revitalizing the Finger Lakes wine industry in west-central New York beginning in the 1970s, died Saturday at his home in Lodi, N.Y., said his son John. The cause was not disclosed.

Wagner grew grapes on his family’s farm for more than three decades before producing his first wines for sale in 1979 as founder of Wagner Vineyards on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake. He quickly earned renown for growing European-American hybrid grapes.

Best known for its Rieslings, the winery produces 35 wines from 20 grape varieties grown on 250 acres of vineyards.

A third-generation farmer, Stanley A. “Bill” Wagner was born in Elmira, N.Y., in 1927. He dropped out of high school to join the Navy in World War II, then returned to the farm where his parents’ crops included grapes, cherries and peaches.

Wagner bought a few acres of land and grew grapes for local New York winemakers before focusing on growing grapes for his own winery.

He added a microbrewery in 1997.

Algirdas Brazauskas


Lithuania’s first freely elected president

Algirdas Brazauskas, 77, Lithuania’s first post-independence president, died Saturday at his home in the capital of Vilnius, his wife said. He had cancer.

Brazauskas became Lithuania’s first freely elected president in 1993, two years after the Baltic state regained independence from Moscow following five decades of Soviet occupation.

Born Sept. 22, 1932, in Rokiskis, Lithuania, Brazauskas was a former chairman of the Lithuanian Communist Party who gained popularity in the late 1980s by challenging the Kremlin with demands for more political and economic freedom.

He ignored threats from the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, and decided to break away from the Soviet Union’s Communist Party and formed the Democratic Labour Party that became one of Lithuania’s key political forces and later merged with Social Democrats.

Brazauskas did not run for a second term in 1998 but was elected prime minister in 2000.

-- Times staff and wire reports