PASSINGS: Len Lesser, Sidney Harth, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, Santi Santamaria, T.P. McKenna, Howard Lucraft
Veteran character actor
Len Lesser, 88, a veteran character actor best known for his recurring role in the 1990s as Uncle Leo on the hit NBC-TV comedy “Seinfeld,” died Wednesday in Burbank, publicist Laura Stegman said. He had pneumonia and cancer.
Starting in the early 1950s, Lesser built a reputation for mostly playing the heavy in dozens of movies and hundreds of TV appearances, while nurturing his love of the theater. But the bald, hook-nosed actor took his career to a higher plane once he established himself as Jerry Seinfeld’s annoying Uncle Leo with his trademark greeting “Hello!”
“He’s the kind of guy who is a total nuisance at times and the kind of guy you avoid,” Lesser said of Uncle Leo in a 1998 interview with The Times. “He’s a very expansive character, and that has an attraction to it.”
Born Dec. 3, 1922, in New York, Lesser received a bachelor’s degree in economics and government from the City College of New York in 1942. He served in the Army during World War II, then returned to New York to study acting.
He moved to Los Angeles in 1954 and began working in television and commercials. Movie roles followed, including small parts in “Kelly’s Heroes,” “Papillon” and “The Outlaw Josey Wales.”
Besides “Seinfeld,” he also had a recurring role on the CBS sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond” as Raymond’s father’s friend Garvin.
He appeared frequently on local stages, including in “Cold Storage” at the Gnu Theatre in 1993, “Cantorial” at the Actors Alley in 1992 and “Awake and Sing!” at A Noise Within last year.
Former L.A. Phil concertmaster
Sidney Harth, 85, a violinist who was concertmaster and associate conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1973 to ’79, died Tuesday of respiratory complications at a hospital in Pittsburgh, said publicist Janice Mayer.
Harth, who served under Zubin Mehta and Carlo Maria Giulini at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, resigned in 1979 because “numerous conducting and solo engagements are making it impossible … to spend an adequate amount of time with the orchestra,” he said.
Martin Bernheimer, then The Times’ classical music critic, wrote that Harth won nearly universal acclaim as a violinist but was criticized by some because of his absences.
During his career, Harth was concertmaster for the Louisville Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic and worked with the Jerusalem and Puerto Rico symphonies, among others.
He was chairman of the music department at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh when he came to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He later taught there again, as well as at Yale and several other universities. He was director of orchestra studies at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh when he died.
Harth was born Oct. 5, 1925, in Cleveland and graduated in 1947 from the Cleveland Institute of Music.
Ratu Josefa Iloilo
Fijian leader aided military takeover
Ratu Josefa Iloilo, 91, a Fijian tribal chief who as president made crucial decisions backing the military takeover of the South Pacific country, died Feb. 7 at a hospital in the capital city of Suva. He had a heart condition.
A traditional high chief and former teacher, Iloilo became an ally of armed forces chief Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who overthrew the elected government in a December 2006 coup amid rising tensions between indigenous Fijians and the country’s large ethnic Indian minority.
Bainimarama seized the president’s powers in the coup but returned them within days to Iloilo, who then swore in the armed forces chief as prime minister and his appointees as the Cabinet, giving the regime a veneer of legitimacy.
Iloilo stepped in again on Bainimarama’s behalf in April 2009, when Fiji’s Court of Appeal ruled that Bainimarama’s government was illegal and all decisions it had made were invalid.
Iloilo responded by abolishing the Constitution, firing the nation’s judges and imposing emergency rule that continues, with the nation ruled by decrees issued by the office of president on the advice of Bainimarama and his Cabinet.
Since the coup — Fiji’s fourth since 1987 — Fiji has been suspended from the 53-nation Commonwealth group and 16-country Pacific Islands Forum.
Iloilo stood down as president in 2010. He had been appointed to the country’s highest office in 2000.
Renowned Spanish chef
Santi Santamaria, 53, a Spanish chef with a three-Michelin-star restaurant in Barcelona and other fine eateries, died Wednesday in Singapore at his Marina Bay restaurant named Santi, said Ruben Mallat, manager of the three-star restaurant El Raco de Can Fabes in Barcelona. Mallat said the cause of death was not immediately known.
One of a generation of chefs who brought Spanish cuisine to the attention of international gourmets, Santamaria prided himself on using natural, seasonal ingredients to make Mediterranean-style dishes.
Born in Sant Celoni, outside Barcelona, Santamaria opened Can Fabes in 1981. By 1994, the restaurant had become the first in Spain to attain three Michelin stars. He owned three other restaurants in Spain that also garnered Michelin stars.
Santamaria, who was also the author of several cookbooks, was awarded Spain’s National Gastronomy Prize in 2009.
Prolific Irish actor
T.P. McKenna, 81, a prolific Irish actor on stage, film and television who appeared in the film adaptations of the James Joyce novels “Ulysses” and “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” died Sunday at the Royal Free Hospital in London after a long illness, according to a statement on his website.
Director Joseph Strick chose McKenna to play Buck Mulligan in his 1967 film “Ulysses” and Simon Dedalus in “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” (1977). McKenna also had a key role in Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 film “Straw Dogs.”
Born Thomas Patrick McKenna on Sept. 7, 1929, in the town of Mullagh in County Cavan, he started working life as a banker. He took up acting and in 1955 joined the Abbey Theatre company in Dublin.
Besides appearing on stage in Ireland and London, he landed acting parts in film and television, including the popular 1960s series “The Avengers’’ and “The Saint.’'
Jazz musician and critic
Howard Lucraft, 94, a British-born jazz musician and composer who also wrote about music, died Feb. 4 of complications from aging at Community Hospital of Long Beach, said his wife, Patricia.
Lucraft was a guitarist who also wrote for such publications as Variety, DownBeat magazine, The Times and British newspapers. Beginning in the late 1950s, he also was a radio personality on Southern California jazz stations KNOB-FM and KLON-FM.
The Times’ Leonard Feather, reviewing a performance by Lucraft with a jazz septet in 1974, called him “a music critic who can practice what he preaches.”
Lucraft was born Aug. 16, 1916, in Finchley, a suburb of London. During World War II, he was a musician in the Royal Air Force. He came to the United States in the early 1950s.
— Los Angeles Times staff and wire reports
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