PASSINGS: Allan Ellis, Ernie Johnson, Les Plesko

PASSINGS: Allan Ellis, Ernie Johnson, Les Plesko
Former Chicago Bears cornerback Allan Ellis, shown in 1980, was the first Bears cornerback to be selected to the Pro Bowl in 1977, when he matched his career high with six interceptions.

Allan Ellis

Pro Bowl cornerback for Bears


Allan Ellis, 62, a Pro Bowl cornerback for the Chicago Bears in the 1970s, died Wednesday in Chicago, the team announced. His friend and former NFL player Marc May said a heart attack was the suspected cause.

A fifth-round draft pick out of UCLA in 1973, Ellis had 22 interceptions over seven NFL seasons with the Bears. He spent his final year in the league with San Diego in 1981.

Ellis became the first Bears cornerback to be selected to the Pro Bowl in 1977, when he matched his career high with six interceptions.

Born Aug. 19, 1951, in Los Angeles, Ellis attended Centennial High School in Compton. As a senior at UCLA, he received the Kenny Washington Memorial Award as outstanding senior football player and the Donn Moomaw Award as the team's outstanding defensive player. He was also named to the all-conference team that season, when the Bruins played in the West Coast Conference.

After he retired from football, Ellis worked as a counselor in Chicago city colleges and started a program to guide and counsel disadvantaged youths in the city.

Ernie Johnson

Former El Rancho High football coach

Ernie Johnson, 87, the football coach who guided Pico Rivera El Rancho High School to three CIF Southern Section championships in the 1960s, died Sept. 15 at his home in San Juan Capistrano, according to family friend Armie Briones.

In 2011, El Rancho's football field at Don Memorial Stadium was named for Johnson. There also was an "Ernie Johnson Day."

Johnson coached at El Rancho from 1956 to 1968, compiling a record of 108-31-5. His teams won Southern Section titles in 1960 and 1966, tied for a third in 1968, and lost two more times in the finals.

He left El Rancho to become defensive line coach at Long Beach State for a year and returned briefly to the high school ranks at Newport Harbor High before landing a head coaching position at Cerritos College, where he went 27-34-5 in seven seasons playing a competitive non-conference schedule.

Born Oct. 12, 1925, in Texas, Johnson was an all-CIF basketball player at Fullerton High. He served in the Merchant Marines and the Army and played football at Fullerton College before attending what is now San Jose State.

Les Plesko

Author and writing instructor

Les Plesko, 59, a Hungarian-born author and well-regarded instructor in creative writing at UCLA Extension, was found dead Monday in Venice after apparently leaping to his death. The Los Angeles County coroner's office investigated his death as a suicide.

Venice was Plesko's home and the setting for his 1995 debut novel, "Last Bongo Sunset," about a heroin addict's self-loathing, marginal beachside life in the 1970s. The book, published by Simon & Schuster, was lauded as "stylistically gorgeous" while receiving mixed reviews.

Plesko was born Jan. 8, 1954, in Budapest and was very young when he moved with his family to the United States.

"I've always written," he said in an interview with Contemporary Authors, "but I got sidetracked by life for a while, roaming around trying various interesting pursuits, from working as a crop-duster's flagman to country and western disc jockey to pet cemetery salesman. What I hope to achieve through my writing is transcendence and redemption."

Plesko was a member of a workshop run by Kate Braverman that began in the early 1990s and included authors Janet Fitch and Samantha Dunn.

Dunn said Plesko was the writing workshop's star. "He was the one who gently prodded people to face their problems," Dunn said last week, adding that Plesko was an emotional and creative force within the group. "If it wasn't for Les Plesko, I would just have 75 pages of fragments." Instead, she wrote her novel "Failing Paris."

Plesko had a hard time finding his place in a publishing environment that was changing. "A writer's job once was to write beautiful sentences and create beautiful stories, and that's what he did," Dunn said. "He didn't understand anything about platforms or promotion."

Two Los Angeles-based independent publishers did publish Plesko in recent years; "Who I Was" was published by Deyermond Books in 2012 and "Slow Lie Detector" by Equator Books in 2009.

Times staff and wire reports