PASSINGS: Dick Kniss, Kazimierz Smolen, Miguel Nazar Haro, Dimitra Arliss, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro

Dick Kniss

Bass player with Peter, Paul and Mary

Dick Kniss, 74, who played stand-up bass with the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary and co-wrote the John Denver hit "Sunshine on My Shoulders," died Wednesday of pulmonary disease at a hospital near his home in Saugerties, N.Y, said his wife, Diane.

Born in 1937 in Portland, Ore., Kniss was playing in a band led by Woody Herman in New York City before joining Peter, Paul and Mary in 1964. He performed with them throughout the 1960s, rejoined them when they reunited in 1978 and continued to give concerts with them until 2009, the year Mary Travers died.

Kniss — pronounced k-nish — was "our intrepid bass player for almost as long as we performed together," the trio's Peter Yarrow said in a statement. "His bass playing was always a great fourth voice in our music."

From 1970 to 1978, Kniss was also featured on many Denver recordings. With singer Mike Taylor, Kniss co-wrote "Sunshine on My Shoulders."

Kazimierz Smolen

Headed Auschwitz museum at death camp site

Kazimierz Smolen, 91, an Auschwitz survivor who after World War II became director of a memorial museum at the site, died Friday on the 67th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp. He died in Oswiecim, the southern Polish town where Nazi Germany operated the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, said Pawel Sawicki, a spokesman for the Auschwitz-Birkenau state museum.

Soviet troops liberated the camp on Jan. 27, 1945. In 2005, the United Nations designated Jan. 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Two years after the war ended, Auschwitz-Birkenau became a museum, and Smolen served as its director from 1955 to 1990. He continued to live in Oswiecim after he retired.

News of his death was announced to Holocaust survivors who had gathered to observe Remembrance Day at the camp, which is still enclosed in barbed wire. They observed a minute of silence in his honor.

Born April 19, 1920, in the southern Polish town of Chorzow Stary, Smolen was a Polish Catholic involved in the anti-Nazi resistance when the Germans arrested him in April 1941 and took him to Auschwitz. He left the camp on the last transport of prisoners evacuated by the Germans on Jan. 18, 1945, nine days before its liberation.

He attributed his survival to good health and extreme luck. Smolen once explained his decision to return to the camp to manage it as a way of honoring those who were killed there.

"Sometimes when I think about it, I feel it may be some kind of sacrifice, some kind of obligation I have for having survived," he said.

Miguel Nazar Haro

Led Mexico's domestic spy agency

Miguel Nazar Haro 87, who led Mexico's domestic spy agency and was accused of being behind the disappearances of alleged leftist guerrillas in the 1970s, died Thursday at his home in Mexico City of a combination of illnesses. He had been depressed over the recent death of his wife, family members told Mexican media.

From 1978 to 1982, Nazar Haro headed Mexico's now-dissolved Federal Security Directorate at the height of the government's "dirty war" against leftist insurgents.

He was arrested in 2004 on charges stemming from the disappearances of six farmers who were alleged members of the Brigada Campesina de los Lacandones, an armed group that the government linked to at least one kidnapping. The charges were dismissed in 2006.

The ruling was considered a setback for special prosecutor Ignacio Carrillo, who had been named by then-President Vicente Fox to shed light on wrongful imprisonment, torture, forced disappearances and slayings of hundreds of radical leftists and farm and union leaders from the 1960s through the 1980s.

Dimitra Arliss

Played hired killer in 'The Sting'

Dimitra Arliss, 79, an actress who had a small but memorable role as a hired killer opposite Robert Redford and Paul Newman in the 1973 film "The Sting," died Thursday of complications from a stroke at the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital in Woodland Hills, according to spokeswoman Jaime Larkin.

Born Oct. 23, 1932, in Lorain, Ohio, Arliss attended Miami University of Ohio and began her acting career at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. Her Broadway credits include "Indians" (1969), "Antigone" (1971) and "Arms and the Man" (1985).

Besides "The Sting," she was also seen in the films "Xanadu" and "Firefox." Her numerous television credits include "Mannix," "Quincy M.E.," and the 1976 miniseries "Rich Man, Poor Man, Book II."

Oscar Luigi Scalfaro

Italy's ninth postwar president

Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, 93, a former president of Italy who held the post during the sweeping corruption scandal of the early 1990s that reshaped the country's postwar political landscape, died Sunday in Rome, according to a statement from Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.

Scalfaro was a key figure in postwar Italian politics, helping to write the constitution and to found the former Christian Democrats. He held numerous prominent government posts before becoming Italy's ninth postwar president, a position that is largely ceremonial but carries the significant role of moral compass for the country.

As president from 1992 to 1999, Scalfaro was often called upon to resolve Italy's recurrent political crises, either choosing a new premier or calling early elections.

The "Clean Hands" investigations launched in the early 1990s uncovered a broad system of bribes that wiped out much of Italy's political class, including key members of the conservative Christian Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats. The scandals deeply eroded Italians' trust in politicians and led to the demise of the two parties that had formed the pillars of postwar Italian politics.

A native of the northern city of Novara, Scalfaro was a devout Roman Catholic with a law degree from Catholic University of Milan. In 1946, he won a seat in the assembly that wrote the constitution for the Italian Republic, declared in late 1947 after a popular referendum abolished the monarchy.

Scalfaro was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in the Italian republic's first general election in 1948 and remained a deputy until he was elected president in 1992.

-- Los Angeles Times staff and wire reports

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