PASSINGS: Raul Ramirez, Al Ruscio

Raul Ramirez

Award-winning investigative journalist

Raul Ramirez, 67, an investigative newspaper journalist who went on to help build a prominent Northern California public radio news operation, died Friday at home in Berkeley, said San Francisco radio station KQED, where he was executive director of news and public affairs. The cause was esophageal cancer, the station said.

Ramirez joined KQED in 1991 after working as a reporter and editor at several newspapers, including the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Miami Herald and San Francisco Examiner. In a 2001 interview with the online website, he said he fretted about his transition to public radio but found that it gave him an audience devoted to news.

"In some ways appealing to the lowest common denominator is the worst possible thing you can do to a public radio audience," he said. "They don't appreciate it. It really removes that kind of pressure to provide what is most appealing to the widest possible audience."

Some of his best known work as a reporter came as a result of immersing himself in the worlds of his subjects. The San Francisco Chronicle noted that he worked as a sheriff's deputy to investigate jail conditions in that city and that he toiled alongside farmworkers for a Wall Street Journal story.

One of his most high-profile stories for the Examiner concerned a gang murder case in Chinatown. Ramirez and another reporter wrote in 1976 that law enforcement authorities had pressured witnesses into lying. The authorities sued for libel and initially won their case in Superior Court, but that decision was overturned by the California Supreme Court, KQED said.

Raul Ramirez was born in Havana on Sept. 5, 1946. As a teenager, his parents sent him to Florida to live with relatives. "He first started to explore journalism as a student at the University of Florida in Gainesville," said a KQED blog by David Weir and Patricia Yollin. Ramirez took up the topic with the aim of improving his English, but "in the process, he discovered his calling."

Among Ramirez's numerous honors was a 1989 Penney-Missouri Award as co-editor of the Examiner's "Gay in America" series. This year he was awarded the Distinguished Service to Journalism award by the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Al Ruscio

Character actor in numerous TV roles

Al Ruscio, 89, who appeared in more than 200 TV episodes, died Tuesday at his home in Encino, said his manager, Judy Fox. He had been in declining health, she said.

Ruscio also appeared in several films — most prominently in "Godfather III," in which he played Leo Cuneo, an ill-fated crime boss — but he made his major mark in television, where his credits list nearly spans the history of commercial TV.

His first TV parts, according to the Internet Movie Database, were in 1958 when he appeared in "Playhouse 90, "Gunsmoke" and "Zorro." He often played Italians but also other nationalities in shows including "Sea Hunt," "Peter Gunn," "Bonanza," "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour," "Dr. Kildare" and "77 Sunset Strip."

He had recurring roles in some series, including "Santa Barbara" and "Scarecrow and Mrs. King." But mostly he did one-offs and in more recent years appeared in such landmark shows as "Seinfeld" and "The X-Files."

Ruscio was born June 2, 1924, in Salem, Mass.

In addition to his TV and film work, he appeared in numerous touring and local stage productions, and he taught college drama classes. Ruscio also served on the board of directors of the Screen Actors Guild.

He wrote a textbook, "So Therefore ... : A Practical Guide for Actors." The title is explained in the preface: "Every scene or action or speech has a so therefore," Ruscio wrote. "It is the goal, the ultimate statement of the character. You should know the so therefore as you begin your scene.

"The climax and the payoff is the so therefore."

Times staff and wire reports

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