A brief look at some of those we lost in 2021.
At what should have been the pinnacle of his long career in baseball, Henry Aaron was getting bags of hate mail — many containing death threats — and living in a storage room at the stadium, accompanied by bodyguards when he ventured out.
It was 1973, the country remained divided along racial lines, and Aaron, a Black player for the Atlanta Braves, was closing in on Babe Ruth’s holy career record of 714 home runs. To some, it was sacrilegious that a Black man would threaten the record of the immortal Babe.
Aaron eventually tied, then surpassed Ruth’s record, finishing his remarkable 23-year career with 755 homers. Even at that, he felt shortchanged.
Eli Broad made his billions building homes, and then he used that wealth — and the considerable collection of world-class modern art he assembled with his wife — to shape the city around him.
Dogged, determined and often unyielding, he helped push and prod majestic institutions such as Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Museum of Contemporary Art into existence, and then, that done, he created his own namesake museum in the heart of Los Angeles.
With a fortune estimated by Forbes at $6.9 billion, the New York native who made California his home more than 50 years ago flourished in the home construction and insurance industries before directing his attention and fortune toward an array of ambitious civic projects, often setting the agenda for what was to come in L.A.
With witty yet economic prose and a gift for recalling the inner emotions of childhood, Beverly Cleary wove timeless tales that took young readers back to the Portland, Ore., of her youth.
Her stories served as a collective touchstone for the childhoods of many baby boomers, and succeeding generations, who saw themselves in the pages of her work.
Cleary died in Carmel, where she had lived since the 1960s. She was 104.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti was the opposite of the flamboyant literary bad boys drawn to the bohemian haven he nurtured in 1950s San Francisco.
Unlike Beat novelist Jack Kerouac and poet Allen Ginsberg, he was known for neither public drunkenness nor public nudity. Tall and lean, he swam daily and biked to work at City Lights, the San Francisco bookshop that became a landmark of intellectual freedom not long after he co-founded it seven decades ago.
Nor did he seem to mind that the critical attention heaped on his celebrated friends mostly eluded him, even though he was a prolific poet with more than 30 collections published over a half century.
Vicente Fernández’s romantic rancheras and timeless folk anthems defined the grit and romance of his turbulent homeland, songs of love, heartbreak and working-class heroes that made him a cultural giant for generations of fans throughout Latin America and beyond.
With his buttery baritone and ornate sombreros, embroidered jackets and slim trousers, he stood as a constant for decades, a source of comfort in good times and bad.
But time finally caught up with a performer who seemed eternal.
In poor health in recent months, Fernández died at 81, according to an announcement on his Instagram page. A cause of death was not specified.
Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who was killed in a tragic incident involving a prop gun fired by actor and producer Alec Baldwin on the New Mexico set of the film “Rust,” appeared to have a bright future.
A 2015 graduate of the American Film Institute Conservatory, Hutchins, 42, had been selected as one of American Cinematographer’s Rising Stars of 2019. With indie features like “Archenemy,” “Blindfire” and “The Mad Hatter” to her credit, along with a string of shorts and commercial work, she was beginning to make a bigger name for herself.
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The period western “Rust,” about a 13-year-old boy in 1880s Kansas who goes on the run with his long-estranged grandfather (played by Baldwin) after being sentenced to death for the accidental killing of a local rancher, looked as though it would push her career to a new level.
In living rooms across America, Larry King was as comfortable a guest as a favorite uncle dropping by to schmooze with the family.
Never too pushy, never going directly for the jugular, King — with his trademark suspenders, horn-rimmed glasses and rolled-up sleeves — would chat it up with presidents, authors, actors, psychics, villains, heroes or anyone with a product to push, a political race to win or an image in need of a makeover.
In a career that spanned half a century, King became one of the most famous talk show hosts and opinion shapers in the world with his breezy, rarely confrontational style of banter, leading his guests this way and that, wherever his curiosity took him.
Tommy Lasorda’s body began to fail him in recent months, but his passion for the Dodgers never wavered. The man who always claimed he bled Dodger blue out of loyalty to the organization had one last mission to accomplish, one more triumphant moment to experience.
He was granted that moment in October, when the Dodgers defeated the Tampa Bay Rays to win the World Series — their first championship since he guided them to the title in 1988. “He willed himself to live this long and to watch that world championship,” former Dodgers pitcher Orel Hershiser said. “He willed himself to stay active with baseball and to be impactful on a daily basis.
“He’s impacted us all in so many ways, the L.A. community, the baseball family, all of the world of baseball. But I believe Tommy Lasorda had no boundaries. On a daily basis there were no boundaries to something positive, something about winning, that he could do.”
Cloris Leachman, who won an Oscar for her role in the bleak coming-of-age movie “The Last Picture Show” and Emmy awards during a prolific television career that stretched back to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” died at her home in Encinitas, Calif.
The ubiquitous actress always seemed to be working: She anchored her own “MTM” spinoff series “Phyllis” and starred in the hit TV shows “The Facts of Life,” “Rhoda,” “Touched by an Angel,” “The Ellen Show,” “Malcolm in the Middle,” and “Raising Hope.” She had a recurring role on “American Gods” in 2016 and a critically acclaimed career in film, highlighted by her Oscar-winning performance in 1971’s “The Last Picture Show” and the classic tour-de-farce “Young Frankenstein.”
Leachman, who worked well into her 90s and became the oldest contestant on “Dancing With the Stars” in 2008, died of natural causes, her publicist said. She was 94.
With millions of listeners at his back, Rush Limbaugh gained such power and authority by the mid-1990s that he was made an honorary member of the Republican-held House, where his far right-leaning ideas, laments and bombast helped steer the party toward its fractious future.
The GOP had just taken back the chamber for the first time in decades and Newt Gingrich, then speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, was so indebted to the fiery conservative radio personality that he and other Republicans called themselves the “Limbaugh Congress.” Limbaugh, the speaker said, had given them the courage to “take back our country.”
Though advertisers occasionally fled and even political allies winced when he went on an unfiltered tirade, Limbaugh remained a sure-fire friend of the American right, and listeners faithfully heeded his advice and political gospel over the decades. In ways both big and small, it was Limbaugh who arose as an architect of the deep political and cultural divides in America that came into full focus during the Trump era.
Melvin van Peebles
Melvin Van Peebles, the Black filmmaker, novelist and playwright, whose audacious, rebellious work had an influence on generations of artists, died at 89.
A statement released by the Criterion Collection and Janus Films — which had been scheduled to release a box set of Van Peebles’s work — said the filmmaker died at his home in New York with family.
In a testament to his continued relevance, a restoration of his best known film, 1971’s “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” was previously set for a 50th anniversary tribute this weekend at the New York Film Festival, and his Tony-nominated play “Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death” is planned for a revival on Broadway next year. His debut feature film, 1968’s interracial romance “The Story of a Three-Day Pass,” was rereleased in theaters earlier this year.
For all the roles he embodied and for all the acclaim he earned during his long and distinguished career, Christopher Plummer found himself helplessly chained to Capt. Von Trapp, the imperious patriarch of the Trapp Family Singers in “The Sound of Music.”
The role rocketed Plummer to stardom, opened doors in Hollywood and ensured he would be fondly and forever remembered by filmgoers around the world. Yet, the classically trained actor found Von Trapp to be a tired, one-dimensional and wooden character, and the film syrupy, at best.
“I’m just sorry that after all the years of playing marvelous roles, to be known for something as saccharine as that,” he told The Times in 1976. Still, he allowed, “It became easier for me to fill a theater.”
From the streets of Harlem, then the battlefields in Vietnam, Colin Powell rose to the highest levels of U.S. government as America’s top soldier, advisor and diplomat, breaking racial and political barriers as he ascended.
But his stellar reputation at the most senior echelons of government was eventually tarnished by his decision to lead his country into a grinding, disastrous war in Iraq, a decision he came to regret as the battles and years wore on.
Admired broadly on both the national and world stage, Powell died of complications from COVID-19 exacerbated by an acute blood cancer from which he had long suffered, his family said. He was fully vaccinated, the family statement said.
Cruz Reynoso, a son of migrant workers who labored in the fields as a child and went on to become the first Latino state Supreme Court justice in California history, died at 90.
Reynoso passed away at an elder care facility in Oroville, according to his son, Len ReidReynoso. The cause of death was unknown.
In a legal career that spanned more than half a century and took him from his first job in El Centro to Sacramento, the soft-spoken family man helped shape and protect the first statewide, federally funded legal aid program in the country and guided young, minority students toward the law.
Stephen Sondheim, the award-winning composer-lyricist who took the Broadway musical to a higher level of emotional complexity than his predecessors in shows such as “Company,” “Follies” and “Sweeney Todd,” has died at his home in Roxbury, Conn.
Sondheim’s death was confirmed by Broadway publicist Rick Miramontez, president of DKC/O&M, but a cause of death has not been disclosed. He was 91.
In a Broadway career launched in 1957 at age 27 as the lyricist for the classic “West Side Story,” Sondheim went on to write the lyrics for the 1959 hit “Gypsy” before writing both the lyrics and music for the 1962 hit “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” winner of the Tony Award for best musical.
When Cicely Tyson accepted an Emmy in 1974 for her starring role in “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” she smiled into the camera and spoke straight to her mother: “You see, Mom,” she said, “it wasn’t really a den of iniquity after all.”
Some two decades earlier, the sternly religious Theodosia Tyson had thrown her daughter out of her New York City home for getting into the “sinful” entertainment business. For two years, they didn’t see each other.
Only much later did Theodosia acknowledge that her daughter, who by then was famous for the disciplined and elegant quality of her acting, had chosen superbly. Tyson worked less often than she could have because of her insistence that roles for Black women reflect a sense of power and grace.