Sean P. Means: Measuring the moments of those who died in 2013

By Sean P. Means

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: December 27, 2013 09:22AM
Updated: December 30, 2013 12:55PM
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FILE - In this June 5, 2008 file photo, country music artist Mindy McCready performs at the CMA Music Festival in Nashville, Tenn. McCready, who hit the top of the country charts before personal problems sidetracked her career, died Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013. She was 37. (AP Photo/Bill Waugh, File)

When a person dies, one way we measure his or her life is by the moments, the memories, that person evokes.

When famous people die, particularly those we know from seeing their work on the screen or hearing their music, those moments are shared experiences — a sign that these people touched not just their immediate circle of friends and loved ones, but the broader world.

Some who died in 2013 created the most indelible moments on the screen. Peter O’Toole (Dec. 14; age 81) gave us the piercing blue eyes of Lawrence of Arabia and the regal cadences of Henry II (in “Becket” and “The Lion in Winter”). Joan Fontaine (Dec. 15; age 96) illuminated the nameless Mrs. DeWinter in “Rebecca” and won an Oscar for Alfred Hitchcock’s “Suspicion.” Esther Williams (June 6; age 91) plunged into the water to become a star of musical extravaganzas. Julie Harris (Aug. 24; age 87) moved smoothly from stage to screen and back.

Some left us too soon. James Gandolfini (June 19; age 51) had just made a romantic comedy, “Enough Said,” that was a gentle departure from Tony Soprano and similar mobster roles. Paul Walker (Nov. 30; age 40) was known within Hollywood for his charitable works as much as for his “Fast & Furious” movies. Cory Monteith (July 13; age 31), best known for playing a high-school quarterback-turned-singer in “Glee,” now will be seen as forever young.

Some shined in supporting roles. Karen Black (Aug. 8; age 74) landed a plane in “Airport ’75” and led the alien invasion of Utah in “Plan 10 From Outer Space.” Eileen Brennan (July 28; age 80) brought an acerbic humor to “The Sting” and “Private Benjamin.” Eleanor Parker (Dec. 9; age 91) was a graceful presence in films such as “Interrupted Melody,” “The Man With the Golden Arm” and “The Sound of Music.” Richard Griffiths (March 28; age 65) played odd uncles in “Withnail & I” and the “Harry Potter” films and was a comic force in many other films.

Some combined singing and acting. Deanna Durbin (April; age 91) had a girl-next-door look and an operatic voice, and rivaled Shirley Temple as a young adult star. Annette Funicello (April 8; age 70) projected innocence and charm, first as a Mouseketeer and then on the beach with Frankie Avalon.

Some made their mark on the small screen. Jean Stapleton (May 31; age 90), as Edith Bunker on “All in the Family,” made Archie more human. Bonnie Franklin (March 1; age 69) made feminism funny on “One Day at a Time.” Marcia Wallace (Oct. 25; age 70) made an impact as the daffy receptionist on “The Bob Newhart Show” and as Bart Simpson’s exasperated teacher, Mrs. Krabappel, on “The Simpsons.” Jonathan Winters (April 11; age 87) was considered the sharpest comedian on TV, and an inspiration to Robin Williams and others. David Frost (Aug. 31; age 74) was a master showman and a journalist, who most famously captured a post-resignation Richard Nixon trying to spin his lies.

More from TV: Dennis Farina (July 22; age 69) played cops well, notably on “Law & Order,” because he once was one; Conrad Bain (Jan 14; age 89) portrayed the kindly patrician who adopted Arnold and Willis on “Diff’rent Strokes”; Jeanne Cooper (May 8; age 84) was an imperious matriarch on “The Young and the Restless”; and Michael Ansara (July 31; age 91) played Indians and ethnic characters on a raft of old TV shows — and was one of the best Klingons on the original “Star Trek.”

We lost movie directors who changed our view of the world. Hal Needham (Oct. 25; age 82) turned over-the-top stuntwork into comedy in “Smokey & The Bandit” and “Cannonball Run.” Tom Laughlin (Dec. 12; age 82) made independent movies before people called them that, bucking the studios to make the politically potent “Billy Jack” films. French filmmaker Eduoard Molinaro (Dec. 7; age 85) gave the world the flamboyance of “La Cage aux Folles.”

Some people turned the craft of moviemaking into art. Ray Harryhausen (May 7; age 92) created walking dinosaurs and mythic monsters using stop-motion animation before the days of computer effects. Stuart Freeborn (Feb. 5; age 98) used his makeup skills to bring the “Star Wars” characters of Chewbacca and Yoda to life. Ray Dolby (Sept. 12; age 80) made sound come alive.

We lost notable writers. Elmore Leonard (Aug. 20; age 87) created tough characters in Western settings (like “3:10 to Yuma” and “Hombre”) and in modern crime worlds, such as “Get Shorty,” “Out of Sight” and “Rum Punch” (the basis for “Jackie Brown”). Tom Clancy (Oct. 1; age 66) created CIA analyst Jack Ryan and envisioned scenarios for many video games. Richard Matheson (June 23; age 87) was a master of science fiction, creating scenarios for “The Twilight Zone” and the much-adapted classic “I Am Legend.” Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (April 3; age 85) adapted stately novels into rich films such as “A Room With a View” and “Howard’s End.”

Some great writers wrote about the movies. Roger Ebert (April 4; age 70) brought a sense of humanity to his movie reviews, and to himself as his writing deepened while his health declined. Stanley Kauffman (Oct. 9; age 97) was an erudite critic whose reviews had the power to change minds.

In music, we lost Lou Reed (Oct. 27; age 71), New York’s poet of the streets. Ray Manzarek (May 20; age 74), as keyboardist for The Doors, provided the cathedrallike atmosphere for Jim Morrison’s trippy vocals. Richie Havens (April 22; age 72) opened Woodstock and sang out the soul of a generation. Behind the board, producer Phil Ramone (March 30; age 79) brought out the best in Paul Simon and Billy Joel, among many others. In the classical world, Van Cliburn (Feb. 27; age 78) played Tchaikovsky better than the Russians and became a tall, cool symbol of Cold War diplomacy.

It was a hard year for country music. George Jones (April 26; age 81) broke hearts and concert schedules. Ray Price (Dec. 16; age 87) pushed country from the two-step to 4/4 time. Patti Page (Jan. 1; age 85) sang “The Tennessee Waltz,” becoming one of the first country crossover artists. Mindy McCready (Feb. 17; age 37) had a troubled life that resembled a country song. Slim Whitman (June 19; age 90) yodeled his way into America’s hearts via ubiquitous TV commercials.

Raise a glass tothese and other greats who left us in 2013.

Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form at www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Email him at spmeans@sltrib.com.