Scott D. Pierce: A fond farewell to TV icons we lost in 2013

By Scott D. Pierce

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: December 31, 2013 09:10AM
Updated: January 1, 2014 01:33PM
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FILE - This Jan. 27, 2008 file photo shows actor James Gandolfini accepting the award for outstanding performance by a male actor in a drama series for his work in "The Sopranos" at the 14th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles. HBO and the managers for Gandolfini say the actor died Wednesday, June 19, 2013, in Italy. He was 51. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, file)

One of the odd things about being a TV critic for almost 24 years is that it gives me an opportunity for personal connections — however brief — with big celebrities.

When news breaks that a TV icon has passed away, I recall their roles — and my time with them. Here are a few who passed this year who I’ll miss.

Dennis Farina • When Farina joined the cast of “Law & Order,” he did NOT want to talk about what it was like try to replace Jerry Orbach. But who would?

David Frost • The great interviewer had a self-deprecating sense of humor. He loved telling the story of his ill-fated interview with a talking bird.

Annette Funicello • Talking about the biographical, 1995 TV movie “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” the former “Micky Mouse Club” star was charming, courageous and open about her battle with MS.

James Gandolfini • The star of “The Sopranos” clearly did not like doing interviews. But he always made the best of the situation. And when a scheduling conflict prevented him from accepting a Television Critics Association Award in person, he sent all TCA members a handwritten thank-you note.

Gary David Goldberg • A smart, funny man who brought us “Family Ties,” “Brooklyn Bridge” and “Spin City,” Goldberg in person was as sharp as the characters he created.

Julie Harris • Chatting with the Oscar-nominated, Emmy-winning actress about her role on “Knots Landing” — and discovering how much she loved her character — is one of my favorite memories.

Elmore Leonard • After multiple failed attempts to translate the author’s works into successful TV series, Leonard could not have been more pleased with “Justified.”

Cory Monteith • It’s difficult to reconcile the man who had the world by the tail with the addict who brought about his own death. I remember Monteith’s enthusiasm and openness before “Glee” debuted. I remember him being somewhat overwhelmed by the attention when it became a hit. But he remained a good interview and a good guy.

Jean Stapleton • I never talked to her during her run on “All In the Family” — hey, I’m not that old! — but I did interview her much later for a TV movie. (Can’t remember which one.) I was instantly struck by the fact that she truly was a great actress because Edith Bunker seemed so real and Stapleton was very different from that character.

Jonathan Winters • I remember being somewhat in awe of this comedy legend, and he was as hilarious as you’d expect. Nonstop funny.

Lee Thompson Young • When news broke that he had taken his own life, I could only think of the nice young man who chatted amiably with me on the set of “Rizzoli & Isles.”

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.