A Brief History
On December 27, 2017, we stand on the brink of a new year, giving us cause to look back on the year that is finishing. As with every year, many notable people died this past year, and we list 10 of the most significant or interesting of the Class of 2017. Many people you might add to the list are included in the “honorable mentions,” but feel free to tell us who else we should have listed. (Dishonorable mention: Roger Ailes, Fox TV boss and sexual harasser; Manuel Noriega, dictator)
1. Hugh Hefner, magazine magnate.
Founder of the Playboy empire, this magazine producer brought the “girl next door” look to nude photos. Hef undoubtedly had a large influence on the ‘de-pruding’ of America. Aside from being an activist for free speech and sexual liberation and tolerance, Hef was also a philanthropist. He died at age 91. Hefner was a graduate of the University of Illinois and had one semester of grad school at Northwestern.
2. Tom Petty, rock and roller.
Lead man of The Hearbreakers, Petty was a considerable presence on the rock and roll scene from the mid-1970’s until his untimely death at the age of 66. He sold at least 80 million records. (Honorable mention: Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, Glen Campbell, Greg Allman, Sonny Geraci, Joni Sledge, Cuba Gooding Sr., Gary DeCarlo, Malcolm Young, Mel Tillis, David Cassidy, Don Williams)
3. Dick Enberg, sportscaster.
An American sportscasting icon, Enberg was active from 1960 until 2016. He was a graduate of Central Michigan University and earned his Masters and Doctorate at Indiana University. Enberg also fit in some time as a college baseball coach and professor. Oh my! Enberg was 82 years old.
4. Adam West, Batman.
Born William West Andersen in Walla Walla, Washington (how’s that for alliteration?) in 1928, West was a graduate of Whittman College and is best known for his television role as Batman. The superhero half comedic role type cast this wonderful actor and made him indelibly printed as the “real” Batman to millions of television viewers, forever limiting his future acting roles. Prior to Batman he had appeared in television commercials, movies and television, including a 1965 Three Stooges film, Outlaws is Coming. West did manage to find work after Batman in movies and television, including Batman movies. In recent years West did voice work on cartoons, including Fairly Odd Parents, The Simpsons, and Family Guy. He was 88 years old when he died of leukemia.
5. Roger Moore, James Bond #3.
Following Sean Connery and the forgettable George Lazenby (forget the spoof version of Casino Royale, please!) as super spy James Bond was the definitive role for Moore, from 1973 to1985, the suave and sophisticated British assassin/spy. Just as people will argue Ginger versus Mary Ann (Gilligan’s Island) forever, so will people argue who was the best James Bond. Many would select Roger Moore. Prior to playing Bond, Moore was the title character as Simon Templar in the television series, The Saint (1962 to 1969). Moore had served as an officer in the British Army, attaining the rank of Captain. He was 89.
6. Chuck Barris, game show maven and super spy.
A graduate of Drexler University, Barris was born in 1929 in Philadelphia. He started in show business as an employee of television productions and also delved into the music industry, writing the 1962 #3 Freddy Cannon hit, “Palisades Park.” Barris became involved with ABC’s tv game shows, and in 1965 started Chuck Barris Productions, and his success with The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game marked him as a major force on the game show scene. His signature role was hosting The Gong Show, which spawned a full-length movie. His autobiography, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind revealed him as a former spy for the CIA (maybe) and in turn resulted in a full-length feature film by the same name. Barris claims to have been recruited as a James Bond like spy and assassin for the CIA, a claim widely disbelieved! Barris died at the age of 87 after having battled lung cancer in the 1990’s.
7. Chuck Berry, rock and roll pioneer.
This St. Louis product was one of the early superstars of rock and roll, but as a youngster he had other problems, including a teenage conviction for armed robbery. His first big hit was 1955’s “Maybelline,” Other hits and success followed until 1962 when he was sentenced to jail for 3 years for taking a14 year old girl across state lines for sexual purposes. Released after only a year, Berry went right back to making hit records in the 1960’s, culminating with “My Ding-a-ling” (1972), his biggest hit. By the 1970’s Berry was pretty much an “oldies” event performer of nostalgia. He is considered one of the most important influences on the birth of rock and roll. Somehow, he managed to live to the ripe old age of 90. (Honorable mention: Fats Domino, Bobby Freeman, Jimmy Beaumont, Robert Knight)
8. Mary Tyler Moore, actress.
Known best for her roles as Laura Petrie on the Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966) and as Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977) Moore also acted in major motion pictures, including across from Elvis Presley in Change of Habit (1969). Her work as an activist included animal rights, vegetarianism, and fighting diabetes. She twice wrote her memoirs and co-founded MTM Enterprises, a major force in television programming. She died at the age of 80 from multiple health problems. Her estate is estimated at $60 million, although she made a paltry $450 per episode on The Dick Van Dyke Show! (Honorable mention: Erin Moran, Jim Nabors, Powers Boothe, John Heard, Mike Connors, Barbara Hale, Bill Paxton, George Romero, Sam Shephard, Tobe Hooper, Monty Hall, Robert Guillaume, John Hillerman, Miguel Ferrer, Rose Marie)
9. Jim Bunning, baseball pitcher, politician.
A Hall of Fame baseball star, Bunning won 224 major league games and pitched 2 no-hitters, one of them a perfect game. A graduate of Xavier University, Bunning managed minor league teams after retiring as a player, and had been active in the Players Union. He then joined the Republican party and was elected a US Representative from Kentucky (1987-1999) and then served as US Senator from Kentucky from 1999 to 2011. He died at age 85 after suffering a stroke in 2016 that diminished his health. (Honorable mention: Ara Parseghian, Jake LaMotta, YA Tittle, Doc Halladay, Edwin Mah Lee)
10. Don Rickles, insult comic.
Of course Jerry Lewis is more famous and worked for many years to stamp out Muscular Dystrophy, but Rickles by our measure was much funnier. His sarcastic wit was legendary, earning him roles in movies and television as well as work as a stand-up comic. A man of many talents, Rickles also played serious roles in movies such as Run Silent, Run Deep (1958) and appeared often on late night television shows and on seasonal specials. He also did voice acting and was sarcastically known as “Mr. Warmth.” He was 90 years old when he died, and was a World War II veteran of the US Navy. (Honorable mention: Charlie Murphy, Bill Dana, Dick Gregory, Jerry Lewis)
11. Bonus Entry: Colonel Wesley Fox, USMC.
Fox served 43 years in the Marine Corps and was recognized for his incredible bravery by earning a Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War. Fox was born (1931) and died in Virginia, and had served as an enlisted Marine, reaching the rank of 1st Sergeant before being commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. Prior to combat duty in Vietnam, Fox served in the Korean War and was wounded, earning a Bronze Star medal and a Purple Heart there. He was wounded twice in Vietnam, and served as Deputy Commandant of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets after he retired from the Marine Corps. (Honorable mention: Richard Machowicz, former US Navy SEAL and television personality, as well as teacher of personal defense.)
Question for students (and subscribers): Who else should we have listed? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Berry, Liam, Alexis Chestnow, Kate Hogan, and Benjamin Vanhoose. “From Della Reese to Hugh Hefner: Remembering The Stars We’ve Lost in 2017.” People. http://people.com/celebrity/stars-who-died-in-2017/ (accessed 26 December 2017).
“CELEBRITY DEATHS 2017”. Fifties Web. http://fiftiesweb.com/dead/dead-people-2017/ (accessed 26 December 2017).
“People we’ve lost in 2017.” CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/16/world/gallery/people-we-lost-in-2017/index.html (accessed 26 December 2017).