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In Appreciation, 2008

Remembered in entertainment and the arts

Eartha Kitt
Eartha KittRead moreAbaca Press/MCT

It's not so much that we've lost them. The amazing thing is that we've had the privilege of their company. What follows is a look at some of the people in entertainment and the arts who died in 2008.

Movies and theater. Two of the greats made their last laps: race car enthusiast and fine actor Paul Newman (age 83) and Charlton Heston (84), a swell charioteer in Ben-Hur. The promising career of Heath Ledger (29) came to an end too soon, as did that of one of the "Original Kings of Comedy," Bernie Mac (50).

Cyd Charisse (86), who once twirled in the arms of Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, danced away, along with two-time Oscar nominee Roy Scheider (75) and Oscar-winning directors Sydney Pollack (73) of Tootsie, and Anthony Minghella (54) of The English Patient.

They'll have a tremendous cast to direct now, with the likes of tall, beautiful Anita Page (98), pretty boy Van Johnson (92), tough-guy Richard Widmark (93), the fine Nina Foch (84), producer-actor Mel Ferrer (90), and searing British actor Paul Scofield (86), a man for all seasons and star of Peter Brooks' King Lear.

The stage will grow more silent without the playwriting voice of Harold Pinter (78), master of the menacing pause. And it will mourn the loss of sultry triple-threat Eartha Kitt (81), actress, singer and dancer.

And let's hear it for the all-time voice-over guy: Don LaFontaine (68), narrator of movie trailers for years, took his voice over there.

Television. Many familiar faces will be seen henceforth on reruns only, including the "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" stand-up comedian George Carlin (71), revered Meet the Press journalist Tim Russert (58), Wide World of Sports host Jim McKay (86), and Laugh-In comedian Dick Martin (86).

The sitcom and series world observed timeouts for beautiful ironist Suzanne Pleshette (70) of The Bob Newhart Show, nutty Harvey Korman (81) of The Carol Burnett Show, and detective guy Barry Morse (89) of The Fugitive.

House Peters Jr. (92), the original Mr. Clean, has finished wiping away every spot. Longtime Bozo the Clown Larry Harmon (83) is honking his nose in the choir celestial, and Bill Melendez (91), the producer-animator of the Peanuts specials, is doing an eternal Snoopy dance.

Literature. From the limits of sci-fi in Arthur C. Clarke (90) of 2001 and Michael Crichton (66) of The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park, to the limits of nonfiction, with Studs Terkel (96) of Working and so many other oral histories, this year bid adieu to many prominent writers. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (89) exposed the evils of the Communist regime in Cancer Ward, Gulag Archipelago and other works. George MacDonald Fraser (82) created the devilish world of the Flashman novels. Diplomat-author Conor Cruise O'Brien (91) and U.S. author David Foster Wallace of Infinite Jest (46) completed their legacies, as did Dith Pran (65), the Cambodian journalist whose story inspired the 1984 film The Killing Fields. In the suspense aisle, it was the end of the series for Tony Hillerman (83), author of Navajo-country mysteries, and Gregory Mcdonald (71) of the Fletch mysteries.

The publishing world said a lifelong thanks to Robert Giroux (94) of the esteemed Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and to French "new novelist" Alain Robbe-Grillet (85). Clive Barnes (81), dance, theater and opera critic for the New York Post, rounded off his offerings with a fine book of poems.

Perhaps the finest of exits was taken by Carnegie Mellon computer science professor Randy Pausch (47), whose "Last Lecture" Sept. 18, 2007, on "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," became a hit in print and on the Net.

Art. Pop artist Robert Rauschenberg (83) was a loss to art lovers everywhere. And a deeply felt local loss was a loss for the greater art world, as well: Anne d'Harnoncourt (64), champion of art and longtime helmswoman of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Popular Culture. In fashion, Yves St. Laurent (71) left the fashion world better dressed than when he found it, and Mr. Blackwell (86) critiqued his last bad hat. Pinup classic Bettie Page (85) took her charms to the next level. And for those of you who came up in the '60s, Albert Hofmann (102), the Swiss scientist who discovered LSD, took his biggest trip of all, as did Beatles guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (91), now fully transcendental.

Music. World music mourned South African chanteuse Miriam Makeba (76), Cuban mambo bassist Israel "Cachao" López (89), and the brilliant Swedish jazz pianist Esbjörn Svensson (44).

The generation that brought you the great pop of the 1960s is beginning to step off, including Jimi Hendrix drummer Mitch Mitchell (61), Dave Clark Five singer Mike Smith (64), Pink Floyd cofounder Richard Wright (65), and producer Jerry Wexler, (91), said to have coined the term "rhythm and blues."

Speaking of R&B, the world lost some true standouts, including Bo Diddley (79), Four Tops lead singer Levi Stubbs (72), soul innovator Isaac Hayes (65), "fat foot" drummer Earl Palmer (84), Spinners baritone Pervis Jackson (70), singer Al Wilson (68), and Motown producer Norman Whitfield (67).

The folk community paid tribute to the marvelous Odetta (77), while Kingston Trio cofounder Nick Reynolds (75) joined Kingston alum John Stewart (68) in strumming the final chord. Country stars at the last roundup include big-voiced Eddy Arnold (89) and wacko guitarist Jerry Reed (71). Other pop figures who departed: Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band keyboardist Danny Federici (58) and David Matthews Band sax man LeRoi Moore (46).