We lost them this year - but also we had the great luck to be on the same planet with them.
Every corner of human activity said goodbye to greats. The most prominent celebrity exit was that of Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, singer, dancer, and cult figure, of heart failure at the too-young age of 50. Longtime Senate stalwart Ted Kennedy (77) became a posthumous best-selling author with True Compass. Let's celebrate these prominent people who ended their runs in 2009:
Television. Chester-born Al Alberts (87), Four Aces vocalist and longtime host of Al Alberts' Showcase, said goodnight to us all. Soupy Sales (83) left 'em laughin'. Walter Cronkite (92), who made people trust their TVs, joined Ed McMahon (86), longtime sidekick of Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, and Irving R. Levine (86), bow-tied NBC announcer, among the celestial celebs.
This was the year of adieu to strong woman Bea Arthur (86), dapper Gene Barry (90), and David Carradine (72), martial artist and Grasshopper of Kung Fu. Charlie lost an angel in Farrah Fawcett (62). Larry Gelbart (81), writer of Tootsie, M*A*S*H* scripts, and much else, finished his life's work, as did Don Hewitt (86), creator of CBS's 60 Minutes; original Mousketeer Cheryl Holdridge (64); Billy Mays (50), who could sell anything to anyone; Gale Storm (87), fresh-faced heroine of My Little Margie '50s fame; and ubiquitous James Whitmore (87).
Many left too early, including beloved actor and dancer Patrick Swayze (57) of Dirty Dancing and Ghost, and Brittany Murphy (32) of Clueless. Porn pioneer Marilyn Chambers (56) and kooky Dom DeLuise (75) took their places among the stars. Roy Disney (79), brother of Walt and powerful exec in the Disney empire, joined Henry Gibson (73) of Laugh-In fame, director John Hughes (59), and Jennifer Jones (90), beautiful, talented actress (Song of Bernadette) and art curator, in the constellation of the greats, along with ultimate movie guy Karl Malden (97), John Mortimer (85), who was Rumpole of the Bailey, suave macho Latino Ricardo Montalban (88), gorgeous Natasha Richardson (45), and funny Arnold Stang (91). And although he was not a movie star himself, the death of Jett Travolta (16), son of John Travolta, stilled for a moment the continual din of celeb chatter.
Music. From inventor, guitarist, and personality Les Paul (94) to Philly-born celebrity DJ Adam "DJ AM" Goldstein (36), the living added to the ranks of singers-forever. Louie Bellson (84), jazz drummer and composer and longtime husband of Pearl Bailey, left us, along with Ronette Estelle Bennett (67), Randy Cain (63), founder of the "Philadelphia Sound" soul group the Delfonics, singer Blossom Dearie (84), and Art Ferrante (88), one half of piano duo Ferrante and Teicher ("Theme from Midnight Cowboy"). Larry Knechtel (69), session keyboardist extraordinaire, now has bassist Orlando "Cachaito" Lopez (76) of the Buena Vista Social Club as accompanist, and Buffalo Springfield's Dewey Martin (68) on drums. Philly-born Al Martino (82) will sing along, and David "Fathead" Newman (75) will blow a mean sax, as will Bud Shank (82). Mercedes Sosa (74), Argentine activist and singer ("Gracias a la Vida"), will trade eights with "Queen of the Blues" Koko Taylor (80) and beloved Peter, Paul and Mary chanteuse Mary Travers (72). Wayman Tisdale (44), NBA star and jazz musician, will sit in with Gordon Waller (64) of Peter and Gordon, and David "Pop" Winans Sr. (76), paterfamilias of the Winans gospel clan.
Arts, culture and popcult.
Chadds Ford-born painter Andrew Wyeth (91) applied his final brushstroke, as did mystical Philadelphia artist and teacher Thomas Chimes (88). David Levine (83), renowned caricaturist, shaded in his final figure. Peggy Amsterdam (60), Philly champion of the arts, will now campaign cosmically. Dancer/choreographer/teacher Merce Cunningham (90) perfected his arabesque. Two wives and co-creators with their artistic husbands took a step forward. One was Coosje van Bruggen (66), who worked with husband Claes Oldenberg on his giant vernacular-art sculptures (Clothespin in Center City). The other was Jeanne-Claude (74), wife of Christo and collaborator in his large-scale public artworks (The Gates in New York's Central Park); now she has the largest canvas of all. Eminent African American historian John Hope Franklin (94) and French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss (100) expanded the meaning of the word human. Zakes Mokae (75), Tony-winning South African actor, joins journalist and controversialist Robert Novak (78), Philadelphia Museum School-trained photographer Irving Penn (92), journalist and grammarian William Safire (79), and pioneering black model Naomi Sims (61) among the true glitterati.
Literature. Around the world, long, great careers in letters were completed amid affection and acclaim. They included those of Spanish novelist and sociologist Francisco Ayala (103), Uruguayan journalist, novelist and poet Mario Benedetti (88), American fictionistas Hortense Calisher (97) and Dominick Dunne (83), and Israeli novelist Amos Elon (82). Sci-fantasist Philip José Farmer (91) accompanies feminist essayist and novelist Marilyn French (79) and gay black fiction pioneer E. Lynn Harris (54) among the bards of beyond, as does Irish American memoirist Frank McCourt (78) of Angela's Ashes, cult fiction writer James Purdy (94), and confessional poet W.D. Snodgrass (83), punk poet Jim Carroll (60), San Francisco poet Robin Blaser (83), and Beat poet Harold Norse (92).
For U.S. writers, perhaps the run that ended with greatest notice was that of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, and of his creator, Shillington-born John Updike (76), poet, essayist, reviewer, critic, who personified the term professional writer.