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Gone, but never forgotten

Our losses remind us of all we've had, all the wonderful people who have moved, are moving, and will move among us.

Singer Whitney Houston. Houston died Feb. 11, 2012 at age 48.
Singer Whitney Houston. Houston died Feb. 11, 2012 at age 48.Read more

Our losses remind us of all we've had, all the wonderful people who have moved, are moving, and will move among us.

So here's a review of our human blessings, lives completed in 2012, lives that will stay with us for thankful years to come. We can't mention all - such are the riches.

A local moment. This town and state lost huge names that cast much light. Longtime Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, 85, passed in the midst of scandal. Dick Clark, 82, host of American Bandstand, will see the ball descend this year - but a long way off from Times Square. Devoted U.S. senator and public servant Arlen Specter, 82, rounded the far turn.

Let's count far-famed Where the Wild Things Are author/artist Maurice Sendak, 83, as Philly's own because of his long, close link with the Rosenbach Museum and Library, which houses many of his papers. And Philly guy Jack Klugman, 90, of The Odd Couple and Quincy, M.E.," adds to the regular-guy choir celestial.

Jan Berenstain, 88, coauthor of the Berenstain Bears franchise, joined Sendak in the kids' corner up there. Steve Van Buren, 91, doughty running back who led the Eagles to two championships (if you recall what those even are), went to the Hall of Fame in the sky. And Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, 88, who headed up the Philadelphia Archdiocese, now joins the front office.

Public servants and newsmakers. Besides Specter, U.S. politics saw the conclusion of several great careers, including those of heartland populist and presidential candidate George McGovern, 90, and Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, second-longest-serving senator ever, 88. U.S. ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens, 52, died in the Benghazi attack. Conservative jurist and legal scholar Robert Bork was 85. Heroic U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, 90, held office through the Cuban missile crisis, the segregation battles of the 1960s, and the Vietnam debacle.

Controversial Oglala Sioux leader Russell Means, 72, fought in his way for the rights of his people. Charles Colson, 80, special counsel to President Richard M. Nixon, served time in prison and later became an evangelical Christian leader and prison-rights activist. Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir was 96. And the woman thought to be the last living veteran of World War I, Florence Green, a member of the Royal Air Force in Britain, was discharged with the greatest possible honors at 110.

Two riders to the stars, Neil Armstrong, 82, who took that small step and giant leap, and Sally Ride, 61, first female U.S. astronaut, took the last legs of their cosmic voyages. Janice Voss, another woman in space, stepped across at 55.

Stephen Covey, 79, taught us to be highly effective people. Ferdinand A. Porsche, 76, designed the beautiful Porsche 911. Vidal Sassoon, god of hair, was 84. Soul-food superstar Sylvia Woods, 86, now prepares the ultimate banquet. Letitia Baldrige, 86, made etiquette a national passion. The Rev. Sun Myung Moon, religious leader, businessman, and newspaper founder, was 92. Thelma Glass, 96, helped organize the Selma, Ala., bus boycott, which touched off the U.S. civil-rights era. Biologist and third-party presidential candidate Barry Commoner, 95, lived to see many of his environmentalist concerns flow into the mainstream.  Tuskegee Airmen Thomas H. Mayfield Jr., 95, of Willingboro, and George Hickman, 88, of Seattle, Wash., flew to their best rewards, and Rodney King, 47, whose videotaped beating touched off social unrest in 1992, leaves us with the question that will endure for ages: "Can we all get along?"

Journalism. Helen Gurley Brown, 90, who spoke to women about sex in the pages of Cosmopolitan, handed in her final galleys. Longtime CBS newsman and 60 Minutes cohost Mike Wallace was 93. Influential movie critics Judith Crist, 90, and Andrew Sarris, 83, settle in for one heck of a great flick. Firebrand blogger Andrew Breitbart, 43, bolsters the cosmic tug-of-war team on the right, and leftward columnist Alexander Cockburn, 71, reports to the field on the other side.

Arts. Architect Oscar Niemeyer, 104, main designer of Brasília, the federal capital of Brasil, completed his design. Elliott Carter, modernist composer, was 103.

Many great literary lights went on permanently, including sci-fantasy pioneer Ray Bradbury, 91, satirist Gore Vidal, 86, essayist and screenwriter Nora Ephron, 71, Mexico's Carlos Fuentes, 83, cultural critic (and former Penn professor) Paul Fussell, 88, art critic and sublime stylist of English Robert Hughes, 74, and Irish novelist Maeve Binchy, 72. Blogger and novelist Erica Kennedy was only 42. Sports painter LeRoy Neiman, 91, left the world more colorful.

The classical music world beyond does a standing O for miraculous baritone and conductor Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, 86, and sopranos Lisa Della Casa, 93, and Galina Vishnevskaya, 86.

Poets' Corner was enriched with the arrivals of Nobelist Wislawa Szymborska, 88, and feminist pioneer and social activist Adrienne Rich, 82.

Celebrities and entertainers. This world gave generously to the next in 2012. The troubled, turbulent talents of Whitney Houston, 48, serenaded a generation. She now joins a band that includes Dorothy McGuire, 84, last surviving McGuire Sister; the fabulous Etta James, 73; disco nightingale Donna Summer, 63; Latina songstress Jenni Rivera, 43; and country music goddess Kitty Wells, 92 - her song "How Far Is Heaven" now has an answer.

If those divas ever let the guys onstage, the latter will include Andy Williams, 84, who walked up "Moon River" for good. Harmonizing will be baby-face Monkee Davy Jones, 66, baby-faced Bee Gee Robin Gibb, 62, and "San Francisco" flower-child guy Scott McKenzie, 73.

Who else would be the DJ for such a celestial band than Adam Yauch, 47, of the Beastie Boys? And the backing band! On piano, taking handfuls of keys in cool-jazz chords, Dave Brubeck, 91. On drums: Levon Helm, 71, one of the great members of The Band. On sitar: Ravi Shankar, 92. With them will be bluegrass banjo blazer Earl Scruggs, 88, who now has deliverance; country guitar god Doc Watson, 92; fellow guitar god Joe South, 72, and Iron Butterfly bassist Lee Dorman, 70, who steps into the garden of life.

Dick Clark will have company on the bandstand, in the avuncular form of Soul Train's Don Cornelius, 75. If they need a good song, they have on hand the prolific Marvin Hamlisch, 68, who can hand his clever melodies to timeless lyricist Hal David, 91.

The biggest audience in the universe welcomes TV and film's beloved Andy Griffith, 86, with applause, as it does sweetheart/tough guy Ernest Borgnine, 95, brooding heavy Ben Gazzara, 81, snarky-lovely Celeste Holm, 95, actor and war hero Charles Durning, 89, big guy Michael Clarke Duncan, 54, pretty boy James Farentino, 73, Sherman Hemsley, 74, of The Jeffersons; Desperate Housewives' Kathryn Joosten, 72, square-jawed Chad Everett, 75, and former-footballer-turned-comic-and-heavy Alex Karras, 77. Actors need a director, and these will have two good ones, in Richard D. Zanuck, 77, and Tony Scott, 68.

Sports. The deaths of Junior Seau, 43, and Jovan Belcher, 25, spurred questions about the effect of football on players. Former baseball infielder Ryan Freel, 36, also exited by his own hand. Johnny Pesky, for whom the Pesky Pole in the Boston Red Sox's Fenway Park is named, was 92. Slugger Moose Skowron, 81, can play pepper with beloved catcher Gary Carter, 57 - there are no No Pepper signs where they're at. Basketball Hall of Famer Jack Twyman, 78, helped nurse teammate Maurice Stokes after the latter sustained a severe head injury.

Science and technology. Several among the newly promoted laid the foundations for our contemporary age. The man who invented the TV remote, Eugene Polley, 96, won't need a remote any more. N. Joseph Woodland, 91, was coinventor of the bar code. Jack Tramiel, 83, helped develop Commodore computers, among the first commercially available personal computers. Roland Moreno, inventor of smart-card technology, was 66.

U.S. space-program pioneer Lowell Randall, 96, now outskies any rocket. Arthur Jensen, 88, was the controversial educator who said there were race-based differences in I.Q. Joseph E. Murray, 93, won the 1990 Nobel Prize in Medicine for the first successful organ transplant (kidney). Keith Campbell, 58, helped bring Dolly the cloned sheep into existence.

There is no finally, but three names show what a range of beautiful, startling lives we have lived among. Puppeteer nonpareil Jerry Nelson, 78, created the Bela Lugosi-like character Count von Count and many other characters on Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, and other series. Self-deprecator Phyllis Diller, 95, was wacky and indescribable. A lot like life.

And Stanford R. Ovshinsky, 89, a largely self-taught master of all things whose discoveries contributed to hybrid batteries, rewritable CDs, flat-panel displays, and solar panels, has joined the stellar standouts. His life in itself suggests what any life, what all lives, can do when lived to the fullest.