Sidney Poitier dead at 94; legendary, Oscar-winning actor broke racial barriers in Hollywood

January 7, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sidney Poitier, the first black man to win an Oscar for Best Actor, died at his home in the Bahamas on January 6, 2022. He was 94. According to the Associated Press, the announcement was made by Eugene Torchon-Newry, acting director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Bahamas.

Born in Miami on February 20, 1927, Poitier was the son of tomato farmers from the Bahamas, where was raised. Poitier moved back to Miami age 15, and he began his acting career in his 20s. He made his feature-film debut in the 1950 drama “No Way Out,” in which he played a doctor who has to give medical treatment to a white racist. It set the tone for many of his subsequent film roles where he played characters who did not fall into negative stereotypes of black men and were career professionals but also had to deal with racism. Poitier also became one of the first black men to have a leading role in major studio Hollywood movies.

His most notable movies include 1959’s “The Defiant Ones” (for which he earned his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor), 1961’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” 1963’s “Lilies of the Field” (for which he won the Oscar for Best Actor), 1965’s “A Patch of Blue” and the 1967 movies “In the Heat of the Night,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” and “To Sir, With Love.” His other well-known films included 1970’s “They Call Me Mister Tibbs!” (a spinoff to “In the Heat of the Night”), 1988’s “Shoot to Kill,” 1992’s “Sneakers” and 1997’s “The Jackal.”

Poitier also branched out into directing movies, such as 1972’s “Buck and the Preacher,” 1974’s “Uptown Saturday Night” and 1975’s “Let’s Do It Again.” He had co-starring roles in those three films. Poitier also directed 1980’s “Stir Crazy,” starring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder. Poitier’s last on-screen acting role was in the 2001 TV-movie “The Last Brickmaker in America.”

In addition to his work in film and television, Poitier was a humanitarian and an ambassador. From 1997 to 2007, he was ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan. From 2002 to 2007, Poitier was ambassador of the Bahamas to UNESCO. He received numerous prestigious accolades, including a British knighthood in 1974, a Kennedy Center Honor in 1995, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. In 2002, he received an honorary Academy Award (a non-competitive prize for career achievement), in the same year that Denzel Washington became the second black man to win an Oscar for Best Actor and Halle Berry became the first black woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress.

Poitier was married twice. His first marriage to Juanita Harris, which lasted from 1950 to 1965, ended in divorce. He married his second wife, Joanna Shimkus, in 1976. During and after his first marriage, Poitier was romantically involved with actress Diahann Carroll, from 1959 to 1968. Poitier is survived by his widow and his six daughters: Beverly, Pamela, Sherri and Gina (from his first marriage) and Anika and Sydney Tamiia (from his second marriage). He is also survived by his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Betty White dead at 99; Emmy-winning star was a beloved comedian on TV and in movies

December 31, 2021

Emmy-winning comedian/actress Betty White died in her Los Angeles home of natural causes at age 99, according to her agent/friend Jeff Witjas, who made the announcement on December 31, 2021. White would have celebrated her 100th birthday on January 17, 2022. Less than a week before her death, People magazine published an issue with White as the subject of a cover story to celebrate this 100th birthday milestone. The issue is dated January 10, 2022.

In a statement to the Associated Press, Witjas commented: “I truly never thought she was going to pass away. She meant the world to me as a friend. She was the most positive person I’ve ever known.”

White was best known for her co-starring roles in the TV sitcoms “The Golden Girls” (which was on the air from 1985 to 1992) and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” which was on the air from 1973 to 1977. She made numerous guest-starring appearances in other TV series, including “Boston Legal,” “The Bold and the Beautiful,” “Saturday Night Live,” and “That ’70s Show.”

In her long career, White received 21 Primetime Emmy nominations and won five Primetime Emmys: one for Best Actress in 1951; two for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in 1975 and 1976; one for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, for “The Golden Girls” in 1985; and one for Best Guest Actress in a Comedy Series, for “The John Larroquette Show” in 1996.

White had the rare distinction of being nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for five consecutive decades, from the 1970s to the 2010s. Her last nomination was in 2014, for Best Reality/Reality Competition Host, for “Betty White’s Off Their Rockers.”

Although most of her fame came from television, White also had notable roles in several moviies, including 2009’s “The Proposal” and 2003’s “Bringing Down the House.” White got her showbiz start in radio in the 1940s.

She was born in Oak Park, Illinois, and was raised in Los Angeles. White, who did not have children, was married three times: Her first marriage to Dick Barker ended in divorce in 1945, the same year that they married. Her second husband was Lane Allen; their marriage lasted from 1947 to 1949, and ended in divorce. She was married to her third and last husband, Allen Ludden, from 1983 until his death in 1981. Although White did not have any biological children, she was a stepmother to Ludden’s three children from his first marriage to Margaret McGloin Ludden.

Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts dead at 80

August 24, 2021

by Carla Hay

Charlie Watts, the Rolling Stones’ drummer who was one of the band’s original members, died at the age of 80 in his native London on August 24, 2021. His cause of death has not yet been disclosed. However, the Associated Press has reported that Watts’ publicist Bernard Doherty released a statement saying that Watts “passed away peacefully in a London hospital earlier today surrounded by his family … Charlie was a cherished husband, father and grandfather and also as a member of the Rolling Stones one of the greatest drummers of his generation.”

The Rolling Stones formed in 1962. In 1963, Watts was the last member to join the band’s lineup that would go on to sign a record contract and become one of the most influential rock bands of all time. The Rolling Stones had some lineup changes over the decades, but only Watts, Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger and Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards remained constant members of the band during their phenomenal success.

Born in London on June 2, 1941, Watts was the son of a truck driver and a homemaker. He knew from an early age that he wanted to become a drummer. One of the first professional bands that he joined was Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated. Korner was the person who recommended to Watts that he join the Rolling Stones.

Watts differed from the rest of the Rolling Stones because of his low-key lifestyle when he wasn’t on tour. When he wasn’t working with the Rolling Stones, he indulged in his passions for playing jazz and collecting cars. Unlike other members of the Stones who went through divorces and other tabloid headlines about their personal lives, Watts remained a stable family man who was only married once and kept his personal life very private. He and his wife Seraphina had been married since 1964.

Although he was not known as a flashy drummer, Watts was one of the most beloved drummers in music because of his no-nonsense and elegant yet down-to-earth style, on and off stage. While his band mates often wore “rock star” clothing during Rolling Stones concerts, Watts would often be dressed in a suit. He was known for his dry wit and distaste for living an attention-hungry and pretentious celebrity lifestyle.

On August 4, 2021, the Rolling Stones announced that Watts would not be going on the band’s rescheduled No Filter tour of the United States, due to an undisclosed health issue. Steve Jordan, a drummer who has been a musical collaborator for Richards’ solo music, was announced as the substitute drummer for the tour, which had been set to launch in St. Louis on September 26, 2021. The tour was postponed in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watts’ last public statement was about bowing out of the tour: “For once, my timing has been a little off. I am working hard to get fully fit but I have today accepted on the advice of the experts that this will take a while.”

In 2004, it was announced that Watts had throat cancer, which at the time he was able to beat back into remission. In the mid-1980s he was addicted to heroin, but he was able to overcome the addiction by the end of the 1980s. He didn’t go public about his recovery from heroin addiction until several years later.

Jagger and RIchards have said in many interviews over the years that Watts is the backbone of the Rolling Stones. He is simply irreplaceable.

Watts is survived by his wife Shirley, sister Linda, daughter Seraphina and granddaughter Charlotte.

Christopher Plummer dead at 91; prolific Canadian actor won an Oscar, two Tony Awards and two Emmy awards

February 5, 2021

by John Larson

Oscar-winning Canadian actor Christopher Plummer died at his Connecticut home on February 5, 2021. He was 91. According to the Associated Press, Plummer’s manager Lou Pitt announced the death and said that Plummer’s third wife, Elaine Taylor, was by Plummer’s side when he passed away.

Plummer’s most famous movie role was as Captain von Trapp in 1965’s “The Sound of Music.” He was a prolific actor who worked steadily in movies and television since the early 1950s. He had a role in a movie or TV show almost every year since 1953.

Born in Toronto on December 13, 1929, Plummer was the only child of stockbroker John Orme Plummer and secretary Isabella Mary Plummer, who eventually divorced. He began acting in plays while in high school. Plummer continued his theater work after high school and branched into radio and television. His first film role was in 1958’s “Stage Struck.”

Plummer won his first and only Oscar (for Best Supporting Actor) for the 2011 movie “Beginners.” It was his first Oscar nomination. He was 82 when he won the Academy Award, making him the oldest Oscar winner in Academy Award history.

He also received Oscar nominations in the Best Supporting Actor category for 2009’s “The Last Station” and 2017’s “All the Money in the World.” Plummer famously replaced Kevin Spacey in the role of J. Paul Getty in “All the Money in the World,” after Spacey’s #MeToo scandal caused Spacey’s scenes to be reshot with Plummer in the role.

His other well-known movies in the last 30 years before his death included 2019’s “Knives Out,” 2011’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” 2009’s “Up,” 2001’s “A Beautiful Mind,” 1999’s “The Insider,” 1995’s “12 Monkeys” and 1992’s “Malcolm X.”

Plummer won two Emmy Awards: Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series for 1976’s “Arthur Hailey’s The Moneychangers” and Outstanding Voice-Over Performance for 1994’s “The New Adventures of Madeline.” And from 1959 to 2011, he received five other Emmy nominations.

He was also a busy actor in theater, having appeared frequently on Broadway and at Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Canada. He won two Tony Awards: Best Actor in a Musical for 1974’s “Cyrano” and Best Actor in a Play for 1997’s “Barrymore.”

Plummer was married three times. His first marriage to actress Tammy Grimes lasted from 1956 to 1960, and produced his only child, actress Amanda Plummer, who was born in 1957. After his divorce from Grimes, he married second wife Patricia Lewis in 1962, and the marriage ended in divorce in 1967. Plummer had been married to his third and last wife Taylor since 1970.

Cicely Tyson dead at 96; Emmy-winning actress broke racial barriers for African American entertainers

January 28, 2021

by Carla Hay

Emmy-winning actress Cicely Tyson died on January 28, 2021. She was 96. According to the Associated Press, no further details were released about her death, which was announced by her family through Tyson’s manager Larry Thompson. The family issued this statement: “With a heavy heart, the family of Miss Cicely Tyson announces her peaceful transition this afternoon. At this time, please allow the family their privacy.”

Tyson broke racial barriers for African American entertainers. She was one of the first black actresses to be nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards. Her nomination was for the 1972 movie “Sounder.” (Diana Ross was also Oscar-nominated for Best Actress for a 1972 movie: “Lady Sings the Blues.”) Tyson’s last movie role was in filmmaker Tyler Perry’s 2020 Netflix drama “A Fall From Grace.”

Tyson was also the first African American woman to win two Emmys in the same year: For her starring role in the 1974 TV-movie “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” she was awarded Emmys for Best Lead Actress in a Drama and for Actress of the Year – Special. She then went on to win a third Emmy (for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Special), for the 1994 miniseries “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.” Throughout her career, Tyson received 16 Emmy nominations, including three wins. Her last five Emmy nominations were for her guest appearances on the drama series “How to Get Away With Murder.”

She also excelled in theater, including winning a Tony Award in 2013, at the age of 88, for Best Leading Actress in a Play, for the revival of “The Trip to Bountiful.” Tyson starred in and produced a TV-movie version of “The Trip to Bountiful,” which earned her two Emmy nominations. Her memoir “Just as I Am” was published on January 26, 2021—just two days before her death.

Tyson, who gave birth to a daughter at age 17, was married twice, with both marriages ending in divorce. She and her first husband, Kenneth Franklin, were married in 1942, separated 18 months later, and didn’t officially divorce until 1956. Tyson had a volatile, on-again/off-again relationship with jazz legend Miles Davis, whom she began dating in the 1960s. Davis and Tyson married in 1981 and divorced in 1988.

Cloris Leachman dead at 94; actress was an Emmy winner and Oscar winner

January 27, 2021

by Carla Hay

Actress/comedienne Cloris Leachman died in her sleep at her home in Encinitas, California, on January 26, 2021. She was 94. The Associated Press reported that Leachman’s publicist Monique Moss announced Leachman’s death and that Leachman’s daughter Dinah Englund was at Leachman’s side when Leachman passed away.

Leachman was a versatile entertainer who starred in numerous TV shows and movies. On TV, her best known role was as Phyllis Lindstrom in the 1970s TV series “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and its spinoff “Phyllis.” She won eight Emmy Awards, including two for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Leachman also had roles in the TV shows “Lassie,” “The Facts of Life,” “Touched by an Angel” and “Malcolm in the Middle.” She became one of the oldest contestants on “Dancing With the Stars,” when she competed on the show in 2008.

Her best-known films included “Young Frankenstein,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “The Last Picture Show” (for which she won an Oscar) and the animated “The Croods” movies. Although most of her roles were supporting roles, she made an impact as a talented character actress. She also made her mark on stage in theater roles, including the the original Broadway production of “South Pacific,” a Broadway production of “As You Like It” and a 1990s touring musical revival of “Showboat.”

Leachman was born on April 30, 1926, in Des Moines, Iowa. She was the eldest of three daughters and was named after her mother Cloris. Her father Berkeley Claiborne “Buck” Leachman owned a lumber company. A former Miss America contestant (she was Miss Illinois), Cloris attended Northwestern University in the School of Education.

She later studied at Elia Kazan at the Actors Studio in New York City, and she began acting in theater before branching out into television and movies. Her first movie appearance was as an extra in 1947’s “Carnegie Hall” and didn’t have her first real speaking role in a movie until 1955’s “Kiss Me Deadly.”

Cloris was married to film director/producer George Englund from 1953 until their divorce in 1979. They had five children: Adam, Bryan, Dinah, George and Morgan. She is survived by all of her children, except for Bryan, who died in 1986 at age 30.

Larry King dies after getting COVID-19; influential talk show host was 87

January 23, 2021

by John Larson

Larry King, who was best known for hosting the talk show “Larry King Live” on CNN, died at Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, on January 23, 2021. He was 87. King was being treated for COVID-19 for the past several weeks.* His death was announced on Twitter by his company Ora Media. Before coming down with COVID-19, King had had several other health issues over the years, including heart attacks, diabetes and lung cancer.

King was a longtime host in radio and television. He reached his greatest fame as the host of CNN’s “Larry King Live” from 1985 to 2010. The show featured a wide variety of guests, including famous entertainers, politicians, business leaders and non-famous people. There are very few celebrities in King’s era whom he didn’t interview. After leaving CNN, King founded Ora Media and hosted a self-titled talk show on the Internet. Jimmy Kimmel, Oprah Winfrey, Piers Morgan (who briefly replaced King on CNN) and Craig Ferguson are among the entertainers who have cited King as a major influence in being a talk show host.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, on November 19, 1933, King was one of two children of restaurant owner/defense-plant worker Aaron Zeiger and garment worker Jennie (Gitlitz) Zeiger, who emigrated to the United States from Belarus. King started his broadcasting career in radio and eventually had a nationally syndicated radio talk show called “The Larry King Show,” which could be heard on Mutual Broadcasting from 1978 to 1985. He left the show to host “Larry King Live” on CNN.

King had a chaotic personal life, with seven wives. His first marriage was annulled, and his next five marriages ended in divorce. His estranged seventh wife, Shawn King (formerly known as singer/actress Shawn Southwick), whom Larry married in 1997, had an on-again/off-again relationship with him. The estranged couple first filed for divorce in 2010, but cancelled those legal proceedings. Larry filed for divorce from her in 2019, but the divorce was never finalized at the time of his death.

Larry is survived by his sons Chance and Cannon (from his marriage to Shawn) and his son Larry Jr., whose mother was King’s second ex-wife Annette Kaye.

The King family has had several tragic deaths within a short period of time. In July 2020, Larry’s son Andy passed away of a heart attack age 65. In August 2020, his 51-year-old daughter Chaia died of lung cancer.

*January 27, 2021 UPDATE: In an interview with “Entertainment Tonight,” Shawn King said that Larry King died of sepsis, an infection complication that he got after he recovered from COVID-19.

Pierre Cardin dead at 98; French designer was a pioneer in 20th century fashion

December 29, 2020

by Daphne Sorenson

Pierre Cardin (Photo courtesy of Utopia)

Pierre Cardin, a pioneering French fashion designer of the 20th century, died on December 29, 2020, at the age of 98. According to Associated Press: “The French Academy of Fine Arts announced Cardin’s death in a tweet. He had been among its illustrious members since 1992. The academy did not give a cause of death or say where the designer died.”

Born on July 7, 1922 as Pietro Costante Cardin in San Biagio di Callalta, Italy (near Venice), he moved to France with his family when he was a child. While living in France, he began going by the first name Pierre.

At the age of 14, he began is fashion career as a clothier apprentice. He moved to Paris in 1945 and worked for fashion house of Paquin, as well as for designer Elsa Schiaparelli. In 1947, he became head of Christian Dior’s tailleure atelier. And by 1950, Cardin began his own fashion house.

Cardin was best known pioneering “mod” fashion of the late 1960s and the 1970s. One of his best known creations was to combine the concepts of miniskirts and maxiskirts by having short dresses or skirts with cascading designs. He was also one of the first fashion designers to license his brands worldwide for not just clothes and accessories but also fragrances, luggage and other household items. At the time of his death, Cardin’s company (which remained privately owned) still held hundreds of licenses, although he had sold off many licenses over the years.

In his personal life, Cardin never married or had children. He reportedly had affairs mostly with men and sometimes with women. His most high-profile relationship was a four-year romance in the 1960s with French actress Jeanne Moreau.

Cardin was the subject of the documentary “House of Cardin” (directed by P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes), which made the rounds at several film festivals in 2019 and was released in several countries (including the U.S.) in 2020. It is unknown at this point who will inherit Cardin’s vast fortune and how this inheritance will affect the leadership of his company.

Alex Trebek dead at 80; longtime ‘Jeopardy!’ host battled pancreatic cancer

November 8, 2020

by John Larson

Alex Trebek, who was best known for hosting the trivia game show “Jeopardy!,” died at his Los Angeles home on November 8, 2020. In 2019, he announced that he had advanced pancreatic cancer, but that he would continue to host the show. The Associated Press reported that Sony Pictures Television, the production company behind the syndicated “Jeopardy” announced that Trebek was with family members when he died.

Born in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, on July 22, 1940, Trebek graduated from the University of Ottowa in 1961. He began his career that year as an employee for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He became a news reader for CBC national radio news and then became a correspondent for CBC Radio and CBC Television.

Trebek moved into the entertainment television as the host of the Canadian music program called “Music Hop” in 1963. In 1966, he began hosted his first TV game show: quiz show called “Reach for the Top.” He continued to work for CBC for the remainder of the 1960s and through the early 1970s. During this time period, he hosted the game show “Strategy” and the morning radio show “I’m Here Til 9.”

In 1973, Trebek moved to the United States, where he hosted several game shows over several decades, including “To Tell the Truth,” “The Wizard of Odds,” “Double Dare,” “High Rollers,” “Battlestars” and “Classic Concentration.”

The original incarnation of “Jeopardy!” was on NBC from 1964 to 1975, with Art Fleming as the host. Trebek began hosting a revival of “Jeopardy” in 1984. Trebek’s last episode as host of “Jeopardy!” is set to premiere in December 2020.

Trebek, who became a U.S. citizen in 1998, was married twice. His marriage to first wife Elaine Trebek Kares ​ lasted from 1974 to 1981, and ended in divorce. During their marriage, Trebek adopted Kares’ son Nicky. Trebek married his second wife Jean Currivan-Trebek in 1990. They had two children together: Matthew and Emily.

Trebek is survived by his three children and widow Jean Currivan-Trebek.

Sean Connery dead at 90; Oscar-winning actor was the original James Bond

October 31, 2020

by Carla Hay

Sean Connery, the Oscar-winning Scottish actor who was best known for being the first James Bond in the movies, died of natural causes at his home in the Bahamas. He was 90. According to the Associated Press: “Connery’s wife and two sons said he ‘died peacefully in his sleep surrounded by family’ in the Bahamas, where he lived. Son Jason Connery said his father had been ‘unwell for some time.'”

Born on August 25, 1930, in Fountainbridge, Edinburgh, Scotland, Connery had working-class roots. His father Joseph was a factory worker and truck driver, while his mother Euphemia (also known as Effie) was a house cleaner. After a stint in the Royal Navy as teenager, Connery had various jobs, including being a truck driver, a lifeguard and a model. In the early 1950s, Connery became a bodybuilder who competed in the Mr. Universe contest, before he decided to try acting on a whim.

With no formal training, he landed a role as a chorus boy in a British stage production of “South Pacific.” He first film role was a small part as a gangster in the 1957 movie “No Road Back.”

Connery’s most iconic role was as James Bond, a British playboy spy, based on the character of Ian Fleming’s novels. Connery was the first actor to portray James Bond in movies, beginning with 1962’s “Dr. No” and continuing with 1963’s “From Russia With Love,” 1964’s “Goldfinger,” 1965’s “Thunderball,” 1967’s “You Only Live Twice,” 1971’s “Diamonds Are Forever” and 1983’s “Never Say Never Again.”

Other notable films featuring Connery in a starring or co-starring role include 1964’s “Marnie,” 1974’s “Murder on the Orient Express” and 1989’s “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” He won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in 1987’s “The Untouchables.” It was first and only Oscar nomination. He was also the recipient of the Cecil B. DeMille Award for career achievement at the 1995 Golden Globe Awards. Connery’s last role in a live-action film was in 2003’s “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” His last role as an actor was in the 2012 animated movie “Sir Billi.”

Connery was married twice. His first marriage to Australian actress Diane Cilento lasted from 1962 to 1973 and ended in divorce. Their son Jason, who was born in 1963, became an actor and a director. Connery married his second wife Micheline Roquebrune in 1975, and they remained married until his death. Connery is survived by his wife Micheline. brother Neil and son Jason.

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