Ric Ocasek dead at 75; The Cars singer was a pioneer of rock’s New Wave movement

September 15, 2019

by John Larson

Ric Ocasek
Ric Ocasek of the Cars at the 33rd Annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at Public Auditorium in Cleveland on April 14, 2018. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)

Ric Ocasek, who was best known as the lead singer of The Cars, was found dead in his New York City apartment on September 15, 2019. He was 75. The cause of death has not yet been made public, and a medical examination will be conducted, according to the Associated Press.*

Ocasek was considered one of the pioneers of rock music’s New Wave movement that began in the late 1970s as a more melodic, synthesizer-heavy offshoot of punk music. Hailing from Boston, The Cars became an instant success with their self-titled 1978 debut album. Their hits included “Good Times Roll,” “My Best Friend’s Girl,” “Just What I Needed,” “Shake It Up,” “You Might Think,” “Drive” and “Hello Again.”

The Cars’ 1984 “You Might Think” video also holds the distinction of being the first to win Best Video at the MTV Video Music Awards. Ironically, the band’s biggest hit, “Drive” (which reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1984) , was not sung by Ocasek but by Cars bass player Benjamin Orr, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2000.

The Cars disbanded in 1988, and Ocasek went on to have a solo career. He also produced albums for bands such as Weezer, Black 47, Bad Religion, Guded by Voices, Nada Surf, Bad Brains, Possum Dixon and LeTigre. The surviving members of the Cars temporarily reunited with Ocasek to record the 2011 album “Move Like This,” and they toured in support of the record. The album and the tour got mixed reviews. The Cars were inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018. The band had its final reunion and performance with Ocasek at the ceremony.

Ocasek  is survived by six sons, two from each of his three marriages. His third marriage to former supermodel Paulina Porizkova was on the rocks at the time of his death. The ex-couple, who married in 1989, had been separated for about a year before making their separation public in 2018. Ocasek and Prozikova met on the set of the Cars’ “Drive” video, which co-starred Porizkova as a mentally disturbed woman.

*September 16, 2109 UPDATE: The Associated Press has reported that Ocasek died from heart disease, and he died in his sleep. He was also suffering from emphysema.

Peter Fonda dead at 79; ‘Easy Rider’ star was son of Henry Fonda, brother of Jane Fonda

August 16, 2019

by Lauren Jones

Peter Fonda, an actor whose counterculture image was cemented in his 1969 breakout movie “Easy Rider,” died of complications from lung cancer at his Los Angeles home. He was 79. Peter Fonda was the son of legendary Oscar-winning actor Peter Fonda and the sister of Oscar-winning actress Jane Fonda.

According to the Associated Press, Jane Fonda issued this statement: “I am very sad,” Jane Fonda said in a statement. “He was my sweet-hearted baby brother. The talker of the family. I have had beautiful alone time with him these last days. He went out laughing.”

The Fonda family also issued this group statement: “In one of the saddest moments of our lives, we are not able to find the appropriate words to express the pain in our hearts. As we grieve, we ask that you respect our privacy.”

Peter Fonda, who was one of the producers and screenwriters of “Easy Rider,” received an Oscar nomination for co-writing the screenplay. In the movie, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper (who directed the film) play two biker hippies. Peter Fonda also received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, his role as a beekeeper in the 1997 “Ulee’s Giold.” He had numerous roles in film and television. His other notable movies included the 199’s “The Limey”; the 2007 Western remake of  “3:10 to Yuma”; and the 2007 action film “Ghost Rider.”

In the last few years of his life, Peter Fonda (an unabashed liberal) was very critical of President Donald Trump and the Trump administration. In June 2018, Peter Fonda made several controversial anti-Trump remarks on Twitter. The most controversial was when Peter Fonda tweeted, in reaction to the Trump administration’s policy to separate families entering the U.S. illegally: “We should rip Barron Trump from the arms of First Lady Melania Trump and put him in a cage with pedophiles.” Peter Fonda later made a public apology for that tweet.

The controversy happened around the time that Fonda’s movie “Boundaries” (in which he had a cameo) was due to arrive in theaters. Some Trump supporters tried to pursuade Sony Pictures Classics from canceling the movie’s release, but those attempts were unsuccessful. (Click here to read Culture Mix’s interview with the stars of “Boundaries.” The interview took place before the controversy.)

Peter Fonda is survived by his third wife, Margaret DeVogelaere, and his two children: actress daughter Bridget; and son Justin, both from Peter Fonda’s first marriage to Susan Brewer. Peter Fonda’s last two movies are the war drama “The Last Full Measure” (due out in limited release on October 25, 2019) and the drama “The Magic Hours,” whose release date is to be announced.


Toni Morrison dead at 88; Nobel laureate, Pulitzer Prize winner was an influential author, activist

August 6, 2019

by Frances Dixon

Toni Morrison—the Nobel laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner whose works included the novels “Beloved,” “Tar Baby” and “Song of Solomon”—died after a brief illness at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City on August 5, 2019. She was 88. According to the Associated Press, her death was announced by book-publishing company Alfred A. Knopf, and her family issued this statement:

“Toni Morrison passed away peacefully last night surrounded by family and friends,. The consummate writer who treasured the written word, whether her own, her students or others, she read voraciously and was most at home when writing.”

Morrison (whose real name was Chloe Ardelia Wofford) was born in 1931, in Lorain, Ohio, as the second of four children. Her father was a welder, and her mother was a domestic worker.  Morrison graduated from Howard University in 1953 with a bachelor’s degree in Englis, and she earned her master’s degree from Cornell University in 1955. She later worked in theater.  Morrison had two children (sons Harold and Slade) with Jamaican architect, Harold Morrison, whom she was married to from 1958 to 1964. Their marriage ended in divorce.

Her first book, “The Bluest Eye,” was published when she was nearly 40 years old. Her works usually addressed issues of racism in the United States. Although she was widely praised by most people familiar with her work, Morrison often received criticism from others because of her outspoken views on race relations.

In 1989, she received a Pulitzer Prize for “Beloved.” (The novel was made into a 1998 movie produced by and starring Oprah Winfrey. Danny Glover and Thandie Newton also co-starred in the movie.)  In 1993, Morrison became the first black woman to be awarded the Nobel prize in literature. Her other numerous accolades included the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which she received in 2012. At the time of her death, she was a retired professor at Princeton University, where she worked in the humanities department from 1998 to 2006.

Morrison’s last book was 2015’s “God Help the Child.” She is the subject of the 2019 documentary “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am,” which received mostly positive reviews.

Dominican Republic tourist deaths: Find out why so many visitors are dying

June 25, 2019

by Kevin Lucas

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana n Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (Photo courtesy of Hard Rock International)

The number of tourists suddenly dying in the Dominican Republic has hit alarming numbers. As of this writing, 11 U.S. tourists have died in the Dominican Republic from June 2018 to June 2019. Almost all of the deaths were reported as sudden. The people who died of ailments were those who had failure of internal organs, such as their heart or lungs. A few of the deaths were violent murders, while some passed away from car accidents. What all these tourists have in common is that they stayed at resorts in the Dominican Republic. The State Department has not released official information on U.S. citizens who died of natural causes in the Dominican Republic.

According to Business Insider, there has been a massive increase in complaints of tourists saying that they felt that they had been unintentionally poisoned while in the Bahamas. The website IWasPoisoned.com has received 1,600 complaints so far in 2019, compared to 10 in 2018. More than 700 complaints were traced back to the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Punta Cana.

Several of the people who suspected that they had been poisoned after consuming alcohol from their room’s minibars or by eating food served buffet style at these resorts.

A Hard Rock Hotel and Casino spokesperson told Business Insider: “The Ministry of Public Health in the Dominican Republic has released further information on the American tourists who passed away in 2019, including autopsy findings that reveal these deaths were unrelated and from natural causes and pre-existing conditions. We are deeply saddened by these unfortunate incidents, and extend our sincerest sympathy to the families of those affected. We will continue to respect the privacy of our guests and their families.”

According to CNN, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Punta Cana has now removed alcoholic beverages from its minibars and started dispensing hand sanitizer for guests and face masks for staff members.

Gloria Vanderbilt dead at 95; heiress was a fashion mogul, author, mother of Anderson Cooper

June 17, 2019

by Daphne Sorenson

Gloria Vanderbilt, the fashion icon who was also known as the mother of CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, died of stomach cancer in her New York home. She was 95.

According to the Associated Press, Cooper issued this statement: “Gloria Vanderbilt was an extraordinary woman, who loved life, and lived it on her own terms. She was a painter, a writer, and designer but also a remarkable mother, wife, and friend. She was 95 years old, but ask anyone close to her, and they’d tell you, she was the youngest person they knew, the coolest, and most modern.”

Vanderbilt was an heiress whose father, Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt, died when she was a 1-year-old. Her mother (Gloria Morgan) and aunt (Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, sister Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt) were locked in a custody battle over Gloria, with the legal conflict making headlines worldwide. The custody battle, which was eventually won by Whitney, led to Gloria being called a “poor little rich girl” in the media.

Gloria went on to become a successful fashion designer, who was best known for her self-titled brand of designer jeans, as well as her line of fragrances. Gloria Vanderbilt jeans are credited with launching the designer jeans craze in the late 1970s. (She sold her fashion brand in the 1980s.) She was also an actress, artist and author.

Married four times, her first three marriages (to publicist Pasquale di Cicco, orchestra conductor Leopold Stokowski, filmmaker Sidney Lumet) ended in divorce. Her fourth marriage to author Wyatt Cooper ended in 1978 when he died at the age of 50. She had four sons: Stanislaus and Christopher (from her marriage to Stokowski) and Anderson and Carter (from her marriage to Cooper). In 1988, Carter tragically committed suicide in front of her by jumping from a building. He was 23. Gloria and her son Anderson starred in the 2016 HBO documentary “Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper.” The documentary is available on HBO’s on-demand services. HBO will televise the documentary again on June 20, 2019, at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Gloria was surrounded by friends and family when she died, according to her son Anderson, who gave an emotional tribute to her on CNN.

Burt Reynolds dead at 82; Oscar-nominated actor passed away of a heart attack

September 6, 2018

by John Larson

On September 6, 2018, Emmy-winning actor Burt Reynolds died of cardiac arrest at a hospital in Martin County, Florida, according to various reports. He was 82. According to the Associated Press, Reynolds’ death was confirmed by his agent Todd Eisner. Toward the end of his life, Reynolds was dealing with multiple health issues, including heart disease and arthritis, as well as financial problems that he openly discussed in interviews.

Reynolds was best known for his movies in the 1970s, such as”Deliverance,” “Semi-Tough,” “The Longest Yard” and “Smokey and the Bandit.” After a string of movie flops in the late 1980s and 1990s, he had a critically acclaimed big-screen comeback in 1997’s “Boogie Nights,” for which he received  a Golden Globe and his first and only Oscar nomination. Reynolds won an Emmy Award and a Golden Globe for his starring role in the early 1990s comedy TV series “Evening Shade.”

He was a major sex symbol in the 1970s and 1980s, and often made headlines for his love life, including an on-again/off-again romance that he had with his “Smokey and the Bandit” co-star Sally Field. He was married twice: to actress Judy Carne (from 1963 to 1965) and to actress Loni Anderson (from 1988 to 1993). Reynolds and Anderson adopted a son named Quinton during their marriage.

Reynolds’ last movies were 2018’s “Shadowfighter” and “Defining Moments,” a film that will be released posthumously. He had been cast in the 2019 Quentin Tarantino film “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, but Reynolds died before he could film any scenes.


Neil Simon dead at 91; legendary writer and producer had award-winning Broadway classics, movies and TV shows

August 26, 2018

by John Larson

Tony-winning Broadway legend Neil Simon, 91, died of complications from pneumonia at New York Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan on August 26, 2018, according to the Associated Press.

Simon’s numerous hit plays included “The Odd Couple,” “Barefoot in the Park,”  “The Sunshine Boys,” “Lost in Yonkers,” “The Goodbye Girl” and “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.” His musicals included “Sweet Charity,” “Little Me” and “They’re Playing Our Song.” His “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “Biloxi Blues” and “Broadway Bound” were a trilogy of connected plays. Several of Broadway productions were adapted into movies and TV shows.

Simon won many awards in his lifetime, including three Tonys, a Pulitzer Prize (for “Lost in Yonkers”), a Golden Globe (for “The Goodbye Girl”) and the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. He was a Kennedy Center honoree in 1995.

Tony-winning actors Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane and Harvey Fierstein issued statements after Simon’s death.

Broderick made his Broadway debut in “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” did his movie debut in 1983’s “Max Dugan Returns” (which was written by Simon), and starred in the 1988 film adaptation of “Biloxi Blues.” He commented, “It was my great good fortune that my very first Broadway play was written by Neil Simon. He also wrote my first film. I owe him a career. The theater has lost a brilliantly funny, unthinkably wonderful writer and even after all this time I feel I have lost a mentor, a father figure, a deep influence in my life and work.”

Lane starred in “Broadway Bound,” “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” and the 2005 revival of “The Odd Couple.” He commented, “Neil Simon will always be one of my theatrical heroes and I am so proud to have played a small part in his unparalleled career and remarkable legacy. My heartfelt condolences to his wife Elaine and the entire Simon family.”

Fierstein, who is best known for his Tony-winning play “Torch Song Trilogy,” had this to say about Simon: “He could write a joke that would make you laugh, define the character, the situation, and even the world’s problems. First time I met him he looked at me and said, ‘Where the hell did they find you?’ What a gent.”

Marsha Mason, who was married to Simon from 1973 to 1983 and starred in several movies written by him, issued this statement: “I am deeply sad and hurting with the news of Neil’s passing. He was a great talent and man, husband and father. With his passing his plays and work live on and will be enjoyed by many generations to come. I will miss him deeply and always.”

Simon was married five times to four women. His first marriage to dancer Joan Baim was from 1953 to 1973, when she died of cancer. Mason was his second wife. Simon then married and divorced actress Diane Lander twice, with their first marriage lasting from 1987–1988, and their second marriage lasting from 1990 to 1998. Simon’s widow is actress Elaine Joyce, whom he married in 1999. Simon is survived by Joyce; his biological daughters Ellen and Nancy (from his marriage to Baim); his adopted daughter Bryn (from his marriage to Lander); three grandchildren; and one great-grandson.

Aretha Franklin dead at 76; Queen of Soul passed away from pancreatic cancer

August 16, 2018

by John Larson

Aretha Franklin, known by many as the Queen of Soul, died of pancreatic cancer at her home in Detroit on August 16, 2018. She was 76. Days before her passing, her family had revealed that she was gravely ill and close to dying.

According to the Associated Press, the family released this statement after Franklin’s death:  “In one of the darkest moments of our lives, we are not able to find the appropriate words to express the pain in our heart. We have lost the matriarch and rock of our family. The love she had for her children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins knew no bounds.”We have been deeply touched by the incredible outpouring of love and support we have received from close friends, supporters and fans all around the world.”

Music mogul Clive Davis, who is Sony Music’s chief content officer, is organizing a tribute concert that will take place on November 14 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Live Nation is the concert promoter, according to the Washington Post.

Franklin, who got her start singing gospel music and later transitioned to R&B, was one of the most celebrated singers in modern history. She had 18 Grammy Awards, and received the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement honor in 1994. She also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of Arts and the Kennedy Center Honors. In 1987, she was the first woman inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Among her numerous hits were “Respect,” “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman,” “Chain of Fools,” “Freeway of Love,” “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” (her duet with George Michael), “Think” and “I Say a Little Prayer.”

In 2017, Franklin announced her retirement from touring. Franklin, who was married and divorced twice, is survived by her longtime partner Willie Wilkerson and her sons Clarence, Edward, Ted and Kecalf.

Avicii dead at 28; one of electronic dance music’s top stars passes away suddenly

April 20, 2018

by John Larson

Avicii (Photo courtesy of Universal Music)

Swedish DJ/producer Avicii (whose real name was Tim Bergling) died in Muscat, Oman, on April 20, 2018, his publicist has announced. Avicii was 28. The cause of death has not yet been revealed or determined.*

The Associated Press reported that this statement was issued from Avicii’s publicist: “It is with profound sorrow that we announce the loss of Tim Bergling, also known as Avicii. The family is devastated and we ask everyone to please respect their need for privacy in this difficult time. No further statements will be given.”

Born in Stockholm, Avicii was considered one of the top stars of electronic dance music. He may not have been the type of star who was a household name, but he carried considerable influence in the music industry, having had numerous chart-topping hits with various artists and as a solo act. His best-known songs were “Levels” and “Wake Me Up.” The latter song was a No. 1 hit in several countries, and reached No. 4 in the U.S., where “Wake Me Up” was certified six-times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. He released two albums (2013’s “True” and 2015’s “Stories”) and four EPs. Avicii’s most recent collection of music was the EP “Avīci (01),” which was released in August 2017. The documentary film “Avicii: True Stories” was released in October 2017.

Avicii’s cause of death has not been publicly revealed yet, but he had been suffering from health problems, including pancreatic disease from alcoholism, which he talked about in many interviews. In 2016, he announced that he was retiring from touring for health reasons.

He is survived by his parents Klas Bergling and Anki Lidén.

*April 26, 2018 UPDATE: A statement released by Avicii’s family reveals that he committed suicide. He also reportedly left a suicide note, but the content of the note had not been revealed. His family’s statement reads:

“Our beloved Tim was a seeker, a fragile artistic soul searching for answers to existential questions. An over-achieving perfectionist who travelled and worked hard at a pace that led to extreme stress. When he stopped touring, he wanted to find a balance in life to be happy and be able to do what he loved most — music. He really struggled with thoughts about Meaning, Life, Happiness. He could not go on any longer. He wanted to find peace.
Tim was not made for the business machine he found himself in; he was a sensitive guy who loved his fans but shunned the spotlight. Tim, you will forever be loved and sadly missed. The person you were and your music will keep your memory alive.

We love you,

Your family”

March 26, 2019 UPDATE:

The following is a press release from the Avicii estate:
A year after his passing on April 20, 2018, the Tim “Avicii” Bergling family are starting a foundation – the Tim Bergling Foundation – in his memory. The foundation will be everlasting. It will initially focus on supporting people and organizations working in the field of mental illness and suicide prevention.   Other areas in which it will be active are climate change, development assistance, nature conservation and endangered species. The foundation’s objectives may be pursued both in Sweden and abroad.
Tim wanted to make a difference – starting a foundation in his name is our way to honour his memory and continue to act in his spirit.
With love,
Tim’s family

David Cassidy dead at 67 after being diagnosed with dementia

November 21, 2017

by John Larson

Singer/actor David Cassidy has died at the age of 67.  He  passed away on November 21, 2017, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he had been hospitalized for organ failure. Earlier this year, Cassidy announced that he was diagnosed with dementia and would stop performing. Cassidy, a former teen idol, first rose to fame in the early 1970s as the star of the musical sitcom “The Partridge Family,” which also starred Shirley Jones, his stepmother at the time. Cassidy is best known for the Partridge Family hit “I Think I Love You.” According to a Cassidy family statement published by the Associated Press: “David died surrounded by those he loved, with joy in his heart and free from the pain that had gripped him for so long, Thank you for the abundance and support you have shown him these many years.”

Cassidy came from a showbiz family. His father was actor Jack Cassidy. David’s half-brother Shaun Cassidy was briefly a teen  idol in the late 1970s as an actor and singer. David’s daughter Katie is an actress.

Although he starred in well-received productions on Broadway and in Las Vegas, David was never able to recapture the success that he had in the 1970s. His career in subsequent years was an up-and-down rollercoaster of attempted comebacks and deliberate efforts to shed his past image as a teen idol. A self-admitted alcoholic, David was arrested multiple times for DUI. He was married and divorced three times, with his last marriage ending in 2014. David Cassidy is survived by his daughter Katie and son Beau.