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.

Tom Petty dead at 66; iconic rocker was a Grammy winner and a member of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

October 3, 2017

by Carla Hay

Tom Petty
Tom Petty at the Mountain Jam Festival in Hunter Mountain, New York, on June 17, 2017 (Photo by Patrick Tewey/Mountain Jam)

After his death was prematurely reported by CBS News, rock singer/songwriter Tom Petty died on the night of October 2, 2017, at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. His death came a day after he suffered cardiac arrest at his home in Malibu, California, according to what his spokesperson Carla Sacks told the Associated Press. CBS News reported and later retracted Petty’s obituary several hours before he actually died.

Petty began his music career in his hometown of Gainesville, Florida, before relocating to Los Angeles with his band Mudcrutch.  He was best known for his work with his band the Heartbreakers, who had a long string of popular songs dating back to the band’s debut in 1976, including “Refugee,” “American Girl,” “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “The Waiting” and “Learning to Fly.” Petty and the Heartbreakers were inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. In 2017, Petty and the Heartbreakers were on their 40th anniversary tour, which Petty told the media would probably be the band’s last tour.

Petty was also a member of the short-lived rock supergroup the Traveling Wilburys, whose other members were Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne.  Petty also had a successful solo career, which began with his 1989 multiplatinum album “Full Moon Fever,” whose hits included “Free Fallin’,” “I Won’t Back Down” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream.”

Petty won three Grammys in his career:  First, with the Traveling Wilburys (for the 1988 album “Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1”); then as a solo artist (for the 1994 song “You Don’t Know How It Feels”); and finally with the Heartbreakers (for the 2007 documentary “Runnin’ Down a Dream”).  In 2017, Petty was named MusiCares Person of the Year.

Petty was married twice: to Jane Benyo (from 1974 to 1996) and to his widow, Dana York, whom he married in 2001. He had two daughters (Adria and AnnaKim Violette) from his marriage to Benyo, as well as a stepson named Dylan from his marriage to York.

January 18, 2018 UPDATE: According to the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner, Petty did not die of cardiac arrest, as had originally reported. His cause of death was an accidental overdose of multiple drugs.

Jerry Lewis dead at 91; entertainer was an icon in comedy

April 20, 2017

by John Larson

Jerry Lewis, who was considered a legend in comedy, died in Las Vegas on August 20, 2017, according to the Associated Press. He was 91.

Lewis (whose real name was Joe Levitch) began entertaining at the age of 5 as part of his parents’ vaudeville act. He rose to fame in his early 20s as a comedy duo with Dean Martin.  It was a partnership that lasted from 1946 to 1956, and included the TV series “The Martin and Lewis Show,” as well a several movies, including “That’s My Boy, “The Stooge” and “Pardners.” Lewis’ other well-known movies included “The Nutty Professor” and “The King of Comedy.”

From 1966 to 2010, Lewis hosted a Labor Day weekend telethon to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association. He served as MDA chairman until 2011.  He had many health problems that he battled over the years, including Lewis had had prostate cancer, diabetes, pulmonary fibrosis and heart disease.

Lewis had six sons with his first wife Patti Palmer, whom he was married to from 1944 to 1982.  Lewis and his second wide SanDee Pitnick (whom he married in 1983), had a daughter together

Glen Campbell dead at 81 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease

August 9, 2017

by John Larson

After battling Alzheimer’s disease for several years, Glen Campbell, an iconic entertainer in country music, died in Nashville on August 8, 2017, according to the Associated Press. He was 81. Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2011.

Campbell rose to fame in the 1960s was best known for his hit 1975 “Rhinestone Cowboy,” which was No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. His other hit songs included “Southern Nights,” “Galveston” and “It’s Only Make Believe.” The versatile entertainer was also an actor and TV host. He starred in “Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour” on CBS from 1969 to 1972. Campbell, who admitted having addictions to drugs and alcohol for most of his career, won five Grammys and sold 45 million records worldwide.

He was the subject of the 2014 documentary film “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me,” which chronicled his last concert tour and his life dealing with Alzheimer’s. His last studio album, “Adios,” was released in June 2017.

Campbell his survived by his fourth wife, Kim; eight children; and 10 grandchildren.

Gregg Allman dead at 69; award-winning musician co-founded influential Allman Brothers Band

May 27, 2017

Gregg Allman, who co-founded the Allman Brothers Band and was the band’s lead singer for several years, died at his home in Savannah, Georgia, on May 27, 2017, according to the Associated Press. He was 69. The cause of death is pending an autopsy, but Allman had been ill health for several years prior to his death. In 2016, he cancelled several concert dates. And in March 2017, he cancelled his remaining concert dates.

Allman formed the Allman Brothers Band in 1969 with his older brother Duane Alllman, who died in a motorcycle accident at the age of 24 in 1971. The band’s original bass player Berry Oakley died in 1972, also from a motorcycle accident at the age of 24, just a few blocks from where Duane Allman died. Before and after these tragedies, the Alllman Brothers Band became one of the most influential groups to pioneer the “Southern rock” sound, which mixed blues and rock. The band’s best-known songs included “Midnight Rider,” “Ramblin’ Man,” “Whipping Post” and “Melissa.” The Allman Brothers Band broke up and reunited several times before the final breakup in 2014.

Gregg Allman wasn’t the only original member of the Allman Brothers Band to die this year. Longtime drummer Butch Trucks committed suicide on January 24, 2017. He was also 69.

Gregg Allman had been married seven times and fathered at least five children. He married his seventh and last wife, Shannon, in 2013. His most famous marriage was to Cher, from 1975 to 1979. Their son, Elijah Blue Allman, is also a musician.

In 2012, Gregg Allman’s memoir, “My Cross to Bear,” was released in which he discussed his often turbulent personal life, including his long battle with drug addiction and alcoholism. The book had been optioned for a film called “Midnight Rider,” starring William Hurt as the older Gregg Allman and All-American Rejects singer Tyson Ritter as a young Gregg Allman. The film was cancelled after a crew member was hit by a train on the movie’s set in 2014.

Chuck Berry dead at 90; musician was a pioneer of rock and roll

March 18, 2017

by Carla Hay

Chuck Berry in the 1987 movie "Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll"
Chuck Berry in the 1987 movie “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Chuck Berry, one of the most influential pioneers of rock music, died on March 18, 2017, at his home in a suburb of St. Louis. He was 90.  According to the Associated Press: “Emergency responders summoned to Berry’s residence by his caretaker about 12:40 p.m. found him unresponsive, police in Missouri’s St. Charles County said in a statement. Attempts to revive Berry failed, and he was pronounced dead shortly before 1:30 p.m., police said.”

Born in St. Louis on October 18, 1926, Berry influenced countless people, including numerous musicians who would later go on to be influential musical superstars themselves, such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. Berry, who was renowned for his guitar playing, shot to fame in 1955 with his recording of “Maybellene.” Other iconic hits followed, including “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Johnny B. Goode,” ”School Day,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “Too Much Monkey Business,” ”Nadine” and ”No Particular Place To Go.” His last big hit was 1972’s “My Ding-a-Ling,” which reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Berry, whose “duck walk” during performances became his signature stage move, appeared in several movies. The most famous was the documentary “Hail! Hail! Rock’n’Roll,” which chronicled two all-star concerts in St. Louis celebrating Berry’s 60th birthday  in 1986. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards was the chief organizer of the concerts, which also featured Linda Ronstadt, Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Etta James, Johnnie Johnson, Steve Jordan, Bobby Keys, Julian Lennon. Richards was also one of the producers of “Hail! Hail! Rock’n’Roll,” which was directed by Taylor Hackford and released in 1987.

During his life, Berry also got into trouble with the law, having been arrested for armed robbery in 1944, transporting a minor across state lines for sexual intercourse in 1959, and tax evasion in 1979, and marijuana possession in 1990.  He was incarcerated for all of the convictions, except for the last one, when he pled guilty and received a suspended sentence and two years of probation. In 1990, he was also sued by several women who claimed that he had secretly videotaped them in a ladies’ bathroom without their permission. The case was settled out of court in 1994. Berry also had several legal battles over royalties and copyrights for his music, since he claimed he was cheated out of millions of dollars over these issues.

As many legal problems that he had throughout his life, Berry also many more accolades, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and being among the first group of people inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His legacy and influence will be felt for generations to come.


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