David Colton | Special to USA TODAY
In today’s fractured culture, it’s not surprising that pausing to remember the dead has become a generational thing.
With history constantly up for debate in the swirl of social media, only the rarest of figures can command full attention of our divided demographics. In 2022, that was Queen Elizabeth II. Her death in September at age 96 after 70 years on the throne was a global event, reminded even her critics of the virtues of continuity, duty and the importance of family, especially when put to the most extreme of public tests.
“In a world of constant change, she was a steadying presence,” said President Joe Biden. Elton John, who sang at Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997, said of the queen, “I’m 75 and she’s been with me all my life. I’m glad she’s at peace.”
In contrast, the death in August of another titan of the 20th century, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, 91, drew muted responses and outright hostility in the Russia he helped open to the West in the 1990s.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who called Gorbachev’s willingness to dissolve the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical disaster of the century,” moved to reverse all that by invading Ukraine. Putin offered respectful condolences but was said to be “too busy” to attend Gorbachev’s funeral.
Whatever the outcome in Ukraine, Gorbachev’s legacy has been mostly obliterated; his achievements at risk of being a footnote in history.
In the end, how any death is treated needs to go beyond politics, jealousies or shifting legacies. Instead, the departed should be measured by the simplest of things – how their lives were lived, whether people around them were inspired and what kinds of imprints were left on family, friends and, yes, history. That’s what makes compiling USA TODAY’s annual Passages report so rewarding.
Many deaths in 2022 did bridge the generation gaps – actor Sidney Poitier, 94, the first Black man to win an Academy Award; country legend Loretta Lynn, 90, who shocked audiences by singing about “The Pill”; outspoken diplomat Madeleine Albright, 84, the first woman to serve as secretary of state; Boston Celtics superstar Bill Russell, 88, an astonishing 11-time NBA champion; and Bob McGrath, 90, of “Sesame Street” who reached every generation. But such transcendent personalities seem fewer and fewer.
Remembrances can depend on where you stand in the timeline.
That’s because every generation carries its own set of hard-wired memories. For baby boomers, the deaths of 1950s rocker Jerry Lee Lewis, 87; “Be My Baby” hitmaker Ronnie Spector, 78; teen idol Bobby Rydell, 79; and Lamont Dozier, 81, composer of much of the Motown sound, touched chords not felt by those born later. So too did the death of uber baby boomer Michael Lang, 77, who came up with Woodstock.
Older Americans were shaken by the loss of versatile actress Angela Lansbury, 96; “Leave It to Beaver” actor Tony Dow, 77; Dwayne Hickman, 87, who played TV’s first emo, Dobie Gillis; Tim Considine, 81, of “My Three Sons”; and Nichelle Nichols, 89, whose role as Uhura on “Star Trek” was so impactful that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. convinced her to not leave the show.
Generation X and much of Generation Y – the last to grow up before the age of social media – found extra sorrow with the death of “Grease” star Olivia Newton-John, 73; Fleetwood Mac’s elegant songwriter/singer Christine McVie, 79; sitcom star Bob Saget, 65, who winked a naughtier style of stand-up comedy; Tony Sirico, 79, the irrepressible Paulie Walnuts of “The Sopranos”; and Kevin Conroy, 66, who voiced Batman on the animated series for more than a decade.
A disco dazzle of the 1980s was “Flashdance” and “Fame” singer Irene Cara, 63. “She made me believe if you were Latin you could make it!” said actor John Leguizamo. “She fueled my community.”
Millennials were especially shaken by the deaths of singer Aaron Carter, 34; promising TV star Tyler Sanders, 18; rappers Takeoff, 28, of the Atlanta trio Migos, and Lil Keed, 24; Disney’s “Snowdrop” star Kim Mi-soo, 29; comedian Teddy Ray, 32; and Kazuki Takahashi, 60, creator of the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga and gaming world, so mystifying to parents.
Also mourned was Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, 50. “The world was so lucky to have his gifts,” said Finneas, brother of Billie Eilish.
A world of entertainers gone
Many stars died whose names alone are enough to identify them: tough guys Ray Liotta, 67, Henry Silva, 95, and Paul Sorvino, 83. Others are known for their roles: Britain’s David Warner, 80, played everyone from a time traveling Jack the Ripper to Bob Cratchit in “A Christmas Carol”; Louise Fletcher, 88, the eternal Nurse Ratched; ingenue Yvette Mimieux, 80, the gentle Weena from “The Time Machine”; and Robert Morse, 90, who sang “I Believe in You” to a mirror.
Kirstie Alley, 71, is remembered for “Cheers” and “Look Who’s Talking.” From “Altered States” to “Body Heat,” William Hurt, 71, was a reliable box office draw, as was James Caan, 82, whose roles ranged from the explosive Sonny Corleone in “The Godfather” to Brian Piccolo in “Brian’s Song.” Gone too are blaxsploitation star and producer Max Julien, 88; actress Anne Heche, 53; Broadway and soap opera star Joan Copeland, 99; and Sally Kellerman, 84, who played Maj. Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan in the movie version of “M*A*S*H.”
Joe Turkel, 94, the eerie bartender in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” was also as a maker of replicants in “Blade Runner”; Veronica Carlson, 77, tried to fend off Christopher Lee’s Dracula; Fred Ward, 79, was a reliable bruiser; and Greek actress Irene Papas, 93, starred with Anthony Quinn and Gregory Peck in “The Guns of Navarone.”
Television stars who died include Taurean Blacque, 82, of “Hill Street Blues”; Roger E. Mosley, 83, helicopter pilot in “Magnum, P.I.”; Clarence Gilyard Jr., 66, of “Matlock”; Robert Clary, 96, a Holocaust survivor who starred in “Hogan’s Heroes”; Mary Alice, 85, of “A Different World”; Emilio Delgado, 81, who played Luis on “Sesame Street”; and Stephen “tWitch” Boss, 40, DJ and dancer on the “Ellen” talk show.
Also gone are the affable David Birney, 83, of “Bridget Loves Birney”; Johnny Brown, 84, of “Good Times”; Howard Hesseman, 81, of “WKRP in Cincinnati”; Conrad Janis, 94, of “Mork and Mindy”; Leslie Jordan, 67, of “Will and Grace”; and Maggie Peterson, 81, who had a crush on Sheriff Taylor in “The Andy Griffith Show.”
From “Seinfeld,” actresses Liz Sheridan and Estelle Harris, both 93 and TV mothers of Jerry and George respectively, died, along with the gruff Philip Baker Hall, 90, unforgettable as a “library cop” tracking down an overdue book: “Well I got a flash for you, joy boy: Party time is over. You got seven days, Seinfeld.”
Laughter is remembered from Louie Anderson, 68; Judy Tenuta, 72; Larry Storch, 99; Gilbert Gottfried, 67; Ivan Reitman, 75, director of ”Ghostbusters”; Pat Carroll, 95, trailblazing female comedian; and Gallagher, 76, who provided ponchos to protect the front row when he smashed watermelons with a giant hammer.
Behind the scenes were directors such as Jean-Luc Godard, 91, of the French New Wave; Peter Bogdanovich, 82, of “The Last Picture Show”; Peter Brook, 97, of “Lord of the Flies”; and Bob Rafelson, 89, of “Five Easy Pieces.” There was also Alan Ladd Jr., 84, president of 20th Century Fox; James Rado, 90, creator of Broadway’s “Hair”; and Douglas Trumbull, 79, whose special effects helped shape modern blockbusters.
Their music lives on
From the early days of doo-wop and soul came “In the Still of the Night” by Fred Parris, 85, of The Five Satins; the Philadelphia stylings of William Hart, 77, of the Delfonics; and the radio comfort of “Chapel of Love” by The Dixie Cups’ Rosa Lee Hawkins, 76. Other early influencers included Mable John, 91; Chicago blues master Jimmy Johnson, 93; Bobby Hendricks, 84, of The Drifters; Memphis drummer Howard Grimes, 80; and Betty Davis, 77, sometimes known as the “funk diva,” and Miles Davis’ second wife.
Rock and folk lost Meat Loaf, 74; guitarists Danny Kalb, 80, of The Blues Project, and Wilko Johnson, 75, of Dr. Feelgood; Ronnie Hawkins, 87, whose Hawks became The Band; Gary Brooker, 76, of Procol Harum; Alan White, 72, of Yes; and Andy Fletcher, 60, of Depeche Mode. Going farther back were Don Wilson, 88, of The Ventures; Jerry Allison, 82, of Buddy Holly’s Crickets; Judith Durham, 79, of The Seekers; Jim Seals, 79, of Seals and Crofts; and folk singers Paul Neuwirth, 82, and Judy Henske, 85.
Country music lost matriarch Naomi Judd, 76; honky-tonker Mickey Gilley, 86; Nashville DJ Ralph Emery, 88; Alabama’s Jeff Cook, 73. Jazz will remember the sounds of Pharoah Sanders, 81, Ramsey Lewis, 87, and James Mtume, 75.
Also gone are Andrew Woolfolk, 71, of Earth, Wind and Fire; rappers Coolio, 59, Hurricane G, 52, and hip-hop pioneer DJ Kay Slay, 55. And everyone knows the theme from James Bond by Monty Norman, 94.
Newsmakers who changed the world
Newsmakers lost in 2022 include Japan’s former prime minister Shinzo Abe, who was assassinated at age 67; inspector David Kay, 82, who debunked claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction; Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, 88, who could work both sides of the aisle; Robert “Bud” McFarlane, 84, who resigned after being implicated in the Iran-Contra affair; Ken Starr, 76, whose probe of Bill Clinton real estate shifted to the president’s affair with an intern; and Donald Trump’s first wife, Ivana Trump, 73, who helped design many of his hotel properties.
Sports legends remembered
The voice of almost all American sports was Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, 94, who memorably proclaimed “in a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened.” Other sports journalists included Jane Gross, 75, who opened the way for women to report from locker rooms; ESPN NFL analyst John Clayton, 67, and anchor Fred Hickman, 66; and The New Yorker’s Roger Angell, 101, whose descriptions of baseball had you smelling the grass in center field.
Lost too were San Francisco Giants pitcher Gaylord Perry, 84, who admitted that his spitball helped record 3,534 strikeouts; LA Dodgers player Maury Wills, 89, who stole a then-record 104 bases in 1962; Tommy Davis, 83, a two-time batting champ; Pittsburgh Pirates World Series champion Gene Clines, 75; St. Louis Cardinals reliever Bruce Sutter, 69; and Joan Joyce, 81, softball great who struck out Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams at a charity game.
The NFL remembers Ray Guy, 72, the only punter in pro football’s Hall of Fame; quarterbacks Len Dawson, 87, Daryle Lamonica, 80, and John Hadl, 82; two-time Washington Super Bowl champion Dave Butz, 72; receivers Charley Taylor, 80, and Don Maynard, 86; Dan Reeves, 77, who reached nine Super Bowls as player or coach but never won one; and Dwayne Haskins, 24, Pittsburgh Steelers backup quarterback who was fatally struck by a truck. College football mourned the loss of Mississippi State coach Mike Leach, 61.
The NBA’s Gene Shue, 90, spent more than 50 years as a player, coach and executive; Bob Lanier, 73, was an all-star center for Detroit and Milwaukee; Paul Silas, 79, won three titles; and Lusia Harris, 66, at 6-foot-3 in 1977 was the only woman drafted into the NBA; she started a family instead.
On the ice, Guy LaFleur, 70, was a five-time Stanley Cup champion with the Montreal Canadiens; Mike Bossy, 65, and Clark Gillies, 67, helped the New York Islanders to four Stanley Cups. On the links, Tom Weiskopf, 79, won 16 PGA tour titles, including the 1973 U.S. Open; at the net, legendary tennis coach Nick Bollettieri, 91, helped 10 players reach No. 1; and in the ring, Earnie Shavers, 78, lasted 15 rounds against Muhammad Ali. The soccer world was shocked when analyst Grant Wahl, 49, collapsed and died while covering the World Cup in Qatar.
Inventors, artists and chroniclers
Breakthroughs came from Dr. Mitchell Rosenthal, 87, who founded the Phoenix House drug-treatment centers; Dr. Raymond Damadian, 86, who invented the first MRI scanning machine; deaf linguist Carl Croneberg, 92, who developed the first American Sign Language dictionary; and Kenyan anthropologist Richard Leakey, 77, whose research determined Africa was the birthplace of humanity.
Entrepreneurs we lost include John Koss, 91, inventor of stereo headphones; Charles Entenman, 92, who helped create a nationwide bakery; American pickle legend Robert Vlasic, 96; Peter Moore, 78, who created the first Air Jordan sneaker; Regine, 92, who pioneered the discotheque craze; and Rommy Hunt Revson, 78, who invented the scrunchie.
Writers included Jack Higgins, 92, author of “The Eagle Has Landed”; neoconservative writer Midge Decter, 94; columnist John Leo, 86; chronicler of rural life Larry Woiwode, 80; humorist P.J. O’Rourke, 74; Latina writer Cecile Pineda, 89; horror novelist Peter Straub, 79; Pulitzer winning historian David McCullough, 89; and LGBTQ activist Urvashi Vaid, 63.
The art world lost fashion writer and designer Andre Leon Talley, 73; Thierry Mugler, 73, designer for Madonna and Beyonce; Cuba-born artist Carmen Herrera, 106; “Godmother of African-American Art” Samella Lewis, 98; abstract artist Sam Gilliam, 88; art director George Lois, 91; and Spider Webb, 78, a tattoo artist who fiercely defended body illustrations.
In the graphic arts, New Yorker cartoonist George Booth, 96; comic book artists Neal Adams, 80, and George Perez, 67; Doc Savage illustrator James Bama, 95; England’s Kevin O’Neill, 69; underground cartoonists Aline Kominsky-Crumb, 74, and Diane Noomin, 75; and Sid Jacobson, 92, whose work ranged from the character Richie Rich to a graphic retelling of 9/11.
Among journalists who died were TV news executive Richard C. Wald, 92, who helped create ABC’s “Nightline”; CNN journalists Bernard Shaw, 82, and Elsa Klensch, 89; Jim Angle, 75, of ABC and Fox News; photographer Steve Schapiro, 87; NPR’s Anne Garrels, 71; political commentator Mark Shields, 85; and AP political reporter Walter Mears, 87. Celebrities were targeted by paparazzo photographer Ron Gallela, 91; and merciless blogger Nikki Finke, 68.
Gone too are Francis X. Clines, 84, of The New York Times; Bill Plante, 84, and Richard Wagner, 85, of CBS; erudite PBS host Ken Bode, 83; and former USA TODAY executive editor Ron Martin, 84, and Richard Curtis, 75, who oversaw the newspaper’s original design. Also mourned were Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, 51, whose killing in the West Bank prompted international outrage; and Brent Renaud, 50, the first U.S. journalist killed in Ukraine.
After all that, and many not listed here, a saving grace of mourning each year’s dead can be found in the wisdoms each of them leave us, such as these lyrics from Christine McVie: