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Life In Legacy - Week ending Saturday, September 28, 2019

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Jimmy Nelson, ventriloquist star of '50s, '60sAlfred Alvarez, British literary criticPaul Badura-Skoda, Austrian classical pianistMyron Bloom, French horn playerPlato Cacheris, Washington lawyer for notorious clientsHuguette Caland, Lebanese feminist painterJacques Chirac, former president of FranceMichael D. Coe, Yale anthropologistMac Conner, '50s–'60s magazine and ad illustratorElaine Feinstein, poet, novelist, and biographerMordecai Gerstein, illustrator and master storytellerRobert Hunter, lyricist for Grateful DeadJosé José, Mexican balladeerAnthony Mancinelli, longtime barberGinny NiCarthy, author and political protestorJames ('Rocky') Robinson, founded volunteer ambulance corpsJimmy Spicer, rapperJoseph Wilson, former US ambassador to Iraq

Art and Literature

Alfred Alvarez (90) critic and author who helped to shape the modern poetry canon in his native England, explored everything from oil digging to poker, and wrote a best-selling history of suicide bracketed by his attempt on his own life and the death of his friend, poet Sylvia Plath. Writing alternately as A. Alvarez or Al Alvarez, he had a long, productive, and controversial career. He began as a highly influential critic who as poetry editor of the Observer was an early champion of Plath, her then-husband Ted Hughes, John Berryman, and others he believed would enliven contemporary poetry. Alvarez later wrote novels and poems and completed nonfiction books about life “beyond the fiddle” of the book world, whether rock climbing (Feeding the Rat), swimming (Pondlife), the search for oil in the North Sea (Offshore), or poker (The Biggest Game in Town). He died of pneumonia in London, England on September 23, 2019.

Huguette Caland (88) Lebanese artist who celebrated freedom of expression in both her paintings and her unconventional life. As an artist, Caland moved freely among oils, ink, sculptures, textiles, representational figures, abstractions, and line drawings. Her pieces were voluptuous, organic, whimsical, erotic, exuberant, sometimes cartoonlike, but most often decidedly feminist. Perhaps her most famous work was Bribes de Corps (Body Parts), a series of paintings, begun in the ‘70s, showing fleshy, curvaceous forms that resemble parts of the female anatomy. Caland had experienced neurological problems since a fall in 2006 and by ‘13 had lost her ability to paint. She died in Beirut, Lebanon on September 23, 2019.

Mac Conner (105) illustrator whose realistic, colorful, and often dramatic paintings for major magazines and advertisers helped to lend a distinctive look to postwar popular culture. Conner thrived as an artist from the late ‘40s to the early ’60s, when magazines still prized illustrations for short stories and advertising agencies on Madison Avenue valued artwork over photography to pitch clients’ products. Conner’s illustrations, largely in gouache, appeared in major magazines like the Saturday Evening Post, Redbook, and Woman’s Day and in ads for United Air Lines, Armco Steel, Blue Bell denim, and many other companies. The stories he told for advertisers were largely upbeat ones about prosperous, mostly suburban life in the ‘50s. Conner died in New York City on September 26, 2019.

Elaine Feinstein (88) British poet, novelist, and biographer who found inspiration in her Jewish heritage and the work of female Russian poets. Feinstein published more than a dozen poetry collections, full of evocative, accessible poems about remembrance, loss, relationships, historical figures, struggles from her own life, and simple pleasures. She wrote 15 novels, beginning with The Circle in 1970. Some drew on her Jewish heritage. All four of her grandparents were Jewish and had emigrated from Ukraine, settling in northern England. The Border (1985) was about two Jewish intellectuals traveling across Europe in 1938 to escape Hitler’s persecution. Feinstein died of cancer in London, England on September 23, 2019.

Mordecai Gerstein (83) writer, illustrator, and master storyteller whose books created magical worlds where young readers could ponder big questions. Gerstein wrote and illustrated more than 40 books. Although they were intended for children, they also resonated with adults. They ranged across a variety of styles and subjects, including contemporary fantasy (How to Bicycle to the Moon to Plant Sunflowers, published in 2013), biblical retellings (Noah & the Great Flood, 1999), and Greek myths (I Am Pan!, 2016). Gerstein’s most famous book, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers (2003), which won the Caldecott Medal, tells of the breathtaking moment in 1974 when Philippe Petit, French high-wire artist, secretly strung a cable between the twin towers of the World Trade Center and walked—and danced and pranced—across. There was no net below, only slack-jawed New Yorkers looking up and wondering whether he would make it. Gerstein died of metastatic esophageal cancer in Westhampton, Massachusetts on September 24, 2019.

Business and Science

Michael D. Coe (90) Yale anthropologist who devoted his career to proving that the ancient Maya devised an elaborate written language that had previously been undervalued by many scholars. Coe was instrumental in deciphering the Maya script and in translating and validating the authenticity of what became known as the Grolier Codex—a document found in a Mexican cave that was believed to have been written around the 13th century on fig bark. It is now considered the earliest existing manuscript in the Americas. First exhibited at the Grolier Club in Manhattan in 1971, it is one of only four written Maya works known to have survived marauding Spanish conquistadors and purges by Roman Catholic priests. Coe died of a stroke in New Haven, Connecticut on September 25, 2019.

Anthony Mancinelli (108) man who was still working as a barber when he was 108 years old. The Italian immigrant worked as a barber from age 12 until this past July in and around Newburgh, 50 miles north of New York City. Guinness World Records credited him with being the oldest working barber. Mancinelli opened Anthony’s Barbershop of Newburgh in 1930 and owned it for 40 years. He later worked at other shops. He outlived his wife of 69 years, seven siblings, and one of his two sons. Anthony Mancinelli died in New York City on September 26, 2019.

James ('Rocky') Robinson (79) when a 7-year-old girl was hit by a car one day in 1988 in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, it took more than 30 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. When it did, her uncle, James Robinson Jr. (known as Rocky), climbed in for the ride to the hospital. The ambulance was equipped with lifesaving equipment, he said, but “the attendant didn’t even know how to turn on the oxygen.” Robinson’s niece, Cynthia Lomax, died along the way. The incident prompted him to start a volunteer ambulance corps in Bedford-Stuyvesant that has answered calls ever since, cutting response times to only a few minutes. The group, one of more than 30 volunteer emergency service agencies in New York today and one of nearly that many certified to give basic life support, has also trained more than 1,000 emergency medical technicians. Robinson died of heart failure in New York City on September 27, 2019.


Plato Cacheris (90) Washington lawyer of choice for accused spies, wayward sheikhs, and notorious figures in scandals, from the Watergate affair to the sexual peccadilloes of President Bill Clinton. Cacheris specialized in cases that captivated the nation, including those of Robert Philip Hanssen and Aldrich Ames, who were convicted of spying for the Soviet Union and Russia, and Edward J. Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor who illegally disclosed national secrets to journalists and fled to asylum in Moscow. Victory, to Cacheris, often did not mean acquittal. For Hanssen and Ames, who faced the death penalty for espionage, it meant life sentences negotiated by their lawyer in plea deals with prosecutors. For Snowden, who retained Cacheris in 2013 after being charged with espionage, it has meant exile in Russia, out of reach of prosecutions and prison in America. And for clients like Monica Lewinsky, Clinton’s Oval Office mistress, and Fawn Hall, National Security Council secretary who shredded documents for her boss, Lt. Col. Oliver North, in the Iran-contra scandal during the Reagan administration, the arrangements meant freedom from prosecution in exchange for their testimony. Cacheris died of pneumonia in Alexandra, Virginia on September 26, 2019.

News and Entertainment

Paul Badura-Skoda (91) Austrian pianist known for insightful interpretations of classical era repertory who had one of the largest discographies of any major pianist, more than 200 recordings. Although not a formidable technician, Badura-Skoda was admired for refined and elegant performances, especially of Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. He was praised for the singing tone he drew from the piano. Although associated with the classical period masters, Badura-Skoda actually had an extensive repertory, including works by Chopin, Scriabin, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Hindemith. He died in Vienna, Austria on September 25, 2019.

Myron Bloom (93) one of the most distinguished French horn players of his generation and a force in molding the sound of the Cleveland Orchestra during its golden age under conductor George Szell. As Szell’s principal horn in Cleveland for more than 20 years, Bloom appeared on many of the orchestra's recordings and was soloist in its classic version of the Horn Concerto No. 1 by Richard Strauss. He later became principal horn of the Orchestre de Paris under conductor Daniel Barenboim and an influential teacher. In 1985 he became a professor at Indiana University music conservatory, now called the Jacobs School of Music. He died in Bloomington, Indiana on September 26, 2019.

Robert Hunter (78) man behind the words for many of the Grateful Dead’s songs. Although proficient on several instruments including guitar, violin, cello, and trumpet, Hunter never appeared on stage with the Grateful Dead during the group’s 30-year run that ended with the 1995 death of lead guitarist Jerry Garcia, his principal songwriting partner. When he did attend the group’s concerts, Hunter was content to either stand to the side of the stage or, better yet, sit anonymously in the audience. His most memorable Grateful Dead songs include “It Must Have Been the Roses,” “Terrapin Station,” “The Days Between,” “Brown-Eyed Women,” “Jack Straw,” “Friend of the Devil,” “Box of Rain,” “Uncle John’s Band,” and “Black Muddy River.” Hunter, who underwent recent surgery, died in San Rafael, California on September 23, 2019.

José José (71) Mexican crooner, an elegant dresser who moved audiences to tears with melancholic love ballads and was known as the “Prince of Song.” José climbed to the top of the Latin charts in the ‘70s with slow songs such as “El Triste” (“The Sad Man”) and “Amar y Querer” (“Love & Want”). The power of his voice and ability to sing technically difficult tunes in a wide register made him a treasured cultural icon in Latin America. His music also became popular in countries including Japan and Russia. The artist’s voice, a combination of baritone and lyric tenor, captivated audiences, while his dress style of suits accented with bow ties, pocket handkerchiefs, and silk scarves was copied at nightclubs across Latin America. José died of pancreatic cancer at a hospital in south Florida on September 28, 2019.

Jimmy Nelson (90) in the ‘50s and ’60s Nelson was one of the stars of the golden age of ventriloquism, performing with his dummies Danny O'Day, a smart aleck in a suit and bow tie, and Farfel, a quick-witted hound dog. His contemporaries included Paul Winchell (with dummies Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff), Shari Lewis (who gave voice to Lamb Chop, a sock puppet), and Señor Wences (whose characters included Johnny, a gruff-voiced head in a box). They all followed the lead of Edgar Bergen, celebrated vaudeville and radio ventriloquist whose best-known dummy was Charlie McCarthy. As successful as Nelson was on TV and in nightclubs, he had a greater legacy as a ventriloquism teacher, via instructional albums he recorded in the mid-‘60s. Jeff Dunham, currently the most successful ventriloquist, credits his career to Nelson and his albums. Nelson died in Cape Coral, Florida of complications from a stroke he had in May, on September 24, 2019.

Jimmy Spicer (61) in the era of recorded hip-hop, Spicer released a handful of songs that became part of the genre’s bedrock. His rap career was brief, and his songs were sparsely released, but they featured phrases that entered hip-hop’s core catalogue. His debut single, “Adventures of Super Rhyme (Rap)” (1980), was part of the first wave of hip-hop singles that arrived in the wake of Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” and is widely regarded as the first true storytelling rap. Running for more than 15 minutes, “Adventures” is a mixture of boastful narrative, pinpoint flow, oddball quirks, and character acting. At one point Spicer raps in Dracula’s voice; later, as Aladdin, he invests in an oil well, then abandons the desert for the disco. Spicer was an impressive boaster, crafting an otherworldly origin story for his talents. He died of lung and brain cancer in Brooklyn, New York on September 27, 2019.

Politics and Military

Jacques Chirac (86) two-term French president, the first leader to acknowledge France’s role in the Holocaust who opposed the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Chirac was long the standard-bearer of France’s conservative right and mayor of Paris for nearly 20 years. As president from 1995–2007, he was a global diplomat but failed to reform the French economy or defuse tensions between police and minority youths that exploded into riots across France in 2005. Yet Chirac showed courage and statesmanship during his presidency. In what may have been his finest hour, France’s last leader with memories of World War II crushed the myth of his nation’s innocence in the persecution of Jews and their deportation during the Holocaust when he acknowledged the actions of the French nation at the time. He died in Paris, France on September 26, 2019.

Ginny NiCarthy (92) was working as a waitress at a Howard Johnson’s when she met her first husband, a customer who always had books with him. The year was 1953. When her self-help book Getting Free: You Can End Abuse & Take Back Your Life was published in 1982, the battered women’s movement was in its infancy, and the book, translated into several languages, became widely used at women’s shelters and in support groups for victims of domestic violence. Over the decades, NiCarthy’s political protests landed her in jail more than once. She was active in movements for feminist causes, civil rights, an end to the Vietnam War, nuclear disarmament, and death with dignity. She died of dementia in Seattle, Washington on September 23, 2019.

Joseph Wilson (69) former ambassador who set off a political firestorm by disputing US intelligence used to justify the 2003 Iraq invasion. Wilson’s former wife was Valerie Plame, whose identity as a CIA operative was exposed days after her husband's criticism of US intelligence that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was attempting to purchase uranium. The leak of Plame’s covert identity was a scandal for the administration of President George W. Bush that led to the conviction of vice presidential aide I. Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby for lying to investigators and obstruction of justice. President Donald Trump pardoned Libby in 2018. Wilson died of organ failure in Santa Fe, New Mexico on September 27, 2019.

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