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Life In Legacy - Week ending Saturday, July 25, 2020

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Regis Philbin, popular TV hostJohn Saxon, model and actorHal Bernson, former LA city councilmanBruce G. Blair, former Minuteman launch officer who warned of accidental liftoffRene Carpenter, ex-wife of astronaut Scott CarpenterLady Red Couture, drag queen on 'Hey Qween!'Col. Steven DePyssler, US veteran of four warsDobby Dobson, Jamaican singer and songwriterCharles Evers, older brother of slain civil rights leader Medgar EversJoan Feynman, astrophysicist and sister of Richard FeynmanPeter Green, guitarist of Fleetwood MacLou Henson, college basketball coachNakotah LaRance, champion hoop dancerFay Chew Matsuda, museum curator of Chinese artifactsLorenzo Wilson Milam, founder of several commercial-free radio stationsBenjamin Mkapa, third president of TanzaniaAndrew Mlangeni, South African antiapartheid leaderEnrico Navarra, French art galleries, collector, and art-book publisherEmitt Rhodes, singer and songwriterAnnie Ross, singer and actressEddie Shack, colorful hockey playerAnn Syrdal, computer science researcher who helped to develop female synthetic voicesHelen Jones Woods, trombonist in all-female jazz bandKansai Yamamoto, Japanese fashion designer

Art and Literature

Fay Chew Matsuda (71) first-generation Chinese-American who devoted her career as an amateur museum curator to preserving the heritage of overlooked generations of immigrants from China. Matsuda was instrumental in transforming the New York Chinatown History Project, a grass roots campaign to save vanishing artifacts and record eyewitness reminiscences, into a permanent legacy of Chinese immigration. She died of endometrial cancer in Sound Beach, New York on Long Island’s North Shore, on July 24, 2020.

Enrico Navarra (67) French gallerist, collector, and art-book publisher with a visionary instinct who promoted artists, especially Jean-Michel Basquiat, before the rest of the art world had fully appreciated the importance of their work. Navarra was a charismatic behind-the-scenes figure whose career was defined by not being afraid to believe in something no one else was believing in. He died of emphysema in Le Muy, France on July 21, 2020.

Business and Science

Joan Feynman (93) grew up in the shadow of her older brother, scientist and Nobel laureate Richard Feynman (died 1988), a renowned theoretical physicist whose career included working on the Manhattan Project and investigating the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. Joan followed in his footsteps and became a world-famous astrophysicist. She predicted sunspot cycles and figured out how many high-energy particles were likely to hit a spacecraft over its lifetime, allowing the space industry to design satellites and capsules with greater longevity. Her crowning achievement was understanding solar activity and its influence on Earth, including auroras, those psychedelic displays of colors known as the aurora borealis in the Northern Hemisphere and the aurora australis in the Southern. Over a career that spanned more than 60 years, Joan Feynman was a pioneer in solar physics. She conducted research at some of the nation’s top scientific institutions, including NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She died of heart failure in Oxnard, California on July 22, 2020.

Ann Syrdal (74) psychologist and computer science researcher who helped to develop synthetic voices that sounded like women, laying the groundwork for such modern digital assistants as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. As a researcher at AT&T, Syrdal was part of a small community of scientists who began developing synthetic speech systems in the mid-‘80s. It was not an entirely new phenomenon. AT&T had unveiled one of the first synthetic voices, developed at its Bell Labs, at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York. But more than 40 years later, despite increasingly powerful computers, speech synthesis was still relatively primitive. At the Bell Labs research center in Naperville, Illinois, Syrdal developed a voice that sounded female. Ten years later she was part of a team at another AT&T lab, in Florham Park, New Jersey, that developed a system called Natural Voices. It became a standard-bearer for speech synthesis. Syrdal died of cancer in San Jose, California on July 24, 2020.

Kansai Yamamoto (76) Japanese fashion designer known for his avant-garde and colorful work that included the flamboyant costumes of late rock icon David Bowie. Yamamoto debuted in 1971, becoming the first Japanese fashion designer to hold a show in London. He became internationally known for blending traditional Japanese motifs with brilliant colors and bold designs. He designed the costume for Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust alter ego and developed friendships with top artists including Elton John and Stevie Wonder. Yamamoto contributed to collections in Tokyo, New York, and Paris for nearly 20 years until 1992 and produced the “Kansai Super Show” and “Nippon Genki Project.” He also demonstrated his talent in designing venues and organizing social events for the 2008 G-8 summit in Toyako in northern Japan. He won awards for his interior and exterior design of the Keisei Skyliner train connecting Tokyo and Narita International Airport. Yamamoto developed leukemia in February and died in Tokyo, Japan on July 21, 2020.

News and Entertainment

Lady Red Couture (43) comedian, singer, and talk-show host who called herself “the largest live-singing drag queen in captivity” and became a mentor to younger drag performers. In her audition reel for Season 6 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Lady Red also identified as a transgender woman. She was 6-feet-7 and stood 7-feet-2 in heels. Although she was never chosen for RuPaul’s Drag Race, Lady Red cut a radiant figure within the Los Angeles drag scene, performing in clubs like Hamburger Mary’s and the District and on Hey Qween!, where she was a vivacious Ed McMahon to Jonny McGovern’s bearded Johnny Carson. Lady Red died in Los Angeles, California of cyclic vomiting syndrome, a condition thought to be related to migraines, on July 25, 2020.

Dobby Dobson (78) Jamaican singer and songwriter who had numerous hits—most notably the 1967 ballad “I’m a Loving Pauper,” which became his signature song and gave him his nickname. Dobson was a significant figure in the evolution of Jamaican music. He died of the coronavirus in Coral Springs, Florida on July 21, 2020.

Peter Green (73) blues guitarist who led the first incarnation of Fleetwood Mac in a career shortened by psychedelic drugs and mental illness. Green, to some listeners, was the best of the British blues guitarists of the ‘60s. He also made a mark as a composer with “Albatross” and as a songwriter with “Oh Well” and “Black Magic Woman.” He crashed out of the band in 1971. Even so, Mick Fleetwood said in an interview in 2017 that Green deserved the lion’s share of the credit for the band’s success. Green died in his sleep in London, England on July 25, 2020.

Nakotah LaRance (30) champion hoop dancer who traveled the world performing with Cirque du Soleil, then returned to New Mexico to coach youth dancers. LaRance started dancing when he was 5. His father took him to a powwow where he met champion hoop dancer Derrick Davis, who made him his first set of hoops and started teaching him how to dance. Native hoop dancing involves doing intricate footwork while twirling and throwing hoops in the air and manipulating them into shapes such as wings, tails, an open alligator mouth, or a sphere. LaRance, who was Tewa, Hopi, Navajo, and Assiniboine, was killed when he accidentally fell from a bridge in New Mexico's Rio Arriba County on July 19, 2020.

Lorenzo Wilson Milam (86) devoted much of his life to building noncommercial radio stations with eclectic fusions of music, talk, and public affairs. Milam moved full-time to Mexico from San Diego after having several strokes in 2017. He hated commercial radio stations, which he called purveyors of senseless junk. With KRAB and a couple of dozen other stations that he helped to start in the '60s and ’70s, he created a chain of commercial-free local radio stations. Milam struggled with the consequences of polio, which he had contracted as a teenager and which forced him to walk with crutches and leg braces for years and eventually into a wheelchair. He died in Puerto Escondido, Mexico on July 19, 2020.

Regis Philbin (88) host who shared his life with TV viewers over morning coffee for decades and helped himself and some fans to strike it rich with the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Celebrities routinely stopped by Philbin’s syndicated morning show, but its heart was in the first 15 minutes, when he and cohost Kathie Lee Gifford—on Live! with Regis & Kathie Lee (1985–2000)—or Kelly Ripa—on Live! with Regis & Kelly from '01 until his '11 retirement—bantered about the events of the day. Philbin was also host of the prime-time game show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, briefly TV’s most popular show at the turn of the 21st century. ABC aired the program as often as five times a week. It generated around $1 billion in revenue in its first two years and helped to make Philbin himself a millionaire many times over. He died in Greenwich, Connecticut just over a month before his 89th birthday, on July 24, 2020.

Emitt Rhodes (70) singer and songwriter who earned a cult status among fans of Beatleslike power-pop for a handful of albums he released in the early ‘70s, then gave up recording for decades. Rhodes resurfaced around 2010 after having built a fan base that compared him to Paul McCartney. His body was found at his home in the Hawthorne area of Los Angeles, California, on July 19, 2020. He appeared to have died overnight, although the cause was unknown.

Annie Ross (89) for a few years in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, Ross was the epitome of hip as part of a chart-topping vocal trio that made her an international jazz star. She was the octave-leaping third member of the popular ensemble Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, known for her rapid-fire, improvised scat and witty lyricism. In five years the trio recorded six albums, establishing the jazz style known as “vocalese” and touring the world as one of the first racially integrated singing groups in popular music. Ross later struggled with drug addiction, bankruptcy, and unemployment. She reemerged in the ‘80s and ‘90s as an actress, appearing in Superman III, Throw Momma from the Train, and Robert Altman’s films The Player and the Oscar-nominated Short Cuts. She died in New York City on July 21, 2020.

John Saxon (83) actor whose good looks won him not only legions of female fans but also a wide array of roles. Saxon was best known for starring with Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon and appeared in several Nightmare on Elm Street movies. He began modeling while still a teenager, then caught the eye of legendary talent agent Henry Willson, who spotted him on the cover of a magazine and brought him to Hollywood. Willson was credited with representing and helping to develop the careers of male stars like Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter. Saxon appeared in nearly 200 roles in the movies and on TV in a career that stretched over 70 years. His striking, angular profile and dark eyes led to roles playing Mexicans, Native Americans, and Mongols. Among other characters, he portrayed an Indian chief on the popular TV Western series Bonanza and Marco Polo on the futuristic hit TV show The Time Tunnel. He died of pneumonia in Murfreesboro, Tennessee on July 25, 2020.

Helen Jones Woods (96) black jazz musician who toured the US, including the Jim Crow South, in the ‘30s and ’40s. Woods played trombone in the multiracial, all-female International Sweethearts of Rhythm but later put down her horn forever. She died of the coronavirus in Sarasota, Florida on July 25, 2020.

Politics and Military

Hal Bernson (89) led Los Angeles to establish historic seismic safety laws during his 24 years on the LA City Council. A blunt politician from the northwest San Fernando Valley, Bernson was unafraid to publicly argue with his council colleagues and was impatient with bureaucratic delays. As chairman of the city’s planning and land-use management committee, Bernson supported bringing commercial and residential development to Porter Ranch, sparking anger from some groups. His dedication to seismic safety was his biggest legacy, earning him the nickname Mr. Earthquake. He pushed to require the retrofitting of thousands of LA’s oldest buildings and established mandates for future construction. Laws supported by Bernson probably saved lives and property when the 1994 Northridge earthquake hit, former colleagues said. Bernson died in Los Angeles, California on July 20, 2020.

Bruce G. Blair (72) served in an underground missile bunker with his finger on the proverbial button before becoming a leading crusader for dismantling the hair-trigger protocols for launching nuclear weapons. A former Minuteman launch officer, Blair sounded alarms about how easy it is to start a nuclear attack and about the lack of safeguards. As a launch control officer stationed near Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, responsible for 50 Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles—each armed with a nuclear warhead 100 times more powerful than the atomic bomb that demolished Hiroshima in 1945—Blair was so disquieted by the damage they could inflict and the dangers posed by an accidental liftoff that he devoted his career to disarmament. He died of a stroke in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 19, 2020.

Rene Carpenter (92) last surviving member of the much-glorified cohort of Mercury 7 astronauts and their wives, whom Tom Wolfe immortalized in his best-selling 1979 book The Right Stuff. Carpenter, who retained that surname even after she was divorced and remarried, was the wife of Scott Carpenter (died 2013), one of the seven original Project Mercury astronauts, who carried the hopes of an anxious nation on their shoulders in the early days of space travel. Rene Carpenter became a writer and TV host. She died of congestive heart failure in Denver, Colorado on July 24, 2020.

Col. Steven dePyssler (101) to many in the armed forces, DePyssler was known for his nearly 40 years of service and was believed to be one of the few veterans to have served in World War II, the Korean War, the French Indochina War, and the Vietnam War. He was a tireless volunteer who advised veterans’ widows and widowers on their benefits and finances. He died of the coronavirus, four days after his 101st birthday, in Bossier City, Louisiana on July 25, 2020.

Charles Evers (97) civil rights leader, onetime purveyor of illegal liquor in Chicago, a history-making black mayor in segregated Mississippi, and contrarian with connections to prominent national Democrats and Republicans. Evers was the older brother of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers. Both brothers served in the military during World War II, and they became active in the NAACP when they returned to their home state of Mississippi and continued to face discrimination. Medgar Evers had been field secretary for the Mississippi NAACP for more than eight years when he was assassinated outside his Jackson home in June 1963. In 1968, a former fertilizer salesman and self-avowed white supremacist, Byron De La Beckwith, went on trial twice in the killing, but all-white juries deadlocked and did not convict him. The case was later revived, and a jury of eight blacks and four white people convicted Beckwith of murder in 1994. The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld that conviction in 1997. Charles Evers died of the coronavirus in Brandon, Mississippi on July 22, 2020.

Benjamin Mkapa (81) third president of Tanzania and leader of the country during a crucial period of democratic transition. Mkapa served two terms, from 1995–2005. The third president of his country since independence, he was the first democratically elected leader after its transition to multiparty politics. He died in the port city of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on July 24, 2020.

Andrew Mlangeni (95) South African antiapartheid icon, the last remaining survivor of the historic Rivonia Trial that sentenced activists like Nelson Mandela to life imprisonment. Mlangeni was sentenced alongside other icons of the liberation struggle against the white minority government that imposed the oppressive and racist system of apartheid. He spent 27 years in prison alongside Mandela, Dennis Goldberg, Walter Sisulu, and other activists who were sentenced for planning to overthrow the apartheid government. After his release, Mlangeni was a lawmaker in South Africa’s first democratic parliament from 1994. In his later years, he was chairman of the integrity committee of the ruling African National Congress party, which was responsible for investigating corruption allegations against its leaders. Mlangeni was hospitalized with abdominal pains and died a day later in Pretoria, South Africa, on July 22, 2020.


Lou Henson (88) college basketball coach who took New Mexico State and Illinois to the Final Four during a 21-year career that included nearly 800 victories and a feud with fellow Big Ten coach Bob Knight. Henson left the game as the winningest coach at both Illinois and NM State and still ranks fifth all-time among Big Ten coaches in total wins (423) and conference wins (214). He stressed preparation and discipline. But his best team, the 1988–89 Flyin’ Illini that reached the NCAA semifinals, won with a mix of athleticism and style. Henson made headlines for his contentious dispute with Indiana’s Knight. He took over at NM State in 1966. His Aggies made the NCAA Tournament in each of his first five seasons, including a Final Four appearance in 1970. Wins at NM State led Henson to Illinois in 1975, where he took over a program that had struggled since an NCAA scandal in the ‘60s. He died in Champaign, Illinois on July 25, 2020.

Eddie Shack (83) one of the National Hockey League's most colorful players on and off the ice. Known for his bruising style, distinctive skating gait, and larger-than-life personality, Shack won four Stanley Cups with Toronto in the ‘60s, including the franchise’s most recent victory in 1967. Nicknamed “The Entertainer”—with his trademark cowboy hat and luxurious mustache—he scored the winning goal for the Leafs in the 1963 final. He played parts of 17 seasons from 1958 through ‘75 with six different teams, including nine years with the Maple Leafs. Shack had 239 goals, 465 points, and 1,431 penalty minutes in 1,047 NHL games. The winger added six goals, seven assists, and 151 penalty minutes in 74 playoff matchups. In October 2016 he was listed at No. 68 on The One Hundred, a list of the 100 greatest Leafs released as part of the team’s centennial anniversary. He died of throat cancer in Toronto, Canada on July 25, 2020.

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