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Life In Legacy - Week ending Saturday, September 26, 2020

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Arthur Ashkin, Nobel-winning physicistS. P. Balasubrahmanyam, Indian playback singerRobert Bechtle, photorealist painter, with his 'Alameda Gran Torino'Meron Benvenisti, Israeli political scientistRon Cobb, artist and film production designerRobert DeMora, costume designer and art director for Bette Midler and othersTommy DeVito, right, with other Four Seasons members Bob Gaudio, Nick Massi, and Frankie ValliMaurice Edwards, versatile theatrical director, actor, and managerHarold Evans, publisher, author, and muckrakerRenée C. Fox, scholar of medical sociologyRev. Robert S  Graetz Jr., Alabama clergymanJuliette Greco, French singer and actressKeith Hufnagel, professional skateboarderJay Johnstone, outfielder known as pranksterJoseph Laurinaitis, professional wrestler known as Road Warrior AnimalMichael Lonsdale, French film and theater actorSamuel Magaña, LA tortilla mogulGene Mater, '60s news director of Radio Free EuropeJacques-Louis Monod, French composer, conductor, and pianistCarol Paumgarten, cofounder of Steps on Broadway, NYC dance studioPaul Pettit, first MLB player to get $100,000 signing bonusAng Rita, veteran Nepalese Sherpa guideGale Sayers, Chicago Bears running backJackie Stallone, mother of Sylvester StallonePierre Troisgros, French chefLyon Gardiner Tyler Jr., one of two surviving grandsons of former US President John Tyler

Art and Literature

Robert Bechtle (88) photorealist painter who depicted suburban landscapes, parked cars, and the way the California light slants on a stucco building at midday. Like his fellow photorealists Ralph Goings and Richard Estes, Bechtle used photographs as the basis for his paintings, in his case by projecting slides onto a canvas and painting over them with such technical mastery as to make the finished work appear photographic. But where other photorealists often rendered a flashily depicted Americana, Bechtle went for understatement and found unexpected beauty in the everyday. His 1974 painting “Alameda Gran Torino” depicts a Ford station wagon parked in a sun-bleached suburban driveway. Bechtle often based his paintings on family snapshots and frequently included cars in them. He died of Lewy body dementia in Berkeley, California on September 24, 2020.

Ron Cobb (83) artist and movie production designer known for his work on the spaceship in Alien, the DeLorean in Back to the Future, and some tipsy aliens in Star Wars. A self-taught designer who worked largely behind the scenes, Cobb advanced an aesthetic that still influences the spaceships and time machines of today’s science fiction films: futuristic, yet retro; modular, but boundless; and bursting with meticulous detail. He died of Lewy body dementia in Sydney, Australia on September 21, 2020.

Harold Evans (92) publisher, author, and muckraker who brought investigative moxie to the British press, newsmaking dash to the American book business through best-sellers like Primary Colors, and synergy to all as author-publisher Tina Brown’s husband. Evans was a high-profile go-getter, starting in the ‘60s as an editor of the Northern Echo and the Sunday Times of London and continuing into the ‘90s as president of Random House. His marriage to Brown was a model of media clout and A-list access that helped to shape the book and magazine markets for years. A defender of literature and print journalism well into the digital age, Evans was one of the all-time newspaper editors, startling British society with revelations of espionage, corporate wrongdoing, and government scandal. He died of congestive heart failure in New York City on September 23, 2020.

Business and Science

Arthur Ashkin (98) physicist who was awarded a 2018 Nobel Prize for figuring out how to harness the power of light to trap microscopic objects for closer study, calling his invention optical tweezers—or optical traps, as they are more properly known—that use the pressure from a highly focused laser beam to manipulate microscopic objects, from atoms to living organisms, like viruses and bacteria. Trapping biological material proved to have ground-breaking practical applications in research and in understanding the behavior of the basic building blocks of life, like DNA and other biological systems. Ashkin died in Rumson, New Jersey on September 21, 2020.

Renée C. Fox (92) leading scholar of medical sociology, a field Fox was instrumental in creating in an era when women had a difficult time being heard in academia. She was among the first to use the principles and methods of sociology to examine medical care and training and to shed light on the social contexts of health and illness. Her work was informed by her experience with polio as a teenager and her extensive travels and research in Africa, Asia, and Europe. When Fox started her career in the ‘50s, medical care was still seen through a strictly scientific lens and ethical, social, and cultural issues were ignored. She died of leukemia in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 23, 2020.

Samuel Magaña (88) Los Angeles tortilla mogul who credited his wife Hortensia's homemade corn and flour tortillas with making a success of the couple's Gardena, California market and restaurant, named after their first daughter, Diana, and catering to the growing Mexican population. Former cooks asked Magaña to sell them some to use at their new restaurants. Customers asked for dozens to go. Other markets wanted packets to stock. The Magañas opened their first tortilla factory in Maywood in 1973. Besides their own line, Samuel also copackaged products for private labels and created specialty items for clients. Among one of his customers: Taco Bell founder Glenn Bell, who commissioned Magaña to improve his taco shells. Samuel Magaña died on September 21, 2020.

Carol Paumgarten (76) cofounder and longtime artistic director of Steps on Broadway, a dance studio that became a New York institution that welcomes elite ballerinas, children in leotards, and everyday New Yorkers. In 1979 Paumgarten opened Steps as a dingy one-room studio. She handled everything from cleaning its bathrooms to managing its payroll. Later she nurtured three generations of New York dancers. Today, with 11 studios and a faculty in a three-story space on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Steps is an internationally renowned mecca in the dance world, drawing—until the pandemic lockdown started in the spring—more than 3,000 dancers every week. Stars of the dance world like Misty Copeland, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Julie Kent have all trained in front of the mirrors and barres at Steps. So has Madonna. But Paumgarten tried to make sure that it was equally a haven for everyday New Yorkers who just wanted to dance. She died in Glen Cove, New York, of neurosarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease, on September 24, 2020.

Pierre Troisgros (92) one of France’s top chefs who helped to reinvent the country’s traditional cuisine. Troisgros learned his craft at his family’s hotel-restaurant in Roanne before heading for Paris, where he refined his skills under Lucas Carton—along with Paul Bocuse, later to be acclaimed as the king of traditional French cuisine. Troisgros returned to his home in the ‘50s and took on the family hotel-restaurant with brother Jean, earning a first Michelin star in 1955. The restaurant was renamed Les Freres Troisgros, and the cuisine changed along with the name, simple but creatively mixing flavors and often light, unlike traditional French gastronomy. The culinary offering proved to be a precursor to Nouvelle Cuisine. The restaurant earned its first three-star rating in 1968. Troisgros’s son Michel joined his father in the kitchen with the death of brother Jean in 1983. Michel, helped by his own son, eventually took over the house, which moved to a countryside location outside Roanne, in Ouches. Pierre Troisgros died in Coteau, France, near Roanne, just weeks after his 92nd birthday, on September 23, 2020.


Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. (95) older of two surviving grandsons of the 10th president of the US, John Tyler, and part of a genealogical marvel that in just three generations spanned almost the entire history of the US. Lyon Tyler, a lawyer and historian, and his 91-year-old brother, Harrison Ruffin Tyler, were the last surviving sons of Lyon Gardiner Tyler Sr. (1853–1935), a longtime president of the College of William & Mary in Virginia. Lyon Tyler Sr.’s father, who was born just after George Washington became president 231 years ago and served in the White House from 1841–45, was the president who annexed Texas as the 28th state as America expanded west. But he may be better known for the Whig Party’s catchy 1840 presidential campaign slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” The Tyler family was a remarkable case of well-documented successive longevities and late-in-life paternities. The combined lifespan of President Tyler and his son alone was 152 years. Lyon Tyler Jr. died of Alzheimer’s disease in Franklin, Tennessee on September 26, 2020.

News and Entertainment

S. P. Balasubrahmanyam (74) Indian singer who delivered songs for more than 1,000 movies in a smooth and vibrant voice and in a multitude of regional languages. For more than 40 years Balasubrahmanyam, better known as “S.P.B.” or “Balu” to his fans, was a major presence as a playback singer, who sings tunes that are later lip-synced by actors in India’s movie musicals. His best-known songs were in the languages of Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, and Hindi. He died of Covid-19 in Chennai, India on September 25, 2020.

Robert DeMora (85) costume designer and art director whose creations embellished Bette Midler on stage and screen, besides the casts of Risky Business and Marathon Man, among other films. For more than 40 years DeMora art-directed Midler’s ever more elaborate stage extravaganzas with a sense of the absurd, including the pink sequined gown of her “Divine Miss M” days; the tail and sheathe of Delores DeLago, Midler’s wheelchair-riding mermaid; and the many versions of her backup singers, the Harlettes. DeMora died of heart failure in Jeffersonville, New York on September 21, 2020.

Tommy DeVito (92) founding member of the ‘60s Four Seasons quartet. DeVito along with Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, and Nick Massi founded the Four Seasons in 1960. They sang huge hits such as “Oh, What a Night,” and other sensations from Valli’s solo collection, like “Can’t Take My Eyes off You.” The Broadway musical Jersey Boys, which opened in 2005, tells the story of the group. The musical eventually won a Tony award for best musical and a Grammy Award for best cast album and was made into a feature film. DeVito died from the coronavirus in Las Vegas, Nevada on September 21, 2020.

Maurice Edwards (97) New York theatrical mainstay whose long and varied career included directing operas and stage plays, acting in numerous Off-Broadway productions and a few on Broadway, and helping to found experimental theater troupes and manage the Brooklyn Philharmonic. Edwards was a man of many interests and seemed to find ways to indulge them all. In 1968 he was a founder of the Cubiculo on the West Side of Manhattan, a seat-of-the-pants theater operation that presented plays, poetry readings, films, and dance. He died of the coronavirus in Englewood, New Jersey on September 23, 2020.

Juliette Greco (93) French singer, actress, cultural icon, and muse to existentialist philosophers of France's postwar period. With expressive eyes inherited from her Greek ancestors and a deep, raspy voice—acquired from years of cigarette-smoking—Greco immortalized some of France’s most recognizable songs in a 70-year career, including the classics “Soul le ciel de Paris” (“Under the Parisian Sky”) and “Je hais les dimanches” (“I Hate Sundays”). She died in the South of France, near Saint Tropez, on September 23, 2020.

Joseph Laurinaitis (60) World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Famer known as Road Warrior Animal. Laurinaitis paired with Michael Hegstrand, also known as Road Warrior Hawk, in the ‘80s to form the legendary tag team known as the Road Warriors and Legion of Doom. Laurinaitis died on September 22, 2020.

Michael Lonsdale (89) giant of the silver screen and theater in France who worked with some of the world’s top directors in an acting career that spanned 60 years. From his role as the villain in the 1979 James Bond film Moonraker to that of a French monk in Algeria in the 2011 movie Of Gods and Men, Lonsdale acted, often in supporting roles, under top directors including Orson Welles, Steven Spielberg, Francois Truffaut, and Louis Malle. He died in Paris, France on September 21, 2020.

Gene Mater (93) news director of Radio Free Europe when East Germany began building the Berlin Wall in August 1961. Mater took a flight from Munich, where he was based, to see the wall's concrete and barbed-wire incarnation take shape. The bricks, he said, prevented people on the inside from leaping to freedom. Mater had a long career as a newspaperman, broadcast executive, and First Amendment advocate. He died of Covid-19 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on September 20, 2020.

Jacques-Louis Monod (93) French composer, conductor, and pianist known for his dedication to new music. Monod, who made his career primarily in New York and London, was a champion of the Second Viennese School, the group of 20th-century composers comprising Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951) and his followers. As both pianist and conductor, Monod helped their work—difficult, complex, often atonal—to gain wider attention outside the European continent. He was known in particular for helping to introduce American audiences to the music of Anton Webern (1883–1945). A disciple of Schoenberg, Webern was among the most ardent adherents to his mentor’s 12-tone, or serial, compositional technique. As a composer, Monod was especially esteemed for his vocal music. He died in Toulouse, France on September 21, 2020.

Jackie Stallone (98) celebrity astrologist and mother of actor Sylvester Stallone. Jackie was well known in the ‘90s for her series of astrology books and her own psychic hotline. In the ‘80s she appeared on—and produced—the wrestling show G.L.O.W.: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, which has been adapted as a Netflix drama. Stallone made several talk show appearances over the years, including on The Howard Stern Show, Oprah, The Late Show with David Letterman, Larry King Live, and The Graham Norton Show. She died in her sleep in Los Angeles, California on September 21, 2020.

Politics and Military

Meron Benvenisti (86) Israeli-born political scientist who argued that the profusion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank precluded the possibility of a separate Palestinian state and that Palestinians and Jews could coexist peacefully only in a single, binational homeland. A son of Israel’s original generation, Benvenisti was raised on a kibbutz and once described himself as “the last Zionist.” But he became disillusioned with Israel’s philosophical foundation as a Jewish state after serving as deputy mayor of Jerusalem, with responsibility mainly for predominantly Arab East Jerusalem. After founding the West Bank Data Base Project in the early ‘80s to monitor the growth of Israeli settlements, he concluded that so much land had already been appropriated that aspirations for a separate Palestinian state were illusory. Benvenisti died of renal failure in Jerusalem, Israel on September 20, 2020.

Society and Religion

Rev. Robert S. Graetz Jr. (92) as a young Lutheran minister in Alabama in the ‘50s, Graetz defied the Ku Klux Klan, intimidation by the authorities, and isolation among fellow clergymen. The pastor of Montgomery’s all-black Trinity Lutheran Church, he was a voice for desegregation among white people in Alabama, supporting the Montgomery bus boycott that transformed the US civil rights movement. He died of Parkinson's disease in Montgomery, Alabama on September 20, 2020.


Keith Hufnagel (46) professional skateboarder who grew a San Francisco streetwear store, Huf, into a global apparel company by the same name. Hufnagel came of age as a skateboarder during the ‘80s in New York, where skateboarders formed a gritty subculture that used the urban environment as a playground. In 1992 he moved to California and became a professional, riding for companies like Real Skateboards, Thunder Trucks, and Spitfire Wheels. He was notable for his “pop,” the seemingly effortless way he leaped onto and over tall obstacles, and for his fluid lines, even while dodging traffic or speeding down a steep hill. Hufnagel toured the world as a professional and appeared in skateboarding videos in the middle to late ‘90s and the early 2000s. In 2002 he opened the first Huf, a streetwear boutique that carried rare sneakers and apparel by brands like Supreme. He died of brain cancer in Los Angeles, California on September 24, 2020.

Jay Johnstone (74) won World Series championships as an outfielder with the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers while being baseball’s merry prankster. Besides the Yankees and the Dodgers, Johnstone played for the California Angels, the Chicago White Sox, Oakland, Philadelphia, San Diego, and the Chicago Cubs during a 20-year major league career that began in 1966 and ended in ’85. He had a career batting average of .267, with 102 home runs and 531 runs batted in. In the 1981 World Series, Johnstone had a pinch-hit, two-run homer in Game 4 that rallied the Dodgers to an 8-7 win over the Yankees. That tied the series at two games apiece, and the Dodgers won the next two games to claim the title. Johnstone had suffered from dementia in recent years but died from COVID-19 in Granada Hills, California on September 26, 2020.

Paul Pettit (88) pitching phenom who struck out 27 batters in a game in 1949 and was the first player to receive a six-figure signing bonus from a major league team. Nicknamed “Lefty” and the “Wizard of Whiff,” Pettit combined a mid-90s fastball with a slow curve to throw six no-hitters and strike out 390 batters in 140 high school innings. He was thrust onto the national stage as the most sought-after amateur pitcher in America at age 18. Former Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey compared Pettit to future Hall of Famer Bob Feller, who was pitching for the Cleveland Indians at the time. Pettit was courted by a Hollywood movie producer who offered him $60,000 for the rights to his life story in 1949, and he signed baseball’s first $100,000 bonus with the Pittsburgh Pirates that year. Pettit reached the big leagues as a 19-year-old and pitched in 12 games for the Pirates in 1951 and ‘53, going 1-2 with a 7.34 earned run average. But a serious elbow injury he suffered in a minor league game in 1951 derailed his major league pitching career. He died in Canyon Lake, California on September 24, 2020.

Ang Rita (72) veteran Nepalese Sherpa guide, first person to climb Mount Everest 10 times. Ang Rita was among the first Sherpa guides to receive international fame for his accomplishments. He was a national hero known as the “snow leopard.” Sherpa are an ethnic group from the Himalayan region, many of whom work as guides or support staff for foreign climbers. They carry equipment and supplies and dig paths in the snow and ice to help their clients get to the summit, usually with little recognition. Since Ang Rita set his record on the world’s highest peak, several mountaineers have surpassed it. Kami Rita, who is not related, has scaled the 8,850-meter (29,023-foot) peak 24 times. Ang Rita, among the first Sherpa guides to receive international fame for his accomplishments, had suffered from health problems for many years and had not climbed any mountains since setting the Everest record in 1996. He died in his sleep on the outskirts of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, on September 21, 2020.

Gale Sayers (77) running back who entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame despite the briefest of careers and whose fame extended far beyond the field for decades thanks to a friendship with a dying Chicago Bears teammate. Sayers was nicknamed “The Kansas Comet” and considered among the best open-field runners the game has ever seen. He was a blur to NFL defenses, ghosting would-be tacklers or zooming by them like few running backs or kick returners before or since. Yet it was his rock-steady friendship with teammate Brian Piccolo, depicted in the film Brian’s Song, that marked him as more than a sports star. Sayers became a stockbroker, sports administrator, businessman, and philanthropist for several inner-city Chicago youth initiatives after his pro football career was cut short by serious injuries to both knees. He died of dementia in Wakarusa, Indiana on September 23, 2020.

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