A look back at the esteemed personalities who left us this year, who'd touched us with their innovation, creativity and humanity.
By CBSNews.com senior producer David Morgan. The Associated Press contributed to this gallery.
Writer, activist, publisher and bookseller Lawrence Ferlinghetti (March 24, 1919-February 22, 2021) was a San Francisco institution. His influence extended from the beginnings of "Beat" poetry as a publisher (he claims to have served as a "soul mate" for the movement), to running one of the world's most famous bookstores, City Lights.
Ferlinghetti was himself a poet, playwright, novelist, translator and painter. His 1958 compilation, "A Coney Island of the Mind," sold hundreds of thousands of copies in the U.S. alone. He called his style "wide open," and his work, influenced in part by e.e. cummings, was often lyrical and childlike.
This despite the traumas of his childhood, his father dying five months before Ferlinghetti was born, his mother suffering a nervous breakdown two years later, eventually dying in a state hospital. A haunting sense of loss followed him as he spent years moving among relatives, boarding homes and an orphanage, before he was taken in by a wealthy New York family, for whom his mother had worked as a governess. He would study journalism and literature, and served as a Navy commander stationed in Japan in 1945. He recalled witnessing the horrors of Nagasaki following the atomic bomb blast there, which he said made him an "instant pacifist."
Settling in San Francisco, he helped establish a meeting place for the city's literary movement. Ferlinghetti published Ginsberg's "Howl and Other Poems" in 1956, inviting arrest on an obscenity charge. Ferlinghetti won the case in court, and continued releasing works by Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Lew Welch, Diane di Prima and others.
In his 2007 poem "Poetry as Insurgent Art" Ferlinghetti called on fellow writers and thinkers to create work capable of answering "the challenge of apocalyptic times":
I am signaling you through the flames.
The North Pole is not where it used to be.
Manifest Destiny is no longer manifest.
Nemesis is knocking at the door.
What are poets for, in such an age?
What is the use of poetry?
The state of the world calls out for poetry to save it.
A former Navy sailor, Merchant Marine and self-described "beach bum," Bruce Meyers (March 12, 1926-Feb. 19, 2021) attended art school and built boats, learning to design with fiberglass. In the early 1960s, after watching heavy, "ugly" cars try to maneuver sandy beaches, Meyers designed an off-road vehicle that became an icon for California surfers, beach mavens and off-road racers: The dune buggy (pictured). Constructed with a lightweight fiberglass body atop four over-sized wheels, with a pair of googly head lamps and a place to stash a surfboard, the Meyers Manx was an instant hit, and became even more so when Meyers' first dune buggy, dubbed Old Red, won a 1,000-mile off-road race in Mexico in record time.
More than 6,000 Meyers Manx dune buggies were built by B.F. Meyers & Co., while a quarter-million copycat dune buggies were built by competitors. According to the Historic Vehicle Association, the Meyers Manx is the most-replicated car ever. In 1976 Road and Track Magazine called the Manx "one of the most significant and influential cars of all time … recognized as a genuine sculpture, a piece of art."
After losing a court case to protect his design, Meyers shut his company in 1971, frustrated with his creation being ripped off, and operated a trading post in Tahiti for many years, before running a car company.
In 2019 Meyers described to Automobile magazine an invitation to France in 1994 where he was asked to attend a parade of dune buggies (including many Manx copycats). When he objected, explaining the pain of losing his patent in court, a car expert upbraided him: "He says, 'You've gotta change focus. You're worried about something that's happened a long time ago and it's killing you. There's a chemical in your body that will make you die sooner: anger. … Every dune buggy has a couple of smiling faces. You put 'em there. They're yours. Stop thinking about that [other stuff], think about the smiling faces.' …
"He shut my mind down, he was so right. I took his other advice and we started the Manx Club … Every dune buggy is a piece of fun, and all the dune buggies, good or bad, they're part of the club – we allowed all copies in. For my enemies are now my friends. Not being pissed at all those people who you were pissed at is the greatest feeling. Unload it. Throw it away. 'Cause it's all in your mind. [Instead I'm] thinking on this happiness that I've caused."
Dr. Bernard Lown
Cardiologist Dr. Bernard Lown (June 7, 1921-February 16, 2021) earned renown as creator of the first effective heart defibrillator, a device which applied a jolt of direct-current electricity to a patient experiencing abnormal heart rhythms.
But he won a Nobel Prize for Peace in 1985 as co-founder of the group International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which protested against the Cold War arms race and the testing of nuclear weapons. He also founded a nonprofit, SatelLife USA, that launched a satellite to improve communications and training of medical personnel in Asia and Africa; and ProCor, an email and web network expanding medical information to developing nations.
In 2014 Lown discussed with U.S. News & World Report what he believed contributed to the crisis in medical care: "In my view the lost art of listening is a quintessential failure of our health care system. I think that you cannot heal the health care system without restoring the art of listening and of compassion. You cannot ignore the patient as a human being. A doctor must be a good listener."
Created in 1964, Fania Records, which produced albums by such artists as Celia Cruz, Willie Colón, Rubén Blades and Hector Lavoe, became known as "the Motown of salsa." Its co-founder, Johnny Pacheco (March 25, 1935-February 15, 2021), was a Dominican-born bandleader, songwriter and arranger, who led the supergroup Fania All-Stars.
His collaborations with Cruz (including their first breakout album, 1974's "Celia & Johnny," which went gold) brought forth a new genre that was international in scope, yet decidedly particular to a nation of immigrants.
In 2014 Pacheco talked with WNYC Radio about creating this hybrid form of Latin music: "When I was rehearsing the band, I saw that we had Dominicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and two Jewish fellows. When you make a sauce, you have different ingredients. And when I saw the band and the singer I thought, this is what we got. We got salsa."
A virtuoso keyboardist, Chick Corea (June 12, 1941-February 9, 2021) pushed the boundaries of numerous musical genres – jazz, fusion, Latin, classical – while working both with acoustic and electronic instruments. A prolific artist, Corea recorded nearly 90 albums, winning 23 Grammy Awards (the most by any jazz artist) and four Latin Grammys.
Born just outside Boston, the son of a trumpeter and bandleader, Corea dropped out of both Columbia and Juilliard, and refused to be pigeonholed into any one category, as he told "Sunday Morning"'s Billy Taylor back in 1990: "If I can conceive of something with my imagination, why can't I do it? … Where's the law written that I can't play Latin music, or I can't play blues, or I can't be what I want to be, basically?"
Corea performed with Herbie Mann and Stan Getz, before joining the Miles Davis Quintet in 1968. He played on several of the group's albums, including "In a Silent Way," "Bitches Brew" and "On the Corner." He then formed the free jazz group Circle, recorded solo albums, and founded the jazz fusion group Return to Forever. A string of bands in various musical styles followed: The Chick Corea Elektric Band, the Chick Corea New Trio, the Five Peace Band, Chick Corea & the Vigil.
He was named a National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master in 2006.
In 2020 he talked with Jazz Times about the sense of fulfillment he experienced as a musician and composer as compared to many other professions: "Most people can't tell how their effort is being received. I can see if I'm bringing people pleasure, if I'm inspiring anybody. When you do that, you're putting something good into the world. I believe that."
A founding member of the Supremes (along with Diana Ross and Florence Ballard), Mary Wilson (March 6, 1944-February 8, 2021) was part of a Motown Records powerhouse, which had a dozen #1 hits during the 1960s. Their elegance, fashion and powerful voices helped define the style of the iconic record label.
(Pictured: Mary Wilson, center, with Ballard and Ross.)
The three singers, who had all grown up in Detroit, were still in their teens when they were signed by Berry Gordy in 1961. Within three years, The Supremes had their first chart-topper, "Where Did Our Love Go?" Other hits included "Baby Love," "Come See About Me," "Stop! In the Name of Love" and "Back in My Arms Again."
Ballard was replaced by Cindy Birdsong by 1967, and Ross left the group in 1970, leaving Wilson as the sole original member by the time The Supremes broke up for good in 1977. Wilson followed up with two solo albums, and wrote several books, including the bestselling "Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme." Her last book, "Supreme Glamour," co-written with Mark Bego, was released in 2019, the same year she competed on the TV series "Dancing with the Stars."
In 2019 Wilson told The Guardian, "We, the Supremes, can't take all the credit. The writers and producers at Motown gave us the music and sound that people loved. And then there was the glamour. My whole life is like a dream. I tell you – if I were not a Supreme, I would want to be a Supreme. I'm living the dream."
George Shultz (December 13, 1920-February 6, 2021) held numerous government positions throughout his long career that spanned academia, business, policy think tanks, and Cabinet posts in Republican administrations. After earning an economics doctorate at MIT, Shultz served as a senior staff economist with President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Council of Economic Advisers. He would later hold the office of dean of the University of Chicago's business school, and was president of the construction and engineering company Bechtel Group from 1975-1982.
Shultz was Labor Secretary, Treasury Secretary and director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Richard M. Nixon, and – for six years – Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan.
After the October 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 soldiers, Shultz worked tirelessly to end Lebanon's brutal civil war in the 1980s. He spent countless hours of shuttle diplomacy between Mideast capitals trying to secure the withdrawal of Israeli forces there.
The experience led him to believe that stability in the region could only be assured with a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he set about on an ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful mission to bring the parties to the negotiating table, shaping the path for future administrations' Mideast efforts by legitimizing the Palestinians as a people with valid aspirations and a valid stake in determining their future.
Shultz also negotiated the first-ever treaty to reduce the size of the Soviet Union's ground-based nuclear arsenals despite fierce objections from Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative. The 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was a historic attempt to begin to reverse the nuclear arms race.
A rare public disagreement between Reagan and Shultz came in 1985 when the president ordered thousands of government employees with access to highly classified information to take a "lie detector" test as a way to plug leaks of information. Shultz told reporters, "The minute in this government that I am not trusted is the day that I leave." The administration soon backed off the demand.
Shultz retained an iconoclastic streak, speaking out against several mainstream Republican policy positions. He created some controversy by calling the war on recreational drugs, championed by Reagan, a failure, and raised eyebrows by decrying the longstanding U.S. embargo on Cuba as "insane." Since his retirement, Shultz advocated for an increased focus on climate change.
Following last November's presidential election, Shultz wrote in a Washington Post op-ed, "Dec. 13 marks my turning 100 years young. I've learned much over that time, but looking back, I'm struck that there is one lesson I learned early and then relearned over and over: Trust is the coin of the realm. When trust was in the room, whatever room that was — the family room, the schoolroom, the locker room, the office room, the government room or the military room — good things happened. When trust was not in the room, good things did not happen. Everything else is details."
Canadian actor Christopher Plummer (December 13, 1929-February 5, 2021), the great grandson of a former prime minister, caught the acting bug early, and earned praise for his stage roles while still in his teens. He made his film debut in 1958's "Stage Struck," appeared in a TV adaptation of "A Doll's House," and played the emperor Commodus in "The Fall of the Roman Empire," before taking on what would be his signature movie role: Captain Von Trapp in "The Sound of Music."
The picture's success launched him into film stardom, with roles in "Inside Daisy Clover," "The Night of the Generals," "Battle of Britain," "Waterloo," "The Return of the Pink Panther," "The Man Who Would Be King," "The Silent Partner," "Murder by Decree," "Eyewitness," "Malcolm X," "Twelve Monkeys," and "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" (as a Shakespeare-quoting Klingon).
But for years his career remained focused on the stage, performing in "Henry V," "Julius Caesar," "Hamlet," "Twelfth Night," "Macbeth" and "Becket." He won a Tony Award in 1974 as Cyrano de Bergerac, and another in 1997 playing John Barrymore. His other Broadway appearances include "J.B.," "The Good Doctor," Iago in "Othello," "King Lear," "No Man's Land" and "Inherit the Wind."
He saw a resurgence in film work beginning in 1999 with his portrayal of "60 Minutes" journalist Mike Wallace in "The Insider," followed by a psychiatrist in "A Beautiful Mind," a mystic in "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus," a colonist in "The New World," Leo Tolstoy in "The Last Station," the voice of an explorer in the Pixar film "Up," and a family patriarch in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." In "Beginners" he played a man who, at 75, comes out as gay. His performance earned him an Oscar, making him, at 82, the oldest Academy Award-winning actor ever.
"In many ways it feels like you're kind of in the prime of your movie career," correspondent Anthony Mason told Plummer in 2011, in an interview for "Sunday Morning."
"Yes, it's extraordinary to wait this long," he replied. "I've worked harder and more frequently now that I'm in my eighties than I ever did before."
He was not just in demand, but extraordinarily nimble. In 2017, when accusations of sexual predation led to the cutting of Kevin Spacey from the film "All the Money in the World," Plummer stepped into the role of J. Paul Getty, with just one month before the movie's L.A. premiere. Director Ridley Scott spent nine days reshooting all of Spacey's scenes with Plummer, who wound up earning his third Oscar nomination. And in 2019 he starred in the comic thriller "Knives Out."
In 1978 Leon Spinks (July 11, 1953 – February 5, 2021), a gold medalist from the 1976 Olympic Games and a former Marine, was an unranked boxer who'd only had seven professional fights when he faced off against Muhammad Ali, who'd picked Spinks as an easy opponent. Promoter Bob Arum told the Guardian that he thought Spinks was out-matched. But Spinks shocked the boxing world by beating Ali by split decision in a 15-round fight, winning the heavyweight boxing title at age 25.
"I'm not The Greatest," Spinks said afterward. "Just the latest."
In a rematch seven months later, before a record indoor boxing crowd of 72,000 at New Orleans' Superdome and a national TV audience of an estimated 90 million, Ali regained the title.
Spinks, with a big grin that often showed off his missing front teeth, was popular among boxing fans for both his win over Ali and his easygoing personality, and he continued fighting into the mid-1990s, ending his career with a 26-17-3 record. But he burned through his earnings quickly, and at one point after retiring was working as a custodian, cleaning locker rooms at a Nebraska YMCA.
He later was part of a group of ex-fighters who had their brains studied by the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas. Spinks was found to have brain damage caused by a combination of taking punches to the head and heavy drinking, though he functioned well enough to do autograph sessions and other events late in his life.
"He was happy-go-lucky, the salt of the earth," Arum said. "Leon was nutty but you couldn't get angry at the guy. He never meant any harm to anyone."
In 1968 Rennie Davis (May 23, 1940-February 2, 2021), a longtime peace activist, was a national director for the anti-war group Students for a Democratic Society, coordinating protests to be held at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. He was among the 3,000 demonstrators who faced off against police and Illinois National Guardsmen in a bloody confrontation that an investigation later described as a "police riot."
Beaten on the head by cops, Davis (pictured here center, with Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin) was taken to a hospital to get 13 stitches. He told "Sunday Morning" correspondent Tracy Smith in 2020 that he was hidden by medical staff: "The police realized that I was in the hospital because they knew I had been clubbed. And so, they started a search of the hospital, room by room by room. And most of the nurses – they could end their careers by what they did – they put me on a trolley cart and covered me with a sheet and moved me from room to room, to hide [me] from the police."
Ultimately, during the "Chicago Seven" trial in 1969-70, Davis and four co-defendants (Rubin, Hoffman, Tom Hayden and David Dellinger) were convicted of conspiracy to incite a riot, convictions that were late overturned by a federal appeals court.
By the early 1970s Davis became disillusioned with the more violent course the anti-war movement had taken. He moved to Colorado, where he studied and taught spirituality and entered the business world, selling life insurance and running a think tank that developed technologies for the environment. He became both a venture capitalist and a lecturer on meditation and self-awareness.
When she was five years old, Millie Hughes-Fulford (December 21, 1945-February 2, 2021) was watching "Buck Rogers" and decided she wanted to be Wilma Deering, a female astronaut who piloted a spaceship while wearing pants. "It was a life's dream, and not many of us get our life's dream," she said in an interview with the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2014.
Studying biology and plasma chemistry, Dr. Hughes-Fulford, a U.S. Army Medical Corps Major, was chosen by NASA to become the first female scientist to fly aboard Spacelab in 1991. After spending nine days in orbit, she participated in a week-long study of how the body readjusts to gravity. She also oversaw space experiments in the late '90s investigating the causes of osteoporosis occurring in astronauts during space flights.
Hughes-Fulford later lobbied for the International Space Station, and worked on experiments in space that studied T-cell dysfunction in microgravity. A molecular biologist at the VA medical center in San Francisco, she became director of the laboratory that bears her name.
Captain Sir Tom Moore
Last year as health care workers began battling the COVID pandemic, World War II veteran and former motorcycle racer Capt. Tom Moore (April 30, 1920-February 2, 2021) set out to raise £1,000 for Britain's National Health Service by walking 100 laps in his backyard – this as he turned 100 years old. For three weeks in April, daily videos showed Captain Tom, stooped with age, doggedly pushing his walker in the garden, maintaining a sunny attitude in the middle of a pandemic lockdown.
"Please always remember, tomorrow will be a good day," Moore said in an interview – words that became his trademark.
Captain Tom became a viral sensation, and a true inspiration, with donations pouring in from across the U.K. and around the world, raising about £33 million ($40 million). When he finished his 100th lap on April 16, a military honor guard lined the path. World War II-era fighter planes flew overhead in tribute on his birthday.
"I felt a little frustrated and disappointed after I broke my hip and it knocked my confidence," he said after completing his trek. "However, the past three weeks have put a spring back in my step. I have renewed purpose and have thoroughly enjoyed every second of this exciting adventure."
He was made an honorary member of the England cricket team, had a train named after him, and in July, while wearing his wartime medals, Moore was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, in a socially-distanced ceremony at Windsor Castle.
"I have been overwhelmed by the many honors I have received over the past weeks, but there is simply nothing that can compare to this," he tweeted after the ceremony. "I am overwhelmed with pride and joy."
He dedicated his autobiography, "Tomorrow Will Be a Good Day," to "all those who serve on the front line of any battle – be it military, psychological or medical."
Actor Dustin Diamond (January 7, 1977-February 1, 2021) was best known for playing the nerdy character of Screech on the sitcom "Saved By the Bell," and its related shows, including "Good Morning, Miss Bliss," "Saved by the Bell: The College Years," and "Saved by the Bell: The New Class."
His other credits included "Big Top Pee-wee," "The Wonder Years," "Celebrity Fit Club," "The Weakest Link," "Celebrity Boxing 2," and "Celebrity Big Brother."
Actress Cicely Tyson (December 19, 1924-January 28, 2021) grew up in Harlem with a very religious mother who thought the world of modeling and acting was a den of iniquity – so much so she kicked Cicely out of the house after her daughter landed her first role. "My mother didn't talk to me for two years," Tyson told "Sunday Morning" correspondent Lee Cowan in 2013. Though the impasse was hard, she said, "I also knew that what I was feeling was so compelling that nothing was going to stop me."
And nothing did. As an actress she became a beacon of social conscience, rarely taking on roles unless she felt they contributed to the national dialogue on civil rights. "I wanted to address certain issues, and I chose to use my career as my platform," Tyson said.
Her performance as the wife of a Southern sharecropper in "Sounder" (1972) earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. And in the landmark TV miniseries "Roots," she played Kunta Kinte's mother. When asked to describe the impact "Roots" had, she replied, "Wow. I don't even know if I could verbalize it. It is the one thing I believe that has touched every single culture or race."
Tyson's most indelible role was in the TV film, "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman," playing a former slave who lived to the age of 110 – old enough to take a stand in the civil rights movement. The performance won her two Emmy Awards in 1974.
Other film appearances include "Odds Against Tomorrow," "The Last Angry Man," "The Comedians," "A Man Called Adam," "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter," "The Blue Bird," "The River Niger," "A Hero Ain't Nothin' But a Sandwich," "Bustin' Loose," "Fried Green Tomatoes," "The Grass Harp," "The Help," and "Diary of a Mad Black Woman."
On TV she appeared in "East Side, West Side," "King," "The Rosa Parks Story," "Wilma," "A Woman Called Moses" (as Harriet Tubman), "The Marva Collins Story," "Sweet Justice," "A Lesson Before Dying," "House of Cards," "Cherish the Day," and "How to Get Away With Murder." She earned a Best Supporting Actress Emmy for "Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All."
She would become the oldest Tony-winner for Best Actress, at age 88, for the 2013 revival of Horton Foote's "The Trip to Bountiful." She returned to Broadway in 2015 for a revival of "The Gin Game," co-starring James Earl Jones. She also taught master classes in acting at the Cicely L. Tyson Community School of Performing and Fine Arts in East Orange, N.J.
When asked if she believes she has made a difference, Tyson said, "I hope I have. I hope so. I'm told so every day. And that's very rewarding. It's very satisfying."
Actress Cloris Leachman (April 30, 1926-January 27, 2021) initially made her mark in drama, and won an Oscar for her mesmerizing portrayal of a lonely, adulterous housewife in "The Last Picture Show" (1971), a role she would repeat in the 1990 sequel, "Texasville."
Her early credits include "Kiss Me Deadly," "The Rack," "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "Lovers and Other Strangers," "WUSA," and such TV series as "Actors Studio," "Suspense," "Lassie" (playing Timmy's mother), "Alfred Hitchcock Presents," "One Step Beyond," "The Twilight Zone," "The Untouchables," "77 Sunset Strip," "Dr. Kildare," and "The Virginian."
But her power and versatility as a dramatic actress would become overshadowed by her unparalleled comedic chops, first on television and then in the movies of Mel Brooks.
Leachman won two of her nine Emmy Awards playing Mary Tyler Moore's neighbor, Phyllis Lindstrom, on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," and would go on to headline her own spin-off TV series. Then, in Brooks' 1974 classic "Young Frankenstein," she played Frau Blücher, whose very name would cause horses to whinny in terror.
When "Sunday Morning" correspondent Tracy Smith asked Leachman in 2015 the story behind the horses, Leachman said, "I asked Mel a few years ago, and he said, 'Blucher means glue.'"
She returned to work with Brooks in "High Anxiety," as a villainous nurse in a mental institution, and in "History of the World: Part I." Other films and TV credits include "Crazy Mama," "Daisy Miller," "Promised Land," "The Facts of Life," "The Ellen Show," "Touched by an Angel," "Raising Hope," "Dancing With the Stars," "Malcolm in the Middle" (for which she won two Emmys), "Mad About You," and the animated "The Croods."
She continued working up to the very end. In 2016, the then-90-year-old was asked by The Hollywood Reporter if she ever thought of retiring. Her reply? "F***."
Broadcaster Larry King (November 19, 1933-January 23, 2021) conducted nearly 60,000 interviews during the course of his six-decade radio and TV career, asking questions of the famous and infamous. Describing his style to "60 Minutes," King fell back onto his Brooklyn roots as someone who was "No baloney … I'm a guy who asks questions, that's all. I'm a guy who's curious."
Born Lawrence Zeiger, the son of Jewish immigrants, he moved in 1957 to Florida, where he'd heard broadcasting jobs were available. Sweeping floors at a small radio station in Miami, he was put on the air when the DJ suddenly quit, and was given a new name by the station manager who decided Zeiger was "too Jewish" sounding. King bounced around to other radio stations during the '60s, and acquired a newspaper column. But financial setbacks and a lawsuit pushed him off the air for several years, until the late '70s, when he began hosting radio's first nationwide call-in show on the Mutual Network. "The Larry King Show" would expand to more than 300 stations. When he joined CNN in 1985, his nightly conversations on "Larry King Live" became a staple of the cable TV medium (as did his trademark suspenders).
King had a penchant both for inviting newsmakers and making news. In 1992 Texas businessman Ross Perot was coaxed by King to announce on his show he'd consider running for president. King's 1994 interview with Marlon Brando grabbed headlines, as much for the fact that the reclusive movie star actually gave an interview as for the kiss he planted on King's lips.
He said that he did not adhere to prepared questions but primarily listened to what his subjects said, and jumped off from there, creating a conversational and friendly atmosphere that attracted politicians and dictators, musicians and movie stars, murderers and crime victims (and earned King two Peabody Awards). And the friendly tone invited humor, such as when the Dalai Lama complimented King on one of the broadcaster's many wives: "Looks like your daughter!" he laughed.
In 1992 the curious King told "60 Minutes" correspondent Mike Wallace that his only worry was dying.
"What are you worried about? You're a boy!" Wallace said to the then-59-year-old.
"This universe has been around a long time, it's going to be around for a long time, and I'm here for a blip of it," King said, "and I want to see it all."
Baseball's one-time home run king, Hank Aaron (February 5, 1934-January 22, 2021), endured virulent racism as he chased Babe Ruth's home run record of 714, long held to be an insurmountable target. Aaron became a target himself, of hate mail and racist threats, forcing the Atlanta Brave to have bodyguard protection. He kept the hateful letters, he said, as a reminder of the abuse he bore.
Nevertheless, Aaron matched Ruth's record on April 4, 1974, and topped it with homer no. 715 four days later before a sold-out Atlanta Stadium and a nationwide TV audience. (The unlucky pitcher: Al Downing of the Los Angeles Dodgers.)
Home runs were only part of his game. Aaron remains baseball's all-time RBI leader (with 2,297) and leader in total bases (6,856). He ranks second in at-bats (12,354); third in games played (3,298) and hits (3,771); fourth in runs scored (tied with Ruth at 2,174); and 13th in doubles (624).
He won two National League batting titles, was a three-time Gold Glove winner, and recorded more than 20 stolen bases in seven seasons. His sole National League MVP Award came in 1957, when the Braves beat the New York Yankees to win the World Series (the only championship of Aaron's career).
After 21 years with the Braves, he ended his career with two years back in Milwaukee, as a designated hitter for the Brewers. (He was traded after refusing to take a front-office job with a significant pay cut.) He added 22 homers to his lifetime total, finishing with 755, a record that would stand for 33 years (until Barry Bonds, of the San Francisco Giants, surpassed it).
"I just tried to play the game the way it was supposed to be played," Aaron once said.
After his retirement in 1976, the Hall of Famer's status as one of the game's all-time greats, and as a civil rights hero, philanthropist, supporter of the NAACP, and an advocate for increased diversity among major league baseball's coaching staffs, would lead boxer Muhammad Ali to describe Aaron as "the only man I idolize more than myself."
Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda (September 22, 1927-January 7, 2021) bled Dodger blue for more than seven decades as part of the Los Angeles baseball team's organization. Earning notice in the minors as a strikeout hurler (once recording 25 KOs in a 15-inning game), he was brought up to the majors in 1954. But in his first start, in 1955, he threw three wild pitches against the Cardinals and was called from the mound after the first inning. During three seasons in the majors (with the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Kansas City Athletics) he achieved a 0-4 record with a 6.48 ERA and 37 strikeouts.
Lasorda then became a scout and coach and, later, the Dodgers' manager for 21 years. During that time, his gregarious leadership skills helped the team to two World Series championships (in 1981 and 1988), in addition to four National League titles and eight division titles. He also managed the U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Games.
He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.
Just as evident as Lasorda's enthusiasm for the game was his waistline: "When we won games, I'd eat to celebrate," he once explained. "And when we lost games, I'd eat to forget."
In 1964 British filmmaker Michael Apted (February 10, 1941-January 7, 2021) was a 22-year-old researcher working on a documentary for U.K. television. His assignment: find a cohort of seven-year-old schoolchildren from across socio-economic lines for a film about London youth, inspired by the adage, "Give me the child until he is seven, and I will show you the man." "Seven Up!" was a success, capturing the hopes and dreams of young Britons, affluent and poor, Black and White. Apted subsequently directed follow-up visits to the same schoolchildren, filmed at seven-year intervals, beginning with "14 Up" and "21 Up," all the way through "63 Up," released in 2019. For Apted, the series became his life's work – a living document of humanity probing the joys and sadness of growing up.
In 2013 "Sunday Morning" correspondent Lee Cowan asked Apted what made the Peabody Award-winning series so compelling. "Well, 'cause I think people identify with it," Apted replied. "You see 13, 14 stories up there, and there's elements in some of them that hit home on every life. Everybody who watches it can identify with something."
In addition to capturing real life, Apted also directed biopics ("Coal Miner's Daughter," "Gorillas of the Mist"), comedies ("Continental Divide"), dramas ("Agatha," "Thunderheart," "Nell," "Enigma") thrillers ("Gorky Park," "Blink"), fantasy ("The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader"), concert films (Sting's "Bring on the Night"), and even a James Bond movie ("The World Is Not Enough").
Apted said he hoped to keep the "Up" series going as long as his interviewees were willing and healthy. ("63 Up" included the passing of one subject, Lynn.) His goal: to keep it going until his film family are in their 80s – which would put Apted at nearly 100: "I figured out when I do '84,' I'll be 99. So, that could be a nice swan song, shouldn't it?" he laughed.
A war correspondent for United Press International and The New York Times in the early years of the Vietnam War, Neil Sheehan (October 27, 1936-January 7, 2021) was a national correspondent for the Times based in Washington when he obtained from Daniel Ellsberg, a former consultant to the Defense Department, a history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Sheehan broke the story of the Pentagon Papers in his articles for the Times, beginning in June 1971, which exposed widespread government deception, by political and military leaders, about U.S. prospects for victory. The Washington Post soon followed with reporting of its own.
In an interview published posthumously in the Times (Sheehan had asked that it not be printed until after his death), the writer revealed that Ellsberg did not give him the Pentagon Papers (as was widely believed), but that Sheehan had deceived his source and taken them. Admitting he was "really quite angry" by what the papers revealed, Sheehan decided that "this material is never again going in a government safe." He smuggled the documents from the Massachusetts apartment where they had been kept, and copied thousands of pages to take to the Times.
"You had to do what I did," Sheehan said. "I had decided, 'This guy is just impossible. You can't leave it in his hands. It's too important and it's too dangerous.'".
The Nixon administration sought a restraining order against publication, argued on national security grounds. But on June 30, 1971, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in favor of allowing the Times and the Post to continue revealing the Pentagon Papers' contents. The coverage won the Times the Pulitzer Prize for public service.
The Nixon administration tried to discredit Ellsberg after the documents' release, including orchestrating a break-in at the office of Ellsberg's Beverly Hills psychiatrist to find information with which to discredit him. When evidence of the break-in and government wiretaps surfaced, Ellsberg's trial for theft, conspiracy and violations of the Espionage Act ended in a mistrial.
When Ellsberg bumped into Sheehan and accused Sheehan of stealing the papers, the journalist replied, "'No, Dan, I didn't steal it. And neither did you. Those papers are the property of the people of the United States. They paid for them with their national treasure and the blood of their sons, and they have a right to it.'"
Sheehan's 1988 account of the war, "A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam," won him the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. He also authored "After the War Was Over: Hanoi and Saigon." In a 1988 C-SPAN interview Sheehan said, "Vietnam will be a war in vain only if we don't draw wisdom from it."
Bronx, N.Y. native Tanya Roberts (October 15, 1955-January 4, 2021) studied acting under Lee Strasberg and Uta Hagen, but her earliest jobs were in modeling and commercials that highlighted her beauty. Even her first big break, replacing Shelley Hack on the TV series "Charlie's Angels," was more glamorous than substantive.
Roberts would star in the films "The Beastmaster," "Sheena: Queen of the Jungle" and "Hearts and Armour," before being picked to star opposite Roger Moore in his last appearance as James Bond, in 1985′s "A View to a Kill."
In a 2015 interview with London's Daily Mail, Roberts admitted that she was cautious about accepting the role in a Bond film: "I remember I said to my agent, 'No one ever works after they get a Bond movie,' and they said to me, 'Are you kidding? Glenn Close would do it if she could.'"
After "A View to a Kill," Roberts made few film appearances. Her most notable role was in the sitcom "That '70s Show" as Laura Prepon's hippie mother, Midge, who embraced the women's liberation movement.
"I've made a lot of good choices and a lot of bad choices and that's part of life," Roberts told the Daily Mail. "Whether you're really successful or moderately successful … You can't go through life defeated. It's just trial-and-error."
Eric Jerome Dickey
Bestselling novelist Eric Jerome Dickey (July 7, 1961-January 3, 2021) was a software developer and aspiring actor and stand-up comic when he began writing fiction in his mid-30s. His first book, "Sister, Sister," was celebrated for its depiction of Black sisterhood.
His witty and conversational prose style punctuated such novels as "Friends and Lovers," "Milk in My Coffee," "Cheaters," " Liar's Game," "Thieves' Paradise," "The Other Woman" and "Genevieve," and the "Gideon" crime fiction series, which included "Sleeping With Strangers" and "Resurrecting Midnight." Dickey wrote 29 novels in all, with more than seven million copies in print worldwide. His final novel, "The Son of Mr. Suleman," is due in April.
He also contributed to anthologies such as "Mothers and Sons" and "Black Silk: A Collection of African American Erotica," and wrote a comic book miniseries for Marvel featuring the characters Storm and Black Panther.
In 2016 he talked with the Washington Independent Review of Books about how he "reinvented" himself by attending UCLA: "Studied, studied, studied, read, read, read, wrote, wrote, still rewriting what I wrote, wrote, wrote. At UCLA, I started with all the 101 classes, learned what I could from the ground up. My best approach to anything, no matter my level of experience or education, has always been with an empty cup. You never know everything."