A roundup of notable obituaries from the week ending August 25.
Cecil D. Andrus, 85, a four-term governor of Idaho who as interior secretary under President Jimmy Carter helped set aside vast expanses of Alaska for parks and reserves, died Thursday at his home in Boise, Idaho. The cause was complications of lung cancer.
“We developed America by giving away resources,” Andrus said in an interview. “When we got to the Pacific Ocean, we looked back over our shoulders and said, ‘Oh, my God, look what we’ve done.’ But in Alaska we had the opportunity to do it right the first time.” With Andrus leading the way, the Carter administration set aside more than 100 million acres in Alaska for federal protection, including what became the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Jay Thomas, 69, a radio talk-show host and actor with recurring roles on the sitcoms “Murphy Brown,” “Cheers,” and most recently on the crime drama “Ray Donovan,” died Thursday at his home in Santa Barbara, California. A cause was not specified, but Thomas had been battling cancer.
Jack Rosenthal, 82, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, government official and civic leader who was the principal editor of a landmark 1968 federal report on urban riots that found an America moving “toward two societies, separate and unequal,” died Wednesday at his home in New York City. The cause was complications of pancreatic cancer.
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John Abercrombie, 72, a guitarist whose lyrical style placed him in his generation’s top tier of improvising musicians, died Tuesday in Cortlandt Manor, New York. The cause was heart failure.
Abercrombie became known in the mid-1970s as a prominent jazz-rock guitarist. As his style evolved and he moved away from fusion, it was his knack for understatement and his affinity for classic jazz-guitar technique that defined his approach.
He played in bands led by drummer Jack DeJohnette and saxophonist Gato Barbieri, among others, before ECM Records released his first album as a leader, “Timeless,” in 1975. He released a well-received album, “Up and Coming,” on the label in January.
Tony de Brum, 72, a leading advocate for the landmark Paris Agreement and an internationally recognized voice in the fight against climate change after he saw the effects of rising seas from his home in the Marshall Islands, died Tuesday in the capital, Majuro, surrounded by his family. The former foreign minister was hailed as a national hero who also fought against nuclear weapons and for his nation’s independence.
Rafael “Felo” Ramirez, 94, a Spanish-language announcer who, beginning in Cuba in 1945, became one of the pre-eminent radio voices of Major League Baseball throughout Latin America over 72 years, died on Monday in Miami. He had been working until April, when he fell while leaving the Miami Marlins team bus in Philadelphia. His family said he died from complications of the fall.
Tony Perez, the Cincinnati Reds’ Hall of Fame first baseman, recalled that Ramirez “described players like he knew them since they were born … I’d listen with my father, and the way Felo called the game it was like you were there. It was a different feeling when you listened to someone else.”
Thomas Meehan, 88, who won Tony Awards for writing the books for three of the most successful Broadway musicals of the past 40 years — “Annie,” “The Producers” and “Hairspray” — died Monday at his home in New York City. The cause was cancer.
At the time of his death Meehan had been reworking the musical version of Mel Brooks’ movie “Young Frankenstein,” first seen on Broadway in 2007, for a revival in London.
Jerry Lewis, 91, the manic, rubber-faced showman who jumped and hollered to fame in a lucrative partnership with Dean Martin, settled down to become a self-conscious screen auteur and found an even greater following as the tireless, teary host of the annual muscular-dystrophy telethons, died last Sunday, Aug. 20, of natural causes in Las Vegas with his family by his side.
Colin Meads, 81, one of New Zealand’s greatest and most revered rugby players, died last Sunday, Aug. 20, in Te Kuiti, New Zealand, his hometown.
Bill English, New Zealand’s prime minister, announced the death. Meads learned he had pancreatic cancer in 2016.
That his death was a matter of state reflected both rugby union’s importance to New Zealand — the All Blacks national team has won the last two World Cups and has an all-time winning percentage of .788 — and Meads’ prestige there, or what New Zealanders call his “mana,” an indigenous Maori word.
Dick Gregory, 84, the pioneering satirist who transformed cool humor into a barbed force for civil rights in the 1960s, then veered from his craft for a life devoted to assorted social causes, died Aug. 19 in Washington.
Gregory was a breakthrough performer in his appeal to whites, winning audiences over with wry observations about the country’s racial chasm. “Segregation is not all bad,” he would say. “Have you ever heard of a collision where the people in the back of the bus got hurt?” Or: “You know the definition of a Southern moderate? That’s a cat that’ll lynch you from a low tree.” It was Gregory’s conviction that within a well-delivered joke lies power.
Brian Aldiss, 92, a former bookseller whose horrific childhood and wartime exploits in Burma kindled a fecund imagination that inspired scores of novels, anthologies, memoirs and short stories, like the one that inspired the Steven Spielberg science fiction film “A.I.,” died Aug. 19 in Oxford, England, hours after celebrating his birthday.
Aldiss was celebrated largely for his science fiction, most famously the novels “Non-Stop” (1958), “Hothouse” (1962), “Greybeard” (1964), the Helliconia trilogy (1982-85) and “Frankenstein Unbound” (1973), which in 1990 was the basis of the last film directed by Roger Corman.
Aldiss, along with J.G. Ballard, Kurt Vonnegut and others, was in the vanguard of writers who invoked science fiction to fathom a modern world that humans for the first time were empowered to destroy. To him, science fiction was not some kind of future prediction, but a metaphor for the human condition.
Bea Wain, 100, one of the last surviving vocalists of the big-band era, whose four No. 1 hits included a swing adaptation of a Debussy melody, died Aug. 19 in Beverly Hills, California. The cause was congestive heart failure.
Wain, who was largely self-taught and whose Bronx accent vanished when she sang on the radio, started performing when she was barely 6 years old and continued past 90.
Sonny Burgess, 88, a rockabilly singer whose hollering vocal style and frantic, jangling guitar made him one of the most electrifying stars in the Sun Records galaxy in the 1950s, died Aug. 18 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The cause was complications of a fall.
In 1999 he was admitted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, which called his Sun records “among the most raucous, energy-filled recordings released during the first flowering of rock ’n’ roll.”