A roundup of notable obituaries from the week ending April 27.
Bob Dorough, 94, a singer, pianist and composer who was well known for his jazz but even better known for “Schoolhouse Rock!”, an infectious series of song-filled cartoons that conveyed math and grammar principles to young viewers, died Monday at his home in Mount Bethel, Pennsylvania.
Dorough was a moderately successful jazz pianist and singer when an advertising man named David McCall approached him for help with an idea. McCall had wondered why his son was able to memorize lyrics to rock songs but couldn’t learn the multiplication tables. Would catchy math-related tunes be the answer?
The original concept was to make a record and workbook, but when Dorough started producing zippy songs like “Three Is a Magic Number” and “My Hero, Zero,” the vision expanded into a series of animated shorts, which ABC began inserting into its Saturday-morning lineup in 1973.
The series continued into the mid-1980s, with several revivals in subsequent decades, the subject matter growing to include civics, science and grammar.
“Not to unduly shame the American education system,” People magazine began an article in 2016, “but chances are Bob Dorough has had more of an impact on grammar fluency than any other individual in the 20th century.”
Sachio Kinugasa, 71, Japanese baseball’s Iron Man, died of colon cancer Monday.
Kinugasa was no ordinary player. A third baseman who stood 5-foot-9 and weighed about 165 pounds, he was a hard-swinging force who amassed 504 home runs, tied for seventh-best in Japanese baseball history, and his 2,543 hits tied for fifth.
In Japan, Kinugasa embodied consistency and effort by playing in game after game for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp over 17 years despite broken bones, slumps and age. Even after a pitch fractured his left shoulder blade in 1979 — about halfway through his streak — he continued to play. He reasoned that it would have been more painful for him to sit out.
Roy Hawthorne Sr., 92, a Navajo Code Talker who used his native language to confound the Japanese in World War II, died April 21.
Hawthorne enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps at 17 and became part of a famed group of Navajos who transmitted hundreds of messages in their language without error. The code was never broken. Hawthorne was one of the most visible survivors of the group. He appeared at public events and served as vice president of a group representing the men.
Al Swift, 82, a broadcaster turned eight-term Democratic congressman from Washington who played key roles in modernizing Pacific Northwest hydroelectric-energy regulation to preserve salmon habitat and establishing the so-called “motor-voter” law to increase voter registration, died April 20 in Alexandria, Virginia. The cause was idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease unrelated to smoking.
Swift represented the 2nd Congressional District in northwest Washington, first winning election in 1978. Known as a policy wonk and bipartisan collaborator drawn to complex issues, Swift served on the powerful House Energy & Commerce Committee. He helped to draft the Northwest Power Act — groundbreaking legislation that modernized regulation for four Northwest states, aiming to balance affordable electricity while protecting fish and wildlife damaged by the Columbia River Basin’s dams. He later helped craft the Washington Wilderness Bill to conserve wild lands, drafted and led the passage of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, known as the “motor-voter” law, and was Congress’ ranking expert on election law, according to his former staff members.
Tim Bergling, 28, the Grammy-nominated Swedish DJ and electronic-dance music producer who rose to fame under the stage name Avicii, performing sold-out concerts for feverish fans around the world, was found dead April 20 in Muscat, the capital of Oman. No details were released.
He became famous with his 2011 hit “Levels” and was part of a wave of electronic-dance-music DJs who achieved pop-star fame. His songs have been streamed more than 1 billion times on Spotify. His most well-known song, “Wake Me Up,” reached the No. 4 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
He retired from international touring in 2016 at age 26 after a series of health scares. He had his gallbladder and appendix removed in 2014. At 21, he learned he had acute pancreatitis, which he said was related to excessive drinking.
Charles Neville, 79, the New Orleans-born saxophone player who once backed up B.B. King and later gained fame with the Neville Brothers band and their rollicking blend of funk, jazz and rhythm and blues, died of pancreatic cancer April 19.
Neville’s career dated to the 1950s when he performed with King and other musical greats. Yet he was best known for three decades of performances with his siblings Aaron, Art and Cyril as the Grammy-winning Neville Brothers band. The band was formed in the 1970s and gained fans with high-energy performances featuring a distinctive fusion of funk, jazz and New Orleans rhythm and blues.
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Vel Phillips, 95, a barrier-breaking African American lawmaker from Milwaukee who became an influential voice in the national movement for fair housing during the 1960s, died April 17 in Mequon, Wisconsin.
Phillips — the first African American to serve on the city’s Common Council and the first woman elected to it — began introducing open-housing bills in 1962, two years after championing civil rights at the Democratic National Convention that nominated Sen. John Kennedy for president. On the heels of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, the Common Council passed, by a 15-4 vote, a housing-discrimination bill that had been strengthened by an amendment by Phillips.
Michael D. Healy, 91, an Army major general and highly decorated counterinsurgency expert who retired as the top-ranking Green Beret and a legend in the Special Forces, died after suffering a heart attack April 14 in Jacksonville, Florida.
He bore scars, many of them from covert operations in which he parachuted into remote villages or trekked behind enemy lines in the jungles of Southeast Asia. The details of nearly all his operations, which took him from Cold War Germany to oil fields in the Middle East, remain shrouded in secrecy. But his skill as a counterinsurgency expert was evident in a career that saw him become one of the first Green Berets to achieve the rank of general.
Dr. Samuel Epstein, 91, died of cardiac arrest on March 18 in Chicago, after devoting his career to preventing cancer and heeding his own advice.
In his own way, Epstein seemed to be getting the last word in an argument he first ignited four decades ago, when he blamed greedy manufacturers, lax regulators, misguided researchers and complicit charitable groups for what he saw as a coming cancer epidemic. Epstein was venerated by some as an environmental prophet and reviled by others as an overzealous toxin avenger. He outlived many of his critics, perhaps because he had practiced what he preached about prevention in his own life.