A roundup of notable obituaries from the week ending Nov. 2
Sonny Fortune, 79, a saxophonist whose incandescent improvisations made him an essential member of bands led by some of jazz’s most illustrious figures as well as a respected bandleader, died Thursdayin New York. The cause was complications of a stroke.
Fortune was known for his mix of urgency and grace, and his stalwart command — not just of the alto saxophone, his primary instrument, but also of the flute, clarinet and soprano, tenor and baritone saxophones. He made his biggest impact as a sideman with the likes of Miles Davis, Elvin Jones, McCoy Tyner and Mongo Santamaria.
Paul Zimmerman, 86, the longtime Sports Illustrated NFL writer known as “Dr. Z” for his analytical approach, died Thursday Zimmerman had three strokes in 2008 that ended his writing career after 29 years as Sports Illustrated’s lead pro football writer.
Zimmerman was president of the Pro Football Writers of America during the 1982 season. He received the PFWA’s highest honor, the Dick McCann Award, in 1996 for a long and distinguished contribution through coverage. In 2014, the PFWA instituted the Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman Award, given for lifetime achievement as an assistant coach in the NFL.
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Jack Patera, 85, the first head coach in the history of the Seattle Seahawks, died on Wednesday The cause of death was not clear, but Patera had been battling pancreatic cancer.
Patera was Seattle’s head coach for parts of seven seasons, beginning with the team’s inaugural season in 1976. Patera’s best seasons came in 1978-79 when the Seahawks went 9-7 in consecutive years, but failed to make the playoffs. Patera was named the NFL coach of the year in 1978 when the Seahawks missed the playoffs by one game.
“We will remember coach Patera most for his big heart, sense of humor and genuine spirit,” read a statement from the Seahawks.
Willie McCovey, 80, the sweet-swinging Hall of Famer nicknamed “Stretch” for his 6-foot-4 height and those long arms, died Wednesday.
A first baseman and left fielder, McCovey was a .270 career hitter with 521 home runs and 1,555 RBI in 22 major league seasons, 19 of them with the Giants. He also played for the Athletics and Padres.
McCovey batted .354 with 13 homers and 38 RBI on the way to winning the 1959 NL Rookie of the Year award. The six-time All-Star also won the 1969 NL MVP and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986 after his first time on the ballot.
Teodoro Petkoff, 86, a fiercely independent Venezuelan political figure — whose cinematic trajectory from armed Marxist guerrilla to government minister to apostate under the country’s socialist president, Hugo Chávez, reflected the evolution of the Latin American left — died Wednesdayin Caracas. He had been ailing since he was injured in a fall in 2012.
In a political career that spanned six decades, Petkoff fled escape-proof prisons twice, unsuccessfully sought the presidency three times and metamorphosed into an intellectual elder statesman.
“He is a bold politician, with an energy that is felt even in a handshake,” novelist Gabriel García Márquez wrote of Petkoff in the Spanish newspaper El País in 1983, “but all his actions are commanded by common sense.”
María Irene Fornés, 88, Cuba-born U.S. playwright whose poetic and emotionally forceful works were hallmarks of experimental theater for four decades, died Tuesdayat a nursing home in Manhattan. She had Alzheimer’s disease. A favorite of many critics, theater scholars and fellow playwrights, she came to playwriting relatively late — her first artistic pursuit was painting. Her plays earned eight Obie awards, the Off-Broadway equivalent of the Tonys, and she was given an Obie for lifetime achievement in 1982.
James J. “Whitey” Bulger Jr., 89, the ruthless Boston mobster who topped the FBI’s most-wanted list and was found quietly living as a fugitive near the ocean in Santa Monica, California, in 2011, has died in prison, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Bulger was found unresponsive early Tuesdayin his prison cell at United States Penitentiary Hazelton, a high-security prison in West Virginia where the aging mobster had been moved just the day before. A prison union official said Bulger’s death is being investigated as a homicide. The FBI is investigating.
Bernard Bragg, 90, a trailblazer for deaf performers who in 1967 became a founder of the National Theater of the Deaf in Connecticut, died Mondayin Los Angeles.
Bragg, who was born deaf to deaf parents, began carving out a performing career in the late 1950s after studying with the mime Marcel Marceau. In the mid-1960s he joined up with Edna Simon Levine, a psychologist who worked with the deaf and David Hays, a set and lighting designer, and formed the National Theater of the Deaf, which gave its first public performance in 1967 at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. The company won a special Tony Award in 1977.
Ntozake Shange, 70, a spoken-word artist who morphed into a playwright with her canonical play “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf,” died on Oct. 27 in Bowie, Maryland. Her death was confirmed by her sister Ifa Bayeza, who said she had been in fragile health since a pair of strokes more than a decade ago. Her unconventional play was a hit and nominated for a Tony Award. A series of searing feminist monologues for seven black female characters named for the colors of the rainbow — Shange herself played the Lady in Orange — it inspired generations of playwrights coming up behind her.
Ruth Gates, 56, a pre-eminent coral-reef biologist and marine conservationist best remembered for advocating the breeding of a “super coral” that could resist the effects of global warming and replenish rapidly deteriorating reefs worldwide, died Oct. 25 at a hospital in Kailua, Hawaii. The Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, which she directed and is part of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, announced the death. The cause was complications related to treatment for brain cancer, said her wife, Robin Burton-Gates.
Her work was featured in the 2017 Netflix documentary “Chasing Coral” and won the support of philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, allowing her to expand, develop and test her theories in a lab on Oahu’s Coconut Island.