J. Seward Johnson Jr., 89, sculptor who may be responsible for more double-takes than anyone in history, thanks to his countless lifelike creations in public places — a businessman in downtown Manhattan, surfers at a Florida beach, a student eating a sandwich on a curb in Princeton, New Jersey — died Wednesday in Key West, Florida. He had another distinction. As a member of the family that founded Johnson & Johnson, he was one of six siblings who, in a high-profile court case in the 1980s, sought to overturn his father’s will, which left his vast fortune to a former maid. A settlement was reached.
Del Shofner, 85, the wide receiver who combined with Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle to give the New York Giants one of the NFL’s most prolific passing threats in the early 1960s,died in Los Angeles on Wednesday of natural causes with his family by his side.
Shofner played 11 seasons in the NFL and retired after the 1967 season. He was voted onto the NFL All-Decade Team for the 1960s by voters of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He finished with 349 catches for 6,470 yards and 51 touchdowns, averaging 18.5 yards a catch.
Barbara Neely, 78, an unheralded social activist who in her 50s became an award-winning writer of mystery novels centered on a savvy Black maid who doubles as an amateur detective, died March 2 in Philadelphia. She was not the first Black female mystery writer. Nor was Blanche White the first fictional Black sleuth. But Blanche was probably the first fictional Black maid to solve a murder while working for a wealthy white family, and to go on to become an avocational gumshoe in a series of books from a mainstream American publisher.
Max von Sydow, 90, the tall, blond actor born in Sweden who cut a striking figure in American movies but was most identified with the signature work of a fellow Swede, director Ingmar Bergman, died March 8, in France. He become a French citizen in 2002.
Von Sydow, widely hailed as one of the finest actors of his generation, became an elder pop culture star in his later years, appearing in a “Star Wars” movie in 2015 as well as in the sixth season of the HBO fantasy-adventure series “Game of Thrones.” He even lent his deep, rich voice to “The Simpsons.”
But to film lovers the world over he was most enduringly associated with Bergman. Angular and lanky at 6 feet 3 inches, possessing a gaunt face and hooded, icy blue eyes, he not only radiated power but also registered a deep sense of Nordic angst, helping to give flesh to Bergman’s often bleak but hopeful and sometimes comic vision of the human condition, in classics like “The Seventh Seal” and “The Virgin Spring.”
James F. Vesely, 79, the former editorial page editor of The Seattle Times, died early March 4, at his Mercer Island home after a night spent watching coverage of the Super Tuesday primary election. His daughter said the cause was a heart attack.
Vesely, a Chicago native, worked in newspapers predominantly in the Midwest but ended his daily newspaper career at The Seattle Times. He retired in 2009 after eight years as editorial page editor, and 18 years at the paper. During his tenure, he also wrote a weekly column of commentary focused on the region’s Eastside communities and growth-management issues.
Kate Riley, the current editorial page editor, praised Vesely’s “focus on regionalism,” and his ability to remind readers “that our community was a robust, successful region richer for its economic and political diversity.”
Bill Smith, 93, the world-renowned clarinetist and composer whom jazz legend Dave Brubeck once called “one of the all-time greats,” died Feb. 29 at his Seattle home, of complications from prostate cancer.
Known as Bill Smith to the jazz world and William O. Smith in classical circles, Smith served on the University of Washington faculty from 1966-97. He was a founding member of the Dave Brubeck Octet, which in 1947 pioneered a blend of classical music and jazz later known as Third Stream and had a profound influence on the development of West Coast, or “cool,” jazz. He was also a pioneer in modern classical music, developing extended clarinet techniques that included playing multiple notes at the same time and two clarinets at once.