Bruce Jay Friedman, 90, whose early novels, short stories and plays were pioneering examples of modern American black humor, making dark but giggle-inducing sport of the deep, if not pathological, insecurities of his white, male, middle-class and often Jewish protagonists, died on Wednesday at his home in Brooklyn, New York.
Friedman, who also wrote the screenplays for the hit film comedies “Stir Crazy” and “Splash,” was an unusual case in American letters: an essentially comic writer whose work skipped back and forth between literature and pop culture. His first two novels, “Stern” (1962) and the best-selling “A Mother’s Kisses” (1964) and his first play, the 1967 off-Broadway hit “Scuba Duba,” made him widely celebrated.
A deadpan prose stylist with a keen ear for the absurdly self-involved dialogue that emanates from neurosis, Friedman was, at his best, a savage social satirist. He took advantage of the social upheaval he lived through in the 1960s and ’70s to write about race and gender relations from the suddenly uncertain perspective of men like, well, himself, gleefully tweaking the white male psyche’s tenderest spots.
Johnny Majors, 85, the coach of Pittsburgh’s 1976 national championship team and a former coach and star player at Tennessee, died Wednesday. Majors died at his home in Knoxville, according to his wife, Mary Lynn Majors.
Majors compiled a 185-137-10 record in 29 seasons as a head coach at Iowa State (1968-72), Pitt (1973-76, 1993-96) and Tennessee (1977-92). That followed a standout playing career at Tennessee during which he finished second to Notre Dame’s Paul Hornung in the 1956 Heisman Trophy balloting.
He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1987. Tennessee retired Majors’ No. 45 jersey in 2012.
Bill Tsi’li’xw James, 75, hereditary chief of the Lummi people, a master weaver, and teacher of language, culture and art, died Monday, from liver disease. Chief James was groomed by the heads of Lummi families as a young man and grew into a formidable spokesman for his people on the front lines of some of the most important fights of a generation, including a successful campaign in 2016 with tribes and their allies to block construction of the largest coal port in North America at Cherry Point.
He brought his people’s culture and way of life to the fight to save the southern resident orca whales from extinction, explaining to an uninitiated public that the orcas are not just black-and-white wildlife, but relatives of the Lummi people. He similarly fought for salmon and the Salish Sea and to protect the ancestors at the ancient village at Cherry Point, not just in everyday terms of land use, but sovereignty.
His mind and hands were always at work, weaving cedar bark and wool, just as he created a tapestry of stories collected from tribal elders, teaching their language and sharing their art.
Jimmy Capps, 81, versatile guitarist who played on some of the biggest country hits of the 1970s and 1980s and was a member of the Grand Ole Opry’s house band for more than five decades, died in Nashville, Tennessee, on Monday. A cause of death was not specified. Known among his peers as the “master of smoothness” for his seemingly effortless technique, he was a guitarist on signature hits like Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man,” George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today” and Barbara Mandrell’s “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool.” He also contributed the filigreed acoustic guitar figure to Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” and the gutbucket electric guitar riff to the Oak Ridge Boys’ “Elvira.” All five of those records reached No. 1 on the Billboard country singles chart; “Elvira,” “The Gambler” and “Stand By Your Man” were major pop hits as well.
Pat Dye, 80, coach who revived Auburn University’s football program into a power of the Southern gridiron but ultimately saw his reputation and that of the school undercut by scandal, died Monday.
Under Dye, Auburn — its teams variously laden with one of the most skilled running backs ever to play the college game; a top pick in the National Football League draft; and a defensive tackle who was later muralized at Jordan-Hare Stadium — contended for national glory and became a counterweight to in-state archrivals at the University of Alabama. He had a 99-39-4 record at Auburn in 12 seasons. Five of his teams finished their seasons ranked in the top 10.
Dye’s simultaneous service as the university’s athletic director contributed to scandals that tempered his on-field successes and led to his exit in 1992. Most notably, Eric Ramsey, a defensive back, secretly recorded Auburn coaches discussing payments to players, a violation of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s amateurism rules.
Christo, 84, the Bulgarian-born conceptual artist who turned to epic-scale environmental works in the late 1960s, stringing a giant curtain across a mountain pass in Colorado, wrapping the Pont Neuf in Paris and the Reichstag in Berlin and zigzagging thousands of saffron-curtained gates throughout Central Park, died May 31 at his home in New York City.
Christo — he used only his first name — was an artistic Pied Piper. His grand projects, often decades in the making and all of them temporary, required the cooperation of dozens, sometimes hundreds, of landowners, government officials, judges, environmental groups, local residents, engineers and workers, many of whom had little interest in art and a deep reluctance to see their lives and their surroundings disrupted by an eccentric visionary speaking in only semi-comprehensible English.
Again and again, Christo prevailed, through persistence, charm and a childlike belief that eventually everyone would see things the way he did. All the process, Christo insisted, was part of the art work.
Bobby Joe Morrow, 84, the Texas sprinter who won three gold medals in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics while a student at Abilene Christian University, died May 30. Morrow’s family said he died of natural causes at home in San Benito.
Morrow won the 100 and 200 meters in Melbourne and anchored the United States’ champion 400 relay team, matching the world record of 20.6 seconds in the 200 and helping the relay squad set a world record.
Richard Herd, 87, who played lawmen, tough guys, a general, an alien commander and a Watergate burglar, but was best known as Mr. Wilhelm, George Costanza’s supervisor, on “Seinfeld,” died May 26 at home in Los Angeles. He had colon cancer. As Wilhelm, a New York Yankees executive, Herd brought a grandfatherly and slightly daffy demeanor to his dealings with George, the lazy assistant to the Yankees’ traveling secretary.