Jakob van Zyl, 63, an engineer who held crucial positions at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and was involved in numerous space exploration missions over decades, died Wednesday in Pasadena, California. Van Zyl, who retired in 2019 after a 33-year career, suffered a heart attack Monday.
Arnold Spielberg, 103, father of filmmaker Steven Spielberg and a pioneering engineer whose work helped make the personal computer possible, died of natural causes Tuesday in Los Angeles. The elder Spielberg and Charles Propster designed the GE-225 mainframe computer in the late 1950s while working for General Electric. The machine allowed computer scientists at Dartmouth College to develop the programming language BASIC, which would be essential to the rise of personal computers in the 1970s and 1980s.
Gail Sheehy, 83, a journalist and author whose bold prose style, immersive reporting and anthropologist’s eye for human behavior made her nearly as prominent as the subjects she chronicled in New York magazine, Vanity Fair and a shelf’s worth of books, died Monday from pneumonia at a hospital in Southampton, New York.
The author of 17 books — including the 1976 bestseller “Passages,” which was credited with helping to popularize the concept of the midlife crisis — Sheehy was an original contributor to New York magazine, which Clay Felker co-founded in 1968. Then a weekly, the magazine was a bastion of the New Journalism for writers such as Tom Wolfe, Jimmy Breslin and Nora Ephron, who applied literary fiction techniques to stories about real-life events.
Justin Townes Earle, 38, an accomplished alt-country singer and songwriter who was a son of country-rock firebrand Steve Earle, died August 23, said his record label, New West, which did not give a cause or say where or when he died. In recent years he had been living in Portland.
Justin Earle drew the respect of critics and a small but devoted following, writing songs of heartbreak, loss and family with a dark narrative undertow and a folk-rock style. that could hark back to Townes Van Zandt (in whose honor he was given his middle name) or Hank Williams. Earle spoke openly about his struggles with addiction, which he said began as early as age 12 and included the use of heroin and crack cocaine.
Dr. Gordon Perkin, 85, the public health “giant” who helped shape the Gates Foundation’s giving, died Aug. 21 at Skyline Retirement Community in Seattle.
Perkin had already spent decades working to improve the health of the world’s poorest people by the time he crossed paths with the Gates family. Perkin became a trusted adviser who helped open their eyes to shocking health disparities around the globe, including the millions of children who die every year from preventable diseases. He went on to serve as the first director of global health for what became the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — the richest philanthropy organization in the world. Its priorities include many of the causes Perkin held dear, from reproductive health and childhood vaccination to the welfare and empowerment of women and girls.
“Gordon was a giant in public health,” said Dr. Mark Kane, a Centers for Disease Control epidemiologist recruited by Perkin to lead one of the first programs supported by the fledgling Gates Foundation — a $100 million children’s vaccine initiative.
Perkin was also instrumental in the creation of Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance. A partnership of the World Bank, The World Health Organization, governments, foundations and pharmaceutical companies, Gavi has helped vaccinate more than 760 million children in low-income countries, preventing an estimated 13 million deaths.
“Countless people are alive today because of Gordon’s efforts,” Bill and Melinda Gates said in a statement.
Walter Lure, 71, who played rhythm guitar for the Heartbreakers, a pioneering band of the New York punk scene in the 1970s, and who had a most unpunk second career on Wall Street, died of liver cancer Aug. 21 at a New York hospital.
The Heartbreakers were together for a brief three years and recorded only one studio album, “L.A.M.F.,” released in 1977 on the British label Track Records. But among the bands that clustered around Manhattan clubs like Max’s Kansas City and CBGB during the early punk years, the Heartbreakers had an outsize reputation. “They were probably the best band besides the Ramones and the Dictators,” Legs McNeil, a co-founder of Punk magazine said in a phone interview.
Ray Cave, 91, who as the managing editor of Time magazine for eight years oversaw changes to its stodgy look and encouraged the publication of single-subject issues like “Children of War,” died Monday at home in Boothbay, Maine.
Steve Grossman, 69, saxophonist who caught the jazz world’s attention at 18 when he was recruited by Miles Davis, died of cardiac arrest Aug. 13 in Glen Cove, New York. Grossman was playing at the Village Gate in Manhattan in 1969, just a year after entering the Juilliard School, when Davis walked in. Davis — an astute judge of talent whose sidemen over the years included John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett and other future stars — decided he wanted him in his band. Grossman had big shoes to fill. He replaced Wayne Shorter, considered by many to be one of the greatest saxophonists and composers in jazz history.
Stephen Terrell, 63, a beloved stage director, choreographer, dancer, actor and singer who was, for a number of years in the 1990s, one of the busiest theater talents in the Seattle area, died July 30 in Milton, Massachusetts. The cause of death was a hemorrhagic stroke.
“He had such a depth of knowledge” about musical theater, said Richard Gray, a Seattle composer and musical director who collaborated with Terrell on shows at ACT, Seattle Group Theatre and Tacoma Actors Guild, among other companies. “He wore so many hats. He understood music, dancing, acting, design. He knew every element.” After a long career in the Pacific Northwest, in 2003, Terrell became head of the musical theater program at Boston’s Emerson College.
Darryl Macdonald, 70, who helped create the mammoth Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF), died of cancer at his home in Palm Springs, California, on July 20, his sister Devorah Macdonald said.
In 1975, Macdonald and Dan Ireland came to Seattle from Vancouver. B.C., after working in movie theaters there. They picked up the lease on Seattle’s venerable Moore Theatre, enlisted a cadre of volunteers to help refurbish the place and refashioned the venue as the Moore Egyptian movie house, home to the first SIFF.
Later SIFF became known as a launchpad for independent films and grew into what’s billed as the largest film festival in the United States. “The festival was a hands-on labor of love and an expression of its founders’ eccentric and iconoclastic personalities,” said film critic Jim Emerson.