Joanne Rogers, 92, an accomplished concert pianist who celebrated and protected the legacy of her husband, the beloved children’s TV host Mister Rogers, died Thursday, according to the Fred Rogers Center. No cause of death was given. The center called her “a joyful and tender-hearted spirit, whose heart and wisdom have guided our work in service of Fred’s enduring legacy.”
Joanne and Fred Rogers were married for more than 50 years, spanning the launch and end of the low-key, low-tech “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” which presented Fred Rogers as one adult in a busy world who always had time to listen to children. His pull as America’s favorite neighbor never seemed to wane before his death in 2003. After Fred Rogers’ death, she helped develop the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at St. Vincent College in his hometown of Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
Siegfried Fischbacher, 81, the surviving member of the magic duo Siegfried & Roy who entertained millions with illusions using rare animals, died Wednesday at his home in Las Vegas from pancreatic cancer. Fischbacher’s longtime show business partner, Roy Horn, died last year of complications from COVID-19 at a Las Vegas hospital. The duo astonished millions with their extraordinary magic tricks until Horn was critically injured in 2003 by one of the act’s famed white tigers.
Kathleen Heddle, 55, a three-time Olympic rowing champion for Canada, died Monday at home in Vancouver, B.C. Heddle had breast and lymph-node cancer followed by melanoma and brain cancer for six years.
Heddle and Marnie McBean won Olympic gold medals in 1992 and 1996 in the coxless pair and double sculls. Heddle also earned gold in the women’s eight in 1992. Heddle and McBean carried Canada’s flag at the closing ceremony of the 1996 Atlanta Games. They were inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1997.
Sheldon Adelson, 87, the billionaire mogul, Republican megadonor and power broker who built a casino empire spanning from Las Vegas to China and became a singular force in domestic and international politics, died Monday from complications related to treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Blunt yet secretive, the squatly built Adelson resembled an old-fashioned political boss. He became one of the nation’s most influential GOP donors by setting records for individual contributions. In 2012, Politico called him “the dominant pioneer of the super PAC era.”
Pat Loud, 94, a California housewife who became known to millions of television viewers in the 1970s as the matriarch of “An American Family,” a PBS documentary series that was both celebrated and blamed for ushering in the era of reality TV with its frank depiction of her private life, died Jan. 10 at her home in Los Angeles.
“An American Family” was a sensation when it aired over 12 one-hour installments in 1973. Decades before the Kardashians became famous for being famous, or the Gosselins of “Jon & Kate Plus 8” announced their divorce, Loud and her then-husband, Bill Loud, allowed a camera crew to film their daily lives with their five children for 300 hours over seven months in 1971.
Nancy Bush Ellis, 94, the sister of one president and aunt of another, who for a time devoted herself to Democratic causes despite her family dynasty’s Republican lineage, died Jan. 10 at an assisted living facility in Concord, Massachusetts. Her son Alexander Ellis III said the cause was complications related to COVID-19. Her father, Prescott Sheldon Bush, was elected to the Senate in 1952; one of her brothers, George H.W. Bush, became president in 1989; and nephew George W. Bush became president in 2001.
Unlike most of her family, Ellis was a liberal Democrat for decades, promoting environmental and antipoverty causes, raising money for the NAACP and serving as head of the New England section of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Clayton Pitre, 96, a Congressional Gold Medal recipient for his service in World War II, who was a trailblazer in the U.S. Marines, a master storyteller and a staunch advocate for education, died Jan. 1 at Harborview Medical Center of complications from a heart condition.
After the war, Pitre and a group of fellow Marines were among the earliest civil rights movement activists, through their efforts to integrate the U.S. armed forces, an initiative that succeeded in 1949. A 1968 graduate of Seattle University, Pitre became the Director of Housing Development for the Central Area Motivation Program, where he worked with churches and the Urban League to build low-income housing. He later worked for the Veterans Administration for 11 years until his retirement in 1984.
Pitre believed education was the key to success. “In the Black community in general, education was so important for us to be able to survive and thrive,” his son Paul said. He regularly worked with young people on their college applications, while taking the time to connect with his own kids through storytelling.
Eugene Wright, 97, distinguished bass player who toured the world and recorded some 30 albums, including the landmark “Time Out,” in his decade with the Dave Brubeck Quartet, died Dec. 30 in the Valley Glen neighborhood of Los Angeles.
In 1958 Wright, a solidly swinging timekeeper best known for his work with the Count Basie Orchestra in the late 1940s, might not have seemed the ideal choice for the complex modern jazz compositions that formed the bulk of Brubeck’s repertoire. “It shouldn’t have worked, but Dave had an ESP about musicians and knew somehow Eugene would work,” Philip Clark, the author of “Dave Brubeck: A Life In Time,” said in a phone interview.
In the decades after the Brubeck quartet broke up, Wright played with pianist Monty Alexander’s trio and worked on soundtracks for film and television studios. He also performed at private parties until 2016 and gave private lessons until three years ago.
Theodore “Ted” Lumpkin Jr., 100, a member of the Tuskegee Airmen whose service as a member of the all-Black unit during World War II helped desegregate the U.S. military, died of COVID-19 on Dec. 26 at a hospital, just days shy of his 101st birthday.
Lumpkin was drafted into the military in 1942 when he was a 21-year-old student at UCLA. He was assigned to the 100th Fighter Squadron of the all-Black unit in Tuskegee, Alabama, as a 2nd lieutenant with the U.S. Army Air Forces. He served as an intelligence officer, briefing pilots about missions during his overseas combat tour in Italy.
The Tuskegee Airmen received the highest civilian recognition in 2007 with the Congressional Gold Medal. Nearly two years later, then-President Obama invited the surviving squadron members, including Lumpkin, to his inauguration.
Marcus “Kutfather” Tufono, 48, a DJ who was a major influence on Seattle’s hip-hop scene, died Dec. 20. The cause was septic shock related to a rare, degenerative spinal disease, according to family.
“It’s really hard as a club DJ to play anything besides hit records and still move the party,” said Jake “Jake One” Dutton, a renowned Seattle-based hip-hop producer and former DJ. “But Kutfather,” he said, “had a rare talent for hyping up a crowd by making them enjoy nonobvious music that only he’d enjoyed. I’d never seen anyone do that in Seattle.”