Alix Dobkin, 80, an outspoken folk singer who celebrated women in general and lesbians in particular, making music history in 1973 when she released “Lavender Jane Loves Women,” generally considered the first full-length album by, for and about lesbians, died Wednesday at her home in Woodstock, New York. The cause was a brain aneurysm and stroke.
“Alix was one of the first to celebrate us in music,” said lesbian history scholar Lillian Faderman. “It was no longer the love that dared not share its name. She shouted it for us. She created this music that was a real celebration of how any woman could become a lesbian, and how it was a wonderful thing to be.”
Paul Mooney, 79, the boundary-pushing comedian and comedy writer who made his views on race, racism and social justice abundantly clear as Richard Pryor’s longtime behind-the-scenes partner, a contributor to “In Living Color” and a performer and writer on “Chappelle’s Show,” died Wednesday at his home in Oakland, California. The cause was a heart attack, said Cassandra Williams, his publicist. Mooney was found to have prostate cancer in 2014.
Mooney wasn’t as widely known as Pryor, but his influence on comedy was ubiquitous. As head writer on “In Living Color,” Mooney helped create and inspire the Homey D. Clown character. He played Negrodamus on “Chappelle’s Show.” The character offered “the answers to life’s great mysteries,” such as “Why do white people like Wayne Brady so much?” The role, and another recurring “Chappelle’s Show” segment called “Ask a Black Dude,” introduced Mooney to a new generation of fans.
In any forum, Mooney was uniquely fearless as a comedian. His blunt confrontations with racism and power in white America could be hysterical or defiantly unflinching. Mooney considered himself “the first comic to bring a ‘just between us’ Black voice to the stage.”
Lee Evans, 74, the record-setting sprinter who wore a black beret in a sign of protest at the 1968 Olympics then went onto a life of humanitarian work in support of social justice, died Wednesday in Nigeria, where he coached track. Evans’ children were in the process of trying to bring the Olympian home for further medical care after their father collapsed this month as the result of a stroke and remained in a coma.
Evans became the first man to crack 44 seconds in the 400 meters, winning the gold medal at the Mexico City Games. His victory came shortly after his teammates, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, were sent home from the Olympics for raising their fists on the medals stand. Evans wore a black beret to show support for the Black Panther Party and other civil rights organizations (he also raised his fist on the stand but lowered it when the national anthem was played and the American flags were raised). After running his 43.86 in the 400, Evans anchored the U.S. 1,600 relay team to a world record of 2:56.16. The 400 record stood until 1988. The relay record stood until 1992. Evans also won five U.S. titles at 400 meters and was a member of both the USATF and U.S. Olympic halls of fame.
He was an assistant track coach at the University of Washington in the early 2000s, coached at San Jose State and South Alabama, and was director of athletics for Special Olympics. San Jose State, in its obituary on Evans, said he coached national teams for Qatar, Cameroon and Nigeria.
Charles Grodin, 86, the versatile actor familiar from “Same Time, Next Year” on Broadway, popular movies like “The Heartbreak Kid,” “Midnight Run” and “Beethoven” and numerous television appearances, died Tuesday at his home in Wilton, Connecticut. The cause was bone marrow cancer.
With a great sense of deadpan comedy and the kind of Everyman good looks that lend themselves to playing businessmen or curmudgeonly fathers, Grodin found plenty of work as a supporting player and the occasional lead.
Grodin was a writer as well, with a number of plays and books to his credit. Though he never won a prestige acting award, he did win a writing Emmy for a 1977 Paul Simon television special, sharing it with Simon and six others.
Christopher Stone, 83, legal scholar who argued in a seminal 1972 paper that trees, rivers, oceans and nature itself possess fundamental legal rights, an argument that won notice at the U.S. Supreme Court and entered the bedrock of the modern environmental movement, died of Parkinson’s disease May 14 at an assisted-living center in Los Angeles.
Stone, an emeritus professor at the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law, was regarded as a father of environmental law. He gained renown with a 1972 article published in the Southern California Law Review and titled “Should Trees Have Standing? — Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects.” The question was cited by U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Douglas in a noted 1972 dissent and reverberated in legal and environmental circles for decades.
John Castellani, 94, who led Seattle University to the NCAA men’s basketball championship game in 1958 and was forced to resign a month later amid a recruiting scandal, died May 11 in New Britain, Connecticut. Castellani coached the Minneapolis Lakers for a half-season before changing careers and working as a lawyer in Wisconsin for decades. But his two seasons at Seattle University — where he coached the great Elgin Baylor — remained one of the highlights of his life.
Pete Ventantonio, 50, a New Jersey punk rocker known as Jack Terricloth, died of hypertensive cardiovascular disease May 11, in Queens, New York. The crooning, bellowing, devilishly smarmy vocalist was ringleader of the World/Inferno Friendship Society, a band with an ever-changing lineup that melded punk defiance with the decadent theatricality of Weimar-era cabaret. The group was thought to be key to the rise of the so-called punk cabaret movement in the mid-2000s.
Damon Weaver, 23, who as an 11-year-old student reporter in 2009 scored a White House interview with President Barack Obama and found himself in the national spotlight, died May 1 of natural causes, his sister, Candace Hardy, told The Palm Beach Post.
Among the topics tackled in the 10-minute interview with Obama were bullying, school lunches, conflict resolution and how to succeed. Weaver finished by inviting Obama to visit his school in Canal Point, Florida, and asked him to be his “homeboy,” noting that Vice President Joe Biden already had taken him up on the offer. “Absolutely,” Obama said with a smile, shaking Weaver’s hand.
Weaver, who most recently lived in West Palm Beach, Florida, graduated from Royal Palm Beach High School and earned a scholarship to Albany State University in Georgia.