F.W. de Klerk, 85, who as South Africa’s last white president opened the door to Black majority rule in one of sub-Saharan Africa’s most prosperous nations by releasing Nelson Mandela from prison, died Thursday at his home in Cape Town. The cause was mesothelioma, a form of cancer.
A member of a prominent Afrikaner family, de Klerk had vehemently defended the separation of the races during his long climb up the political ladder. But once he took over as president in 1989, he stunned his deeply divided nation, and the wider world, by reconsidering South Africa’s racist ways, a step that led to his sharing the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela, whom he had released from prison.
South Africa had become such a pariah in the eyes of the world by the 1980s, its internal strife and tainted reputation so disruptive to the economy, that de Klerk argued that the country’s future depended on a new course.
Max Cleland, 79, who lost three limbs to a hand grenade blast in Vietnam and went on to represent his native Georgia in the U.S. Senate, died Tuesday at his home in Atlanta from congestive heart failure. Cleland also served as administrator of Veterans Affairs, as Georgia secretary of state and as a state senator. The Democrat served just one Senate term, losing to Republican Saxby Chambliss in 2002.
Dean Stockwell, 85, who began his seven-decade acting career as a child in the 1940s and later had key roles in films including “A Long Day’s Journey Into Night” in 1962 and “Blue Velvet” in 1986, while also making his mark in television, most notably as the cigar-smoking Al Calavicci on the hit science fiction series “Quantum Leap,” died Nov. 7. No other details about his death were available.
Stockwell had a hot-and-cold relationship with acting that caused him to leave show business for years at a time. But he nonetheless amassed more than 200 film and television acting credits from 1945 to 2015, as well as occasional stage roles.
Ruth Ann Minner, 86, who was raised by a sharecropper and dropped out of high school but went on to become the first and only woman to serve as governor of Delaware, died Nov. 4 at the Delaware Hospice Center in Milford. The cause was complications of a fall.
One of the last public events she attended was President-elect Joe Biden’s victory celebration in Wilmington in November 2020. He called out her name from the stage before he began his speech, and he had been in touch with the family in recent days. At Minner’s memorial service Wednesday in Milford, Biden called her “a dear friend” and “one of the most remarkable and inspirational people I got to meet.”
Ronnie Wilson, 73, founder of the Gap Band, which rode a funky party sound to success on the R&B charts in the late 1970s and throughout the ’80s, died Nov. 2. The Gap Band, which also included Wilson’s brothers Charlie and Robert Wilson, topped the R&B charts four times and placed 15 songs in the R&B Top 10 from 1979 to 1990; two of its singles, “Early in the Morning” and “You Dropped a Bomb on Me,” reached the pop Top 40 in 1982.
Viktor Bryukhanov, 85, engineer who oversaw the construction and operation of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, the site of an explosion in 1986 that ranks among the worst accidents of the nuclear age, died Oct. 13 in Kyiv. He had suffered several strokes.
Julie Green, 60, an artist who memorialized inmates’ last suppers, died Oct. 12 at her home in Corvallis, Oregon, by physician-assisted suicide, which is permitted under Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act. Her husband, artist Clay Lohmann, said she had ovarian cancer.
To Green, who taught art at Oregon State University, documenting the choices made by death row prisoners for their last meal put a human face on an inhumane practice. Rendered in cobalt blue glaze on a white china plate, she planned to paint the meals until capital punishment was abolished, or until she had made 1,000 plates, whichever came first. In September, she painted her 1,000th plate, an oval platter with a single familiar image: the bottle of Coca-Cola requested by a Texas man in 1997.