Hershel Williams, 98, the last survivor among the 472 servicemen who were awarded the Medal of Honor for extraordinary bravery in World War II and the oldest living recipient of the medal, died on Wednesday in Huntington, West Virginia.
Williams was a 21-year-old Marine Corps corporal when he watched from the bloodied, ashy beaches of Iwo Jima as the Stars and Stripes rose atop Mount Suribachi on Feb. 23, 1945. Captured in a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph by Joe Rosenthal of The Associated Press, the scene became one of the most indelible images of World War II and the inspiration for the Marine Corps War Memorial near Arlington National Cemetery — a moment of American heroism cast in bronze.
Williams was one of 27 Marines and sailors to receive the Medal of Honor for their actions at Iwo Jima, where 7,000 members of the service died in the bloodiest battle in the history of the Marine Corps.
Sonny Barger, 83, the bigger-than-life godfather of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, equal parts brawler, bully, braggart, rule breaker and shrewd huckster of his own outlaw mystique, died Wednesday at his home in California.
For decades, the stocky, muscular Barger stood not only as the founder of the original Oakland, California, Angels chapter in 1957, but also as the public face of a nationwide counterculture tribe of bearded, denim-clad road warriors memorialized in literature and film — roaring down the open highway and through crossroads towns, shocking the locals with their boisterous, often menacing presence.
Deborah James, 40, a British podcaster, writer and cancer campaigner who chronicled her struggle with an incurable bowel tumor with candor and vivacity, died Tuesday, more than five years after the illness was diagnosed. Her death was announced on her Instagram account.
James co-hosted “You, Me and the Big C,” a BBC podcast about cancer, wrote a column about her journey through her illness for the British tabloid The Sun, tirelessly raised awareness and funds for the cause, and wrote a book, “F*** You Cancer: How to face the big C.” Through these mediums, she sought to help others spot the early signs of bowel cancer, fight the taboos around the illness and help patients cope.
Margaret Keane, 94, the artist whose doleful, saucer-eyed waifs earned millions in an international kitsch craze a half-century ago, and who inspired an epic art fraud by a husband whose claims to have executed her work were demolished in a “paint-off” in court, died June 26 at her home in Napa, California. Her daughter, Jane Swigert, said the cause was heart failure.
Her images of sad children trapped in dystopian worlds of deprivation and misery were everywhere — stacked at sidewalk art shows, but also museums and galleries and millions of homes.
Sam Gilliam, 88, a Washington, D.C., artist who helped redefine abstract painting by liberating canvas from its traditional framework and shaking it loose in lavish, paint-spattered folds cascading from ceilings, stairwells and other architectural elements, died June 25 at his home in the District. The cause was kidney disease.
Gilliam was a relatively unknown art teacher in Washington, D.C.-area schools when he burst to international attention in 1969, for an exhibition that stunned for its bravado. Resembling a painter’s giant dropcloths, his flowing, unstructured canvases, known as drapes, appeared in what was then known as the Corcoran Gallery of Art. In a matter of months, Gilliam would become known throughout the country and later around the world as the painter who had knocked painting out of its frame. Over a career that spanned decades and several stylistic changes — not all of them as well received as his drapes — Gilliam would forever be known as an artistic innovator because of the Corcoran show.
Gloria Allen, 76, who ran a charm school for transgender youths, died June 13 at her home in Lakeview, Illinois, where she lived in an apartment complex for LGBTQ+seniors. The cause was respiratory failure.
Allen, a Black transgender woman, grew to become a beloved elder of Chicago’s LGBTQ+ community, known for offering guidance and support to younger generations of trans people, many of whom were African American or Hispanic. By 2012, she had started running a charm school for transgender youths, providing lessons in etiquette and comportment while instilling confidence and strength in her students. Her pupils — many of whom were homeless or at-risk — called her “Mama Gloria” or simply “Mama.” “She was the mother of queer Chicago,” said Philip Dawkins who wrote the hit play “Charm,” inspired by her life.
Baxter Black, 77, a onetime veterinarian who turned to storytelling as a columnist, novelist, NPR commentator, traveling bard of the West and America’s foremost cowboy poet, died June 10 at his ranch near Benson, Arizona. The cause was leukemia. Black, who had been a rodeo bull rider in his youth, spent 13 years tending to the ailments of cattle and horses throughout the West.
He picked up earthy stories from cowboys, which he reshaped into jokes, monologues and poems for his second career as a humorist and raconteur.
Vivian Hewitt, 102, a librarian who spent more than four decades acquiring, with her husband, a major collection of works by Black artists, died May 29 at her home in Manhattan. Her death was announced by the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture in Charlotte, where a substantial portion of the Hewitts’ collection is housed. The cause was not disclosed.
Despite having limited means, Hewitt and her husband, John H. Hewitt Jr., began building their collection in the 1950s with prints and paintings by Henry Ossawa, one of the first African American artists of international renown. On travels to Haiti and Mexico, they bought works by local artists. “We bought from the heart, the things that moved us and that we liked,” Hewitt said in 2004.