A roundup of notable obituaries from the week ending Oct. 27.
Fats Domino, 89, the New Orleans rhythm-and-blues singer whose two-fisted boogie-woogie piano and nonchalant vocals, heard on dozens of hits, made him one of the biggest stars of the early rock ’n’ roll era, died Tuesday in Louisiana.
Domino had more than three dozen Top 40 pop hits through the 1950s and early ’60s, among them “Blueberry Hill,” “Ain’t It a Shame,” “I’m Walkin’,” “Blue Monday” and “Walkin’ to New Orleans.” He carried both the particular spirit of his hometown, New Orleans, and a droll resilience that reached listeners worldwide. He sold 65 million singles in those years, with 23 gold records.
Domino told Ebony magazine that he stopped recording because companies wanted him to update his style. “I refused to change,” he said. “I had to stick to my own style that I’ve always used or it just wouldn’t be me.” But his old recordings kept selling, his concerts kept selling out and his influence continued to be felt.
Domino’s 1956 version of “Blueberry Hill” was selected for the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry of historic sound recordings worthy of preservation. Not even Katrina could blow this New Orleans man’s sound away.
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Robert Guillaume, 89, who rose from squalid beginnings in St. Louis slums to become a star in stage musicals and win Emmy Awards for his portrayal of the sharp-tongued butler in the TV sitcoms “Soap” and “Benson,” died at home Tuesday in Los Angeles. He had prostate cancer.
Among Guillaume’s achievements was playing Nathan Detroit in the first all-black version of “Guys and Dolls,” earning a Tony nomination in 1977. He became the first African American to sing the title role of “Phantom of the Opera,” appearing with an all-white cast in Los Angeles.
Then came the role that made him famous and brought two Emmy awards: the acerbic butler George Benson. “The minute I saw the script, I knew I had a live one,” he recalled in 2001. “Every role was written against type, especially Benson, who wasn’t subservient to anyone. To me, Benson was the revenge for all those stereotyped guys who looked like Benson in the ’40s and ’50s (movies) and had to keep their mouths shut.”
Paul Weitz, 85, a retired NASA astronaut who commanded the first flight of the space shuttle Challenger and also piloted the Skylab (the orbiting space laboratory) in the early 1970s, died Monday in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Weitz returned to the Navy after his mission on Skylab and retired as a captain in July 1976 after serving 22 years. He then came out of retirement to rejoin NASA. In all, he logged 793 hours in space and retired as deputy director of the Johnson Space Center in May 1994.
Walter Lassally, 90, the German-born cinematographer who won an Academy Award for the 1964 movie “Zorba the Greek,” died Monday in Crete, following complications from surgery. Lassally lived outside the city of Hania, Greece, near the beach that served as the backdrop for the movie’s final scene with actors Anthony Quinn and Alan Bates dancing..
William Turnage, 74, who changed the Wilderness Society from a grass-roots organization devoted to protecting public lands to a more professional advocacy group in time to do battle against President Ronald Reagan’s environmental policies, died last Sunday at his home in Mill Valley, California. The cause was stomach and esophageal cancer.
Under his leadership, the Wilderness Society developed the ability to make scientific and economic analyses of public land issues and withstand the relentless attack of James G. Watt, Reagan’s interior secretary, whose stated goal was to transfer significant amounts of federal land to private timber, energy and mineral interests for development.
Donald Bain, 82, an author who, using a variety of pseudonyms, wrote “Murder, She Wrote” novels, Margaret Truman’s “Capital Crimes” mysteries and “Coffee, Tea or Me?,” the supposed memoir of two saucy airline stewardesses, died Oct. 21 in White Plains, New York. The cause was congestive heart failure.
During more than 50 years as a ghostwriter he published novels, biographies, Westerns and historical romances, mostly under fictitious names or credited to more marketable bylines; vanity memoirs attributed to corporate executives; and long articles disguised as excerpts from nonexistent books. Nonetheless, he told Publishers Weekly in 2014, “my ego is intact.”
Fay Chiang, 65, whose quest to understand her identity as a child of Chinese immigrants found outlets in vivid poetry and in community activism that helped elevate Asian-American education and culture, died Oct. 20 in a hospice in the Bronx, New York. The cause was cancer.
Chiang’s poetry — sometimes serene, sometimes angry and sometimes written in all lowercase letters — reflected her anxieties as a first-generation Chinese-American, her desire to etch Asian culture into American society, her involvement with organizations in Chinatown and on the Lower East Side, and her multiple reckonings with breast cancer over nearly a quarter-century.
Federico Luppi, 83, a dignified Argentine actor well known for his complex performances in the dark fantasy films of Guillermo del Toro, died Oct. 20, in Buenos Aires. The cause was complications of a subdural hematoma.
Slim and stately with a shock of white hair, he endowed his characters with a sense of gravity. Del Toro, on learning about his death, called him “Our Olivier, our Day Lewis, our genius, my dear friend.”
Creighton Hale, 93, who in the late 1950s invented a batting helmet that gave Little League Baseball players better protection, and who later rose to the top ranks of the organization, died Oct. 8 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where the league has its headquarters.
Hale’s dual-earflap helmet became mandatory for Little League batters and runners in 1961. His helmet can absorb a direct hit from a ball traveling at 90 mph without cracking or being driven into a batter’s head and the flap on each side protects the temples, ears and cheekbones.
Isabella L. Karle, 95, whose experiments elucidating the shapes of molecules contributed crucially to her husband’s Nobel Prize in chemistry, died on Oct. 3 in Arlington, Virginia. The cause was a brain tumor.
Isabella Karle taught herself X-ray crystallography and came up with practical implementations of her husband’s theory, which she used to puzzle out the structure of molecules in substances like drugs, steroids and frog toxins. With a clearer picture of the structure of biological molecules, drug researchers then had a much better idea of the chemistry going on inside the body and how to formulate drugs to treat illnesses.