June 22nd 2012
LeRoy Neiman, a globetrotting artist whose celebrity often eclipsed that of the famous athletes and entertainers he portrayed in vibrantly colored, boldly expressive paintings, died June 20 at a hospital in New York. He was 91.
Mr. Neiman’s signature style included sheets of splashy color, yet the central figures of his paintings always remained recognizable and full of vigor. Though seldom loved by critics, his bright, colorful artworks managed to capture the glamour, spectacle and drama of sports.
Of all the sports he was asked to cover, Mr. Neiman said there was only one he refused to paint: professional wrestling. Once, in Canada, he was sketching the wrestler Mad Dog Vachon at ringside, when Mad Dog tore up his drawings.
“Next thing I know, I’m yelling at him and, all of a sudden, he throws me into the ring, then picks me up and starts spinning me over his head,” Mr. Neiman recalled in 1995.
“I’m seeing the arena lights go round and round and round and the crowd is going crazy and then ‘ooof!’ he tosses me out of the ring onto the floor. I messed up my arm.
“That was it. I wanted nothing to do with wrestling any more.”
June 4th 2012
Dawson died Saturday at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center from complications related to esophageal cancer. The actor, who had been living in Beverly Hills, was diagnosed with the disease about three weeks ago, said his son Gary.
Dawson's key gimmick on "Family Feud" was something that had never been done by a game show host, and is seldom seen today — he kissed all the women players on the lips.
His son said the tradition started almost by accident; "There was a girl on the show who was very nervous, and my dad was trying to calm her down. So he said he would give her a kiss for luck, and he did. Then when he went to the next female player, she said, "Well, don't I get a kiss?' That's how it started and it just became this thing."
The kissing also sparked complaints from viewers who said that Dawson was getting a bit too familiar. He finally asked viewers to write in and tell him whether he should discontinue the kissing. "The mail flowed in, and it was overwhelmingly positive that he keep kissing the women," said Gary Dawson.
Dawson later parodied his game-show image in "The Running Man," a 1987 action movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger about a game show in which contestants are forced to fight for their lives. Dawson played Damon Killian, the show's Machiavellian host and creator, and rewrote almost all of his lines in the script.
May 11th 2012
Carroll Shelby, the charismatic Texan who parlayed a short-lived racing career into a specialized business building high-performance, street-legal cars, died Thursday. He was 89.
Shelby died at Baylor Hospital in Dallas, according to an announcement by his company, Carroll Shelby Licensing. A cause was not disclosed.
While trying to fend off an anticipated heart attack, he drove in a 200-mile race in 1960 with nitroglycerin pills underneath his tongue, finishing third at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey.
“If I hadn't slowed down each time I popped one of those pills, I might have won,” he said, then announced his retirement as a driver later that year after clinching the U.S. Road Racing championship series at Riverside International Raceway.
Five years earlier he had replaced a plastic cast on his broken elbow with a fiberglass one and had his hand taped to the steering wheel so he could help Phil Hill drive a Ferrari to second place in a 12-hour race at Sebring, Fla.
April 20th 2012
Levon Helm, the widely respected and influential singer and drummer with the Band, whose Arkansas drawl colored the group's signature hits, including "Up on Cripple Creek" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," died Thursday in New York of throat cancer. He was 71.
One of three lead singers of the group that first gained fame backing Bob Dylan when he "went electric" in 1965, Helm and the Band largely created the template for a genre now labeled "Americana music" for its blend of rock, country, folk, blues and gospel strains.
"Levon is one of the most extraordinary, talented people I've ever known and very much like an older brother to me," the Band's guitarist Robbie Robertson said in a statement. "I am so grateful I got to see him one last time and will miss him and love him forever."
March 26th 2012
Larry Stevenson, who had Parkinson's disease, died Sunday at Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center, said his son, Curt.
Ever the inventor, Stevenson devised a battery-operated armpit cooler to help nervous salespeople avoid sweating. When he noticed that saltwater naturally slicked down hair, he came up with a saltwater-based hair spray.
Upset by rising home prices, Stevenson teamed with a structural engineer to develop an easy-to-assemble prefabricated house. Introduced in 1981, the Lifehouse was a 640-square-foot structure that was made to sell for less than $13,000. The house was used in disaster areas, according to Feigel.
At Makaha, Stevenson remained active late in life, making modern high-performance skateboards and reproductions of vintage designs.
February 2nd 2012
Angelo Dundee, who trained the two most celebrated fighters of his era, Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard, and 15 world champions in all in a Hall of Fame career that began in 1952, has died. He was 90.
If Dundee hadn't taken over on two occasions with Ali, one of the greatest careers in boxing history might have ended almost before it began.
At the end of the fourth round of a 1963 fight against Henry Cooper, Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, was surprised by a left-hand punch that floored him and left him dazed. Fortunately for Clay, it was the end of the round, allowing him to stagger back to his corner.
It was there that Dundee, trying to buy time until his fighter's head cleared, stuck his finger in a slight split in the seams of one of Clay's gloves, causing a slightly bigger split. That allowed Dundee to ask the referee for another pair of gloves. None were available, but the incident added valuable seconds to Clay's rest time, allowing him to recover and go on to win on a fifth-round technical knockout.
His next fight, against heavyweight champion Sonny Liston, might not have occurred if Clay had lost to Cooper.
In the fourth round of Clay's 1964 fight against Liston, another crisis occurred. A substance of undetermined origin got in Clay's eyes, temporarily blinding him. In the corner prior to the fifth round, Clay ordered Dundee to cut off his gloves, ending the fight.
The trainer would do no such thing. He wet Clay's eyes, alleviating some of the sting, and then literally shoved him back out into the ring when the bell rang. Clay, still unable to see, was told by Dundee to just run.
Run he did until, midway through the round, Clay's vision cleared. At the end of the sixth round, Liston, claiming a shoulder injury, quit in his corner.
Thanks to Dundee, Clay had his first title and a launching pad for the meteoric career that would follow.
Dundee's most memorable moment in Leonard's corner came in 1981, in Leonard's first fight against Hearns. Momentum had slipped away from Leonard by the end of the 12th round of the 15-round match.
"You're blowing it, son," Dundee told him in the corner.
Leonard responded by rallying for a 14th-round TKO victory.
As he had with Ali, Dundee had again possibly saved a Hall of Fame career, ensuring himself a spot among the pantheon of boxing trainers.
January 5th 2012
Eve Arnold, one of the first woman photojournalists to join the prestigious Magnum Photography Agency in the 1950s and traveled the world for her work but was best known for her candid shots of Hollywood celebrities, has died. She was 99.
Her photographs of Joan Crawford show the actress in her 50s, near the end of her reign as Hollywood royalty. None is flattering. There are close-ups of Crawford applying makeup to her wrinkled eyelids and evaluating her aged face in a hand mirror.
"The first time I met Joan Crawford she took off all her clothes, stood in front of me nude and insisted I photograph her," Arnold wrote in "Film Journal." They met in a dressing room when Arnold was on assignment for Women's Home Companion magazine. "Sadly," she wrote of Crawford, "something happens to flesh after 50."
After the photo session Crawford demanded that Arnold give her the film of the nudes and Arnold agreed.
Images of Crawford are among the more brutal included in "Film Journal." The book was praised for its "poignant [images], all capturing an off-guard moment full of character" in a 2002 review in the Canadian Review of Books.
December 13th 2011
The son of a Hollywood power broker — his father, Abraham, ran Columbia Pictures in the late 1960s — Schneider helped revitalize moviemaking in the "New Hollywood" movement in which directors, not studios, held the creative reins and made movies that embraced the sensibilities of the emerging counterculture.
Schneider helped created the Monkees, the popular made-for-TV rock quartet modeled on the Beatles who starred in their own Emmy-winning sitcom from 1966 to 1968.
The success of the Monkees — who consisted of Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork — provided the capital to finance "Easy Rider," the landmark 1969 film about two motorcyclists in search of a more authentic America that made Jack Nicholson a star.
The producer created a stir during the 1975 Oscars broadcast when, in the course of accepting the best documentary award for "Hearts and Minds," he read a telegram offering "greetings of friendship" from the head of the North Vietnamese delegation to the Paris peace talks. Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra issued a protest statement and, according to Rafelson, nearly got into a fistfight with Schneider backstage.
October 13th 2011
James Van Doren died Oct. 12 at his home in Fullerton after a long illness. He was 72.
Van Doren and his older brother Paul had only sample sneakers to offer when they opened their first store, in Anaheim, in 1966. They took a dozen orders in the morning and delivered custom canvas deck shoes, made in their adjacent factory, in the afternoon.
Operating as the Van Doren Rubber Co., the brothers and two other co-founders planned to succeed by cutting out the middleman and selling their distinctive thick rubber-soled shoes directly to the public.
By the early 1970s, the company owed some of its success to Southern California's burgeoning skateboard culture. The shoes were especially valued for the sticky rubber soles that helped skaters grip their boards — an innovation devised by Van Doren.
From the start, the casual shoes were known by a single name: Vans.
October 1st 2011
Despite being drafted by the old Baltimore Bullets of the NBA, Gent chose football over basketball after college. Signed as a free agent by the Dallas Cowboys, he played flanker from 1964 through 1968. At age 27, his NFL career was over. But he wasn't done with football.
In 1973 Gent published his first novel, "North Dallas Forty," which exposed a side of professional football few fans had seen before, as Jim Bouton's "Ball Four" had done for baseball three years earlier. Players experienced excruciating pain that endured long after the game's final whistle; they blew off steam afterward in raucous parties fueled by drugs, alcohol and sex; and management ruthlessly treated athletes as commodities, mere equipment to be used as long as possible and then discarded when they wore out.
September 27th 2011
Shel Hershorn, a photojournalist who documented the tumult of the 1960s and then dropped out to live a rustic lifestyle in northern New Mexico, died Sept. 17 at a nursing home in Espanola, N.M. He was 82.
He rode the campaign trail with John F. Kennedy and photographed Kennedy's assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, as he was loaded into an ambulance after being fatally shot by Jack Ruby.
But his widow, Sonja Hershorn, said he had lost his taste for journalism after Kennedy's assassination.
"It broke his heart and he just soured on the world," she said. "He just wanted to be a hippie. He just wanted to be totally out of American life. He had lost all faith."
August 18th 2011
Hendry, under the expert tutelage of Northside YMCA instructor Bill Price, became a table-tennis prodigy (Price went on to train Jimmy Connors in tennis). He won the junior nationals in 1935 at age fourteen, and the next year, competing against men old enough to drink and drive, he became the youngest player to ever win the prestigious Western Open, a distinction that earned him the holy grail of commercial athletic recognition, World Series be damned.
At the age of fifteen, Hendry had his grill emblazoned on a Wheaties box, inspiring a legion of would-be table-tennis champs to eat up but good every morning before school.
A couple more years of teenage dominance ensued before Hendry shelved his paddles to serve his country in World War II. Providing an early boilerplate for Michael Jordan's "quit while you're on top but leave the door cracked" style of retirement, Hendry wouldn't play table tennis competitively for another 40 years or so -- before coming back to regain his throne atop the sport in relatively short order.
Former St. Louis Table Tennis Club president Rich Doza has a favorite tourney yarn: the day then--72-year-old Hendry pulled off a shocking upset of twentysomething Peruvian champion Andr Wong (who'd just beaten then--U.S. champ Seemiller). This qualified him for the round of 32 at the U.S. Open in Midland, Texas.
"We're out in the center area, and we're warming up," begins Doza. "This guy comes by -- he's on the Japanese team. He says we have to leave 'cause he has a match. I said, 'So do we.'
"The guy couldn't believe he had to play this old man. He thought he'd be playing André Wong, and instead he's playing his grandfather. His English was a little shaky, so he just couldn't understand that George had beaten André Wong."
USA Table Tennis Hall of Fame
August 5th 2011
Best known for his 19 episode-long stint as Vance Duke in the 1982-83 season of Dukes of Hazzard, Christopher Mayer passed away on July 23 in Sherman Oaks at age 57.
During his time on the popular sitcom, Mayer was joined onscreen by Byron Cherry, who played his brother, Coy Duke. The two men were brought onto the show when contract disputes with the show’s main leading men, John Schneider and Tom Wopat, forced CBS to scramble to keep Dukes on the air. The network cast the two men quickly and explained that Schneider and Wopat’s characters had joined the NASCAR circuit. Audiences didn’t take kindly to the new characters, and when ratings sagged and contract disputes were solved, Cherry and Mayer were quickly written off the program.
According to Cherry, around two months ago, Mayer was diagnosed with two aneurisms in his brain, which were both “flushed out” while at the hospital. ”He died in his sleep,” Cherry contends. “I think he definitely died of natural causes. [After the brain aneurisms], the doctor said, ‘You’re going to live for one day,’ and Chris said, ‘Byron, I hope I wake up tomorrow!’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I do too!’” Cherry also says Mayer “had a bad shoulder, and he had hip surgery, and I think he got on steroids for a while, and it really didn’t help him.” The final cause of death is unknown at this time.
July 13th 2011
Schwartz, who began his more than six-decade career by writing gags for Bob Hope's radio show in 1939, died of natural causes at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, said his son Lloyd.
Schwartz once said he created "Gilligan's Island," which aired on CBS from 1964 to 1967, as an escape from his seven years on "The Red Skelton Show," for which he served as head writer and won an Emmy in 1961.
Schwartz conceived the idea for the Brady series in 1965 after reading a brief news report that said nearly one-third of American households included at least one child from a previous marriage.
"I realized there was a sociological change going on in this country, and it prompted me to sit down to write a script about it," he recalled in a 2000 interview with the Los Angeles Times.
Critics of the time hated both.
June 19th 2011
Despite his unconventional approach and a lifelong struggle with severe mental illness, Fischer, who died Thursday of heart failure at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center at age 66, went on to release several albums and became a cult figure — admired by some as an untamed practitioner of "outsider" art, but regarded less kindly by those who encountered the mercurial musician's sudden bursts of aggression.
"When you're working with somebody like Wild Man Fischer, or people who are 'out there,' the problems that arise after the album is completed sometimes become too much to bear," Frank Zappa, Fischer's most prominent patron, said in a 1970 interview.
Zappa had found something compelling in Fischer's musical outbursts. He produced a documentary-like double-album, "An Evening with Wild Man Fischer," and released it in 1968 on his Bizarre Records label.
"One thing that you must remember about Wild Man Fischer is that he actually is a wild person. And Larry is dangerous."
The relationship between Zappa and Fischer ended one day at Zappa's home, where Fischer — who suffered from manic depression and paranoid schizophrenia — became enraged and threw a bottle, barely missing Zappa's baby daughter, Moon Unit.