December 29, 2004

Year 2004 Bids Farewell to Entertainment Greats

From the larger-than-life film stars of "The Godfather" and "Superman" to the musical "Genius" who pioneered the sound of soul, some of the world's greatest entertainers took final bows during 2004.

Marlon Brando, the Oscar-winning rebel hailed as one of the most influential actors of his generation, and Christopher Reeve, the big-screen Man of Steel transformed by paralysis into a real-life hero to the disabled, joined composer and singer Ray Charles among the ranks of performers whose deaths dimmed the past year.

Others included knighted actor Sir Peter Ustinov, beloved children's entertainer Bob Keeshan (aka Captain Kangaroo) and two actresses famed for screams -- "King Kong" heroine Fay Wray and "Psycho" co-star Janet Leigh.

Borscht belt veterans Alan King and Rodney Dangerfield both delivered their last punch lines, and onetime B-movie actor Ronald Reagan, who went on to ignite a Republican revolution as the 40th president of the United States, passed into history.

Following is a list of some of the better known show business figures who died during the past year, in order of their passing:

- Ann Miller, 81. Dancer and comic actress who co-starred with such partners as Fred Astaire in "Easter Parade" and Gene Kelly in "On the Town." Jan. 22.

- Bob Keeshan, 76. Original Clarabell the Clown of "The Howdy Doody Show," he went on to enchant millions of American youngsters as television's Captain Kangaroo. Jan. 23.

- Paul Winfield, 62. Played slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on television and earned an Oscar nomination for his role as a share-cropping father in "Sounder." March 7.

- Sir Peter Ustinov, 82. Celebrated British actor, author, playwright and raconteur, he won Oscars for his roles in "Spartacus" and "Topkapi." March 28.

- Alan King, 76. Acerbic comedian and actor hailed by some as the "Jewish Will Rogers." Among his favorite jokes: "What's the difference between a Rottweiler and a Jewish mother? Eventually the Rottweiler lets go." May 9.

- June Taylor. 86. Choreographer for "The Jackie Gleason Show" who gave her name to the variety program's famed troupe of leggy dancers. May 16.

- Tony Randall, 84. Emmy Award-winning actor best known for his comic role as the fastidious Felix Unger on television's "The Odd Couple." May 17.

- Ronald Reagan, 93. While his political achievements most stand out in history, he began as a radio announcer and actor who appeared in dozens of films, including a role as George "The Gipper" Gipp in the 1940 film "Knute Rockne, All American." June 5.

- Ray Charles, 73. Hailed as "the Genius" for such hits as "I Got a Woman" and "Georgia On My Mind," he overcame poverty, blindness and heroin addiction to lay the foundation of soul music. June 10.

- Marlon Brando, 80. Oscar-winning star of "The Godfather" and "On the Waterfront," his maverick, naturalistic style in "A Streetcar Named Desire" came to define a post-war American image of machismo and revolutionize acting. July 1.

- Rick James, 56. Flamboyant funk music pioneer whose 1981 dance hit "Super Freak" came to embody the ruinous excesses of his colorful life. Aug. 6.

- Fay Wray, 96. The shrieking blond beauty who gained fame as the frightened woman stalked up the Empire State Building by the giant ape King Kong. Aug. 8.

- Julia Child, 91. The grande dame of television cooking whose operatic voice and irreverent style brought French haute cuisine into America's humble kitchens. Aug. 13.

- Johnny Ramone, 55. Born John Cummings, he was the guitarist for pioneering punk rock band the Ramones. Sept. 15.

- Janet Leigh, 77. Starred opposite such leading men as Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn, James Stewart and ex-husband Tony Curtis, but perhaps her most memorable film moment was her shower stabbing scene in Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho." Oct. 3.

- Rodney Dangerfield, 82. Bulgy-eyed comic famed for his self-deprecating one-liners and the signature phrase "I can't get no respect," he became a pop culture sensation in middle age with a string of broad film comedies. Oct. 5

- Christopher Reeve, 52. "Superman" actor who became a leading advocate for spinal cord research after a riding accident left him paralyzed. Oct. 10

- Howard Keel, 85. A coal miner's son who starred in classic MGM musicals like "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," he later revived his career on TV's "Dallas." Nov. 7

- Ol' Dirty Bastard, 35. Born Russell Jones, his criminal lifestyle and erratic behavior overshadowed his work as a founding member of the rap collective Wu-Tang Clan. Nov. 13.

- Jerry Orbach, 69. Onetime song-and-dance man who became a beloved co-star of the long-running "Law & Order" TV series, playing sardonic detective Lennie Briscoe. Dec. 28.

No comments: