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PHOTO BY: Diedra Laird/The Charlotte Observer via AP
Hester Ford, oldest living American, 115 or 116
(Aug. 15, 1905 — April 17, 2021) Hester McCardell Ford, who had been the oldest living American, died Saturday in her home, in Charlotte, North Carolina, The Charlotte Observer reported. The supercentenarian lived 115 years and 245 days, according to the Gerontology Research Group. U.S. Census Bureau documents, though, give her year of birth as either 1904 (making her 116 years old) or 1905 (making her 115).
Ford was born on a farm in Lancaster County, South Carolina, and picked cotton and plowed fields in her youth. At just 14 years old, she wed John Ford and, at age 15, gave birth to the first of their 12 children. Her husband died in 1963. Ford had 68 grandchildren, 125 great-grandchildren and at least 120 great-great-grandchildren, according to the Observer. “She not only represented the advancement of our family but of the Black African American race and culture in our country,” a great-granddaughter, Tanisha Patterson-Powe, told the newspaper. When, last summer, the Observer asked Ford her secret to longevity, she replied, “I just live right, all I know.” Relatives said she enjoyed hearty breakfasts (always including a half of a banana), fresh air, a bit of exercise, singing, puzzles, looking at family albums and writing her name on her Etch-a-Sketch. Ford was a teen during the 1918 influenza pandemic. She celebrated her final birthday — during the coronavirus pandemic — by wearing a crown and watching a drive-through parade held in her honor as the people in attendance applauded her.
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PHOTO BY: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images
Helen McCrory, actress, 52
(Aug. 17, 1968 — April 16, 2021) McCrory was known for playing Polly Gray, the crime matriarch who struck terror with one raised eyebrow in Peaky Blinders, and Narcissa Malfoy in three Harry Potter films. She played Mrs. Tony Blair in both The Queen and The Special Relationship. “But she was also a London stage star of rare delicacy and complexity, redefining classic roles from Ibsen, Pinter, Rattigan,” says former New York Times drama critic Ben Brantley. A diplomat’s daughter who grew up in London, Paris and Tanzania, she married her stage costar Damian Lewis, with whom she recently raised more than $1 million for frontline COVID workers. Last year she said, “I’ve lived life at 150 miles an hour.”
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PHOTO BY: Samir Hussein/WireImage
Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth, 99
(June 10, 1921 — April 9, 2021) Call him the Duke of Edinburgh, a distinguished World War II veteran, the great-great-grandson of Britain’s Queen Victoria or the Greek-born Danish son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark — each is true, but most famously, he was the husband of Queen Elizabeth. She honored him with the title Prince Philip several years into their nearly 75-year marriage (a record for the British monarchy). Born into the Mountbatten clan, he was schooled in Britain and, later, became a top cadet at the Britannia Royal Navy College and a naval officer who saw active duty in Europe and Japan during the war. Tall and dashing at 26, he married 21-year-old Queen Elizabeth, his third cousin, in 1947. They had four children; their oldest, Prince Charles, is the current heir to the throne. As “first gentleman,” Prince Philip presided over diplomatic and other official events, devoted himself to his hobbies (polo, sailing, flying airplanes) and worked to keep the royal family intact in the face of crises including Princess Diana’s death and through an era of what many view as the royalty’s waning relevance. His death, just shy of his 100th birthday in June, ushers in a 10-day mourning period in Britain.
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PHOTO BY: Freddie Lee/FOX News via Getty Images
G. Gordon Liddy, Watergate burglary planner, 90
(Nov. 30, 1930 — March 30, 2021) Trained as a lawyer, G. Gordon Liddy’s career included stints as an FBI agent, radio talk show host, author and candidate for Congress. But the ruthless political operative was best known as the mastermind behind the bugging of the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate in June 1972, a crime that triggered a scandal that ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon. Liddy was sentenced in March 1973 to a 20-year prison term for conspiracy, burglary and illegal wiretapping. He served 52 months behind bars before President Jimmy Carter commuted his sentence. After his release from prison, Liddy told reporters he had no regrets about the Watergate break-in and would do it again. Liddy reveled in being a scary personality. Fellow Watergate conspirator E. Howard Hunt described him as “a wired wisecracking extrovert who seemed as if he might be a candidate for decaffeinated coffee.”
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PHOTO BY: Christina Koci Hernandez/San Francisco Chronicle by Getty Images
Beverly Cleary, children’s book author, 104
(April 12, 1916 — March 25, 2021) The tower of books written for children through the years could probably reach the moon, but only a small fraction of them remain enveloped in warm memories once their readers reach adulthood. Beverly Cleary’s books are certainly among them. Cleary, who worked as a children’s librarian before she decided to become an author, began her career in 1950 with Henry Huggins, kicking off a best-selling series featuring the relatable third grader. Those were followed by books such as Ramona the Pest (1968), focusing on Henry’s friend Beezus’ wonderfully imperfect younger sister, Ramona Quimby. Gen X girls, especially, devoured stories of Ramona bravely powering through elementary school humiliations like losing a shoe on her first day of first grade. Upon Cleary’s passing, Judy Blume, 83, another beloved children’s author, praised her on Twitter as “My inspiration. I wanted to write books like yours.” But the actress Viola Davis, 55, may have captured fans’ sentiments best: “Rest in peace, Beverly Clearly. You made my childhood fun.”
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PHOTO BY: AP Photo/LM Otero
Larry McMurtry, novelist, 84
(June 3, 1936 — March 25, 2021) McMurtry was a prolific writer known for his cinematic depictions of the American West, often featuring gunslinging cowboys, romance and dramatic 19th Century frontier struggles. The Texas-raised rancher’s son authored dozens of novels, including The Last Picture Show (1966) and Terms of Endearment (1975) — both later adapted for the big screen — but may be most famous for his beloved Pulitzer Prize-winner Lonesome Dove (1985), an epic Western centered around two retired Texas Rangers who drive stolen cattle north to Montana. That best seller led to three more related books and a TV mini-series. McMurtry also won an Academy Award in 2006 for his cowritten screenplay, based on a short story by Annie Proulx, for the film Brokeback Mountain.
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PHOTO BY: Netflix
Jessica Walter, actress, 80
(Jan. 31, 1941 — March 24, 2021) Walter, who played Lucille Bluth, the Arrested Development matriarch known for her wicked wink, bottomless cocktails and quips like “I’d like to cry, but I can’t spare the moisture,” specialized in high-strung characters, including Clint Eastwood’s stalker in Play Misty for Me, a race car driver’s faithless wife in Grand Prix, and Candice Bergen’s catty Vassar classmate in The Group. The vice president of the Screen Actors Guild, she earned three SAG award nominations and an Emmy. Asked why she liked playing difficult women, she said, “Those are the fun roles.”
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PHOTO BY: Rick Rowell/ABC via Getty Images
George Segal, actor, 87
(Feb. 13, 1934 — March 23, 2021) Long before he played a grandpa who’s a kid at heart on TV’s The Goldbergs, Segal was a versatile, improv-trained Columbia University grad with a gift for bringing out the best in costars including Barbra Streisand, Elliott Gould and Mary Tyler Moore (in the brilliant comedy Flirting With Disaster). He starred opposite Jason Robards in Broadway’s The Iceman Cometh and in screen adaptations of stage classics Death of a Salesman and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, whose director, Mike Nichols, said he had “masculinity and sensitivity, plus a brain. His conflicting quality — half rough and half gentle and the mind to control it — gives an element of surprise to whatever he does.” The Great Neck, New York, native is survived by his wife, Sonia Segal, his high school sweetheart.
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PHOTO BY: James Sorensen/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images
Yaphet Kotto, actor, 81
(Nov. 15, 1939 — March 15, 2021) As a Bond villain, he was Mr. Big. Kotto also loomed large in iconic hits such as Alien and The Wire — and it’s been reported that he turned down roles that Billy Dee Williams and Patrick Stewart made famous in Star Wars and Star Trek. Descended from African royalty — and, he claimed, Queen Elizabeth’s distant relation — he grew up practicing Judaism, the religion of his parents, in the Bronx, New York. Yaphet is Hebrew for “beautiful.” He smashed stereotypes as the Sicilian-African American Lt. Al Giardello on TV's Homicide: Life on the Street, as well as in films such as Midnight Run, Blue Collar and Live and Let Die. Director Ava DuVernay called him “one of those actors who deserved more than the parts he got. But he took those parts and made them wonderful all the same. A star.”
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PHOTO BY: Simon Hofmann/Getty Images for Laureus
Marvelous Marvin Hagler, boxer, 66
(May 23, 1954 — March 13, 2021) He was known as Marvelous Marvin for a few reasons: The World Boxing Hall of Famer with an intimidating southpaw stance was the middleweight champion through most of the 1980s — six years and seven months from 1980 to 1987, when he lost to Sugar Ray Leonard in a much-disputed decision. His was the longest middleweight reign in the past century after Tony Zale’s, and included a famously vicious fight with Thomas Hearns in 1985. Another reason for his bold moniker? He legally changed his name to include “Marvelous” in 1982. Angry over the decision in the Leonard fight, he quit boxing and moved to Italy, where he became an actor — starring in the Italian action comedy Virtual Weapon (1997), among a few other films.
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PHOTO BY: Andy Kropa/Getty Images
Vernon Jordan, lawyer, civil rights activist, 85
(Aug. 15, 1935 — March 1, 2021) A civil rights activist and Washington power broker, Vernon Jordan survived a racist assassin’s bullet in 1980, saying afterward: “I’m not afraid and I won’t quit.” After joining the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People soon after graduating from Howard Law School, Jordan went on to lead the United Negro College Fund and at the age of 31 was named president of the National Urban League. After leading those groups, he reinvented himself as a confidant to the political elite and a corporate influencer. He was a close friend to President Bill Clinton, and as head of Clinton’s first-term transition team he approached Colin Powell about becoming the new president’s secretary of state. Jordan, who grew up in the segregated South, sat on the boards of more than a dozen companies and had a reputation for persuading corporate leaders to hire more African American workers and support institutions that helped Black Americans.
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PHOTO BY: Carlos Avila Gonzalez/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet, 101
(March 24, 1919 — Feb. 22, 2021) Having experienced the early loss of both parents, WWII service at Nagasaki and D-Day, and grad school at Columbia and the Sorbonne, Ferlinghetti cofounded San Francisco’s City Lights Books and launched Pauline Kael and the Beat poetry movement. In 1956, he published Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and defended it in the landmark First Amendment case that made Ginsberg famous. Ferlinghetti’s own 1958 poetry book, A Coney Island of the Mind, has over a million copies in print. He published his last autobiographical book, Little Boy, on his hundredth birthday in 2019. San Francisco’s first poet laureate, he fulfilled his 1958 ambition: “To get poetry out of the inner esthetic sanctum and out of the classroom into the street.”
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PHOTO BY: Julie Smith/AP Photo
Rush Limbaugh, radio talk show host, 70
(Jan. 12, 1951 — Feb. 17, 2021) For more than two decades, Rush Limbaugh was the nation’s most acerbic, outspoken conservative radio talk show host, launching his nationally syndicated program during the Reagan administration. He was the first national radio host to focus almost exclusively on politics, and his take on the talk show genre was mimicked by other radio personalities across the country. At its peak, his audience reached 20 million Americans. Few people were on the fence about Limbaugh — either loving his sarcastic and pugnacious monologues on the air or reviling them as divisive and bombastic. In response to a caller who once said he was a manipulator, devious and evil, Limbaugh replied: “Nobody makes you listen to me,” adding, “The show is about having fun.” Limbaugh announced to his audience last February that he was suffering from lung cancer. The next night, President Donald Trump announced during his State of the Union address that Limbaugh would be receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
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PHOTO BY: Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via AP
Chick Corea, musician, 79
(June 12, 1941 — Feb. 9, 2021) Armando Anthony “Chick” Corea first heard jazz played by his Dixieland trumpter dad, learned piano at 4, went to Columbia and Juilliard, and became a professional in Cab Calloway’s band. He helped invent jazz-rock fusion on Miles Davis’ biggest hit album, Bitches Brew, and in his own influental band Return to Forever. A master of many styles and exponent of everyone from Mozart to Thelonious Monk and Stevie Wonder, he earned 23 Grammys, the most for any jazz artist in history.
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PHOTO BY: Paul Archuleta/Getty Images
Mary Wilson, singer, 76
(March 6, 1944 — Feb. 8, 2021) A founding member of the glamorous 1960s Motown act the Supremes, whose popularity crossed racial lines in a time of cultural upheaval, Wilson started her career fresh out of high school, joining Diana Ross and Florence Ballard to record hit after hit (“Baby Love,” “Come See About Me,” “Stop! In the Name of Love”). Wilson had a successful solo career, and planned to release more music before she passed away. But as she said in her bestselling memoir Dreamgirl, being a Supreme remained central to her identity, despite tension with Ross and other conflicts. “My whole life is like a dream. I tell you — if I were not a Supreme, I would want to be a Supreme,” she said in a 2019 interview, calling her group "three little black girls who made our dreams come true. We never won a Grammy, but we got the money, so who cares?"
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PHOTO BY: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
George P. Shultz, former secretary of state, 100
(Dec. 13, 1920 — Feb. 6, 2021) As secretary of state, George P. Shultz was a key confidant and influencial adviser to President Ronald Reagan in the beginning of his effort to end the Cold War. A fixture in Washington for decades before joining the Reagan Cabinet, Shultz had served President Richard Nixon as labor secretary, treasury secretary and budget director. Shultz continued to speak out on issues ranging from nuclear weapons to climate change well into his 90s. He spent much of his career determined to reduce the threat of nuclear war, and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed in 1987, was considered his key achievement in that arena. At the time of his death, Shultz was a fellow at the Hoover Institution and professor emeritus at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. When he turned 100 in December, Shultz wrote that the one lesson he learned over and over throughout his career was: “Trust is the coin of the realm.” Without it, he said, “good things did not happen.”
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PHOTO BY: Amy Sussman/Invision/AP
Christopher Plummer, actor, 91
(Dec. 13, 1929 — Feb. 5, 2021) The Canadian-born actor had one of the most iconic roles in movie history: Capt. Georg von Trapp, the widowed naval officer who wooed Julie Andrews’ Maria in the 1965 musical The Sound of Music. But later, he expressed disdain for the hit (“That damn movie follows me around like an albatross,” he once told People) — considering it cloying and overly sentimental. He seemed much prouder of his roles in Shakespearean theater. In more recent years he became the oldest Oscar winner (for 2011’s Beginners), turned out must-watch performances in 2017, as J. Paul Getty in All the Money in the World and Scrooge in The Man Who Invented Christmas, and renounced plans to retire — ever. “I love my work,” he told the AP in 2017. “I hope to drop dead onstage. That’s what I really want to do.”
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PHOTO BY: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic
Cloris Leachman, actress, 94
(April 30, 1926 — Jan. 26, 2021) A versatile talent, she spent her $1,000 Miss America contest winnings on tuition at the Actors Studio, then appeared with Katharine Hepburn in As You Like It and played a hitchhiker in the iconic noir Kiss Me Deadly. She won fame at 44 as the self-absorbed Phyllis on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, earned an Oscar as a tragic schoolteacher’s wife in The Last Picture Show, upstaged costars as horse-scaring Frau Blücher in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, and at 82 outdanced Kim Kardashian as the oldest performer on Dancing With the Stars. On her 90th birthday, she tweeted, “Remember, no matter what I’ll always be younger than @BettyMWhite.”
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PHOTO BY: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images
Hal Holbrook, actor, 95
(Feb. 17, 1925 — Jan. 23, 2021) The lanky actor with the gravelly voice told his 1947 college mentor, “This Mark Twain thing is pretty corny.” But Holbrook’s Twain monologue act got him on Ed Sullivan’s show, and led to a Tony Award, five Emmys, roles as Lincoln (in three different TV shows), John Adams, Deep Throat in All the President’s Men, a finance wizard in Wall Street, his wife Dixie Carter’s boyfriend on Designing Women, and the hero’s mentor in Into the Wild, which made him the oldest male Oscar nominee in history at 82. He played Mark Twain onstage more than 2,200 times for over 20 million people, and for 70 years — longer than Samuel Clemens, who portrayed himself as Mark Twain for 47 years.
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PHOTO BY: Jordan Strauss/Stringer/Getty Images
Larry King, talk show host, 87
(Nov. 19, 1933 — Jan. 23, 2021) After a 63-year career that prospered despite his 33-year struggle with heart disease, cancer, diabetes and, finally, COVID-19, the legendarily folksy journalist died in Los Angeles. In his radio shows, his USA Today column, and his 1985–2010 CNN show Larry King Live, he interviewed celebrities and became one, chatting with presidents from Nixon to Trump and artists from Frank Sinatra to Lady Gaga. Asked in 2013 for the secret of his indefatigable success, King said, “I’m 80 years old, and I don’t know what I’m going to be when I grow up.”
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PHOTO BY: David Goldman/AP Photo
Hank Aaron, former Major League Baseball home run king, 86
(Feb. 5, 1934 — Jan. 22, 2021) One of eight children and born in an Alabama home without electricity, Aaron learned to play baseball by hitting bottle caps with sticks. With real bats, he earned the moniker Hammerin’ Hank, breaking Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1974. Ruth’s widow said he would have congratulated him, but Aaron was inundated with racist hate letters. “I like to think every one of them added another home run to my total,” he said. “My hope is one day people will judge me by character rather than by the context of my color. You gotta do all you can to try and make things better for other people.” Aaron, now number two on the all-time home run list, is baseball’s career leader in runs batted in.
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PHOTO BY: Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic
Siegfried Fischbacher, magician, 81
(June 13, 1939 — Jan. 13, 2021) Master illusionist Fischbacher has died of pancreatic cancer, about eight months after his partner, Roy Horn, passed away from COVID-19 complications. When Siegfried and Roy did a magic show on a cruise ship, which is where they met, Horn said, “Disappearing rabbits is ordinary, but can you make a cheetah disappear?” They got fired for doing so but won fame for their glitzier-than-Liberace, $30 million Las Vegas show featuring lions and tigers, one of which nearly killed Horn onstage in 2003. Said Fischbacher, “We had the most successful show in the history of Las Vegas anyway.”
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PHOTO BY: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
Tommy Lasorda, Major League Baseball manager, 93
(Sept. 22, 1927 — Jan. 7, 2021) A legendary Major League Baseball manager who won more than 1,500 games, Tommy Lasorda will be forever associated with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He managed the team from 1976 to 1996, winning two World Series and four National League titles, and building a reputation as an ambassador for the game he loved. Lasorda had a modest career as a pitcher in the 1950s, then worked his way through the Dodgers organization in management positions in the 1960s and 1970s before getting the manager’s job. In a position that often draws dour personalities, Lasorda was the opposite: It was impossible to watch him at work and not feel his joy for the game and his team. That continued even after he retired, with Lasorda a regular presence at Dodgers games and events. “His heart was bigger than his talent, and there were no foul lines for his enthusiasm,” longtime Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully said of Lasorda.
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