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    A look back at those who died in 2023

    On a November afternoon in tiny Plains, Georgia, former first daughter Amy Carter, now a 56-year-old woman out of the spotlight for decades, reluctantly approached the microphone at the funeral for her mother, Rosalynn Carter, 96.

    “I chose something that is hard to read without crying,’’ she said. “My mom spent most of her life in love with my dad.”

    She then unfolded a letter that Jimmy Carter had written to his wife 75 years ago when he was in the Navy. Unable to speak, the former president, 99, listened from a hospital bed wheeled into the crowded church.

    “My darling,” the letter began.

    The televised service and VIP-filled pews – three presidents, all five living first ladies – was familiar and somber, and yet marked a brief return to normalcy in today’s chaotic culture of mean-spirited memes and digital cynicism. Death and remembrance do that.In this year’s annual “Passages,” USA TODAY’s roundup of the most notable deaths of 2023, there are lifetimes of such losses. The accomplishments of those who came before, the true “influencers” of their times, can be measured by their impact on our culture, our nation and, most importantly, on the lives of those around them. The departed leave lessons and sometimes spark smiles amid the tears.

    It’s hard not to smile at the hyper-energized joy of singer Tina Turner, 83, who never did anything “nice and easy,” and influenced everyone from Janis Joplin to Beyoncé. “You have paved the way,” remembered Beyoncé, who teamed with Turner on “Proud Mary” at the Grammys in 2008. “You are strength and resilience.”

    Defying trends was singer Tony Bennett, 96, a kid from Queens who shortened his name from Benedetto because it had too many syllables. Through rock, disco and rap, he never gave up his embrace of the Great American Songbook. “For my money, the best singer in the business,” rival Frank Sinatra once said.

    Testing cultural boundaries was television producer Norman Lear, 101, whose socially aware comedies such as “All in the Family,” “Maude” and “The Jeffersons” brought issues such as racism, gay rights and abortion to prime time. You can get away with it, Lear said, “as long as you stay strong and the ratings are good.” They were.

    A lifetime of music and activism marked the long career of singer and actor Harry Belafonte, 96. “He lived a good life,” said former President Barack Obama. “Transforming the arts while also standing up for civil rights.”

    Others like television evangelist Pat Robertson, 93, divided the nation. A self-described “happy warrior,” he drew criticisms for relentlessly targeting homosexuals, Democrats and social welfare. Nonetheless, “he transformed the Republican Party and with it American politics,” said Christian activist Ralph Reed. 

    Controversial as well was the architect of U.S. foreign policy through much of the 20th century, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, 100, who opened the path to China for President Richard Nixon but also helped prosecute and end the Vietnam War. He won a Nobel Peace Prize even as he was denounced by some as a war criminal.

    And then there were deaths that simply shocked everyone, such as amiable “Friends” actor Matthew Perry, 54, who drowned in his hot tub. “This has cut deep,” said his former co-star Jennifer Aniston. “Rest, little brother. You always made my day.”

    Few knew actor Andre Braugher, 61, popular star of “Homicide” and “Brooklyn-Nine-Nine” was battling lung cancer before he died in December. “An extraordinary actor but, more profoundly, the departure of a warm and kind soul,” said producer Shonda Rhimes.

    Lance Reddick, 60, popular star of “The Wire” and the John Wick movies died of a stroke. “A man of great strength and grace,” remembered actor Wendell Pierce. “The epitome of class.”

    Unexpected too was the loss of feel-good singer Jimmy Buffett, 76, a victim of cancer. With roots in calypso and toes deep in middle-class vacation dreams, Buffett knew it was always 5 o’clock in Margaritaville. His Parrothead fans were as reliable as Deadheads or Swifties, all searching for that “lost shaker of salt.”With 42% of Americans born after 1980, according to the U.S. Census, to millennials and beyond, some of the departed may be simply names from the 20th century, if those generations remember them at all. But these people were all, for good or bad, shapers of what was to come.

    Newsmakers who made a difference

    Prominent deaths also included the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, 93, a conservative who cast swing votes on social issues such as abortion and affirmative action; Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, 90, of California; global civil rights activist Randall Robinson, 81; military analyst Daniel Ellsberg, 92, who released the secret Pentagon Papers in 1971 about Vietnam; Dr. Susan Love, 75, a surgeon and advocate for breast cancer research; and former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Newton Minow, 97, who memorably called television a “vast wasteland.”

    Patricia Schroeder, 82, Colorado’s first female member of Congress, ran unsuccessfully for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination; Kevin Phillips, 82, helped develop a “Southern strategy” for Republicans in the 1970s; Roslyn Pope, 84, wrote “An Appeal for Human Rights” in 1960 that helped advance the civil rights movement; and Samuel Wurzelbacher, 49, known as “Joe the Plumber,” became a favorite of conservatives in the 2008 presidential campaign.

    They were the entertainment of our lives

    Actors lost also included Ryan O’Neal, 82, star of hit films such as “Love Story,’’ which brought tears to moviegoers in 1970. “A huge part of my success was due to his generosity as my co-star,’’ said Ali MacGraw. “We remained friends ever after.”

    Oscar-winner Alan Arkin, 89, was a reliable character actor in more than 100 films, including “Wait Until Dark” and “The In-Laws”; Richard Roundtree, 81, helped kick off Black action movies with “Shaft” in 1971; Italian movie icon Gina Lollobrigida, 95, was called “the most beautiful woman in the world”; in America, Raquel Welch, 82, softened her sex-symbol image with comic roles; Israeli actor Topol, 87, starred in Broadway and film versions of “Fiddler on the Roof”; and two-time Oscar winner Glenda Jackson, 87, went on to join British Parliament. “The greatest actor this country has ever produced,’’ said England’s Jonathan Pryce.

    Remembered from “Rocky” was tough-guy actor Burt Young, 83; David McCallum, 90, a stylish superspy in “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”; Piper Laurie, 91, whose movies included “The Hustler” and “Carrie”; Stella Stevens, 84, climbed to safety in “The Poseidon Adventure”; Melinda Dillon, 83, starred in “A Christmas Story” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”; Lisa Loring, 64, was sardonic daughter Wednesday on TV’s “The Addams Family”; and Phyllis Coates, 96, played a plucky Lois Lane in the first season of “Adventures of Superman” on TV.Game show legend Bob Barker, 99, hosted “The Price Is Right” for 35 years, saying audiences “liked me well enough to invite me into their homes”; Paul Reubens, 70, was unforgettable as the children’s character Pee-wee Herman; child actor Adam Rich, 54, from “Eight Is Enough”; comedian Richard Belzer, 78, played a grumpy detective on “Law & Order: SVU”; Cindy Williams, 75, was Shirley of “Laverne & Shirley”; and fitness guru Suzanne Somers, 76, who was fired when she fought for equal pay on “Three’s Company.”

    Soap opera losses included Jackie Zeman, 70, a “bad girl turned heroine” on “General Hospital” for 45 years; Ellen Holly, 92, of “One Life to Live,” the first Black actor to appear on a soap opera (the show also lost Andrea Evans, 66); Nancy Frangione, 70, on “All My Children”; and from “Days of Our Lives,” Arleen Sorkin, 67, who was also the original animated voice of Harley Quinn.

    Reliable character actor Michael Lerner, 81, was in “Elf” and “Barton Fink”; Ron Cephas Jones, 66, won an Emmy for his role on “This Is Us”; George Maharis, 94, shared weekly adventures on “Route 66”; Marlene Clark, 85, held her own on the wise-cracking “Sanford and Son”; Michael Gambon, 82, played everyone from Othello to Dumbledore; comedians Pat Cooper, 93, and Mark Russell, 90; Barry Humphries, 89, performed as Dame Edna; and Bill Saluga, 85, remembered for his “You can call me Ray” routine.

    Also gone are Mark Margolis, 83, who played the paralyzed drug lord who communicated by bell on “Breaking Bad”; TV tap dancer Arthur Duncan, 97; “Dancing with the Stars” judge Len Goodman, 78; Andrea Friedman, 53, actress with Down syndrome on “Life Goes On”; Robert Blake, 89, star of “Baretta,” whose career collapsed after he was acquitted of killing his wife; Angus Cloud, 25, star of HBO’s “Euphoria”; TV evangelist Charles Stanley, 90; “Bling Empire” matriarch Anna Shay, 62; and shock TV host Jerry Springer, 79, who ended each episode by saying “take care of yourselves, and each other.”

    Behind the scenes were movie mogul Walter Mirisch, 101; underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger, 96; “Exorcist” and “French Connection” director William Friedkin, 87; “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” screenwriter Bo Goldman, 90; children’s TV producer Marty Krofft, 86; and longtime “Saturday Night Live” set designer Eugene Lee, 83.

    Remembered for music and more

    Guitar heroes included Britain’s Jeff Beck, 78, who played with The Yardbirds, Rod Stewart and made rock classics feel new again; Robbie Robertson, 80, who with The Band wrote Americana music such as “The Weight”; Denny Laine, 79, founder of the Moody Blues and member of Paul McCartney’s Wings; Bernie Marsden, 72, of Whitesnake; Journey’s George Tickner, 76; and Tom Verlaine, 73, of punk rock’s Television.

    The outspoken David Crosby, 81, founding member of the Byrds, and later Crosby, Stills and Nash, spent nine months in jail for drug possession, and later wrote a personal advice column for Rolling Stone magazine; Irish singer Sinéad O’Connor, 56, shocked viewers by tearing up a photo of the pope on “Saturday Night Live”; Canadian folk singer Gordon Lightfoot, 84; Earth, Wind & Fire drummer Fred White, 67; George “Funky” Brown, 74, drummer for Kool & the Gang; folk singer Len Chandler, 88; and Randy Meisner, 77, of the Eagles.

    Gone also are John Gosling, 75, of the Kinks; Smash Mouth singer Steve Harwell, 56; Gary Rossington, 71, last original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd; Procol Harum lyricist Keith Reid, 76; Chieftains fiddler Seán Keane, 76; Andy Rourke, 59, of the Smiths; Moon Bin, 25, K-pop star of boy band Astro; Bobby Osborne, 91, of country music’s the Osborne Brothers; and bluegrass picker Jesse McReynolds, 93.

    From the early days of rock and pop were Huey “Piano” Smith, 89, whose “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu” defined what rock and roll was all about; Jean Knight, 80, who recorded “Mr. Big Stuff”; Motown’s Barrett Strong, 81, the first to record “Money (That’s What I Want”); Charlie Thomas, 85, of the Drifters; Katherine Anderson, 79, of the Marvelettes; Larry Chance, 82, of the Earls, said to be discovered on a street corner; Rudolph Isley, 84; and Fuzzy Haskins, 81, who channeled the doo-wop sound into Parliament-Funkadelic.

    The world of jazz and improvisation lost pianist Peter Nero, 89, who could mix jazz, classics and pop; saxophonist Wayne Shorter, 89; Astrud Gilberto, 83, the voice behind “The Girl From Ipanema”; trombonist Curtis Fowlkes, 73; pianists Ahmad Jamal, 92, and George Winston, 74; bass player Richard Davis, 93; and experimental composer Carla Bley, 87, who on NPR praised musicians “able to survive without large record companies.”

    Gone also are classical pianist André Watts, 77; Oscar-winning composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, 71; opera sopranos Renata Scotto, 89, and Grace Bumbry, 86; post-modern choreographer Rudy Perez, 93; ballerinas Lupe Serrano, 92, and Lynn Seymour, 83.

    The hip-hop world lost Memphis rapper Lola Mitchell, 43, known as Gangsta Boo; Dove Shack rapper Arnez Blount, 52, known as C-Knight; David Jolicoeur, 54, of De La Soul; and Melvin “Magoo” Barcliff, 50, who worked with Timbaland and Missy Elliott.

    Behind the scenes were songwriters like Burt Bacharach, 94, a three-time Oscar winner whose many hits include “Walk On By,” “Alfie” and “The Look of Love”; Cynthia Weil, 92, who with husband Barry Mann wrote hits like “On Broadway” and “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling”; Bobby Schiffman, 94, who made Harlem’s Apollo Theater a showcase for R&B; and Jerry Moss, 88, who with Herb Alpert founded A&R Records.Also gone are Bob Feldman, 83, who co-wrote “Hang On Sloopy”; Chicago DJ Casper, 58, creator of the “Cha Cha Slide”; Clarence Avant, 92, adviser to numerous Black artists; CoCo Lee, 48, singer-songwriter from Mandarin version of “Mulan”; and Seymour Stein, 80, who gave punk a home on his Sire Records, and signed Madonna, who said later “he changed and shaped my world.”

    Sports legends set standards for new generations

    In some cases, you only have to say the names of sports legends who died in 2023: Jim Brown, 87 (Cleveland Browns running back); Brooks Robinson, 86 (Baltimore Orioles third baseman); Bobby Hull, 84 (Chicago Blackhawks scoring leader); Bob Knight, 83 (Indiana college basketball coach); Willis Reed, 80 (two-time New York Knicks champion); and Dick Butkus, 80 (fierce linebacker for the Chicago Bears).

    In baseball, Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Dick Groat, 92; New York Yankees outspoken outfielder Joe Pepitone, 82; Oakland A’s pitcher Vida Blue, 73, and third baseman Sal Bando, 78; Roger Craig, 93, who pitched and managed for four World Series teams; Jesus Alou, 80, youngest of the three Alou brothers; San Diego Padres power hitter Nate Colbert, 76; sluggers Frank Howard, 87, of the Washington Senators, and Frank Thomas, 93, original New York Met; Detroit reliever Willie Hernández, 69, who helped lead the Tigers to a championship in 1984; and pitcher Jean Faut, 98, of the women’s baseball league’s South Bend Blue Sox.

    The NFL mourned among others wide receiver Otis Taylor, 80, who won Super Bowl IV with the Kansas City Chiefs; Minnesota Vikings coach Bud Grant, 95, and quarterback Joe Kapp, 85; the “Intimidator,” San Francisco linebacker Dave Wilcox, 80; and New York Giants wide receiver Homer Jones, 82, the first to spike a football after a touchdown.

    Also gone are Larry “Gator” Rivers, 73, of the Harlem Globetrotters; University of Louisville basketball coach Denny Crum, 86, who won two NCAA titles; two-time World series champion and TV announcer Tim McCarver, 81; college basketball announcer Billy Packer, 82; and Pittsburgh sportscaster Stan Savran, 76.

    Other notables included Ferdie Pacheco, 89, the ringside “fight doctor” for Muhammed Ali and others; pro wrestlers Antonio Inoki, 79, and “The Iron Sheik” Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, 81; golfers Andy Bean, 70, and Don January, 93; 55-time LPGA champion Betsy Rawls, 95; and racer Craig Breedlove, 86, the first to drive 600 mph.

    In Olympic lore were Ralph Boston, 83, the first to long jump 27 feet; track star Tori Bowie, 32; diver Pat McCormick, 92; Dick Fosbury, 76, namesake of the “Fosbury Flop,” the backward leap over the high bar; and pole vaulter Bob Richards, 97, the first athlete to be featured on a Wheaties box.

    They made us think, laugh and cry

    Among authors were Cormac McCarthy, 89, whose violent imagery included “No Country for Old Men” and “The Road”; gritty crime novelist Anne Perry, 84; Martin Amis, 73, who revealed the excesses of modern life; romance novelist Julie Garwood, 78; mystery novelist Carol Higgins Clark, 66; Louise Meriwether, 100, who wrote of growing up in Harlem; Milan Kundera, 94, who wrote “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”; and Harold Kushner, 88, a rabbi who wrote “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.”

    Influential were Robert Gottlieb, 92, who edited books by Toni Morrison, John le Carré and Robert Caro; James Hoge, 87, editor of Foreign Affairs magazine; Betty Rollin, 87, whose “First You Cry” chronicled her battle with breast cancer; Mimi Sheraton, 97, first female food critic for The New York Times; Heather Armstrong, 47, known as the “queen of the mommy bloggers”; and feminist advocate Linda Hirshman, 79, who argued that the “true glass ceiling for women is at home.”Humorist Dan Greenburg, 87, wrote the bestselling “How to Be a Jewish Mother” in 1964; Ian Falconer, 63, created the children’s character Olivia; Mary Ann Hoberman, 92, wrote rhyming children’s books; designers Mary Quant, 93, and Jane Birkin, 76; Tatjana Patitz, 56, one of the original supermodels; and photojournalist Kwame Brathwaite, 85, helped popularize “Black is beautiful.”

    Gone are New Yorker magazine illustrator Bruce McCall, 87, whose covers recalled fanciful cityscapes of the 1940s; Roger Kastel, 92, who terrified moviegoers with his shark poster for “Jaws”; Marvel artist John Romita, 93, who brought love and tragedy to Spider-Man; and cartoonist Al Jaffee, 102, known for the Mad Fold-Ins in MAD magazine, who in his 90s would not turn to computers: “I still like the feel of ink on paper.”

    Making money and building futures

    Japan’s Shoichiro Toyoda, 97, saw Toyota take over the U.S. auto market; billionaire philanthropist Leon Levine, 85, was the founder of Family Dollar; takeover investor Sam Zell, 81, was the self-styled “chairman of everything, CEO of nothing.”

    Tech lost Adobe co-founder John Warnock, 82, and Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, 94.

    Graphic designer Burkey Belser, 76, created the ubiquitous nutrition label, which was welcomed by Consumer Reports president Rhoda Karpatkin, 93; Hedda Kleinfeld Schachter, 99, with her husband oversaw the nation’s largest bridal retailer, Kleinfeld’s; Marianne Mantell, 93, was a developer of audiobooks; and building an electric future was Nobel winner John B. Goodenough, 100, who helped develop lithium batteries.

    Finally, at the end of the tumultuous year of 1968, Frank Borman, who died last month at 95, was for the first time orbiting the moon on Christmas Eve with two other Apollo 8 astronauts. The Earth a blue marble in space, they took turns reading Genesis to the millions listening on the radio. Borman concluded this way:

    And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.”



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