Deaths in 2021: headlines amid pandemic


Hank Aaron was gone. So are Stephen Sondheim and Bob Dole and Cicely Tyson and Larry King and Joan Didion. Prince Philip, two months under 100, was buried with all the royal pomp one would expect. But in a year that has seen the deaths of a multitude of personalities who have helped shape our times over the past decades, none have spoken more of the still perilous present moment than that of Colin Powell.

Her death came not only against the backdrop of a global pandemic, but also as another victim of it. And her case spoke of the vagaries of an elusive, mutant virus that has besieged the world. He had been vaccinated, after all, and was in the best care at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and still succumbed, his 84-year-old immune system compromised by multiple myeloma.

Powell has joined a death toll that has topped 800,000 in the country he has long served, both in the military and in the halls of government, and 4 million worldwide. There have been other influencers who have fallen due to COVID-19.

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No less than four American political right-wing talk radio hosts have died from the virus after dismissing the idea of ​​being vaccinated against it, echoing the message from their most prominent radio peer, Rush Limbaugh, who had compared the virus to the common cold. He also died in February of lung cancer.

Back on Capitol Hill, tributes were paid to some of its pillars: Harry Reid, the former Senate Majority Leader; John Warner, the distinguished Republican of Virginia identified forever as Elizabeth Taylor’s No.6; Walter Mondale, the liberal Minnesota senator turned vice president whose White House ambitions were buried in a Reagan landslide; and, of course, Dole, the Kansas Republican who carried his WWII wounds to half a century of public service under the same dome that rose above him as his body was on display there just a few weeks away.

Warriors for a cause

The world as a whole has lost a host of dignitaries whose battles were in the political arena. One of them was FW de Klerk, the South African president who broke down the barriers of apartheid, a white power structure that collapsed in large part because another Nobel laureate from peace, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, had pounded him from the pulpit.

On the other side of the world, two former strongmen who ruled South Korea in back-to-back regimes in the ’80s and’ 90s have died less than a month apart: first, in October, Roh Tae -woo, a former general who oversaw the transition from dictatorship to democracy; then, in November, Chun Doo-hwan, the dictator who seized power in a coup and then chose his friend Roh to succeed him.

In Argentina, the charismatic Carlos Saúl Menem, beneficiary of the first peaceful transfer of power from one constitutionally elected party to another since 1916, has died at the age of 90, after having presided over an astonishing economic recovery during his 10 years of reign. , 1989-99, only to fall from grace, slaughtered by corruption.

In the Middle East, there was Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, who tried unsuccessfully to resist the rise of religious radicalism as the first president of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Donald Rumsfeld, a colleague of Powell in the White House of George W. Bush, would help, as Secretary of Defense, to push the United States in a new invasion, after Afghanistan, in Iraq.

Arenas and stages

In sport, the coaching ranks have taken an unusually heavy toll. The NFL has lost, among others, John Madden, whose winning decade with the Oakland Raiders was only a prelude to a more sensational run as the most colorful color TV commentator and king of video games, and Marty Schottenheimer, winner of 200 in the regular season. games with four NFL franchises. College football has lost Bobby Bowden, the architect of a power plant in the state of Florida; college basketball lost John Chaney, who led Temple’s Owls to 17 NCAA tournaments.

And if the baseball managers in the dugout can be lumped together with the head coaches on the sidelines, then a final tip from the cap must be paid to the irrepressible Tommy Lasorda, who had, as he liked to say with only one slight hyperbole, bled Blue Dodger.

Henry Aaron’s death, of course, made headlines, along with stories of his exploits at home and the racial animosity they sparked among those who couldn’t accept the idea of a black man overtaking Babe Ruth. But other stars have also fallen, their exploits now sporting: the acrobatic striker Elgin Baylor of the Lakers; the lightning fast Rod Gilbert (“Mr. Ranger”), who wowed hockey fans at Madison Square Garden. In motor racing, brothers Bobby, 87, and Al Unser, 82 – born into the sport’s most illustrious family in the same decade – died seven months apart.

Performers from another mold had left their mark on stages and screens. Christopher Plummer was Georg von Trapp, of course, in “The Sound of Music”, but also too many other characters to count in his rich seven decades as an actor.

Cicely Tyson was two indelible characters: Rebecca, the invincible wife of a Louisiana tenant farmer imprisoned in “Sounder,” and the main character of “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” who survived the Civil Rights Age, for 110 years, recalling his memories of slavery.

Olympia Dukakis will forever be Rose, Cher’s sardonically wise mother in “Moonstruck”; Cloris Leachman, Mary Richards’ fickle landlady on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”; Hal Holbrook, a one-man show by Mark Twain; Michael K. Williams, the boastful and openly gay thug of “The Wire”; and Ed Asner, who other than Lou Grant?

You could also say that Larry King was an artist, hosting radio and television talk shows seemingly forever, but he only ever played his talkative, curious, and kind self. Norm Macdonald was as comfortable alone on stage as he was in a “Saturday Night Live” sketch or his own sitcom.

The front stage did not experience a greater loss in 2021 than that of Stephen Sondheim, who, although he rarely bowed to the encore, could nonetheless bask under the applause of a grateful theatrical world enriched by his music and his words.

A drummer and a rapper

In a very different musical sphere, Charlie Watts, the solemnly distant drummer of The Rolling Stones, became the second member of this anti-aging group to die, at age 80 (after Brian Jones half a century ago). Mary Wilson was the second to do so among the original three Motown Supremes (after Florence Ballard). Michael Nesmith left only one of the four Monkees still standing (Micky Dolenz). And with the death of Don Everly seven years after that of young Phil, the Everly Brothers will only survive in their successful recordings of yesteryear.

Faster in memory were the explosive lyrics of rapper Earl Simmons, aka DMX, who channeled the wicked streets of his childhood in Yonkers, New York, into No.1 albums. He was only 50 years old.

Jazz pianist at heart Chick Corea has found a new audience by infusing his rock music. And flautist, composer and conductor Johnny Pacheco, one of many Latin musicians to die this year, has spread salsa everywhere.

If Pacheco intended to broaden a genre, Larry McMurtry, in the world of letters, was there to subvert one – the western – by abandoning the cowboy and outlaw mythologies of ten-a-side novels. sub in favor of unvarnished stories like “Lonesome Dove” and “The Last Picture Show.”

Anne Rice, meanwhile, relived the gothic horror tale with vampire stories. Beverly Cleary was a virtual cottage industry of children’s books, as she uncovered unlikely dramas and mysteries in the American middle class.

Many pioneers in the scientific community died in 2021, including Nobel laureates who helped unravel the secrets of the universe (Toshihide Maskawa’s eureka moment, to understand why the big bang did not destroy said universe, came in the tub) and explorers, like EO Wilson, who discovered clues about human nature in the biosphere.


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