17 Celebrities You Didn't Know Died In 2015 (Part 1)
This time of year, the Internet is full of articles memorializing the superstars we lost over the last 12 months -- icons like Leonard Nimoy, Christopher Lee, and Wes Craven. Sports fans will hear about legends Yogi Berra and Ernie Banks. But flying under the radar was the passing of plenty of fascinating people who touched your life in some way, even if you never knew their names.
So, every year at this time, Cracked likes to take a moment to memorialize the less famous deaths that you either missed, or forgot about after briefly seeing them trend on Twitter for an hour. As always, this is by no means comprehensive -- already it's long enough that we'll run it across two days (Part 2 tomorrow), and we realize this is just scratching the surface:
January 4: The Man Who Gave Us "Booya"
Stuart Scott, ESPN anchor and reporter.
"As cool as the other side of the pillow." That admittedly great line from SportsCenter mainstay Stuart Scott soon launched an onslaught of hyperbolic and nonsensical catchphrases from other, lesser anchors. But Scott's were just better and cooler. What else can you say besides "BOOYA!" when showing a highlight of a Ukrainian getting viciously dunked on?
Scott's near-constant presence on the network is made more impressive by the fact that he was far from a healthy man. He suffered from a host of chronic issues with his eyes, which any broadcaster worth his salt will tell you are very important and useful for delivering the news. Making matters worse was taking a football straight to his face while working out with the New York Jets in 2002. The injury was devastating, and he was forced to retrain his eyes to be able to work.
Still, he only missed a couple of months after the injury. He even continued his anchoring career when diagnosed with cancer in 2007. He worked through it, only taking a day off here and there for his chemotherapy sessions. And even then, it wasn't exactly a day off. After receiving his exhausting doses of medication, he would then immediately go work out at a mixed-martial arts gym.
It's amazing he was able to lift his leg that high with balls that big.
A mere five months before he passed, he appeared on an ESPN awards show to receive an honor of his own. He stood on stage and said a few words, which is remarkable considering he had four surgeries conducted on him in the previous week. Guy was tough, is what we're saying here.
January 10: The Ultimate Bit Actor
Taylor Negron, comedian, actor, and bad guy in The Last Boy Scout.
You've seen him in countless movies and TV shows. Likely half of his IMDB page hits are people who thought "what the shit was that guy in?!" Taylor Negron was that guy. And he was very good at it. One of his earliest roles was in Fast Times At Ridgemont High, when he famously delivered Jeff Spicoli's pizza mid-class.
Mr. Hand surely won't mind.
He played other service industry employees in his young career: a mailman in Better Off Dead, a gas station attendant in One Crazy Summer. He was never a star, but the guy stayed busy.
Negron also was an accomplished comedian and playwright. He started working the LA club circuit while he was still in high school. Among the people reading this, he's probably most well known for being the bad guy in the "kinda decent when you're 15, but terrible when you grow up" Bruce Willis vehicle The Last Boy Scout.
Where he came closer to killing Bruce Willis than a thousand Die Hard terrorists combined.
Numerous cameos in Seinfeld, Friends, and uh ... The Flintstones In Viva Rock Vegas ensured that his Wikipedia page would be in a steady rotation for curious viewers.
January 18: The Guy Who Changed How You Watch Sports (Very Slowly)
Tony Verna, inventor of instant replay.
There are some innovations that become so integral that it's hard to imagine how things worked before -- like, it's weird to think there was there was a time not too long ago when nobody used forks. Well if you watch sports at all, instant replay is like a fork -- the concept of watching a game and not having them replay key moments in slow motion over and over is just ... weird. Yet it only goes back to 1963.
That's when Tony Verna was broadcasting the Army-Navy football game, when a play happened that he found remarkable enough that he was sure viewers would want to see it again. He developed a technique to cue the tape at an exact moment that allowed him to replay it live. Aware that this was a new technology, he actually had to clue the audience in to the amazing shit he was doing, lest they think that the team was instantly scoring again or that they were trapped in a time loop.
"Please don't excitedly call your bookie or hang yourself just yet."
February 4: A Little-Known, Yet Huge Part of Star Wars
Richard Bonehill, actor and swordsmith who played like, half the parts in Star Wars.
The advantage of a fictional universe in which most of the population is either wearing a mask or in heavy monster makeup is that you can use the same actors over and over again. The downside for the performers is that's a pretty hard way to get famous. For instance, not even Star Wars fans know the name Richard Bonehill, despite being probably the busiest actor in the entire trilogy.
Sadly, they failed to cast him as "Killer of All Gungans."
Bonehill was basically the Swiss army knife in George Lucas' pocket. Whatever character was needed for a scene, he had the guy for the job. Need an extra Stormtrooper? "Richard! Get in here!" Down one TIE fighter pilot? "Bonehill! Stage three!"
Other roles he assumed in The Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi were as a rebel fighter, a Tauntaun handler, and, most famously, as Lando Calrissian's co-pilot Nien Nunb. A travelling spaceship's rearview mirror never revealed a more debonair/bewildering sight than the Millennium Falcon approaching from behind:
"It works every time."
He wasn't just limited to one franchise, either. He was basically the guy to call if you needed some sword work in your film. A skilled fencer and bladesman, Bonehill instructed actors how best to not murder themselves in films such as Rob Roy, Highlander, and Flash Gordon. But now you know he was the man in the Ree-Yees costume, and his legacy is secure behind that triad-of-dicks mask.
Attack Of The Bones.
February 19: The Writer Who Made Parks And Recreation Great
Harris Wittels, comedian, writer, and television producer.
Harris Wittels was one young, beloved comedy writer and performer, who packed a huge body of work into a short life. At once a frequent podcast guest, stand-up comedian, TV writer/producer, and even a drummer in a comics-led band, he helped lead a kind of alternative brand of comedy with the likes of Aziz Ansari, Sarah Silverman, and Louis C.K., whom he also toured with.
He coined the term "humblebrag," which is a boast clothed in a self-critical disguise ("I'm so clumsy, I accidentally spilled coffee in my Lamborghini! #klutz"), which became so popular it led to a book on the subject, and an enormously popular Twitter feed.
But Wittels' crowning achievement would have to be Parks And Recreation. While he had writing and producing success on shows such as Eastbound & Down, when he began writing (and later producing) Parks after the first season, the show hit its stride. He would become executive producer by season four.
The man created Duke Silver, a character that made Nick Offerman even cooler.
Wittels excelled at self-deprecation. Whether it was shitting on his own B-list material on Comedy Bang! Bang! or documenting his struggles with addiction, he never failed to poke fun at his own humanity.
March 12: The Genius Who Sold 85 Million Books (Without The Help Of A Movie Franchise)
Terry Pratchett cranked out more than 70 books, and if you like books or laughter at all, you should have read at least one of them by now. He was most famous for the Discworld series, writing 41 novels in a franchise that made him the second-most popular author in the U.K. behind J.K. Rowling. Unlike Rowling, Pratchett never had feature films made of his stories, possibly because they were utterly unfilmable. (Discworld takes place entirely on a giant disc balanced on the backs of four elephants who are themselves standing on the shell of an enormous turtle.)
The turtle isn't standing on anything, because star turtles can't stand. Don't be silly.
In 2007, Pratchett announced to the world that he had Alzheimer's disease via an online post titled simply "An Embuggerance," assuring readers that he could still get a few more books done before his mind went. The final messages posted under his name on Twitter were:
April 28: The Singer of the "Pornographic" Song "Louie Louie"
Jack Ely, Kingsmen singer.
If you think it's hard to understand what Kurt Cobain or Bob Dylan were saying in most of their songs, take an ear gander at Jack Ely. As a result of being thrust into singing a song at the last minute in order to achieve a "live feel," the impromptu vocalist reared his head back and screamed the 1963 hit "Louie Louie."
In the original draft, "Louie" was the actual singer, and the song was a general question as to his whereabouts.
The record-buying public wasn't the only group that had trouble with the hard-to-discern lyrics. Rumors began to swirl that some of the words were of a pornographic nature, especially if one slowed the record down. Even the FBI stepped in to investigate.
"We have learned that 1963 is going to be a slow year for us. Probably."
It turns out, the song is merely about a sailor who misses his gal back home. The titular "Louie" is a bartender that has to hear about the poor guy's problems. The FBI either realized this fact or just plain didn't care in the end, as they came to the conclusion that the lyrics were "unintelligible at any speed."
May 4: The Rapping Granny
Ellen Albertini Dow.
From having lived 101 freaking years.
Any aspiring actors out there bummed that you haven't landed a film role yet? Well, Ellen Albertini Dow didn't get her first role until she was freaking 72 years old, after spending decades teaching theater and dance. She pursued acting as a retirement project ... then proceeded to work for another three goddamned decades. If you don't know her from the "Rapper's Delight" scene in The Wedding Singer ...
... you saw her as the foul-mouthed granny in Wedding Crashers:
She was also in a bunch of movies that didn't have "Wedding" in the title, but you get the idea.
May 14: A Blues Giant With A Big Guitar
B.B. King, blues pioneer.
A man described by Eric Clapton as "the most important artist the blues has ever produced," B.B. King was a nonstop performing and touring musician well into his 80s. He started in Mississippi picking cotton and singing songs on street corners, after dropping out of school in the 10th grade.
His career began to take off when he moved to Memphis and began playing bigger and bigger clubs. One night, two men got into a fight at a bar King was playing a gig at. Throwing punches over a woman named Lucille, they eventually got brawling so hard that they knocked over a kerosene heater, setting the place ablaze. King rushed back into the fire to grab his beloved guitar, which he named Lucille in honor of the occasion. It became a massive part of his identity, and he named every instrument he owned the same name forever after.
"Hey lady, what's your name?"
King didn't do anything halfway; he had 15 kids with 15 women, which equals the busiest Christmas mornings in the history of everything. He gambled profusely, especially after moving to Vegas in the mid-70s. Though he left school early, he studied language and mathematics well into his later life. He was also an avid Internet user and tech enthusiast, so much so that he schooled a young reporter on how to rip vinyl albums to make MP3s.
Finally, a hipster who was actually hip.
King's death was not without controversy. Two of his daughters fervently claimed that he was poisoned by two of his closest assistants. Doctors, who have studied medicine for some time, instead pointed their fingers at the Alzheimer's, diabetes, coronary disease, and heart failure that had ravaged his 89-year-old body. In other words, poison would likely have been the least of his problems.
June 11: The American Dream
Dusty Rhodes, professional wrestler.
Virgil Runnels was just a man who wore polka-dot wrestling shorts, utilized a vicious "Bionic Elbow" finishing move, and garnered numerous championships in both the NWA and WWF wrestling leagues. Wrestling fans know him better as Dusty Rhodes, "The American Dream." Rhodes was not a sculpted model of physique like Hulk Hogan, but what he lacked in any muscle tone whatsoever, he made up for with charisma.
He made "our country is dying because a mean dude owns a gold belt" seem like the most sensible point ever.
Rhodes was up for anything, be it barbed wire or cage matches, or free-for-all Battle Royals, he brought his exuberance and facial blood to every gathering. Rhodes observed that in some of these brutal encounters, he would have to "feel around and see if my nose is still on my face, look up in the morning, and see if my ears are still on my head."
You look fine, Dusty.
Rhodes went on to be enshrined in the Hall Of Fame in several wrestling leagues, and even had two of his sons follow in his footsteps, albeit in slightly better physical shape.
It's like looking into a mirror.
June 22: The Writer Of The Titanic Theme (And Half The Other Blockbusters You've Seen)
James Horner, Academy Award-winning composer.
James Horner was an absolute movie music giant: Aliens, Field Of Dreams, Glory, Apollo 13, Braveheart, freaking Titanic ... he's the guy who created those big, emotional scores that made you want to start bawling before you even knew what the movie was about. Nominated for 10 Oscars, which seems a little on the slim side, his scores each had a singular theme that burrowed its way inside your brain. In all, he composed the music for over 150 films.
Or, for a lot of people, one film 150 times over.
Oh, and Horner also had a hand in crafting the adventures you grew up with, including An American Tail, Willow, and Jumanji.
The saddest mouse-related story since that time Jerry laid down for an oncoming train.
Horner learned the piano at age 5, was doing the scores for low-budget movies right after he got out of college, and a few years after that, he was scoring Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan. Probably three-fourths of the Earth's population has heard at least one Horner tune in their lives and, unless they paid close attention to the credits, the vast majority of them never knew his name.
July 1: The Man Who Quietly Saved Over 600 Children
Sir Nicholas Winton, stockbroker/heroic rescuer of children.
Nicholas Winton was just an ordinary stockbroker in WWII-era England. Upon taking a trip to Czechoslovakia and seeing the burgeoning horror of what the Nazi war machine was embarking upon, he decided to take action. Winton returned to London and began the process of evacuating children from Prague and its surrounding areas. He would work regular days at his stock trading office, and then spend his nights securing a vast network of helpers at the borders, obtaining forged immigration documents, and then finding foster families that could take in the children when they arrived in England.
The fact that he did this looking like a cross between Atticus Finch and Clark Kent is purely coincidental.
All told, he arranged the rescue of 669 children by train, just before Germany formally invaded and took over Poland. That closed off the borders of neighboring countries completely, and made Winton's efforts much too risky, a fact that he struggled to live with, even after doing so much.
But quietly live with it he did. And by quiet, we mean that he told no one of the heroic deeds he made happen. Even after the war was over and it was safe to maybe be a little boastful and go "I SAVED ALL THESE KIDS BTW," Winton remained modest.
It wasn't until the 1980s, when his wife found an old scrapbook full of the kid's pictures and evacuation plans that he was compelled to tell his story. He reconnected with many of the children, and was lauded as kind of a "British Oskar Schindler." Oh yeah, if you feel like your tear ducts have been suffering from acute dryness lately, here's a clip of Winton being surprised on a television show, by many of the children for whom he made an entire lifetime possible:
July 5: The Burt's Bees Guy
Burt Shavitz, founder of Burt's Bees.
If you've ever bought yourself a little tin of Burt's Bees lip balm or facial cream, you've probably seen an elderly bearded fella on the front of it.
The Wicker Clause.
That's Burt Shavitz, the co-founder of the company, and the man who got screwed out of its success. Or maybe he screwed himself out of it? He created the small company with his lover, Roxanne Quimby. The two soon had a falling out -- rumors claimed he banged an employee -- and Quimby bought out Shavitz with a $130,000 house. Which might sound like a lot of money, until you realize that, five years later, Quimby sold 80 percent of her share of the company for 173 million fucking dollars. Then Clorox bought Burt's Bees for $925 million, which gained her another $300 million on top of that.
Seriously, the dog is making more than he is.
Shavitz, to his credit, was more than happy to retreat back to Maine, away from the business world. He did receive some compensation in later years from Quimby and for promotional appearances for the brand that still bears his hirsute likeness.
July 11: Nintendo's President
Satoru Iwata was one of the first corporate titans of gaming who actually grew up as a gamer. He grew up playing Pong and became president of Nintendo at the tender age of 42. He had some big shoes to fill, too -- the guy he succeeded (Hiroshi Yamauchi) had sat in that chair for 53 years and was the one who, back in the '80s, had the weird idea that Nintendo should try making video games for a change.
Why not both?
Iwata guided Nintendo through the GameCube, Wii, and DS years, and never came off like a "suit." Maybe that's because he wasn't -- he was a programmer by trade and, right out of college, worked on games like Earthbound and Kirby, and an early prototype of what would become Super Smash Bros. He often took to YouTube to address fans in a series of awkward and adorable videos:
Honestly, if we'd previously been forced to create a mental picture of how Nintendo's president looks and acts, it would pretty much be exactly that -- Luigi hat and all.
July 11: A Genuine Rocket Scientist
Claudia Alexander, NASA scientist.
When it comes to space travel, we tend to only remember the names of the astronauts, and even then it's usually only when they set foot on the moon or die tragically in an accident. But nothing would make it off the launch pad if it wasn't for people like Claudia Alexander. Remember that probe that landed on that comet last year? She was the project manager on that -- before that, she worked on the Galileo mission to explore the solar system.
As a kid, she got started reading about science due to a lack of friends (since she was, "the only black girl in pretty much an all-white school"), and decided she wanted to go into journalism. She switched to an engineering major after her parents said they wouldn't pay for her college unless she got a degree in "something useful." Ouch.
"Why write about other people's stories, when they can write about yours."
July 18: The Voice Of Sterling Archer's Butler
From a "long illness," but mostly from being 86.
If you're an Archer fan and thought that Sterling's heroin-addicted butler Woodhouse was performed by some comedian doing an old man voice, think again. That was the voice of George Coe, who acted for half a century and was one of the original, if sporadic, cast members of Saturday Night Live. After five decades in the biz, he got what was almost certainly his best part:
Based on how a real-life Alfred would react to his friend dressing as a psychotic bat every night.
Poor Woodhouse. The character was actually recast in season five (voiced by Tom Kane) and will continue to be a big part of the show. Some fans presumably never knew anything changed, so the next time you catch an episode, take a moment to appreciate a Hollywood veteran who was doing cool stuff right up to the end.
July 28: The Strong, Silent Half Of Bartles & Jaymes
Dick Maugg, contractor and TV spokesman (kind of).
A quick "Did you grow up in the '80s" test is whether or not you remember the "Bartles & Jaymes" ads that ran during seemingly every commercial break. The premise of the ads were that these were the two awkward old dudes who actually owned the company. One guy stared into the camera and delivered stilted lines, the other sat in dead silence. They were amazing.
The Teller to Frank Bartles' Penn, Dick Maugg played Ed Jaymes as the stoic, steadying force of the duo. While Bartles would wax poetic, Maugg would shake his head as needed and carry on about his business. He never spoke a word in the commercials, but he said a thousand things in our hearts:
Mostly variations on "just how drunk is this guy?"
Maugg actually fell into the role completely by accident. Prior to the success of the beverage, he was actually a pretty successful contractor. In fact, he had just finished with the construction of the Bartles & Jaymes ad agency in San Francisco, when his childhood friend, who happened to work for the company, suggested that he go for the role of Jaymes, as no one had yet been cast for it and shooting was just about to begin.
"OK, let's try that one more time. Dick! More quiet affirmation!
When the 1990s hit, and wine coolers and their flashy extravagance began to fade, so too did the advertisements. Ole' Bartles took to his own grave in 1996, after which we hope that Maugg went to the funeral and didn't say a few words in his honor.
Holy shit, we're only up to July! Come back tomorrow for the rest of the list!
Check out the previous installments of this series in Where Aren't They Now? 11 Overlooked Deaths of 2014 (Pt. 1) and Where Aren't They Now? 10 Overlooked Deaths of 2014 (Part 2).
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