17 Celebrities You Didn't Know Died In 2015 (Part 2)
Note: This is Part 2 of our annual death list. Click here for Part 1 from yesterday.
Today, we continue our tribute to the fascinating people who passed away in 2015, but probably weren't big enough stars to score a magazine cover. People such as ...
July 31: The Man Who Kicked Ass And Chewed Bubblegum
"Rowdy" Roddy Piper.
In the typical wrestler way, via a heart attack about 15 years too early.
Roddy Piper joined the then-WWF in 1984, which means he was one of the icons right when pro wrestling was taking over the world. Hulk Hogan was the hero, and Piper was the villain -- a raging, kilt-wearing maniac who excelled at cheating in increasingly cartoonish ways. He also created the moment that humanity will show to aliens when we're asked to explain the 1980s: a wrestling match involving Piper, Hogan, Mr. T, and ... Cyndi Lauper.
Answering follow-up questions about their hair choices alone will take a half day.
Oh, and he also gave us the greatest fight scene in film history: the brutal alley battle with Keith David in They Live, in which Piper nearly beats a man to death in an effort to get him to put on a pair of sunglasses:
Ray-Ban vendors were hardcore back in the day.
August 16: The Nation's Oldest Veteran
Emma "Big Mama" Didlake.
As a member of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, Emma Didlake served stateside as a private and a driver. Keep in mind that Didlake was a woman. A black woman. In 1943. Still, she persevered, eventually earning numerous medals for her service, and joined the NAACP after the war. She even marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in Detroit.
And 50 years later, still knew a hundred different ways to break your neck.
Emma Didlake reached the ripe old age of 110 years old and was a youthful and energetic presence in her community. Her secret to longevity? A diet that stayed away from too much meat. Oh, and also soaking nine golden raisins in a pint of gin every evening and then eating them the next day. Hey, we soak our food in alcohol, too! Only a month before she passed, she had received a call to meet President Obama at the White House. Having reached the distinction of being the oldest United States veteran, she accepted the honor with grace, dignity, and with an angel's hair wisp of boozy dried fruit on her breath.
"I don't know why you have the mics on me. She's saying way cooler shit."
August 26: The Woman Who Bled Alongside MLK
Amelia Boynton Robinson, who was in the civil rights game back when Martin Luther King Jr. was still in diapers.
From stuff that happens to you when you're 104.
If you're in a photo that goes down in history, you probably would prefer it not be one of you lying on the ground after you've been beaten unconscious by police. But, that's how much of the world met Amelia Boynton Robinson back in 1965, after the "Bloody Sunday" protests in Selma, Alabama, turned violent. And we don't mean the protesters turned violent -- we mean a crowd of cops met the peaceful protesters on a bridge and started beating the shit out of them with billy clubs. News of the brutality -- along with the below photo of Boynton -- made headlines around the world and let people everywhere know just how real shit was getting in the American South.
Boynton was already 53 years old at the time and had been active in the cause since the early 1930s, when she was holding voting drives for African Americans in Alabama. She stayed active in civil rights for another 50 years after Bloody Sunday and, earlier this year, got to participate in an anniversary march across that same spot, but this time holding hands with a black president:
So, yeah, sometimes this shit works out.
August 27: Chocolate Thunder
Darryl Dawkins, NBA star.
We considered just posting this GIF and leaving it at that:
But, that would make it seem like he only kicked this much ass once, and that wouldn't be fair.
Drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1975, Darryl Dawkins quickly became a force in the NBA. His sheer size and ferocity on the court literally tested the structural integrity of the league's equipment. Within one month in 1979, he dunked so hard that he shattered two glass backboards.
He could pay for them, though. He made doctor money.
The NBA got so tired of his shenanigans that they made breaking a backboard a finable offense. "Chocolate Thunder" played six seasons in Philly and then departed for the New Jersey Nets. Dawkins narrowly missed out on a championship, as the 76ers won the NBA Finals the next year. Still, he was an undeniable star, as well as was one of those athletes who realizes that, first and foremost, they are entertainers. Dawkins gave himself nicknames such as "Dr. Dunkenstein" and claimed to be from Planet Lovetron. His dunks even had names he attributed to them, including "The Yo-Mama" and the "Look Out Below." Stevie Wonder actually gave him the aforementioned "Chocolate Thunder" moniker upon meeting him for the first time, so, obviously, Dawkins even inspired awe from people who couldn't see him.
August 30: The Doctor Who Wrote Awakenings
Oliver Sacks, neurologist and author.
Oliver Sacks could have just lived his life as the kickass neurologist that he was and been fine. He earned degrees at Oxford University and then migrated to a hospital in the Bronx, where he experimented with a drug called L-dopa, intended to treat patients who were victims of a worldwide pandemic of sleeping sickness.
The medication worked, and the patients miraculously awoke, though obviously compromised. You may recall this as a similar story to the Oscar-nominated film Awakenings, which starred Robert De Niro as a patient going through the same kind of illness and treatment. That's because Sacks also wrote the book that the movie was based on.
It's mostly a comedy.
He actually made a pretty good secondary living writing books related to the cases the he had once handled. None would reach the success of Awakenings, but what could top the story of a whole group of people coming back to life after decades stuck in a mental deep freeze?
September 1: A Japanese-American Who Fought For The USA (While It Was Putting His People In Camps)
Ben Kuroki, World War II fighter pilot.
At a time when Japanese-Americans were in a constant state of fear at being interned by their own people, Ben Kuroki was the first of them to enlist in the Armed Forces during the second World War. He pressed his Army commanders to train him as a gunner. Soon after, he began flying missions in the Pacific Theater.
Continuing this article's grand tradition of honoring sworn enemies of the glass industry.
He actually was the only Japanese-American pilot to fly missions over Japan itself. He previously did raids over Europe and Africa (more than 30 of them), but actually had to seek out special permission from the Secretary of War to fly assignments over the Pacific -- which we assume involved a form and parental consent.
"Be back after Guadalcanal."
While on leave from his missions, he would actually visit the internment camps where fellow Japanese-Americans were being held captive. Kuroki would speak of serving the nation and remaining steadfast in the face of troubling sentiment from an angry American population. Sometimes, the relationship between a man and his country can be ... complicated.
September 11: A Helicopter Stunt Pilot With A Heart Of Gold
Alan Purwin, actor and chopper stunt pilot.
A plane crash. We're not sure if that's irony or not.
Since the days of Airwolf, helicopter operator Alan Purwin has been the go-to guy when you want some incredible helicopter shots in your movie. His work has been in everything from Transformers to The Italian Job, in which he basically made the entirety of downtown Los Angeles his helicopter-y bitch. Here's a scene in which the Purwin-led chopper is weaving through a major metropolis pursuing a Mini Cooper, a description that is precisely half-badass:
Alan Purwin didn't just help create a sky battlefield for Optimus Prime's circle jerks. He also helped people. He created a company called Helinet Aviation Services in 1987. That company would go on to be responsible for some of the most harrowing overhead footage of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit. Using its unique position (the air), the company would radio the Coast Guard and other authorities as to where rescue efforts were needed.
Purwin also used his unique position (in the air) to provide services for people who needed them quickly. Knowing that the Los Angeles area is a jumbled web of despair when it comes to getting around, he joined the board of directors at a children's hospital. Using his status and the fact that "hey, I have these helicopters," he made a huge difference in getting sick children the care and organ transplants they needed desperately. The transports he provided for the kids were often at little to no charge. And say what you will about Michael Bay, but the man clearly was affected by doing so much work in cinema with Alan Purwin. Bay even made a loving kind of mixtape in his honor after his death, featuring some of the best footage the beautiful pilot had ever shot:
September 19: The Woman Who Sold A Half-Billion Trashy Novels
They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but you could pretty much judge Jackie Collins' books by title alone. Her bibliography includes The Bitch, The Stud, Lethal Seduction, Confessions Of A Wild Child, and Poor Little Bitch Girl. Her novels were actually banned in some markets in the 1960s for being too explicit, but audiences clearly disagreed -- her publisher boasts more than 500 million copies of her books in print in 40 countries.
She presumably made the same face when she saw her royalty checks.
A high school dropout who moved to Hollywood as a teenager, Collins claimed to have had an affair with Marlon Brando when she was 15 and he was 29. However, if that really happened or if it's just a product of an erotic fiction author's imagination is anyone's guess.
September 21: Soul Survivor
Ben Cauley, trumpeter and singer.
We imagine it has to be hard to be like Bruce Willis in Unbreakable -- be the only survivor to walk away from a tragedy. The guilt and reliving the trauma could be enough to make one's life a pit of despair. But not Ben Cauley. The horn player and sometime-singer for the R&B group The Bar-Kays was on a plane with the rest of his band and soul legend Otis Redding (whom they backed musically) when it crashed into a lake in 1967. Using a seat cushion, he was the only one to survive the disaster.
After the crash, he was determined to rebuild the group, and he did. The new Bar-Kays even went on to back Isaac Hayes on his most popular -- and least-sexily named -- album, Hot Buttered Soul.
Alternate working title: Tepid Oven-Roasted Doo-Wop.
Cauley also went on to become an essential studio session musician, working with the likes of the Doobie Brothers and Aretha Franklin. The Bar-Kays that he played with, lost, and then rebuilt to even greater status were inducted in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2013. Ben Cauley likely made the band take a bus to the event.
October 15: The Diplomat Who Hid Americans In Iran
Ken Taylor, Canadian ambassador to Iran.
If you've caught the film Argo, you were entranced at both Ben Affleck's ability to skim over history and the tense, tricky rescue of six Americans who became trapped in Iran in 1979. The movie did little to tell the story of one Ken Taylor, the Canadian ambassador who probably had more to do with their lives continuing than the CIA themselves.
It was the absurd comedy hit of the year, apparently.
When the U.S. embassy was swarmed by a gaggle of disgruntled Iranians, most people inside were taken hostage, except six people who ended up being taken in by Taylor at his personal residence in Iran. For three months. He then secured plane tickets for the Americans and even arranged for them to receive Canadian passports. So, when the film came out and made Canada look like Scottie Pippen to the CIA's Michael Jordan, Taylor got pissed -- or, at least, as pissed as a Canadian can get. He said:
"We took the six in without being asked, so it starts there ... and the fact that we got them out with some help from the CIA, then that's where the story loses itself. I think Jimmy Carter has it about right: It was 90 percent Canada, 10 percent the CIA."
The final shot fired across the bow was when Ken Taylor said that the movie's lead, agent Tony Mendez (portrayed by Affleck), was only in Iran for a day and a half.
Dammmnnnnnnn. At least most American folks understood what Taylor did at the time. Minnesota natives sent thank-you messages to Canadian state officials, and people in Detroit adorned billboards that sat on the Canadian border with maple leaves and thank yous.
"We totally won't spend the next 40 years mocking your accent and blaming you for everything."
November 1: The Actor Who Was More Presidential Than Any Actual President
Casting agents everywhere probably had Fred Thompson on speed dial any time they needed a distinguished government official. In his long Hollywood career, he played the president of the U.S. at least three times, an admiral, a general, a prosecutor (in multiple series), a sheriff, the FBI director ... he was pretty much always choosing between a suit or a military officer's uniform.
If you're going to be typecast, might as well pick the type that's in charge of everything.
A former attorney, he was so convincing as a stately leader type that he ran for the real U.S. Senate and won, serving nine years before running for president in 2008. When he failed to get the Republican nomination, he went right back to acting, immediately playing a police chief and a governor.
November 4: A Kid-Centric Movie Writer
Melissa Mathison, screenwriter.
Most famously known as the screenwriter who gave us E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Melissa Mathison at once had the power to make us love and then to give up on life completely. Seriously, when E.T. is all gray in that ditch? Come on ...
Don't phone home. Phone your therapist, instead.
Mathison got her foot in Hollywood's usually men-only door by working as an assistant on The Godfather Part II and Apocalypse Now. You may have noticed that those are both Francis Ford Coppola films. She actually worked for him as a babysitter for his family when she was 12.
Probably for the best he wasn't there a lot.
She later worked on the little-known Scorsese film Kundun and The Indian In The Cupboard, showing that she possessed a remarkable understanding of children and how they really can grasp some advanced morals and ideals. Her final work will prove to be her swan song when it arrives in 2016. She finished the script before she passed. It's an adaptation of the beloved Roald Dahl book The BFG, and it's another collaboration with Steven Spielberg. And no, Doom fans, that doesn't stand for "Big Fucking Gun."
November 7: The Sawyer Family's Troubled Boy
Gunnar Hansen, actor and original Leatherface.
When you think of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre series, you usually only have one character who comes to mind.
No. Not you. Ew.
That would be Leatherface. And the man who filled that butcher apron and mask made of human skin was none other than Gunnar Hansen. He was later told that he was hired for the low-budget 1974 horror film almost instantly, because of his sheer size and ability to fill a room.
And his ability to get every scrap of meat off of the bone.
Acting was not his first love, however. He really wanted to write screenplays. Hansen actually turned down many offers after Chainsaw came out, for fear of being typecast as some chainsaw-wielding monster. So, he tried his hand at some screenplays and nonfiction works, but, still, the fervent horror industry kept calling, and he put his quibbles aside.
"I am what I am."
It's admirable to shy away from being pigeonholed into one type of role, but, sometimes, it's just as good to lean into something you kick ass at. Gunnar Hansen eventually starred in movies such as Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Chainsaw Sally, and, possibly the greatest and most mystifying movie title of all time, Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre.
Wonder what it's about.
November 9: The True Fifth Beatle
Andy White, drummer.
Quick. Name the Beatles drummer who missed out on their enormous success, just before they came to America. If you said Pete Best, you're kind of right. But, there was a drummer before Ringo who actually was on an honest-to-goodness Beatles hit.
Meet Andy White, a Scottish drummer who performed on "Love Me Do" and "Please Please Me" after Best was canned. The Fab Four had actually already hired Ringo to take over in the band, but he did such a piss-poor job re-recording the songs that producer George Martin called in White to take care of business. Ringo did get a bone thrown his way, as he got to play a little tambourine and maracas on top of the tracks.
EASY, FELLA. You're going to do just fine.
Andy White was compensated 5 pounds for the three hours' worth of work. He never received any royalties whatsoever for the lads' breakthrough single that quickly reached #17 on the charts. He could have been bitter, but, instead, continued a drumming career that crossed paths with Tom Jones, Rod Stewart, and Burt Bacharach. And he always knows who's on the skins when he hears an early Beatles hit.
"I'll give you a hint: It's not the fuckin' 'Octopus's Garden' guy."
November 9: One Half Of A Polar Opposite Set Of Twins
Jack Yufe, variety store owner and Jew whose brother was a Nazi.
Two male twins were born on the small island of Trinidad in 1933. They ended up separated at birth, and the paths these two took in their lives couldn't have been more different.
One twin, Oskar, went to live in the mostly-German inhabited part of the Sudetenland. He grew up very German, in line with that dark era of history and geography. He was raised as a straight-up Nazi, even taking part in the Hitler Youth movement as a child. After the war, presumably he chilled out with the Fuhrer shit and settled down and married, earning a living as a welder.
His identical twin was named Jack Yufe, and he stayed in Trinidad for some time before moving to Venezuela, where he lived with an aunt who had survived the concentration camps. He then joined the Israeli navy, spending some time in a kibbutz, a kind of rural community settlement. After that, he followed his father to San Diego, living the rest of his life in the area. He also was Jewish, was raised Jewish, and lived his entire life, you betcha, Jewish. Which, astute observers will notice, is in stark contrast to his brother being one exact Nazi, who historically have had issues with Jews. Not very twinny, eh?
One common bond they shared? Gettin' babes.
Their first encounter was cold and awkward. The only real brotherly thing that occurred was Oskar advising Jack to maybe not advertise his Jewishness very openly, as they were in Germany, and things were still a little iffy around there.
It would be another 25 years before they would reconnect, this time for a research study. The insanity of this not already being a movie is baffling, as we already know who could play the estranged brothers:
November 11: The "Ace of Spades" Drummer
Phil Taylor, Motorhead drummer.
Affectionately known as "Philthy Animal," the second and longest-tenured drummer for Motorhead, Phil Taylor, had the good fortune to land in the role because he gave the band's leader, Lemmy, a ride somewhere.
Hard to believe this man has trouble operating a vehicle.
Taylor's hard-partying ways led to scores of shenanigans, one of which had him dropped on his head by his friends. He didn't miss a beat, going on tour with a brace on his neck and playing through the pain. Another time, his hand was shattered in a fistfight just before Motorhead was to embark on a tour. Phil's solution? Tape his drum stick to his broken hand.
Not surprisingly, Taylor spent most of his later years in declining health, but his legacy lives on in the booze-soaked metal legacy that inspired Metallica and Guns N' Roses.
It doesn't hurt if you look like you have taken someone's bike and/or virginity.
November 16: The Man Who Created The Ghostbusters Logo
Michael C. Gross, artist, producer, and illustrator.
It's possibly the single coolest logo in movie history. Just the sight of it conjures images of Ray summoning a marshmallow or Venkman being smarmy about something, anything. It doesn't matter. And the man behind that emblem was Michael C. Gross.
No, not the Family Ties dad.
Gross first started making his mark in 1973 when he worked for National Lampoon magazine. He designed the famous "if you don't buy this magazine, we'll kill this dog" cover:
It's subtle, if anything.
Gross made quick friends working in New York, among them John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. They helped convince him to move to the West Coast, where he began producing movies, among them Kindergarten Cop, Twins, and the film that he put his own literal stamp upon, Ghostbusters.
He was also a hell of a survival story, having been diagnosed with cancer the first time back in 1984. He was inspired by that ordeal to create and commission a series called Flip Cancer, which all featured a giant middle finger aimed at the shitty disease that has taken most of the folks on this list.
It's subtle, if anything.
NOTE: Death does not take vacations. Since this article went to press, we have lost acting great Robert Loggia, Stone Temple Pilots lead singer Scott Weiland, and Douglas Tompkins, whose name you probably don't know but whose clothes you've seen 37 times today. He was the founder of The North Face clothing brand.
Be sure to check out our previous installments in Where Aren't They Now? 16 Overlooked Deaths From 2013 and Where Aren't They Now? 13 Overlooked Deaths Of 2012.
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