25 Famous People You Didn't Notice Died In 2016 (Part 2)
Experts say that approximately 44 percent of the world's celebrities died in 2016. This is Part 2 of our year-end list of the deaths that got overlooked in the avalanche of Princes and Gene Wilders (you can read Part 1 here).
And yes, we realize that several dozen more prominent people have probably passed away since that ran yesterday. We're doing what we can.
July 2: One Of The Last Tuskegee Airmen
Roscoe Brown Jr., pilot and Tuskegee airman.
The legendary Alabama-based Tuskegee Airmen spent their time sequestered in a segregated area of the Air Force. They were African-Americans who literally fought for the country that declared them second-class citizens even as they were fighting. They painted the tails of their planes red, hence the group's nickname "Red Tails" (as featured in the recent movie from George Lucas, which you almost certainly didn't see).
Not allowed to fight or even practice with their white counterparts, the Airmen still managed to pull off some of the most badass moments of World War II (which, if you didn't already know, was swole up with badassery). Roscoe Brown flew 68 missions and took part in the longest flight mission during the entire campaign, a 1,500-mile journey from Italy to Berlin to shoot Hitler's air army in their collective dick. He was actually the first pilot to shoot down a German military jet.
A man couldn't be blamed for coasting on that accomplishment for the rest of his life. But after the war, Roscoe got masters and doctoral degrees from New York University, then became president of Bronx Community College. He also advised many black officials who were elected in New York. Oh, and he ran nine New York City marathons. That's the guy segregationists didn't think was worthy of sharing a bathroom with white people.
July 2: A Famous Holocaust Survivor And Author
Elie Wiesel was only 15 years old when he and his family were sent to Auschwitz. He probably only survived because an older Jew there told him to lie about his age, since 18-year-olds were able to work.
Despite a promise he made to himself to never speak of the godawful shit he witnessed in the concentration camps, Wiesel turned his experiences into a book, Night, which would be translated into 30 languages and sell millions of copies (whatever else you say about the man, you must admit he broke the shit out of that promise). Wiesel would go on to author over 40 novels, become a professor at both Community College of New York and Boston University, and win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.
"Game recognize game."
He even advised presidents on affairs of politics and human rights, and had the balls to talk shit to Ronald Reagan himself. When Reagan was considering visiting a World War II military cemetery in West Germany (where many Nazis were buried) Wiesel urged him to cancel and said, "that place, Mr. President, is not your place. Your place is with the victims of the SS." The Holocaust Memorial Museum bears Wiesel's words at the entrance: "For the dead and the living, we must bear witness."
Because, you see, that's how you keep shit like that from happening again.
July 2: The Director Of One Of Hollywood's Greatest Films (And Most Famous Failures)
Michael Cimino, film director.
Michael Cimino didn't have much of a track record when he directed The Deer Hunter (he had, among other things, helped write a Dirty Harry sequel), now considered one of the greatest war dramas ever put to film. Featuring an in-his-prime Robert De Niro and an already-weird-as-shit Christopher Walken, the story of a group of friends dealing with Vietnam and its aftermath won five Academy Awards. That gave Cimino leeway to pursue a project which still gives movie studios cramp-inducing night terrors.
It was called Heaven's Gate, and was a dense story of land disputes in 1890s Wyoming, which is exactly as interesting as it sounds. There were delays, budget overruns, rumors of animal abuse, and tales of Cimino being a micromanaging nightmare. The then-astounding $40 million budget was four times what it was supposed to cost, almost instantly sinking the studio, United Artists. UA never recovered, and film studios subsequently began taking stronger control of all their projects, moving away from director-driven movie making. That level of control pretty much remains today.
Cimino took it hard. He didn't speak to a single reporter for 10 years after the Heaven's Gate fiasco. His personal life was a constant source of rumors (among other things, rampant plastic surgery made him almost unrecognizable), and he was nagged by reports doubting his claims of Deer Hunter being semi-autobiographical. But hey, one indisputable masterpiece is still a lot more than most of us will ever have.
July 3: The First Onscreen Lois Lane
Noel Neill, actress.
Noel Neill become popular as a pinup girl among World War II soldiers ...
... and she won the part of Lois Lane for the 1948 Superman serial. This was the first live-action adaptation of the character. She then got the same part in the Adventures Of Superman TV series, which featured the legendary George Reeves in the title role. After 10 years of playing Lois Lane, Neill took a job in PR at United Artists, where one of her duties was handling Tom Selleck's fan mail. So maybe not a lateral move there.
Presumably becoming tired of the endless envelopes full of panties and mustache combs, Neill wound up in yet another Superman iteration, playing Lois Lane's mom in the 1978 film.
She even had a small part in Superman Returns.
In the real Metropolis (a small town in Illinois full of Superman stuff for reasons it would take too long to explain), their Lois Lane statue is modeled on Neill. Hey, she acted alongside four different Supermen. She deserves it.
Plus, she was smart enough not to be in Man Of Steel.
July 25: The Author Of The Christian Apocalypse
Tim LaHaye, evangelical minister and co-author of the Left Behind novel series.
This is maybe the most influential (and successful) contemporary author whom many of you aren't familiar with. Modern Christians who are obsessed with the apocalypse and the return of Christ aren't getting it from the Bible -- they're getting it from people like Tim LaHaye.
When LaHaye came home from World War II, he got a doctorate, pastored at several congregations all around the West Coast, and penned self-help works on topics like depression, family life, and marriage. He worked on Jack Kemp's 1988 presidential campaign until anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish quotes attributed to Kemp caused him to step down. That's when LaHaye met Jerry Jenkins, another author, and they decided that books on Christianity weren't futuristic and badass enough.
It's like if there were two Michael Bays, and both were super into Jesus.
Together they sold a mind-boggling 65 million copies of a 16-volume series called Left Behind over 12 years, from 1995 to 2007. The books became the template for what Christians everywhere -- including prominent politicians -- expect the near-future to look like. In the series, Jesus is a badass warrior fighting the Antichrist (duh), who has set up New World Order kind of deal, with a single religion and a single currency. The Rapture kicks off the books, and in the end, anyone not a born-again Christian (Jews, Muslims, etc.) gets the full-on Raiders Of The Lost Ark Nazi treatment. Badass Jesus "superheated their blood, causing it to burst through their veins and skin. Even as they struggled, their own flesh dissolved, their eyes melted and their tongues disintegrated."
Both authors were sure that such events would happen long before now, but sadly, LaHaye did not live to see billions of people get their faces melted off. Though he did live to see his books get adapted into a film starring Nicolas Cage and Jordin Sparks, which we suppose is close enough.
July 26: TV's Favorite Psychic
Miss Cleo, psychic infomercial personality.
"CALL ME NOW!"
That was the famous catchphrase of Miss Cleo, who graced late-night infomercials in the '90s. Callers would phone in with all sorts of problems, usually relationship-related, and Cleo would dispense her advice, with plumes of incense wafting around and tarot cards spread out neatly on her table.
Shockingly, Miss Cleo was not truly psychic! Or named Miss Cleo! She was born Youree Dell Harris, and the Jamaican accent she affected was often thought to not be, uh, totally accurate (Buzzfeed produced a birth certificate that said she was born in Los Angeles in 1962). She was also alleged to be using all sorts of aliases, and to have cheated numerous people out of their money -- her psychic network was forced to forgive $500 million in customer debt because of shady tactics. Many of the psychics on the phone network were found to have been actors, and Cleo herself was reported to be a former playwright, with one of her works featuring a Jamaican woman named Cleo.
In other words, she will go down as one more shining example of how badly people need something to believe in.
Aug 2: The Big Lebowski
David Huddleston, actor.
Advanced heart and kidney disease.
David Huddleston has a long resume -- theater productions of Death Of A Salesman, the mayor in Blazing Saddles, etc. He has 145 credits on IMDb, and at least four of them are mayors (seriously, the guy just looked like a mayor). But none of those are probably where you know him from.
His characters really tied the movies together.
You're more likely to recognize Huddleston from The Big Lebowski, in which he played, well, the Big Lebowski -- the millionaire who becomes involved in a kidnapping scheme that results in a series of ridiculous twists and misunderstandings. There's a rug, a severed toe, and John Turturro licking a bowling ball.
To his dying day, people would stop Huddleston on the street and spout lines from the movie at him. We're thinking you probably could have confused the hell out of the guy by excitedly stopping him and, say, repeating stuff from his role as the mayor in the 1990 Columbo reboot.
Aug. 13: The Man Inside R2-D2
Kenny Baker, actor.
Undisclosed chronic condition.
Three-foot-8 Kenny Baker played one of the most famous characters in human history, but you didn't know his face or his voice. He was sealed inside the lovable droid R2-D2 in the first three Star Wars movies, all three prequels, and even consulted on The Force Awakens when a new actor took over, since Baker's health was beginning to decline. A weird job, to be sure, and one he kind of hated.
He often complained of not being able to see much or interact with the other performers at all, as well as being extremely uncomfortable hunched down in what was essentially a trashcan. When asked about highlights of his time as R2-D2 in an interview, he said, "There weren't any highlights; I was just there, in the droid. I was mainly in the end scenes of every movie. I can't remember any highs or lows, it was just a job. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy it; it was just a job at that time. It wasn't a real acting job."
He's also had a decades-long android beef going with the actor who played C-3PO, Anthony Daniels, which is adorably amazing. Baker would frequently complain about his co-robot's behavior in interviews, saying that Daniels would stiff him in social situations. Daniels would return fire, saying that R2-D2 "might as well be a bucket."
One of these feet went up a metal ass soon after.
Aug. 19: The Boy Band Impresario
Lou Pearlman, music producer and manager.
Infection during heart surgery.
When the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC took over the music world for a couple years there, they had one man behind their respective success: Lou Pearlman. The music producer formed both of the groups for his record label, and almost immediately saw them dominate the charts with a seemingly endless string of hits. There were copycat groups almost overnight, like 98 Degrees, O-Town, Dream Street, and Chuck Knuckles and the Hot Boys (that last one might not be real).
As quick as the successes came, there were rumors that Pearlman might be scamming these groups out of the money they were making. Almost all of the groups he managed filed lawsuits against him, claiming that he was taking exorbitant shares of their profits. In 2006, it turned out Pearlman had been running Ponzi scheme for two freaking decades.
He had defrauded investors of somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 million, earning a 25-year stint in prison. There were even rumors of inappropriate sexual behavior with the young guys in his stable of musical groups (ie the thing many of you were assuming was happening from the moment you started reading this entry). Pearlman fled the country to try to get away from all the negative press, but when you screw over mostly elderly Florida retirees with your scheming ways, karma usually has a way of finding you. He died in prison.
Aug. 22: The Clumsiest Stormtrooper
Michael Leader, actor.
Michael Leader was a soft-spoken actor with a 40-year career under his belt. Fans of British soap operas may remember him as the Milkman in EastEnders, even though he didn't utter a word of dialogue for the first 16 years of the program. He also had bit parts in Doctor Who and Red Dwarf, but it was his first role that gave him his science fiction cred, and for the stupidest of reasons.
Leader was the stormtrooper who doinked his head on the doorway in Star Wars.
Shit. Be cool, and no one will notice.
In their hasty enthusiasm to sprint inside a locked room in the Death Star, our unfortunate trooper (who could barely see out of his helmet, based on the placement of the eye holes) smacked his noggin on the door frame. The shot made it into the final film, and Leader's momentary clumsiness would be forever cemented in cinematic history.
When George Lucas remastered the films, he added a sound effect, and there's even a callback to it in Attack Of The Clones, when Jango Fett ducks to avoid pulling his own Michael Leader after a big fight scene with Obi-Wan (it's subtle, go to 2:40):
Even the Star Wars Battlefront game series got in the joke. While a scene is playing out in the foreground, a pixelized version of Michael Leader's stormtrooper is seen whacking his shit on a doorway in the background.
Aug. 22: The Guy Behind The Sesame Street Theme Song And The Old Spice Whistle
Toots Thielemans, renowned harmonica player.
One of the only people ever to launch a successful jazz harmonica career, Jean-Baptiste Thielemans also played a bitchin' guitar, could whistle like a bird, and was an accomplished composer in his own right, collaborating with the likes of Billy Joel, Quincy Jones, Miles Davis, and Ella Fitzgerald. He became known for his movie soundtrack work, including his theme to 1969's Midnight Cowboy:
And if you were a kid with parents who loved you, you probably watched Sesame Street at some point. The iconic theme song to the show, with its lazy, cheerful harmonica, is pure Thielemans:
In addition to all that, he's the answer to a trivia question you've surely never been asked: "Who does that little three-second whistle at the end of those weird Old Spice ads?" Well, now you know:
Aug. 28: A Beloved Wrestling Villain
Mr. Fuji, former WWF manager.
The World Wrestling Federation (as it was called at the time) absolutely exploded in the early 1980s. It was an era of facepaint, subtle racism, and shiny pectoral muscles. And as the company skyrocketed to popularity, so did its stable of personalities -- even the managers of the wrestlers became stars.
Mr. Fuji, born Harry Fujiwara, was one of them. He'd had a decent wrestling career of his own as a "heel" who would have little bags of salt concealed in his tights which he would then throw in his opponents' faces (which we're assuming is incredibly dangerous in real life, too). Though he was born in Hawaii, he portrayed a quite Japanese villain, which you could argue made him more, well, villainous to wrestling fans. Still, he was a man they loved to hate -- he was in several superstars' corners, including George "The Animal" Steele, Yokozuna, Demolition, and Kamala. Drawing boos night after night.
"I've got your bac- Ehh, I'll be in the corner" -- Mr. Fuji
All told, Mr. Fuji spent 30 years with the wrestling company, and his trademark tuxedo and bowler hat are as iconic now as they were on the day that he was pinned in a wrestling ring by "Mean" Gene Okerlund.
Sept. 2: The Gangsta Rap Manager
Jerry Heller, music manager.
Heart attack that led to a vehicle crash.
Yes, this is the guy Paul Giamatti played in the NWA movie Straight Outta Compton. When Jerry Heller was managing and promoting acts like Creedence Clearwater Revival, Black Sabbath, and Marvin Gaye in the '60s and '70s, he probably never thought that a few decades later, he would help put "gangsta rap" on the national radar (or even have known what those two words meant). But with the legendary group N.W.A. (you can Google what that stands for), he helped to do exactly that.
For Heller, it was a long, strange road. Soon after getting into the music business, he started getting national tours for acts like Pink Floyd and Elton John. But things dried up later, and by the mid '80s, he was back living with his parents. That is, until he met a brash, ambitious man named Eric Wright. You know him as Eazy-E.
Together, they founded Ruthless Records, and Heller managed Eazy's group N.W.A. for the next four years. Heller and Eazy bought houses two doors down from each other, and they both had matching white BMWs with matching license plates. One was a 20-something gangsta rapper from Compton, the other a 50-something Jewish guy from Cleveland -- it honestly would have made a great sitcom.
Just the two of us, we could make if we try. Just the two of us, E and I.
Those of you who've seen the movie know that things went south when a few members began complaining about not getting their due royalties. By 1989, the group had split, and Cube specifically directed his angst at Heller in a not-so-subtle track after he went solo, titled "No Vaseline":
Used to be my homey, now you act like you don't know me / It's a case of divide-and-conquer / 'Cause you let a Jew break up my crew / Get rid of that devil real simple, Put a bullet in his temple / Eric Wright, punk, always into somethin', gettin' fucked at night / By Mista Shitpacker, bend over for the goddamn cracker, no Vaseline
Heller sued the makers of the recent movie for defamation of character (it was dismissed). To his dying day, he lived in the same house and drove the same car that Eazy bought him.
Sept. 8: The Belle Of Savannah
A treasured icon in the city of Savannah, Georgia, Lady Chablis was born Benjamin Edward Knox. She could feel even as a teenager that womanhood was her true calling, and chose her name from a wine bottle label. And Savannah likely wouldn't have the intoxicatingly sexy aura that it has these days if not for Lady Chablis performing on the burlesque stages at the city's nightspots.
She gained national attention with the release of the 1994 Savannah true crime book Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil, which told colorful tales of the city's residents and the seedy underbelly of the town, and sold four million copies. And despite not having any acting experience, she was cast as herself in Clint Eastwood's movie adaptation (honestly, who else could have played her?). Acting opposite Kevin Spacey and John Cusack might have been intimidating to some, but this was someone who spoke of "hiding my candy" while performing in nightclubs. So probably not easily rattled.
"I saw you in Con Air. I'm not worried."
That fame meant Lady Chablis was on Oprah and on magazine covers long before Caitlyn Jenner came along. If you think that was easy for her, you've led a stunningly sheltered life. Oh, and a few days after her death ...
Sept. 11: Another Transgender Icon (Who Almost Shot Jules And Vincent)
Alexis Arquette, actress and transgender activist.
Alexis Arquette was another advocate for queer and transgender folks, though careful to guard her personal life. It was even discovered after her death that she had been living with HIV for 29 years.
Basically born into a Hollywood family, with brother David and sisters Rosanna and Patricia having their own steady careers, Alexis (born Robert) started off in acting early, with a part in a music video at age 12. She then took bit parts in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Last Exit To Brooklyn, and the critical darling Bride Of Chucky. But lots of you would know Arquette as the worst gunslinger in movie history in Pulp Fiction, whose six missed shots set Samuel L. Jackson on his spiritual journey.
And made lots of you say, "Was that Seinfeld? Wait ... no."
Alexis was also in the Adam Sandler comedy The Wedding Singer as the George, a Boy George knockoff. Arquette stole the spotlight with a sultry cover of "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?" -- the part was so beloved that Boy George tweeted condolences after her death.
Sept. 21: The Man Who Gave Oscar Mayer A Song
Richard Trentlage, jingle writer.
You might have missed it if you're below a certain age, but at one time, not a human in America couldn't sing the Oscar Mayer theme song. "Oh, I'd love to be an Oscar Mayer wiener ..."
Today, a jingle like that would be the result of months of market research. This one was slapped together by a guy named Richard Trentlage and his kids. Oscar Mayer was running a contest for the company's new signature song, and Trentlage sat down with a banjo and a ukulele, had his two young children sing the lines (despite being sick), and turned it in the following morning.
At first, the executives didn't care for his version, considering rerecording it with professional studio folks. But after running a version of it on a radio station, reaction to the raw version hit such a fervor that they opted to use it, running it as their official jingle in 1963.
Trentlage would go on to write iconic jingles for McDonald's, V8, and the people who want you to buckle your seat belts, but nothing would top the timeless ode to tubular meat he cranked out in a few hours.
Sept. 27: The Radioactive Boy
David Hahn, a former Boy Scout who tried to build a nuclear reactor. He was once featured in a Cracked article.
Unknown, still under investigation.
In 1994, at the tender age of 17, Boy Scout David Hahn was hard at work in a shed at his mother's house ... crafting his own freaking nuclear reactor. He had already garnered himself a Scout's Merit Badge in Atomic Energy, and this was the next logical step.
He began cracking open appliances, most notably smoke detectors for their americium components, as well as lanterns, clocks, and gun sights. He made a reactor from lead, and used lithium from a thousand bucks' worth of batteries to try to get it operational (he even got tips from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by posing as a high school teacher).
While his "reactor" never came close to sustaining nuclear fission, it still shat out a ton of radiation. David panicked and began to try to dismantle the device. An unrelated traffic stop by police yielded more radioactive material in his car, and the FBI and EPA were subsequently summoned to his Michigan home. It was even designated a Superfund cleanup site, and all of his equipment was buried in the ground in Utah (though his mom panicked and threw some of it in the household trash).
He shaped up a bit after the ordeal, joining the Navy (on a nuclear submarine, of course). But as time went on, he was diagnosed as bipolar and schizophrenic. Hahn made the news again in 2007, when he again was on the prowl for smoke detector innards, and was charged with larceny. Officials haven't released a cause of death as of the writing of this article, but he was only 39, so it was some kind of a tragedy either way. Still, the guy has to go down as the all-time hero for teenage do-it-yourselfers. If your project hasn't yet resulted in the feds swarming the property, you're not trying hard enough, goddammit.
Oct. 5: A Michael Jackson Hit-Writer
Rod Temperton, composer and musician.
Michael Jackson's career was in limbo in the mid '70s. He had grown up and out of the Jackson 5, and was looking to launch a solo career. That's when his producer, Quincy Jones, hooked him up with the man who would help make his career: former disco musician Rod Temperton.
That's him on the keyboards.
Formerly of the group Heatwave, which had a few hits of their own, Temperton put his fingerprints all over Jackson's 1979 album Off The Wall. He was the sole writer of three songs on the album, including its biggest hit, "Rock With You."
In 1982, the Jackson/Quincy/Temperton dream team would convene again. Quincy remembered that Temperton had titled the last album, and asked him to go home and think of a name for the next project. He came back with, of course, MJ's Sonic Earfuck.
Okay, it was Thriller (he wrote the titular track as well). It sold 65 million copies worldwide, but we're guessing Temperton never got mobbed in the streets. Writers deserve to be mobbed too, damn it!
Oct. 12: A Hugely Influential Civil Rights Lawyer
Jack Greenberg, civil rights attorney.
From a young age, Jack Greenberg was tired of racism's bullshit. He was the son of Jewish immigrants and felt the bigotry on that end, then witnessed even more during his time in the Navy. So he did something about it. WITH TWO SHOTGUNS AND A CHAINSAW.
No, he became a lawyer, specializing in civil rights. At the tender age of 27, he helped to argue on two of the five cases that directly led to the Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision, which punted racial segregation in public schools square in the balls. He was the one white lawyer on the team, and the last surviving one until this year.
"I also hate cancer. Maybe I'll help fix that next."
All told, he had a hand in over 40 civil rights cases before the Supreme Court, leading the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund -- a position he inherited from Thurgood Marshall after he became a federal judge. He even represented Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 after he was imprisoned for fighting injustice in Alabama. The whole ordeal inspired King to write his strategy guide for nonviolent resistance, the "Letter From Birmingham Jail."
He was a hero in every sense of the word, even if his biopic wouldn't feature that many scenes of people walking in slow-mo away from explosions.
Oct. 15: An NFL Tragedy-Turned-Miracle
Dennis Byrd, football player.
Somehow, with the sheer speed and brutality of the game of football, there have been few catastrophic on-field injuries. Broken arms and legs, torn tendons, and concussions, sure, but by and large, nothing to terrify the average football fan. But in a 1992 game, New York Jets defensive lineman Dennis Byrd suffered one of those stomach-turning events. While diving after the quarterback, Byrd propelled himself helmet-first into another teammate's torso, compressing his whole upper body and breaking a bone in his spine, leaving him partially paralyzed.
Doctors were sure it would be upwards of two years before they knew if Byrd would ever be able to use his lower body again. He relearned how to walk in less than a year. Mind you, he wasn't doing kick-flips, but this was still a big deal. He served as an inspiration for other players for two and a half decades, then died in a random traffic accident at age 50 when a 17-year-old in an SUV swerved into his lane.
Oct. 21: The Man Who Killed "The Crow"
Michael Massee, actor.
Michael Massee was one of those solid character actors who forges a fine career, lands a few bit parts in some notable films, and has the respect of his peers and crew. David Fincher was a fan of his, casting him in Se7en and The Game. He was also a sucker for superhero films, having roles in a couple different Spider-Man reboots and the timeless Catwoman.
But he was doomed to always be a footnote in a much bigger, more tragic story. You see, the other superhero movie he was involved with was 1994's The Crow. On the 50th day on set, Massee pointed a gun at the movie's hero, Bruce Lee's son Brandon, and (due to prop department negligence, not his) fired a real bullet at him. Lee died during surgery, and Massee was left with the guilt.
The tragedy was the result of a string of things going exactly wrong. Massee said in 2007, "It absolutely wasn't supposed to happen. I wasn't even supposed to be handling the gun until we started shooting the scene and the director changed it." Shortcuts were taken by the crew members loading the gun, and the firearms consultant on set was sent home before the accident, as the crew determined it would be a "routine scene." Not surprisingly, Massee never watched the film. There was plenty of talk afterward about the supposed curse on Bruce Lee's family, but if so, it's the kind of curse that could have been thwarted by one person taking time to do their job right.
Oct. 21: The Comic's Comic
Kevin Meaney, comedian.
One of those blue-collar stand-up comedians who always seemed like he was touring or making late-night TV appearances, Kevin Meaney was affectionately known as a "comic's comic." Those are the kinds of comedians other comedians go see perform on their nights off, and who generally have the respect of all the greats. He counted David Cross, Patton Oswalt, and many others among his fans.
Meaney's nearly 40-year career included performing in the Broadway adaptation of Hairspray, and the (admittedly short-lived) small-screen version of Uncle Buck. It was his experiences on Broadway that led him to announce that he was gay in 2008. His flair for the musical also made its way to his comedy shows. One such genius bit had him doing a lip-syncing rendition of the 1980s charity single "We Are The World." His suit pockets were filled with props, and he took on the persona of each famous singer that warbled their way through the schmaltzy song of hope. The best part is when he emulates Cyndi Lauper's on-tape seizure in the song's bridge:
Nov. 12: The Star Of The "Worst Movie Ever"
Tom Neyman, actor/artist.
It must be a unique feeling to have the film you starred in be declared the worst in movie history, but that's what Entertainment Weekly called Manos: The Hands Of Fate. Manos was a low-budget horror movie made in 1966, and it's not surprising that it holds the status of being the stinker that it is, considering that the guy who produced it was a fertilizer salesman and had to make it as the result of losing a bet. Every penny of its $19,000 budget is right up there on screen:
The story revolves around the tried and true horror trope of some people getting lost in Texas who come upon a creepy cult of pagans, led by Neyman as "The Master." The finished product came, went, and faded into complete obscurity. It would be Neyman's only acting role. With the film having been off everyone's radar for almost 30 years, Tom was surprised when nodding off one night and seeing Comedy Central's Mystery Science Theater 3000 begin playing Manos -- the hosts tearing the film apart scene by scene.
The episode is widely considered a high point of the series, and catapulted the movie back into the spotlight, helping it get released on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Neyman was even filming a sequel to the movie at the time of his death, for the 50th anniversary. And why not? The guy made something that, intentionally or not, brought joy to millions of people. Embrace that shit.
Nov. 18: A Rock Star Heart Surgeon
Denton Cooley, surgeon.
Yes, there is such a thing as rock star heart surgeons. Denton Cooley was The Man in the field of heart repair even before 1968, when he performed the world's first human heart transplant. Not satisfied with that, he knocked out the world's first artificial version the next year.
This notoriety sparked a feud in his home state of Texas with a former colleague of his, Michael DeBakey. DeBakey was an esteemed heart surgeon in his own right. The method of Cooley's artificial heart transplant grew a rage-boner in DeBakey's mind, as he thought Cooley had ripped off the artificial heart design from him, and feared the technology wasn't quite ready for human usage. The bickering would land the two doctors on the cover of Life magazine in 1970:
The medical version of Biggie/Tupac.
The two men would keep this shit going for 40 years, before finally agreeing to slap hands at a conference in 2008. This was a short time after DeBakey had recovered from aortic aneurysm surgery -- a technique he and Cooley had developed themselves over a half century before.
They both then needed transplants after their hearts grew three sizes that day.
If only they had met their true nemesis ...
Nov 28: The Creator Of The Big Mac
Jim Delligatti, McDonald's franchise operator.
Unknown, but he was 98, so ...
Jim Delligatti got in on the McDonald's party early, opening a store in the Pittsburgh area in the 1950s. He immediately went about innovating, even offering some of the first versions of McDonald's breakfast to the hungry steel mill workers getting off their night shifts. A few years later, he decided that the usual burgers and fries deal was getting a little stale, so he came up with a supersized solution: the Big Mac. It did so well from its inception in 1965 that the chain added it to their national menu three years later.
Delligatti himself remained humble, saying that he was merely emulating the trend of bigger burgers which lots of other restaurants were trying. Though it was probably easy to stay humble, considering he never got any special financial compensation for the idea that would move nearly a billion of the three-bunned sandwiches a year worldwide every year. He did get a plaque, though, so that's nice.
And that's our list. Sorry, we're cutting it off there. In the time since we finished this article, we lost actor Ron Glass (Shepherd Book from Firefly), Peng Chang-kuei (the inventor of General Tso's chicken), Alice Drummond (the actress who played the librarian in the original Ghostbusters), the inventor of the Heimlich maneuver, Zsa Zsa Gabor and probably countless others. Sorry, we're done. Have a happier 2017, everybody.
Justin writes more here. Add him on Twitter for free weekly sandwich deliveries.
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