Every day you’re alive, someone dies who contributed to this world in their own little way. Sometimes it’s a big old way, enough to leave us wondering, yecch, what have we done with ourselves lately? 

As we showed with part one, there are countless people who died this year and influenced your existence. Here, we again raise a glass of warm milk for people who did great things that you might not have heard much about. 

June 23: A Bizarro Software Giant

John McAfee speaking at Politicon in Pasadena, California.

Gage Skidmore

Who?

John McAfee, antivirus software company founder.

How?

Suicide by hanging.

His Story

With every tech mogul, we get stories of their weird idiosyncrasies. Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates … quirky guys, all of them. The weirdness of McAfee, who founded the company behind the famous antivirus software, went, oh, just a little further. 

It all started with suspected drug manufacturing around 2012, but man, it got odder and odder. He fled from his home in Belize after his neighbor died under suspicious circumstances. He then bounced around Guatemala and Canada, avoiding the States at all costs and spending much of his time on his megayacht. He ran for president in 2016 with the Libertarian Party, but some other weird billionaire won that election. Eventually, the law caught up with McAfee, and at the time of his suicide, he was about to be sent back to the U.S. from Spain to finally face charges … on tax evasion. 

July 19: A Civil Rights Pioneer You Need To Know

Who?

Gloria Richardson, activist.

How?

Natural causes.

Her Story

There’s a little town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland called Cambridge. That town was home to a lady you might have heard about in the annals of civil rights: Harriet Tubman. She was born there, and helped slaves through the famous Underground Railroad. Later on, another Black woman took the wheel and launched a new fight for equality from that same city. Her name was Gloria Richardson. 

Gloria didn’t really receive as much recognition as the heavy hitters of the civil rights movement in the early 1960s. But in her Cambridge town, she did every bit as much in the way of sit-ins at whites-only restaurants and leading demonstrations for better housing and public services. Check out the especially great photograph above of her, casually pushing a National Guardsman's bayoneted rifle out of her face. 

July 24: A Dating Game Serial Killer

Prison photo of Rodney Alcala

San Quentin

Who?

Rodney Alcala, murderer.

How?

Natural causes.

His Story

Don’t worry. We won’t be making any tasteless “ladykiller” dating or romance jokes. But it’s true: in 1978, Rodney Alcala made an appearance on TV’s The Dating Game, where a lucky lady gets the chance to ask questions of a few potential suitors in the name of love, and no one ever actually ends up together. Alcala won the game, but the lady still canceled the date, finding him creepy—which was very perceptive on her part, as Alcala was in the process of killing possibly dozens of women. 

Just two years later, Alcala was sentenced to death in California for kidnapping and murder, but a series of appeals granted him a series of new trials. It took until 2010 for a trial to finally find him guilty of that murder, but that wasn’t all. During all that time, investigators were able to link him to four other Cali murders from the 1970s. Oh, and also two murders in New York. And one in Wyoming. *checks notes* And potentially others in New Hampshire and Arizona. And Washington State … 

July 26: A Man Who Played With His Food

Aaron Brody

Robyn Brody

Who?

Aaron Brody, food scientist.

How?

Complications from Alzheimer’s.

His Story

If you were the inventor of fish sticks, you could coast on that reputation for the rest of your life, knowing that you created something any finicky child in the world would love, as well as inspiring a pretty neat South Park/Kanye West joke. Aaron Brody was a food scientist who brought those crispy fish logs to life, but he did quite a bit more. 

How about helping to invent the freaking microwave? Does that impress you yet? He did that while he was still in grad school, and then went on to create all sorts of food packing and preservation methods while at the Whirlpool company. Not content to have a legacy built on fish tubes and nuclear cooking, he helped develop Starburst and Pop Rocks candies. He topped off the golden age of his career by authoring the Encyclopedia of Packaging Technology, which sounds as scintillating as you could imagine. Just respect the man’s accomplishments. 

August 4th: A Pitcher Who Got Dealt A Whole Lot

J.R. Richard

Houston Astros

Who?

J.R. Richard, Major League Baseball pitcher. 

How?

COVID-19.

His Story

It could be argued that in the latter half of the 1970s, there was no starting pitcher more dominant than Houston Astros hurler J.R. Richard. The 6-foot-8, 220-pound giant waited a little while before the team would give him a full season as a starting pitcher, but when he did, the entire National League was in for a good five years of swinging bats uselessly when they faced him. 

That was until 1980, when Richard started having trouble seeing the pitch signs the catcher was showing him. He also began to notice a deadening feeling in his right pitching arm. Richard was doing some warm-up tossing before a game when he suffered a massive stroke. After emergency surgery, and a failed attempt at a comeback the next season, Richard spent the next several years in a series of divorces, failed business ventures, and eventual homelessness in the 1990s before finding redemption in his faith and work with local ministries. 

Who?

Maki Kaji, inventor of Sudoku.

How?

Bile duct cancer.

His Story

There are few puzzles that can engage the world these days besides some form of crushing candy. You probably haven’t touched a crossword puzzle since you had to move some stuff off of your grandma’s counter. We were in a world that’s not wanting to be puzzled in any way, and Maki Kagi took that world by storm in 2004 with his game Sudoku. 

He had actually come up with the puzzle in the 1980s, basing it off of games he had seen from old French newspapers with a light dash of Swiss, Arab, and Chinese influences. So technically, you can’t call the puzzle Kagi’s sole creation, but he did coin the term Sudoku, and it did absolutely take over the planet for quite a while after being featured in a British newspaper. While he didn’t make any money off of the puzzle, he did bring it to the public and ensure that supermarket puzzle books didn’t die a horrible death. 

August 19: A Martial Artist

Sonny Chiba Kill Bill

Miramax Films

Who?

Sonny Chiba, actor and martial arts master.

How?

COVID-19.

His Story

You might think that legendary actor Sonny Chiba was one in a long list of Quentin Tarantino’s rehabilitation projects when he showed up in Kill Bill as mythical sword craftsman Hattori Hanzō, but that would be ignoring a long history of kicking ass in cinema. 

Chiba started acting in the 1960s, after earning black belts in Japan. His first real notable martial arts movie roles were in the 1970s, especially 1974’s The Street Fighter, which got him all sorts of notoriety for earning an X rating for its hyper violence. You might remember that the true romance in True Romance occurred because Alabama and Clarence met at a Sonny Chiba movie marathon. We’re not saying that love will always blossom because you watched Sonny Chiba beat up a whole movie’s worth of villains, but we wouldn’t take any chances. 

August 31: The Metal Grandma Holocaust Survivor

Inge Ginsberg TritoneKings

TritoneKings

Who?

Inge Ginsberg, songwriter and poet.

How?

Heart failure.

Her Story

As a teenage girl, Inge Ginsberg managed to flee from the Nazis during the peak of their shenanigans in 1942, and took refuge in Switzerland. There, she set up a secret headquarters for resistance fighters with the man that would become her future husband. She and others would pass intel to and from the Americans who were beginning to knock on the Nazis’ door.

Inge understandably wanted to get away from all that misery after the war ended, so she and her husband headed to the United States and became a songwriting duo in Hollywood. Having escaped the Holocaust, she decided to do a little bit of everything, including working the stock market, writing poetry, and eventually founding a metal band. Yup, by the time she was hitting the ripe age of 93, she fronted Inge and the TritoneKings for a Swiss talent show. Together, the sweet old lady and her makeup-faced metalheads took on such topics as the Holocaust itself and climate change, which is so very metal. 

September 3: A Writing And Producing Pioneer

Who?

Irma Kalish, television producer/writer.

How?

Complications from pneumonia.

Her Story

Irma Kalish was destined to write for people from the very start. She and her husband started in radio together writing for The Martin and Lewis Show, which featured a very famous Martin and Lewis (Dean and Jerry) that you might know, so that’s not a bad starting gig. From there, she moved to TV, and the list of her credits is like every Nick at Nite show that you’ve ever woken up to during a bout with the flu: We’re talking legends like My Three Sons, I Dream of Jeannie, Gilligan’s Island, and All in the Family. 

She was a female comedy writer at her peak when there were not a lot of those around. And she didn’t just write: She became one of very few ladies to serve as executive producer of a show when she took over Good Times. She even extended her reign of hits into the 1980s, when she executive produced The Facts of Life. 

September 6: The Scourge Of The Barksdales

Michael K. Williams the wire

HBO

Who?

Michael K. Williams, actor. 

How?

Drug overdose

His Story

If one were to be pigeonholed as Omar Little, the shotgun-wielding Robin Hood of the streets from The Wire, most people would be all right with that. That show made the character of Omar an instant legend. When you’d hear his trademark “Farmer in the Dell” whistle coming down a dark alley, you just knew Avon Barksdale (or Marlo Stanfield, or whichever drug dealing kingpin he was upset with) would soon be robbed blind of their drug stashes. 

But Omar was nuanced, and so was Michael K. Williams, who would also go on to shine in Boardwalk Empire and Lovecraft Country. Williams played Omar compassionately as a proud gay man, in a setting that wasn’t very friendly to that lifestyle. He played another gay character in Lovecraft Country that earned him an Emmy nomination, as well as multiple other gay roles too. While he didn't identify as gay himself, he was an ally to that community. Just as he didn’t identify as solely an addict (he struggled with addiction in his life) and was still honest and compassionate about those issues as well. 

September 19: A Very Unintentional Police Journalist

Rodney King beating

George Holliday

Who?

George Holliday, the man who videotaped the LAPD Rodney King beating.

How?

COVID-19.

His Story

Police brutality wasn’t a new concept when George Holliday stepped outside of his Los Angeles house on the evening of March 3, 1991. Holliday, a plumber by trade, made the fateful decision to grab his new camcorder when he noticed the traffic stop taking place outside was getting historically out of hand. Rodney King was the man being pulled over, and then subsequently getting beaten by four LAPD officers. George got all of the raw footage, and it was raw, shaky, grainy—and still disturbing. 

The four white policemen beating on a Black man was something the city of Los Angeles, and cities around the country, were sadly familiar with. But this video was something extraordinary. Decades before it became practical for everyone to record to the police, this footage was shown everywhere, including at the trial of the police officers involved, and there could be no mistaking what it was. Even though the officers were acquitted, that visual evidence can never be misconstrued. Holliday never got much fame for his part, and still worked his plumbing job till the end. 

October 19: A Movie Music Legend

Who?

Leslie Bricusse, composer. 

How?

Undisclosed. 

His Story

Willy Wonka is still flipping his SweeTarts over the tribute given to him through song in the first Chocolate Factory movie from 1971. He got to sing his signature “Pure Imagination," lending the candy mogul a softer side, which he often tried to hide with demon tunnel cruises and child endangerment. Leslie Bricusse was the composer who got to show Willy’s earnest intent. 

Bricusse had other hits, too. And he earned lots of Oscar nominations for his memorable movie themes. Two of those belonged to James Bond films, those being the title songs for Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice, which helped make Sean Connery the best James Bond in history. None other than Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber himself called Leslie Bricusse the “most underestimated British songwriter of all time," and that’s from the guy that wrote an entire musical score about tribes of cats. 

November 3rd: A Funk Legend

The Gap Band in 1983

Lionel Decoster

Who?

Ronnie Wilson, musician and founder of the Gap Band.

How?

Stroke.

His Story

Funk music is almost like the yin to the yang of blues. Blues is about the bad times; funk is for the good times. Many artists built funk: James Brown, Parliament/Funkadelic, The Brothers Johnson, Rick James. The Gap Band belongs in the mix as well, and Ronnie Wilson brought his whole family to the party. 

The Gap Band started in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Ronnie and his two brothers formed their band in the early 1970s, but their sound really took off and found its heart in the synthy 1980s. That’s when “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” brought them their biggest hit of all. Ronnie did so much in the band, between singing, keyboards, and percussion. 

He also played the flugelhorn. And since there's no better instrument than the flugelhorn for the good times, here's hoping that 2022 will be better, or at least more funky. 

Justin writes more great stuff here!

Top image: HBO

 

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