Each year when we arrive at the days at the end of the calendar, our thoughts turn to death. After all, this is the time of year when media of all sizes and stripes roll out their tributes to notables who have passed away in the preceding 12 months -- the Johnny Cashes and Barry Whites, the Katharine Hepburns and Gregory Pecks, the Bob Hopes and John Ritters, the Althea Gibsons and Bill Shoemakers, the George Plimptons and Edward Saids, the Fred Rogers and Daniel Patrick Moynihans. Orlando Weekly, in its own way, is no exception.
Of course, we also find ourselves thinking of deaths that occurred without such august names and faces attached. Each year we find ourselves increasingly pondering the more anonymous tolls that, no doubt, will also have their lingering effect on the world: the hundreds murdered on the streets of American cities; the hundreds of U.S. troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the thousands of innocent Iraqis and Afghans fatally swept up in the ongoing conflicts; recently, the more than 30,000 souls buried before their time in mere minutes by an earthquake in Iran.
Regardless, our salute to the late near- and not-so-great travels the middle path, highlighting the little-known who left us this year but not without leaving some larger legacy behind. This is People Who Died 2003.
Zindel has been credited with revolutionizing the young-adult fiction genre. "The Pigman," published in 1968, moved away from the rose-colored-glasses adult fantasy of childhood to a quirky but honest depiction of adolescent angst and deeply flawed parenting. Zindel knew a thing or two about both.
Zindel was born in 1936 in Staten Island, N.Y., to Beatrice and Paul Zindel. His father abandoned the family when his son was 2; his mother moved him and his sister around a lot, doing odd jobs, trying her hand at get-rich-quick schemes and nursing the terminally ill. In Zindel's 1993 memoir, The Pigman and Me, he introduces his mother by saying, "My mother was singing, which is what she did a lot of whenever she wasn't threatening to commit suicide." He also wrote that she stole from her employers, hated men and shunned social situations "because she thought people wanted to spy on her." Zindel grew up an insecure and insular child.
Though he had an early interest in writing and wrote plays throughout high school, Zindel studied chemistry at Wagner College and became a chemistry teacher at Tottenville High School in Staten Island, an experience that offered plenty of fodder for his future unflattering portrayals of teachers. Zindel wrote several plays while teaching, finally finding success with "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds." The story focused on two teenage girls being raised by a paranoid, irrational and hypercritical mother who took care of terminally ill patients. Haunting yet humorous, the play received critical acclaim, was produced on Broadway and garnered an Obie and the Pulitzer Prize. In 1972, it was adapted as a film starring Joanne Woodward and directed by Paul Newman. "The Effect of Gamma Rays'" success allowed Zindel to take a sabbatical from teaching and focus on his writing.
When Charlotte Zolotow, a children's-book editor with Harper and Row, saw a made-for-television version of Zindel's play, she was impressed by its understanding of adolescents and asked Zindel to write young-adult books. Zindel agreed, and his first work, "The Pigman," was an instant success. Jack Jacob Forman, author of the biography "Presenting Paul Zindel," contends that the novel, along with S.E. Hinton's "The Outsiders" and J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye," radically altered young-adult fiction, transforming a genre that was "pedestrian, predictable and formulaic -- meant to satisfy adult stereotypes of adolescence." In "The Pigman," parents are deeply flawed and even malicious entities; kids are insecure, confused, and searching for acceptance; and death and emotional scars are facts of life. Yet Zindel was able to get his message across in a manner so entertaining and conversational that The Pigman continues to grip young readers some 35 years later.
Zindel continued writing, creating more than 50 young-adult novels, more than a half-dozen plays, an adult novel, several screenplays and teleplays and a children's book titled "I Love My Mother" before he died of cancer on March 27 at age 66. But despite his prolificacy, Zindel's works were endlessly repetitive, trading on the same themes as "The Pigman" without the spark that made his first book so magical. But even if Zindel's career peaked early, "The Pigman" and its unique ability to both entertain kids and force them to ponder issues of morality and mortality amounts to an impressive apex.
It is an end worthy of his screen presence: composed but alight with barely contained passions, vulnerable yet enigmatic, touched by a hint of cruelty and dramatic above all. And it is for that ineffable presence, which he lent to such contemporary Chinese cinema classics as "A Chinese Ghost Story," "Rouge," "The Bride With White Hair," the international art-house success "Farewell," "My Concubine," and "Happy Together," that Cheung is likely to be long remembered.
Born in Hong Kong in 1956, the baby of 10 children, Cheung Kwok-wing was the son of a tailor who made suits for Hollywood icons like Cary Grant and William Holden. Cheung insisted his father's minor renown as the "tailor king" had little effect on him, though when he emigrated to England after secondary school to study at Leeds University he studied textiles. Possibly more affecting was his unhappy home life, characterized by two often absent parents who divorced when he was young. Nonetheless, when his father fell ill, 21-year-old Cheung ended his studies to return home.
After coming in second in a Hong Kong talent competition in 1976, Cheung embarked on a singing career. His good looks made him a teen heartthrob; his sexually ambiguous air made him provocative. His growing fame landed him movie roles, but despite occasional flashes of his more scandalous side, he remained just another pretty-boy Canto-poppet until director John Woo cast him as the tortured rookie-cop younger brother of a gangster in 1986's "A Better Tomorrow." The film was a sensation, gaining Cheung the attention of a better class of director, who capitalized on his hitherto unsuspected serious acting skills.
Cheung not only became a huge star in Asia -- and, more slowly and modestly, renowned overseas -- he became the kind of star about whom people whisper. Openly gay stars are even more rare in China than in the West, and Chinese actors are much more reluctant to take on gay roles; Cheung's career-defining turn as a Beijing opera star specializing in female roles who is in love with a straight cohort in Chen Kaige's 1993 "Farewell, My Concubine" did little to dampen speculation about his sexuality. By the time he played the mercurial Ho Po-wing, one half of a can't-get-along gay couple stranded in Buenos Aires in Wong Kar-wai's bittersweet 1997 "Happy Together," he had come out, publicly acknowledged his longtime companion, Daffy Tong, and was seemingly happy.
In the wake of Cheung's suicide, many observers pointed to the eerie irony of his final role in a film titled "Inner Senses," a supernatural thriller in which he played a psychiatrist driven to the brink of suicide by the spirits of the dead. More mundane portents are plentiful. The good looks on which he had traded his entire career were no longer youthful, and he had recently split from Tong. The Hong Kong media had reported a previous suicide attempt involving an overdose of pills. In his final note, Cheung reportedly thanked Tong, his family, and his legions of fans and, remarking on the depression that ushered him to his death, wrote, "I have not done one single bad thing in my life, why is it like that?"
Founding a movement
Beginning in the mid-1950s, Atkins taught singing groups -- including all the major Motown artists from the record label's heyday -- how to move with grace and to move together, how to accentuate their vocal performances with their bodies, how to create more excitement onstage with a few choice gestures and steps. In other words, how to not just stand there.
Born in Pratt City, Ala., in 1913 and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., Charles Atkinson had won a local Charleston contest before he'd even hit puberty and was a professional tap dancer traveling the black vaudeville circuit by his teens. After a stint playing drums in an Army band during World War II, the rechristened Cholly Atkins formed a wildly successful and influential tap duo with Charles "Honi" Coles. But as the '50s waned, older forms of showmanship such as vaudeville and tap were edged out by television and rock & roll.
Atkins' second career started with a doo-wop group called the Cadillacs, who hired him in the mid-'50s to jazz up their stage act. For the Cadillacs and a growing client list that included Little Anthony and the Imperials and Gladys Knight and the Pips, Atkins put together routines typified by moves simple enough for relative amateurs to nail and precise enough to impress when performed in unison -- "vocal choreography," he came to call it.
Motown hired Atkins in 1965, and soon he became an integral part of the assembly-line grooming and branding of the label's blockbuster artists, including the Miracles, the Temptations and the Supremes. In the case of the Temptations, the flamboyant choreography he orchestrated for each song became as integral to the group's identity as its singers or songs. In some instances, Atkins' choreography has become part of the songs themselves. Ask someone over 40 to sing the chorus of the Supremes "Stop! In the Name of Love" and they very well may throw up their arm, palm outward, and continue on through the rest of the arm movements Atkins devised to sell the lyrics, even though they may not be able to remember a single line of the song's verses.
The impact he had on Motown's art and artists was profound -- the Temptations continued to return to Atkins for periodic refreshers until his death on April 19 of pancreatic cancer at age 89; Gladys Knight and the Supremes' Mary Wilson were with him when he died -- but his legacy reaches further. The choreography found in the videos and stage acts of contemporary pop, R&B and hip-hop artists is usually a far cry from the polish and elegant economy of Atkins' classic Motown-era routines, but it all hearkens back to a practice that Atkins codified and perfected.
Decades before Paulina, Cindy and Naomi, Parker attained marquee status, establishing herself as the world's top fashion model, the "It" girl of the 1950s. Signed with Eileen Ford's agency and working in Paris, Parker was the first model to command $100 an hour, the first to rake in more than $100,000 a year. With her flaming-red mane, striking green eyes, elongated limbs, leonine grace and practiced sang-froid, Parker stared out from the images of Richard Avedon, Horst P. Horst and Milton H. Greene, probably the most photographed woman of her time. Avedon characterized her as "my most challenging and complicated of muses."
The idealized epitome of the elegant woman, she embodied style and exuded chic. It seemed perfectly reasonable for Parker to lunch or shop or call on friends dressed in the same clothes she wore in fashion spreads. Gloves? Well, of course.
Still, she did it for the dough. "I believe in the gold standard," she confessed to The Washington Post in the early 1960s. "I like solid lumps of things. You can always melt them down."
Born Cecelia Ann Ren?e Parker in Long Island City in October 1933, Suzy attended prep school in New York City. (A playful dissembler, Parker invented histories, so records often state that she was born in Texas and attended high school in Florida.) Her older sister, Dorian Leigh, already a successful cover girl, introduced Parker, only 15, to modeling doyenne Ford, who declared her too tall at 5-foot-9 but offered her a contract anyway. "She was the most beautiful creature you can imagine," Ford told The New York Times this past May.
By 1950, Suzy had plopped down in Paris, where she eschewed the runway circuit. "I can't walk across a room without falling over," she admitted to Vogue in 1995. She studied photography with Henri Cartier-Bresson, worked at French Vogue, chummed around with Coco Chanel and wedded a Frenchman, a union that lasted only briefly, same as a late-1940s teenaged marriage.
Via Avedon, Parker broke into films in 1957, cameoing in the "Think Pink" production number of director Stanley Donen's fashion-world send-up "Funny Face." (Parker inspired the movie's reluctant model-heroine, played by Audrey Hepburn.) Meatier roles followed: "Kiss Them for Me" with Cary Grant in 1957, "Ten North Frederick" with Gary Cooper in 1958, and "A Circle of Deception" with Bradford Dillman in 1961. She also appeared on a handful of TV shows, most memorably in a 1964 "Twilight Zone" episode.
But Parker never seemed particularly at ease away from the still camera, and she abandoned acting altogether by 1966, having married Dillman three years earlier; the pair settled in Montecito, Calif., near Santa Barbara, in 1968, where they raised a family. It was there that she died May 3, at age 69.
Images of Parker still abound. That's her at her modeling apogee, attired in a voluminous black Dior gown, arms spread outward, on the cover of Avedon's 2001 photo collection "Made in France." "Suzy Parker gave emotion and reality to the history of fashion photography," Avedon noted upon her death. "She invented the form, and no one has surpassed her."
Fought the Power
Mbeki, who delivered the oratory speech at Sisulu's funeral in Soweto, noted that Sisulu, former secretary general of the ANC and a longtime advocate for majority rule in South Africa, would live on through the changes he helped bring to his country. "Yesterday, our people walked bending low, and low because they bore the heavy yoke of tyranny," Mbeki said. "Today, we talk of freedom, as though yesterday never was."
Everyone knows of the work of Nelson Mandela, the South African civil-rights leader who helped bring down the system of racial apartheid that oppressed the country's majority black population for nearly 40 years. Sisulu's work, though not as well-known, was equally important to achieving that same goal. As Mandela emerged as the face of the South African struggle, his mentor and friend Sisulu was there, working behind the scenes to defy injustices perpetrated by the racist white government that held control of the country until 1994.
Sisulu was born in 1912. His mother was a black domestic worker and his father was a white civil servant who never formally acknowledged his son. Sisulu attended an Anglican school, but he dropped out when he was 15 years old and held a series of the blue-collar jobs available for black South Africans at the time: gold miner, "kitchen boy," factory worker, part-time bank teller. He also attended night school, and by the 1930s he managed to go into business for himself as a real-estate agent in Johannesburg, and he began to get involved in political and labor issues. Sisulu joined the ANC in 1940, just as the white Afrikaner National Party began to take hold of the South African government.
By 1948, the Afrikaners had a strong majority in the government, and they invented the apartheid system as a means to keep control of economic and social institutions in the country. A Population Registration Act was put into effect, under which privileges were extended to the nation's people depending on race. Whites enjoyed much social freedom and economic advantage; blacks had painfully few rights. Despite the fact that Sisulu could have passed as "coloured" to gain higher social acceptance, he registered himself as black to fight the government-sanctioned racism.
Over the next 20 years, he fought alongside Mandela and other ANC leaders to end the systematic racism. Sisulu wrote articles, books and editorials on African nationalism, and he helped organize boycotts, strikes and civil-disobedience movements calling for an end to apartheid.
In 1962, Sisulu was arrested numerous times for promoting the aims of the ANC, which had been banned by the government several years earlier. He went into hiding in 1963, pending an appeal on a sentence for his activities, and he broadcast messages of resistance via a secret ANC radio transmitter hidden in a safe house near Johannesburg. When the safe house was discovered, Sisulu was arrested again and put on trial for treason alongside Mandela; both were sentenced to life in prison.
By the late 1980s, increasing pressure from the international community was urging a change in the political climate of South Africa. In 1989, Sisulu and five other senior members of the ANC were released from prison; Mandela was released in 1990.
By 1994, when the ANC won its first national election in South Africa and Mandela was elected the country's president, Sisulu retired from active political life. But until the very end, he spoke out against human-rights abuses and injustice in the world, and he never stopped being a staunch supporter of the rights of nonwhite people everywhere.
Propelled by the fiercely soulful vocals of the gnomish Eric Burdon and the dramatically quavering organ of the hunky Alan Price, "House of the Rising Sun" rocketed up the singles charts worldwide, landing at No. 1 in the United States and United Kingdom that summer. Over the next year, Most supervised five more hits for the Animals, including "We Gotta Get Out of This Place," which, like "House of the Rising Sun," Most unearthed during twice-a-month weeklong song-searching expeditions in the States.
With the possible exception of Beatles manager Brian Epstein, Mickie Most, who died May 30, age 64, probably did more than anyone else to orchestrate the massive wave of English acts -- the so-called British Invasion -- that dominated international airwaves in the mid-1960s. Herman's Hermits. The Nashville Teens. Lulu. Donovan. Mary Hopkins. The Jeff Beck Group. Most guided all to stardom, not only producing their recording sessions, but in many cases sniffing out their material as well.
"The only gift I had as far as being a producer," he told Tobler and Grundy, "was in finding the right song." Where his notable producer contemporaries -- Phil Spector here, Joe Meek in England -- often "painted" with sound in the studio, personally imprinting a track, Most "sculpted" his hits, chipping away and molding the raw material until he was satisfied with the results.
Born in June 1938 to a career Army father, Michael Peter Hayes evolved into Mickie Most in the mid-'50s as one half of the proto-rocking Most Brothers, releasing what he later characterized as several "ghastly" records. At the end of 1958 he relocated with his girlfriend to her native South Africa and, discovering no rock/pop scene there, invented one, forming a band to reel off 11 No. 1 songs in that nation, all covers of U.S. hits. Given a dearth of knowledgeable personnel, Most taught himself the basics of record production and, upon returning to the U.K. in 1963, decided he preferred the studio to the stage. Simultaneously, he established a company, RAK Records, to place singles for sale in outlets other than music shops -- gas stations, bric-a-brac stores -- but this visionary initiative was considered daft and quickly abandoned.
Most resurrected RAK as an indie label at the dawn of the '70s, enjoying phenomenal chart success in the U.K. with a select stable -- Hot Chocolate, Suzi Quatro, Smokie -- handled by himself and his songwriting/producing prot?g?s Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, ultimately bleeding into early '80s new wave with sultry Kim "Kids in America" Wilde. With his usual impeccable timing, he sold RAK to behemoth EMI Records in 1983, and in recent years was cited frequently in the English press as one of the U.K.'s 500 wealthiest people.
A tireless worker who assiduously avoided the standard excesses associated with the rock lifestyle, Most chose family over frolic while still indulging a taste for luxurious residences, elegant cars and closets chockablock with chic leather jackets. Throughout, he maintained a rare clarity regarding his career, once remarking, "Doing what I do isn't serious at all, it's just better than going to work. Once it becomes serious, then it becomes a problem."
The album appeared in 1973 on the legendarily out ESP-Disk imprint -- the label behind such free-era-defining documents as Albert Ayler's "Spiritual Unity," Marzette Watts' "Backdrop for Urban Revolution," and Noah Howard's "At Judson Hall" -- and featured future free-jazz icons such as bassist William Parker and Art Ensemble of Chicago reeds player Joseph Jarman as sidemen. And though the album titled "Black Beings" is probably saxophonist Frank Lowe's best-known recording, it's a double-edged memorial. For while it's true that this saxophone colossus could play without the proverbial net, Lowe, who departed this planet Sept. 19 from lung cancer complications at the age of 60, was an avant-gardist in that most unfashionable sense of the term: He didn't care what style the sound was being called -- it was all music to his ears.
His anything-goes palate was nurtured in his hometown of Memphis, where a teenaged Lowe drank deep of the Bluff City's vibrant 1960s blues and R&B activity, counting future saxophonists Charles Lloyd and Hank Crawford and singer Carla Thomas among his peers. He eventually worked for Stax Records -- the Memphis Horns' Packy Axton, son of Stax co-owner Estelle Axton, was Lowe's first teacher -- before heading off to San Francisco to study with multi-instrumentalist and John Coltrane collaborator Donald Rafael Garrett, after which he relocated to New York and started playing in Alice Coltrane's band in the early 1970s.
Those associations go a long way to explaining Lowe's reputation as a Coltrane acolyte, to which his playing at the time -- in such cosmic Coltrane-influenced projects as Alice Coltrane's "World Galaxy," with Rashied Ali on "Duo Exchange," and the aforementioned "Black Beings" -- undoubtedly attests. And yet, Lowe's education wasn't one-dimensional: He also studied with Sonny Simmons and little-known but fluidly versatile player Bert Wilson in San Francisco, and he soon took up long associations with composers/players with world-traveling ears and minds, most notably Don Cherry and Billy Bang.
It's in these panethnic settings -- from the African/Middle East moods of Cherry's 1975 "Brown Rice" or the Southeast Asian tonalities of Bang's 2001 "Vietnam: The Aftermath" -- that Lowe's walk-in closetful of timbres, rhythms, phrasings and voicings blossom full. Though free is an idiom immediately associated with faster tempos and note clusters, the mature Lowe found the solemn, romantic and witty in the occasionally obdurate morass, always searching for emotions in the density. Such a tenderness did mean his was a melancholic presence -- few jazz albums, much less free albums, are as nakedly forlorn as Lowe's 1982 "Exotic Heartbreak" -- but Lowe's tenor was always an immediately and joyously human touch. The avant-garde may be where jazz history corners Lowe, but the plain old mundane world of music was where he lived his life.
William F. Draper
Born in 1912 in Massachusetts, Draper studied art at Harvard College, New York's National Academy of Design, and then in France and Spain before finding his true calling. Commissioned as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy in 1942, he was assigned as "an official combat artist," an obscure commission that sent him to equally obscure corners of the Earth to memorialize the toils and spoils of the American military. From a frozen foxhole in the Aleutian Islands, he painted the Japanese attack on the Alaskan island of Amchitka. In Saipan and Guam, he was on hand to depict the landing of the Marines. And in between, he documented the lives of grunts at rest, playing cards on a conquered beachhead, boxing on the deck of the U.S.S. Tennessee.
His paintings were surprisingly brusque but subtle works of combat art, deploying unusually impressionistic brush strokes and nuances of color. While his contemporaries, like Army cartoonist Bill Mauldin (who himself died in January 2003), were going for sarcastic wit and gritty vérité, Draper displayed a view of military life that was shockingly poetic. His "Hangar Deck of Carrier" from 1944 portrays sailors toiling over airplane machinery with all the lionizing affection that George Bellows held for prizefighters and teamsters. "Inferno," painted the same year, depicted the conflagration of a Saipan sugar mill with an expressive brio rarely found outside the rain-slicked streetscapes of Van Gogh.
Perhaps because of this golden worldview, Draper was tapped to paint portraits of the Navy's top brass -- Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, Adm. William F. Halsey -- and subsequently was commissioned to complete murals for the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. By this time, Draper had reached the highest rank that portrait artists had aspired to, almost as a custom, for centuries: working as the aesthetic attendant to the moneymakers and power brokers of his day. Settling into his Park Avenue studio after the war, Draper dutifully captured the formal poses of political and cultural celebrities of all stripes, in each instance creating paintings during what a friend would later recall as "a five-day affair," beginning with a blank canvas on Monday morning and wrapping up by dinnertime Friday. Over the decades, Draper painted official portraits of John F. Kennedy (1962), the Shah of Iran (1967), novelist James Michener (1979), Richard Nixon (1981), and Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes (1986), whose likeness remains in the collection of the Maryland State Archives.
The artist's altruistic vision was certainly well-suited to the craft of portrait painting. His post-Watergate Nixon sits confident and relaxed, his face full of color, next to a flag that bears the presidential seal. His Kennedy looks out from the canvas with crafty eyes and a readied pose that suggests the young president is about to leap from his seat. And in keeping with his war-era work, Draper's portraits were painterly without being flashy, betraying the obvious hand of the artist in his brushwork -- even leaving bare bits of canvas here and there -- but never drawing attention to himself. This has perhaps always been the portraitist's highest injunction, and William F. Draper appeared to live by it: Never outshine -- or become more famous than -- the people who sit for you.
Blake de Pastino
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