Forty years ago this week we lost Marty Robbins at the tragically young age of 57. Robbins was one of the top country singers and songwriters from the 1940s to the 1980s, and today you will still hear his "El Paso," "Big Iron" and many other classics. He won two Grammy Awards and was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. At the same time he was a successful stock car racer who was in 36 NASCAR races from 1966 to 1982 and had six top-10 finishes.
Bruce Lee was the most influential martial artist of the 20th century. In the 1970's, his fame as a movie star and martial arts instructor sparked North American interest in Asian martial arts. He brought Asian martial arts to North America by founding Jeet Kune Do, which is the basis for modern mixed martial arts. On July 20, 1973, at age 32, he died suddenly with massive swelling of his brain. The cause of his brain swelling was not proven by an autopsy, but was originally reported as possibly caused by sensitivity to aspirin. Now, almost 50 years after his death, a well researched paper with solid journal references explains that he probably died from hyponatremia, drinking too much water
Along with Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms is one of the “Three Bs”, who are considered to be among the world’s greatest composers of classical music. He was a brilliant virtuoso pianist who also composed for symphony orchestras, chamber ensembles, piano, organ, violin, voice, and chorus.
Ted Kennedy was a successful United States senator from Massachusetts for almost 47 years, from 1962 until his death in 2009 from a brain tumor called glioblastoma multiforme. He died 15 months after his diagnosis. Today we have no successful treatment for this type of brain tumor; surgical resection, irradiation and chemotherapy are ineffective treatments, with an average life expectancy after a diagnosis of 14-16 months. A possible cure comes from promising research on mRNA-based gene transfer that has been going on for more than 15 years and is the research that led to the development of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines used to help prevent COVID-19.
Samuel Katz died of “old age” at age 95 on October 31, 2022. He was a pediatrician and virologist who saved thousands of lives by developing the measles vaccine more than 50 years ago, and went on to become chairman of pediatrics at Duke University School of Medicine. While he was a resident in training at the Boston Children’s Hospital, he was one of the doctors who treated polio patients in the epidemic of the summer of 1955. I was a junior at Harvard at that time and saw patients and their parents lined up for more than three city blocks around the hospital on Longwood Avenue and Blackfan Street, trying to see doctors who had no means whatever to prevent or cure polio.
Jerry Lee Lewis, nicknamed "the Killer," was a world famous rock and roll singer and songwriter and one of the most influential pop pianists of the 20th century. He played the piano with his fists, elbows, heels, and rump, and often kicked the piano bench aside, sat on the piano, played standing up or even jumping on top of the piano. He set his piano on fire after a performance of his best-known hit, "Great Balls of Fire."
From 1945 to 1952, Eva Peron was the wife of Juan Peron, the most powerful man in Argentina. When she first met him, he was a general who seized the dictatorship of the country. She was the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman and his mistress.
Robbie Coltrane was a Scottish actor and comedian who was famous for portraying Rubeus Hagrid in all of the Harry Potter film series (2001–2011). He also played Valentin Dmitrovich Zukovsky in the James Bond films GoldenEye (1995) and The World Is Not Enough (1999), along with many other film and television roles. In 1990, he won the Evening Standard British Film Award – Peter Sellers Award for Comedy.
Loretta Lynn came from severe poverty as the second of eight children of a coal miner in Kentucky, to become arguably America’s most prolific singer and songwriter over a 75-year career in country music. She started her career in 1960 after being married at age 15 and already having had four children. She did have some help on the way: her father played the banjo, her mother played the guitar, and her husband, to whom she remained married for 50 years, encouraged her to sing professionally and helped her get recording contracts with Decca Records and MCA.
Jackie Gleason was the most famous television actor of his time and he was so hilarious that reruns of his shows and movies are still popular today. At age 33, he became Chester A. Riley in the television production "The Life of Riley". At age 36, he starred in "The Jackie Gleason Show" as a series of characters who yelled a lot and murdered the English language. One of his most popular characters was Ralph Kramden, a brash, blustering, bumbling bus driver who always bullied his wife, Alice. These sketches became Gleason's most popular show, "The Honeymooners."
In the year 2000, a C-SPAN Poll ranking all U.S. Presidents was conducted by 58 presidential historians and scholars. Harry S. Truman ranked fifth behind Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Washington and Theodore Roosevelt. I think that Truman and Winston Churchill were the two most influential people of the 20th century. Truman helped to prevent a third world war and to preserve the free world from communist oppression.
After the end of World War II in 1945, the U.S. military commissioned captured German doctor Erwin Giesing and six of Hitler’s other physicians to write a detailed 225-page report of Adolf Hitler’s medical records. They showed that while he was Chancellor of the Third Reich, Hitler was addicted to cocaine, took 28 different drugs for intestinal gas, had severe lack of libido, and was given drugs that contained strychnine, a poison that most likely caused his constant pain.
On April 18, 1994, Richard Nixon suffered a massive stroke at his home in Park Ridge, New Jersey. Four days later he sank into a coma and died at age 81. Famous people from all over the world, including five U.S. presidents, attended his funeral. President Bill Clinton's eulogy talked about Nixon's accomplishments in foreign affairs and did not mention his constitutional crimes.
Tony Siragusa, nicknamed "the Goose," was a defensive tackle for 12 seasons and a major player in the 2001 Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl-winning team. He also played for the Indianapolis Colts. From 2003 to 2015, he was Fox Sports’ sideline reporter for National Football League games. He also hosted several television shows. He died on June 22, 2022, from what appeared to be a heart attack that may have been associated with recent extensive weight loss (down from well over 400 pounds to 360 pounds).
Mikhail Gorbachev was the last leader of the Soviet Union before its break-up in 1991. He supported Marxist–Leninist Communism but moved towards social democracy in his later life. From his early thirties onward, he suffered from diabetes that caused him to be hospitalized many times for various complications of the disease. His diabetes caused kidney failure that required several years of dialysis.
Helen Reddy was an Australian-American singer, actress, and activist who won the Favorite Pop/Rock Female Artist in the 1974 American Awards and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In the 1970s, three of her songs reached #1 and 15 singles were on the top 40 of the Billboard Hot-100 list. Reddy is best remembered for "I Am Woman," which sold more than a million copies, reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in December 1972, and earned a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
Olivia Newton-John was a British-Australian singer, actress, and activist, most famous for starring with John Travolta in the 1978 musical film Grease, whose soundtrack is still today one of the world's best-selling albums. Her recordings have sold more than 100 million records, and she won four Grammy Awards. In 1992, at age 44, she was first diagnosed with breast cancer.
Leonard Nimoy won three Emmy awards for starring in "Star Trek" ((1966-1969) as Spock, a 23rd-century space voyager from the planet Vulcan. He was known for his pointed ears and constant use of the word "fascinating." Nimoy was also an actor in many other film and TV roles, a director of films, a mediocre singer, a published poet and an accomplished photographer. He gave up smoking two packs of cigarettes a day more than 30 years before his death from COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).
Bill Russell, ranked by many as the greatest basketball player of all time, died in his sleep at age 88 on July 31, 2022. No cause of death was given, but a clue may come from his heart valve surgery more than ten years ago. When Russell played on a team, the team almost always won.
Amy Winehouse was a British jazz singer and songwriter who won five Grammy Awards and had an album, Back to Black, that became the best-selling album so far in 21st century Britain. On July 23, 2011, she died of alcohol poisoning.
Barry Wood won 10 varsity letters from 1929 to 1931 as one of Harvard’s greatest athletes ever, and was the last Harvard player to be named All-American in football at the time when Harvard football teams played the University of Texas, University of Michigan and some of the other best teams in the country.
Jerry Lewis, the fabulously successful comedian, actor and director who starred in movies, television, nightclubs and Broadway stage, died at age 91 at his home in Las Vegas. His manager said that he "passed peacefully at home of natural causes with his loving family at his side." Throughout his life he had suffered several serious medical conditions that were treated with medications and procedures that had many side effects.
Two hundred years ago, Reverend Sylvester Graham was treated by the scientific community as a nut because he claimed that white flour, meat and alcohol were poisons and that obesity was a sin. He inspired the development of graham flour, graham bread and graham crackers, vegetarian diets and prohibition of alcohol. He had no knowledge of nutrition, and vitamins had not even been discovered, so he was really a prophet.
Mark Shields was a political columnist, a television commentator, and an election campaign advisor to numerous democratic candidates. He was a regular commentator and analysist on the PBS NewsHour for 32 years from 1988-2020. He was one of CNN's Capital Gang for 17 years from 1988-2005, and was a regular on Inside Washington on PBS and ABC until the show ended in 2013. Shields died from kidney failure at age 85, on June 18, 2022.
In 1991, hikers in the Italian Alps discovered Otzi the Iceman, a man who was preserved in ice after his murder about 5,300 years ago. He was killed by a hard hit on his head and an arrow through his shoulder when he was about 46 years old. He is now entombed at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy with a life-size statue of him as he may have looked standing nearby.
Robert Atkins was a cardiologist who wrote The Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution books, promoting his weight-loss program that severely restricts carbohydrates and recommends fats and protein as the primary sources of calories.
Orrin Hatch was an attorney whose 42 years in the U.S. senate from 1977 to 2019 made him the longest-serving Republican U.S. senator ever. He retired from the senate in 2019 and died at age 88 on April 23, 2022, one week after suffering a stroke.
Mickey Gilley was a country music legend who recorded 42 singles that reached the top 40 on the U.S. Country charts and 17 No. 1 country hits. His most famous songs include “Room Full of Roses”, “Don’t the Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time”, and “Stand by Me.”