By Laurence Lerman / New York City
Year-end “In Memoriam” columns often read like a “greatest hits” list of celebrity deaths, when the truth is there are hundreds of remarkable people who also passed who have had lives and careers worthy of note. We would like to present a collection of them here to you now, the majority of whom didn’t appear as the lead write-up in an obituary column.
Over this past year, with many people braving theaters and museums and musical halls and bookstores again for the first time in more than two years, we would like to acknowledge that some of the most creative people in the arts won’t be riding out the pandemic with us anymore. But that same pandemic couldn’t extinguish the artistic drive of many of them, who continued on their creative paths as Covid tightened its grip.
We salute these artists with a reminder of what they did that caught the attention of our eyes, ears, hearts and minds—and will continue to do just that for years to come.
Wolfgang Peterson, 81
After making a name for himself in his native Germany with 1981’s claustrophobic WWII submarine drama Das Boot, Peterson got the call from Hollywood to come on over and try something here. He arrived in the late Eighties and soon went on to direct big stars like Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Dustin Hoffman Gorge Clooney and Brad Pitt in such appropriately big action-adventure entertainments as In the Line of Fire (1993), Air Force One (1997), Outbreak (1995), The Perfect Storm (2000) and Troy (2004).
Julia Reichart, 76
Over the course of her 50-year career, independent filmmaker Reicher wrote, produced and directed a number of documentaries focusing on the lives of women, the workplace, and the intersection between the two. Her credits include 1971’s Growing Up Female, 1976’s Union Maids, 1983’s Seeing Red, 2009’s The Last Truck: The Closing of a GM Plant and 2019’s American Factory, which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
Louis Fletcher, 88
The veteran actress began her career appearing on such television shows as Lawman, Bat Masterson, Maverick and The Untouchables in the Fifties. After taking a decade-long break to raise her two children, Fletcher returned with a vengeance and won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance as menacing psychiatric ward administrator Nurse Ratched in Milos Foreman’s 1975 adaptation of Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Dozens of film and TV projects followed, including a recurring role on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the Nineties.
Nichelle Nichols, 89
With only a few minor parts to her credit, Nichelle Nichols’ breakout role came when she was cast as communications officer Lt. Nyota Uhura on the original Star Trek series in 1966. Though she was generally relegated to lines like “Hailing frequencies open, Captain,” Nichols was still one of the first Black women to play a major role on primetime television, earning respect from Martin Luther King, Jr., actresses of color and a newly named legion of fans known as “Trekkies.” She was also one half of American television’s first-ever interracial kiss, which went down when she locked lips with Captain Kirk himself, Trek’s leading man, William Shatner.
David Warner, 80
A prolific British character actor of stage, screen and television, with a piercing gaze, Warner worked effectively in such big-budget spectacles as Tron (1982), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) and Titanic (1997). Older viewers and those with a penchant for Sixties and Seventies cinema undoubtedly enjoyed his films with such directors as Karel Reisz (Morgan!, 1966), Peter Hall (A Midsummer’s Night Dream, 1968), Sam Peckinpah (The Ballad of Cable Hogue, 1970; Cross of Iron, 1977) and Nicholas Meyer (Time After Time, 1979).
Paul Sorvino, 83
Though he’s usually first identified as the quietly terrifying Paulie Cicero in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 Mafia epic Goodfellas, Sorvino’s dozens of credits date back to the early Seventies and include stand-out roles, both supporting and starring, in Where’s Poppa? (1970), The Gambler (1974), Reds (1981) and as Sgt. Phil Cerreta in Season Two of TV’s Law and Order (1991-92). A trained operatic tenor, he also appeared in a handful of stage musicals, including the title role in the New York City Opera’s 2006 revival of Frank Loesser’s The Most Happy Fella.
Angelo Badalamenti, 85
In the mid-Eighties, composer Badalamenti met filmmaker David Lynch, who immediately noted that the Brooklyn-born composer’s work had “a dark and powerful beauty.” Badalamenti ended up writing the music for Lynch’s breakthrough film, 1986’s Blue Velvet, the first of five Lynch films he would score, including Wild at Heart (1990), Lost Highway (1997) and Mulholland Drive (2001). He also wrote the ominously hypnotic theme for all five iterations of Lynch’s Twin Peaks, beginning with the 1990 TV show. In between Lynch collaborations, he composed a handful of equally evocative scores for such cult favorites as The Comfort of Strangers (1990), The City of Lost Children (1995) and A Very Long Engagement (2004).
Christine McVie, 79
A British-born vocalist and keyboard player who joined Fleetwood Mac in 1970 after marrying bassist John McVie, Christine quickly became a vital contributor to the band’s signature pop rock sound. As a performer and songwriter, she was behind some of the band’s biggest hits, including “You Make Loving Fun” and “Don’t Stop,” which Bill Clinton used as his campaign theme song for his 1992 presidential run.
Freddie Roman, 85
The famed Borscht Belt standup comedian got his start at the age of 15 emceeing for the Crystal Spring Hotel in the Catskills. After a brief stint in the shoe business, he plunged into standup fulltime, later unleashing his Jewish-flavored shtick as a resort headliner in Vegas, New York, L.A. and Atlantic City, along with serving as Dean of The Friars Club.
Judy Tenuta, 72
The colorfully clad, self-styled comedienne who referred to herself as the “Love Goddess” and “The Petite Flower” got her start in comedy in the mid-Seventies after taking a class with Chicago’s Second City improv troupe. Her act was a bit of a shocker at the time, combining insult comedy, observational humor and bawdy antics, while pounding away on her always-present accordion.
Hilary Mantel, 70
Hilary Mantel’s historical novels on the life of the 16th century British statesman Thomas Cromwell—Wolf Hall (2009), Bring Up the Bodies (2012) and The Mirror and the Light (2020)—delivered her critical and commercial success around the world, with her books being translated into 41 languages and selling five million copies. One of Britain’s most decorated writers (she received scads of honorary Doctor of Letters degrees over the years and was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, or CBE, in 2006), Mantel’s prodigious output also included contemporary novels, two short story collections, a personal memoir and numerous articles and opinion pieces.
Peter Straub, 79
Alongside his close pal Stephen King, Peter Straub was one of the leaders of the horror novel boom of the Seventies and Eighties, writing such terrifying and well-received fictions as Julia (1975), Ghost Story (1979), Shadowland (1980) and Koko (1989). Also a prolific poet and short-story scribe, it was his novels, the bulk of them bestsellers, that kept his growing fan base coming back for more. Along with King, he co-wrote Talisman (1984) and its 2001 sequel, Black House, which were both met with mixed critical and popular receptions, but sold like gangbusters, nonetheless.
Pierre Soulages, 102
France’s leading abstract painter first began attracting attention in the late Forties with a series of calligraphic work on paper, using dark walnut stain or tar, in sharp contrast with the bright colors favored by the country’s abstract expressionists of the era. Subsequent decades found Soulages working with numerous variations on black in an evolving series of paintings he called “outrenoir” or “beyond black.” Describing his breakthrough to an interviewer, he said, “It wasn’t the black that made the picture come alive but the light reflected on the black surfaces.” He was reportedly still painting until a few weeks before he died in October.
Jennifer Bartlett, 81
Inspired by the city’s subways, New York-based conceptual artist Bartlett executed her colorful work on one-foot-square white enameled steel plates. A fringe member of the post-Minimalist generation, Bartlett’s geometric approach to her art reached its zenith with “Rhapsody,” her landmark 1975 work, which is contained on 947 tiles and is 153 feet in length. It has since been acquired by New York’s Museum of Modern Art
Laurence Lerman is a film journalist, former editor of Video Business--Variety's DVD trade publication--and husband to The Insider's own Gwen Cooper. Over the course of his career he has conducted one-on-one interviews with just about every major director working today, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, and Werner Herzog, among numerous others. Once James Cameron specifically requested an interview with Laurence by name, which his wife still likes to brag about. Most recently, he is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online review site DiscDish.com.