By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Part III of this series looking back at important figures we lost in 2020 is focusing on cultural icons.
Outside of athletes, entertainers and musicians, there are men and women who educate them, make laws to secure their freedoms and driving forces behind the scene. Other qualifications for being a culture icon is doing a job that informed millions on a routine basis.
Once we leave home and the education system, our adulthood is spent learning by experience or through books and informative programing. Who helped make award-winning shows? Who wrote impactful books? Who helped shaped our country today?
It’s people like William Blinn who passed at the age of 83. He was a two-time Emmy winner writer for Roots and the acclaimed television film Brian’s Song. Or you can research Krzysztof Penderecki. You’ll find out the late Polish composer was the sound behind films like The Shining and The Exorcist.
Today seeing a woman on a news broadcast is commonplace. We even see females on ESPN frequently. Those women owe a debt of gratitude to Bobbie Battista, who made her name as one of the anchors on CNN Headline News when the groundbreaking cable news network launched in 1981.
Cultural icons even add to pop culture. Today we love creating memes. Back in the 1980s and 90s, Sy Sperling gave us the phrase “I’m not only the president of HairClub for Men, but I’m also a client.”
While Sperling is gone, that sentence will live on. Also Fred Silverman’s contributions as a producer lives on today through All in the Family, Soap, and Hill Street Blues. The late Silverman also gave greatness to all three major networks ABC, CBS and NBC. Some of his titles were The Mary Tyler Moore Show, MAS*H, Good Times, The Love Boat, Laverne & Shirley, Good Morning America, The Facts of Life, and Diff’rent Strokes.
We also said goodbye to other culture icons like Jim Lehrer, Buck Henry and Gene Reynolds. Not all major contributors are household name. The list of 10 below is a mixture. Some are familiar figures while a few will have to be typed into Google. But all 10 of these individuals have two things in common, they left this planet in 2020 but their talents live on.
- Roy Horn
October 3, 1944-
May 8, 2020
When you think of magic, the first names to come to mind are Siegfried & Roy. Back in May we lost half of that duo when illusionist Roy Horn passed away. The 75-year-old was reported to have suffered from COVID-19 complications.
In the year of COVID, we owe Horn the respect to look at his years of work as an entertainer. From Feb. 1, 1990, until Horn’s career-ending injury on his birthday on Oct. 3, 2003, he formed worldwide known duo of Siegfried & Roy at the Mirage Resort and Casino. It was one of the most visited shows in Las Vegas. From August 2004 to May 2005, Siegfried Fischbacher and Horn were executive producers of the animated sitcom Father of the Pride.
Two two men were good sports about their place in pop culture. They never changed their act because of jokes and rumors. And they even joined in the fun making cameos in various shows and movies mocking Siegfried & Roy.
- Howard Finkel
June 7, 1950-
April 16, 2020
There is no secret I love professional wrestling. Back in the spring one of the most iconic voices in the industry was silenced. Howard Finkel, longtime WWE announcer, passed away April 16. I took for granted his powerful introduction of superstars like Ric Flair, Edge, Steve Austin, The Rock, Randy Orton, Macho Man and Hulk Hogan.
Finkel had a fan base and we lovingly called him “The Fink.” But through the WWE Network, Finkel’s booming voice will live on through saying “New World Champion.”
- Joel Schumacher & Fred Willard
August 29, 1939-
June 22, 22020
September 18, 1933- May 15, 2020
It’s one of those names you heard but couldn’t put the face to it. Joel T. Schumacher was an American film director, screenwriter, and producer. He made his cultural impact through the 1970s to the 2010s.
Schumacher was raised in New York City by his mother and suffered from substance abuse at a young age. That upbringing helped shape his outlook and vision as an artist. That can better explain his gripping, in-your-face movies. His credits included The Lost Boys, Falling Down, A Time to Kill, two Batman films, and many more.
Familiar face to us and those in the industry Frederick Charles Willard did it all just to make us laugh. It if fair to call Fred Willard a comedy legend through his acting, standup and writing.
He was best known for his roles in mockumentary films like “This Is Spinal Tap.” Also check out “Best in Show,” “A Mighty Wind,” and the Anchorman movies. Mr. Willard has many writing credits on films and TV shows like Modern Family and Everybody Loves Raymond. The actor side of Willard worked on hundreds of projects during his 50-plus-year career. The creator side of Willard was widely beloved in the entertainment industry for his comedic talent, kindness, and giving nature.
- Chuck Yeager
February 13, 1923-December 7, 2020
One of the coolest names in United States history passed away on one of the most important dates in our country’s history. The iconic Chuck Yeager flew to the great beyond on Pearl Harbor Day. Charles Elwood Yeager was a U.S. Air Force officer, flying ace and notably became the first pilot in history confirmed to exceeded the speed of sound in level flight.
To add to Yeager’s legendary status, he started his military career in World War II as a private in the U.S. Army. Then Yeager found his calling — flying. Yeager demonstrated outstanding flying skills and combat leadership. On October 12, 1944, he became the first pilot in his group to make “ace in a day,” downing five enemy aircraft in a single mission. Two of these kills were scored without firing a single shot.
- James Lipton
September 19, 1926- March 2, 2020
It takes a special person to share a stage super famous people and play second fiddle. But all those actors who came to “Inside the Actor’s Studio,” were honored to be interviewed by Louis James Lipton..
Known as James Lipton, he was a writer, lyricist, actor, and dean emeritus of the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University in New York City. He was the executive producer, writer, and host of the Bravo cable television series Inside the Actors Studio, which debuted in 1994. He retired from the show in 2018.
Lipton passed at the age of 93. His show gave us a chance to get to know him and several of our favorite actors. For 22 seasons, we got to know icons like Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy, Whoopi Goldberg and Anthony Hopkins.
Lipton was the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2007 Daytime Emmys, and won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Informational Series or Special in 2013 for Inside the Actor’s Studio.
- Hugh Downs
February 14, 1921-
July 1, 2020
In the year 2020, it is ironic that one of the first host of the ABC program 20/20 passed away. For years Hugh Malcolm Downs set beside the legendary Barbara Walters. Downs maybe emerged as her sidekick but all who worked with him has a tremendous amount of respect for Downs.
Downs made a name for himself as a radio and television broadcaster, announcer and programmer. Then in his second act he was a television host, news anchor, TV producer, author, game show host and music composer. Downs lived an awesome and long life reaching 99 years on this earth.
Downs first gained fame as Jack Paar’s announcer-sidekick on The Tonight Show. Some other notable stops for Mr. Downs co-host the Today show from 1962 to 1971, and then ABC’s 20/20 from 1978 until his retirement in 1999.
- Thomas L. Miller
August 31, 1940-
April 5, 2020
My childhood and adolescence years were a Miller-Boyett Production. I would hear that phrase several times not realizing the duo of Bob Boyett and Thomas L. Miller were the minds behind many of my favorite TV shows.
TGIF… on ABC made me thank God for the amazing productions of Miller. Back in April he passed away at the age of 79. Miller helped develop iconic shows like Full House, Happy Days, and Family Matters. Miller packed a lot into a seven-decade career from New York to Hollywood. Later in his career, Miller moved to New York to become a Broadway producer, winning a Tony Award for Best Play for War Horse in 2011.
Miller will be remembered whenever somebody talks about one of his characters like Laverne & Shirley, Michelle Tanner, Uncle Jesse or Steve Urkel.
- Regis Philbin
August 25, 1931-
July 24, 2020
I grew up on “Live with Regis and Kathy Lee.” Then I tuned in to see “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” The common link there was Regis Philbin.
The legendary talk show host and three-time Daytime Emmy winner Regis died on July 24 at the age of 88. Full of energy and charisma, whenever Philbin was on the screen he took over the air. But he had a charm and excellent timing. He knew when to bring down his signature energy and deliver compassionate moments that helped us get through our mornings. For 60 years, the lovable man who loved us back made us smile while the coffee was still kicking in.
- Ruth Bader Ginsburg
March 15, 1933- September 18, 2020
In the year marking the 100th anniversary of Women’s Suffrage, an icon for the female causes passed away. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Sept. 18 at the age of 87 from complications of metastatic pancreas cancer.
After Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Ginsburg was the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court. Back in 1993 President Bill Clinton appointed RBG because she was known as a legal champion of gender equality.
Maybe small in stature, “The Notorious RBG” was no nonsense with her opinions, judgments and beliefs. She once said, “My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent.”
- Alex Trebek
July 22, 1940- November 8, 2020
Can you call a game show host your friend. For 33 of my 39 years on this earth, I welcomed Alex Trebek in my home several days led by the voice of Johnny Gilbert. Back on Nov. 8, the news of Alex Trebek’s passing after a courageous battle against pancreatic cancer hurt tremendously. Felt like a friend died.
The man I called “Trekie” displayed strength, accountability, loyalty and love by hosting Jeopardy to the very end. The game show that made him a household name and legend got its personality and iconic status in pop culture because of Trebek.
He did things smoothly and it seem like with ease. Even through his cancer battle, Trebek was still the standard for a game show host — good timing, witty and making sure it’s about the show.
A career emcee, Trebek began hosting game shows in his native Canada. He moved to the U.S. in the ’70s to emcee The Wizard of Odds and High Rollers for NBC, as well as Double Dare and Pillsbury Bake-Off for CBS. He joined Jeopardy! in 1984, but continued holding the mic for shows like The National Geographic Bee from 1989-2013 and To Tell the Truth from 1990-91. In 2011, Trebek earned a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Daytime Emmys. He’s also won seven Emmys for Outstanding Game Show host. In 2014, Guinness World Records announced that Trebek had broken the record for the most game show episodes hosted by the same person on the same program.
God let Trebek now it was time for his Final Jeopardy. And the man who inspired many to learn and has us answering questions in the form of a question lives on. Love you Alex and you will be missed my friend.
THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the editor of The Millington Star and both the sports editor and a weekly personal columnist for West 10 Media/Magic Valley Publishing. Contact him by phone at (901) 433-9138, by fax to (901) 529-7687 and by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.