Eartha Kitt, 81
How bittersweet that Kitt should pass on Christmas Day 2008. The sultry chanteuse's biggest hit was "Santa Baby," recorded in 1953. For six decades, she vamped and purred her away across cabaret stages, Broadway, television and the big screen. The last of her three autobiographies was titled "I'm Still Here: Confessions of a Sex Kitten." And that's how she will always be remembered.
How do you pay tribute to a man who once said that after he died, he didn't want anybody "banging my wife"? Mac was one of the four "Original Kings of Comedy," the costar of movies including "Soul Men" and the star of "The Bernie Mac Show." But his best material always came from his own family. When his sitcom character told one of the children, "I'm gonna bust your head until the white meat shows," you know he'd said something like it in real life. With love, of course.
Michael DeBakey, 99 He was still in medical school when he invented the roller pump, which paved the way for open-heart surgery. That was just the beginning. DeBakey also pioneered bypass surgery and the MASH units used in the Korean War. He was even among the first doctors to make a link between smoking and cancer. He somehow ended up on Nixon's "enemies list," but guess who the president called when he needed medical advice?
Randy Pausch, 47 You have six months to live—what do you do with your time? That's what Pausch asked his students at Carnegie-Mellon, and with a special urgency. He had been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. An amateur video of "The Last Lecture," as the joy-filled, pity-free talk came to be known, became a YouTube phenomenon and later a bestselling book. Pausch lived twice as long as doctors expected. His inspiration lasts even longer.
Margaret Truman Daniel, 83 Was she the greatest singer of the 20th century? Uh, no. But when a music critic wrote in 1950 that she "cannot sing very well" and is "flat a good deal of the time," he got a letter from her father. "I have never met you," President Truman wrote, "but if I do you'll need a new nose and plenty of beefsteak and perhaps a supporter below." Margaret's singing career—and, later, her nonfiction—flourished.
Gene Upshaw, 63 If you want to know about his 15 standout years as an Oakland Raider, go to the NFL Hall of Fame. But if you want to know what made him a football legend, look at any player's contract. As the head of their union, Upshaw brought free agency to the league and made its members rich. How'd he do it? No one wants to make a Raiders lineman mad.
Cyd Charisse, 86 She was born Tula Ellice Finklea, but that clearly wasn't elegant enough for the greatest dancer to partner with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. She refused to say who was better—"It's like comparing apples and oranges"—but it doesn't matter. The main thing is that Charisse, and her endless legs, helped make the movie-musical sing.
Yves Saint Laurent, 71 It was a sensible suggestion—women want to wear pants —but it changed fashion forever. He took basic men's attire—the tuxedo jacket (le smoking, in French), the peacoat and trousers—and adapted them to women's proportions. He was the first major French designer to produce a ready-to-wear line, and he won a lifelong following among fashionistas who couldn't get enough of his mix of practicality and luxe. He made le smoking haute.
Jesse Helms, 86 He served five terms in the Senate, and he never shied from a Southern-fried filibuster to get what he wanted. Or, more precisely, to stop what he didn't want. "Senator No" was against most everything—food stamps, foreign aid, the King holiday, gay rights, modern art and countless judicial nominees—other than tobacco. Even Ronald Reagan called him a "thorn in my side."
Ruth Stafford Peale, 101 Despite the title, Norman Vincent Peale was once so discouraged by publishers' rejection of "The Power of Positive Thinking" that he threw the manuscript in the trash. His wife, Ruth, dug it out—and it went on to sell more than 20 million copies. She was also the one who, at the kitchen table one day, persuaded him to publish his sermons in Guideposts, which is still a successful magazine. She was indeed a very positive woman.
Paul Scofield, 86 Great actors don't tend to be shy, but Scofield turned down most interview requests—and a knighthood. A giant from the old school, he triumphed as Othello, Hamlet and Lear, but also created Sir Thomas More in "A Man for All Seasons," for which he won an Oscar. He played it onstage, too. His castmates had to push him to take a solo curtain call.
Richard Knerr, 82 Edison invented the light bulb and the phonograph, but are they really as important as the Hula Hoop and the Frisbee? Knerr was behind both, as the cofounder of the Wham-O toy company. How you feel about him depends entirely on how much Silly String has been shot at you lately.
Sammy Baugh, 94 Quarterbacks threw forward passes before Baugh entered the NFL in 1937, but only in desperation. He turned the play into a football staple and revolutionized the game in the process. But that's not all. In 1943 Baugh led the league in passing, punting and interceptions. The Redskins could sure use someone like him today.
Sydney Pollack, 73 If it weren't for Pollack, we'd never know how ugly Dustin Hoffman looks in a dress. He directed "Tootsie" as well as "The Way We Were" and "Out of Africa," for which he won an Oscar. Pollack sometimes cast himself, too. He plays Dorothy Michaels's agent in "Tootsie"—he's the guy he/she meets at the Russian Tea Room. "I begged you to get some therapy," Pollack tells Dorothy. The scene is a classic. The direction's not bad, either.
Tim Russert, 58 For nearly 17 years, getting elected to high office in America meant shaking hands, kissing babies and trying to escape "Meet the Press" with dignity intact. Russert, a burly son of Buffalo, N.Y., reigned as the all-but-official opposition researcher of the electorate, zealously luring politicians into gaffes, snafus and flip-flops. His whiteboard from the 2000 election now resides in the Newseum, and his nonpartisan fairness outlived him: Barack Obama and John McCain sat next to each other at his funeral, and embraced at the end.
William F. Buckley Jr., 82 SURE, he was the father of American conservatism, the founder of National Review and the champion of Goldwater and Reagan. But he also had one of the century's most perspicacious, peripatetic minds (and he loved sesquipedalian words). He was an expert on sailing, spy novels—and the harpsichord. He died, working, at his desk. Which is just what you'd expect from someone whose collected papers weighed seven tons.
Arthur C. Clarke, 90 He was one of the greatest sci-fi writers, not least because his grasp of science was just as firm as his grasp of fiction. Best known for novels set in the distant future, such as "The City and the Stars" and the fantastical screenplay of "2001: A Space Odyssey," he also proposed a system of communication satellites before man had even reached space. Leave it to an imaginative former physics student to observe, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
Bobby Fischer, 64 He was a high-school dropout who learned to play chess from his sister, but that didn't stop him from winning the World Chess Championship in 1972. His defeat of Boris Spassky at the height of the Cold War made Fischer a hero, which made his downfall all the more shocking. He later became anti-American and an anti-Semite, and when he played Spassky again in Yugoslavia in 1992, he won the match— but lost his citizenship. Checkmate, Bobby.
Heath Ledger, 28 Ledger always seemed to have a nervous energy, as if he couldn't stop moving—and maybe he didn't want to. He left Australia for Hollywood when he was a teenager and, at 26, earned an Oscar nomination for "Brokeback Mountain." He will (in all likelihood) get another one for "The Dark Knight," which came out after his death from an accidental prescription-drug overdose. It's a shame he had to quit us.
Mildred Loving, 68 In 1958, Virginia police arrested the Lovings in their bedroom for violating state miscegenation laws. Inspired by Martin Luther King and encouraged by Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, Loving took her case to the Supreme Court, which in 1967 struck down the last segregation law. She always claimed her act was personal, not political, but on the 40th anniversary of the court decision, she spoke out for the rights of gays to marry, eloquently passing the baton to the next generation.
Gordon B. Hinckley, 97 Wherever Hinckley went, crowds waved white handkerchiefs. And he went a lot of places: as president and prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he toured 60 countries, dedicating 95 of the church's 128 temples. He did "Larry King" and "60 Minutes," and increased church membership to more than 13 million. And to think: he hated to travel.
Michael Crichton, 66 The doctor turned author of "Jurassic Park" and "The Andromeda Strain" loved exploring the gray area between science and science fiction. Crichton moved easily from books to movies to TV; he directed "The Great Train Robbery" and "Coma," and created "ER." Which means we also have him to thank for George Clooney.
Robert Mondavi, 94 It took the megavintner years to silence the jug-wine jokes, but they really were sour grapes. His eponymous label took the slur out of "California wine" and made Napa a destination. The son of Italian immigrants, he was so talented—and so charismatic—that even the snootiest wine families in Europe (de Rothschild, Frescobaldi) signed on for partnerships. Salute!
Charlton Heston, 84 "Heston is a godlike hero; built for strength, he's an archetype of what makes Americans win." Pauline Kael's review of him in "Planet of the Apes" could apply to the man, too. Having played the larger-than-life Michelangelo and Ben-Hur, Heston became a darling of the right and president of the NRA. At its 2000 convention, he made one more deMille-worthy gesture: mimicking his Moses-parting-the-sea pose, he held a rifle in the air and said it would be taken only "from my cold dead hands!"
Studs Terkel, 96 "And what happened then?" Usually, that was all it took for Terkel to get folks to spill their secrets. He used it all, turning what was once mere journalism (though of the Pulitzer-winning variety) into grand oral history. In seven books and countless radio broadcasts, his subjects spoke about race and class, war and the Depression, their jobs and their dreams. Terkel's working-class empathy and patient, guileless style helped a confused nation speak its mind.
W. Mark Felt, 95 You'd expect a guy who worked for Hoover at the FBI to know how to keep a secret—and he kept a whopper. Felt spent more than 30 years denying he was Deep Throat, the informant who leaked key details of Watergate to reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. He was an unlikely muckraker. In 1980, Felt was himself convicted of authorizing break-ins of several members of the Weather Underground (the big twist: Nixon testified on his behalf). But that, he thought, was about national security. Watergate was an abuse of power, and a big enough one to risk his career. Though we know now that bringing down a corrupt president was arguably the most important job in American political history.
Georgia Frontiere, 80 The first female owner of an NFL team wanted to be an opera star, and her life was nothing if not dramatic. The former chorus girl inherited the Los Angeles Rams when her husband drowned in the Atlantic Ocean. Scandal soon followed, not only because she liked to kiss her players after a good play but because hubby No. 7 was indicted in 1986 for scalping Super Bowl tickets—and her team lost. But the Rams, after she moved them to St. Louis, finally did win her one in 2000.
Tony Snow, 53 He was one of the few George W. Bush cohorts to earn the respect and admiration of the press corps—an affable family man who kept his full head of hair held high, even during chemo. As a onetime journalist himself, first in print and then on Fox News, he had branded Bush an "embarrassment" with a "lackluster" foreign policy—before becoming his press secretary.
Richard Blackwell, 86 Before there was a Joan Rivers or a Kathy Griffin or a "Project Runway," there was Mr. Blackwell and his vicious and delicious Worst-Dressed List. He trained his sharp eye, and even sharper tongue, on fashion faux pas of every station. On Björk: "She dances in the dark —and dresses there too." Barbra Streisand: "A masculine bride of Frankenstein." Queen Elizabeth: "From Her Majesty to Her Travesty." His own fashion career fizzled, but when it came to designing quips, he was haute couture all the way.
Hamilton Jordan, 63 As a member of the Georgia mafia that propelled Jimmy Carter into the White House in 1976, the young, brash, blue-jeans-wearing chief of staff was anything but politics as usual. His style was perhaps too unbuttoned, even for the times. Tip O'Neill dubbed him Hannibal Jerkin; at one point the White House released a 33-page statement denying that he had spit a drink at a woman in a bar. But he helped Carter push through the Panama Canal Treaty and worked toward the 1978 Camp David accords. Later he mounted an unsuccessful Senate bid. But he will be best remembered as the man who helped turn a peanut farmer into a president.
Estelle Getty, 84 Everybody loves—and loathes—a Jewish mother, even if she's Italian. Which is why Getty hit a nerve on "The Golden Girls." She was younger than Bea Arthur (who played her daughter), but her crotchety Sophia Petrillo was the scariest character in comedy. She used her age like a guilt machine and her tongue like a blunt instrument. Your mother isn't like that? Don't worry—she will be.
Odetta, 77 She never considered herself a folk singer--she preferred the term "musical historian," going so far as to smash rocks with a sledgehammer to understand what a chain-gang convict might sing the blues about. She inspired Dylan to try acoustic guitar; Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte and Janis Joplin owed her debts, too, as did everyone who heard her at the 1963 March on Washington. She had planned to sing at Obama's Inauguration from her wheelchair. She'll still be there, in spirit.
Steve Fossett, 63 It took more than a year after he disappeared to find the disintegrated plane fuselage, the faded driver's license and two large bones--remains that finally confirmed millionaire adventurer Fossett's death. The wreckage in the craggy Sierra Nevada also put to rest a terrific rumor: that he'd faked his own death. Fossett may have held more than 100 world records, in hot-air ballooning, speed-sailing, even cross-country skiing, but that was one stunt he'd never attempt.
Paul Weyrich, 66 Weyrich coined the phrase "moral majority" and helped found the Heritage Foundation, the country's most influential conservative think tank, and the Christian Coalition. He softened his conservative views somewhat over time— he opposed both the Patriot Act and the Bush administration's terrorist surveillance program. But during the culture-war years he was a five-star general, and he always fought from the far-right flank.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 89 His unblinking depictions of the gulag ultimately helped bring down Soviet communism. He was a small-town science teacher in 1962 when he published his groundbreaking novella "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," based on the eight years he spent in a labor camp for criticizing Stalin. Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970, Solzhenitsyn shunned the ceremony out of fear that the Soviets wouldn't let him back in the country. But it was his eye-opening exposé "The Gulag Archipelago," first published in the West in 1973, that finally got him exiled. His citizenship restored in 1994, he returned to Russia, where he continued to criticize his homeland right up to the end.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, 91 You don't get much groovier than Maharishi. He founded Transcendental Meditation—or TM, if you're really hip—which became one of the most celebrated spirituality techniques of the 1950s and '60s. Even more celebrated were his followers, especially the Beatles, who wrote most of the "White Album" while taking one of his courses in India.
Edmund Hillary, 88 The lean, ruggedly handsome Kiwi was the first man to scale Everest—if you don't count Tenzing Norgay, the Sherpa who led the way. A 29,035-foot climb—plus side jaunts to both poles—will get you a knighthood, 13 book deals and lifelong hero status, but Hillary remained a modest guy. Even after the climb, he called himself foremost a "professional beekeeper."
Anthony Minghella, 54 The British filmmaker knew how to translate eloquence from the page to the screen. He won a best-director Oscar in 1996 for his intelligent and stunning adaptation of Michael Ondaatje's novel "The English Patient." In "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and the Civil War epic "Cold Mountain," Minghella flaunted his emotional range, demonstrating a keen ability to bring clarity to complex interior dialogues. And his underappreciated first film, "Truly, Madly, Deeply," was a funny, poignant look at the ravages of grief. This time, the loss is ours.
Osborn Elliott, 83 It's fair to say that if it weren't for Oz, there would be no one here to write his obituary. In the 1960s, he transformed NEWSWEEK from an also-ran to a pre-eminent magazine by adding voice and depth to its pages, most notably in its searing coverage of the civil-rights and antiwar movements. "He made a difference," said Richard Holbrooke, the former U.N. am-bassador. For a jour-nalist, there is no higher praise.
George Carlin, 71 Like Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor, Carlin understood just how dangerous a funnyman with a microphone can be. The New York native relished dissecting the little games people play with the English language. Which is why, though so much other comedy from Carlin's heyday in the 1970s now seems tame, plenty of his still scalds. In his best-known routine, he enumerated, to hilarious effect, the seven words you can't say on television. Thirty-six years later, we still won't print them.
Bo Diddley, 79 Albert Einstein had E=mc2, William Shakespeare had "To be or not to be," and Bo Diddley had bomp-ba-domp-ba-domp, ba-domp-domp. With his homemade guitar, his huge stage persona and one of the most infectious riffs in rock and roll--a genre he did as much as nearly anybody to invent--Diddley was one of the pioneers of American pop music. Hits like "Who Do You Love?" and "Bo Diddley" inspired the British invasion bands, punk bands and countless acts who followed.
Isaac Hayes, 65 As a young sideman (for Otis Redding) and songwriter (for Sam and Dave, among others), he helped create Memphis R&B. He later became the first black composer to win an Oscar, for the theme song to "Shaft." He even thrived in TV, playing the wise Chef on "South Park" until the show's mockery of Scientology drove him out. Will we ever see a soul legend like him again? Shut your mouth.
Bettie Page, 85 In the pre-Playboy years, she used her jet-black bangs, bad-girl grin and, most of all, barely covered legs, and turned the wholesome notion of the American pinup queen into something naughty—and successful. Latter-day fans and countless wanna-Betties paid homage to her retro glamour and lack of inhibition in movies and comic books, but she ultimately renounced fetish modeling, found Jesus and spent a decade in a mental hospital for threatening her landlady with a knife.
Robert Rauschenberg, 82 When his uncle died, his mother cut the back off the suit he was buried in—no one sees the corpse's back lying in a coffin!—and made herself a skirt. The transformation of scraps informed his abstract-expressionist sculptures, often made of refuse he found on the street. To Robert (who transformed himself, changing his name from Milton), discarded cans, boards and pieces of metal weren't junk. They were the stuff of art.
Ollie Johnston, 95 Johnston once said that he was "acting with a pencil," and he was right. He was a member—the last surviving one—of Disney's Nine Old Men, the band of animators that influenced just about every American born in the past 80 years. Johnston helped create the "Cinderella" stepsisters, Baloo from "The Jungle Book," the "101 Dalmations" dogs and the darkest moment in anyone's childhood: the death of Bambi's mom.
David Foster Wallace, 46 Some say that the 1,079-page "Infinite Jest" was overblown and overrated, but his essays—about a cruise, a porn convention, tennis, John McCain—were delightful and accessible. 2His fiction is littered with suicide references, but when he hanged himself he shocked friends and especially the generation of young writers who revere him. 3His super-brainy, heavily footnoted, wildly discursive writing was inimitable—as you can see.
Richard Darman, 64 He worked for five Republican presidents, including Nixon, whom he left in the wake of the "Saturday Night Massacre." As director of the Office of Management and Budget for Bush 41, he engineered the 1990 tax compromise that violated the president's "Read My Lips. No New Taxes" pledge. Bush later said that was the biggest mistake of his tenure, but economists now think that deal led to years of surpluses and prosperity. Those were the days, right?
Paul Newman, 83 Even when he was playing an unlovable cad—the farmhand Hud, say, or hustling Fast Eddie Felson—audiences fell in love with him. It wasn't just the eyes, or the grin; it was the fearless way he confronted the camera. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, he won just once, for "The Color of Money" in 1986. Privately, Newman stayed out of the fray, living in Connecticut with his longtime wife, Joanne Woodward, and pursuing the passions that gave his charmed life perspective: car racing and philanthropy.
Larry Harmon, 83 Harmon was no bozo. He wasn't even the first Bozo. But he was the one who made him famous. In the 1950s, he snatched up the rights to Bozo from Capitol Records and put the preternaturally happy clown—even his reddish hair was shaped like a grin—on TV. Harmon ultimately trained 200 Bozos to fill his ridiculously large shoes, including two weathermen: Willard Scott and L.A.'s Johnny Mountain. Some guys will do anything for a laugh.