In Memoriam 2017: The Legends We Lost

We lost a king and a queen of comedy, two founding fathers of rock ‘n’ roll, one James Bond, and a magazine publisher who changed the world. They were just some of the legends we lost in 2017.
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America’s Sweetheart: Mary Tyler Moore

She may have been a feminist icon to some, but it was pure talent that made Mary Tyler Moore one of the most beloved stars to ever appear on television.

The character she played on The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-77) – well-meaning, striving, brittle Mary Richards – became one of TV’s most memorable single career women because of Moore’s comedic skills, and also because she surrounded herself with other professionals who were among the best in the business.

Mary Tyler Moore Photo

The Mary Tyler Moore Show showing Moore standing, smiling, inside of the WJM newsroom. Moore is shown from the waist-up, holding a cup of coffee, circa 1975.

Before that, she endeared herself to millions as Laura Petrie, the archetypal suburban wife of the 1960s on The Dick Van Dyke Show. When The Mary Tyler Moore Show had its famous finale in 1977, millions watched. 

Force of Nature: The Unsinkable Jerry Lewis

Jerry Lewis Photo

American comedy actor Jerry Lewis, with his mouth open at the piano.

It’s not clear who first christened Jerry Lewis “the king of comedy,” but it might have stemmed from the 1982 movie of the same name, directed by Martin Scorsese, in which Lewis, who died in August at age 91, played a late-night TV star modeled on Johnny Carson.

Ironically, Lewis’ role in the movie was not comedic, but after a lifetime of buffoonish performing and pratfalling, the title fit him like a glove. With performing partner Dean Martin, Lewis was, for a time in the late 1940s and into the ’50s, the top box-office draw in movies and one of the highest-rated performers on television – both at the same time.

He went on to direct and star in a series of very personal comedic movies (including 1963’s The Nutty Professor), while earning credit for various technical innovations in filmmaking.

All of this might have been enough for any one person in show business, but Lewis also hosted a yearly telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association that was a television staple on Labor Day for decades.

Playboy Publisher: Hugh Hefner

Hugh Hefner Photo

5th September 1969: Hugh Hefner, head of the Playboy Clubs on a visit to his London club in Park Lane, London. With him is his 19-year-old girlfriend Barbara Benton and a group of Bunny Girls.

Hugh Hefner may not have been the first to publish a magazine featuring nude women, but when he launched Playboy in 1953 (with Marilyn Monroe on the cover and between its pages), the culture seemed poised for a sexual revolution.

Starting gradually, that revolution and Hefner’s Playboy empire took off in the swinging ’60s as “Hef” presided over groovy cocktail parties on TV (Playboy After Dark), hosted celebrities and centerfolds in legendary parties at his Playboy Mansion in Holmby Hills, Calif., and opened a chain of Playboy Clubs in major cities across the country featuring buxom cocktail waitresses in skimpy bunny costumes.

By the time Hefner died in September at age 91, the world he conjured had long become a relic of a bygone age. 

Forget Me Not: Glen Campbell

Glen Campbell Photo

Glen Campbell

The lyrics of his best-known song, “Gentle on My Mind,” took on new significance when Glen Campbell announced in 2012 that he had Alzheimer’s Disease, but intended to make one last concert tour anyway. Campbell and his family made a documentary of that final tour titled “Glen Campbell … I’ll Be Me.” His concerts opened with “Gentle on My Mind,” with its lyrics about “. . . the rivers of my memory that keeps you ever gentle on my mind.”

Campbell, who died in August of Alzheimer’s at age 81, was a guitar prodigy turned-music megastar who topped the country and pop charts with a long string of hits in the 1960s and ’70s (“Gentle on My Mind,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Rhinestone Cowboy” and others), starred in his own prime-time variety show and even acted in movies, including 1969’s “True Grit,” co-starring with John Wayne

Rock ‘n’ Roll Royalty: Chuck Berry and Fats Domino

Chuck Berry Photo

Rock and roll musician Chuck Berry does the splits as he plays his Gibson hollowbody electric guitar, circa 1968.

The deaths this year of both Chuck Berry and Fats Domino were a double whammy, taking from our midst two of the last remaining icons of rock’s founding generation.

Berry, who died in March at age 90, produced a portfolio of original songs that became the very foundation of rock music – “Johnny B. Goode,” “Back in the USA,” “Roll Over, Beethoven,” “Maybelline,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music,” “No Particular Place To Go,” “You Never Can Tell” and the list goes on and on. 

Domino, who died in October at age 89, was one of rock’s first superstars. He released hit after hit from 1955 to 1960 (nine in 1956 alone), including his signatures “Blueberry Hill” and “Ain’t That a Shame.” When he toured the country in 1956 and ’57, he attracted sold-out audiences composed of both black and white teenagers – one of the first performers of the rock era to bridge the gap between the races. 

From The Sunshine State: Gregg Allman and Tom Petty

Greg Allman Photo

Rock star Gregg Allman, closeup of his performing. August 14, 1975.

Though born in Nashville, Gregg Allman and his brother Duane grew up principally around Daytona Beach, Fla., where they formed their first bands. They became the Allman Brothers in 1969 and soon became established as the nation’s premier southern rock band. Duane was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1971, but the band continued performing for more than 40 years and became one of the most beloved bands in rock playing hits such as “Tied to the Whipping Post,” “Midnight Rider” and “Rambling Man.” Gregg Allman, who was briefly married to Cher in 1975, died in May at age 69. 

Tom Petty, who died in October at age 67, was a product of Gainesville, Fla., who went on to become one of the top stars of rock music. With his band, the Heartbreakers, Petty produced a string of hit tunes that were as memorable as they were ubiquitous – including “American Girl,” “I Won’t Back Down,” “Free Fallin’ ” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” Petty and his band became an A-list rock act touring with, among others, Bob Dylan. Petty was also a member of the Traveling Wilburys, the band of superstars whose other members were George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne

Caped Crusader: Adam West

Adam West Photo

Adam West, 1966.

Despite the many incarnations of Batman seen in the last few decades in the movies and on television, for an older generation there is only one – the Adam West version. West, who died in June at age 88, wasn’t always comfortable with his notoriety as TV’s “Caped Crusader” from the campy Batman series of the 1960s, telling TV Guide in 1993 that he “hated” the Batman character for a time and blamed the show for difficulties he encountered finding other roles after the show ran its course in 1968. In recent years, he found new fame as a star voice on Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy as the town’s mayor, named … Adam West. 

The Game Show Kings: Chuck Barris and Monty Hall

Monty Hall Photo

IT'S ANYBODY'S GUESS -- Pictured: Host Monty Hall in 1977.

Monty Hall became known for one TV show, but it happens to be one of the longest-running shows on television – Let’s Make A Deal. Hall, who died in September at age 96, created the show, produced it and hosted it for 23 years.

As host, Hall established the template for the show, with its contestants who came from all over the country wearing zany, homemade costumes and looking for their chance to win money and prizes. Hall became famous for his skill at wrangling these excited, distracted contestants and getting them to focus when he asked them to pick “Door No. 1, Door No. 2 or Door No. 3” in search of big payoffs. The show continues today, weekdays on CBS with host Wayne Brady. 

Chuck Barris Photo

THE GONG SHOW -- Season 1 -- Pictured: Host Chuck Barris.

Chuck Barris is perhaps best known as the creator and offbeat host of The Gong Show (1977-80). But Barris, who died in March at age 87, was the creator of two of the most iconic TV game shows of the 1960s – The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game. The two shows provided a revealing look at contemporary relationships and romance. One, The Dating Game, was about the process of dating, and the other was about the aftermath of dating, which was the first years of marriage. Both shows were hugely popular and helped to define their era. 

Zombie Godfather: George Romero

George Romero Photo

Legendary horror movie director George A. Romero photographed at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, Saturday, February 9, 2008.

Zombies in both movies and television are a fact of our pop-culture lives today, but the credit for ushering in the last 50 years of zombie-mania goes to one man – George Romero. The legendary director and zombie godfather, who died in July at age 77, got the ball rolling with Night of the Living Dead in 1968 – a low-budget, black-and-white horror thriller that became a landmark of American cinema history. Romero made two sequels, including 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, in which a group of survivors of a zombie uprising hide out in a deserted shopping mall outside of Pittsburgh. The movie is considered by many to be a horror masterpiece. 

Nobody Did It Better: Roger Moore

Roger Moore Photo

Roger Moore, 1973.

Although there was one James Bond movie made between the Sean Connery and Roger Moore eras (1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service starring George Lazenby), Moore was Connery’s true heir to the Bond throne. If Connery was a Bond for the 1960s, Moore was the one who ushered the legendary, debonair British spy into the 1970s with Live and Let Die in 1973, aided by Paul McCartney’s iconic theme song. The impossibly handsome Moore, who was already well-established as a dashing leading man on British TV in the 1960s with The Saint and The Persuaders, went on to star in a total of seven Bond movies – the same number as Connery – including The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977, featuring the theme song “Nobody Does It Better” sung by Carly Simon), Moonraker (1979), For Your Eyes Only (1981), Octopussy (1983) and A View to a Kill (1985). Moore died in May at age 89.

Read About More People We Lost in 2017