R.I.P. -- Revered, Influential, Popular -- Say Farewell to Fallen Pop Culture Greats of 2012

By Beifuss, John | The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN), January 13, 2013 | Go to article overview

R.I.P. -- Revered, Influential, Popular -- Say Farewell to Fallen Pop Culture Greats of 2012


Beifuss, John, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)


From Memphis to Mayberry to Mars, fans and aficionados of both high and low popular culture had many reasons to mourn -- and many lives to celebrate -- in 2012.

On July 3, we lost Andy Griffith, 86, television's beloved Sheriff Andy Taylor, while on June 5, 91-year-old Ray Bradbury, author of The Martian Chronicles, passed away.

The year was especially rough in Memphis, thanks to the passing of Booker T. & the MG's bass player Donald Duck Dunn (who died May 13 at age 70); opera singer Marguerite Piazza (Aug. 2, 86); Shaft wah-wah guitarist Charles Skip Pitts (May 1, 65); Andrew Love (April 12, 70) of the Memphis Horns; Sesame Street writer Judy Freudberg (June 10, 62); longtime local television personality Marge Thrasher (Aug. 17, 78); filmmmaker Rod Pitts (March 16, 37); and Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out) Hombres lead singer B.B. Cunningham (Oct. 14, 79), among others.

Sad news about a familiar face or household name seemed to arrive almost every day last year. Among those who departed our vale of woe were Oscar-winner Ernest Borgnine, TV pioneer Dick Clark, inveterate Family Feud osculator Richard Dawson, Soul Train host Don Cornelius, Sherman (George Jefferson) Hemsley, Disco Queen Donna Summer, 60 Minutes inquisitor Mike Wallace, At Last vocalist Etta James, pop superstar Whitney Houston, a Beastie Boy (Adam Yauch) and a Wild Thing (Maurice Sendak).

Most of these deaths -- and the deaths of others, too numerous to name -- received a good deal of publicity. But some late great notables were more or less overlooked.

To balance the scales somewhat, we present here our 16th annual Pop Culture Necrology a chronological salute to some of the underappreciated artists and newsmakers who staked a claim to significance or strangeness.

As always, our key resource was local author Harris M. Lentz III, whose definitive Obituaries in the Performing Arts series is published each year by McFarland and Co. of North Carolina (visit mcfarlandpub.com).

Lentz's obituary books typically run 400 pages, so the roll call below represents just a very small sampling.

A doo-wop singer and R&B veteran of the 1950s and '60s who hit the charts in the '70s with funky novelty tales of Bertha Butt and the Butt Sisters, including Troglodyte (Cave Man) and The Bertha Butt Boogie, Jimmy Castor, 71, died Jan. 16. Such Castor recordings as Hey, Leroy, Your Mama's Callin' You were much sampled by hip- hop artists. Another oft-sampled performer was James Brown protgMarva Whitney (Dec. 22, 68), who answered the Isley Brothers' It's Your Thing with her 1969 hit, It's My Thing (You Can't Tell Me Who To Sock It To).

There will be no more notes from Epstein's Mother : Actor Robert Hegyes, 60, who portrayed Juan Epstein on the 1970s sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter, died Jan. 26. Seven months later, on Aug. 14, fellow Sweathog Arnold Horshack real name: Ron Palillo also died from a heart attack, at 63. (Slasher fans may recall that Palillo's heart was ripped from his chest by Camp Crystal Lake's resurrected serial killer in 1986's Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. )

They're coming to get you, Barbara. Bill Hinzman, the lurching graveyard zombie in Night of the Living Dead (1968) who inspired that famous line and incidentally inaugurated an international fascination with the notion of a cannibalistic zombie apocalypse that shows no sign of abating, died Feb. 5 at 75. As the screen's first-ever flesh-eating zombie, Hinzman causes the wreck of a car driven by the character of Barbara; the car was owned by good-sport Josephine Streiner, 93, who also appeared as one of the walking dead in the film and coincidentally died the same day as Hinzman.

Idiosyncratic bluesman Louisiana Red(real name: Iverson Minter), who threatened to grab Fidel Castro by his beard and give him a Georgia shave in the Cuban Missile Crisis-inspired Red's Dream and who shared pig feet and some collard greens with the head Martian in Red's New Dream, died Feb. …

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