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What they left is just indelible

A list of notable passings in the worlds of entertainment, the arts and literature has room for pitchmen and personalities as well as titans.

December 28, 2007|Diane Haithman | Times Staff Writer

It's impossible to deem the passing of any influential arts, entertainment or pop culture figure more "important" than that of another.

It is possible, however, to observe that two performers who died in 2007 managed to transcend the traditional boundaries between art and entertainment like no others: opera's beloved Italian tenor and American soprano, Luciano Pavarotti and Beverly Sills.

Both Pavarotti, who died in September of pancreatic cancer at age 71, and the Brooklyn-born Sills, a nonsmoker who succumbed to lung cancer in July at age 78, wooed the world by being as comfortable on the TV screen as the opera stage. Both gave opera a human face: Pavarotti as one of the wildly popular "Three Tenors" and Sills, dubbed "America's Queen of Opera" by Time magazine, as the kind of spunky performer who could relish a duet with Miss Piggy on "The Muppet Show."

And 2007 saw the loss of quite a few performers who, unlike these opera superstars, made an indelible mark with something small. Actor Dick Wilson, who died in November at 91, spent 21 years begging TV audiences not to squeeze the Charmin as aggrieved grocer Mr. Whipple. And, for better or worse, some of your brain cells are most likely occupied with the lyrics to Bobby "Boris" Pickett's "Monster Mash"; the singer who co-wrote the Halloween novelty song died in April at 69.

Then there was ex-Playmate Anna Nicole Smith, who . . . well, what did she do, exactly? One online obituary calls her a "reality TV star"; let's go with that. The very famous, very blond widow of billionaire J. Howard Marshall II died in a hotel room in February; she was 39.

Other notable passings in entertainment, the arts and literature, in no particular order, included:

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Kurt Vonnegut, novelist, 84: Noted for biting satirical commentary on war, technology, materialism and other societal ills, his novels include "Slaughterhouse-Five," "Cat's Cradle," "Mother Night" and "Breakfast of Champions."

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Norman Mailer, author, 84: The audacious two-time Pulitzer Prize winner wrote nearly 50 books that included fiction, biography, history, essays and the hybrid genre that became known as New Journalism, the novelistic rendering of factual stories including 1979's "The Executioner's Song," about double-murderer Gary Gilmore. Other books include "The Naked and the Dead" (1948), "Ancient Evenings" (1983) and "The Gospel According to the Son," an "autobiography" of Jesus (1997).

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Ingmar Bergman, film director, 89: The Swedish auteur was considered one of the greatest directors in film history, credited with opening America's doors to foreign films. His early masterpieces such as "The Seventh Seal" and "Wild Strawberries" and later films such as "Persona" and "Cries and Whispers" explored the intricacies of the human psyche. His "The Virgin Spring" (1960), "Through a Glass Darkly" (1961) and "Fanny and Alexander" (1983) all won Oscars for best foreign-language film.

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Sol LeWitt, visual artist, 78: The modular sculptures and systematic murals by this American artist are considered to be among the most innovative works of the last 40 years. Like the sculptures, the wall drawings are composed using precise sets of logical instructions. "The idea becomes a machine that makes the art," LeWitt once wrote.

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Igor Moiseyev, dancer-choreographer, 101: The Russian dance artist was trained in ballet but became a champion of folk dancing, creating an acclaimed Russian company, reinventing folk dance as a professional stage spectacle, influencing ballet, modern and contemporary choreographers and leading to copycat companies both in Russia and abroad.

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Marcel Marceau, mime, 84: A moment of silence for Marceau, the great French mime who for seven decades broke down barriers of language and infused new life into an ancient art form. Inspired in childhood by Charlie Chaplin, Marceau toured the world for more than half a century, giving more than 15,000 performances. Most all of his shows included his often-imitated signature character Bip, the bemused clown in the striped pullover.

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Max Roach, jazz drummer, 83: Roach brought the drum set to the front of the stage; his innovative approach to drumming forever changed the way the instrument was played and perceived. Also a composer, his achievements reached well beyond music as a pioneer in the use of the creative arts for the advocacy of civil rights and racial equality.

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Deborah Kerr, 86: The British actress was one of Hollywood's top leading ladies in the 1950s; her films include "From Here to Eternity," "The King and I" and "An Affair to Remember." In "Eternity" Kerr, noted for playing ladylike characters, shattered her good-girl image by portraying an adulterous wife. The movie contains one of filmdom's most memorable images: Kerr and Burt Lancaster locked in a embrace on a beach as a wave washes over them.

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