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PASSINGS: Len Lesser, Sidney Harth, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, Santi Santamaria, T.P. McKenna, Howard Lucraft

Len Lesser, actor, dies at 88; Sidney Harth, violinist, dies at 85; Ratu Josefa Iloilo, Fijian leader, dies at 91; Santi Santamaria, chef, dies at 53; T.P. McKenna, actor, dies at 81; Howard Lucraft, guitarist, dies at 94

February 17, 2011
  • Len Lesser was a veteran character actor best known for his recurring role as Uncle Leo on Seinfeld."
Len Lesser was a veteran character actor best known for his recurring role… (Craig Schwartz )

Len Lesser

Veteran character actor

Len Lesser, 88, a veteran character actor best known for his recurring role in the 1990s as Uncle Leo on the hit NBC-TV comedy "Seinfeld," died Wednesday in Burbank, publicist Laura Stegman said. He had pneumonia and cancer.

Starting in the early 1950s, Lesser built a reputation for mostly playing the heavy in dozens of movies and hundreds of TV appearances, while nurturing his love of the theater. But the bald, hook-nosed actor took his career to a higher plane once he established himself as Jerry Seinfeld's annoying Uncle Leo with his trademark greeting "Hello!"

"He's the kind of guy who is a total nuisance at times and the kind of guy you avoid," Lesser said of Uncle Leo in a 1998 interview with The Times. "He's a very expansive character, and that has an attraction to it."

Born Dec. 3, 1922, in New York, Lesser received a bachelor's degree in economics and government from the City College of New York in 1942. He served in the Army during World War II, then returned to New York to study acting.

He moved to Los Angeles in 1954 and began working in television and commercials. Movie roles followed, including small parts in "Kelly's Heroes," "Papillon" and "The Outlaw Josey Wales."

Besides "Seinfeld," he also had a recurring role on the CBS sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond" as Raymond's father's friend Garvin.

He appeared frequently on local stages, including in "Cold Storage" at the Gnu Theatre in 1993, "Cantorial" at the Actors Alley in 1992 and "Awake and Sing!" at A Noise Within last year.

Sidney Harth

Former L.A. Phil concertmaster

Sidney Harth, 85, a violinist who was concertmaster and associate conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1973 to '79, died Tuesday of respiratory complications at a hospital in Pittsburgh, said publicist Janice Mayer.

Harth, who served under Zubin Mehta and Carlo Maria Giulini at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, resigned in 1979 because "numerous conducting and solo engagements are making it impossible … to spend an adequate amount of time with the orchestra," he said.

Martin Bernheimer, then The Times' classical music critic, wrote that Harth won nearly universal acclaim as a violinist but was criticized by some because of his absences.

During his career, Harth was concertmaster for the Louisville Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic and worked with the Jerusalem and Puerto Rico symphonies, among others.

He was chairman of the music department at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh when he came to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He later taught there again, as well as at Yale and several other universities. He was director of orchestra studies at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh when he died.

Harth was born Oct. 5, 1925, in Cleveland and graduated in 1947 from the Cleveland Institute of Music.

Ratu Josefa Iloilo

Fijian leader aided military takeover

Ratu Josefa Iloilo, 91, a Fijian tribal chief who as president made crucial decisions backing the military takeover of the South Pacific country, died Feb. 7 at a hospital in the capital city of Suva. He had a heart condition.

A traditional high chief and former teacher, Iloilo became an ally of armed forces chief Commodore Frank Bainimarama, who overthrew the elected government in a December 2006 coup amid rising tensions between indigenous Fijians and the country's large ethnic Indian minority.

Bainimarama seized the president's powers in the coup but returned them within days to Iloilo, who then swore in the armed forces chief as prime minister and his appointees as the Cabinet, giving the regime a veneer of legitimacy.

Iloilo stepped in again on Bainimarama's behalf in April 2009, when Fiji's Court of Appeal ruled that Bainimarama's government was illegal and all decisions it had made were invalid.

Iloilo responded by abolishing the Constitution, firing the nation's judges and imposing emergency rule that continues, with the nation ruled by decrees issued by the office of president on the advice of Bainimarama and his Cabinet.

Since the coup — Fiji's fourth since 1987 — Fiji has been suspended from the 53-nation Commonwealth group and 16-country Pacific Islands Forum.

Iloilo stood down as president in 2010. He had been appointed to the country's highest office in 2000.

Santi Santamaria

Renowned Spanish chef

Santi Santamaria, 53, a Spanish chef with a three-Michelin-star restaurant in Barcelona and other fine eateries, died Wednesday in Singapore at his Marina Bay restaurant named Santi, said Ruben Mallat, manager of the three-star restaurant El Raco de Can Fabes in Barcelona. Mallat said the cause of death was not immediately known.

One of a generation of chefs who brought Spanish cuisine to the attention of international gourmets, Santamaria prided himself on using natural, seasonal ingredients to make Mediterranean-style dishes.

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