As 2021 Fades To Black, We Say Goodbye

This year, TVNewsCheck reported on the deaths of outstanding men and women who shaped television as actors, lawmakers, producers, business people, journalists, on-air personalities and more. Here’s a look back at some of those influencers, each linked to their obituary.

Gregory Sierra, who had memorable roles in the 1970s sitcoms Barney Miller and Sanford and Son, died Jan. 4 after battling cancer. He was 83.

Patricia Loud, best known for being the matriarch of the PBS docuseries An American Family, died Jan. 10. She was 94. The Loud family became famous as the subjects of An American Family, which was filmed in 1971 and aired on PBS in early 1973. The show was considered groundbreaking and is now referred to as the first reality TV series.

Ray Brady, a longtime CBS News correspondent who focused on business and the economy, died Jan. 12 at his home in Manhattan. He was 94. Brady spent 28 years with CBS News, starting in 1972 when he joined CBS Radio. He retired in 2000 after 23 years as a correspondent for CBS Evening News.

Larry King, the suspenders-sporting everyman whose broadcast interviews with world leaders, movie stars and ordinary Joes helped define American conversation for a half-century, died Jan 23. He was 87. A longtime nationally syndicated radio host, from 1985 through 2010 he was a nightly fixture on CNN, where he won many honors, including two Peabody awards.

Hal Holbrook, the craftsman who reincarnated Mark Twain on stage and screen for more than six decades and also stood out as Abraham Lincoln and Deep Throat, two other American legends, died Jan. 23. He won five Emmys, earned an Oscar nomination at age 82 for Into the Wild and starred in Magnum Force and Wall Street. He was 95.

Cloris Leachman, an Oscar-winner for her portrayal of a lonely housewife in The Last Picture Show and a comedic delight as the fearsome Frau Blücher in Young Frankenstein and self-absorbed neighbor Phyllis on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, died Jan. 27. She was 94. A character actor of extraordinary range, Leachman defied typecasting. In her early television career, she appeared as Timmy’s mother on the Lassie series. She played a frontier prostitute in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a crime spree family member in Crazy Mama and Blücher in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, in which the very mention of her name drew equine commentary.

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Mitchell Krauss, a former CBS News Middle East correspondent and Cairo bureau chief, died Jan. 27. He was 90.

Cicely Tyson, the pioneering Black actor who gained an Oscar nomination for her role as the sharecropper’s wife in Sounder, won a Tony Award in 2013 at age 88 and touched TV viewers’ hearts in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (for which she won two Emmys), died Jan. 28 at age 96. President Barack Obama awarded Tyson the Medal of Freedom in 2016.

Allan Burns, a television producer and screenwriter best known for cocreating and cowriting for the television sitcoms The Munsters, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Rhoda, died Jan. 30 at 85. Early jobs included working in animation for Jay Ward on The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, Dudley Do-Right and George of the Jungle. He also is credited with cowriting the unaired pilot episode of The Smothers Brothers Show from 1965.

Jamie Tarses, who broke the glass ceiling for female TV executives as the first woman to run a network entertainment division, died Feb. 1 from complications stemming from a cardiac event. She was 56. A superstar TV executive, Tarses was instrumental in developing such iconic shows as NBC’s Friends and Frasier and reached the pinnacle of the network programming executive ladder by age 32, becoming president of ABC Entertainment. Young and phenomenally successful, Tarses transcended the media business to become a bona fide celebrity who was both admired and scrutinized. After leaving ABC, she produced such popular shows as ABC’s Happy Endings, TBS’s My Boys, TNT’s Franklin & Bash and Amazon Prime Video’s The Wilds.

Tony Trabert, one of the biggest tennis stars of the 1950s, who won five major singles championships and five more in doubles play before a long career in broadcasting, died Feb. 3. He was 90. Following his tennis career, he was working as a business executive in Los Angeles in the early 1970s when he sent an audition tape to CBS and was hired as a tennis analyst. He spent more than 20 years teamed with announcer Pat Summerall.

Larry Flynt, who turned his raunchy Hustler magazine into an empire while fighting numerous First Amendment court battles and flaying politicians with stunts such as a Donald Trump assassination Christmas card, died Feb. 10. He was 78. Flynt was shot in a 1978 assassination attempt and left paralyzed from the waist down but refused to slow down, building a flamboyant reputation along with a fortune estimated at $100 million. Flynt owned not only Hustler but other niche publications, a video production company, scores of websites, two Los Angeles-area casinos and dozens of Hustler boutiques selling adult-oriented products. At the time of his death he claimed to have video-on-demand operations in more than 55 countries and more than 30 Hustler Hollywood retail stores throughout the United States.

Gustave M. Hauser, an early force in cable TV, died Feb 14 at 91. The bold experiment he undertook in Columbus, Ohio, in 1977 helped usher in the modern era of multichannel digital cable television. That year, Warner Cable Communications unveiled QUBE, an experimental cable system offering a package of 30 themed channels that provided movies, sports, children’s programming and documentaries. The system not only offered customers content unavailable on broadcast television; it also introduced new technology to bring that content to them.

Rush Limbaugh, the talk radio host who ripped into liberals and laid waste to political correctness with a gleeful malice that made him one of the most powerful voices in politics, influencing the rightward push of American conservatism and the rise of Donald Trump, died Feb. 17. He was 70.

Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famer Mike Pearl, who worked at five networks and won 17 Sports Emmy awards, died March 1 at the age of 77. Highlights of his career include producing the first four years of NFL Today, the first five years of Inside the NBA, the first live wire-to-wire coverage of a Daytona 500, and working on five Olympics.

Roger Mudd, the longtime political correspondent and anchor for NBC and CBS who once stumped Sen. Edward Kennedy by simply asking why he wanted to be president, died March 9. He was 93. During more than 30 years on network television, starting with CBS in 1961, Mudd covered Congress, elections and political conventions and was a frequent anchor and contributor to various specials. His career coincided with the flowering of television news, the pre-cable, pre-internet days when the Big 3 networks and their powerhouse ranks of reporters were the main source of news for millions of Americans.

Arthur Greenwald, a longtime media consultant, KDKA Pittsburgh executive producer and TVNewsCheck contributor, was gifted with an impish wit and knew how to sling a bon mot for maximum impact. He died March 12 at 68.

Yaphet Kotto, the compelling character actor who portrayed police lieutenant Al Giardello on Homicide: Life on the Street, a space traveler in Alien and a supervillain in Live and Let Die, died March 15. He was 81. A presence at 6-foot-4 and more than 240 pounds in his prime, Kotto also was known for his eerie Emmy-nominated performance as the brutal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in Raid on Entebbe, a 1976 NBC movie.

George Segal, the banjo player turned actor who was nominated for an Oscar for 1966’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and worked into his late 80s on the ABC sitcom The Goldbergs, died March 23 at 87. In the 1980s and ’90s, he turned to television and found success in 1997 with the David Spade sitcom Just Shoot Me in which he played magazine publisher Jack Gallo, who despite his gruff manner hires his daughter (Laura San Giacomo) and keeps Spade’s worthless office boy character on his payroll simply out of a sense of affection for both. He played grandfather Albert “Pops” Solomon on the The Goldbergs since 2013.

Jessica Walter, the award-winning actress whose career spanned six decades, died on March 24 at 80. Walter’s career included everything from a standout turn in Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut, Play Misty for Me, to The Flamingo Kid and her Emmy-nominated turns on Trapper John M.D. and Streets of San Francisco. For her performance as Lucille Bluth in Arrested Development, Walter earned yet another Emmy nomination and two SAG nominations. Walter won an Emmy starring in Amy Prentiss, an Ironside spinoff in the mid-1970s about a young San Francisco police detective. She also voiced Malory Archer on FXX’s animated series Archer.

Larry McMurtry, a prolific novelist and screenwriter who demythologized the American West with his unromantic depictions of life on the 19th-century frontier and in contemporary small-town Texas, died March 25. He was 84. Over more than five decades, McMurtry wrote more than 30 novels and many books of essays, memoir and history. He also wrote more than 30 screenplays, including the one for “Brokeback Mountain” (written with Diana Ossana, based on a short story by Annie Proulx), for which he won an Academy Award in 2006. But he found his greatest commercial and critical success with Lonesome Dove, a sweeping 843-page novel about two retired Texas Rangers who drive a herd of stolen cattle from the Rio Grande to Montana in the 1870s. The book won a Pulitzer Prize in 1986 and was made into a popular television miniseries.

Don Farmer, a TV news veteran who was one of CNN’s original anchors, died March 31 after battling a rare neurological disease known as PSP. Farmer and his wife, fellow broadcast journalist Chris Curle, were among the first anchors hired in 1980 when Ted Turner launched CNN. Among Farmer’s early assignments was a week of live coverage from Cuba that included an interview with then leader Fidel Castro. Farmer got his start in TV at NBC News and moved to ABC News in 1965. He covered the Civil Rights movement and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and logged an interview with all four Beatles at the height of Beatlemania.

Gloria Henry, who advanced from B movies in the 1940s to an iconicTV mom on the CBS sitcom Dennis the Menace, died April 3, one day after her 98th birthday. Henry played Alice Mitchell, the endlessly patient, shirtwaist dress-wearing mother of the mischievous title character created as a newspaper cartoon by Hank Ketcham. The TV series adaptation ran from 1959 to 1963 with Jay North in the title role.

Edward J. “Ted” Koplar, a former chief executive officer of KPLR St. Louis and longtime entrepreneur, died April 4 at age 77. Koplar first worked as a show producer at the station that was started in 1959 by his father, Harold Koplar. The younger Koplar became president and chief executive in 1979 and under his leadership KPLR was consistently ranked among the top independent stations in the U.S. It became affiliated with the WB Network in 1995 and was sold to Acme Communications in 1998.

Anne Beatts, the creator of CBS sitcom Square Pegs and an original writer on Saturday Night Live, died April 7. She was 74. The recipient of two Emmy Awards, Beatts co-created several SNL characters alongside her writing partner Rosie Shuster, including Todd and Lisa Lupner, Irwin Mainway, Fred Garvin and Uncle Roy. Alongside creating and producing Square Pegs and her work on SNL, the writer-producer also wrote for The Stephanie Miller Show (on which she was additionally an executive producer) and Committed and co-executive produced A Different World from 1987 to 1988.

Charles “Chuck” Geschke, the co-founder of the major software company Adobe Inc. who helped develop Portable Document Format technology, or PDFs — died April 16 at age 81.

Norman Lloyd, whose acting credits stretched from the earliest known U.S. TV drama, 1939′s On the Streets of New York on the nascent NBC network, to 21st-century projects including Modern Family and The Practice, died on May 11 at 106. His role as kindly Dr. Daniel Auschlander on NBC’s St. Elsewhere was a single chapter in a distinguished television, stage and screen career that put him in the company of Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Charlie Chaplin and other greats. Lloyd worked steadily as a TV actor and director in the early 1950s, but the political liberal found his career in jeopardy during the Hollywood blacklist period aimed at communists or their sympathizers. In 1957, Hitchcock came to his rescue, Lloyd said in 2014. When the famed director sought to hire Lloyd as associate producer on his series Alfred Hitchcock Presents but was told “There is a problem with Norman Lloyd,” Hitchcock didn’t back down, Lloyd recalled. His other TV credits include roles in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Murder, She Wrote, The Paper Chase, Quincy M.E., and Kojak.

Paul Mooney, the boundary-pushing comedian who was Richard Pryor’s longtime writing partner and whose bold, incisive musings on racism and American life made him a revered figure in stand-up, died May 19 at 79.

Gavin MacLeod, who was the Love Boat captain and played Murray on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, two of the top television shows of the 1970s and 1980s, died May 29. He was 90.

Character actor Ned Beatty who received an Emmy nomination for the topical telepic Friendly Fire, in which Beatty and Carol Burnett starred as a couple who, while mourning the death of their son, uncover the ugly realities of the war in Vietnam, died June 13. He was also nominated in 1989 for his work in Last Train Home. Most memorable of his TV efforts, however, was his performance as the acerbic Detective Stanley Bolander on NBC’s ensemble police drama Homicide: Life on the Street in the early 1990s. Beatty was 83.

Norman S. Powell, the two-time Emmy-nominated producer who worked on such series as The New Dick Van Dyke Show and 24 and, as a longtime CBS executive, greenlighted a pilot for Cagney & Lacey, died June 16. He was 86.

Major media broker John Veronis who played a role in Rupert Murdoch’s $3 billion purchase of the company that owned TV Guide, died June 24 at 93. His firm, Veronis, Suhler & Associates, was also involved in the sale of Capital Cities’ television station in Buffalo and the acquisition of two TV stations by the Telemundo Group, the operator of Spanish-language networks that is now part of NBCUniversal. In 1990, Veronis helped broker the merger between two nascent satellite services in Britain — Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Broadcasting and British Satellite Broadcasting.

Richard Donner, a filmmaker who helped create the modern superhero blockbuster with 1978’s Superman and mastered the buddy comedy with the Lethal Weapon franchise died July 5 at 91. He got his start directing television series including Wanted: Dead or Alive, The Twilight Zone, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Fugitive.

Robert Jacquemin, a syndication pioneer, died July 11 at 78. As head of television at Buena Vista and DreamWorks, he shepherded syndication sales of such shows as Entertainment Tonight, Family Ties and Home Improvement during his long career.

Jackie Mason, a rabbi-turned-comedian whose feisty brand of standup comedy led him to Catskills nightclubs, West Coast talk shows and Broadway stages, died July 24. He was 93. Mason started in show business as a social director at a resort in the Catskills. In 1961, the pint-sized comic got a big break, an appearance on Steve Allen’s weekly television variety show. His success brought him to The Ed Sullivan Show. On TV, Mason became a reliable presence, usually with a cameo on such shows as 30 Rock or The Simpsons or as a reliable guest on latenight chat shows.

Ron Popeil, the man behind those latenight, rapid-fire television commercials that sell everything from the Mr. Microphone to the Pocket Fisherman to the classic Veg-a-Matic, died July 28 at 86. Most prominently, though, he cheerfully gave away his infomercial content to moviemakers looking for something to be playing on TV in the background of their films. In this way did he extend his reputation for ubiquity — and his growing wink-nudge pop-culture brand — for free, with no effort at all. Others did the work, and he got the eyeballs.

Longtime NBC programming executive Herb Schlosser who put an indelible stamp on the network by negotiating Johnny Carson’s first deal to host The Tonight Show, putting Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In on the air and overseeing the development of Saturday Night Live, died Aug. 6 at age 95. Schlosser was president of NBC in 1974 when he faced a latenight predicament: Johnny Carson no longer wanted the network to carry repeats of Tonight on weekends. In early 1975 he wrote a memo that laid out the fundamentals of an original program that would be televised from NBC’s headquarters at Rockefeller Center; would be carried live, or at least taped on the same day, to maintain its topicality; would be “young and bright,” with a “distinctive look, a distinctive set and a distinctive sound”; would “seek to develop new television personalities”; and would have a different host each week. “Saturday Night is an ideal time to launch a show like this,” Schlosser wrote. “Those who now take the Saturday/Sunday Tonight Show repeats should welcome this, and I would imagine we would get much greater clearance with a new show.”

Nickolas “Nick” Davatzes, CEO emeritus of A+E Networks who developed and launched A&E Network and History Channel, died Aug. 21 at 79. Davatzes, one of the architects behind the boom of the cable network business in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, joined what would become A+E Networks in December 1983 following the merger of the Entertainment Network, owned by RCA and the Rockefeller family and the ARTS Network, owned by Hearst and ABC.

Longtime NBC News correspondent Lloyd Dobyns Jr. died Aug. 21. Dobyns, who began his broadcasting career in 1957 at WDBJ Roanoke, Va., worked for NBC News in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, and was known in the U.S. for working with Linda Ellerbee on the latenight news series NBC News Overnight in 1982 and 1983. He won a Peabody Award in 1975 and retired in 1986. Dobyns was 85.

Ed Asner, the burly and prolific character actor who became a star in middle age as the gruff but lovable newsman Lou Grant, first in the CBS hit comedy The Mary Tyler Moore Show and later in the drama Lou Grant, died Aug 28. He was 91. Asner won three best supporting actor Emmys on Mary Tyler Moore and two best actor awards on Lou Grant. He also won Emmys for his roles in the miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man (1975-1976) and Roots (1976-1977). He had more than 300 acting credits and remained active throughout his 70s and 80s in a variety of film and TV roles. More recently, he was in such TV series as Forgive Me and Dead to Me.

Gene Walsh, who spent three decades as a publicity executive for NBC in New York and then Burbank, Calif., died Sept. 1. He was 87. The only staffer to head NBC press and publicity departments on both coasts, Walsh worked closely with Johnny Carson and Bob Hope and with top execs including Grant Tinker and Brandon Tartikoff during his career. He retired in 1991.

Willard Scott, the beloved weatherman who charmed viewers of NBC’s Today show with his self-deprecating humor and cheerful personality, died Sept. 4 at 87. He began his 65-year career at NBC as an entry-level page at NBC-owned WRC Washington, D.C., and rose to become the weather forecaster on the television network’s flagship morning show for more than three decades.

Irma Kalish, a trailblazing sitcom writer and producer, died Sept. 4. She and her late husband Austin “Rocky” Kalish worked on hundreds of television episodes for shows including All in the Family, Maude, My Three Sons, My Favorite Martian, I Dream of Jeannie, The Flying Nun, F Troop and Family Affair, the last of which they also served as story editors. They went on to produce and write for other series including CBS’s Good Times, ABC’s Too Close for Comfort and NBC’s The Facts of Life and 227.

Norm Macdonald, whose laconic delivery of sharp and incisive observations made him one of Saturday Night Live‘s most influential and beloved cast members, died Sept. 14 after a nine-year private battle with cancer. He was 61. He was an SNL cast member from 1993 to 1998, making his greatest impact as the anchor of the show’s “Weekend Update” segments for three seasons. Remembered for his droll style — and for his refusal to go easy on O.J. Simpson despite reported pressure from NBC execs — Macdonald would prove one of the most impactful “Update” anchors, pivoting away from the slapstick approach of Chevy Chase and toward the more barbed political approach of his successor, Colin Quinn.

John J. Rigas, whose high-flying success as the founder of Adelphia Cable ended in disgrace and prison over shareholder fraud, died Sept. 30. He was 96.

James Michael Tyler, who portrayed the neglected Central Perk barista Gunther on all 10 seasons of Friends, died Oct. 23. He was 59. Tyler was working as a barista at the Bourgeois Pig coffee shop on Franklin Avenue near Hollywood when he was asked to stand in the background and work the levers of the Central Perk espresso machine on the NBC sitcom. It took him two seasons and 33 appearances before he got his first line of dialogue and for his character to get a name. Tyler would show up on 150 of the 236 episodes of the show, from the second installment that first aired in September 1994 to “The Last One” on May 6, 2004. No other actor recurred more often.

Former Quantum Leap star Dean Stockwell, an Oscar- and Emmy-nominated actor whose career on stage, in film and TV spanned more than 70 years, died Nov. 7 at 85.

Kevin Nishita, a security guard who was shot while protecting a KRON San Francisco crew during an attempted armed robbery on Nov. 24, died from his injuries.

Michael Nesmith , the singer-songwriter, author, actor-director and entrepreneur who will likely be best remembered as the wool-hatted, guitar-strumming member of the made-for-television rock band The Monkees, died Dec. 10 at 78.

John Madden, the NFL Hall of Fame coach turned broadcaster whose exuberant calls combined with simple explanations provided a weekly soundtrack to NFL games for three decades, died Dec. 28 at 85. Madden gained fame in a decade-long stint as the coach of the renegade Oakland Raiders, making it to seven AFC title games and winning the Super Bowl following the 1976 season. But it was his work after prematurely retiring as coach at age 42 that made Madden truly a household name. He was the preeminent television sports analyst for most of his three decades calling games, winning an unprecedented 16 Emmy Awards for outstanding sports analyst/personality, and covering 11 Super Bowls for four networks from 1979 to 2009.

Jeff Dickerson, an NFL reporter for ESPN who covered the Chicago Bears for two decades, died Dec. 28 of complications from colon cancer. He was 44.


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