In Memoriam: A Look Back At Some Of The People We Lost in 2015

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Categories: Misc.

hourglass.jpgSome people view obituaries as morbid stories, but in truth only one line of an obit deals with death. The rest of the story focuses on the amazing lives people lead. In 2015, these 15 obituaries featured the people who most resonated with me:

* Alana Baranick, obituary writer
* Leonard Nimoy, actor, photographer and artist
* Maureen O’Hara, actor
* Harriet Klausner, author
* Wes Craven, director
* Kenji Ekuan, industrial engineer
* James Horner, composer
* Bertrice Small, author
* Oliver Sacks, neurologist and author
* Ann Rule, true crime writer
* Mary Ellen Mark, photographer
* David Carr, columnist
* Roger Rees, actor
* B.B. King, musician
* Rudy Perz, ad man

Other wonderful obituaries that shouldn’t be missed (and people who shouldn’t be forgotten):

* Jonathan Crombie, actor
* Yogi Berra, baseball player
* Christopher Lee, actor
* Ben E. King, singer
* Jackie Collins, author
* John Nash, mathematician
* Terry Pratchett, author
* Bob Simon, journalist
* Stuart Scott, sportscaster
* Alex Rocco, actor
* Ruth Rendell, author
* Burt Shavitz, businessman
* Vincent Bugliosi, attorney


Harriet Klausner

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Categories: Writers/Editors

Death has closed the book on the controversial life of Harriet Klausner.

The prolific book reviewer had a unique talent that brought her online fame: She could speed-read through up to six books a day. Harnessing this skill, Klausner became a cultural phenomenon.

For much of the ‘oughts, she was the #1 ranked reviewer on As her influence in the book industry grew, publishers began sending her review copies of upcoming novels, sometimes as many as 50 a week. In 2006, Time Magazine even named Klausner a person who had significant impact on the information age.

That impact was lessened, somewhat, when Amazon instituted a new ranking system. Although Klausner’s “top reviewer” rating dropped to #2,410, the site continued to honor her contributions by naming her the #1 Hall of Fame Reviewer — a recognition she earned in 11 different years.

“During the 2000s, Klausner was a well-known name in online book circles, and it was rare to see any popular title on Amazon without a Klausner customer review at the top of the list. She was an important part of the history of Amazon, and deserves to be remembered as such,” TeleRead editor Chris Meadows said.

Born and raised in the Bronx, Klausner was always surrounded by literature. Her father worked at the McGraw-Hill publishing house, which meant her childhood home was filled to the brim with books. As an adult, she earned a master’s degree in library science, did a stint as an advance reader for the Doubleday Book Club, labored at several book stores and worked as an acquisition librarian.

Klausner’s desire to become a critiquing machine was sparked while writing a monthly review column of recommended reads. Once her son Eric was born, she launched a freelance writing career and began building her brand as a popular reviewer of genre fiction.

“I enjoy a heated romance, especially written by the Sandras — Chastain and Brown. I love science fiction and fantasy when the realm feels real. Horror is entertaining to me when the vampires seem as if they are another living (dead?) species. [Dean] Koontz remains my king. However, I particularly take pleasure from almost all the sub-genres of mystery to include comic books starring Batman and Ms. Tree,” Klausner once said.

Yet there were books that simply didn’t hold the Georgia resident’s interest.

“I do not enjoy nonfiction,” she said, “especially biographies (boring) or most westerns.”

Illness and insomnia helped to turn Klausner into a homebound, book-reading, review-writing machine. Over the course of 15 years, she posted 31,014 reviews on Amazon, including a positive critique of John Benedict’s medical thriller “Adrenaline,” and a rave review for “Onward, Drake!” by Larry Correia, both of which appeared just days before her death.

Thousands of readers revered her efforts, buying novels based on her generally glowing reviews. Authors also considered the act of getting “Klausnered” a rite of passage since her reviews often helped to boost the average ranking of new tomes. One author, John Birmingham, even named a character in his novel “Designated Targets” after her, though Klausner failed to disclose this fact when she reviewed the book.

Romance novelist Elizabeth Delisi, whose books received blurbable accolades from Klausner, praised her critiques.

Harriet was a wonderful reviewer, whose support of new authors gave many of them the hope to keep on writing. She will be sorely missed,” Delisi said in an online condolence book.

Sara Nelson, the editorial director of and a contributor to the blog Omnivoracious, described Klausner as the “best kind of reader.”

“It’s no surprise that she had major credibility with Amazon readers and book lovers; her reviews garnered more than 119,000 ‘helpful’ votes over the years,” Nelson noted. “In other words, people counted on her thoughts.”

Klausner also had countless vocal detractors. Many people posted complaints on her reviews claiming she was a fraud; they simply didn’t believe she could possibly read so many books. Others accused her of being a collective of reviewers all writing under the same moniker in order to achieve fame and receive free copies of books.

Some readers disliked the style of her reviews, which frequently just summarized the story with a bit of positive opinion at the end. Some took issue with the fact that she gave so many four- or five-star ratings. And then there were those who groused that Klausner didn’t disclose the fact that she received thousands of books, including not-for-sale advanced review copies, from publishers.

In profiles and interviews, Klausner addressed a few of these issues. On Books ‘N’ Bytes, she scoffed at the fraud claims, describing herself as a “hyper-speed-reader.” She told The New York Times that she was able to get through so many novels because many weren’t very long.

“You ever read a Harlequin romance?” she asked. “You can finish it in one hour.”

Klausner also defended her decision to avoid writing negative reviews by declaring herself a member of the “if you don’t have anything nice to write, don’t write anything at all” school of literary criticism. If, after 50 pages, a book didn’t capture her interest, she’d just cast it aside and move on to another.

“I have one basic criterion: A book should entertain me and take me away from the rest of the world,” she told the Wall Street Journal.

To the rest of her detractors, Klausner’s response was simple and pointed: “Get a life. Read a book.”

Klausner died on Oct. 15. Cause of death was not released. She was 63. When describing how she’d like to be remembered, Klausner said her husband Stan had already devised the perfect epitaph: “Give me literature or give me death.”


Vincent Bugliosi

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Categories: Law, Writers/Editors

Vincent Bugliosi, the former Los Angeles attorney who prosecuted cult leader Charles Manson before becoming a bestselling true crime author, died on June 6 of cancer. He was 80.

The Minnesota native earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Miami and a law degree from UCLA. In the 1960s, the ambitious young lawyer joined the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, where he built a reputation as a top-notch prosecutor, securing convictions in 105 of 106 felony jury trials, including 21 murder cases.

Out of all his cases, Bugliosi was best known for prosecuting Charles Manson and four other defendants in the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders, a trial he later wrote about in the book “Helter Skelter.”

Actress Sharon Tate was married to director Roman Polanski and eight months pregnant on Aug. 9, 1969 when she and four others — coffee heiress Abigail Folger, director Voytek Frykowski, celebrity hairdresser Jay Sebring and Stephen Parent — were killed inside a house she sublet from producer/songwriter Terry Melcher. Polanski was out of the country at the time of the slayings. The following night, the mutilated bodies of grocers Rosemary and Leno LaBianca were discovered bearing the same grisly crime signature.

With the help of a jailhouse tip, police linked the murders to Manson and his “family” of followers. They were arrested two months later and put on trial in 1970. The high-profile case, which involved dozens of witnesses, lasted more than nine months and cost the county a then-record $1 million. In the end, however, Bugliosi convinced the juries that Manson was a murderous cult leader who had masterminded the slayings. Manson’s followers Susan Atkins, Charles “Tex” Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten were convicted of perpetrating the crimes.

“I don’t think I’ve ever known anybody to be as hard a worker as Vince,” Stephen R. Kay, a former Los Angeles County deputy district attorney who worked with Bugliosi on the Manson trial, told The Los Angeles TImes. “He would go home after the trial every day, take a nap for an hour, get up and work until 3 or 4 a.m., sleep for a couple more hours and go back to work. And he always appeared fresh, never tired.”

Manson and his followers were originally sentenced to death for the murders, but those sentences were commuted to life in prison after the California Supreme Court abolished the death penalty in 1972, the Los Angeles Times reported. Atkins died in prison in 2009 while the others remain behind bars to this day.

“The execution of a condemned man is a terrible thing, but murder is an even more terrible thing,” Bugliosi told the Los Angeles Times in 2009. “They deserved to die, these people, and I asked for the death penalty and I would do so again…I’m disappointed, of course, particularly with respect to Manson.”

Although Bugliosi would spend the 1970s in private practice, writing books became his second career. “Helter Skelter,” which he co-wrote with Curt Gentry, was the first of his many bestsellers all of which he penned longhand on yellow legal pads. “Helter Skelter” spawned two TV movies, Variety reported, as did the books “And the Sea Will Tell” and “Till Death Us Do Part.” “Reclaiming History,” Bugliosi’s 1,600-page take on the Kennedy assassination and the book he considered his magnum opus, served as the basis for the 2013 film “Parkland.”

More recently, Bugliosi caused a stir with the 2008 book “The Prosecution of George W. Bush For Murder,” not just because of its controversial content, but because most print and TV media outlets refused to discuss it, The New York Times reported. The book, which laid out a legal case for holding President Bush “criminally responsible” for the deaths of American soldiers in Iraq, hit the bestseller list despite the blackout.

His son, Vincent Bugliosi Jr., told The Associated Press that his father simply had “an unflagging dedication to justice.”

Bugliosi is survived by Gail, his wife of 59 years, his son Vincent and his daughter Wendy.

–Originally published in The Huffington Post.


B.B. King

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Categories: Musicians

Legendary blues musician B.B. King died on May 14 in Las Vegas. Cause of death was not released. He was 89.

Born Riley B. King in Berclair, Mississippi, and raised by his grandmother, the future “King of the Blues” purchased his first guitar for $15 when he was just 12 years old. He dropped out of school in the 10th grade, and spent much of his early years picking cotton and working as a tractor driver.

While he began singing in a gospel choir at church, the blues took root in King during his teen years. The blues is considered by many to be the only truly indigenous American music, and over time, King would become its foremost ambassador.

After a short stint in the Army during World War II, King returned home to work as a farmer. But a tractor accident prompted him to give up that life, and start another in Memphis. There, King officially launched his musical career in the late 1940s.

He honed his vibrato style of playing, worked steady gigs at a string of clubs, got his first real break on Sonny Boy Williamson’s “King Biscuit Time” radio show and hosted a 10-minute program on WDIA as “the Beale Street Blues Boy,” a name he eventually shortened to Blues Boy and then B.B. King. Over the next seven decades, King produced dozens of albums for various labels and released a string of hits (“The Thrill Is Gone,” “3 O’Clock Blues,” “You Know I Love You,” “Woke Up This Morning,” “Every Day I Have The Blues,” “Sweet Little Angel”) that helped to define the genre’s post-war sound, Variety reported.

Although he originally played to all-black audiences, King’s distinctive voice soon won him fans the world over. Between the release of his landmark album “Live at the Regal” in 1965 — which would later be declared a recording worthy of preservation by the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry — and the charting of his 1969 LP “Live and Well,” King became a true star. And by the late 1960s, he was making appearances on the “Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Tonight Show.”

Playing on a Gibson ES-355 guitar he lovingly named Lucille, King would weave a musical tapestry of heartfelt soul and pain that masterfully fused elements of blues and jazz. These passionate sounds would not only enrapture audiences but influence many other artists, including Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jimi Hendrix.

“When I’m singing, I don’t want you to just hear the melody,” King told the AP in 2006. “I want you to relive the story, because most of the songs have pretty good storytelling.”

King won the first of his 15 Grammy Awards in 1951 and joined the Grammy Hall of Fame 47 years later. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and the R&B Music Hall of Fame in 2014. Rolling Stone magazine also ranked him at No. 3 in its 2003 list of the 100 greatest guitarist of all time.

In the 1990s, King launched a chain of blues clubs bearing his name in cities across the U.S. The venues featured live bands and a full menu of Southern-inspired comfort food, as well as frequent performances by the man himself. A Delta blues museum in Indianola, Mississippi, that aims to “preserve and share the legacy and values of B.B. King,” also bears his name.

When he wasn’t making music, King loved to fly. He was a licensed pilot and until he turned 70, would fly himself to many of his gigs. The indefatigable performer was known for appearing in 250 to 300 concerts a year well into his 70s. Only declining health made him cut back his workload to about 100 shows annually, and those were not as well-received as his earlier shows. King officially launched a “farewell” world tour in 2006, yet remained active until almost the very end, appearing on television programs and in music festivals.

King’s life was chronicled in the 2012 documentary, “The Life Of Riley,” which was narrated by Morgan Freeman and included appearances and contributions from Aaron Neville, Bono, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Willis, Carlos Santana, George Benson, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Ringo Starr, Slash and Susan Tedeschi. He also told his own tale in the autobiography, “Blues All Around Me.”

“B.B. King taps into something universal,” Clapton told The Los Angeles Times in 2005. “He can’t be confined to any one genre. That’s why I’ve called him a ‘global musician.’”

A smart dresser, King preferred to appear on stage wearing a suit or tuxedo, patent leather shoes and diamond rings. Yet unlike other musical artists, he eschewed drugs and alcohol. He did, however, enjoy gambling, the Telegraph reported, and would hit the casinos in Las Vegas whenever he could.

King was married twice, though both unions ended in divorce, reportedly due to the demands of his touring schedule. He was the father to 15 children and a grandfather dozens of times over.

–Originally published in The Huffington Post.


Rudy Perz

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Categories: Business, Tags: ,

Fifty years ago, Rudolph R. Perz, the creative director of the Leo Burnett ad agency in Chicago, was under pressure to come up with a new lovable new mascot for the Pillsbury account.

Sitting at his kitchen table and staring at a Pillsbury Crescent Rolls can, Perz wracked his brain for an idea. Suddenly, he imagined a doughy white character jumping out of the can.

Perz described him to Martin Nodell, an artist at the agency, who sketched the little spokesman. The joyful dough boy had big blue eyes, a chef’s hat, a sassy bandana, and blushed when he was kissed.

His name was Poppin’ Fresh.

Once the character was fully baked… err, formed… Poppin’ Fresh became one of the food company’s best known mascots, an ever-helpful and very ticklish character known as the Pillsbury Doughboy.

“The one image I have of my dad was of him tapping the can of refrigerated dough against the kitchen table,” Perz’s daughter Martha Nora said in a biography posted on the Donnellan Family Funeral Home website. “That’s how his mind worked for everything. The wheels were always turning and your never were sure what idea he would come up with. There was always a twinkle in his eye and he loved the element of surprise.”

Although Perz originally intended the Pillsbury Doughboy to be animated, he changed his mind after seeing a stop motion clay technique on television. Designer Milt Schaffer then brought the baking icon to life at a cost of $16,000, The Washington Post reported. The Pillsbury Doughboy has been created using CGI technology since 1992. Veteran cartoon voice actor Paul Frees served as the Pillsbury Doughboy’s voice until his death in 1986. Since then, the character’s voice has been provided by Jeff Bergman and JoBe Cerny.

The Pillsbury Doughboy appeared in more than 600 commercials from 1965 to 2004, and returned to the small screen in 2009, 2011 and 2014. He hawked dozens of freshly baked biscuits and cinnamon rolls, breads and cookies, and charmed viewers with his signature giggle (a sweet “Hoo Hoo” or “Hee Hee” that emitted whenever someone playfully poked his middle).

Yet the Pillsbury Doughboy was more than just an advertising spokesman. He was beloved by millions who grew up in the 20th century. According to General Mills, parent company of Pillsbury, the Doughboy received 200 fan letters a week and hundreds of requests for autographed photos. During the 1970s, “Pillsbury Playthings” — doll-versions of the Doughboy and his “family” — were some of the fastest selling toys in the U.S.

The 8.75-inch tall Pillsbury Doughboy was also mentioned or featured on numerous TV programs, appeared in several comic strip panels, flew over New York City as a balloon float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, parodied on Mad TV, helped sell car insurance and credit cards and even “died” in an early Internet joke from “a yeast infection and complications from repeated pokes in the belly.”

As for the mastermind behind him, Perz was born in 1925. The Glenview, Ill., resident and advertising copywriter was married to the late Lois Wagberg Perz, and had three children and six grandchildren.

Next month, Perz was to have been honored for his doughy creation at the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago. The exhibit, “A Salute To Advertising’s Greatest Icons,” will also feature Tony the Tiger, the Jolly Green Giant, Morris the cat, Mr. Clean and Ronald McDonald.

Perz died on April 1. Cause of death was not released. He was 89.

–Originally published in The Huffington Post.

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