Categotry Archives: Hollywood

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Hunter S. Thompson

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Categories: Hollywood, Media, Writers/Editors

hsthompson.jpgHunter Stockton Thompson, the renegade writer who stretched the boundaries of journalism, committed suicide on Feb. 20 at the age of 67. He died at his fortified compound in Woody Creek, Colo., of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Born in Louisville, Ky., Thompson finished high school, but missed the graduation ceremony because he was in jail serving a 60-day sentence for robbery. When he got out, Thompson enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and discovered a passion for journalism. He edited the sports section at an Air Force newspaper in Florida, then worked as a correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune and the National Observer.
In the 1970s, Thompson helped pioneer the “New Journalism” movement. Utilizing first person narrative, he discussed current events and politics in a more novelistic and opinionated manner. While writing for Rolling Stone magazine, the gonzo journalist once covered a district attorneys’ anti-drug conference after taking copious amounts of psychedelic drugs.
The unapologetic and self-destructive writer never graduated from college, yet he bestowed on himself the title of “the good doctor.” His original voice filled nearly a dozen books, including “Hell’s Angels,” “Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72” and “Kingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child in the Final Days of the American Century.” Thompson was best known for “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream,” the 1972 book that turned him into a counterculture icon. His latest book, “Hey Rube: Blood Sport, the Bush Doctrine, and the Downward Spiral of Dumbness,” was published in 2004.
Thompson’s influence reached from bookstores to newsstands to Hollywood. Cartoonist Garry Trudeau modeled the balding, pot-smoking character of Uncle Duke in the “Doonesbury” comic strip after Thompson, a move that angered the journalist. At one point, Thompson vowed to set Trudeau on fire, if they ever met. Bill Murray portrayed him in the 1980 film “Where the Buffalo Roam,” and Johnny Depp did so in the 1998 film “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” A film adaptation of “The Rum Diary,” Thompson’s only published work of intentional fiction, is currently in production.
Thompson became more reclusive in recent years, spending most of his time shooting firearms in his backyard. In 2000, he accidentally shot his assistant, Deborah Fuller, while chasing a bear off his property. Thompson also wrote the popular column, Hey Rube, for ESPN.com. In his most recent column (“Fore!”), he called Murray to discuss a new extreme sport: shooting golf balls like skeet.
[Update, March 8, 2005: Thompson’s body was found in a chair in his kitchen in front of his typewriter. On stationary from the Fourth Amendment Foundation, an organization that defends victims of unwarranted search and seizure, Thompson had typed the word “counselor” in the center of the page. He also left behind a suicide note.]
[Update, Aug. 22, 2005: In keeping with his wishes, Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes were fired from a 153-foot tower erected in Woody Creek, Colo., on Saturday. About 250 friends and family attended the private ceremony, including actors Johnny Depp and Bill Murray, musician Lyle Lovett and Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.).]
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Sandra Dee

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Categories: Actors, Hollywood

sdee.jpgSandra Dee, an actress who starred in numerous teen films as the beautiful All-American girl next door, died on Feb. 20 of complications from kidney disease. She was 62.

Born Alexandra Zuck, the New Jersey native was still in elementary school when her mother pushed her into modeling. At 14, she signed a seven-year contract with Universal Studios and moved to California. By the time she made her screen debut in the 1957 movie “Until They Sail,” the studio had changed her name to Sandra Dee. Dee’s performance in that film earned her a Golden Globe nomination for New Star of the Year.

During the 1960s, Dee achieved fame and fortune starring in more than a dozen teen movies, such as “Gidget,” “The Reluctant Debutante,” “The Restless Years” and “Tammy and the Doctor.” Young girls adopted Dee’s fresh-faced appearance and perky personality; teenaged boys viewed the starlet’s wide-eyed innocence as both charming and approachable.

Sixteen-year-old Dee and 24-year-old pop singer Bobby Darin dated for only a month before eloping in 1960. The couple made three films together (“Come September,” “If a Man Answers” and “That Funny Feeling”), and had a son, Dodd, before breaking up in 1967. Their divorce tarnished Dee’s clean-cut image and prompted Universal to drop her. She managed to land a few small film and TV roles in the 1970s, but for the most part, her career in Hollywood was over. In 1978, audiences were reminded of Dee’s former image when actress Stockard Channing sang “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee” in the hit film “Grease.”

For most of her life, Dee struggled with anorexia and bulimia. She also abused drugs and alcohol, and suffered from chronic depression. Unable to find steady work in later years, these conditions only worsened. When her mother died in 1988, Dee stopped eating, dropped down to 80 pounds and spent three years as a shut-in. With Dodd’s aid and years of therapy, Dee was able to turn her life around.

In 1994, Dodd published a biography of his parents’ stormy marriage titled “Dream Lovers: The Magnificent Shattered Lives of Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee.” The couple’s relationship was also chronicled in the 2004 biopic “Beyond the Sea,” starring Kevin Spacey and Kate Bosworth.

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John Vernon

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Categories: Actors, Hollywood

jvernon.jpgJohn Vernon, a prolific character actor who played crafty villains and crusty authority figures, died on Feb. 1 following complications from heart surgery. He was 72.
Born Adolphus Raymondus Vernon Agopsowicz in Saskatchewan, Canada, Vernon was still a teenager when he decided to dedicate his life to acting. He attended the Banff School of Fine Arts in Alberta, then traveled to London to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. His classmates there were Peter O’Toole, Alan Bates and Albert Finney. After returning home, he adopted the name John Vernon and became a spear carrier at the Stratford Festival of Canada.
Although he was trained for the stage — Vernon acted opposite Christopher Plummer in the 1956 Broadway production of “The Royal Hunt of the Sun” — his big break came playing the title role in “Wojeck.” The 1960s Canadian Broadcasting Corp. crime series was inspired by the exploits of Toronto coroner Dr. Morton Shulman.
Canadian and Hollywood producers took notice of the rugged actor’s versatile talents and cast him in more than 200 films and TV productions, including “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” “Dirty Harry,” “Topaz,” “Point Blank,” “Airplane II,” “Killer Klowns From Outer Space” and “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka.” Vernon was best known in the states for playing the slimy Dean Wormer in the 1978 college comedy “Animal House.”
Vernon’s distinctive voice led to a wide variety of audio roles as well. In the 1956 film version of George Orwell’s “1984,” he provided the voice of Big Brother. Vernon also voiced characters in the cartoons “Pinky and the Brain,” “The Incredible Hulk” and ” Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman,” and in the video games “Star Trek: Klingon Academy,” “Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2,” “Earth and Beyond” and “Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel.”
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Dan Lee

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Categories: Artists, Hollywood

dlee.jpgDan Lee, the Canadian animator who designed several characters for the 2003 blockbuster hit “Finding Nemo,” died on Jan. 15 of cancer. He was 35.
The Montreal native became interested in animation as a teenager. He graduated from the classical animation program at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, and won the Board of Governors Silver Medal for Academic Excellence.
Lee worked on TV cartoons and commercials at Kennedy Cartoons in Toronto and Colossal Pictures in San Francisco. Then in 1996, he joined Pixar Animation Studios as a sketch artist, character designer and animator. Over the next eight years, Lee designed characters for the animated films “A Bug’s Life,” “Toy Story 2,” “Monsters, Inc.” and “Finding Nemo.”
“Dan was a longtime member of our Pixar family. He single-handedly designed Nemo and has been a major influence at Pixar. Dan was a wonderful, irreplaceable, talented human being, and we miss him terribly,” Andrew Stanton, the director of “Finding Nemo,” said.
Although he was a non-smoker who lived a healthy and active lifestyle, Lee was diagnosed with lung cancer in August 2003. While undergoing two types of radiation and chemotherapy, he continued working on future Pixar projects.

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Ossie Davis

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Categories: Actors, Extraordinary People, Hollywood, Military, Writers/Editors

odavis.jpgOssie Davis, a veteran actor, writer, producer and director who championed racial justice, died on Feb. 4 of natural causes. He was 87.

Born Raiford Chatman Davis, the Georgia native became known as “Ossie” after a clerk misunderstood Davis’ mother when she called out his initials, R.C. The budding thespian attended Howard University for three years, but dropped out to study drama with the Rose McClendon Players in Harlem. The school later granted him an honorary degree.

Davis served four years in the U.S. Army as a medical technician during World War II, and occasionally performed shows for his fellow soldiers. Upon his return to the states, he made his Broadway debut in the 1946 production of “Jeb Turner.” The play brought him in contact with actress Ruby Dee, who would become his wife and life-long partner. They had three children — Nora Day, Hasna Muhammad and blues guitarist Guy Davis.

Davis made his uncredited film debut in “No Way Out,” a 1950 drama which also featured Dee and introduced America to actor Sidney Poitier. Over the next half century, Davis appeared in dozens of films, including “School Daze,” “Do the Right Thing,” “Jungle Fever,” “Doctor Dolittle,” “The Cardinal,” “The Hill,” “Grumpy Old Men,” “Baadasssss,” “12 Angry Men,” “I’m Not Rappaport” and “Bubba Ho-Tep.” He wrote and directed “Cotton Comes to Harlem,” produced and directed “Countdown at Kusini,” and simply directed “Black Girl” and “Gordon’s War.”

Davis’ first television performance was in the 1965 show “The Emperor Jones.” He followed that up with appearances on more than 50 comedies, dramas and westerns, and received Emmy nominations for his work in the made-for-TV movies “Teacher, Teacher” and “Miss Evers’ Boys.” Davis debuted as a playwright on Broadway in 1961 with the successful comedy “Purlie Victorious.” He and his wife starred in the play; Davis then performed the title role in the 1963 film version, “Gone Are the Days.” Seven years later, the play became the Best Musical Tony nominee “Purlie!”

Davis and Dee acted together in numerous TV projects (“Roots: The Next Generation,” “Martin Luther King: The Dream and the Drum,” “The Stand” and “Ossie and Ruby!”), but remained deeply committed to civil rights issues. They campaigned against lynching in the late-1940s and publicly opposed the McCarthy communist witch hunts of the 1950s. As the civil rights movement gained momentum in the 1960s, Davis and Dee became vocal advocates for racial equality. They helped organize the 1963 March on Washington and were master and mistress of ceremonies.

Davis spoke at Dr. Martin Luther King’s funeral and eulogized Malcolm X, calling him “a prince — our own black shining prince! — who didn’t hesitate to die, because he loved us so.” He repeated the eulogy in a heartfelt voice-over for the 1992 Spike Lee biopic, “Malcolm X.” Davis also narrated commercials for the United Negro College fund, and made the phrase “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” sound both poignant and memorable.

To celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in 1998, the couple published the dual autobiography, “In This Life Together.” Both were inducted into the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Hall of Fame and the Theater Hall of Fame, and received several joint honors, such as the White House’s National Medal of Arts, the Screen Actors Guild lifetime achievement award, the Academy of Television Arts and Science’s Silver Circle Award and the Kennedy Center Honors.

Davis was found dead in his hotel room in Miami, where he was shooting the road-trip movie “Retirement,” with Rip Torn, Jack Warden and George Segal. Dee was in New Zealand preparing for work on a separate project at the time of his death.

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