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.
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.
Born in Greenville, S.C., Kagin was the son of a Presbyterian pastor. He grew up in that faith, and spent many years reading the Bible and attending church services, but he eventually turned away from all forms of religion.
“I was born an atheist, just like you were, and every other human being who lives,” Kagin said. “The appropriate question is, ‘When did the god-talk get poured into your innocent little ear?”
Kagin served as a medic in the U.S. Air Force, then attended the College of Wooster in Ohio, Park College in Missouri and the University of Missouri–Kansas City. He earned his juris doctor from the School of Law of the University of Louisville in Kentucky, and became a self-described “lawyer poet” and secular activist.
In his professional life, Kagin championed the separation of state and church and was an outspoken advocate for atheists. Kagin won a federal court ruling in 1999 that required judges in Kentucky to let parents receive counseling from a non-sectarian agency, rather than exclusively from Catholic social services. In 2010, he convinced a federal appeals court to rule that the placement of 12-foot high crosses along Utah highways to honor fallen state troopers violated the First Amendment’s prohibition of government endorsement of religion. The Utah Highway Patrol Association had claimed the crosses were not a religious symbol.
However, his efforts in the court were not always successful. In 2008, Kagin tried and failed to block the ex-wife of his client, an atheist, from enrolling their son at a religious school. He was also unable to persuade a federal appeals court in New York to reverse a ruling allowing the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum to display a cross of two steel beams found in the wreckage of the World Trade Center after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Kagin called the inclusion of cross a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of separation of church and state; the judge said it was a historic relic.
Outside of the courtroom, Kagin practiced what he preached. He was the first state director for Kentucky for the American Atheists — an organization founded by Madalyn Murray O’Hair, whose lawsuit (Murray v. Curlett) prompted the Supreme Court to end daily prayer in public schools — and later served as the group’s national legal director. He was also one of the notable signers of the American Humanist Association’s Humanist Manifesto, which defined Humanism as “a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity.”
“Atheism means without a belief in a god. That’s it. Within that shell are many many different points of view,” Kagin wrote.
Kagin and his wife Dr. Helen Good co-founded Camp Quest, a summer camp for children from atheist, agnostic, humanist and other freethinking families, in 1996. Camp Quest was created to counter the exclusion of nontheists from the Boy Scouts, and catered to young nonbelievers, ages 8 to 17, many of whom had been bullied for their lack of faith. Along with traditional camp activities like archery, kayaking, crafts and hiking, Camp Quest teaches campers about astronomy, biology, ethics and philosophy. Each session also includes an “invisible unicorn challenge” in which campers are encouraged to prove the existence of two fictional invisible unicorns and win a cash prize. Since the challenge began 18 years ago, the prize has yet to be claimed. The exercise is meant to teach the campers to think rationally and critically.
“He was gruff, and generous, and brilliant, and cantankerous all at once. Edwin will have the only kind of immortality that we get — his legacy will long out last him. Edwin’s legacy is thousands of happy campers who have a place to learn, laugh, and belong because of Camp Quest. We will miss him so much,” said Camp Quest executive director Amanda Metskas.
As “the candidate without a prayer,” Kagin unsuccessfully campaigned for the Kentucky Supreme Court in 1998 and the Kentucky State Senate in 2000. Kagin was also a founder and board member of Recover Resources Center, which provides an alternative addiction recovery program to the religiously-oriented Alcoholics Anonymous. In 2005, he and Helen were named “Atheists of the Year” by American Atheists. He received the honor again in 2008.
Kagin was previously married to Sandra Graves who gave him four children, and was a step-father to one daughter. One of his progeny, Steven, became a pastor at a Disciples of Christ church in Kansas, but Kagin maintained they had an excellent relationship. “We just understand there are certain things we really can’t, at this point, talk about,” he said.
Some 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 2013, these 13 obituaries were the stories that most resonated with me:
* Helen Thomas, reporter, columnist and dean of the White House Press Corps
Helen Amelia Thomas was born with an inquisitive nature. Even as a child, she was fascinated with the world around her. And it was this insatiable curiosity about life that took her all the way to the White House.
Born in Winchester, Ky., and raised in Detroit, Thomas was the daughter of Lebanese immigrants. Her father George came to the U.S. in 1892 from Syria; at Ellis Island the immigration officer Anglicized his surname Antonious to Thomas. Although he couldn’t read or write and was blind in one eye, he married her mother Mary, fathered nine children (Helen was the seventh) and operated a small grocery store. In the midst of such a large family, the short-statured and painfully shy Helen developed a loud voice and a quick wit that would help her later in life.
Thomas was 12 years old when she decided to become a newspaper reporter, and her fate was sealed in the 10th grade after she saw her first byline in the school paper. At Wayne University (now Wayne State University), she majored in English because the college didn’t offer journalism courses, and worked on the college newspaper. With the firm belief that she had “printer’s ink” in her veins, Thomas moved to Washington D.C. after graduating in 1942.
The country was at war in Europe and the Pacific, and many industries that were dominated by men began opening their doors to female applicants. Yet it still took Thomas a full year of knocking on doors at the city’s four newspapers to land a job as a “copyboy” on the now-defunct Washington Daily News. There she ran errands, fetched wire stories and made coffee — all for $17.50/week. But Thomas didn’t care. “I guess I would have swept the floors if they told me to. As far as I was concerned, I was working in journalism,” she wrote in her book, “Front Row at the White House: My Life and Times.”
After a few months, Thomas was promoted to cub reporter and assigned to cover local news. One of her duties involved writing obituaries, which required her to call up the families of soldiers who appeared on the casualty rolls. “The horror of it all was that sometimes we called the families before the War Department (there was no Pentagon then) had even notified them. We’d hear the screams over the phone. This was a very sobering thing,” she wrote.
Within a year, the young and energetic reporter went to work for United Press (later United Press International), where she remained for nearly 60 years. Thomas covered the Justice Department, the Supreme Court, the Post Office, the Federal Communications Commission, the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. For years she toiled, writing hundreds of stories, and it was her hard-driving, competitive nature and utter devotion to the job that brought her to the White House press room.
In 1960, United Press already had two reporters covering the president of the United States: Merriman “Smitty” Smith and Al Spivak. But after Thomas began showing up to help out with various stories — and to cover First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy — they generously allowed her to join their previously all-male ranks.
Thomas believed that the White House belonged to the American people and she felt that in many ways it was hallowed ground. So she always counted herself “immensely privileged, even lucky” to go there every day and keep a watchful eye on the country’s leaders. “People hunger for information,” she wrote. “One of the great things about being in journalism is that you’re helping to educate people, that you are really giving them information that they need to preserve a democracy.”
Over the course of covering 10 administrations — from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama — Thomas took it upon herself to ask the hard questions. She soon became known as the White House watchdog, or as The New York Times described her, an equal-opportunity pit bull, one who refused to allow the people in power to work unchecked. In this way, Thomas was the epitome of everything the fourth estate stood for: to act as the people’s voice and to make sure those in power wielded it responsibly. “It’s been said that the questions I ask of presidents are the kind that are on the mind of a ‘housewife from Des Moines,’ and I hope that is true,” Thomas wrote. “To me, she personifies what the nation wants to know, and too many times these presidents have forgotten they are responsible and accountable to her and the country.”
Thomas’ reporting prowess lead to a promotion in 1974 to White House bureau chief, and once the briefings were televised, the public began to recognize her as the feisty woman up front who would demand the truth and end press briefings with the polite phrase “Thank you, Mr. President.” On a cab ride in 1988, the driver turned around and asked her, “Aren’t you the woman the presidents love to hate?”
Thomas was at the hospital when John F. Kennedy Jr. was born. She danced with Lyndon B. Johnson at an inauguration party, but later earned his ire when he found out that his daughter Luci was getting engaged from one of her stories. She was the only female print journalist to travel with President Richard Nixon to China during his historic trip in 1972, and was the only reporter to land an exclusive interview with Martha Mitchell (the wife of Attorney General John Mitchell), which helped expose some aspects of the Watergate scandal. Thomas described Gerald Ford as friendly and down-to-earth and found Jimmy Carter to be very religious and amiable. Although she thought Ronald Reagan lacked credibility, she listened to him describe the terrible pain he felt after being shot and accompanied him to the beaches of Normandy to commemorate the 40th anniversary of D-Day.
While she described President George H.W. Bush as personable, Thomas viewed his son, George W. Bush, as the “worst president in American history.” When those comments were published in a California newspaper, the second Bush White House retaliated by not calling on her during a press conference (it was the first time in four decades that she was not granted the first question). Thomas later apologized to the president, and Bush accepted it, but her view of his decisions did not change. In her book, “Watchdogs of Democracy: The Waning Washington Press Corps And How It Failed The Public,” Thomas also took the White House and Pentagon reporters to task for blithely accepting the Bush administration’s rationale for going to war: “I honestly believe that if reporters had put the spotlight on the flaws in the Bush administration’s war policies, they could have saved the country the heartache and the losses of American and Iraqi lives.”
The feisty journalist described Bill Clinton as brilliant, secretive and quick to anger, but noted that he took the time to attend a surprise party for her birthday and even tried to interview her. As for Obama, she liked him well enough; however, she strongly disapproved of the way his administration tried to control the press.
When Thomas wasn’t reporting the news, she penned “Backstairs at the White House,” a popular syndicated column that offered an insider’s view of each administration. “I can say that after all these years of president-watching, I’m still in awe of the presidency and what it means to Americans, but not necessarily in awe of the man who was sitting there at any given time,” she wrote.
As the longest-serving White House journalist, Thomas earned numerous nicknames, including “First Lady of the Press” and the “Dean of the White House Press Corps.” Her groundbreaking career helped clear the path for countless women in journalism; she not only led by example, she shattered the glass ceiling in the press room and then encouraged others to follow in her stead.
Thomas served as president of the Women’s National Press Club from 1959 to 1960, and financial secretary of the National Press Club (once women were allowed to join). She was elected the first woman president of the White House Correspondents Association, and was inducted as the first woman member of the Gridiron Club.
Thomas was the first woman and the first wire service reporter to ever receive the National Press Club’s Fourth Estate Award (other recipients include Walter Cronkite and Eric Sevareid). She also received more than 30 honorary degrees and numerous other awards, including the William Allen White Foundation Award for Journalistic Merit and the Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media. In 1998, the White House Correspondents’ Association honored her by establishing the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award.
On May 17, 2000, the day after United Press International was acquired by News World Communications Inc., an international media conglomerate controlled by Unification Church leader Reverend Sun Myung Moon, Thomas resigned in protest. She joined Hearst Newspapers as an opinion columnist two months later, but the move cost her the right to ask the first question in press briefings.
Despite such an illustrious career, Thomas retired in 2010 following the broadcast of controversial, off-hand statements she made about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A rabbi who was visiting the White House pulled out a video camera and asked Thomas for comments about Israel. She replied: “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.” When asked where Israeli Jews should go, she said they could “go home” to Poland or Germany or “America and everywhere else. Why push people out of there who have lived there for centuries?” Thomas later apologized for the remarks, but they cost her a great deal of respect in the industry. The Society of Professional Journalists voted to retire the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement, and her alma mater discontinued the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Award.
Outside of work, Thomas lived a fairly quiet life. She woke each day at dawn, and by 6 a.m. was reading the newspapers and wires as she drank her coffee. Her home office was filled with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and six of the books on those shelves bore her name.
At 51, she wed Douglas Cornell, an Associated Press reporter who she described as her “competition for 10 years and her husband for 11.” Since he was also a journalist, Cornell understood Thomas’ devotion to the job, so in that way, they were well-matched. Unfortunately, after only four years of marriage, Cornell was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He died in 1982 at the age of 75. “He left a big hole in my life. He was a wonderful husband, wise and good and a great friend,” Thomas said. When asked if she liked being married, Thomas replied, “It was probably the most unexpected and wonderful thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Thomas died on July 20. Cause of death was not released. She was 92.
Born in Brooklyn, Goldberg was raised in a home with a close, extended family that was headed by a strong matriarch, his grandmother. He was a huge sports fan and a wanderer who had a bit of trouble figuring out what he wanted to be when he grew up.
Goldberg was working as a waiter at the Village Gate club in Greenwich Village in 1969 when he met his wife and the love his life, Dr. Diana Meehan. They were a couple of hippies — a product of their time — and spent the early part of their marriage traveling around the world, then running a day care center in Berkeley, Calif. Their relationship would later serve as the backdrop of one of the most popular TV shows of all time.
Goldberg broke into show business in the mid-1970s, penning scripts for “The Bob Newhart Show,” “Lou Grant,” “The Tony Randall Show” and “The Last Resort.” He won his first Emmy Award in 1977 for his work on the CBS drama “Lou Grant,” a spin-off of the successful series “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
In 1981, Goldberg formed his own production company, UBU Productions. He would eventually produce nine TV shows, including the CBS program “Brooklyn Bridge,” a semi-autobiographical series about his childhood.
UBU Productions’ first endeavor, however, was “Family Ties,” a half-hour comedy about two left-wing parents raising three children, including a son who was very conservative. By its third season, “Family Ties” had become part of NBC’s much-touted and wildly popular “Must-See TV” Thursday night lineup. The show, which ran for seven seasons, earned Goldberg a second Emmy and transformed a very young actor by the name of Michael J. Fox into a star.
Goldberg later reunited with Fox for “Spin City,” another popular comedy that aired for six seasons on ABC. Interestingly, Fox once told Goldberg that if he hadn’t been cast in “Family Ties,” he would have given up acting entirely and returned home to Canada. Instead Fox found fame and fortune on the big and small screens. Actress Tracy Pollan, who played Fox’s girlfriend Ellen on “Family Ties,” later became his wife.
Goldberg received numerous honors for his work in Hollywood, including a Golden Globe, a Peabody, two Writers Guild Awards, five Humanitas Awards, the Producers Guild Award and the Valentine Davis Award. He was also a member of the Broadcasting Magazine Hall of Fame.
Even if TV audiences didn’t know his name, they certainly recognized Goldberg’s labrador retriever, who appeared in the closing credits of each show with the memorable tagline “Sit, Ubu, sit.” The tagline later served as the title of Goldberg’s 2008 autobiography. The book also featured the hilarious subtitle: “How I went from Brooklyn to Hollywood with the same woman, the same dog and a lot less hair.”
Goldberg is survived by his wife and two daughters, Shana Goldberg-Meehan, the Emmy-winning writer and producer of “Friends”; and Cailin Goldberg-Meehan, a freelance writer and contributor to The Huffington Post.
–This obituary previously appeared in The Huffington Post