Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Richard Ben Cramer died Jan. 7 of complications from lung cancer. He was 62.
Born in Rochester, N.Y., Cramer studied at Johns Hopkins University and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. After working as a political reporter for The Baltimore Sun, Cramer joined The Inquirer in Philadelphia. During his seven years at the paper, he rose from transportation reporter to acclaimed foreign correspondent. In 1979, he won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting for his masterful coverage of the Middle East.
According to The New York Times, Cramer also wrote for numerous magazines, including Esquire, Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated and Time. However, he was best known for writing the 1992 book, “What It Takes: The Way to the White House,” which focused on the 1988 presidential campaign. Although it didn’t sell well and was critically panned, the tome was eventually viewed as one of the greatest books about electoral politics, The Inquirer reported.
“It’s insufficient to say that Cramer’s 1,047-page tour de force on the 1988 presidential race is the best book ever written about a campaign. It is that. But what makes it so valuable, so rewarding, just so much damn fun is that it illustrates why politics and journalism is so much damn fun,” Jonathan Martin of Politico wrote.
Cramer also penned books about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Bob Dole, Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. In the last years of his life, Cramer was reportedly working on a book about the New York Yankees and Alex Rodriguez; however, his publisher sued him in December 2012 for failing to complete the project.
–This obituary previously appeared in The Huffington Post
Acclaimed filmmaker and essayist Nora Ephron, who almost singlehandedly defined the romantic comedy genre of the 1980s and 1990s, died on June 26 of pneumonia brought on by acute myeloid leukemia. She was 71.
Born in New York and raised in Beverly Hills, Ephron was the daughter of screenwriters Henry and Phoebe Ephron, who wrote “There’s No Business Like Show Business” and “Desk Set.” Though life at home was often difficult — her father was in and out of mental hospitals and her mother was an alcoholic — writing became the family business. Nora and her sisters, Delia and Amy, all grew up to become screenwriters while her sister Hallie became a journalist and novelist.
After graduating from Wellesley College and working briefly as an intern in the Kennedy White House, Ephron moved back to New York City. There she toiled in the mail room at Newsweek, launched a satirical newspaper and became a reporter for the New York Post. Over the next four decades, Ephron would pen essays for numerous publications — including Esquire, The New York Times Magazine and The Huffington Post — and develop a reputation as one of America’s best known humorists.
Ephron began working on screenplays in the 1970s after penning a rewrite of William Goldman’s script for “All the President’s Men.” Although her version was not used in the final film, the experience gave her the opportunity to begin writing for the big screen. Concerned that Hollywood wasn’t ready for films by or about women, however, Ephron decided to try her hand at directing as well. Her directorial debut was “This Is My Life,” co-written with her sister Delia, and starring Julie Kavner as a single mom who wants to become a stand-up comedian.
Ephron’s stories featured strong female characters, realistic heroes and a charming blend of humor and romance. Her tales of happily ever after were often scorned by critics, but they found a devoted audience of female moviegoers who were always eager to see the latest Ephron “chick flick.”
Hollywood also honored her creative achievements with three Academy Award nominations for screenwriting (“Silkwood,” “When Harry Met Sally…” and “Sleepless In Seattle”). Ephron’s most recent film, “Julie & Julia,” based on the life of Julia Child and a New York-based blogger who aimed to emulate her, garnered Ephron more than a dozen award nominations and earned Meryl Streep a Golden Globe for best performance by an actress.
When she wasn’t toiling on a script or a directing a film, Ephron also wrote several plays and essay collections, including “I Feel Bad About My Neck,” which topped The New York Times bestseller list. In her final years, she continued to publish essays on a variety of subjects, from aging and feminism to politics and food.
“You do get to a certain point in life where you have to realistically, I think, understand that the days are getting shorter, and you can’t put things off thinking you’ll get to them someday,” Ephron told NPR in 2010. “If you really want to do them, you better do them. There are simply too many people getting sick, and sooner or later you will. So I’m very much a believer in knowing what it is that you love doing so you can do a great deal of it.”
Ephron wed three times. Her first marriage to novelist Dan Greenburg ended in divorce. Her second marriage to investigative journalist Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame also ended in divorce after she learned he had cheated on her with a mutual friend. That experience inspired her to write the 1983 novel “Heartburn,” which was later adapted into a feature film starring Streep and Jack Nicholson.
Legendary writer Christopher Hitchens died on Dec. 15 of pneumonia, a complication of esophageal cancer. He was 62.
Hitchens was born in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England in 1949. His father, Ernest, a commander in the British Royal Navy, and his mother, Yvonne, a bookkeeper, scrimped and saved so that he could attend the independent Leys School in Cambridge, and later Balliol College, Oxford. They were determined that he would receive a top-notch education and join the upper class.
During his time at university, Hitchens studied philosophy, politics and economics, but the more he learned, the angrier he became. Hitchens’ disgust with racism and opposition to the Vietnam War led him to the political left. He would eventually join the International Socialists, a faction of the anti-Stalinist left, and participate in political protests against the war.
Attending college in the 1960s introduced Hitchens to a more hedonistic way of life as well. Although he eschewed drugs, Hitchens became both a heavy smoker and hard drinker. He claimed such practices supported his writing efforts. “Writing is what’s important to me, and anything that helps me do that — or enhances and prolongs and deepens and sometimes intensifies argument and conversation — is worth it to me. So I was knowingly taking a risk,” he said.
Writing was also the perfect outlet for him to enrage and enlighten. The British monarchy, Henry Kissinger and the Roman Catholic Church were just a few of his favorite targets in the 1970s. Despite being a bon vivant, Hitchens resolved to spend time at least once a year in “a country less fortunate than [his] own.” As such, the early part of his career was dedicated to wandering the globe, reporting on the world’s trouble spots and shining a light on those he considered cruel or evil.
After immigrating to the U.S. in 1981, Hitchens began writing for The Nation magazine. He would later edit and contribute articles to numerous publications, including Vanity Fair, the Atlantic Monthly, Slate, Harper’s, The Washington Post and The Huffington Post. His surprising advocacy for the war in Iraq, which was prompted by his growing conviction that radical elements in the Islamic world posed a danger to the West, gained Hitchens a wider readership, and in September 2005 he was named one of the “Top 100 Public Intellectuals” by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines.
Hitchens penned two dozens books — including “Letters To A Young Contrarian,” “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” and “Hitch-22: A Memoir” — and frequently made television and radio appearances. He also taught as a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Pittsburgh and the New School of Social Research.
As a cultural pundit, Hitchens loved picking fights. He offered unsparing insight on a wide range of subjects, from politics to religion to his own his mortality, but was perhaps best known for his criticism of Mother Teresa, both in his 1994 documentary “Hell’s Angel,” and in Vanity Fair.
“[Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor,” Hitchens said. “She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction.”
His negative portrayal of a woman many considered to be a saint prompted hundreds of readers to cancel their magazine subscriptions. And yet, after word of his death was reported, India’s Missionaries of Charity order said it would pray for Hitchens’ soul, despite his aggressive campaign against its Nobel prize-winning founder.
In 2008, amidst a nationwide discussion of “enhanced interrogation techniques, Hitchens decided to subject himself to a waterboarding treatment to see if it was truly a form of torture. He lasted for 16 seconds.
“It’s annoying to me now to read every time it’s discussed in the press — or in Congress — that it simulates the feeling of drowning,” he said. “It doesn’t simulate the feeling of drowning. You are being drowned, slowly.”
Ever the contrarian, Hitchens adopted the U.S., warts and all, and took an oath of citizenship in 2007 on his 58th birthday. The ceremony was conducted by former President George W. Bush’s homeland security chief, Michael Chertoff.
An outspoken atheist — or as he preferred to be called, an antitheist — Hitchens rallied many to a belief in rational thinking by describing organized religion as the main source of hatred and tyranny in the world. In the final years of his life, he debated both religious and political figures about the nature of faith and the existence of God.
“Faith is the surrender of the mind; it’s the surrender of reason, it’s the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals,” Hitchens said. “It’s our need to believe, and to surrender our skepticism and our reason, our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something, that is the sinister thing to me. Of all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated.”
Even after being diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus in 2010, Hitchens refused to turn to a deity or organized religion for comfort. He made it clear that if anyone ever claimed he had converted at the end of his life, it would be either a lie propagated by the religious community or an effect of the cancer and treatment that made him no longer himself.
“The entity making such a remark might be a raving, terrified person whose cancer has spread to the brain. I can’t guarantee that such an entity wouldn’t make such a ridiculous remark, but no one recognizable as myself would ever make such a remark,” he said.
“There will never be another like Christopher. A man of ferocious intellect, who was as vibrant on the page as he was at the bar,” said Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. “Those who read him felt they knew him, and those who knew him were profoundly fortunate souls.”
Hitchens is survived by his wife, the writer Carol Blue, and three children.
–This obituary previously appeared in The Huffington Post
Born in Royal Oak, Mich., Bonewits was only 13 years old when he first became interested in the occult. Although he briefly considered becoming a priest, and even entered a Catholic high-school seminary, he decided against that path and began studying magic, parapsychology and the structure of rituals.
Over the next four decades, Bonewits became one of North America’s leading experts on ancient and modern druidism, witchcraft and the rapidly growing Earth religions movement. He was a 3rd Degree Druid within the United Ancient Order of Druids, a retired High Priest in both the Gardnerian and the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn traditions of Wicca and an initiate of Santeria and the “Caliphate Line” of the Ordo Templi Orientis. Despite all these achievements, Bonewits said he was not a pagan spiritual leader, but merely one of the Neopagan movement’s better-known “unindicted co-conspirators.”
When not focused on his religious and occultist path, Bonewits made a living as a computer consultant, technical writer and professional speaker. He married six times, the last to tarot expert and Wiccan priestess, Phaedra Bonewits, with whom he also co-founded the Real Magic School, an online school of neopagan and general occult studies. Bonewits also fathered one son, Arthur Lipp-Bonewits.
In 1983, Bonewits launched Ar nDraiocht Fein (ADF), an international fellowship devoted to creating a public tradition of neopagan druidry. Druids are polytheistic nature worshippers who practice in a solitary fashion or in congregations known as groves. The organization, which was founded with the goal of “researching and expanding sound modern scholarship about the ancient Celts and other Indo-European peoples, in order to reconstruct what the Old Religions of Europe really were,” currently has more than 1,100 members. ADF plans to hold a special service to celebrate Bonewits’s life and achievements on Aug. 19 during Summerland, an ADF unity festival and pagan spiritual retreat in Yellow Springs, Ohio.
As an heiress, Ruth E. Lilly could have lived a very comfortable life doing anything she wanted or absolutely nothing at all. Instead, she decided to fund a wide variety of causes and help those in need. And over the course of her nine decades on this planet, she gave away more than half a billion dollars to educational and cultural organizations.
Born in Indianapolis, Lilly was the last surviving great-grandchild of Col. Eli Lilly, who founded the pharmaceutical empire Eli Lilly and Company in 1876. Last year, the company employed over 40,000 workers, earned $21 billion in sales and was ranked #570 on the Forbes 2000 List.
Lilly was still in her teens when she began writing poetry, but it took her nearly 50 years to submit her work, under a pseudonym, to Poetry magazine. Although the influential literary journal rejected her poems, the editors also sent handwritten notes offering critiques of her writing. This left quite an impression on Lilly, and in 1986, she bequeathed $100 million to the magazine. The gift ensured that Poetry would continue publishing in perpetuity. In response, Poetry became a non-profit organization known as the Poetry Foundation, launched the annual Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, which gives $100,000 to a contemporary poet in honor of a lifetime of a achievement, and created five Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowships for aspiring poets.
“Poetry has no greater friend than Ruth Lilly,” said Poetry Foundation President John Barr. “Her historic gift is notable not only for its size — that part of her largesse is known to every corner of the poetry world — but also because it was made with no conditions or restrictions of any kind as to how it should be used for the benefit of poetry. In that, it was the purest expression of her love for the art that meant so much to her as poet herself, and as benefactor.”
Lilly’s quiet generosity also extended to many Indiana-based institutions. She bequeathed a major gift to the Lilly Endowment, the family’s main charitable organization. In 1966, Lilly and her brother, J.K. Lilly III, donated the site of their parents’ estate to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and provided a trust income to maintain it. A health education center, a learning center, a fitness center, a law library and a science library all exist and bear the Ruth Lilly name, thanks to her monetary contributions. Lilly rarely attended ceremonial events, though, preferring instead to have her chauffeur drive her past the institutions she had aided.
In private, Lilly struggled with day to day life. Depression plagued her for decades, and she spent much of her 40-year marriage to writer Guernsey Van Riper in a hospital. The couple divorced in 1981; they had no children. That same year, Lilly’s brother went to court and had her declared incompetent. From that point on, all of her donations had to be signed by an attorney.
Lilly finally found some relief from her illness in 1988, thanks to the invention of Prozac, which was made and distributed by Eli Lilly and Co. The anti-depressant allowed her to live the final years of her life in relative peace. For her many years of philanthropy, Lilly was awarded a doctor of humane letters degree from Wabash College in 1991, from Franklin College in 2003 and from Marian University and Indiana University in 2004.
Lilly died on Dec. 30 of heart failure. She was 94.
John Alva Keel, a prominent Fortean author who shed light on the Mothman sightings, died on July 3 of congestive heart failure. He was 79.
Born Alva John Kiehle and raised in Hornell, N.Y., he developed an early interest in magic and mysterious phenomena, and was only 12 years old when he published his first story in a magician’s magazine. In his teens, Keel changed the spelling of his surname and the order of his initials, and hitchhiked to New York City to become a professional writer. Over the next decade, he created comic book scripts, edited Poets of America magazine, worked as a freelance writer and produced several radio programs, yet a passion for stories about the unusual, strange and unexplained soon became his professional focus.
During the Korean War, Keel was drafted into the U.S. Army and stationed in Frankfurt where he worked on the staff of the American Forces’ Network. After leaving the service, however, he traveled through Europe, Asia and the Middle East seeking out the truth behind outlandish tales of myth and legend. Investigating these controversial topics was not the most lucrative career move, but Keel supported his efforts by writing ad libs for Merv Griffin and contributing scripts to shows like “Get Smart” and “Lost in Space.”
Keel published numerous books on the supernatural over the course of his four-decade career, including “Our Haunted Planet,” “UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse,” “The Complete Guide to Mysterious Beings” and “Strange Creatures from Time and Space.” But his biggest claim to fame was the 1975 book, “The Mothman Prophecies,” which was turned into a major motion picture starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney in 2002. The book chronicled Keel’s 1966-1967 investigation into reported sightings of a strange creature in Point Pleasant, W.Va.
Known as the Mothman, the creature was described as being 7 feet tall with grey skin, red glowing eyes and large wings. Its origins were unknown, but theories abounded. Some believed the Mothman was a mutant spawned from local chemical and weapons dumps. Others theorized that it was either an extraterrestrial or the result of an Indian curse. Eyewitnesses claimed it screeched like a rat, ate farmers’ dogs, destroyed area fields, caused cars to stall and interfered with TVs, radios and telephones. Although the creature was known for scaring people — particularly couples sitting in parked cars — Keel wrote that the Mothman may have tried to telepathically warn people that the Silver Bridge was going to collapse into the Ohio River. It did so in 1967, killing 46 people.
Keel’s coverage of the Mothman phenomenon turned Point Pleasant into a tourist attraction, and sparked the launch of the annual Mothman Festival. A Mothman Museum, containing props from the movie, eyewitness accounts of Mothman encounters and other curiosities, also opened on Main Street. Keel last visited Point Pleasant in 2003 when a stainless steel statue of the Mothman was unveiled.
Keel’s final years were often spent in an self-imposed isolation. He did few interviews, distanced himself from family and friends and struggled with both health and financial issues.
Col. Edward Leo Peter McMahon Jr., a legendary TV personality and Marine, died on June 23. Cause of death was not released. He was 86.
The Detroit native always wanted to be a broadcaster. In his teens, he worked the microphone as both a bingo caller and a carnival barker. But McMahon’s chance to break into show business was put on hold by World War II. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, and served as a flight instructor and test pilot. When the war ended, McMahon used the G.I. bill to study drama and speech at Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. To support himself during that time, he hawked vegetable slicers on the Atlantic City boardwalk and the Midwestern state-fair circuit.
McMahon’s first broadcasting gig was in radio, but soon he turned his attentions to the up-and-coming medium of television. He played a circus clown on the show “Big Top,” hosted more than a dozen programs in Philadelphia and tackled announcing duties for the music showcase “Bandstand.” Just as the networks came calling, however, McMahon returned to active duty to serve in Korea. There he flew 85 reconnaissance missions in the Cessna OE Bird Dog. He eventually retired from the service with the rank of colonel.
After he returned home, McMahon joined “Who Do You Trust?” a game show originally hosted by ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy sidekick, Charlie McCarthy. The newer version was hosted by an up-and-coming comedian named Johnny Carson, and McMahon was hired to be the show’s announcer. When Carson was offered the opportunity to take over “The Tonight Show” in 1962, McMahon went with him.
For three decades and 6,583 shows, McMahon introduced Carson with the trademark opening: “Heeeeere’s Johnny!” He would then sit on Carson’s right and serve as his sidekick. Through skits and celebrity interviews, standup routines and musical numbers, McMahon always kept the tone of the show light with his humorous commentary and hearty guffaws. And when Carson retired from the show in 1992, McMahon did as well.
Despite a talent for playing second fiddle, McMahon enjoyed standing in the spotlight. In the 1960s and 1970s, he emceed the game shows “Concentration,” “Missing Links,” “Snap Judgment” and “Who Dunnit?”. From 1983 to 1995, he hosted the amateur talent show “Star Search,” which helped launch the careers of numerous entertainers, including Britney Spears, Drew Carey, Rosie O’Donnell, LeAnn Rimes and Sinbad. McMahon co-hosted “TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes” with his old friend Dick Clark, and helped raise millions during the annual “Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon.” McMahon also lent his voice and likeness to dozens of commercial advertisements, most notably as the pitchman for the American Family Publishers’ sweepstakes.
McMahon’s adventures in Hollywood were so extensive that he penned two memoirs — “For Laughing Out Loud: My Life and Good Times” (1998) and “Here’s Johnny!: My Memories of Johnny Carson, The Tonight Show, and 46 Years of Friendship” (2006) — as well as the nonfiction book “When Television was Young” (2007). His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located at 7000 Hollywood Blvd.
Privately, McMahon had a reputation for being a hardworking, stand-up guy with a penchant for imbibing. He played Bacchus, the Greek god of wine, at the 1978 Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, designed his own vodka and published “Ed McMahon’s Barside Companion,” a book that offered a “blend of ’round the bar games and bets, spirited stunts, jokes and tricks.” He even became known as “Mr. Budweiser” when he served as a spokesman for that beer company.
Celebrity suited McMahon, but fortune often slipped through his fingers. The last few years of his life were spent mired in pain and financial difficulty. In 2002, McMahon sued his insurance company, alleging that he and his wife Pamela were sickened by toxic mold that had spread through their Beverly Hills house. The McMahons also blame the mold for the death of their dog, Muffin. They won their legal battle a year later and received a $7 million settlement, but the money didn’t last for very long.
A fall in 2007 caused McMahon to suffer a broken neck, which required two operations. The pain from this injury kept him from working for nearly two years, which meant the unpaid bills quickly piled up. He even faced a possible foreclosure on his home, but was allowed to remain in the residence thanks to the kindness of strangers and private investors who learned of his troubles. In an attempt to make light of his situation, and to make extra money, McMahon appeared in a commercial with once-bankrupt rap artist MC Hammer. The ad, which aired during the 2009 Super Bowl, promoted a cash-for-gold business.
McMahon married three times and was father to six children. When asked by Larry King how he wanted to be remembered, McMahon said, “I don’t plan to have a headstone. I hope to be floating in the sea…but if I had a headstone my epitaph would be: ‘He was a good broadcaster and a great Marine!’”
David Stewart Freeman, an ad executive who co-authored a bestselling book encouraging readers to live a life full of adventure, died on Aug. 17 after falling and hitting his head on the ledge of a glass door in his California home. He was 47.
Born and raised in Whittier, Calif., Freeman earned a bachelor’s degree in urban planning from the University of Southern California in 1983. He spent the next two decades working in advertising, first at Cochrane Chase Livingston in Newport Beach, Calif., then at Grey Advertising and Kirshenbaum and Bond in New York City.
After watching the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks from his apartment, Freeman decided to move back to Los Angeles to be closer to his family. There he joined the firm TBWA/Chiat/Day and founded The Disruption Consultancy.
In his spare time, Freeman was an avid traveler who preferred to wander alone. From 1996 to 2001, he and his friend Neil Teplica published WhatsGoingOn.com, a travel Website that featured reports “on events, festivals and celebrations all over the planet.” The success of the site led to the 1999 publication of “100 Things to Do Before You Die: Travel Events You Just Can’t Miss.” The irreverent book spawned hundreds of similar mortality-related “list” texts.
Freeman participated in about half of the events mentioned in their book; he ran with the bulls in Pamplona, slept in an ice hotel in Finland and attended the Maha Kumbh Mela, a Hindu pilgrimage that happens only once every 12 years. He and Teplica also encouraged readers to attend the Academy Awards, view the World Cow Chip Throwing Championship in Beaver, Okla., and go “land diving” on the Island of Vanuatu.
The concept of embarking on great adventures before leaving this mortal coil served as the backdrop of the 2007 film “The Bucket List,” starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. The announcement of Freeman’s death also inspired writers from all over the world to pay tribute by posting their own itemized lists of “things to do before kicking the bucket” on blogs and Websites.