Jimi Jamison

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Categories: Musicians

Jimi JamisonJimmy Wayne “Jimi” Jamison, the lead singer of the 1980s arena rock band Survivor, died on Aug. 31 of a heart attack. He was 63.

The band’s official Facebook page shared the news of Jamison’s death on Monday: “The entire Survivor family is very shocked and saddened by the passing of our brother Jimi Jamison. Our thoughts, love and prayers go out to his family and friends.”

Born in Mississippi and raised in Memphis, Jamison was just 13 years old when he first performed in public. Even at such a young age, he’d found his calling.

Jamison spent the 1970s and early 1980s as the frontman for the hard rock bands Target and Cobra. He also provided back-up vocals for numerous recording artists, including ZZ Top and Joe Walsh.

When vocal problems caused Survivor lead singer Dave Bickler to leave the band, numerous people tried out for the gig. But it was Jamison who landed the coveted job of performing alongside guitarist Frankie Sullivan, keyboardist Jim Peterik, bassist Stephan Ellis and drummer Marc Droubay.

Although Jamison originally joined Survivor in 1983, the charismatic performer would leave and return many times over the next few decades. However, when there was harmony between the bandmates, the music shined.

Jamison’s first Survivor release was “The Moment of Truth,” a song that didn’t fare well on the radio but became the theme for the hit movie ‘The Karate Kid.” His debut album with the band was much more successful; “Vital Signs” (1984) went platinum and spun off several hits, including the rock ballads “I Can’t Hold Back,” “High On You” and “The Search Is Over.”

“I’m stronger on ballads,” Jamison told The Los Angeles Times in 1985. “I like to sing them more than anything else but I didn’t get much of a chance before. I wanted to sing more ballads. Being in this group is just right for me.”

Survivor’s biggest hit, “Eye of the Tiger” — which sold over 2.5 million copies, topped the Billboard Hot 100 and became an athletic anthem as part of the soundtrack for “Rocky III” — was released two years before Jamison joined the band. During the next 30 years, he would perform the soaring tune countless times in concert, much to the joy of fans. He also recorded the vocals for “Burning Heart,” a song that appeared on the “Rocky IV” soundtrack.

After Survivor disbanded in 1989, Jamison decided to focus on a solo career. He released two albums, “When Love Comes Down” (1991) and “Empires” (1999), and cowrote and sang “I’m Always Here,” which became the theme for the the TV show “Baywatch.”

Survivor reunited in 1993, with former lead singer Dave Bickler back on the mic. But Jamison reunited with the band in 2000, remained for six years, left for five and then returned again in 2011. He performed his last Survivor show on Saturday night in Morgan Hill, Calif., The Arizona Republic reported.

Singer/songwriter Richard Marx took to Twitter to remember Jamison.

“So sad to hear of Jimi Jamison’s sudden passing,” Marx wrote. “Just saw him last December at a benefit. He was a kind and talented man.”

Guitarist Paul Sidoti also praised Jamison’s singing talents.

“RIP Jimi Jamison.. Your incredible vocal talents fronting Survivor were a big part of my childhood.. May you sing with the angels,” Sidoti said.

In a statement released to the public, Jamison’s family described him as friendly and caring.

“Jimi was a friend to everyone he met. He was a loving father and grandfather and was always a person who valued people more than anything else,” the family stated.

Photo by James L. Dickerson. Used with permission.

–Originally published in The Huffington Post.


Betty Jo Simpson

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Categories: Extraordinary People

Betty Jo Simpson, the Instagram sensation known as Grandma Betty 33, died on Aug. 2 of lung cancer. She was 80.

Earlier this year, Zach Beldon, 18, of Jeffersonville, Ind., created an account on Instagram to share pictures of his great-grandmother and her battle with cancer.

“The idea was to start an account for my friends who know Grandma Betty,” Beldon said. “And it turned out to be something everybody started to enjoy.”

Over the course of the next seven months, more than 690,000 people followed the joyful octogenarian, liking and sharing photos of her adventures. From sitting on a motorcycle:

… to dressing up as a clown:

… to sharing her blue-tinted tongue after eating candy:

One of the most popular posts involved Simpson dancing to Pharrell Williams’ hit song, “Happy”:

Simpson said she enjoyed becoming “the world’s grandma,” but she also hoped her advice would help others.

“You have to love people,” she said. “I mean from your heart out, just not from your mouth.”

On her Instagram page, Simpson described herself as a resident of Jeffersonville, Ind., a cancer fighter and a follower of Jesus. But outside of her fame on social media, she was a member of the Shepherdsville Gospel Church and retired from BRB Plastics. Simpson raised three adopted children, and lost both her husband, Clarence Simpson, and her daughter, Billie Pedigo, to cancer.

As her own condition worsened, family members posted updates about Simpson’s health on Instagram. This prompted thousands of strangers to send cards and share their thoughts and prayers of support.

Devyn Purvis was one such fan. She followed Grandma Betty’s Instagram posts and found comfort from them.

“Whatever you do please never shut down her instagram,” Purvis wrote. “I have looked at it every day for as long as it has been up and everyday it has made me smile. She was an inspiration to me.”

Another fan, artist Dagmara Cielecka, drew pictures of the impish Simpson after having a conversation on Snapchat:

Not surprisingly, word of Simpson’s death was first posted on Instagram. The announcement included a picture of her beloved dog Harley, sitting alone in her rocking chair, and the message: “Although Grandma Betty is no longer physically with us, she will forever be in the hearts of the millions of people she touches every single day. Grandma Betty did not lose her battle to cancer, because her legacy she has left behind will inspire millions of people to #Smile, #BeHappy, and #StayHappy no matter what. The fight has ended. The battle is won.”

–Originally published in The Huffington Post.


Joep Lange

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Categories: Medicine, Scientists

Joep LangeJoseph “Joep” Lange, a pioneer in the field of AIDS research and the former president of the International AIDS Society, was killed in a plane crash on July 17. He was 59.

Lange dedicated his life to researching HIV. Since 1983, he has been studying the virus and working to develop possible treatments. According to his official bio, Lange was the architect and principal investigator of several pivotal trials on antiretroviral therapy and on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

Joep had an absolute commitment to HIV treatment and care in Asia and Africa,” Professor David A Cooper stated. “The joy in collaborating with Joep was that he would always bring a fresh view, a unique take on things, and he never accepted that something was impossible to achieve.”

From 1992 to 1995, Lange was chief of clinical research and drug development at the Global Programme on AIDS at the World Health Organization in Geneva. He was president of the International AIDS Society from 2002 to 2004 as well as the founder and the chairman of the PharmAccess Foundation, which is dedicated to improving access to health care in Africa, and the founder and editor-in-chief of the journal Antiviral Therapy.

The author of more than 350 papers in peer-reviewed journals, Lange was the 2007 recipient of the Eijkman Medal for his achievements in tropical medicine and international health.

At the time of his death, Lange was a professor of internal medicine, the head of the Department of Global Health at the Academic Medical Center at the University of Amsterdam and executive scientific director of the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development.

Dr. Seema Yasmin, a staff writer at the Dallas Morning News, took to Twitter to praise Lang’s professional accomplishments and the love he had for his five daughters.

“Ask anyone who knew him. Joep was often times cooking for his five girls while on conference calls discussing HIV,” Dr. Yasmin wrote. “I asked him why he worked so much. He said, ‘Do you know how much it costs to buy shoes for five girls?’ He was a kind man and a true humanitarian.”

Lange was one of about 100 people on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 who were heading to Melbourne to attend the International AIDS Conference. The plane was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot out of the sky near the Russia-Ukraine border, killing all 298 people on board.

Lange’s wife, Jacqueline van Tongeren, was also among the crash victims.

–Originally published in The Huffington Post.


John Tull

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Categories: Extraordinary People, Law



The number of people in the U.S. diagnosed with the plague each year: 7.

The number of people who’ve had the bubonic plague in New York City in more than 100 years: 2. And that unfortunate pair was John Hugh Tull, Jr., 53, and his wife Lucinda Marker, 47.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the yersinia pestis bacteria is most commonly spread by infected fleas. People can also become infected by having direct contact with infected tissues or fluids, by handling an infected animal or from inhaling respiratory droplets from infected people or cats.

There are three forms of the plague: bubonic, septicemic and pneumonic. Bubonic causes fever, headache, chills, weakness and swollen/tender lymph nodes. If an infected person is not treated quickly, the bacteria multiply in the lymph nodes and spread throughout the body, causing an often fatal condition called septicemic plague. Untreated plague can also spread to the lungs; when it does, the victims get pneumonic plague. In the 14th century, the plague killed approximately 25 million people throughout Europe.

Tull and Marker were walking their dogs near their home in Eldorado, N.M., when they were bitten by fleas infected with bubonic plague. Then on Nov. 1, the couple visited New York City, where they had planned to watch the marathon, tour the Metropolitan Museum and visit with friends. Within 48 hours of their arrival, however, those plans were scuttled by illness.

At first, Tull and Marker thought it was something simple, like too much food and liquor, or maybe a bug. They certainly seemed to have flu-like symptoms, including fevers, headaches, exhaustion and swollen glands. But when Tull’s condition worsened, they called Ronald Primas, a travel doctor who was familiar with esoteric diseases. His first thought: Bubonic plague. At Beth Israel Medical Center North, doctors confirmed Primas’ diagnosis, and the couple became known as New York City’s first plague case in more than a century.

Although Marker responded well to the large doses of antibiotics doctors gave her, Tull did not. He developed septicemic plague and was given a 1 percent chance of survival. Tull was put on dialysis, hooked up to a respirator and spent the next 90 days in a medically-induced a coma. When gangrene set in, doctors were forced to amputate both of his legs below the knee. Throughout the horrific ordeal, Marker remained by Tull’s side.

“How do you tell someone you love that he has been in a coma for over two months, that he missed Thanksgiving and Christmas, that it is a new year and he no longer has legs?” Marker wrote in Salon. “He could not speak or move. His first words to me, mouthed in a faint whisper, ‘Rub my feet.’ I told him then, on my own, what had happened as I gently massaged what remained of his legs.”

Dealing with the plague wasn’t the couple’s only difficult experience in New York. Because they became ill so quickly after arriving in the city — and just 14 months after the September 11th terrorist attacks — Marker and the hospital staff were interviewed by officials from the CDC, the FBI, New Mexico and New York health officials as well as dozens of media outlets. With the city in a panic, authorities investigated the couple’s backgrounds and searched their N.M. home before determining they were neither the victims nor perpetrators of bio-terrorism. Despite the invasion of their privacy, the couple’s view of the city never soured.

“Love to all and we shall return to this fine city soon,” Marker wrote in a blog that kept friends and family updated about Tull’s condition. “Thank you for taking care of us.”

During the nine months Tull spent at Beth Israel, setbacks were faced with grim determination and small improvements were celebrated, both in person and online. At one point, the hospital staff even took to wearing “Free John Tull” buttons to encourage his progress.

The couple returned to New Mexico on Feb. 10, 2003, but Tull was still too sick to go home. Yet upon his arrival at Kindred Hospital Albuquerque, he was met by dozens of loved ones carrying signs and singing corny songs. After learning that Tull’s medical bills would eventually exceed $2 million, their friends launched the John Tull Recovery Fund.

The road to wellness was far from smooth. Once out of his coma, Tull suffered from numerous debilitating infections and countless painful sessions of physical therapy to regain basic motor skills like swallowing and breathing on his own. Yet throughout his long recuperation, Tull and Marker maintained a positive attitude: “We are not going to bemoan our fate, but celebrate our life, our victory over the plague, our health, and our friends. We are going to get a lot of caviar, a lot of ice-cold vodka, and give thanks for all that life has given us.”

Tull graduated from the University of Texas and South Texas College of Law. Prior to his illness, he worked as an attorney in both Texas and New Mexico, and served as the head of New Mexico’s state insurance fraud bureau. He was also general council for the New Mexico Economic Development Department.

The Amarillo native enjoyed reading, telling jokes and stories and volunteering with the Atalya Search and Rescue. Although the couple, who wed in 1998, did not have children together, Tull had three from previous marriages, and seven grandchildren.

Ten years after contracting the plague, Tull was retired and receiving disability pension. With the help of prosthetic legs, the tough and athletic Texan was able to hike, bike, drive and attend an annual fishing trip with friends.

“When life knocks you to your knees as it is bound to do with most of us at some point in time, we will go through what we must go through to survive or we will perish,” Marker wrote. “God knows John and I have gone through every imaginable device, vice, shrink, exercise, heart-to-heart discussion, argument, emotion, exertion of pure will and attempt to deny, but it all finally comes down to facing, accepting, and embracing the fact that life has changed. Period.”

Last month, Tull was diagnosed with cancer of the gastrointestinal tract, a disease that doctors believe was unconnected to his bout with the plague. He died on June 25. He was 65.

At the time of Tull’s death, the couple was writing a memoir, “The Plague: One Couple’s Journey To Hell and Back.” Marker intends to finish it.


Edwin Kagin

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Categories: Law, Writers/Editors

Edwin KaginThe story of an atheist “finding God” while at the end of life is not new. Fear of death — and what may lie beyond — can prompt anyone to turn to religiosity. But not Edwin Frederick Kagin. He remained a staunch non-believer to the very end.

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.

Kagin will be remembered as a “legal strategist extraordinaire for the American atheist movement,” said David Silberman, president of American Atheists. “The country is a better place for him.”

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 a frequent speaker and debater, and appeared on hundreds of radio and television programs. He spoke out against fundamentalist religious education, creationism and granting preferential treatment to religious groups in tax filings.

Described by friends and fans as kind, judgmental, irreverent, intelligent, funny, passionate and thought-provoking, Kagin developed a reputation for putting on (sometimes offensive) stunts to get his message across. He often donned priest or monk costumes and began lectures by referring to his audience as “sinners.” He would describe Mary Magdalene as a deranged hooker, call the Holy Eucharist “Swallow the Leader” and have female atheists perform the song “Back In Their Burkas Again” while wearing the full-body covering. Kagin even held mock communion services and gleefully laughed as he used a blow-dryer labeled “Reason and Truth” to de-baptize people.

A prolific writer, Kagin was a contributing author of the 2003 book “The Fundamentals of Extremism: The Christian Right in America.” Two years later, he published a collection of essays and poems titled “Baubles of Blasphemy.” When Helen, Kagin’s wife of 25 years, died in 2010, he penned a tribute in her honor on his online journal, Blasphemous Blogging.

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.

“In a movement noted for its large personalities, Edwin Kagin was one of the largest of all,” Tom Flynn, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, stated.

Kagin died on March 28 after suffering for several years from heart disease. He was 73. His family plans to celebrate his life with a “fun-eral.”

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