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January 3, 2018
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Thomas S. Monson, 16th president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, died Tuesday night at his home in Salt Lake City. He was 90 and had been in poor health. Monson was president, "prophet, seer, and revelator" of the Mormon church for nearly a decade, but he had been one of the church's 12 apostles since 1963, at age 36, after 14 years as a bishop. When he joined the top ranks of the LDS church 53 years ago, there were 2.1 million Mormons and 12 temples around the world; by the time he died, the religion had expanded to 15.9 million members and 157 temples, Utah's Deseret News notes.

Monson will be succeeded by Russell M. Nelson, who is 93 but was ordained an apostle in 1984. When Monson had been ordained 20 years earlier, he "joined a quorum with a handful of men who knew or were raised by Latter-day Saint pioneers who crossed the plains in 1847," the Deseret News says. "They could speak from experience about the church before the Manifesto that ended polygamy in 1890. ... He was the final prophet to have served in the Twelve with church leaders who had known men who knew the first, Joseph Smith." Monson was also the last living person who was present in June 1978 when the Mormon leaders received a revelation allowing black people and other minorities to become full members of the church, a move Monson supported.

Monson's presidency also covered some significant tumult and famous firsts for the Mormon church, including a push against same-sex marriage, a fight over ordaining women, severance of the LDS relationship with the Boy Scouts, a move toward openness on doctrine and history, the first Mormon presidential nominee, and a modernization of the LDS public communications system. You can read more about Monson's life at the Deseret News and The Salt Lake Tribune. Peter Weber

December 26, 2017

Heather Menzies-Urich, a TV and movie actress whose best-known role was Louisa von Trapp in the 1965 movie The Sound of Music, died Sunday night in Frankford, Ontario, in her native Canada, her son Ryan Urich said Monday. She was 68 and had recently been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Menzies-Urich landed the role of the third-oldest von Trapp child at age 14, and she went on to act in the movies Hawaii, Piranha, and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, as well as the TV shows Dragnet, Bonanza, The Bob Newhart Show, and a starring role in Logan's Run.

Menzies-Urich, whose family moved from Canada to California when she was a teenager, met her husband, Robert Urich, while filming a commercial for Libby's Corned Beef Hash in the mid-1970s, Variety reports. After he died from cancer in 2002, Menzies-Urich started the Robert Urich Foundation for cancer research and support. She is survived by three children, several grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. Peter Weber

December 12, 2017

Ed Lee, San Francisco's mayor, died Tuesday morning, according to a statement from his office. He was 65, and no cause of death was given. "It is with profound sadness and terrible grief that we confirm that Mayor Edwin M. Lee passed away on Tuesday, Dec. 12, at 1:11 a.m. at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital," Lee's office said. "Family, friends, and colleagues were at his side. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Anita, his two daughters, Brianna and Tania, and his family."

Lee, San Francisco's first Asian American mayor, took the job reluctantly in 2011, but was re-elected in 2015. London Breed, the president of the city Board of Supervisors, was named acting mayor, effective immediately. Peter Weber

November 20, 2017

Mel Tillis, an eminent country singer-songwriter famous for his song catalog and stuttering when he spoke but not when he sang, died on Sunday in Ocala, Florida, likely of respiratory failure though his publicist said Tillis had "battled intestinal issues since early 2016 and never fully recovered." He was 85. Tillis' long career began in Nashville in 1957, after a stint in the Air Force and trucking and railroad jobs, plus some college.

When he was playing rhythm guitar for Minnie Pearl in the late 1950s, Pearl urged him to use his stutter for comedic effect, and he found that audiences responded to his humor. But he is remembered more for serious songs like "Detroit City" and "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town," the latter about a paralyzed Vietnam War vet whose wife is cheating on him. It was a 1969 hit for Kenny Rogers, but here is Tillis singing it on The Porter Wagoner Show in 1967:

Tillis himself scored six No. 1 singles on the country charts, including "Coca-Cola Cowboy," and 35 singles in the Top 10, mostly in the mid-1970s through early 1980s. He was voted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1967, inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007, and awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama in 2012. He had mixed feelings about his stutter, saying he always hoped to beat it even as it propelled him to fame — as in the 1972 bit for the The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.

Tillis is survived by six children, six grandchildren, one great grandson, his longtime partner, Kathy DeMonaco, and his first wife, Doris Tiliis. Peter Weber

October 3, 2017

Rock superstar Tom Petty died Monday night, after suffering cardiac arrest late Sunday at his home in Malibu, his band's longtime manager Tony Dimitriade announced Monday night. Petty "could not be revived" at the UCLA Medical Center, Dimitriade said. "He died peacefully at 8:40 p.m. PT surrounded by family, his bandmates, and friends." Petty was 66. He had just wrapped up a summer tour with his band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, at the Hollywood Bowl on Sept. 25.

Petty was born Oct. 20, 1950, in Gainesville, Florida, and he traced his interest in rock 'n' roll to a meeting with Elvis Presley his uncle set up at a local movie shoot when Petty was 11. The Heartbreakers grew out of his band Mudcrutch, which fell apart after moving to Los Angeles and signing a record deal. The band's early hits include "Breakdown," "Refugee," and "Don't Do Me Like That." In the '80s, Petty sang a hit duet with Stevie Nicks, "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," then climbed the charts with "Don't Come Around Here No More" in 1985.

In 1988, Petty took a break from the Heartbreakers to join Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynn in The Traveling Wilburys, and in between the super-group's two albums, he recorded a solo album, Full Moon Fever, whose hits "Free Fallin'" and "Won't Back Down" made Petty a huge star. He recorded another hit album with the Heartbreakers, Into the Great Wide Open, in 1991. The title song's video featured Johnny Depp and Faye Dunaway.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, which was active up until his death, was inaugurated into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, and Petty was honored with UCLA's George and Ira Gershwin Award for lifetime achievement in 1996. Petty's long marriage to Jane Benyo fell apart in the mid-1990s as Petty got hooked on heroin for a few years. But the love of music stayed with him until the end. "Music, as far as I have seen in the world so far, is the only real magic that I know," he told CNN in 2007. "There is something really honest and clean and pure and it touches you in your heart." Peter Weber

August 15, 2017

A stuntwoman who died in Vancouver, Canada, on Monday morning while filming a motorcycle stunt for the movie Deadpool 2 has been identified as Joi "SJ" Harris, the self-identified first African-American female road racer. Harris reportedly had completed the stunt successfully four times before she lost control of the bike and crashed through a window. Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds put out a statement on Monday to announce the accident.

Canadian workplace safety officials will investigate the accident.

Harris was likely filming a stunt for the mutant character Domino, played by actress Zazie Beetz, BBC News reports. Deadpool 2 is slated for release in June 2018. Peter Weber

July 17, 2017

In 1968, George A. Romero made Night of the Living Dead on a shoestring budget of $114,000. It earned $30 million at the box office, launched the modern zombie genre, and set the rules about the animated undead that writers and directors still abide by 50 years later. Romero, who followed it up with several more Dead movies and other films in various genres, died in his sleep on Sunday in Toronto after a brief battle with aggressive lung cancer, his manager, Chris Roe, said Sunday night. He was 77 and surrounded by his wife, Suzanne Desrocher, and daughter, Tina Romero, listening to the score of The Quiet Man, a favorite film.

Night of the Living Dead didn't use the word "zombie," previously depicted as a living person enchanted through voodoo, but it set the ground rules for the zombie genre: Slow-moving undead flesh-eaters whose bite kills and infects its victims, turning them into zombies. Romero's most successful follow-up was Dawn of the Dead (1978), and after the 1985 commercial and critical flop Day of the Dead, he retired the franchise until 2005, when he released the star-packed Land of the Dead.

Romero's zombies were always social or political commentary, stand-ins for perceived political or societal ills, including racism, conformity, materialism and mall culture, and class warfare. "The zombies, they could be anything," Romero told The Associated Press in 2008. "They could be an avalanche, they could be a hurricane. It's a disaster out there. The stories are about how people fail to respond in the proper way. They fail to address it." People would say, "You're trapped in this genre — you're a horror guy," he added, but he disagreed. "I say, 'Wait a minute, I'm able to say exactly what I think.' ... I'm able to talk about, comment about, take snapshots of what's going on at the time. I don't feel trapped. I feel this is my way of being able to express myself."

Romero was born in the Bronx in 1940, and was always a fan of film. He graduated from Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh in 1960 and learned his trade working on movie sets and on Pittsburgh-based Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Nobody took his first zombie movie seriously, but now "people write their thesis about it," he told USA Today in 2010. "I don't think it deserves half of the treatises about it." You can watch the trailer for Romero's 1968 cult classic below. Peter Weber

May 30, 2017
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Frank Deford, a sportswriter who began his career at Sports Illustrated in 1962 and didn't quit until right before his death on Sunday, was "a dedicated writer and storyteller" who "offered a consistent, compelling voice in print and on radio, reaching beyond scores and statistics to reveal the humanity woven into the games we love," reads his citation for the National Humanities Medal former President Barack Obama awarded him in 2013, the first such honor for a sportswriter. It was one of many awards Deford won over his long career. He died at his home in Key West, Deford's wife, Carol, confirmed on Monday. He was 78.

Benjamin Franklin Deford III was born in Baltimore in 1938, and along with 30-plus years writing for Sports Illustrated he was a regular on HBO's Real Sports and on NPR's Morning Edition, from which he retired only on May 3, after 1,656 commentaries about the human side of sports. Hired as a researcher at Sports Illustrated, he made his bones writing about basketball, hardly a focus of sportswriters in the 1960s.

Deford "understood the particular legacy he had carved out," writes Bryan Curtis at The Ringer. "He would be seen more as a great sportswriter rather than a great writer, full stop. ... And he decided  —  though he was more talented than many writers who pass through the gates of The New Yorker  —  that he was more or less comfortable with the slur." At the same time, Curtis says, "Deford wrote so well it obscured his divining-rod abilities as a reporter. He always seemed to land on just the right quote."

So, a quote from Ross Greenburg, president of HBO Sports in 2004, when he told the Los Angeles Times: "Frank Deford with a pen in his hand is like Michael Jordan with a basketball and Tiger Woods with a driver." And a quote from Deford — who leaves behind a wife, two children, and two grandchildren, having lost a daughter to cystic fibrosis at age 8 — from his 2012 collection Over Time: My Life As a Sportswriter: "I think there are more good sportswriters doing more good sportswriting than ever before. But I also believe that the one thing that's largely gone out is what made sport such fertile literary territory — the characters, the tales, the humor, the pain, what Hollywood calls 'the arc.' That is: stories. We have, all by ourselves, ceded that one neat thing about sport that we owned." Peter Weber

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