The Entertainers and Inspirations We Lost in August
When the people who inspire and entertain us pass away, it's like we've lost a member of our own family. These remarkable people will live on in our hearts and minds as we introduce the new generations to the legacies they left behind.
August 11, 2014 - Robin Williams
Robin Williams was born in Chicago, Illinois on July 21, 1951. He was raised Episcopalian by his father. Robin credited his mother as being the earliest influence on him being a comedian. He even said that he tried many times to make her laugh in order to gain attention.
Robin began as a shy, loner child and didn't develop his fun, outgoing side until he entered drama in high school. Before high school though, when Robin was 12, his father was transferred to Detroit. The Williams family moved into a 40-room farmhouse with 20 acres of land. He excelled in school, joined the soccer and wrestling teams, and was elected class president.
Robin's father traveled for work constantly and his mother also worked a ton so Robin was mostly attended to by the family maid who was his main companion. When he turned 16, Robin's father retired and moved the family to California. He finished High School and was voted "Most Likely Not to Succeed" by his classmates.
Robin enrolled in Claremont Men's College to study political science but dropped out to pursue acting. He studied theatre for three years at the College of Marin. Robin's improvisational skills left his classmates in hysterics many times. His skills led to him being cast in the musical Oliver! which impressed his drama teacher so highly that he called his wife immediately after one late rehearsal to tell her Robin was going to be "something special".
In 1973, Robin attained a full scholarship to Juilliard in New York City. He was one of 20 to be accepted as a freshman and one of only two to be accepted in the Advanced Program that year. The other actor accepted into the Advanced Program was Christopher Reeve. Reeve recalled in an interview that the dialect teachers were baffled by Robin as he could instantly perform difficult dialects after hearing them once. John Houseman, the head of the Advanced Program, practically kicked Robin out in his junior year because there was nothing else Juilliard could possibly teach him. The teachers were all in agreeance that Robin was a genius.
In 1976, Robin was working as a bartender at the comedy club Holy City Zoo when he met the lovely Valerie Velardi. He continued working up the ladder until he finally got his shot on-stage. He continued doing stand-up shows at various clubs. In 1977, he performed at the Comedy Club where TV producer George Schlatter saw him. Schlatter approached Robin and asked him to perform on the revival of Laugh-In. The Laugh-In revival failed but it still led to Robin getting more and more TV appearances. He married Valerie in 1978, was cast as the alien Mork in the TV show Happy Days and its spin-off Mork and Mindy, and in 1979 he won a Grammy Award for his live show Reality....What a Concept. Mork and Mindy had become a hit and was written specifically for Robin's superb improvisational skills. The show is also credited as being what turned Robin into a superstar. Even while on the show, Robin continued performing stand-up shows and took the lead role in Popeye. After Mork and Mindy ended, Robin made three live shows for HBO and took the lead in the film the World According to Garp. Robin had a son with Valerie in 1983 named Zachary Pym "Zak" Williams.
Robin's big film break came in 1987 with Good Morning, Vietnam which earned him an Academy Award Nomination. The director admitted most of Robin's performance was improv. In 1988, he and Valerie divorced and in 1989 he remarried to Marsha Garces, Zak's nanny, who was pregnant with Robin's child. Zelda Rae Williams was born later in 1989.
Robin took a turn for the dramatic in his film career, starring in such classics as Dead Poets Society, Awakenings, and The Fisher King. In 1991, Cody Alan Williams was born.
Robin returned to comedy and kids' films, starring in Hook, Ferngully, and Aladdin. Mrs. Doubtfire was a surprise smash-hit with audiences, becoming Robin's most well-known role. Jumanji followed and Robin made an adult comedy classic called The Birdcage. He returned to drama with the heartbreaker Jack. After a return to Disney with Aladdin and the King of Thieves and Flubber, Robin returned to serious drama, winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Good Will Hunting. His next film What Dreams May Come didn't win any awards but was critically acclaimed. Yet another heartbreaking film came along with the dramedy Patch Adams and the war-time film Jakob the Liar.
After years of making people laugh and cry, Robin took a turn for the weird horror with One Hour Photo, Insomnia, The Final Cut, and The Night Listener. Robin's career it seems had surpassed its high and began to dwindle. He started taking less-than-great films like RV and License to Wed. His divorce from Marsha followed immediately in 2008 with irreconcilable differences being the cause of file which might explain the dip in his career. In 2011, Robin married his third wife Susan Schneider with whom he remained married to until his death in 2014.
Throughout his life, Robin was active not only in comedy clubs and live shows but also on Broadway and cycling. He had taken up cycling as a substitute for drugs during his rehabilitation period. He became such a fan of cycling that he often traveled to race events and even owned close to 100 bicycles, 87 of which were donated in 2016 in support of the Challenged Athletes Foundation and also the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. In 2010, he donated all of the proceeds from his Weapons of Self-Destruction live show to help rebuild Canterbury which had been severely damaged by an earthquake.
Traces of Lewy Body Dementia had been found in Robin, which his wife Susan stated is what caused his suicide in 2014. Susan described the disease as "the terrorist in my husband's brain". Robin's body was cremated and his ashes were scattered in San Francisco Bay.
August 24, 2014 - Richard Attenborough
Richard Attenborough, born in Cambridge, the eldest of three sons. His mother Mary was the founding member of the Marriage Guidance Council and his father Frederick was an academic administrator at Emmanuel College and wrote a standard text on Anglo-Saxon law. Richard had high quality education at Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys and the Royal Academy for Dramatic Art.
In 1939, the Attenborough family took in two German Jewish refugee girls who were adopted into the family after the war ended. The sisters moved to the United States in the 50s and lived full lives.
During WWII, though, Richard joined the Royal Air Force. After initial pilot training, he joined the RAF Film Unit where he appeared in the propaganda film Journey Together. He volunteered to fly with the film unit. After further training, he sustained permanent ear damage. He qualified as a sergeant and flew on several missions of Europe filming on the rear gunner's position to record the outcome of Bomber Command missions.
Richard's career began on stage but in 1942 he landed an uncredited role which led to larger roles in London Belongs to Me and Morning Departure. His breakthrough role came in 1947 in the film Brighton Rock. In 1949, he was voted the sixth most popular British actor.
For the next 30 years, Richard worked primarily in British films, but broke into Hollywood with his most famous role in The Great Escape which also starred Steve McQueen and James Garner. His directorial debut came in 1969 with Oh! What a Lovely War after which he focused more on directing and producing and only acted in films he really liked rather than just taking any role offered to him. He accepted two Academy Awards in 1982, one for Best Director for Gandhi and one for Best Picture for Gandhi. Gandhi also won two Golden Globes, one for Best Director and one for Best Foreign Film. He also won the Best Director Golden Globe for A Chorus Line and Cry Freedom. He also directed Chaplin and Shadowlands.
In 2008, Richard was admitted to the hospital with heart problems and given a pacemaker. Later in 2008, he suffered from a stroke and fell in his home. He started selling off his art collection and much of his estate because he was confined to a wheelchair after his stroke. Richard died in 2014, five days before his 91st birthday. He was survived by his wife of 69 years, two children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. His wife died two years later.
August 25, 1984 - Truman Capote
Truman Capote had a rough beginning to his life. His parents divorced when he was four and was sent off to live with his mother's relatives. Growing up, he was a neighbor and friend to Harper Lee.
Truman was a lonely child and taught himself how to read and write before he even started his first year of school. He was often seen carrying a dictionary and a notepad and began writing fiction by the age of 11. He submitted his first work to a children's writing contest and received recognition from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.
In 1933, he moved to New York City to live with his mother and her second husband Joseph. Joseph was convicted of embezzlement, forcing the family to leave Park Avenue. Truman first attended Trinity School and then attended St. Joseph Military Academy. In 1939, the Capote family moved to Connecticut where Truman attended Greenwich High School and wrote for both the school's literary journal and the school newspaper. In 1942, he attended the Franklin School, a private School now know as Dwight School and graduated in 1943. That was the end of his education.
He began working as a copyboy for The New Yorker, a job he had for two years until he was fired because he angered poet Robert Frost. He left to live in Alabama and began writing his first novel.
He had won several awards for his short stories including the O. Henry Award. His stories were published in several literary quarterlies and popular magazines. Random House began publishing his short stories in collections. He had several novels published but his most famous fictional creation came in 1958 in a little novel called Breakfast at Tiffany's. His most famous nonfiction novel came in 1965 with In Cold Blood which told the true story behind the grizzly murder of a wealthy farmer, his wife, and their two children. There were no signs of struggle and nothing had been stolen. Truman attempted to figure out why this family was killed when it appeared there was no reason to kill them. When investigating for his book, Truman and Harper Lee traveled to the scene of the crime. Over the course of the next few years, he became acquainted with everyone involved with the case. The investigating and the emotional toll caused Truman to stop writing after In Cold Blood was published. Several newspapers praised the book but Kenneth Tynan of The Observer accusing of Capote calling for an execution so the book would have an effective ending. Other writers pitched in, saying Capote was a fraud and that his "nonfiction" book was largely fabricated.
In the last years of his life, Capote was in and out of drug rehabilitation clinics. He was unable to overcome his addiction and had an hallucinatory seizure in 1980. He became a recluse. These hallucinations continued and a doctor reported Truman's brain mass had shrunk. Truman Capote died on August 25, 1984 due to liver disease complicated by phlebitis and multiple drug intoxication. He was cremated and his ashes were given to his boyfriend Jack Dunphy. When Dunphy died in 1992, both his and Truman's ashes were scattered at Crooked Pond in New York.
August 29, 1982 - Ingrid Bergman
Ingrid was raised by her father because her mom died when she was two. Her father pushed her to become an opera star so she took voice lessons for three years until her father died when she was 13. Ingrid knew from the start that she wanted to be an actress. After her father's death, Ingrid lived with her aunt who died six months later from heart disease. Ingrid was then taken in by her Aunt Hulda and Uncle Otto.
Ingrid received a scholarship to the state-sponsored Royal Dramatic Theatre School. After several months, she was given a part in the play Ett Brott (A Crime). Technically she was supposed to complete three years of training before being in a play but she was already impressive to her teachers. During summer break, she was hired by a Swedish film studio, which prompted her to leave school. She acted in a dozen Swedish films before breaking into Hollywood in 1939 in Intermezzo. The film became an enormous success and launched Ingrid to stardom. Her next role was probably her most famous role, Casablanca. She continued making Hollywood films until 1949 when she moved on to Italian films. She returned to Hollywood in 1956 with Anastasia and didn't return to the screen until 1974 with Murder on the Orient Express.
Bergman died in 1982 of breast cancer. She was cremated. Her ashes were taken to her home country of Sweden and her ashes were scattered in the sea.
August 29, 2016 - Gene Wilder
Gene Wilder, born Jerome Silberman, first became interested in acting in a strange way. It wasn't because he was inspired by a friend or previous actor. No, Gene became interested in acting when his mother was diagnosed with rheumatic fever and the doctor told him to try and make her laugh.
Two years later at the age of 11, Gene saw his sister perform onstage and became absolutely enthralled by the experience. He asked his sister's teacher if he could become his student and he agreed that he could but only if he was still interested at the age of 13. The day after he turned 13, he called the teacher who immediately accepted him. Gene studied under him for two years and adopted the screen name Gene Wilder at the age of 26.
When he was 15, Gene's mother sent him to Black-Foxe, a military academy in Hollywood. At the academy, Gene was bullied and sexually assaulted because he was the only Jewish boy there. Wilder returned home and became involved with the community theatre. He performed for the first time in the play Romeo and Juliet.
Following his 1955 graduation, he enrolled in Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in England. He became the first freshman to win the All-School Fencing Championship after only six months of studying. He returned to the US and enrolled at the HB Studio.
Gene was drafted into the Army in 1956. At the end of recruit training, he was assigned to the medical corps. He was given the opportunity to choose any post that was open. He served in the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at Valley Forge Army Hospital in Pennsylvania. In 1957, his mother died of ovarian cancer. He was discharged from the army a year later. He became a full-time student at HB Studio. At first, he lived on unemployment insurance but later supported himself with odd jobs.
Gene's first professional acting job was on-stage in a production of Twelfth Night and he also served as a fencing choreographer. After three years, Gene studied under Lee Strasberg as a method actor.
In 1963, Gene was cast as a lead in a production of Mother Courage and Her Children. The play starred Anne Bancroft who introduced Gene to her boyfriend Mel Brooks. Wilder toured the country on different productions. In 1968, Wilder and Brooks finally worked together on the film The Producers for which Mel won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and Wilder was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Gene went from small role to small role until 1971 when he was given the role of Willy Wonka in the classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The sad part about these now classic films is that they were flops when they first released. Woody Allen saved Gene's career with Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask. The film was a success.
Gene began writing Young Frankenstein and, when finished, Mel Brooks was aked to direct. He showed little interest but accepted anyway, depressed that his last two films had been flops. Mel Brooks called Gene and asked if he would be interested in taking a role in Blazing Saddles. Mel needed to finish Saddles before filming Young Frankenstein. Gene accepted.
20th Century Fox agreed to produce Young Frankenstein but Gene and Mel had to sign a five-picture contract. Young Frankenstein was a success and was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards, but lost to The Godfather Part II. Wilder had finally reached success and recognition.
In his personal life, Gene had bad luck with women. He was married and divorced multiple times. He had an on-again-off-again relationship with Gilda Radner. They married in 1984 but she sadly passed in 1989 of ovarian cancer. Gene founded the Gilda Radner Ovarian Cancer Detection Center and Gilda's Club. Both raised cancer awareness and spawned several branches across the country.
In 1991, Gene married his former lip-reading coach Karen Webb. He was finally happy. The couple spent most of their time painting watercolors, writing, and participating in charities. Wilder passed away in 2016 due to complications of Alzheimer's Disease while listening to his favorite song Over the Rainbow.
Other Notable Deaths
- Aug 1, 1903 - Calamity Jane
- Aug 1, 1980 - Strother Martin
- Aug 1, 1983 - Peter Arne
- Aug 1, 1987 - Benson Fong
- Aug 1, 1987 - Pola Negri
- Aug 1, 1988 - Florence Eldridge
- Aug 1, 1988 - Trindad Silva
- Aug 1, 1991 - Stuart Wilson
- Aug 1, 1992 - Kenny Sacha
- Aug 1, 1995 - Loudi Nijhoff
- Aug 1, 1998 - Eva Bartok
- Aug 1, 2003 - Marie Trintignant
- Aug 2, 1876 - "Wild Bill" Hickock
- Aug 2, 1922 - Alexander Graham Bell
- Aug 2, 1923 - President Warren Harding
- Aug 2, 1929 - Mae Costello
- Aug 2, 1964 - Jack Kirkwood
- Aug 2, 1973 - Jean-Pierre Melville
- Aug 2, 1976 - Fritz Lang
- Aug 2, 1982 - Cathleen Nesbitt
- Aug 2, 1998 - Shari Lewis
- Aug 2, 2001 - Ron Townson
- Aug 2, 2016 - David Huddleston
- Aug 3, 1975 - Ruth Lee
- Aug 3, 1975 - Alfred Lunt
- Aug 3, 1983 - Carolyn Jones
- Aug 3, 1995 - Ida Lupino
- Aug 3, 2015 - Coleen Gray
- Aug 3, 2017 - Robert Hardy
- Aug 4, 1875 - Hans Christian Andersen
- Aug 4, 1931 - Daniel Williams
- Aug 4, 1975 - John Baragrey
- Aug 4, 1981 - Melvyn Douglas
- Aug 4, 1984 - Edmond Ryan
- Aug 4, 1984 - Mary Miles Minter
- Aug 4, 1984 - Walter Burke
- Aug 4, 1984 - Howard Culver
- Aug 4, 1987 - Kenny Price
- Aug 4, 1992 - Ralph Cooper
- Aug 4, 1993 - Bernard Barrow
- Aug 4, 2007 - Lee Hazlewood
- Aug 5, 1962 - Marilyn Monroe
- Aug 5, 1972 - Frederic Tozere
- Aug 5, 1977 - Charles Corson
- Aug 5, 1978 - Queenie Smith
- Aug 5, 1982 - Wanda Rotha
- Aug 5, 1983 - Judy Canova
- Aug 5, 1984 - Richard Burton
- Aug 5, 1985 - Theodore Sturgeon
- Aug 5, 1989 - Ralph Meeker
- Aug 5, 2000 - Alec Guinness
- Aug 5, 2008 - Robert Hazard
- Aug 6, 1963 - Tom Keene
- Aug 6, 1964 - Cedric Hardwicke
- Aug 6, 1965 - Everett Stone
- Aug 6, 1965 - Nancy Carroll
- Aug 6, 1990 - Charles Arnt
- Aug 6, 2004 - Rick James
- Aug 6, 2009 - John Hughes
- Aug 7, 1957 - Oliver Hardy
- Aug 7, 1976 - Cecil Weston
- Aug 7, 1985 - Grayson Hall
- Aug 7, 2005 - Peter Jennings
- Aug 8, 1965 - Shirley Jackson
- Aug 8, 1984 - Richard Deacon
- Aug 8, 2004 - Fay Wray
- Aug 8, 2005 - Barbara Bel Geddes
- Aug 8, 2017 - Glen Campbell
- Aug 9, 1962 - Hermann Hesse
- Aug 9, 1969 - Sharon Tate
- Aug 9, 1988 - Alan Napier
- Aug 9, 2008 - Bernie Mac
- Aug 10, 1973 - Douglas Kennedy
- Aug 10, 1987 - Raquel Torres
- Aug 10, 2002 - Michael Houser
- Aug 11, 1956 - Jackson Pollock
- Aug 11, 1988 - Anne Ramsey
- Aug 11, 1994 - Mark "Red" Mitchell
- Aug 11, 1994 - Peter Cushing
- Aug 12, 30 BC - Cleopatra
- Aug 12, 1982 - Henry Fonda
- Aug 12, 1990 - Dorothy Mackaill
- Aug 12, 1991 - Irene Campbell
- Aug 12, 2000 - Loretta Young
- Aug 12, 2007 - Merv Griffin
- Aug 12, 2014 - Lauren Bacall
- Aug 13, 1910 - Florence Nightingale
- Aug 13, 1946 - H.G. Wells
- Aug 13, 1948 - Edwin Maxwell
- Aug 13, 1995 - Mickey Mantle
- Aug 13, 2003 - Ed Townsend
- Aug 13, 2004 - Julia Child
- Aug 13, 2016 - Kenny Baker
- Aug 14, 1972 - Oscar Levant
- Aug 14, 1988 - Enzo Ferrari
- Aug 14, 1996 - Camilla Horn
- Aug 14, 2016 - Lita Roza
- Aug 15, 1992 - Giorgo Perlasca
- Aug 15, 2012 - Bob Birch
- Aug 16, 1888 - John Pemberton
- Aug 16, 1948 - Babe Ruth
- Aug 16, 1949 - Margaret Mitchell
- Aug 16, 1956 - Bela Lugosi
- Aug 16, 1958 - Paul Panzer
- Aug 16, 1966 - Jack Mather
- Aug 16, 1977 - Elvis Presley
- Aug 16, 1993 - Stewart Granger
- Aug 17, 1979 - Vivian Vance
- Aug 17, 2015 - Yvonne Craig
- Aug 17, 2016 - Arthur Hiller
- Aug 18, 1940 - Walter Chrysler
- Aug 18, 1952 - Ralph Byrd
- Aug 18, 1981 - Anita Loos
- Aug 18, 1982 - Beverly Bayne
- Aug 18, 1992 - John Stuges
- Aug 19, 1977 - Groucho Marx
- Aug 19, 2012 - Tony Scott
- Aug 19, 2016 - Jack Riley
- Aug 20, 1986 - Walter Brooke
- Aug 20, 2013 - Elmore Leonard
- Aug 20, 2017 - Jerry Lewis
- Aug 21, 1977 - Danny Lockin
- Aug 21, 1992 - Lucille Brown
- Aug 21, 2017 - Thomas Meehan
- Aug 22, 1967 - Tom Conway
- Aug 22, 1977 - Sebastian Cabot
- Aug 23, 1926 - Rudolph Valentino
- Aug 23, 1966 - Francis Xavier Bushman
- Aug 23, 1975 - Frank Patterson
- Aug 23, 1993 - Charles Scorsese
- Aug 23, 2006 - Ed Warren
- Aug 23, 2016 - Steven Hill
- Aug 24, 1998 - E.G. Marshall
- Aug 24, 2010 - Satoshi Kon
- Aug 25, 1688 - Henry Morgan
- Aug 25, 2012 - Neil Armstrong
- Aug 26, 1963 - Larry Keating
- Aug 26, 1974 - Charles Lindberg
- Aug 26, 1986 - Ted Knight
- Aug 27, 1978 - Robert Shaw
- Aug 27, 1990 - Stevie Ray Vaughn
- Aug 27, 1997 - Jeep Swenson
- Aug 28, 1955 - Emmett Till
- Aug 28, 1983 - Jon Clayton
- Aug 29, 29 AD - John the Baptist
- Aug 29, 1877 - Brigham Young
- Aug 29, 1960 - Alexander Gauge
- Aug 29, 1987 - Lee Marvin
- Aug 30, 1991 - Alan Wheatley
- Aug 30, 1993 - Richard Jordan
- Aug 30, 2003 - Charles Bronson
- Aug 30, 2013 - Seamus Heaney
- Aug 30, 2015 - Wes Craven
- Aug 31, 1969 - Rocky Marciano
- Aug 31, 1973 - John Ford
- Aug 31, 1991 - Gerry Davis
- Aug 31, 1997 - Princess Diana
- Aug 31, 2014 - Jimi Johnson
- Aug 31, 2017 - Richard Anderson
Such extraordinary people enter and leave our lives in a moment's notice. It's difficult to deal with the passings but the important thing is that their memory lives on in our hearts. They may entertain, they may inspire, but one way or another, they all leave a mark on our minds and hearts that remains through our own lifetimes.
© 2017 Alec Zander