There were many notable figures whose passing in 2013 stirred memories of the halcyon days of baby boomers. Some entertained us, others were inextricably connected with the history of the times. In each case, they became more than a footnote in the lives of boomers, whether their celebrity was recognized at the time or not.
Abigail Van Buren (July 4, 1918 – January 16, 2013)
Boomers knew Paulene Philips — Abigail Van Buren — as the newspaper advice columnist, Dear Abby. Beginning in 1956, and for decades following, she offered advice to young and old, all the while struggling to maintain her take on standards of decorum, manners and decency in an age when everything was changing.
Tony Sheridan (May 21, 1940 – February 16, 2013)
An English singer, guitarist and songwriter, Tony Sheridan was an accomplished rock ‘n roll musician, having toured with Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran. He met The Beatles (with Pete Best) in Hamburg, Germany in the early 1960s. For a time, The Beatles were his backing band there, which led to Sheridan collaborating with The Beatles on several records. My Bonnie (1962) was a hit for him, listing The Beatles as The Beat Brothers. Sheridan in return played on the Hamburg recordings of The Beatles.
Annette Funicello (October 22, 1942 – April 8, 2013)
Certainly a leader of the club that was made for you and me, Annette Funicello went on from her early years on The Mickey Mouse Club to star in the fun and influential beach movies of the 1960s. Her wholesome image landed her the job of spokesperson for Skippy peanut butter in the 1970s. (Read Mister Boomer’s remembrances at Why? Because We Liked Her.)
Jonathan Winters (November 11, 1925 – April 11, 2013)
Boomers watched comedian Jonathan Winters perform on variety shows like The Ed Sullivan Show and Hollywood Palace, but it was his star turn in the movie, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), that sealed the deal for many boomers, including Mister B. We laughed along, marveled at his improvisational skills on The Wacky World of Jonathan Winters (1972-74) and followed his career for six decades.
Richie Havens (January 21, 1941 – April 22, 2013)
A consummate musician, singer and songwriter, most boomers learned of Richie Havens’ talents watching Woodstock, the 1970 movie about the most culturally significant rock concert of our boomer years. (Read Mister Boomer’s remembrances at Boomers Get Themselves Back to the Garden.)
Jean Stapleton (January 19, 1923 – May 31, 2013)
An accomplished actress on stage, screen and TV for decades, Jean Stapleton became a boomer favorite for her portrayal of Edith Bunker, Archie’s “dingbat” yet wise and patient wife on All In the Family (1971-79). (See Mister Boomer’s remembrances at G’night, Edith — Boomers Say Goodbye to Another Icon.)
Helen Thomas (August 4, 1920 – July 20, 2013)
Any boomer who ever watched a presidential press conference since the Kennedy presidency would recognize Helen Thomas. A feisty yet affable reporter, she covered presidential politics as a White House reporter for five decades. Ms. Thomas made a name for herself not only as a pioneer in women’s journalism in a time when few women were seen covering national news, but also as a keen observer and questioner unafraid to ask tough questions of even the president of the United States. In a 2006 interview, Ms. Thomas is quoted as saying, “I respect the office of the presidency, but I never worship at the shrines of our public servants. They owe us the truth.”
Virginia Johnson (February 11, 1925 – July 24, 2013)
With a name as common as Virginia Johnson, boomers can be excused for not recognizing the writer and sex therapist immediately. When connected to her famous work with her husband, Dr. William Masters, the picture is clearer. Together, Masters and Johnson were destined to turn the world on its ear with their study of human sexuality in the 1960s, paving the way for sex to be talked about openly. Ironically, a TV series about Ms. Johnson and her husband began in 2013 (Masters of Sex).
Karen Black (July 1, 1939 – August 6, 2013)
Boomers knew Karen Black for her portrayal of memorable characters on TV and in some of the most iconic movies of the 1960s and ’70s, including Easy Rider (1969) with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, Five Easy Pieces (1970) with Jack Nicholson and Nashville (1975) with Ned Beatty, Keith Carradine and many others.
Sid Bernstein (August 12, 1918 – August 21, 2013)
A music promoter, Sid Bernstein brought The Beatles to the United States, which escalated the pace of the British Invasion to our shores. He was responsible for booking The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, and brought them to Carnegie Hall and Shea Stadium. He also promoted Judy Garland, and booked some shows for Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix, The Rascals, Melanie, Sly & the Family Stone and many others. A behind-the-scenes guy, Sid Bernstein surely left his mark on the Boomer Generation.
David Frost ( April 7, 1939 – August 31, 2013)
A British journalist and talk show host, David Frost became known to baby boomers on the satirical comedy program That Was the Week That Was (1962-63). A decade later he became an important historical figure for baby boomers when, in 1977, he conducted a series of seven interviews with a post-presidential resignation Richard Nixon. Frost was able to get the disgraced president to admit “mistakes were made” and that he expressed regret for his involvement in the Watergate scandal.
Ray Dolby (January 18, 1933 – September 12, 2013)
The 1960s were a time when music was as much a part of our lives as breathing. Along with the expansion of rock music during that era, music technology also advanced. Ray Dolby, an engineer, helped develop the video tape recorder while he worked at Ampex. In 1968 he invented the Dolby Noise Reduction System, and the name Dolby was forever linked to crisper sound coming out of our radios, tape players and records from then on.
Marcia Wallace (November 1, 1942 – October 25, 2013)
Boomers watched The Bob Newhart Show (1972-78) and became acquainted with Marcia Wallace from then on. Her portrayal of Mr. Newhart’s funny receptionist earned her legions of fans who followed her throughout her career, from appearances on stage (The Odd Couple, Same Time Next Year, Prisoner of Second Avenue, and more) to prolific TV work, including Hollywood Squares, Alf and many others; to her voice work for The Simpsons as teacher, Edna Crabapple (1990 until her death).
Lou Reed (March 2, 1942 – October 27, 2013)
Baby boomers first learned about the singing, songwriting and musicianship of Lou Reed from his work with the über-influential rock group, The Velvet Underground. The band’s one album — indelibly etched into our minds with a reproduction of Andy Warhol’s banana silkscreen print on its cover — was a commercial failure in its day, but went on to become the inspiration and influence for a myriad of baby boomer musicians who followed. Mr. Reed continued to record for the next four decades, scoring hits with A Walk on the Wild Side (1972), among others.
Of course, there were many more who touched our lives. Not one of these people listed here were baby boomers themselves, but their influence on our culture and world stage has forever left an indelible mark on the Boomer Generation, and all who followed.