As it was too difficult to narrow down the list to just 10, I created two lists of the ten most significant deaths of 2013. The list below includes those in the fields of sports and entertainment while the one to follow contains people that excelled in the categories of politics, science, journalism, and business. Both are arguable in terms of order as well as omissions; feel free to point those out. I also admit its US centric and excludes hockey players. Plus, I’ve no doubt that Gary Coleman exclaimed, “What you talkin’ ‘bout Willis,” when his former co-star Todd Bridges told him that I excluded Different Strokes dad Conrad Bain, who died in January at the age of 89.
#10 VAN CLIBURN
“The Texan Who Conquered Russia,” died at age 78. Denied the Soviets a Cold War victory by winning the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1958 at age 24. His performance in the finale of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 earned him an eight minute standing ovation and ultimately the only New York City ticker-tape parade for a classical musician. Performed all over the world throughout his career; the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition is held on a quadrennial basis at TCU in Ft. Worth.
#9 ESTER WILLIAMS
She put “bathing beauty,” in the dictionary. Athlete denied Olympic moment by WWII, movie star, businesswoman & inspiration for the development of synchronized Olympic swimming, died at age 91.
#8 EARL WEAVER
Won 4 AL pennants and 1 World Series in 17 years as manager of the Baltimore Orioles. Espewed small ball in favor of “pitching, defense, and the three-run homer.” Though a 1996 HOF inductee, he’s perhaps been known as the prototype for face to face, dirt kicking arguments with umpires. Ejected from over 100 games, including 3 doubleheaders. Died at age 82.
#7 KEN NORTON
The 1970’s heavyweight division produced a group of combatants the likes of which may never be repeated: Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Norton and Holmes. Norton was the one who famously broke Ali’s jaw in ’73, but narrowly lost on points in both subsequent rematches. Awarded the WBC Title in ’77 after Spinks declined to fight, Norton lost the title to Larry Holmes in a split decision by one point in one of the greatest heavyweight fights of all time.
#6 PAT SUMMERALL
The voice of American Pro Sports for over four decades including 16 Super Bowls, 26 Masters and 21 US Opens. Along with broadcast partner John Madden, helped propel the NFL to new heights of popularity. Former placekicker in the NFL (played in the “Game of the Century”) turned color analyst turned play by play announcer. Died at age 82.
#5 STAN MUSIAL
It’s a safe bet that anyone named Stan has been called, “Stan the Man” at least once in his life. In truth however, there’s only been one. Musial played outfield and first base for 22 season on the St. Louis Cardinals compiling a record that still ranks him as one of the game’s greatest hitters with a career .331 BA, 3,630 career hits, 475 home runs and 1951 RBI’s. A three-time NL MVP, three-time World Series Champion, 24 time All-Star and first-ballot HOF inductee in 1969, Musial died at the age of 92 on the same day as Earl Weaver.
#4 ELMORE LEONARD
Crime & Mystery writer died at age 87 not only sold tens of millions of his 45 books but influenced an entire generation of crime writers such as Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Laura Lippman and George Pelecanos (The Wire, Treme) by recreating the genre to focus more on dialogue instead of description. Hollywood turned several of his stories into successful movies, including Get Shorty, Out of Sight and Jackie Brown.
#3 DEACON JONES
Like Lawrence Taylor would do twenty years later for the outside linebacker position, Jones revolutionized the role of the defensive end with his groundbreaking ability to tackle the quarterback behind the line of scrimmage and even coined the term, “sack.” No one knows how many “sacks” this HOF’er had, as the NFL did not keep official sack records until 1982. Played for the Rams, Chargers and Redskins from 1961 to 1974. Dabbled in acting following his retirement; died at age 74.
#2 JAMES GANDOLFINI
- With many hits yet to make when he died at age 51, Gandolfini’s anti-hero ushered in the golden age of American TV drama.
#1 LOU REED
As Brian Eno famous responded when told that the Velvet Underground’s debut album sold only 30,000 copies, “(Sure, but) everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.” Just ask David Bowie, the Sex Pistols, R.E.M, the Talking Heads, Roxy Music, U2, Patti Smith and just about any other punk, post-punk or underground group in the past 40 years. Raw, literate, street poetry that introduced drug use and sexual identity into the musical conversation. Unforgiving yet humane. Lou was 71.