Reflecting on the losses of 2020

It’s likely that you lost a cultural icon who meant something to you during 2020, whether from the world of politics, art or sports.

We again were reminded the importance a single person can make on the lives of everyone through the losses of a couple of giants from the world of politics.

On July 17, for instance, we learned of the death of John Lewis. Lewis, who was 80, was an icon of the civil rights movement. His bloody beating by Alabama state troopers helped to strengthen opposition to racial segregation. He would go on to have a long and celebrated career as a member of Congress.

And then, about two months later, on Sept. 18, we lost Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The leader of the liberal justices for many of her 27 years as a member of the U.S. Supreme Court, she was a staunch defender of women’s rights. Appointed by President Bill Clinton, Ginsburg was never shy about making sure her opinions were known.

Connie Culp, meanwhile, the Steubenville woman who made history in 2010 when she became the first recipient of a face transplant in the Untied States, died July 29 at the age of 57.

Many entertainers left us during the past year, and a few really stand out, including Alex Trebek, who made his career as a game show host but will forever be remembered as the star of “Jeopardy!,” a job he held for more than 30 years. Trebek was 80 when he died on Nov. 8.

We bid a fond farewell to several actors who helped build a longtime movie franchise, including Sean Connery, who left us on Oct. 31. The Scotsman, who introduced us to James Bond in the early 1960s, was 90 when he died. After playing Bond for the first time in “Dr. No” in 1962, he walked away from the iconic role after just six films — as well as the unofficial “Never Say Never Again” — to star in numerous other movie projects.

The Bond franchise also lost well-remembered figures when Honor Blackman left us on April 5 at the age of 94 and Diana Rigg died on Sept. 10 at the age of 82. Perhaps best known for her role as Pussy Galore in the 1964 Bond thriller “Goldfinger,” Blackman also entertained us as Cathy Gale in the spy series “The Avengers.” Rigg, meanwhile, starred as the woman James Bond would marry, Countess Teresa “Tracy” diVincenzo, in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” She also would count a stint with “The Avengers,” as Emma Peel, among her other roles.

Another actor with ties to the Bond films, Max Von Sydow, left us. He portrayed Ernst Stavro Blofeld in “Never Say Never Again.” The Swedish actor included portrayals of a priest in “The Exorcist” and as Lor San Tekka in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” among his numerous roles.

Leaving us too soon was Chadwick Boseman, who died Aug. 28 at the age of 43. Boseman turned in powerful performances as Jackie Robinson in “42,” and James Brown in “Get on Up” in 2014, as Thurgood Marshall in “Marshall” in 2017 and as the title character in “The Black Panther” in 2018. His last role was the trumpet player Levee in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which is based on the play by Pittsburgh’s August Wilson.

Also leaving us in 2020 were Buck Henry, who co-wrote “The Graduate;” Kirk Douglas, who starred as “Spartacus” and whose strength helped to bring an end to the Hollywood blacklist of suspected communists; Kenny Rogers, the crossover star who succeeded at jazz, folk, country and pop music; Little Richard, one of the chief architects of rock ‘n’ roll; and Jerry Stiller, who starred in comedy with his wife Anne Meara in the 1960s and 1970s and as a lovable old man in his later years.

Phyllis George, the former Miss America who was a female sportscasting pioneer through her work with “The NFL Today” on CBS, died during the past year; as did Fred Willard, who rose to stardom in “Fernwood 2 Night,” which was set in the “fictional” town of Fernwood, Ohio, and whose improv style of comedy allowed him to stay relevant for more than 50 years. Carl Reiner, another legend in comedy, died in 2020, as did Kelly Preston, who had wide-ranging roles and was married to John Travolta; Regis Philbin, the host of daytime and nighttime talk shows as well as “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and who came to Steubenville in 2004 to participate in the Dean Martin Festival; Helen Reddy, the original singer of the feminist anthem “I Am Woman;” Charley Pride, one of country music’s first Black superstars; newsmen Hugh Downs and Jim Lehrer; and Jeannie Morris, a groundbreaking sports journalist who became the first woman to report live from a Super Bowl in 1975.

Those gone from the world of sports include Kobe Bryant, the basketball legend who was just 41 when he was among those who died in a January helicopter crash; racing stars John Andretti and Sterling Moss; Roger Kahn, author of “The Boys of Summer;” Don Shula, who won the most games of any coach in the National Football League and led the Dolphins to the sport’s only perfect season; basketball star Wes Unsold; football legend Gayle Sayers; baseball Hall of Famers Bob Gibson and Whitey Ford; football’s “Golden Boy” Paul Hourning; decathlon champion Rafer Johnson; and baseball pitching star and Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, who grew up in the Ohio Valley and graduated from Bridgeport High School.

While all of those deaths had an impact on us, it’s important to keep in mind that we’ve all been touched by personal losses during the past year, having mourned the deaths of friends and relatives. Those are the people we must keep in mind as we move forward, because they are the ones who helped to shape our lives.


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