Good riddance, 2016. What precipitated a seemingly relentless wave of noteworthy deaths, I suspect, came on Jan. 26. Abe Vigoda — first reported dead in 1982, again in 1987 and then countless times afterward, mostly in jest — actually died.
They go in threes. They always go in threes. Here’s more proof.
All that jazz: Gato Barbieri, Al Caiola, Alphonse Mouzon
Americana: Mose Allison, Merle Haggard, Ralph Stanley
Angels among us: Larry Colburn (helped stop the My Lai massacre), Ruth Gruber (accompanied 1,000 Jews to the United States during the Holocaust), Marion Pritchard (rescued Jews in the Netherlands during World War II)
Animal planet: Dan Haggerty (“The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams”), Harambe, Alan Young (“Mr. Ed”)
Authors: Michael Herr (“Dispatches”), W.P. Kinsella (“Shoeless Joe”), Harper Lee (“To Kill A Mockingbird”)
Badasses: Fred Cherry (held as a POW in North Vietnam for seven years after refusing to denounce racial discrimination in the U.S.), Bob Hoover (escaped a German POW camp by stealing a plane, then became a test pilot), William Pietsch Jr. (one of the elite Jedburgh commandos in Nazi-occupied France)
Baseball legends: Ralph Branca, Joe Garagiola, Monte Irvin
Basketball legends: Pat Summitt, Nate Thurmond, Pearl Washington
Beatlemania: Al Brodax (produced, co-wrote “Yellow Submarine” film), Sir George Martin (producer), Allan Williams (first manager)
Blues brothers and sisters: Candye Kane, Lonnie Mack, Ruby Wilson
British film royalty: Frank Finlay, Guy Hamilton (directed four James Bond films, among others), Alan Rickman
Cartoon voices: George S. Irving (Heat Mizer in “The Year Without a Santa Claus”), Marvin Kaplan (Choo-Choo on “Top Cat”), Janet Waldo (Judy Jetson)
Commercial break: Bill Backer (came up with Coke slogans and co-wrote what became “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”), Milt Moss (that memorable Alka-Seltzer ad from 1972), Richard Trentlage (wrote the Oscar Mayer wiener song)
Counted out: Bobby Chacon, Aaron Pryor, Kimbo Slice
Crazy guys: Irving Benson (Milton Berle’s heckler), Richard Libertini (General Garcia in “The In-Laws”), Jack Riley (Mr. Carlin in “The Bob Newhart Show”)
Directors: Curtis Hanson (“L.A. Confidential”), Arthur Hiller (“The In-Laws”), Garry Marshall (“The Flamingo Kid”)
DJs: Bob Coburn (“Rockline”), Herb “The Cool Gent” Kent (Chicago), Charlie Tuna (Los Angeles)
Elvis’ guys: Joe Esposito (road manager), Chips Moman (producer), Scotty Moore (guitarist)
Emerson, Lake and Palmer: Keith, Greg and Arnold
Food and drink: Peng Chang-kuei (created General Tso’s chicken), Jim Delligatti (created the Big Mac), Robert Leo Hulseman (developed the red Solo party cup)
Hasta la bye bye: Fidel Castro, George C. Nichopoulos (Elvis’ doctor), Phyllis Schlafly
Hollywood kids: Carrie Fisher, Ricci Martin, Frank Sinatra Jr.
Hollywood moms: Florence Henderson, Nancy Reagan, Debbie Reynolds
“Mad” men: Jack Davis, Don “Duck” Edwing, Paul Peter Porges
Memorable major leaguers: Choo Choo Coleman, Margaret Whitton (Rachel Phelps in “Major League”), Walt “No Neck” Williams
Men of conscience: Daniel Berrigan, Tom Hayden, Elie Wiesel
Movie singers: Charmian Carr (“The Sound of Music”), Madeleine LeBeau (“Casablanca”), Marni Nixon (“The Sound of Music” and much dubbing)
Muses: Greta Friedman (believed to be the girl in white being kissed in Times Square in Alfred Eisenstadt’s V-J Day photo), Marianne Ihlen (Leonard Cohen’s companion during the ’60s), Clare MacIntyre-Ross (inspired Harry Chapin’s “Taxi”)
Innovators: Denton Cooley (first artificial heart), Henry Heimlich (Heimlich maneuver), Raymond Tomlinson (email)
John Wayne’s co-stars: David Huddleston (“Rio Lobo,” “McQ”), George Kennedy (“The Sons of Katie Elder,” “Cahill, U.S. Marshal”), Hugh O’Brian (“In Harm’s Way,” “The Shootist”)
Last laughs: Bob Elliott, Garry Shandling, Gene Wilder
Legends: Muhammad Ali, David Bowie, Prince
Mary Tyler and more: Ann Morgan Guilbert (neighbor Millie Helper on “The Dick Van Dyke Show”), John McMartin (Mary’s infatuated lawyer on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”), Grant Tinker (ex-husband and producer)
Oh, Canada: Gordie Howe, Gordie Tapp (“Hee Haw”), Alan Thicke
Photojournalists: Howard Bingham (Muhammad Ali’s biographer), Bill Cunningham (New York Times), Philip Townsend (Rolling Stones, Beatles)
Record guys: Phil Chess (Chess), Bob Krasnow (Elektra), Billy Miller (Norton)
Saddle up: Peter Brown (“Laredo,” “Lawman”), Robert Horton (“Wagon Train”), James Stacy (“Lancer”)
Screen Actors Guild presidents: Patty Duke, Ken Howard, William Schallert
Seers: Miss Cleo (well, not really a psychic reader, but she played one on TV), Louis Harris (pollster), Alvin Toffler (“Future Shock”)
Sidekicks: Kenny Baker (R2-D2 in “Star Wars”), Mr. Fuji (pro wrestling), Noel Neill (Lois Lane in “Superman”)
Silly men: George Gaynes (“Tootsie,” “Police Academy” films), Bert Kwouk (Cato in the “Pink Panther” films), Fred Tomlinson (“Monty Python’s Flying Circus” singer who co-wrote “The Lumberjack Song” with Terry Jones and Michael Palin)
‘60s super cool: Zsa Zsa Gabor (Minerva, the last “Batman” villain), Robert Vaughn (“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”), Van Williams (“The Green Hornet”)
Songwriters: John D. Lowdermilk (“Indian Reservation,” “Tobacco Road”), Mack Rice (“Mustang Sally,” “Respect Yourself”), Rod Temperton (“Thriller,” “Give Me The Night”)
Soul brothers: Leon Haywood, Joe Jeffrey, Billy Paul
Soul godfathers: Otis Clay, Joe Ligon (Mighty Clouds of Joy), Maurice White (Earth, Wind & Fire)
Soul sisters: Sharon Jones, Denise Matthews (Vanity), Ruby Winters
Space, the final frontier: Edgar Mitchell, Vera Rubin (confirmed the existence of dark matter), Anton Yelchin (“Star Trek”)
Sports voices: Bud Collins, Craig Sager, Jim Simpson
Storytellers: Edward Albee, Guy Clark, Morley Safer
The gospel according to TV: Mother Angelica, William Christopher (Father Mulcahy on “M*A*S*H”), Madeleine Sherwood (Mother Placido on “The Flying Nun”)
The 12th Precinct: Ron Glass, Doris Roberts, Abe Vigoda
Unforgettable voices: Leonard Cohen, Glenn Frey, George Michael
We built this city: Signe Anderson (Jefferson Airplane), Mic Gillette (Tower of Power), Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane)
Wheeler dealers: Phil Kives (K-Tel products and records), Ozzie Silna (got 1/7th of NBA TV money every year, making hundreds of millions of dollars, for folding his ABA team), Robert Stigwood (managed Cream and the Bee Gees, produced “Hair” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” on stage and “Grease” and “Saturday Night Fever” on film)
Gone in Threes, the band
Singers: Jerry Corbetta (Sugarloaf), Gary Loizzo (The American Breed), Gayle McCormick (Smith)
Hot licks: Dan Hicks (and His Hot Licks), Henry McCullough (Wings), Rick Parfitt (Status Quo)
On bass: Preston Hubbard (Fabulous Thunderbirds), Marshall Jones (Ohio Players), Lewie Steinberg (Booker T. and the M.G.’s)
On drums: Dennis Davis (David Bowie), Dale Griffin (Mott the Hoople), Danny Smythe (Box Tops)
On the keys: Stanley Dural Jr. (Buckwheat Zydeco), Leon Russell, Bernie Worrell (Parliament/Funkadelic)
The horn section: Harrison Calloway (Muscle Shoals Horns), Pete Fountain, Wayne Jackson (Mar-Keys, Memphis Horns)
The shocker: There always is one death that takes your breath away. In 2016, John Glenn. Not so much because he had died — he was 95 — but because of all he accomplished. People of a certain age have no idea how big of a deal John Glenn and the astronauts once were. A man for whom the often overused phrase “American hero” is most appropriate.
The end zone: Sam Spence belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He composed much of the wonderful music made famous by NFL Films. His music plays throughout the hall in Canton, Ohio, but there’s no mention of his contribution. I met him in 2010, when he spent a week in Green Bay, working with music students and conducting a program of his compositions. Even then, he had to get NFL Films’ permission to use his music, which NFL Films owns and publishes.
Going in style: Jane Little, a bassist for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, collapsed near the end of a performance in May and died shortly thereafter. She was 87 and had spent 71 years with the orchestra, playing with it since she was 16. She collapsed while playing an encore number: “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”
— This is not intended to be an inclusive list of all who passed in 2016. Rather, this is my highly subjective list. Yours will be different.
— Each year, I use three prime sources for this list.
First, the Wikipedia contributors who compile month-by-month lists of prominent deaths. That’s where we start.
Second, our friend Gunther at Any Major Dude, who compiles lists of notable music deaths each month, along with a year-end roundup. Each of those is more thorough than this roundup. Highly recommended.
Third, the folks at Mojo magazine, whose “Real Gone” and “They Also Served” features are wonderful.