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People Top 5
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- July 17, 1995
- Vol. 44
- No. 3
...and More Sad Farewells
Some Familiar Favorites Who Excelled at Their Crafts Take Their Final Bows
PHYLLIS HYMAN, 45, the towering (6') jazz and rhythm-and-blues singer who starred in Broadway's Duke Ellington tribute Sophisticated Ladies in the early 1980s, infused her music with passionate, life-affirming energy. But on June 30, hours before a scheduled concert at Harlem's Apollo Theater, Hyman was found dead in her midtown Manhattan apartment, an apparent suicide. The singer, a native of Pittsburgh, had begun her recording career in 1977, but its trajectory seemed to flatten since the 1991 release of her last album, Prime Of My Life. "I really believed in her," says Patti LaBelle, noting that her old friend never enjoyed the popular acclaim her talent merited. "She was a true diva—a grand lady."
GALE GORDON, 89, built a comic's career on harrumph and bluster, most memorably as Eve Arden's grumpy 1950s high school principal, Osgood Conklin, on Our Miss Brooks; as bedeviled Mr. Wilson on Dennis the Menace (1962-63); and as stuffed-shirt bank president Theodore J. Mooney opposite Lucille Ball on The Lucy Show (1962-68). The son of actors, Gordon early on mastered a slow burn that became his TV trademark, but offscreen, writers and coworkers praised his hard-working perfectionism. When he succumbed to lung cancer on June 30 at a nursing home in Escondido, Calif., his death came just a few weeks after that of Virginia, his wife of 55 years.
PANCHO GONZALEZ, 67, never won at Wimbledon. Nor did he win the French or Australian tennis crowns. But on July 3, after he died of stomach cancer in Las Vegas, the fiery Gonzalez was remembered as one of the sport's best players ever. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he broke into tennis stardom at age 20 and won back-to-back U.S. singles titles in 1948 and 1949 before turning pro. Married six times, he was divorced in 1989 from Rita Agassi, 34, Andre's oldest sister.
WOLFMAN JACK, 57, first rumbled onto the radio waves nationwide in 1964 over a pirate Mexican station whose 250,000-watt signal—illegal under U.S. laws—beamed his high-pitched howl across the country and turned Brooklynite Robert Weston Smith into a cult hero. After appearing—as himself—in the 1973 film American Graffiti, he hosted TV's Midnight Special. When he died July 1 of a heart attack at his Belvidere, N.C., home, he was still broadcasting an oldies show to 80 stations nationally.
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