Rest in peace
January 14, 2021

Joanne Rogers, a classical pianist and the widow of children's television icon Fred Rogers, has died. She was 92.

Rogers served as chairwoman of the board of Fred Rogers Productions. In a statement, the nonprofit praised her as a "brilliant and accomplished musician, a wonderful advocate for the arts, and a dear friend to everyone in our organization."

Joanne and Fred Rogers met in Winter Park, Florida, while she was studying at Rollins College. She learned how to play the piano at age 5, and she bonded with her future husband over music. "Music meant a lot to both of us," Rogers said in a 2019 interview. "We had that in common and we talked often of, 'How do people live without music?'" They married in 1952 and had two sons, Jim and John. Fred Rogers died in 2003.

As a classically trained concert pianist, Rogers toured across the U.S.; over the course of 36 years, she played more than 300 concerts with her friend, Jeannine Morrison, and together they released two albums. "She was always able to be Joanne Rogers as opposed to Mrs. Fred Rogers," her son Jim Rogers told The New York Times in 2019. "She has always been her own person." Catherine Garcia

January 12, 2021

Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino mogul, died Monday. He was 87. A Tuesday press release from Las Vegas Sands, the casino and resort company he owned, stated that the cause of death was complications related to treatment he was receiving for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Adelson entered the casino business in the late 1980s, per CNBC, when he purchased the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for $128 million. Las Vegas Sands became a global resort brand with properties in the United States and Asia, and Adelson's net worth ultimately checked in at a Forbes-estimated $33 billion.

Outside of his business ventures, Adelson built a reputation as one of the Republican Party's most crucial benefactors, donating millions to former President George W. Bush, as well as 2012 GOP presidential candidates like Newt Gingrich, and now-Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who was the nominee that year.

He was also one of President Trump's biggest financial supporters in 2020, and he and his wife, Miriam, gave more than $340 million to Republican causes between the 2018 and 2020 election cycles. Read more at CNBC. Tim O'Donnell

January 2, 2021

Paul Westphal, a standout for the Phoenix Suns who was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2019, died Saturday. He was 70. Westphal revealed a brain cancer diagnosis last year. He is survived by his wife, son, and daughter.

Westphal starred at the University of Southern California before getting drafted by the Boston Celtics in 1972, where he contributed to an NBA championship in 1974. But his career really took off once he was traded to the Phoenix Suns prior to the 1975 season. He went on to make five straight All Star appearances for Phoenix between 1977 and 1981, and he helped the franchise make its first finals appearance in 1976, where they faced off against his old team. The Suns lost to the Celtics in six games despite Westphal displaying heroics in a narrow, triple overtime defeat in Game 5, which is considered one of the greatest NBA games ever played.

After his playing days were over, Westphal got into coaching at the pro and collegiate level, including a stint with the Suns, whom he guided to their second and most recent Western Conference title in 1993. The Suns, who were led by MVP Charles Barkley at the time, again came up short in heartbreaking fashion against Michael Jordan and the Bulls in six games. Read the Suns tribute to Westphal here. Tim O'Donnell

December 30, 2020

Actress Dawn Wells, best known for starring as Mary Ann on the classic sitcom Gilligan's Island, died Wednesday in Los Angeles of causes related to COVID-19. She was 82.

Wells was born on Oct. 18, 1938, in Reno, Nevada. She was crowned Miss Nevada in 1959, and competed in the 1960 Miss American pageant. After graduating with a degree in theater arts from the University of Washington, Wells began appearing in guest roles on several popular television shows, including Wagon Train, 77 Sunset Strip, and Bonanza.

She rose to fame playing Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island, which ran on CBS from 1964 to 1967 and then lived on for decades in syndication. Mary Ann was the girl next door, and in her 2014 book What Would Mary Ann Do?: A Guide to Life, Wells wrote that the character "wasn't just a silly and sweet ingenue. She was bright, fair-minded, and reasonable, and I like to think that's what I brought to her. She was a little more of a Goody Two-shoes than I am."

After Gilligan's Island ended, Wells appeared in dozens of stage plays, and was active in several charitable organizations. She launched Wishing Wells Collections, a group that makes clothes for elderly people with limited mobility, and founded the nonprofit Idaho Film and Television Institute. With Wells' death, actress Tina Louise is the only surviving member of the core Gilligan's Island cast. Catherine Garcia

December 27, 2020

Phil Niekro, the Hall of Fame pitcher who perplexed hitters with one of the game's greatest knuckleballs, died Saturday, the Atlanta Braves announced Sunday. He was 81. The Braves said Niekro passed away in his sleep after a long battle with cancer. Niekro spent the vast majority of his multi-decade career with the Braves franchise, first in Milwaukee and then in Atlanta after the team moved south prior to the 1966 season.

Like many pitchers who specialized in throwing the knuckleball, Niekro avoided the wear and tear on his arm experienced by more typical pitchers and was able to pitch in the Major Leagues until he was 48 years old despite throwing well over 200 innings many seasons. In 1979, his age 40 season, he led MLB with a now-unheard-of 342 innings pitched.

Niekro wasn't just known for his longevity or signature pitch, however. He was gifted on the mound and made five All Star teams, finished in the top five in Cy Young voting three times, and compiled a lifetime 3.35 ERA to go along with 318 career wins.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred called Niekro one of the "most distinctive and memorable pitchers of his generation" and said he'll be "remembered as one of our game's most genial people." Read more at ESPN. Tim O'Donnell

December 26, 2020

University of Utah running back Ty Jordan has died, the school announced Saturday. He was 19.

Jordan was reportedly the victim of an accidental shooting in Denton, Texas, on Friday night. "Following a preliminary investigation, we do believe that this was an accidental shooting, where the victim accidentally shot himself," Denton Police Department public information officer Allison Beckworth told ESPN.

Though the department did not identify the victim, both the university and head football coach Kyle Whittingham addressed Jordan's death. Whittingham said the team is devastated. "Ty's personality and smile were infectious," Whittingham said in a statement. "He leaves an indelible mark on each of us and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends. From the bottom of our hearts, all of us in the Utah football family want to say we love you Ty and may you rest in peace."

Jordan was a rising star on the gridiron and was named the Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year while earning second team All-Pac-12 honors. Read more at ESPN. Tim O'Donnell

December 13, 2020

John le Carré, the prolific British spy thriller novelist, died Sunday in Cornwall, England, of pneumonia, his family and literary agency confirmed. He was 89.

Le Carré, whose birth name was David Cornwell, "elevated the spy novel to high art," The New York Times writes, thanks to his penchant for "presenting both Western and Soviet spies as morally compromised cogs in a rotten system." Le Carré worked as an intelligence officer in the British foreign service before turning to writing full-time, and his novels, many of which were set during the Cold War, are known for their intricate plots and realistic protagonists.

Several of le Carré's most famous titles were adapted for the screen, including The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, which Graham Greene called "the best spy story I have ever read," The Night Manager, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. In 2016, despite a disinterest in publicity, The Guardian notes, le Carré surprised his fans by publishing a memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel.

In the wake of his death Sunday, many notable literary figures paid tribute to le Carré. Read more at The New York Times and The Guardian. Tim O'Donnell

December 10, 2020

New Hampshire House Speaker Dick Hinch (R) died Wednesday of COVID-19, one week after he was elected to the position.

Hinch, 71, was House majority leader from 2015 to 2018. Republicans gained control of the state House and Senate in last month's elections, and during a speech last week, Hinch asked his fellow lawmakers to "not look at each other as Republicans and Democrats, but as friends and colleagues, working towards the same goal."

New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald (R) announced Hinch's cause of death on Thursday afternoon. Acting Speaker Sherman Packard (R) and Senate President Chuck Morse (R) said in a statement that they will work with state health officials to see if there are "any additional, specific steps we should take, beyond our ongoing COVID-19 protocols and contact tracing, to ensure the continued protection of our legislators and staff."

Last week, multiple GOP House members tested positive for COVID-19 after attending an indoor Republican caucus meeting, NPR reports. Catherine Garcia

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