As 2015 draws to a close, we once again pause to remember the lives lost over the past 12 months. For all of us, there are family and friends we mourn and memories we cherish. As a nation, there are also the famous and infamous faces who left us. WND and Radio America will spend two segments remembering those figures – from the arenas of politics to media to sports and from the big screen to television and music.
Fred Thompson found his way into our lives in a number of different ways. He first gained fame as the Republican counsel in the Watergate hearings. He then embarked on a successful acting career that included roles in such films as “The Hunt for Red October” and “In the Line of Fire.” In 1994, Thompson jumped into the special Tennessee U.S. Senate election to replace then-Vice President Al Gore. Thompson won that race and one other election before retiring in 2002. Thompson then made a star turn as district attorney Arthur Branch on “Law and Order.” He left that show to run for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. After that, it was on to radio and more acting. Fred Thompson died after a lengthy battle with cancer in November. He was 73.
While Fred Thompson portrayed a fictional prosecutor in New York City, Mario Cuomo was the real-life governor of the Empire State for 12 years. Cuomo first won in 1982 and, after a rousing speech at the 1984 Democratic convention, was thought to be a future nominee. But Cuomo never ran for president. He lost the governorship in a stunning upset to George Pataki in 1994. Mario Cuomo was 82.
She was once a heartbeat away from being first lady of the United States, but most New Yorkers remember her as the first lady of their state. Margaretta “Happy” Rockefeller, wife of former governor and vice president Nelson Rockefeller, was 88.
The family of Vice President Joe Biden faced the devastation of losing his son, Beau. An Iraq War veteran and a former attorney general in Delaware, Beau Biden died of brain cancer in June. He was 46.
Up on Capitol Hill, Jim Wright was a passionate Democrat House member for more than 34 years and, in 1987, ascended to speaker of the House. An ethics scandal prompted his resignation less than three years later. Wright was 92.
Mississippi Rep. Alan Nunnelee died in February, also of brain cancer. He was 56.
Edward Brooke made history as the first black senator from Massachusetts. A Republican, Brooke served two terms in the upper chamber in the 1960s and 1970s. He died in January at age 95.
Wendell Ford served four terms in the U.S. Senate from Kentucky, rising to the second highest leadership post on the Democratic Party side. Ford was 90 when he died in January.
On the foreign stage, Saudi King Abdullah died in January at age 90. Abdullah served in his own right for several years and often acted in the king’s capacity while his brother, King Fahd, was in ill health before him.
Abdullah was in close consultation with the U.S. during both the Gulf War and the Iraq War. Across the border in Iraq, one of the key figures in those conflicts was Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz, who was often the mouthpiece for Saddam Hussein. A rare Christian in the Hussein regime, Aziz died in June. He was 79.
One of the key figures calling for the deposing of Saddam Hussein and insisting Hussein still had an active weapons of mass destruction program was Ahmed Chalabi. He became a controversial figure after the Bush administration stated it did not find the number of weapons of mass destruction it expected in Iraq. Chalabi later returned to serve in the new Iraqi government. He was 71.
In between the two Bush administrations, one of the people who advised President Clinton on Iraq and other hot spots was national security adviser Sandy Berger. Berger later wound up in legal trouble after attempting to leave the National Archives with classified documents stuffed in his pant and socks as he prepared to testify before the 9/11 commission. Sandy Berger was 70.
Sarah Brady never held public office. But after her husband, former Reagan Press Secretary James Brady, was nearly killed in the attempt on Reagan’s life, she became an outspoken gun-control advocate and founded Handgun Control, Inc. Sarah Brady was 73.
Two other people close to Reagan died this year. On the policy side, few had the president’s ear more than trusted aide Martin Anderson. Also the author of multiple books about Reagan, Anderson was 78 when he died in January.
Before getting to Washington, Reagan relied on the exquisite writing and keen insights of Peter Hannaford. Hannaford died in September. He was 82.
Pollsters are a dime a dozen in Washington, but none was more respected than the Pew Center’s Andrew Kohut. He was 73.
The media world was stunned in February when highly respected “60 Minutes” correspondent Bob Simon died in a New York City car accident. The CBS fixture was 73.
Arnaud de Borchgrave was born into Belgian nobility, but in fleeing the Nazis, he wound up serving in the British Navy. After coming to the U.S. after the war, de Borchgrave served many years with Newsweek before heading up the editorial page of the Washington Times among many other roles. One of the most knowledgeable journalists on foreign affairs in the world, he was 88 when he died in February.
M. Stanton Evans was a fixture in the conservative movement for 60 years and was known for his fierce intellect and disarming humor. Evans became the youngest editor of a major newspaper in the nation when he assumed the helm of the Indianapolis Star at just 26 years old. Later, he founded the National Journalism Center and for the next quarter century trained aspiring journalists on how to craft a story and understand basic economic and the principles of the American founding. I am a proud alumnus of the NJC. Evans trained interns at Radio America until falling ill with cancer. He died in March. He was 80.
Another critical figure in the history of Radio America and in my development as a reporter was former network news director Dave Teeuwen. He later moved on to USA Today and played a vital role in the paper’s digital transformation. Eventually rising to managing editor for the paper, Teeuwen died after a long battle with cancer in November. He was 45.
On the funny pages, few one-panel comics had the endurance of Marmaduke. Brad Anderson relayed the antics of America’s favorite Great Dane for decades. He was 91.
The sports world lost several critical media figures in 2015. Stuart Scott revolutionized sports highlights by bringing his own lingo and brand of fun to the daily scores and news. Scott was 49 when he died of cancer in January.
Ray Gandolf was a very different type of sports commentator for CBS and ABC in an earlier generation. Known for always finding the human angle to sports coverage, Gandolf was 85 when he died in December.
One of the many strokes of genius of the National Football League was to market it to many more fans through the iconic NFL films. The genius behind the videos was Ed Sabol. The hall of famer died in February at the age of 98.
But Sabol might not have been able to create the brand he did without the innovation of Tony Verna. Verna invented instant replay, which has now become an integral part of the game. Verna was 81.
As for those who took the field, none was more beloved than legendary Yankees catcher Yogi Berra. Known for his endearing personality and bewildering statements, Berra was also one of the greatest catchers of all time, both at the plate and behind it. He has still been to more World Series – and won more – than anyone in Major League history. Also a World War II veteran who saw action on D-Day in the U.S. Navy, Berra was 90 when he died in September.
Along with Berra, perhaps no one was a better ambassador for the game than Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks. Starring both at shortstop and first base, Banks clubbed 512 home runs in his career. His Cubs never reached the World Series, of course, but Banks and his “let’s play two” attitude endeared him to generations of fans. Ernie Banks was 83.
Lennie Merullo did play shortstop for the Cubs in the World Series – in 1945, the last time the team reached the fall classic. In fact, Merullo was the last man alive to have played for the Cubs in the World Series, until he died in May at the age of 98.
Minnie Minoso was one of the first Cuban stars in professional baseball, finding success first with the Cleveland Indians, but he will always be connected with the Chicago White Sox. A nine-time all-star and three-time Gold Glove winner, Minoso also made history by playing in five different decades. Minoso was 90.
Joaquin Andujar was a very talented and very combustible star pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals. His excellence helped the team win the 1982 World Series. His epic meltdown became one of the lingering images of the Cardinals blowing a commanding lead in the 1985 series. Andujar was 62.
On the hardwood, few college basketball coaches were more respected or more successful than North Carolina’s Dean Smith. Once college’s all-time leader in wins, Smith won two national championships and made 11 trips to the Final Four. Also a trailblazer in breaking the color barrier in his conference, Smith was 83 when he died in February.
When Smith retired in 1997, he handed the reins to longtime assistant Bill Guthridge. He coached just three seasons, but made two trips to the Final Four. Guthridge was 77 when he died this year.
Another college coaching legend died the same week as Smith. Jerry Tarkanian led previously unknown UNLV to four Final Four appearances and the 1990 national championship. His tenure was marked by strong teams that emphasized smothering defense and fast-break offense and by an endless battle with the NCAA over alleged violations. “Tark the Shark” was 84.
In pro hoops, Flip Saunders turned the moribund Minnesota Timberwolves into contenders. Also making stops in Detroit and Washington before returning to Minnesota, Saunders was 60.
As for the players, one of the most dominant big men in history was Moses Malone. Coming from high school straight to pro basketball, Malone dominated with the Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers. Malone won three NBA most valuable player awards and was the key ingredient to the 76’ers sweeping to the 1983 title. Malone was 60.
Malone replaced another dominant big man in Philadelphia. Darryl Dawkins also made the jump from high school to the NBA. Known for his shot blocking and backboard shattering dunks, Dawkins, nicknamed “Chocolate Thunder,” enjoyed a 25 year pro career. He was 58.
Jerome Kersey was one of the best defending small forwards of his era and was a critical factor in the Portland Trailblazers reaching the NBA Finals in 1990 and 1992. Kersey was 52.
Roy Tarpley was a can’t-miss prospect at the University of Michigan … but he missed anyway after constantly battling drug and alcohol addiction. Tarpley lasted just five NBA seasons but did enjoy a long career in Europe. He was 50.
One of the early stars in the NBA was Dolph Schayes. A dominant big man, who was a 12-time All-Star, Schayes led the Syracuse Nationals to the 1955 title. Later a successful coach, Schayes died in December at age 87.
On the gridiron and in the broadcast booth, few did it better than Frank Gifford. Known as a great running back and receiver, Gifford constantly helped lead the Giants into title contention. After retiring, Gifford became a mainstay as a broadcaster, most famously as a longtime announcer on “Monday Night Football” – sharing the booth with the irrepressible Howard Cosell and Don Meredith. All three are gone now. Gifford was 84 when he died suddenly in August.
Gifford’s coach at the tail end of his career was Allie Sherman. Sherman led the Giants to three straight title games but came up short each time. Later a successful broadcaster in his own right, Sherman was 91.
Chuck Bednarik was the last of the two-way stars in the NFL. A solid offensive lineman and a dominant defender for the Philadelphia Eagles, Bednarik is also known for the clothesline that shortened Gifford’s career. A leader on the 1960 Eagles – the last Philadelphia to win a title – Bednarik was 89.
In the 1970s, few quarterbacks were tougher than Oakland’s Ken Stabler. “The Snake” perennially had the Raiders in title contention, but they were often foiled by the Steelers. In 1976, the Raiders put it all together and crushed the Vikings to win Superbowl XI. Stabler was 69.
Stabler was one of the legendary quarterbacks at Alabama for coach Bear Bryant. But Bryant had only one Heisman Trophy winner in his career, running back John David Crow at Texas A&M. Crow was 79.
In the 1960s and 70s, the Dallas Cowboys were one of the most dominant teams in the league, thanks in large part to their stifling defense. Jethro Pugh was one of the anchors of that devastating defensive line that contributed to two Superbowl wins and three other trips to the big game. Pugh was 70 when he died in January.
One of the greatest defensive minds in history was that of Bill Arnsparger. Credited with the building the Miami Dolphin defense that won back to back Superbowls, including a perfect season, Arnsparger was 88 when he died in July.
Lindy Infante enjoyed success calling plays for the high-octane Cleveland Browns offense in the late 1980s. That success led to the top job in Green Bay, where he had one successful season but never made the playoffs. Later he got another chance in Indianapolis, but lasted just two years, one of them resulting in a playoff appearance. Infante was 75.
Al Arbour was a winner, both as a hockey player and as a coach. Arbour took home the Stanley Cup playing for the Red Wings, Blackhawks and Maple Leafs. He later coached the New York Islanders for 13 years, winning four straight cups from 1980 through 1983. Arbour was 81.
In golf, Billy Casper was a winner – even in an era dominated by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. Casper was an outstanding ball striker and putter, so good that he won two U.S. Opens and the 1970 Masters. Casper was 83.
Calvin Peete was a solid tour pro for years. He was 71 when he died April.
In NASCAR, Buddy Baker was a constant threat to take the checkered flag for more than 20 years. Baker won each of the sport’s four big races, including the 1980 Daytona 500. Later a successful analyst, Baker was 74.
Justin Wilson was a young star on the Indy Car circuit. Just 37, Wilson was fatally injured when a piece of debris from another car struck him.
In pro wrestling, few personalities were as memorable as Rowdy Roddy Piper. Known for his trash talking and his Piper’s Pit segments even more than his performances in the ring, Piper died of heart failure in July. He was 61.
Dusty Rhodes did not have the physique of today’s chiseled pro wrestlers, but no one had more fun. “The American Dream” was 69.
Long before pro wrestling was big business, it featured pioneers who toiled in pain and anonymity for little pay. One of those who paved the way was the legendary Verne Gagne. He was 89.
Sports are certainly a big business, and some of the biggest names in business also died in 2015. Kirk Kerkorian became a multimillionaire by building an airline bringing gamblers to Las Vegas. He was also a critical figure in the development of Las Vegas and a major player in the auto industry. Kerkorian was 98 when he died in June.
Ralph Roberts founded the cable television behemoth known as Comcast. Roberts was 95.
Douglas Tompkins established the popular outdoor apparel company North Face. He died after a kayaking mishap at the age of 72.
Chuck Williams created Williams-Sonoma. He was 100 when he died earlier this month.
That’s a look at the names and faces who left us from politics, media, sports and business. Be sure to find the second half of our special, as we remember those from film, television, music and more who took their final bows in 2015.