As 2017 heads for the finish line, it is appropriate to look forward to all the possibilities of the coming year. But it is also important to reflect upon the past 12 months. And for the next few minutes, we’ll be remembering the famous figures from many different walks of life who left us this year in the fields of politics, media, business and sports.
In politics, Helmut Kohl was a voice for freedom in a divided Germany as chancellor of West Germany and then led the reunification of east and west after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Helmut Kohl was 87.
Two other prominent players on the world stage died this year who will be remembered in the U.S. as villains. Panama strong man Manuel Noriega once enjoyed a friendly relationship with the United States but a long track record of drug trafficking, suppressing democracy and eventually the death of a U.S. Marine led to an American invasion to depose Noriega late in 1989. Later sentenced to decades in prison, Noriega died in May. He was 83.
Before Osama bin Laden, there was Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman. In 1993, the blind sheikh masterminded the first bombing of the World Trade Center. He also plotted to blow up other New York City landmarks. Successfully prosecuted by our friend Andrew McCarthy, Rahman spent the last two decades behind bars. He died in February at age 78.
Saudi billionaire Adnan Kashoggi was an international wheeler and dealer for decades, but he became best known for serving as a middle man in the Iran-Contra affair, as the U.S. traded arms with Iran in exchange for American hostages to be released from Lebanon. Adnan Kashoggi was 81.
Years earlier, foreign policy crises from the Iran hostage crisis to Soviet aggression in Afghanistan exposed some weaknesses in the Carter administration. One of Carter’s key aides was National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski. He died in May at the age of 89.
Charles Manson wanted to start a race war back in the 1960s. He succeeded in starting a cult that murdered several people, including actress Sharon Tate in 1969. The evil head of the Manson family died in November. He was 83.
Last decade, one of the biggest cultural scandals was the revelation that some in the Catholic Church had reassigned pedophile priests instead of reporting them and removing them from ministry. Boston Archbishop Bernard Cardinal Law was perhaps the highest profile figure in the U.S. to be discovered doing this. In response to the scandal, Law was reassigned to Rome. He was 86.
This past summer an international political and medical debate played out in Britain over the fate of a baby named Charlie Gard. Officials in the UK determined Gard’s rare condition was irreversible and refused to let his parents take their critically ill son to the U.S. for therapies. After losing several legal fights, the end was inevitable. Little Charlie Gard died a month shy of his first birthday.
Two longtime Republican congressional figures died. Pete Domenici served 36 years in the U.S. Senate and was the top GOP member on the budget committee for 12 years. Domenici was 85. Bob Michel spent 38 years as a Republican congressman from Illinois. From 1981-1995, he served as House Minority Leader. Bob Michel was 93.
John Anderson was a liberal Republican congressman from Illinois for 20 years. In 1980, he sought the Republican presidential nomination and lost badly to Ronald Reagan. Undeterred, Anderson launched a third party bid against Reagan and President Jimmy Carter. Anderson carried no states and finished with about seven percent of the vote. Anderson died in December. He was 95.
Two prominent political activists also died in 2017. Norma McCorvey was the plaintiff in the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion case and while she won the case, McCorvey later became a vigorous pro-life activist and lobbied for the abolition of abortion. McCorvey was 69.
The space race was a major political endeavor in the 1960s, and the U.S. met President Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade. The last man to set on the moon was Gene Cernan in 1972. Cernan died in January. He was 82.
Dick Gregory was a comedian who became more famous for his political activism on behalf of the black community and the poor. Gregory was 84.
In the media world, past and present figures from the Fox News Channel died this year. Roger Ailes built Fox News from a fledgling newcomer to the dominant player in cable news. Sexual harassment allegations led to his ouster in 2016. He died from complications of a fall at his home. Roger Ailes was 77.
Alan Colmes was a frequent liberal voice on Fox News for two decades, including a long primetime stint as co-host of “Hannity and Colmes.” Colmes died of cancer in February. He was 66.
Brenda Buttner was a longtime business report at Fox and hosted the weekend financial program “Bulls & Bears.” Buttner also died of cancer. She was 55.
Before Fox News took to cable, CNN’s “Capital Gang” made stars out of conservative writers, including National Review’s Kate O’Beirne. A brilliant political mind who was beloved on both sides of the aisle, O’Beirne died of cancer in April. She was 68.
Two of America’s greatest columnists also died this year. Jimmy Breslin was a legendary New York City writer for Newsday, the New York Daily News and several other publications. Breslin was 88. Frank DeFord brought the human touch to the sports pages and to his television commentary. DeFord died in May at age 78.
Hugh Hefner turned the Playboy lifestyle into a business empire and became a major flashpoint in the culture wars, with liberals crediting him for somehow empowering women while conservatives blamed him for objectifying women and sexualizing society. Hefner was 91.
Liz Smith was perhaps the best known and most widely read gossip columnist in America. Writing for several New York papers, Smith was 94.
One of the most famous sports broadcasters left us at the end of the year. The versatile Dick Enberg was NBC’s top play-by-play man for the NFL, college basketball, tennis, golf and the Olympics for many years, always punctuating the game’s biggest moments be exclaiming “Oh my!” Also a hall of fame baseball announcer, Dick Enberg was 82.
In the sports world, Ara Parseghian revitalized Notre Dame football in the sixties and seventies and led the Fighting Irish to a pair of national championships in eleven seasons. Later a broadcaster, Parseghian was 94.
Parseghian arrived in South Bend in 1964, the same year Arkansas stunned the college football world by winning the national championship. Frank Broyles was the architect of that memorable season. He spent 19 seasons on the sideline in Fayetteville and 33 years as athletic director. Broyles was 92.
Dominant quarterbacks with rifle arms are commonplace today in the NFL, but one of the trailblazers in developing the modern passing game was Y.A. Tittle of the New York Giants. Tittle took the Giants to the brink of multiple titles, but fell just short each time. Y.A. Tittle was 90.
Aaron Hernandez was a dominant tight end who was a favorite target of Tom Brady for the New England Patriots. But just a few years into his career, Hernandez was charged and convicted of murder. He committed suicide in prison in April. Hernandez was 27.
Cortez Kennedy was a dominant hall of fame defensive lineman for the Seattle Seahawks. Kennedy died suddenly in May. He was 48.
Two championship-winning college basketball coaches died this year. Jud Heathcote coached Magic Johnson and the Michigan State Spartans to the 1979 national title in a game that effectively launched March Madness. Heathcote coached the Spartans for 20 years. He was 90.
Rollie Massimino coached at multiple schools but will always be remembered for leading the Villanova Wildcats to a huge upset over the heavily favored Georgetown Hoyas in the 1985 championship game. Massimino was 82.
Jerry Krause was a very successful NBA general manager for the Chicago Bulls. But he also rubbed his star players and coach the wrong way. Krause was the architect of six NBA championship teams in the 1990’s. Krause died in March. He was 77.
In baseball, we lost a pair of hall of famers. Bobby Doerr was an outstanding second baseman for the Boston Red Sox during the Ted Williams era. Also a World War II veteran, Doerr was 99 when he died in November.
Jim Bunning pitched a perfect game for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1964 and was an ace for three other teams as well over a 17-year career. Bunning won 224 games and had the second most strikeouts in history at the time of his retirement. Bunning later served six terms in the House of Representatives and two terms in the U.S. Senate. Bunning was 85.
Roy Halladay was a dominant pitcher for the Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays and helped Philadelphia win the 2008 World Series. Halladay was just 40 years when he died after crashing a plane he was piloting in Florida.
Darren Daulton was an all-star catcher for the Phillies and was a critical factor in the team capturing the 1993 National League pennant. Dutch Daulton died of brain cancer. He was 55.
Dallas Green also pitched for the Phillies and later managed them to the their first championship in 1980. Green also managed the Yankees and Mets and served as general manager for the Cubs. Green was 82.
Don Baylor played for six teams, most often as a designated hitter or first baseman. Baylor picked up a World Series ring with the Minnesota Twins in 1987. He later managed the Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies. Baylor was 68.
Jimmy Piersall was probably better known for his mental health issues than for his play on the field. Piersall played for five teams, most notably the Boston Red Sox. His book and the subsequent film, “Fear Strikes Out,” greatly raised his profile. Piersall was 87.
Mike Ilitch was the billionaire founder of Little Caesar’s Pizza who later bought the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Red Wings. The Tigers never won a title during Ilitch’s reign but the Red Wings captured four Stanley Cups. Mike Ilitch was 87.
In the fighting world, Jake LaMotta was a middleweight champion in the late forties and early fifties. Later immortalized in the film “Raging Bull,” Lamotta was 95.
Jana Novotna was an elite tennis player for years on the women’s tour. She gained worldwide notoriety for losing a commanding lead in the 1993 Wimbledon finals and sobbing on the shoulder of the duchess handing out the trophies. Five years later, Novotna secured the Wimbledon crown. She died of cancer in November. Jana Novotna was 49.
Two famous pro wrestlers also left us. Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka died in January at age 73. George “The Animal” Steele was known for his green tongue, incomprensible babbling, and eating turnbuckles. In reality, he had a master’s degree and was a high school teacher and coach. Steele was 79.
That’s a look at the famous people we lost in politics, the media, and sports. Please find our look back at those we lost in television, the movies and music elsewhere on this site.