Late Greats: Stars pay tribute to those we lost in 2017
Mary Tyler Moore
By Valerie Harper
Mary, darling. Darling, that’s what I called her. I watched her on The Dick Van Dyke Show and said, “My God, this girl is wonderful.” I loved her as Laura Petrie. She was a brunette. She wore tight pants. And that smile and her wonderful way with her husband, Rob. That affected me as a person who didn’t even know her. In the first episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I knock on the window, saying, “Hello, I’m Rhoda Morgenstern... Get out of my apartment!” That was my first thing, to kick her out. Over time we became friends, on and off screen. Mary was so sweet and generous. In between scenes she did needlepoint, and for Christmas she made one for each of us in the cast with our initials and the hat that she threw in the air in the opening on the show. Everybody’s hat was saying something different. It took her time, and she made each one beautiful. When I got sick in 2013, she sent me a huge vintage poster for the 1933 French film Jeunesse. It was gorgeous, and it was of two women—one had a Rhoda hat on, white dots on it and a big red rose, and the other was just a nice brunette. It was fabulous. And she was fabulous. She sent that with a note, saying, “Val, look at these two old broads. They’re helping each other. They’re supporting each other. They’re loving each other. Love, Mary.” You can’t get better than Mary. And I’m so sorry she’s gone. She left in January, and she’s in heaven. I know she is. There’s no place for her but there. Mary, you doll.
As told to Johnny Dodd
Moore died in Greenwich, Conn., on Jan. 25 at the age of 80.
By Mel Brooks
I sent him a script for The Elephant Man, and he said, “I can only read half of it. The rest was tears. If you want me, I’ll do it for nothing.” I said, “That’s what I intended to pay you!” He had a sense of humor. He was smart. We became rather good friends. I would go to England, and every time I went there, we would go to Wheeler’s or something, and have some fish. He was a good drinker, a great pub crawler, good natured, a little crazy. When I was doing History of the World: Part I, I was on the phone with him for some reason. I said, “I’m looking for Jesus.” He said, “I’ll do Jesus!” I said, “John, it’s just a little sketch. It’s nothing really. It doesn’t require a great actor. He said, “I’ll do it!” I didn’t even fly him over first-class, I’m so ashamed. But I bought him lunch every day. He played it so beautifully. My character says “Jesus!” [in frustration], and he says “Yeesss” in this heavenly voice. I don’t think anybody could have played Jesus as good as John Hurt played Jesus.
As told to Darren Franich
Hurt died in Norfolk, England on Jan. 25 at the age of 77.
By George Benson
When we both signed with Warner Bros. way back in the ‘70s, we had to do an audition because most of their staff didn’t know either one of us. We were both coming from the jazz world. And we both did a version of [Dave Brubeck’s] “Take Five.” Al’s was genuine, it was well put together but highly improvisational—that’s the part I liked. And they had never heard anything like that. We both went in our separate directions, but somehow we knew that one day we were going to do something on record together. When we made [2006’s Grammy-winning Givin’ It Up], the pleasure was to see him up close and personal after all those years, and to see how he developed songs. The shows we did together were exceptional. He was very hard to follow because of his improvisational skills, and he always did something off the cuff, something you never expected. But he turned it all into music.
As told to Leah Greenblatt
Jarreau died in Los Angeles on Feb. 12 at the age of 76.
By James Cameron
We were introduced on Galaxy of Terror, a 1981 film we were doing for Roger Corman. Bill was a very gregarious character. Extremely charismatic. He always had this kind of manic, crazy edge to him. He blew me away with his reading for Hudson [for Aliens], holding a paper poster tube in his hands to be a plasma rifle. He was just bouncing off the walls in our casting office, and I thought, “This guy’s gonna be amazing!” He always offered a smorgasbord of ideas, mannerisms, and bits of dialogue, and it made me seem like a better writer! He always brought 10 times what I could have possibly integrated into the film. But there was never ego around that; it was just the way he approached it. Full tilt, full afterburner was how he did everything. He was also an old-school man of letters, which you wouldn’t expect with the Texas drawl and good-ol’-boy demeanor. He was stimulated by the discourse around books and plays and art, and he dwarfed my comprehension of it. Recently, I was staring down the barrel of making four more Avatar films and I was thinking of a good [character for] Bill. Then, of course, he died unexpectedly. That denied us that next chance to work together. Setting aside the work, it’s really that I miss him as a friend. Bill was the kind of guy that one day it occurred to him that what I needed in my living room was a 700-pound head of Bacchus, and it just showed up on a forklift. He was a dear friend, and I just miss being able to call him and have some laughs.
As told to James Hibberd
Paxton died in Los Angeles on Feb. 25 at the age of 61.
By Robert Cray
He was an incredible lyricist. I guess you would call it teenage angst back in those days. And he invented that rock & roll rhythm as the vehicle that carried those sentiments. That’s what he created. Every band, whether it’s blues or rock & roll—they use it. They use that same kind of way to deliver their message. They might turn it up a little bit louder, but it’s the same thing. I, like everybody else who might think that we’ve come up with something new—we haven’t, really. We’re playing that same Chuck Berry rock & roll riff. He’s one of the guys on the planet that made something, and it’s going to be around forever.
As told to Eric Renner Brown
Berry died near Wentzville, Mo., on March 18 at the age of 90.
By Jay Leno
It was very funny when I was a kid to hear somebody come out and insult Johnny Carson. Nobody did that. Don would just look disgusted and it made me laugh. I was 19 when I started, so I was at the very tail end of when clubs were still run by Mob guys, but Don was right in it. Some famous gangster would come in, so Don had a lot of stories. But until the day he died, Don still wouldn’t tell me their names. I think he still lived in fear there would be some sort of retribution. I’d go, “Don, who was that?” He’d say, “I’m not telling you who it was, but he stuck a gun in my face and said, ‘If you ever do this again...’ He might have kids, you know?” He really was a bridge between old-school and new-school for a lot of comics. He would just plow ahead even if he was being heckled or there were people shooting at him or people throwing knives. He just kept going.
As told to Lynette Rice
Rickles died in Los Angeles on April 6 at the age of 90.
By Tom Hanks
Making a movie with Jonathan was a lot more like getting together with cool friends and having the right kind of party. Look at the kind of career this guy had. He started off in public relations, and then he got into directing with Roger Corman, with Caged Heat and Crazy Mama. I imagine those were just big fun-ass parties. I took my wife out on one of our first dates to see his Talking Heads concert film, Stop Making Sense. Something Wild was a fantastic movie, Married to the Mob, then of course The Silence of the Lambs. You weren’t getting a particular kind of genre. There wasn’t any such thing as a “Jonathan Demme movie” per se. He would just say, “If the rules are going to get in the way of us getting the coolest thing imaginable, then let’s ignore the rules.” Without a doubt he was examining the concept of injustice in Philadelphia. I think the point, and perhaps the nature of the way Jonathan worked, was: Don’t be afraid of this guy with AIDS. Don’t be afraid of gay people. Don’t be afraid. To have a movie actually make money and be about something with the theme of “Don’t be afraid,” again, that’s breaking rules, man.
As told to Anthony Breznican
Demme died in New York on April 26 at the age of 73.
By Serj Tankian
First of all, his voice was kick-ass. Chris had that incredible emotion and this phenomenal range. He always made me feel something, no matter whether he was singing soft or he was going really high or screaming. Along with Soundgarden’s music, it was just a perfect combination. His lyrics were always challenging—antiauthoritarian and anti-hypocrisy. When the grunge movement started, I was definitely intrigued by them, and Chris’ vocal style specifically. Years later, after I began touring with System of a Down, we ended up meeting through friends. My first impression of Chris was that he was so modest: Here is this incredible rock god who is gracious with his time and humble and cool. When you complimented him, he’d always be surprised. If you said, “I love Temple of the Dog, bro!” he’d be like, “No way!” He was a perfect rock spokesperson and also a mild-mannered, gentle human being. Last time I saw him was at Elton John’s birthday party. We were talking about touring: “Aren’t you tired of it?” He was like, “Nah, man, I’m going to go tour with Soundgarden.”
As told to Eric Renner Brown
Cornell died in Detroit on May 18 at the age of 52.
James Bond franchise producer Barbara Broccoli first met Roger Moore when she was still a child after her father, the late producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli, cast the British actor as Bond in 1973’s Live and Let Die. Her fellow 007 producer, half brother Michael G. Wilson, had a similarly long relationship with the star, whom he credits for saving the spy franchise. —Clark Collis
BARBARA BROCCOLI Roger was such an incredibly charismatic, charming, funny, professional man, and his relationship with Cubby was so extraordinary. Cubby would be on the set all day, and they used to play backgammon for a pound a point. You would hear them yelling obscenities at each other when they won or lost. Roger would make fun of himself. You know: “Eyebrow up, eyebrow down.” I think he’s tremendously underrated. It was very difficult to pull off what he did, particularly following Sean Connery.
MICHAEL G. WILSON He did seven Bond films, and he made the character his own. He didn’t try to imitate Sean. He had a much more lighthearted touch, when I think the world was looking for that. He is a person no one had a bad word for. He was always very good-natured on set, making others feel comfortable. If somebody came up for an autograph, he’d chat with them, even if it was an inappropriate time. He was just a wonderful fellow.
Moore died in Switzerland on May 23 at the age of 89.
By Bob Weir
The first time we actually played with the Allman Brothers was in a wrestling arena in Atlanta. They seemed sort of statuesque to me, Gregg and his brother. There was a slow grace about them that was uniquely Southern. I was a little taken by that, I think. I sat in with Gregg, and he sat in with my various bands numerous times and we always made a hideous great racket—and people seemed to like that. Gregg was a real storyteller. All his lyrics fit his music perfectly, but it was the way he animated the stories beyond the musical or the technical delivery that made him a splendid artist. When he was playing the blues, he was the real thing. You were getting the straight deal. It wasn’t some interpretation. He had pretty much one mode of expression and that was that he roared. Even when he was being quiet, there was that sort of intensity behind it.
As told to Eric Renner Brown
Allman died in Savannah, Ga., on May 27 at the age of 69.
George A. Romero
By Greg Nicotero
Zombies wouldn’t exist if it hadn’t been for George Romero. Up until Night of the Living Dead in 1968, zombies were always equated with voodoo and Haitian ritual, and now George’s rules have literally become indoctrinated into pop culture. If there really was a zombie apocalypse, everybody would just assume that you shoot them in the head to kill them, but that was something that he invented. George was a very passionate filmmaker, and the thing that I loved most about him was if the rules didn’t suit what he wanted to do, then he rewrote them. He released Dawn of the Dead unrated in 1978 when nobody else would because they thought it was too gory and too violent. The social commentary that he used in his films made him a trailblazer. I wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for George because he gave me my first job in the business on Day of the Dead, and his work inspired hundreds and thousands of up-and-coming makeup artists, film-makers, and writers. He rewrote the rules to fit his vision.
As told to Dalton Ross
Romero died in Toronto on July 16 at the age of 77.
By Ed Harris
I always felt like whatever Sam was doing, it was something he felt like doing. He was true to himself. His work managed to coalesce his love of the West, his own family history, his fascination with women, his love of horses, his appreciation of Beckett, and his powers of observation. Somehow he alchemized it all into stories that were filled with unforgettable characters and a relentless penetration of the human condition. He shredded the veil of convention. He spoke in an American voice, more so than any other playwright I can think of. The same was true of his acting on screen. There’s no bulls---. My wife Amy Madigan and I did Sam’s Buried Child last year, and the thing about Sam’s work is it’s a bottomless pit. After 120 performances, you’re still discovering stuff. It’s hard accepting the fact that he’s not on the planet anymore, because if anybody belonged on Earth, he did.
As told to Chris Nashawaty
Shepard died in Kentucky on July 27 at the age of 73.
By Sharon Stone
Her work is just so pure, so absolute. I think one of the best moments ever on film is that long, long traveling shot of her walking through Paris at night in Elevator to the Gallows. She’s just walking. The Bride Who Wore Black? Jules and Jim? There are very few actresses in the world of her caliber—ever. She invited me to lunch years ago, and we became really close. She became so dear to me. When I think of her, I think about her laughing, with that husky voice, and how I could put my head down in her lap and she would stroke my hair like she was my mom. She was a really, really good broad.
As told to Jeff Labrecque
Moreau died in Paris on July 31 at the age of 89.
By Brian Wilson
I met him in a studio in Hollywood—Western Recorders—and he told me he played guitar. So I had him play on some of my recording sessions on Pet Sounds. He was great. I went off the road to write some songs at home, and Mike Love called Glen and asked him if he’d like to tour with the Beach Boys. He sang the falsetto parts. So Glen toured with them, and he enjoyed it very much. I wrote “Guess I’m Dumb,” and I didn’t write it for anyone in particular. Then I played it for Glen and he said, “Hey, I’d like to record that.” So we recorded it. I thought it was fantastic. Glen was a great singer. I loved “Wichita Lineman.” People loved Glen, they loved him.
As told to Clark Collis
Campbell died in Nashville on Aug. 8 at the age of 81.
By Joe Morton
Dick made his fame doing jokes about the absurdity of racism and corporate greed. It takes an incredible amount of intelligence to seduce a white audience that starts out hostile and then, by the end of the evening, feels like they’ve learned something. He used to say, “If I can make a bigot laugh just once, if I can just change him that little bit, that little change might stay with him forever.” But there came a point in which he realized that the only way to effect change was to be part of that change. He’d grown up poor and ended up making millions a year—and he gave all that up to become an activist. During rehearsal for Turn Me Loose, our play about his life, he said that the only qualifications that he had were that whoever played him was black and knew how to say “n---er” and “motherf---er.” The play may have been a double-edged sword for him: To realize “Oh, I said these things 50 years ago, and we’re still battling those same things now” was proof of his prescience and that the country hasn’t really changed that much.
As told to Jeff Labrecque
Gregory died in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 19 at the age of 84.
By Sean Hayes
I didn’t contact Jerry before doing [the 2002 CBS movie] Martin and Lewis. I didn’t want to be influenced one way or another. Afterwards I got a call from him. He teared up and said, “Gosh, it was such a wonderful journey for me to watch my life over like that again.” It was a wonderful pat on the back he gave me, saying I did him well. When you are playing someone that famous, your worst fear is that they’ll hate it. After that, we had a friendly relationship. That included him recording our conversations, which he was known to do. He sent me a CD of it, which was flattering and odd at the same time. I think he probably thought people would get a kick out of the fact that they had a recording of their conversation with someone as famous as Jerry Lewis. We also tried to remake Cinderfella for me years and years ago, but for whatever reason it didn’t happen. He was a very unique individual. He knew I grew up without a father. He did something very sweet: He sent me a picture of him with his shorts pulled all the way up to his chest, and he signed it “Love, Dad.” It’s a photo framed in my office. That was him saying, “You can always count on me.”
As told to Lynette Rice
Lewis died in Las Vegas on Aug. 20 at the age of 91.
Harry Dean Stanton
By Molly Ringwald
We had been auditioning other people [for the role of Andie’s dad in Pretty in Pink] who would have been considered more conventional for that part, and I was really excited when Harry Dean decided to do it. He wasn’t conventional. There was something about him that always felt a little heartbroken, and he had this weight of experience that he carried with him. Which is not to say that he was unhappy. He was always breaking into song, always serenading in Spanish. We formed an immediate bond, and I also felt very protective towards him in the same way that Andie is protective of her father. He had trouble remembering lines, so I would hang out with him and run lines, and it ended up being almost like a therapy session. There was nobody else that was like him. He really did have one of those faces like a road map, where you don’t get tired of looking at it. And he had that rock-star swagger. He was just cool.
As told to Devan Coggan
Stanton died in Los Angeles on Sept. 15 at the age of 91.
By Norah Jones
Tom Petty had a way of embedding songs in your DNA. He just cranked out musical masterpieces that went completely into the heart of everybody in this country. You could hear his rock & roll anthems at the bar and everyone would sing along. I started doing Tom Petty tribute shows around 15 years ago. Paying tribute to a living person is a testament to how beloved his music is. I had heard through the grapevine that he kept up with the tribute shows, that he watched stuff online. It tickled him that people loved his music. So when I met him in February during the MusiCares “Person of the Year” dinner honoring him, I was excited to tell him how much I loved him. I told him, “We should jam sometime!” And he said, “Sure!” I can’t believe I said that to Tom Petty. But he was super sweet. He just did whatever he wanted to do, and that’s the kind of artist you aspire to be. When you follow your heart, it shows.
As told to Nolan Feeney
Petty died in Santa Monica on Oct. 2 at the age of 66.
By Joshua Malina
Whether it was on TV or on stage, Robert could accomplish so much by doing so little. He was the subtly dry, funny guy that kind of underplayed things—yet he was the one who drew your attention in every scene. As Benson, he was always smarter than everyone else in the room, muttering under his breath these great arch zingers. Benson was a snarky character—before I think snark was invented. But you just loved the guy. On Sports Night, what makes his Isaac Jaffe the boss you would love to work for is that same spark, which was always in Robert himself: that warmth, that sense of humor, and the intellectual sharpness. Robert brought the best of himself to the role. He left a real legacy, and the truth is he would’ve been a great Jed Bartlet. He would’ve been fantastic.
As told to Jeff Labrecque
Guillaume died in Los Angeles on Oct. 24 at the age of 89.
By Aaron Neville
Fats was one of the main characters in my musical life. I met him when I was 20, and I was just in awe. I know everybody says Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee [Lewis] and all that, but Fats really was the pioneer. He was the father. And he was just such a nice guy. We played together a bunch. He would stand up and hit the big grand piano with his stomach and move it all across the stage. It was something to see; he must have hurt himself doing it. But he always had a smile. You’d never know if he was ever going through anything bad or nothing like that. He never shared that. Every time I saw him, it was just a smile. I wasn’t [in New Orleans when he died], but they did a big second line for him. You know, in New Orleans, that’s what we do: a second line with big brass bands and getting everybody out in the street. Everybody was following and cheering, giving him the honor. I never lost my awe of him, really. I always looked up to him.
As told to Madison Vain
Domino died in Harvey, La., on Oct. 24 at the age of 89.
By Roma Downey
Della’s only daughter passed away while we were working together on Touched by an Angel. As a little girl, my mother passed away. Not long after she lost her daughter, Della took me in her arms and said, “Baby, God is amazing, because I always knew that he brought me into your life because you needed a momma, and he brought you into my life because I was going to need a baby girl.” She was my mom ever since. Our relationship was essential to the show. That’s why it worked, I think—we really loved each other. Della was so much for so many people: She was the first woman of any color to guest-host The Tonight Show, and she had her own talk show, Della. She told me stories of being allowed to sing in Las Vegas but not being allowed to eat a hamburger in the hotel she was singing at. Oprah Winfrey has often said that if there had been no Della Reese, Oprah’s journey would have been so much more challenging, that she opened doors to prepare the way. Della didn’t just tap gently on those doors, either. She kicked those doors down.
As told to Nick Maslow
Reese died in Encino, Calif., on Nov. 19 at the age of 86.
By Danny Bonaduce
People will ask, “What was it like hanging out with him on the set of The Partridge Family?” And I would say I have no idea because I was 10 and he was 18. I didn’t get to know David well until the early 1990s, when I got fired from my job. I had problems with the law, drugs and alcohol. David called me up out of the blue and said, “Listen, Bonaduce, I’ve always said you’re the funniest person in the world,” which he did. “But now you are the joke. Don’t be the joke!’ He was yelling at me. He said, “Here’s what is going to happen. You are going on the road with me in the tour bus, and you’re gonna get a job. There will be no drugs, alcohol, nicotine, and women.” That’s the worst offer I’ve ever had! I ended up going, and what David said was right. I got a job at a radio station where I went to do an interview about being on the road with David. This guy was my hero in every sense of the word. You know the fights kids get into over how my big brother can beat up your big brother? My big brother was David Cassidy. I just win.
As told to Lynette Rice
Cassidy died in Fort Lauderdale on Nov. 21 at the age of 67.