Neil Armstrong would always be taking that first step onto the moon, and Dick Clark was forever “the world’s oldest teenager.” Some of the notables who died in 2012 created images in our minds that remained unchanged over decades.
Sadly, for others an established image was shattered by a fall from grace. Whitney Houston ruled as a queen of pop music, but years of hard living harmed her voice while erratic behavior and a troubled marriage took a toll on her image. And Joe Paterno, Penn State’s longtime coach, won more games than anyone in major college football, but was ultimately fired amid a molestation scandal involving an assistant coach that scarred his reputation.
Some whose deaths we noted weren’t known by image or even name but by contributions that changed our lives — like Eugene Polley, inventor of the first wireless TV remote control, and Norman Joseph Woodland, co-inventor of the bar code that labels nearly every product in stores. Other scientists who died in 2012 included Lowell Randall, Martin Fleischmann, F. Sherwood Rowland, George Cowan and Bernard Lovell.
Among the political figures who died were George McGovern, Democrat presidential nominee who lost to Richard Nixon in a historic landslide, and ex-Sen. Arlen Specter, the outspoken Pennsylvania centrist. Others from the world of politics: Bill Janklow, Norodom Sihanouk, Charles “Chuck” Colson, Warren B. Rudman, Andrew Breitbart and Miguel de la Madrid.
The year saw the deaths of a number of TV stars including Larry Hagman, who played oil baron J.R. Ewing on “Dallas,” and Jack Klugman, often remembered as the messy one of the 1970s roommates in “The Odd Couple”
Others in entertainment and the arts who died included: Etta James, Andy Griffith, Ernest Borgnine, Sherman Hemsley, Maurice Sendak, Donna Summer, Robin Gibb, Doc Watson, Richard Dawson, Nora Ephron, Phyllis Diller, Michael Clarke Duncan, Don Cornelius, Jan Berenstain, Ravi Shankar and Dave Brubeck.
Here is a roll call of some of the people who died in 2012. (Cause of death cited for younger people if available.)
Kiro Gligorov, 94. First democratically elected president of Macedonia who shepherded his nation through a bloodless secession from the former Yugoslavia and narrowly survived an assassination attempt. Jan. 1.
Bob Anderson, 89. Olympic fencer and movie sword master, he donned Darth Vader’s black helmet and fought light saber battles in two “Star Wars” films. Jan. 1.
Keith Little, 87. One of the most recognizable of the remaining Navajo Code Talkers, whose code helped confound the Japanese duirng World War II. Jan. 3.
Lowell Randall, 96. Pioneer rocket scientist who helped launch the U.S. space program and tested intercontinental ballistic missiles. Jan. 3.
Jessica Joy Rees, 12. She became a nationally recognized face of child cancer with a blog that chronicled her fight against brain tumors. Jan. 5. Brain cancer.
Don Carter, 85. Bowling great who flourished as a genuine sports celebrity during the game’s golden age on TV. Jan. 5.
Bill Janklow, 72. As South Dakota’s attorney general, governor and congressman, he dominated the state’s political landscape for more than 25 years. Jan. 12. Brain cancer.