The Most Influential and Successful People We've Lost This Year
From Don Rickles to Chuck Berry, a sad look back at this year's losses.
This year, we saw the passing of the Queen of Carbon, Mildred Dresselhaus, who died in February, as well as iconic actress Mary Tyler Moore. Unfortunately, we also saw the deaths of music heroes Chuck Berry and Chris Cornell.
To recognize, remember and celebrate their impact, here are some of the people we’ve lost this year.
Tom PettyLegendary rock star Tom Petty passed away at 66 years old on Oct. 2 from a heart attack in his home in southern California. He was leader of The Heartbreakers and recognized for tunes including “American Girl,” “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” “Breakdown” and solo song, “Freefallin’.” With three solo albums, 13 albums with his band and also a member of the 1980s group the Traveling Wilburys (with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne), Petty was a major face in rock 'n' roll.
Hugh HefnerOn Sept. 27, Playboy’s Hugh Hefner died at 91. He launched Playboy at 27 years old, quickly becoming a public figure and voice of the “sexual revolution” (however, some might call it “exploitation” instead) in the 1950s. The magazine featured interviews with some of the most successful and impactful figures, including Jimmy Carter, Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre and Malcolm X. The brand eventually expanded to a media agency, Playboy Enterprises. Even into his 90s, Hefner continued to be the face of Playboy, often clad in a red silk robe with a tobacco pipe hanging from his lips.
Yisrael Kristal, the oldest man in the world
The world’s oldest man and a survivor of the Holocaust Yisrael Kristal passed away on Aug. 11. He was 113.
Born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1903, Kristal ran a confectionary business until the Nazis invaded the country in 1939. His two sons and wife were killed during World War II. Surviving Auschwitz, Kristal moved to Israel with his second wife and son in 1950 and continued his confectionary business.
In 2016, he was named the world’s oldest man by the Guinness Book of World Records.
George A. Romero, the famous horror film director
Night of the Living Dead director George A. Romero died on Sunday, July 16. He was 77 years old.
Famous for the trilogy of movies, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, as well as other horror films such as The Crazies, Creepshow and Monkey Shines, Romero was a pioneer in the entertainment industry. In 1968, on a shoestring budget and with a group of close friends, Romero filmed Night of the Living Dead, which quickly became a cult classic. Dubbed by fans and industry leaders as "the Godfather of the Dead," Romero's impact on Hollywood remains solid.
"Sad to hear my favorite collaborator -- and good old friend -- George Romero has died. George, there will never be another like you," Stephen King tweeted.
Sam Panopoulos, the inventor of the Hawaiian pizzaSam Panopoulos, the creator behind the highly debated savory and sweet Hawaiian pizza, passed away on June 8 at 83. In 1962, in order to attract customers to one of his Ontario-based restaurants, 20-year-old Panopoulos and his brothers experimented by adding pineapple and ham to the pizzas. They named it Hawaiian pizza because of the brand of canned pineapple they'd used.
Roger Ailes, founder and former CEO and chairman of Fox News, died on May 18. He was 77. A dominating force in conservative politics, Ailes built one of the most influential media companies today. "We report. You decide," was a slogan Ailes gave the company early on.
Before Fox, Ailes got his start working as Richard Nixon's "executive producer for television," ultimately helping Nixon make his way into the White House. Ailes has also been recognized as helping both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush become president.
In 1993, after becoming head of CNBC, Ailes joined forces with Richard Murdoch to launch Fox. Despite scandals, the media mogul was a genius at hooking viewers and launching the careers of Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly. In 2014, Ailes found himself in the middle of a string of sexual harassment allegations and lawsuits, eventually causing his exit from the company.
Chris CornellChris Cornell, lead singer of the rock bands Soundgarden and Audioslave, passed away on May 17. The cause was suicide, according to a medical examiner. Cornell, who was 52, and Soundgarden helped spearhead the grunge movement of the '80s and '90s. Their 1991 album Madmotorfinger became multi-platinum and was nominated for a Grammy. The band split in 1997, and Cornell released solowork until he formed Audioslave with former members of Rage Against the Machine in 2001. Audioslave released a number of award-winning albums until Cornell quit in 2007 to pursue solowork again. He also created the theme song for Jame Bond film Casino Royale.
Stanley Weston, father of G.I. Joe toy
Eighty-four-year-old Stanley Weston, entrepreneur and inventor of the G.I. Joe toy, passed away on May 1.
After leaving the army and moving to New York, Weston worked briefly for an advertising firm, although after noticing opportunities in the licensing and merchandising industry, he left the firm and launched Weston Merchandising.
In 1960, after barbie dolls came on the market and Weston noticed that there was a lack of a male version (other than Ken), Weston came up with the idea for a military action figure -- G.I. Joe. He sold the G.I. Joe concept to Hasbro in 1963 and continued to work with his company, which he renamed Leisure Concepts. From Farrah Fawcett to Bruce Jenner to Nintendo, Weston's company represented a number of famous people and brands.
Considered one of the "founding fathers" of the licensing industry, Weston was inducted into the Licensing Industry Hall of Fame in 1989.
Dr. Julius Youngner
One of the brains behind the world-changing polio vaccine, Dr. Julius Youngner died on April 27 at 96-years-old. Youngner worked with Dr. Jonas Salk to research and eventually discover a vaccine for polio, which was a widespread epidemic at the time -- affecting more than 50,000 children in one year in the early 1950s.
Working alongside Salk and five other researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, the team announced in mid-1955 that the vaccine had proven 90 percent effective on tests on 440,000 children. After the announcement and as more children around the country received the vaccine, the number of annual polio cases declined from an average 14,000 to 1,000.
Emma Morano, the oldest person in the world and the last born in the 19th century
The last person born in the 19th century and the oldest person in the world, Emma Morano, passed away on April 15 at 117 years and 137 days old.
Born on Nov. 29, 1899, Morano's lived through three centuries and two World Wars. Until she was 65, Morano worked in a factory. She lost her first husband in World War I and in an interview with Reuters, shared that she was forced to remarry but did not love her second husband, who she eventually divorced.
She outlived her eight brothers and sisters, and in 2016 was awarded the Guinness World Record for oldest living person and oldest living woman in the world. She attributes her long life to a diet of raw eggs and cookies.
Robert Taylor, tech innovator and the mastermind behind ARPAnet
On April 13, one of the world's greatest tech innovators, Robert Taylor, passed away. The 85-year-old was best known for his work behind ARPAnet -- the precursor to the internet.
Ahead of his time, Taylor foreshadowed the future of the internet with the work he completed creating ARPAnet while he was the director of the U.S. military's Advanced Research Projects Agency from 1965 to 1970. After his work in the military, Taylor went on to oversee Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center where he helped develop groundbreaking technologies.
Al Golin, McDonald’s original PR genius
Al Golin, the original public relations man for McDonald's, died on April 8 at 87 years old.
Golin got his big break in 1957, when he made the legendary cold phone call to McDonald's CEO Ray Kroc that launched his career and his more than 60-year relationship with McDonald's. During the phone call, Golin pitched his services and Kroc invited him in for a meeting. Shortly after, the two were in business. Golin built McDonald's reputation and helped establish it as a brand. He had a close relationship with Kroc and continued to work with the company until his recent passing.
"McDonald's owes Al a tremendous debt of gratitude for all he accomplished in his partnership with us," McDonald's CEO Steve Easterbrook said in a statement.
Don Rickles, the “King of Insult Comedy”
Don Rickles -- the only comedian who could get away with insulting Frank Sinatra -- passed away on April 6 at 90-years-old.
From nightclub performances to celebrity roasts to being the the voice of Toy Story's Mr. Potato Head, Rickles left his mark on the world. Although a successful actor and an honorary member of the "rat pack," Rickles is most notably remembered for his ruthless sense of humor. Often labeled the "King of Insult Comedy," Rickles was revered in the comedy and entertainment worlds.
"He could tease presidents and first ladies. He could say things to Frank Sinatra that no one could say to Sinatra. He could walk in and Frank would start to laugh," George Schlatter, the producer of sketch-comedy TV show Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, told The New York Post.
Joe Harris, illustrator of the iconic Underdog and Trix Rabbit cartoons
Joe Harris, the creative artist behind cartoon characters such as Underdog and the Trix cereal rabbit, died on March 26 at 89-years-old.
In the 1950s, Harris worked for the ad agency Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, where he drew cartoons and storyboards for big brands. Working on a pitch for General Mills, Harris came up with one of the world's favorite cereal cartoons, Trix the rabbit, and his famous slogan, "Silly rabbit! Trix are for kids" -- which has graced TV screens for decades.
Harris went on to create the characters King Leonardo, Klondike Kat, Tennessee Tuxedo and most notably, Underdog. The Underdog, a cartoon canine shoe shiner-turned-super hero, became one of the most popular cartoon shows on television in the '60s, with a Saturday morning slot on NBC. With a balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, a theme song that will make your ears perk up with nostalgia and a 2007 live-action film -- Underdog has left a legacy.
Chuck Barris, “The King of Daytime Television”
At 87, game show guru Chuck Barris, best known for creating The Dating Game, The Gong Show and The Newlywed Game, passed away on March 21, 2017.
His first show, The Dating Game, launched in 1965. Contestants on the show would ask questions of three people of the opposite sex who were hidden from the contestant's sight. Then, the would contestant choose which person he or she would like to date based on those answers. At that point, all three of the hidden bachelors or bachelorettes would emerge.
Later, in 1976, Barris produced and hosted The Gong Show -- one of the world's first TV talent shows. After much success with his game shows, Barris dubbed himself "The King of Daytime Television."
Chuck Berry, rock ‘n’ roll pioneer
At 90-years-old, the world on March 17 lost one of the most influential rock 'n' roll singers, songwriters and guitarists, Chuck Berry. A founding father to the genre, known for hits such as "Johnny B. Goode," "Maybellene" and "Roll Over Beethoven," Berry spent more than 60 years rocking the music scene -- in fact, he was one of the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
His musical achievements also entered him into the Blue's Foundation's Blues Hall of Fame, landed him number six on Rolling Stone's list of "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time" and this year he was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
He paved the way for other rock 'n' roll legends such as The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, AC/DC and more. John Lennon once said, "If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it 'Chuck Berry.'" Keith Richards, also a big fan of Berry, said, "Chuck Berry always was the epitome of rhythm and blues playing, rock 'n' roll playing. It was beautiful and effortless, and his timing was perfection." After Berry's death, Richards went on to call Berry "the grandaddy of us all" in Rolling Stone.
Joseph W. Rogers, co-founder of Waffle House
At 97 years old, Joseph W. Rogers, one of the founders of restaurant chain Waffle House, passed away on March 3, 2017.
Rogers and his neighbor Tom Forkner co-founded Waffle House in 1955, opening the first location in an Atlanta suburb. Best known for its 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week service, the iconic chain with the yellow sign quickly picked up traction. By the 1970s, there were more than 400 restaurants nationwide, and today there are around 1,900.
Mildred Dresselhaus, the Queen of Carbon
On Feb. 20, 2017, Mildred Dresselhaus, also known as the "Queen of Carbon," passed away. A professor emerita at M.I.T., Dresselhaus was also the first female institute professor at the school and is best known for her breakthrough research of fundamental carbon properties.
Dresselhaus is also known for her efforts in promoting women in science. She won a number of awards for her work, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of Science and the Vannevar Bush Award.
Mary Tyler Moore
Actress and cultural icon Mary Tyler Moore died on Jan. 25, 2017. She was best known for her roles in sitcoms The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show, as well as Hollywood blockbusters such as Thoroughly Modern Millie and Ordinary People, the latter of which she was nominated for an Oscar for "Best Actress."
She often played characters that pushed gender norms and served as an inspiration for women worldwide. At 80, Moore passed away from cardiac arrest caused by pneumonia. Many celebrities took to social media to express their grief over her death.
#MaryTylerMoore was a dear friend and a truly great person. A fighter. Rest in peace, MTM.-- Larry King (@kingsthings) January 25, 2017
Today we mourn the passing of one of the groundbreaking stars of Television, Mary Tyler Moore...-- Bette Midler (@BetteMidler) January 25, 2017
Ikutaro Kakehashi, founder of Roland Corporation
Ikutaro Kakehashi, founder of Roland Corporation, died on April 1 at the age of 87. Kakehashi, who's considered a musical legend, was most famous for electronic music effects, which was the backbone of Roland. Founded in 1972, Roland built electronic musical machines that changed the music industry forever, specifically for genres such as electronic, '80s pop and hip hop.
Kakehashi was a leader in computer-based tunes. Many of the products created at Roland were responsible for the emergence of new musical genres and the basis of many artists' careers and work, such as the hand clapping in Nine Inch Nails songs, the electronic drum in Afrika Bambaataa's pieces and Kanye West's album 808s & Heartbreak.
Kakehashi retired in 2013. He has been awarded a Technical Grammy and a spot on Hollywood's Walk of Fame.
Pamela Edstrom, Microsoft’s first PR director
At 71-years-old, entrepreneur and public relations guru Pamela Edstrom passed away on March 28.
Joining the Microsoft team in 1982 as the company's first director of public relations, Edstrom helped shape the image of Microsoft and its founder Bill Gates during the peak of its popularity.
Leaving Microsoft shortly after to launch her own PR company with colleague Melissa Waggener, called Waggener Edstrom, the duo built one of today's largest, most successful PR firms, with Microsoft being one of its biggest clients.
A trusted advisor to Gates and an influence to many others in the PC industry, Edstrom was recognized for her caring nature, creativity and her ability to build strong, meaningful relationships.
"Pam was a creative pioneer who defined new ways of doing PR that made a huge mark on Microsoft and the entire industry," Gates wrote in an email to The New York Times.