Florence Ballard, 1960 (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Florence Ballard helped to shape the early sound of Motown, but her voice has been lost largely to history. Ballard began singing with the Primettes while still in high school, and dropped out when her bandmates had all graduated. She followed them to Berry Gordy's Motown Records and handpicked the group's new name: the Supremes. Sadly, Ballard had trouble coping with her sudden fame and eventually left the group. She struggled with depression and poverty three years before beginning to rehabilitate her career, but died suddenly at 32. We remember Florence Ballard's life today and the lives of other notable people who died on this day in history.
2012: Billy Strange, U.S. singer-songwriter and guitarist who was a member of the famous Wrecking Crew, a group of session musicians led by drummer Hal Blaine that played on hits by Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys and John Denver, dies at 81.
2007: Dennis Johnson, U.S. Hall of Fame basketball player who won three NBA championships, dies of a heart attack at 52.
Johnson was a favorite teammate of Larry Bird's, and the two were part of one of the most memorable plays in Celtics history. During the fifth game of the 1987 Eastern Conference finals against Detroit, Bird stole Isiah Thomas' inbounds pass under Boston's basket and fed Johnson, who drove in for the winning layup. Boston won the series in seven games but lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals. Read more
2005: Simone Simon, French actress who had a starring role in the movie Cat People, dies at 94.
2003: Daniel Taradash, U.S. screenwriter whose credits include From Here to Eternity, dies at 90.
2002: Chuck Jones, U.S. cartoonist, screenwriter, producer and director of animated films who is known for his work with the Loony Tunes cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, dies at 89.
Jones was a giant of the cartoon world, responsible for some of our very favorite classic characters. Yes, he created Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner, as well as Marvin the Martian, Pepe le Pew, Michigan J. Frog and others. As an animator, director and producer for both Warner Bros. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, he gave us some of our favorite childhood moments. Read more
1995: Ed Flanders, U.S. actor known best for his role as Dr. Donald Westphall in the TV series St. Elsewhere, commits suicide at 60.
1994: "Papa" John Creach, U.S. violinist who was a member of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, dies at 76.
Violinist Papa John Creach began performing in the 1930s, but it wasn't until the 1970s, when he took the stage with the Jefferson Airplane rock band, that larger audiences were able to appreciate the virtuoso who moved effortlessly between rock ‘n’ roll, New Age, blues and jazz. Read more
1989: Joan Woodbury, U.S. actress who appeared in more than 80 films and played the lead role in Brenda Starr, Reporter, dies at 73.
1987: Glenway Wescott, U.S. author who was known for his novel Apartment in Athens, dies at 85.
1987: David Susskind, U.S. pioneering TV talk-show host, dies at 66.
1987: Andy Warhol, U.S. artist who was a leading figure in pop art and a celebrity, dies of a heart attack at 58.
Warhol loved to turn the mundane into art. It all began when Warhol, already a successful commercial illustrator, was seeking a way to distinguish himself from other pop artists of the day. A friend suggested he should paint the things he loved. For inspiration, Warhol turned to a favorite lunch, which he claimed to eat almost every day of his life. Read more
1985: Efrem A. Zimbalist, internationally renowned Russian concert violinist, dies at 95.
1984: David Vetter, U.S. child who was born with a severe immune deficiency and was known as "The Boy in the Bubble" in the media because he had to live in a sterile environment, dies at 12.
To anyone younger than 30, David Phillip Vetter is more an idea than a person. He is a phrase in a Paul Simon song, a character in a Seinfeld episode, the subject of a PBS documentary and the inspiration for movies starring Jake Gyllenhaal and a very young John Travolta. But before all of those pieces of art and culture, there was David Vetter, who inspired them: the “Boy in the Bubble.” Read more
1978: Phyllis McGinley, U.S. author and poet who wrote children's books including The Year without a Santa Claus, dies at 72.
1976: Florence Ballard, U.S. singer who was a founding member of the Supremes, dies of a heart attack at 32.
Tensions in the group were simmering as it became clear that Berry Gordy considered Ross – now going by Diana with an “a” – the star. When Ballard came down with a sore throat before a show, Ross stepped in to sing lead on Ballard’s signature song, “People.” After that, Gordy gave the song to Ross. Depressed, Ballard battled with her weight and alcohol, struggling at times to fit into her dresses, and missing shows and recording dates because of her drinking. Berry Gordy quietly started grooming another singer, Cindy Birdsong, to take her place – even going so far as to secretly fly Birdsong to all Supremes shows just in case Ballard failed to show up. Read more
1976: Angela Baddeley, English actress known for her role as "Mrs. Bridges" in Upstairs, Downstairs, dies at 71.
1973: Katina Paxinou, Greek actress who won an Academy Award for her role in For Whom the Bell Tolls, dies at 72.
1961: Nick LaRocca, U.S. jazz musician who was the leader of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, dies at 71.