Gregory Peck (Getty Images / Archive Photos)
One of the most beloved actors in the history of film, Gregory Peck won an Oscar for his portrayal of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, earned nominations for four other films, and appeared in a series of unforgettable classics from the 1940s to 2000. He was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his humanitarian efforts and also landed in the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame. He was active in Democratic politics throughout his life, and he signed on to a letter condemning the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings in the 1950s, risking a career-ending blacklisting in Hollywood. We remember Peck's remarkable life today as well as the lives of other notable people who died this day in history.
2013: Jason Leffler, U.S. NASCAR driver for nine years, dies in a crash during a race at 37.
Leffler's last full NASCAR season was 2011, when he ran the entire Nationwide schedule for Turner Motorsports, according to espn.com. He finished sixth in the standings that season. Although he never made it at the NASCAR Sprint Cup level, according to the website, Leffler ran almost the entire 2001 season for Chip Ganassi Racing and ran 19 races in 2005 for Joe Gibbs Racing in the car later driven by Denny Hamlin. Read more
2012: Henry Hill, U.S. member of the mob who turned FBI informant, whose testimony helped convict 50 people, and whose life story was portrayed in the movie Goodfellas, dies of heart disease at 69.
More afraid of his associates than prison, Hill decided he had no choice but to become an informant, and signed an agreement with a U.S. Department of Justice task force that would prove more fruitful than anyone imagined, said his obituary by The Associated Press. "The arrest of Henry Hill was a price beyond measure," wrote Nicholas Pileggi in his 1986 book Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family. Hill, the author said, “had grown up in the mob. He was only a mechanic, but he knew everything. He knew how it worked. He knew who oiled the machinery. He knew, literally, where the bodies were buried. If he talked, police knew that Henry Hill could give them the key to dozens of indictments and convictions." Read more
2007: Don Herbert, U.S. actor who was the creator and host of Watch Mr. Wizard, a popular educational TV program featuring science and technology for children, dies of bone cancer at 89.
''He really taught kids how to use the thinking skills of a scientist,'' said former colleague Steve Jacobs, according to his obituary by The Associated Press. He worked with Herbert on a 1980s show that echoed the original 1950s Watch Mr. Wizard series, which became a fond baby boomer memory, the obituary said. In Watch Mr. Wizard, which was produced from 1951 to 1964 and received a Peabody Award in 1954, Herbert turned TV into an entertaining classroom. On a simple, workshop-like set, he demonstrated experiments using household items. Read more
2006: Anna Lee Aldred, U.S. thoroughbred race horse jockey who was the first woman to receive a jockey's license, dies at 85.
2003: Gregory Peck, U.S. actor who won an Academy Award for his role as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird and also starred in Spellbound and Roman Holiday, dies of pneumonia at 87.
It can be disappointing when we learn that a favorite actor isn't as good a person in real life as he seems in the roles he plays, but that's not the case with Peck. Friends and coworkers described him as a good man, as good as the gentle Atticus Finch. Harper Lee, author of the book that became the movie, made two telling statements about Peck: "In that film, the man and the part met," and "Atticus Finch gave him an opportunity to play himself." Read more
2002: Bill Blass, U.S. fashion designer who created an extremely successful fashion company called Bill Blass Limited, dies of cancer at 79.
1998: Leo Buscaglia, U.S. author and motivational speaker known as "Dr. Love," who sold more than 10 million copies of his books, dies at 74.
1994: Nicole Brown Simpson, U.S. ex-wife of former NFL player O.J. Simpson, is slain at her home at 35.
According to a story in People from 1994, Nicole Brown Simpson was a devoted mother to her children. She reportedly eschewed nannies and "insisted on hands-on mothering, carpooling, shuttling the kids to karate and dance lessons, picking them up daily after school, often followed by a stop at a local Baskin-Robbins." Read more
1994: Ronald Goldman, U.S. restaurant waiter and friend of Nicole Brown Simpson, is slain at 25.
Ronald Goldman was a clean-living gym enthusiast originally from Buffalo Grove, Ill., who, according to a biography written by his family members, volunteered with cerebral palsy patients in his spare time. The Los Angeles Times reported in 1994 that Goldman "had model good looks" and "a magnetic personality," and that the aspiring actor completed emergency medical technician certification not long before his death. Read more
1994: Christopher Collins, U.S. actor and comedian whose television appearances included Star Trek: The Next Generation and Seinfeld, dies at 44.
1989: Lou Monte, U.S. singer known best for a number of best-selling novelty songs, dies at 72.
1983: Norma Shearer, Canadian actress who was one of the most popular actresses from the mid-1920s through the 1930s and won the Academy Award in 1930 for her role in The Divorcee, dies of pneumonia at 80.
1980: Milburn Stone, U.S. actor well-known for his featured role as "Doc" on the popular Western series Gunsmoke, dies at 75.
1963: Medgar Evers, U.S. African-American civil rights activist, is assassinated by Byron De La Beckwith at 37.
1957: Jimmy Dorsey, U.S. jazz saxophonist and clarinetist who formed the successful Dorsey Brothers Orchestra with his brother Tommy and performed the hit song "Pennies from Heaven" with Bing Crosby, dies at 53.