Rod Serling, 1959 (Associated Press)
Rod Serling's seminal TV anthology series The Twilight Zone gave Americans nightmares, as well as something to think about. Using science fiction and horror, Serling held up a mirror to the most unflattering parts of American culture, taking on issues like racism, war, the red scare and other topics that censors would otherwise scrub from network television. Serling wrote and produced several other programs, including Night Gallery, as well as many well-received plays. He also taught film and writing throughout his career, notably at Antioch College, Ithaca College, and the Sherwood Oaks Experimental College. We remember Rod Serling's live today as well as the lives of other notable people who died on this day in history.
2013: Charlie L. Russell, U.S. writer known best for his critically acclaimed play Five on the Black Hand Side, which he also adapted into a screenplay for the movie version, dies of cancer at 81.
2012: Doris Sams, U.S. star of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League who was a five-time All-Star, threw a no-hitter, led the league in home runs in 1952 and was one of the players who inspired the movie A League of Their Own, dies at 85.
Sams, also called Sammye, was a leading player in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. According to the league's website, she was a five-time All-Star during her eight-year pro career. She played for the Muskegon Lassies, later the Kalamazoo Lassies. Sams made the circuit's honor team in 1947 and from 1949 through 1952. She averaged more than .300 during each of her last four seasons. Read more
2010: Robert Byrd, U.S. politician who was the U.S. senator from West Virginia from 1959 until 2010, dies of natural causes at 92.
Byrd, a Democrat, was the longest-serving senator in history, holding his seat for more than 50 years. He was the Senate's majority leader for six of those years and was third in the line of succession to the presidency, behind House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a fellow West Virginian in the Senate, said it was his "greatest privilege" to serve with Byrd. Read more
2010: Bill Aucoin, U.S. music manager known best as the manager of the band Kiss, dies after surgical complications at 66.
2009: Fred Travalena, U.S. comedian known best for his impersonations of celebrities such as John Lennon and Michael Jackson, dies at 66.
Travalena was well-known for his large number of celebrity impressions, leading to the nicknames "The Man of a Thousand Voices" and "Mr. Everybody," according to his obituary by The Associated Press. His act included presidents from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama, musicians from Frank Sinatra to Bruce Springsteen and actors from Marlon Brando to Tom Cruise. Travalena started his career in Las Vegas in 1971, and for years was an opening act, supporting such stars as Wayne Newton, Shirley MacLaine, Johnny Mathis, Don Rickles and Julie Andrews. Read more
2009: Billy Mays, U.S. television pitchman known for his many commercials for products including OxiClean and Orange Glo, dies of heart disease at 50.
After meeting Orange Glo International founder Max Appel at a home show in Pittsburgh in the mid-1990s, Mays was recruited to demonstrate the environmentally friendly line of cleaning products on the St. Petersburg-based Home Shopping Network, now known as HSN, according to his obituary by The Associated Press. Commercials and infomercials followed, anchored by the high-energy Mays using them while tossing out kitschy phrases like, "Long live your laundry!" Read more
2006: George Page, U.S. television host who created the Public Broadcasting Service show Nature and hosted it from 1982 until 1998, dies of cancer at 71.
1994: Fredi Washington, U.S. actress who was one of the first African-American actresses to gain recognition on film and stage, dies after a series of strokes at 90.
1982: Harry Mills, U.S. singer who was a member of the popular vocal group the Mills Brothers, dies at 68.
1981: Terry Fox, Canadian athlete who was diagnosed with cancer and then raised money for cancer research by attempting to run coast-to-coast across Canada, inspiring the annual Terry Fox run in his honor, which has raised more than 600 million Canadian dollars for cancer research, dies at 22.
1975: Rod Serling, U.S. television writer, producer and host known for his show The Twilight Zone, dies after a series of heart attacks at 50.
Like many of the great sci-fi writers of the era, Serling discovered that he could tackle the taboo issues of the day by de-contextualizing them, having contemporary conflicts safely play out on distant planets, in the far-flung future, in dimensions not only of sound and sight but of mind. Freed from the bounds of realism, The Twilight Zone allowed him to write about death, war, racism, mass hysteria and capital punishment – all topics with which no buttoned-down early 1960s advertiser would otherwise have wanted to be associated. Read more
1974: Frank Sutton, U.S. actor remembered best for his starring role as Sgt. Vince Carter on the sitcom Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., dies of a heart attack at 50.
Frank Sutton played one of the most famous fictional soldiers in television, Gunnery Sgt. Vincent Carter, for five seasons on Gomer Pyle – USMC. Sutton, who actually served in the U.S. Army, died 40 years ago today. According to The Associated Press, Sutton took part in 14 assault landings in the Pacific during World War II. Sometime after the war, Sutton was honorably discharged and pursued an acting career. Sutton landed guest-starring roles in several popular series, like Route 66, The Fugitive, Gunsmoke and The Twilight Zone, but his most famous role would take him back to the military one more time. Read more
1965: Red Nichols, U.S. jazz cornet player and band leader who led a popular band in the late 1920s that included such greats as Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa, dies at 60.
1962: Mickey Cochrane, U.S. Major League Baseball Hall of Fame catcher and manager who was a two-time American League MVP and batted .320 for his career, dies of cancer at 59.
1914: Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Duchess Sophie, Austro-Hungarian rulers assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, which led to World War I, are killed at 50 and 46, respectively.
1880: "Texas Jack" Omohundro, U.S. frontier scout, cowboy and actor who acted in the first Wild West shows with his friend William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody, dies of pneumonia at 33.
1836: James Madison, U.S. politician who was the fourth president of the United States and was known as the "Father of the Constitution," dies at 85.