Chet Atkins, 1978 (CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)
Chet Atkins was instrumental in creating "the Nashville sound," transforming country music in the 1950s from honky tonk to the smoother, more polished and popular style that dominated the charts after 1958. As a recording artist he won nine CMA awards for Instrumentalist of the Year, earning the nickname "Mr. Guitar," and as a producer he worked with legends like Dolly Parton, Perry Como, Elvis Presley and many more. He was also honored with induction into the Musicians, Rock & Roll and Country Music Halls of Fame. We remember Chet Atkins' life today as well as the lives of other notable people who died on this day in history.
2009: Harve Presnell, U.S. actor and singer who had a long career, appearing in The Unsinkable Molly Brown in 1964 and later Fargo and Saving Private Ryan, dies of pancreatic cancer at 75.
In the 1964 film version of Molly Brown, Presnell played opposite Debbie Reynolds, who had the title role. According to the Internet Movie Database, he was a 1965 Golden Globe winner -- along with George Segal and Topol – for most promising male newcomer. In 1969, Presnell co-starred with Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin in the film musical Paint Your Wagon. As Rotten Luck Willie, Presnell sang songs that included the beautiful “They Call the Wind Maria.” Read more
2003: Robert McCloskey, U.S. children's book author known best for his book Make Way for Ducklings, which has sold over 2 million copies, dies at 88.
2003: Buddy Hackett, U.S. actor and comedian whose movie appearances included The Music Man and The Love Bug, dies after having a stroke at 78.
Hackett got his start as a standup comedian, performing in upstate New York's borscht circuit nightclubs before he was even out of high school. His success there led him down to the big city, where he performed in larger and more famous clubs, and even on Broadway. TV roles followed, with an early starring role on Stanley, one of the last live TV sitcoms. Read more
2001: Joe Henderson, U.S. jazz saxophonist who recorded for Blue Note Records and played with many jazz greats, including Herbie Hancock and Woody Shaw, dies at 64.
2001: Chet Atkins, U.S. guitarist known as "Mr. Guitar," who was elected to the Country Music and Rock and Roll halls of fame and won 14 Grammy Awards, dies at 77 after being diagnosed with cancer.
In 1955 Atkins had a hit of his own with a version of "Mister Sandman." As rock music took off and country waned, he was put in charge of RCA's country music division and began creating what was to become known as "the Nashville sound" – a slicker, more pop-oriented production style that ditched the traditional fiddles and steel guitars in favor of lush string sections and multitracked vocals. Read more
1995: Phyllis Hyman, U.S. singer-songwriter and actress who had a No. 1 rhythm and blues hit with "Don't Wanna Change the World" in 1991, commits suicide at 45.
1995: Gale Gordon, U.S. character actor remembered for his regular roles opposite Lucille Ball as Theodore J. Mooney on The Lucy Show and as Harrison Otis Carter on Here's Lucy, dies of lung cancer at 89.
1993: George McFarland, U.S. child actor who was well-known for playing Spanky in the Our Gang series, in which he starred from 1932 until 1942, dies of cardiac arrest at 64.
He didn't have a broad acting career beyond his Spanky stardom; he found it difficult to break away from the iconic character and hard to get back into the biz after a stint in the Air Force. But his vast number of appearances in the groundbreaking Our Gang series added up to many more credits than most actors generate in decades-long careers – and McFarland did it in just 10 years. Read more
1987: King Donovan, U.S. actor who appeared in the original movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the TV series The Bob Cummings Show, dies of cancer at 69.
1985: James A. Dewar, U.S. baker who invented a cream-filled spongecake that he named the Twinkie while working as a plant manager for the Continental Baking Co. in Chicago, dies at 88.
1984: Lillian Hellman, U.S. playwright and screenwriter known for the play The Little Foxes and the screenplay The North Star, dies of a heart attack at 79.
1983: Mary Livingstone, U.S. comedienne and actress who was the wife of Jack Benny and played a large role on his popular radio show, dies of heart disease at 78.
1976: Firpo Marberry, U.S. Major League Baseball pitcher and the first player to record over 100 saves in a career in which he played mostly for the Washington Senators, dies at 77.
1974: Alberta Williams King, U.S. mother of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., is shot and killed at 69 at the Ebenezer Baptist Church – six years after her son’s assassination.
1971: Herbert Biberman, U.S. director and screenwriter known best as one of the "Hollywood 10" who were cited for contempt of Congress and jailed for refusing to testify about their possible involvement with the Communist Party, dies at 71.
1965: Bessie Barriscale, U.S. actress who was a silent-film star in the 1910s, dies at 80.