We remember comedian and actress Danitra Vance and other notable people who died this day in history.
Danitra Vance was the first black woman in the repertory company of “Saturday Night Live,” though she had the misfortune of joining that prestigious institution during one of its lowest points. She appeared in 18 episodes in 1985 and 1986 but was frustrated by the negative stereotypes her characters embodied and left the show after just one season. Compounding her difficulties on the show, Vance was also diagnosed with dyslexia, which caused problems for her when reading from the show’s ever-changing cue cards. After “Saturday Night Live,” Vance joined the theatrical run of Spunk, winning an NAACP Image Award and an Obie Award. We remember Vance’s life today as well as the lives of other notable people who died this day in history.
2019: Celso Pina, legendary Mexican accordionist and singer known as “The Accordion Rebel,” dies at 66.
2014: Steven R. Nagle, U.S. NASA astronaut who flew on four space shuttle flights, dies of advanced melanoma at 67.
NASA said he was a mission specialist during a June 1985 Discovery flight and the pilot aboard the Challenger in October 1985. He was commander on his last two missions – an Atlantis flight in April 1991 and a 10-day trip on Columbia in April 1993. Nagel later worked as deputy director and deputy chief in two separate offices at Houston’s Johnson Space Center. Nagel retired from NASA in 2011. Read more
He was perhaps known best as the third news anchor of “Today,” succeeding Frank Blair in 1975. Although Blair had held the job for 22 years, Wood left after just a year, going into public relations. He stayed in that field until retiring in 2006. “He always joked that when he left the ‘Today’ show, it was due to illness and fatigue. They were sick and tired of him,” his daughter said with a laugh at the time of his death, according to his obituary by The Associated Press. Read more
Bernstein made the Beatles the first rock group to play at the classical Carnegie Hall and arranged their historic 1965 show at Shea Stadium, rock’s first major stadium concert, which set box office records, according to his obituary by The Associated Press. He also booked such top acts as Jimi Hendrix, Judy Garland, and the Rolling Stones. He worked with Garland, Duke Ellington, and Ray Charles, and promoted Dion, Bobby Darin, and Chubby Checker. Read more
2010: Nancy Dolman, Canadian actress who had a recurring role on the sitcom “Soap” and was the wife of actor and comedian Martin Short, dies at 58.
Dolman and Short married in 1980 after the pair met while working together in a production of “Godspell.” The couple have a daughter and two sons. Read more
2008: Jerry Finn, U.S. record producer who worked with such popular pop-punk bands as Green Day, Blink-182, and the Offspring, dies at 39.
2007: Siobhan Dowd, British author who won the Carnegie Medal for “Bog Child” and conceived the book behind the 2016 film “A Monster Calls,” dies of breast cancer at 47.
There are examples of outstanding writers who have made their mark in print late in the course of their lives, but there are few, arguably, who have done so to such startling effect as Siobhan Dowd. Read more
2005: Robert Moog, U.S. engineer and inventor known best for creating his eponymous synthesizer, dies at 71.
A childhood interest in the theremin, one of the first electronic musical instruments, would lead Moog to a create a career and business that tied the name Moog as tightly to synthesizers as the name Les Paul is to electric guitars, according to his obituary by The Associated Press. Despite traveling in circles that included jet-setting rockers, he always considered himself a technician. “I’m an engineer. I see myself as a toolmaker and the musicians are my customers,” he said in 2000. “They use the tools.” Read more
2003: Wesley Willis, U.S. singer-songwriter and musician who was the frontman for the Chicago cult band the Wesley Willis Fiasco, dies of complications from leukemia at 40.
Vance was a Chicago native who began her career as a well-regarded stage actress, working with New York Shakespeare Festival producer George C. Wolfe. Upon joining the cast in 1985, she was the first black woman to become an “SNL” repertory player – which was both an achievement and an albatross. Even as she broke a show-biz barrier, she found herself placed in frustratingly typecast roles: a waitress, an unwed teen mother, a maid. Read more
1988: Ray Eames, U.S. artist, designer, and filmmaker who, along with her husband, Charles, was well-known for modern furniture designs, dies 10 years to the day after Charles at 75.
The Eameses designed furniture pieces so good-looking that they remain modernist icons, yet so comfortable and well-built that they are still sold by the original manufacturer. But the couple designed far more than chairs – creating everything from toys to houses, from exhibitions to films. In all kinds of subtle, playful ways, Charles and Ray Eames taught us how to look, how to think, and how to live. Read more
1978: Charles Eames, U.S. artist, designer, and filmmaker who, along with his wife, Ray, was well-known for modern furniture designs, dies at 71.
Eames was kicked out of Washington University’s architecture program in 1927 because of his enthusiasm for Frank Lloyd Wright. Undaunted, he started designing buildings around St. Louis. His work caught the attention of Eliel Saarinen, a Finnish architect, who invited him to teach at the new design school in Cranbrook, Michigan. There he met several future collaborators, including Saarinen’s son, Eero. He also met his future wife: a student from California named Ray Kincaid. Read more
1977: Danny Lockin, U.S. actor and dancer known best for his role as Barnaby Tucker in the “Hello Dolly!” motion picture, is stabbed to death at 34.
1940: Leon Trotsky, Russian Marxist revolutionary leader known for his version of communist theory called Trotskyism, is assassinated at 60 in Mexico by Ramon Mercader on orders from Josef Stalin.
1919: Laurence Doherty, English tennis player who was ranked No. 1 in the world and won six grand slam singles championships, dies at 43.