We remember author Alex Haley and other notable people who died this day in history.
Alex Haley was known best for the one novel he completed: “Roots: The Saga of an American Family.” The epic tale follows a black family from Africa, through slavery, emancipation, and beyond. The novel was a massive, best-selling success, and it was adapted into a TV miniseries that set viewing records and is still remembered as a classic. Haley also wrote “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” in collaboration with the book’s subject, and he left an unfinished novel upon his death, “Queen,” which was completed by David Stevens at Haley’s request. The huge popularity of his small body of work has made Haley the best-selling African-American author in the U.S. We remember Haley’s life today as well as the lives of other notable people who died this day in history.
2017: Mike Ilitch, founder of Little Caesars Pizza and owner of the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings, dies at 87.
A talented and ultra-adorable entertainer, Temple was America’s top box-office draw from 1935 to 1938, a record no other child star has come near, according to her obituary by The Associated Press. She beat out such grown-ups as Clark Gable, Bing Crosby, Robert Taylor, Gary Cooper, and Joan Crawford. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranking of the top-50 screen legends placed Temple at No. 18 among the 25 actresses. She appeared in scores of movies and kept children singing “On the Good Ship Lollipop” for generations. Read more
2012: Jeffrey Zaslow, U.S. author and columnist for the Wall Street Journal, dies in a car accident at 53.
Zaslow, who had an affinity for stories of heroism and resilience, worked on memoirs of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt, and airline pilot Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who was praised for his skill after safely ditching a plane in New York’s Hudson River in 2009, according to his obituary by The Associated Press. Read more
2010: Fred Schaus, U.S. NBA player and coach, and a college basketball coach, dies at 84.
Born in Newark, Ohio, Schaus became the first Mountaineers player to score 1,000 career points, according to his obituary by The Associated Press. He was drafted by the Fort Wayne Pistons of the NBA and also played for the New York Knicks from 1949-54. He compiled a 127-26 record as head coach at West Virginia from 1954 to 1960, including six straight NCAA tournament berths. His Mountaineers advanced to the NCAA championship game in 1959, losing to California 71-70. Read more
2010: Charles Wilson, U.S. politician who represented Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives and who was portrayed in the movie “Charlie Wilson’s War,” dies at 76.
“Charlie was perfect as a congressman, perfect as a state representative, perfect as a state senator. He was a perfect reflection of the people he represented. If there was anything wrong with Charlie, I never did know what it was,” said Charles Schnabel Jr., who served for seven years as Wilson’s chief of staff in Washington and worked with Wilson when he served in the Texas Senate. Read more
2009: Jeremy Lusk, U.S. freestyle motocross racer who won two X Games medals, dies while performing a flip in competition at 24.
2008: Steve Gerber, U.S. comic book writer who created the Marvel character Howard the Duck, dies at 60.
2008: Roy Scheider, U.S. actor known best for his role as Martin Brody in the movie “Jaws,” dies at 75.
Scheider’s name is forever linked to his unforgettable performance in “Jaws” and his battle to the death with the shark named Bruce, according to his obituary by The Associated Press. As an actor, Scheider was incredibly versatile, playing everything from hard-bitten street cops in films like “The French Connection” to a hard-partying Broadway producer in “All That Jazz” and a suave super spy in “Marathon Man.” He earned a Golden Globe award and two Oscar nominations, and his long career in front of the camera helped to solidify his legacy as one of Hollywood’s all-time greats. Read more
2006: Dick Harmon, one of the top U.S. golf instructors, who worked with pro golfers Fred Couples and Lanny Wadkins, dies at 58.
2006: J Dilla, influential U.S. rapper and producer who worked with such groups as De La Soul, dies at 32.
2005: Arthur Miller, U.S. playwright who wrote “Death of a Salesman,” dies at 89.
Miller’s career was marked by early success, noted his obituary by The Associated Press. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for “Death of a Salesman” in 1949, when he was just 33. His marriage to Marilyn Monroe in 1956 further catapulted the playwright to fame, though that was publicity he said he never pursued. In a 1992 interview with a French newspaper, he called her “highly self-destructive” and said that during their marriage, “all my energy and attention were devoted to trying to help her solve her problems. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much success.” Read more
2003: Ron Ziegler, U.S. press secretary for President Richard M. Nixon, dies at 63.
2002: Dave Van Ronk, U.S. folk singer who was an important figure in the early 1960s Greenwich Village folk music scene, dies at 65.
2001: Abraham Beame, U.S. politician who was the mayor of New York City from 1974 to 1977, dies at 94.
2000: Jim Varney, U.S. comic actor known best for his Ernest character, dies at 50.
1992: Alex Haley, U.S. author known for writing the book “Roots,” telling the story of his family, dies at 70.
Haley grew up listening to his grandmother’s stories of life as the daughter of an emancipated slave, woven through with family history. As an adult, his memories of these tales inspired him to challenge the notion that African-Americans couldn’t trace their ancestries beyond a few generations. The complexities of slavery certainly made it difficult: forcible name changes, separation of families, bad or nonexistent record keeping. But Haley believed he could learn more from the powerful medium of oral history. Read more
1984: David Von Erich, U.S. professional wrestler known as the Yellow Rose of Texas, dies at 25.
1983: Eduard Franz, U.S. actor who appeared in many movies including “The Jazz Singer” and the TV series “Zorro,” dies at 80.
1966: Billy Rose, U.S. songwriter and theater producer who wrote “Me and My Shadow” and owned the New York City club the Diamond Horseshoe, dies at 66.
1957: Laura Ingalls Wilder, U.S. author known for her “Little House on the Prairie” series, dies at 90.
Wilder has taught generations about the hardships of living on the frontier – as well as the joys. Her “Little House” series chronicled her family’s real-life moves around the Midwest in the waning years of the 19th century. Readers have come to know the various locales Wilder described, but only what they were like more than 100 years ago. We wondered, what are these towns like today? We’re taking a modern-day look at a few of the places she described in her books. Read more