Jim Croce was one of the best-loved singer-songwriters of the early 1970s, writing songs that captured the American imagination. We remember Croce’s life today as well as the lives of other notable people who died this day in history.
Jim Croce was one of the best-loved singer-songwriters of the early 1970s, writing songs that captured the American imagination. Bouncy tales of tough guys – “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim” – mixed with tender tunes like “Time in a Bottle” and “I Got a Name” to create the rich and varied discography Croce recorded during his short life. Poised for even greater success, Croce was just 30 when he died in a plane crash. We remember Croce’s life today as well as the lives of other notable people who died this day in history.
2016: Curtis Hanson, U.S. director and screenwriter who directed the movie “8 Mile,” dies at 71.
2015: Jack Larson, U.S. actor known best for playing the cub reporter-photographer Jimmy Olsen on the TV series “Adventures of Superman,” dies at 87.
2014: Polly Bergen, U.S. actress known for roles in movies including “Cape Fear” and “The Caretakers,” dies at 84.
A brunette beauty with a warm, sultry singing voice, Bergen was a household name from her 20s onward. She made albums and played leading roles in films, stage musicals and TV dramas. She also hosted her own variety series, was a popular game show panelist, and founded a thriving beauty products company that bore her name. In recent years, she played Felicity Huffman’s mother on “Desperate Housewives” and the past mistress of Tony Soprano’s late father on “The Sopranos.” Read more
2014: Rob Bironas, U.S. professional football player with the Tennessee Titans, dies in a car accident at 36.
Bironas was the fourth most-accurate kicker in NFL history, connecting on 85.7 percent of his kicks (239 of 279). Only David Akers made more field goals (247) between 2005 and 2013 than Bironas. For kickers with 100 or more field goals since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, Bironas ranked third making 75.2 percent of his kicks from 40 yards or longer (94 of 125). He finished as the Titans’ second leading career scorer with 1,032 points, and he set a franchise record scoring triple digits in seven straight seasons. He also set an NFL record in 2011 in hitting a field goal from at least 40 yards in 10 consecutive games. Read more
2013: Carolyn Cassady, U.S. writer known for her association with the Beat Generation writers through her marriage to Neal Cassady and friendships with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, dies after an emergency appendectomy at 90.
She was a close friend of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, and chronicled her experiences with the three in the memoir “Off the Road: My Years With Cassady, Kerouac, and Ginsberg,” published in 1990. The memoir, which was rereleased in 2007 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Kerouac’s seminal novel, was one of many attempts Cassady made to correct what she saw as myths about the Beat Generation and misrepresentation of her husband, according to her obituary by The Associated Press. Read more
2010: Leonard Skinner, U.S. high school gym teacher and basketball coach who taught a few of the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, who named their Southern rock band after Skinner for being a strict enforcer of his high school’s draconian “no long hair” policy, dies at 77.
He may not have liked it much, but he was a good sport. He allowed the band to use a photo of a sign for his real estate business on one of their album’s inner sleeves – resulting in lots of 3 a.m. calls from Skynyrd fans – and even became friends with some of the band members. He once came onstage and introduced the band when they played their hometown of Jacksonville, Florida, and his family says they’ve met a lot of great people over the years thanks to the Skinner-Skynyrd connection. Read more
2005: Simon Wiesenthal, Austrian writer who was a Holocaust survivor and was well-known as a leading hunter of fugitive Nazi war criminals, dies at 96.
Wiesenthal, who had been an architect before World War II, changed his life’s mission after the war, dedicating himself to trying to track down Nazi war criminals and to being a voice for the 6 million Jews who died during the onslaught. He himself lost 89 relatives in the Holocaust. Wiesenthal spent more than 50 years hunting Nazi war criminals, speaking out against neo-Nazism and racism, and remembering the Jewish experience as a lesson for humanity. Through his work, he said, some 1,100 Nazi war criminals were brought to justice. “When history looks back I want people to know the Nazis weren’t able to kill millions of people and get away with it,” he once said. Read more
2003: Gordon Mitchell, U.S. bodybuilder and actor who appeared in “The Ten Commandments” and “Sinbad,” dies of a heart attack at 80.
1997: Matt Christopher, U.S. author known for writing children’s books usually featuring sports, including “The Kid Who Only Hit Homers,” dies at 80 of complications after surgery for a brain tumor.
1996: Paul Weston, U.S. pianist and composer who was a member of Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra and composed popular songs, including “Day by Day,” dies at 84.
1994: Jule Styne, prolific U.S. songwriter who wrote the scores for many Broadway shows including “Gypsy” and “Funny Girl” and whose songs included “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” and “Let Me Entertain You,” dies of heart failure at 88.
1990: Jackie Moran, U.S. actor who had his success as a teenager, starring as Huckleberry Finn in “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” and then in youth-oriented movies such as “Tomboy,” dies of cancer at 67.
1988: Roy Kinnear, English actor remembered best for his role as Veruca Salt’s father in the movie “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” dies at 54 of injuries sustained after falling off a horse while filming “The Return of the Musketeers.”
1987: Michael Stewart, U.S. playwright and librettist who wrote the book for the plays “Hello, Dolly!” and “Bye Bye Birdie,” dies of pneumonia at 63.
1984: Steve Goodman, U.S. folk music singer-songwriter known best for writing the song “City of New Orleans” and penning the unofficial theme song for the Chicago Cubs, “Go, Cubs, Go,” dies of leukemia at 36.
If you live in Chicago, you probably have something to say about the Cubs. Goodman wrote several Cubs-related songs, the first couple written from the standpoint of the long-suffering Cubs fan. But when he was called out for the depressing nature of “A Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request,” he sarcastically wrote a more positive song for the “Lovable Losers” … and it became perhaps his best-known composition. If you’ve ever watched the Cubs win a game (hey, it happens, especially this year!), you’ve heard Goodman’s “Go, Cubs, Go” play while the fans celebrate. Read more
1973: Ben Webster, U.S. musician nicknamed “Frog” who was an influential jazz saxophonist and is considered one of the three most important swing tenors along with Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, dies of a cerebral thrombosis at 64.
1973: Jim Croce, U.S. singer-songwriter who had No. 1 hit songs with “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” and “Time in a Bottle,” dies in a plane crash at 30.
Croce’s songs were gentle and tender, reflective of the 1970s singer-songwriter movement of which Croce was an important part. But Croce’s biggest early hits were ditties about the baddest guys around: a pool hustler in “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” and “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” the “baddest man in the whole damn town.” “Leroy Brown” was inspired by a fellow soldier from Croce’s brief stint in the Army – a man who, like Jim the pool shark, was tough … but not tough enough. Read more
1973: Glenn Strange, U.S. actor known best for playing Dr. Frankenstein’s monster in three Universal movies during the 1940s and for his role as Sam the bartender on the Western TV series “Gunsmoke,” dies of cancer at 74.
1949: Richard Dix, U.S. actor who starred in the movie “Cimarron” and in seven movies of the serial “The Whistler,” dies at 56.
1927: George Nichols, U.S. movie actor and director from the silent period who appeared in more than 200 films and directed more than 100, dies at either 62 or 63.