Arts Obituaries

Mariss Jansons, famed conductor, dead at 76

By Fred Mazelis, 10 December 2019

Jansons, who died November 30 at the age of 76, was one of the world’s greatest conductors, and at the same time one of the most beloved, by audiences and above all by the musicians he led.

Soprano Jessye Norman dies at the age of 74

By Fred Mazelis, 5 October 2019

Born in the Jim Crow South, the singer became a world-famous star of the opera and concert stage.

Obituary: African-American novelist Toni Morrison dead at 88

By Sandy English, 7 September 2019

Pulitzer Prize winner and Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison wrote several significant novels, but as a public figure turned to the selfish racialist politics of the upper middle class.

Ground-breaking documentarian D.A. Pennebaker dies

By Richard Phillips, 10 August 2019

Pennebaker pioneered the use of handheld cameras and editorial comment to achieve an immediacy and closeness not previously achieved in documentary film-making.

Bossa Nova pioneer, songwriter and musician João Gilberto dead at 88

By Hiram Lee, 13 July 2019

Together with the composer Antônio Carlos Jobim, Gilberto pioneered a “new wave” in Brazilian popular music during the mid-to-late 1950s that had a worldwide impact.

New Orleans pianist and singer Dr. John dies at 77

By Matthew Brennan, 29 June 2019

His early recordings spanned a remarkable musical range, from funk-driven pop songs and New Orleans jazz and blues to at least a half-dozen other musical styles and influences.

Director of Boyz n the Hood, Higher Learning and other films focusing on the African-American working class and poor

Film director John Singleton dead at age 51

By Nick Barrickman, 29 May 2019

At his best, Singleton’s work shows warmth and concern for his films’ struggling and imperfect characters.

Israeli writer Amos Oz (1939-2018): A critical appreciation

By Clare Hurley and Clara Weiss, 24 May 2019

Oz published 40 books of fiction, collections of essays, speeches and letters that have been translated into 45 languages, including Esperanto.

Doris Day, prominent postwar American actress and singer, dies at 97

By David Walsh, 15 May 2019

Her most compelling performances came in films such as Young Man with a Horn (1950), Love Me or Leave Me (1955) and, above all, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956).

Singer-songwriter Scott Walker (1943-2019): A gifted and intriguing artist

By Matthew Brennan, 22 April 2019

Best known as a member of the 1960s pop trio the Walker Brothers, Scott Walker became an elusive and yet influential figure in the rock and electronic music genres in later years.

Legendary “Wrecking Crew” drummer Hal Blaine dead at 90

By Hiram Lee, 19 March 2019

Drummer Hal Blaine died March 11, one month past his 90th birthday. Blaine was an incredibly prolific studio musician who appeared on countless recordings during the 1960s and 1970s.

Actor Bruno Ganz, prominent on stage and screen for more than 40 years: an obituary

By Sybille Fuchs, 9 March 2019

On February 16, Swiss-born actor Bruno Ganz, aged 77, died of cancer at his home on Lake Zurich. Ganz was one of the leading figures in the contemporary German-speaking theatre and film world.

André Previn, versatile composer, conductor and pianist, dies at 89

By Fred Mazelis, 7 March 2019

Previn was often compared to Leonard Bernstein, for the breadth of his achievements and his insistence on appealing to a broad public.

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden—Short stories by American author Denis Johnson

By Sandy English, 15 January 2019

Johnson (1949-2017) wrote convincingly and often movingly about the painful personal conundrums that people found themselves in, particularly as social conditions declined in the US in the 1970s and beyond.

Nancy Wilson (1937-2018), an extraordinary singer who will be missed

By John Andrews, 19 December 2018

Nancy Wilson, a distinctive vocalist for more than 50 years, and the long-time host of NPR’s “Jazz Profiles,” passed away last week.

Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci dies at 77

By Richard Phillips and David Walsh, 28 November 2018

Bertolucci will be remembered for valuable films he made in the 1960s and 1970s, including La commare secca (1962—English title, The Grim Reaper), Before the Revolution (1964), The Conformist (1970) and 1900 (1976).

“I am a poet who has the ability to sing his poems” – Charles Aznavour (1924-2018)

By Paul Bond, 6 October 2018

Aznavour grew up with a love of music and theatre and leaves a legacy of some 1,200 songs, innumerable recordings, and some notable film appearances.

One of the greatest musical figures of the 20th century

The centenary of Leonard Bernstein—Part 1

By Fred Mazelis, 24 August 2018

There was no one else who combined Bernstein’s genius as a composer, conductor, educator and pianist.

Aretha Franklin (1942-2018)—A tribute to the Queen of Soul

By Hiram Lee, 18 August 2018

Legendary soul singer Aretha Franklin died August 16 at the age of 76. She was a major figure, one of the great performers of the second half of the twentieth century.

A reply to a comment on the obituary of Sri Lankan filmmaker Lester James Peries

By Pani Wijesiriwardane and Gamini Karunatileka, 24 July 2018

Our basic objective was to examine Peries’s general contribution to Sri Lankan cinema and how he came to be known as its father.

Soviet-Russian conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky dead at 87

By Clara Weiss, 11 July 2018

Rozhdestvensky had a formative influence on Soviet musical life throughout much of the postwar period.

Punk bassist Steve Soto dead at 54

By Josh Varlin, 10 July 2018

Soto was best known for his work with the seminal hardcore punk band Adolescents.

The late American novelist Philip Roth attacked as a “misogynist”

By David Walsh, 18 June 2018

In the wake of writer Philip Roth’s death May 22, numerous commentaries have appeared accusing him of misunderstanding or being hostile to women and related failings.

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16 June 2018

Philip Roth and the narrow framework of postwar cultural life

By David Walsh, 24 May 2018

Among Roth’s best known works are Goodbye, Columbus (1959), Letting Go (1962), Portnoy’s Complaint (1969), Zuckerman Unbound (1981), Sabbath’s Theater (1995), American Pastoral (1997), I Married a Communist (1998) and The Human Stain (2000).

Sri Lankan filmmaker Lester James Peries dies at 99

By Pani Wijesiriwardane and Gamini Karunatileka, 23 May 2018

Peries’s best films, like the great dramas directed by India’s Satyajit Ray and Japan’s Akira Kurosawa, have left their mark on Asian and world cinema.

Director of The Loves of a Blonde, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus

Filmmaker Milos Forman (1932-2018), one of the leading figures of the Czech New Wave

By David Walsh, 16 April 2018

Forman was originally identified with the so-called Czech New Wave, a group of directors whose lively and honest films came to international prominence in the mid-1960s.

The death of rapper-producer Alias and the fate of “avant-garde” hip hop

By Nick Barrickman, 13 April 2018

Brendon Whitney (“Alias”) was a founding member of the experimental hip hop/electronic music label Anticon.

Japanese animation filmmaker Isao Takahata, director of Grave of the Fireflies, dies at 82

By Elle Chapman and David Walsh, 7 April 2018

Takahata, one of Japan’s most influential animation filmmakers and co-founder of the famed Studio Ghibli, died from lung cancer in a Tokyo hospital April 5. We repost a review of his Grave of the Fireflies (1988).

Ursula K. Le Guin: Prominent science fiction and fantasy writer (1929-2018)

By Sandy English, 8 March 2018

Ursula K. Le Guin, one of the most significant and popular English-language writers of speculative fiction, associated with feminism and utopianism, died January 28 at the age of 88.

“A world without nations”—On the death of German jazz guitarist Coco Schumann

By Bernd Reinhardt, 2 March 2018

The German jazz guitarist Coco Schumann remained active musically until near the end of his life. He ranks as a jazz musician with one of the longest musical biographies ever.

Actress Dorothy Malone (1924-2018)

By Hiram Lee, 29 January 2018

Veteran Hollywood actress Dorothy Malone, who appeared in the Douglas Sirk classic Written on the Wind, has died at the age of 93.

Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer of Irish rock band The Cranberries, dead at age 46

By Nick Barrickman, 19 January 2018

O’Riordan was pronounced dead on January 15 in her London hotel room.

Robert Mann (1920-2018), founder of the Juilliard String Quartet

By Fred Mazelis, 10 January 2018

Mann championed the collaborative musical form of the string quartet, and helped train generations of famed musicians.

Art historian Linda Nochlin (1931-2017)

By Clare Hurley and David Walsh, 12 December 2017

Art historian Linda Nochlin published a number of valuable and insightful works on the art of the 19th century in particular. Later, she played a seminal role in establishing a feminist approach to art history.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky (1962-2017), one of opera’s greatest baritones

By Fred Mazelis, 11 December 2017

The Siberian-born singer, who was known especially for his Verdi and Tchaikovsky roles, had performed in nearly every major opera house in the world.

The death of rapper Lil Peep and the tragedy of youth

By Nick Barrickman, 18 November 2017

Lil Peep, who died November 15 of a drug overdose while on tour, had come to be seen as the foremost representative of the genre-bending musical style known as “emo rap.”

Remembering Fats Domino

By Hiram Lee, 4 November 2017

Rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Fats Domino died October 24 at the age of 89. The gifted pianist was second only to Elvis Presley in popularity during the early days of the genre.

On the loss of Tom Petty

By Hiram Lee, 5 October 2017

Tom Petty died suddenly October 2 at the age of 66. He was a genuine and unpretentious songwriter and performer.

Jerry Lewis, comic and filmmaker, dead at 91

By David Walsh, 23 August 2017

Lewis was a performer of extraordinary talent. At his improvisational and manic best, with a rapid-fire delivery, a variety of personas and all manner of physical contortions, he represented something anarchic and disruptive.

Aboriginal singer Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu dies, aged 46

By Richard Phillips, 9 August 2017

Gurrumul’s music, like all honest creative work, transcended language and cultural barriers, making him the highest selling Aboriginal singer-songwriter in Australian history.

The suicide of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington (1976-2017)

By Ben Trent, 4 August 2017

Bennington was best known for his vocal range, and his ability to combine anguish and pain in his singing.

Sam Shepard, American playwright and actor, dies at 73

By David Walsh, 2 August 2017

Shepard had an undoubted influence on American culture over the past several decades. Having grown up in southern California, he first came to prominence as an Off-Off-Broadway playwright in New York with a series of one-act works in the mid-1960s.

DL Menard (1932-2017): The voice of Cajun music

By Paul Bond, 2 August 2017

The revival of the fortunes of traditional Cajun music owes much to Menard’s love of country music, and his warmly nasal voice.

American horror film director George Romero (1940–2017)

Including a conversation with film historian Tony Williams

By David Walsh, 21 July 2017

The American director of numerous horror and other films, including Night of the Living Dead, died July 16 in Toronto.

Singer-musician Chris Cornell (1964-2017) dies at 52

By Adam Soroka, 22 May 2017

Cornell (born July 20, 1964 in Seattle, Washington) will be best remembered as the lead vocalist of the Seattle metal band Soundgarden. His vocals combined an R&B sensibility with a dynamic, multi-octave range.

Citizens Band, Something Wild, The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia …

Jonathan Demme (1944-2017): A talented filmmaker and a victim of stagnant times

By David Walsh, 13 May 2017

American filmmaker Jonathan Demme died April 26 in New York City from complications stemming from esophageal cancer and heart disease. He was 73.

The Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko (1933-2017) and the fate of the ‘60s generation

By Vladimir Volkov, 3 May 2017

Yevgeny Yevtushenko, the best-known Soviet poet from the 1960s to the 1980s, died at 85 from cancer on April 1, 2017, in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Rock ’n’ roll great Chuck Berry dead at 90

By Hiram Lee, 23 March 2017

It would be difficult to overstate Berry’s influence on American popular music in the second half of the 20th century. Perhaps more than any other artist in the genre, he defined the sound of rock ’n’ roll.

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22 March 2017

A comment on Robert Osborne (1932-2017), host of Turner Classic Movies

By David Walsh, 8 March 2017

Osborne was an affable and intelligent presence on American television—something increasingly rare!

British actor John Hurt: 1940-2017

By Kevin Martinez, 17 February 2017

Renowned for playing outsiders and “commoners,” British actor John Hurt died January 25, three days after his 77th birthday.

Composer David Axelrod dies at age 85

By Nick Barrickman, 15 February 2017

Axelrod crafted and inspired some of the more haunting, cinematic and versatile popular American music during the second half of the 20th century.

John Berger, radical art critic, 1926-2017

By Sandy English and David Walsh, 7 February 2017

Prominent left-wing art critic John Berger died on January 2 and left a mixed legacy of writing on art and society.

Saving the world: The moving legacy of sculptor Ernst Neizvestny (1925-2016)

By Lee Parsons, 13 January 2017

Last August the Soviet-Russian sculptor Ernst Neizvestny, one of the most interesting artists of the postwar period, and someone with a distinctive political history, died in New York City at the age of 91.

Carrie Fisher and the Star Wars phenomenon

By David Walsh, 29 December 2016

The announcement Tuesday that Carrie Fisher had died at only 60 was sad news. The actress, writer and humorist was an appealing figure and personality.

Greg Lake, pioneer of progressive rock music, dies at 69

By Kevin Reed, 17 December 2016

Greg Lake was a founder, along with schoolmate Robert Fripp, of the British band King Crimson in 1968 and later the 1970s’ supergroup Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

The “Mark Twain of jazz” dies at 89

Mose Allison: 1927-2016

By James Brewer, 26 November 2016

Over his six-decade musical career, Allison performed live thousands of times and released over 50 albums. He left behind a tremendous body of recorded work dating back to the mid-1950s.

Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) dies at 82

By Hiram Lee, 23 November 2016

Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, famed for songs such as “Suzanne,” “The Stranger Song,” “So Long, Marianne,” “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye,” “Famous Blue Raincoat” and “Bird on the Wire,” died November 7 at the age of 82.

Polish film and theatre director Andrzej Wajda dead at 90

By Dorota Niemitz and Stefan Steinberg, 14 October 2016

Film and theatre director Andrzej Wajda, who made some of the most significant Polish films of the twentieth century, has died at the age of 90.

American playwright Edward Albee: The character of his opposition to the status quo

By David Walsh, 22 September 2016

Albee is best remembered for The Zoo Story (1959), The Death of Bessie Smith (1960), The Sandbox (1960), The American Dream (1961), and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962).

Comic actor Gene Wilder: 1933–2016

By James Brewer, 1 September 2016

Although his work in film ended more than 25 years ago, Wilder will be long remembered for the humor and humanity he displayed in films like Young Frankenstein.

Toots Thielemans: 1922-2016

“That little space between a smile and a tear”

By James Brewer, 25 August 2016

The Belgian-born multi-instrumental jazz musician became widely known for his virtuosic harmonica playing.

Elvis, Scotty and Bill: In memory of guitar legend Scotty Moore

By Hiram Lee, 1 August 2016

Guitarist Scotty Moore, who performed on all the classic Elvis Presley recordings of the 1950s, died June 28 at the age of 84.

A tribute to German Sinto musician Häns’che Weiss

By Bernd Reinhardt, 16 July 2016

In addition to a remarkable command of his instrument, guitarist Häns’che Weiss was distinguished by his thrilling musicality.

The life and career of Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami

By David Walsh, 14 July 2016

The Iranian director will be best remembered and long honored for the series of feature films, including documentaries, that he made between 1987 and 1997.

“Cinema has the potential to make us richer in spirit”—filmmaker Paul Cox (1940–2016)

By Richard Phillips, 11 July 2016

Cox directed over 40 dramatic features and documentaries—the overwhelming majority on paper-thin budgets—during his more than forty-year career.

Michael Cimino, director of The Deer Hunter and Heaven’s Gate, dead at 77

By David Walsh, 7 July 2016

Cimino is best known as the director of The Deer Hunter (1978), which won numerous Academy Awards, and Heaven’s Gate (1980), which was denounced by leading critics, lost a great deal of money and severely damaged Cimino’s career.

Bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley dead at 89

By Hiram Lee, 6 July 2016

Ralph Stanley led one of the most remarkable groups in Bluegrass music and was among the genre’s greatest banjo players and singers.

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4 July 2016

Prince (1958-2016)

By Hiram Lee, 27 April 2016

While music icon Prince, who died April 21 at the age of 57, was among the more electrifying performers of his generation, his work could be terribly uneven.

Rapper Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest dead at 45

By Hiram Lee, 29 March 2016

The members of A Tribe Called Quest were more relatable than the superstar rappers who came before them and more sensitive and intelligent than the lyricists of then-emerging gangster rap.

Beatles producer George Martin dies at 90

By Hiram Lee, 15 March 2016

Legendary music producer George Martin, who supervised almost all of the Beatles’ recordings, died on March 8.

David Bowie (1947-2016)

By Hiram Lee, 16 January 2016

British rock icon David Bowie died January 10, just two days after his 69th birthday and the release of his final album Blackstar .

Conductor and avant-garde composer Pierre Boulez (1925–2016)

By Alex Lantier, 7 January 2016

As a conductor who worked and recorded extensively with leading orchestras and opera companies, Boulez elicited powerful, precise, unpretentious and always tasteful performances, though they sometimes had a touch of coldness.

New Orleans songwriter, musician Allen Toussaint dead at 77

By Hiram Lee, 12 November 2015

On tour at the time of his death, Toussaint suffered a heart attack following a performance at the Teatro Lara in Madrid, Spain.

Actress Maureen O’Hara dead at 95

By Hiram Lee, 28 October 2015

Irish-born actress Maureen O’Hara, star of The Quiet Man and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, died October 24 at the age of 95. She was one of the most compelling actresses of her generation.

Chris Squire, founding member of Yes, dead at 67

By Kevin Reed, 30 July 2015

The British-born bass player, song writer and vocalist for the progressive rock band Yes, died on June 27 at his home in Phoenix, Arizona. He was 67.

Free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman dead at 85

By Hiram Lee, 18 June 2015

Saxophonist Ornette Coleman helped to define the free jazz movement during an often controversial career spanning half a century.

An appraisal of German writer Günter Grass: 1927-2015

By Sybille Fuchs, Wolfgang Weber and Peter Schwarz, 25 April 2015

Günter Grass, who died at the age of 87 on April 13, was one of Germany’s most outstanding storytellers and a man who remained true to his political principles throughout his life.

Alan Seymour (1927–2015)—a critical voice against Australian militarism

By Kaye Tucker, 21 April 2015

Seymour’s most successful play The One Day of the Year is one of the very few that challenges the myths surrounding Anzac Day.

Philip Levine (1928–2015): A poet of working class life and struggle

By Dorota Niemitz and Matthew Brennan, 5 March 2015

The appeal of the Detroit native, who won a Pulitzer Prize and was named Poet Laureate of the US, was due in part to the accessibility and directness of his poems.

Former German President Richard von Weizsäcker dies

By Peter Schwarz, 2 February 2015

The glorification of Weizsäcker has less to do with his actual role than with the current political situation, amidst a resurgence of German militarism.

The historical and political issues in Selma

By Fred Mazelis and Tom Mackaman, 20 January 2015

Most attention has been focused on the relationship between Martin Luther King and Lyndon Johnson, but far deeper questions must be explored, including the significance of the mass movement against Jim Crow segregation, its political limitations and its fate.

To End All Wars: An anthology of antiwar comics about World War I

By Jeff Lusanne, 16 January 2015

Artists from around the world have contributed 26 comics depicting the criminality and brutality of World War I.

Singer Joe Cocker: 1944-2014

By James Brewer, 3 January 2015

The iconic British rock performer died on December 22 of lung cancer at the age of 70.

Film and theater director Mike Nichols dies at 83

By David Walsh, 22 November 2014

Nichols, whose career spanned five decades, was undoubtedly an artistically gifted individual, known for his sharp wit and urbanity as well as his considerable skill with actors.

An evaluation of South African novelist Nadine Gordimer (1923-2014)

By Sandy English, 30 September 2014

Writer Nadine Gordimer, winner of the 1991 Nobel Prize for Literature, died in Johannesburg at the age of 90 on July 13.

Actress Lauren Bacall, Hollywood star at 19, dies in New York

By David Walsh, 15 August 2014

Bacall, one of the few surviving performers prominently identified with Hollywood films in the 1940s, died at her home in New York City on Tuesday at the age of 89.

Comic actor and performer Robin Williams, dead at 63

By David Walsh, 13 August 2014

Williams was found dead on Monday at his home in Tiburon, California, in the San Francisco Bay Area, having apparently commited suicide.

Veteran soul singer Bobby Womack dies, aged 70

By Richard Phillips, 8 July 2014

One of the few remaining old-school soul singers still working, Womack left behind a remarkable body of work in rhythm and blues.

The career of popular songwriter Gerry Goffin (1939-2014)

By Hiram Lee, 7 July 2014

Lyricist Gerry Goffin passed away in June at the age of 75. Together with composer Carole King, he wrote many of the better known pop hits of the 1960s.

Eli Wallach (1915-2014): Major character actor of stage, screen and television

By Fred Mazelis, 27 June 2014

The actor’s career spanned 65 years and intersected with the work of many leading figures in the film and theater worlds.

Prolific composer and master jazz pianist Horace Silver dies at 85

By John Andrews, 24 June 2014

Horace Silver, the noted pianist and composer central to the hard bop school of jazz, has passed away, leaving a legacy of outstanding recordings made during the 1950s and 1960s.

Ruby Dee, American actress and activist, dead at 91

By David Walsh, 14 June 2014

Dee won Grammy, Emmy, Obie, Drama Desk and Screen Actors Guild awards during her remarkable acting career, and was also nominated for an Academy Award for her role in American Gangster (2007).

Gabriel García Márquez: A giant in the literature of the Americas

By Rafael Azul, 14 May 2014

The Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez, one of the major literary figures of the past half-century, died in Mexico City on April 17 at the age of 87.

British actor Bob Hoskins (1942-2014): “When you’ve got something to give, give it without hesitation”

By Paul Bond, 10 May 2014

Hoskins was a fine performer, never less than watchable, and able to combine vulnerability with explosive anger.

Mickey Rooney, popular film star of the 1930s and 1940s, dies

By David Walsh, 8 April 2014

Longtime film, television and stage actor Mickey Rooney died on Sunday at the age of 93. Rooney was one of the most popular American movie stars in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Alain Resnais (1922-2014), a major figure in postwar filmmaking

By David Walsh, 12 March 2014

Unlike virtually any other leading filmmaker, Resnais chose to treat colonialism in Africa, the Holocaust and World War II, the atomic bombing of Japan, the Algerian War, the Spanish Civil War and the Vietnam War.

Cultural theorist Stuart Hall (1932-2014): A political career dedicated to opposing Marxism

By Paul Bond, 5 March 2014

Cultural Studies, in which Stuart Hall specialised, sought to shift the focus of social criticism away from class and onto other social formations, promoting the development of identity politics.