Arts Obituaries

Heath Ledger dead at 28: a life tragically cut short

By Richard Phillips, 31 January 2008

The sudden death on January 22 in New York City of Australian actor Heath Ledger, best known for his role as Ennis Del Mar in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, has seen an outpouring of heartfelt tributes by filmmakers, actors and movie fans around the world.

Obituary: Grace Paley and political culture

By Sandy English, 19 October 2007

Grace Paley, the American short-story writer and political activist, died on August 22, aged 84. She described the lives of ordinary New Yorkers in the postwar period more ably than almost any other writer of her generation. She wrote in an ironic tone that implied, at its best, that there were historical processes latent within the travails of daily life.

Drummer Max Roach dies: Last of the bebop pioneers

By John Andrews, 20 August 2007

On August 16, jazz lost one of its most admired and significant figures when drummer Max Roach died in New York City following a long illness. He was 83.

Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007): An appreciation and a lament

By Marty Jonas, 17 August 2007

With the coincidental deaths of film directors Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman on Monday, July 30, we note not just the passing of two great artists, but the passing on of a great generation of world cinema. The World Socialist Web Site has already covered the career of Antonioni; I will make some comments on the significance of Bergman.

Sustaining a humanist approach in the twentieth century: George Tabori (1914-2007)

By Stefan Steinberg, 30 July 2007

The Hungarian-born playwright George Tabori (born György Tábori) has died in Berlin, at the age of 93. He continued to work actively in theatre until the end and the head of the Berliner Ensemble theatre and Tabori’s last employer, Claus Peymann, was proud to describe his friend as the oldest active director in the world. A warm, friendly man who sought close collaboration with his co-workers and actors, Tabori was held in high esteem by many of those he had worked with over a period of decades.

Sustaining a humanist approach in the twentieth century: George Tabori (1914-2007)

By Stefan Steinberg, 30 July 2007

The Hungarian-born playwright George Tabori (born György Tábori) has died in Berlin, at the age of 93. He continued to work actively in theatre until the end and the head of the Berliner Ensemble theatre and Tabori’s last employer, Claus Peymann, was proud to describe his friend as the oldest active director in the world. A warm, friendly man who sought close collaboration with his co-workers and actors, Tabori was held in high esteem by many of those he had worked with over a period of decades.

Ousmane Sembène, major figure in African cinema, dead at 84

By Joanne Laurier, 13 June 2007

One of the pioneering figures in African cinema, the Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembène, died over this past weekend in Dakar at the age of 84. Sembène authored numerous works of fiction and directed 10 feature films. At the time of the release on DVD of two of his earliest films, the WSWS posted the following article 17 January 2006 about his life and work.

Obituary: Kurt Vonnegut, satirist and pessimist

By Sandy English, 27 April 2007

The American writer Kurt Vonnegut died on April 11 at the age of 84 from injuries to his brain suffered during a fall several weeks earlier.

Shakespearean gravitas in political satire: British actor Ian Richardson dead at 72

By Paul Bond, 15 February 2007

Even actors of great versatility and range are sometimes remembered for one or two roles. Ian Richardson, who has died suddenly aged 72, is a case in point.

James Brown, one of the greats of post-war American popular music

By Richard Phillips, 17 January 2007

Last month saw the passing of James Brown, a giant of American rhythm and blues and a key initiator of the soul, funk and rap music genres. Brown was admitted to an Atlanta hospital on December 24 and died, aged 73, on Christmas morning from congestive heart failure caused by pneumonia.

Obituary: Naguib Mahfouz, novelist of Egypt and humanity

By Sandy English, 15 December 2006

“There are many kinds of heroes in ancient Arabic literature, all of them horsemen, knights. But a hero today would for me be one who adheres to a certain set of principles and stands by them in the face of opposition”—Naguib Mahfouz, Paris Review interview

Pianist Jay McShann, last of Kansas City’s jazz giants, dies at 90

By John Andrews, 12 December 2006

Pianist, singer and bandleader Jay McShann died Thursday, one month before his 91st birthday. Fittingly, he passed away in Kansas City, Missouri, his adopted hometown and one of the most significant incubators of modern jazz.

An appreciation of jazz singer Anita O’Day, 1919-2006

By John Andrews, 28 November 2006

Anita O’Day, one of the great vocalists in jazz history, passed away Thanksgiving Day in a West Los Angeles convalescent hospital at the age of 87. She left no survivors. Her death from cardiac arrest due to pneumonia was announced by her manager.

American filmmaker Robert Altman dead at 81

By David Walsh, 23 November 2006

Robert Altman, whose film and television directing career began in the 1950s, died in Los Angeles Monday at the age of 81. He had been battling cancer for at least 18 months. Altman, as he revealed when he accepted an honorary award at the 2006 Academy Awards ceremony, also underwent a heart transplant some time in the 1990s. He was one of the most interesting filmmakers of the post-studio era in Hollywood, responsible for such works as McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), Nashville (1975), The Player (1992), Short Cuts (1993) and Gosford Park (2001).

Gillo Pontecorvo, Italian director of The Battle of Algiers, dead at 86

A 2004 interview with the WSWS

18 October 2006

Gillo Pontecorvo, the Italian filmmaker best known for directing Battle of Algiers (1966), died October 12 at a hospital in Rome at the age of 86. The cause of death was not immediately revealed, but the director had suffered a heart attack in recent months.

“To Each Time Its Art, to Art Its Freedom”

Modernist architect Harry Seidler dies in Australia

By Paul Bartizan, 20 June 2006

Australian architect Harry Seidler died March 9, aged 82, nearly a year after suffering a massive stroke, from which he never fully recovered. Seidler was an uncompromising, passionate and skilled architect who designed over 180 buildings in a career spanning more than half a century.

“America’s American”dreamer: poet Robert Creeley (1926-2005)

By Andrew Linder, 8 June 2006

Robert Creeley, the foremost surviving promoter and practitioner of the modernist poetics of William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound and Louis Zukofsky, died last year on March 30, his lungs giving out in a hospital in Odessa, Texas, of all places. The poet breathed his last after a three-hour drive through the arid planes of Big Bend country of the Texas panhandle, oil-boom towns, far from his beloved New England trees.

“Be persistent in exploring human nature, and dare to run around in no-man’s land”

Veteran Japanese director Shohei Imamura dies

By Richard Phillips, 6 June 2006

Shohei Imamura, one of Japan’s most interesting and prolific post-World War II filmmakers died on May 30 from liver cancer. The 79-year-old director and scriptwriter is survived by a wife, daughter and two sons. He was a key figure in the Nuberu Bagu (Japanese New Wave) and best known for his innovative, often dark, portrayals of social life in contemporary Japan.

Pramoedya Ananta Toer, novelist of the colonial oppressed, dead at 81

By Sandy English, 5 May 2006

On April 29, the Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer died at his daughter’s home in East Jakarta, aged 81, of heart disease and complications from diabetes.

Arthur Miller, an American playwright

By David Walsh, 21 February 2005

Death puts an end to the ongoing effort that most artists consider a “work in progress” until the final moments. The body of work, like it or not, is then a finished product, vulnerable to evaluation as a whole. The commentators, for better or worse, will have their day.

Veteran British surrealist dies

By Paul Bond, 2 February 2005

Conroy Maddox, who died aged 92 on January 14, occupies an important place in the history of surrealism in Britain. He was the last survivor of the surrealist group that formed before the Second World War. More significantly, he remained fiercely loyal to surrealism throughout his life. He was described by Silvano Levy, the author of a recent monograph on him, as “Britain’s most committed, energetic, and enduring exponent of surrealism.”

Artie Shaw: a remarkable twentieth-century American life

By John Andrews, 4 January 2005

One of the more interesting lives in recent American culture ended on December 30, 2004, when clarinetist and bandleader Artie Shaw passed away at his modest book-filled home in the Los Angeles suburb of Newbury Park. He was 94 and apparently died of the effects of old age.

A painter of raw nerve: Leon Golub, 1922-2004

By Sandy English, 14 October 2004

Leon Golub, the most important political painter in the United States in the postwar era, died in August at the age of 82. An honest and innovative artist who was deeply concerned with the lives of beleaguered human beings, Golub’s art stands out from the confusion, self-absorption and sycophancy of the contemporary American art world.

Henri Cartier-Bresson dies—a pioneer of modern photography

By Richard Phillips, 23 August 2004

“The intensive use of the photographs by the mass media lays ever fresh responsibilities upon the photographer.... We must take greater care than ever not to allow ourselves to be separated from the real world and humanity.”

Marlon Brando, 1924-2004

By David Walsh, 3 July 2004

Perhaps the greatest American actor of his generation, Marlon Brando, died Friday in Los Angeles. Brando was 80 years old.

A survivor against the odds—noted New Zealand writer Janet Frame dies

By Margaret Rees, 2 March 2004

Prolific author Janet Frame died on January 29 of leukemia aged 79. She was one of New Zealand’s best-known writers and her life became the subject of Jane Campion’s 1990 film An Angel at My Table, which earned her books an even wider audience.

Alan Bates (1934-2003)—a key figure in British drama

By Paul Bond, 19 January 2004

Alan Bates, who died aged 69 on December 27, 2003, was an actor with as celebrated a record on screen as on stage. He was at the forefront of his craft for over 40 years, working with most of the major writers and directors of the contemporary British stage and screen.

Johnny Cash: a timeless voice of country music

By Richard Phillips, 2 October 2003

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Elia Kazan: director, HUAC informer dead at 94

30 September 2003

Hollywood director Elia Kazan died September 28 at age 94. Kazan directed 19 feature films between 1945 and 1976 that garnered a total of 20 Academy Awards. He was a founder and longtime co-director of the prestigious Actors Studio and a co-founder of the first repertory theater at Lincoln Center in New York City.

“Reality doesn’t interest me...”

Leni Riefenstahl—propagandist for the Third Reich

By Stefan Steinberg, 15 September 2003

The German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl died September 8 at the age of 101. Riefenstahl is above all known for her close collaboration with the Nazi regime in the thirties, when at Hitler’s personal instigation she played a major role in establishing the public image of National Socialism in Germany and abroad. Shaken by the collapse of the Third Reich and discredited by her role in Nazi Germany, Riefenstahl had problems picking up the pieces of her film career after the Second World War. Among her better-known projects in the post-war period were photographic books of African Nuba tribesmen. Her last assignment was an underwater film.

Obituary: John Schlesinger, filmmaker, 1926-2003

By Paul Bond, 8 August 2003

When news was announced of the death of John Schlesinger, at the age of 77, I confess to ambivalence. One of the four major British film directors of the early 1960s, his output was huge and uneven. While there was much of interest, particularly in the way he worked with actors, the results were mixed. This reflected his determination to work at all costs; frequently, what suffered was the quality of the material.

Obituary: Joe Strummer of The Clash, dead at 50

By Paul Bond, 13 January 2003

Joe Strummer, one of the most articulate voices of the British punk scene of the late 1970s, died of a heart attack on December 22, 2002, aged 50. With his band The Clash, he helped forge a lasting legacy: his restless musical curiosity gave the lie to the caricatured image of punk as a mindless two-chord thrash, while his acute lyrics set a benchmark for song-writing that tackled political and social themes.

Actor Richard Harris: a great talent only occasionally fulfilled

By Paul Bond, 30 October 2002

The actor Richard Harris, who died October 25 aged 72, was one of a number of his contemporaries who more often than was seemly traded their talent for a dubious celebrity. In some cases it is difficult to remember why they were thought to be great actors in the first place. What is remarkable about Harris is that when he found himself working on material worthy of his abilities, his gifts were still evident.

Issues raised by the career of US filmmaker John Frankenheimer

By David Walsh, 19 July 2002

The American film director John Frankenheimer died in Los Angeles of a stroke July 6 after complications from surgery. He was 72. Frankenheimer is best known for works he directed in the 1960s, The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May and The Birdman of Alcatraz in particular. After suffering a decline in the 1970s and 1980s, Frankenheimer returned to some prominence, primarily as a director of historical films for television ( Andersonville, George Wallace), in the mid-1990s. His most recent effort was Path to War, which examined the process by which the US, under Lyndon B. Johnson, became embroiled in a full-scale intervention in Vietnam.

Ray Brown, jazz bass virtuoso, dies

By John Andrews, 10 July 2002

After an extraordinary 55-year career, bassist Ray Brown died suddenly while napping before a performance scheduled in Indianapolis for the evening of July 2. Brown was 75.

Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri (1932-2002)

Pioneer of contemporary Aboriginal art dies

By Susan Allan, 4 July 2002

Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, one of the acknowledged pioneers of the contemporary Australian Aboriginal art movement which emerged at Papunya settlement in central Australia in the early 1970s, died in Alice Springs on June 21. A co-founder of the audacious Papunya Tula style and the first Aboriginal painter to be critically acclaimed by art patrons in Europe and North America, Clifford Possum’s life bore all the scars of poverty and racist oppression confronting Aborigines in central Australia in the 20th century.

Billy Wilder, filmmaker and satirist, dead at 95

By David Walsh, 3 April 2002

Director Billy Wilder, whose films were renowned for their wit, cynicism and satirical edge, died March 27 in Beverly Hills, California at the age of 95. Wilder, Austrian-born, but in the US since 1934, directed his last film in 1981. Among his best-known works are Double Indemnity (1944), Sunset Boulevard (1950), Stalag 17 (1953), Some Like It Hot (1959) and The Apartment (1960).

Leading Australian documentary filmmaker dies

Robin Anderson (1950-2002)

By Richard Phillips, 18 March 2002

Robin Anderson, rightly regarded as one of Australia’s best documentary filmmakers, died on March 8, aged 51, after a nine-month struggle with cancer. Anderson was diagnosed with a rare form of the disease in June last year, the day before her last movie— Facing the Music —premiered at the Sydney Film Festival. A reluctant publicist of her own work, the quietly-spoken Anderson co-directed with Bob Connolly, her husband and filmmaking partner, five feature-length documentaries between 1983 and 2001 that have left an ineradicable mark on the genre.

"I told you I was ill," Spike Milligan (1918-2002)

By Paul Bond, 7 March 2002

Spike Milligan, who died February 27 aged 83, was the single most important figure of post-war British comedy. His radio scripts for The Goon Show, his television series Q, his novels and war memoirs have been cited as an influence by practically every significant innovator in comedy over the last four decades. Though virtually unknown across the Atlantic, contemporary performers as varied as Eddie Izzard and Robin Williams have acknowledged that his legacy not only influenced them, but also inspired their own development.

Dave Van Ronk, folk and blues artist, dead at 65

By Fred Mazelis, 14 February 2002

Dave Van Ronk, the acclaimed blues and folk singer, guitarist, songwriter and teacher, died February 10 at the age of 65. His death came three months after surgery for colon cancer.

Why was Stanley Kramer so unfashionable at the time of his death?

By David Walsh, 26 February 2001

American film director and producer Stanley Kramer, who died February 22 in Woodland Hills, California, was one of those unfortunate once-prominent artists who are best known by the time of their death, fairly or unfairly, for their defects and limitations. The producer of Champion (1949), Home of the Brave (1949) and The Wild One (1954) and director of The Defiant Ones (1958), On the Beach (1959) and Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), Kramer's reputation as the somewhat heavy-handed conveyor of liberal themes and sentiments attached itself to any discussion of his work. He was known for his concerns with racism (Home of the Brave, The Defiant Ones and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner [1967]), fascism (Judgment at Nuremberg, Ship of Fools (1965) and war (On the Beach).

Japanese filmmaker dead at 88

Akira Kurosawa’s achievement

By David Walsh, 9 September 1998

The Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa died at his home in Tokyo September 6 at the age of 88. Kurosawa, who made 28 films between 1943 and 1993, belonged to that generation of European and Asian directors whose works dominated the international art film world in the 1950s and 1960s. One thinks of such figures as Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni, Satyijat Ray, Luis Buñuel, Luchino Visconti, Robert Bresson and Roberto Rossellini, all now either dead or inactive.

Alfred Kazin, champion of American literature: An appreciation

By Fred Mazelis, 26 June 1998

Alfred Kazin, the noted literary critic whose memoirs forcefully evoked the immigrant experience in early twentieth century America as well as the political and cultural odyssey of the intelligentsia over the past 60 years, died on June 5, his eighty-third birthday.