10 Celebrity Deaths of 2014

Each year writers, pundits and others submit lists of important deaths the world experienced during the past twelve months. A prominent example for the past several years has been the year-end issue of the New York Times?Sunday Magazine. Titled “The Lives They Lived,” each thoughtful entry has included a mix of well-known individuals alongside lesser lights. Those choices have been debated, praised, panned and mimicked. Other newspapers, blogs, magazines, and media outlets offer their tributes as well: the Chicago Tribune?and AARP and many others.

Thus my list of 10 celebrity deaths of 2014. Some may not be of superstar quality, but I think these people made their mark, both good and bad. In addition, I listed some of these people because I met them, or I knew people who did know them, and I had a personal connection in some six-degrees way. Several had a connection to my hometown, New York City.

1. Richard C. Hottelet, December 17

The noted journalist was one of the “Murrow’s Boys,” and reported during World War Two. He was arrested by the Germans as a spy. Much of his best work was for CBS. He was born in Brooklyn and attended Brooklyn College, as I did.

2. Claire Barry, November 22

The singer-performer was part of the Barry Sisters but her sister Merna predeceased her. Claire Barry was a major force in Yiddish and klezmer music, ethnic Jewish styles. She had a wonderful voice. However, one time, at a multi-act outdoor concert, my family and I got into an argument with her because she thought my older daughter was making too much noise. (Honestly, the kid wasn’t.) To make amends, I add her name to my list.

3. Pete Seeger, January 27

A dedicated folk singer, peace and environment activist, and all-around mensch, Pete Seeger was remarkable. Self-effacing to a fault, he entertained and educated people of all ages. I met him in the mid-2000s at the annual Clearwater Festival in New York. I walked up to him and asked a question about banjo-playing technique; his answer to me was “You have to treat it like a rhythm instrument.”

Pete Seeger
Pete Seeger Photo source: By Dan Tappan (originally posted to Flickr as p1190509.jpg) via Wikimedia Commons

4. Ralph Kiner, February 6

An outstanding baseball player for crummy teams, and later an outstanding television announcer for an often-crummy team (the Mets), Kiner had wit, insight and a great saying for a home run– “It is gone, goodbye!” As a lifelong and oft-suffering Mets fan, I salute him.

5. Ann B. Davis, June 1

She was best-known as Alice, the wiseacre housekeeper for “The Brady Bunch” TV show, and had some of the best lines in each episode. As a 1970s kid, I always got a kick out of her performances, as did most of my peers.

6. Herman Badillo, December 3

The first United States Representative of Puerto Rican heritage, as well as the first Bronx Borough President, he was a familiar face and voice in New York City for decades. He was also an author, and switched from the Democrats to the Republicans at some point, which caused a minor stir.

7. Tommy Ramone, July 11

The first drummer for the Ramones. A celebrated record producer. Later a bluegrass musician. He was really funny in radio interviews. Born in Hungary to Holocaust-survivor parents, he lived most of his life in Queens.

8. Phil Everly, January 3

Along with his brother Don, the two had a string of early rock ‘n roll hits as the Everly Brothers. “All I Have to Do is Dream” and”Wake Up Little Susie” are two of their signature tunes. Although they had some nasty battles and break-ups, I saw them in concert in my neighborhood when I was in college. They were promoting their hit “On the Wings of a Nightingale” and played Midwood Field, our local football field. It was an amazing show.

9. Joan Rivers, September 4

Wickedly funny, self-deprecating, extremely opinionated, but often touching. Like me, a Barnard College graduate.

10. Marion Barry, November 23

A multi-term mayor of Washington, DC and a member of the City Council there, Mr. Barry become notorious for being caught on camera with a crack pipe. Also a major civil rights speaker and sometime tax scofflaw. A real character.

Marion Barry Photo source: By dbking (File:Marion Barry Vincent Gray.jpg) via Wikimedia Commons

There you have it, my 2014 list of 10, covering a variety of professions, opinions, and dominions. Rest in peace.

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ellen levitt bio pic photo

Ellen Levitt?is the author of?The Lost Synagogues of Brooklyn?(2009),?The Lost Synagogues of the Bronx and Queens?(2011) and?The Lost Synagogues of Manhattan?(2013). (And hopefully a book about NJ one day, if her publisher gives the green light.)


Ellen Levitt is the author of The Lost Synagogues of Brooklyn (2009), The Lost Synagogues of the Bronx and Queens (2011) and The Lost Synagogues of Manhattan (2013), all published by Avotaynu. She is a lifelong New Yorker, a veteran public school teacher, writer and photographer. Bird lover as well.