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Looking Back - Dec. 30, 2012

History column

Each week Albany Herald researcher Mary Braswell looks for interesting events, places and people from the past. You can contact her at (229) 888-9371 or mary.braswell@albanyherald.com.

As the year winds down, here is a look at just a few of the lives that ended in 2012. Most of the names are familiar ones...people that brought laughter, goodwill, entertainment, change or perhaps a combination of all these things.

Etta James, with her powerful, versatile and emotionally direct voice, could enliven the blues as well as the love songs. She is in both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame. She died on Jan. 20 at 73 in Riverside, California. Did you know that James had her first professional vocal training at age five?

Joe Paterno, who won more games than any other major-college football coach, became the face of Penn State and a symbol of integrity in collegiate athletics, only to be fired during the 2011 season amid a child sexual abuse scandal. He died on Jan. 22 in State College, Pa., at 85.

The smooth-voiced television host Don Cornelius brought black music and culture into America’s living rooms when he created the dance show “Soul Train,” one of the longest-running syndicated shows in television history. He was found dead on Feb.. 1 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in Los Angeles. He was 75. Did you know that before “Soul Train” Cornelius served in the U.S. Marine Corps, spending 18 months in Korea?

Whitney Houston emerged in the 1980s as one of her generation’s greatest R&B voices, only to deteriorate through years of cocaine use and an abusive marriage. Hers was the voice behind songs as perky as “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” and as torchy as “I Will Always Love You.” She died on Feb. 11 in Beverly Hills, Calif., at 48.

Earl Scruggs, banjo player whose hard-driving picking style helped shape the sound of 20th-century country music. With his guitar-strumming partner, Lester Flatt, Scruggs reached his widest audiences with “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” and “The Ballad of Jed Clampett.” He died on March 28 in Nashville at 88.

Ferdinand A. Porsche designed the original Porsche 911, the snazzy, powerful sports car that became the lasting signature of the German automobile company founded by his grandfather and later run by his father. He died on April 5 in Salzburg, Austria, at 76.

The CBS reporter Mike Wallace was one of America’s best-known broadcast journalists as an interrogator on “60 Minutes.” He died on April 7 in New Canaan, Conn., at 93.

With his long-running daytime song-and-dance fest, “American Bandstand,” the perpetually youthful-looking television host Dick Clark did as much as anyone or anything to advance the influence of teenagers and rock ’n’ roll on American culture. He died on April 18 in Santa Monica, Calif., at 82. Did you know that Clark was a huge “Flintstone” fan and owned a ‘Bedrock’ inspired estate in Malibu?

Maurice Sendak, widely considered one of the most important authors and illustrators of children’s books of the 20th century, took the picture book to a new level with “Where the Wild Things Are.” He died on May 8 in Danbury, Conn., at 83.

The hairdresser Vidal Sassoon changed the way women wore and cared for their hair with a kind of architectural cut in the late 1950s and early ’60s and later with his own line of beauty products. He died on May 9 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 84.

Donna Summer, the multimillion-selling singer and songwriter, captured both the 1970s disco era and the feisty female solidarity of the early 1980s. She died on May 17 at her home in Naples, Fla., at 63.

Ray Bradbury, a master of science fiction whose imaginative writings of the future reflected both the optimism and the anxieties of his own postwar America, died on June 5 in Los Angeles. He was 91. Did you know that by age 12, Bradbury was writing four hours per day? From 1938 - 1942, he sold newspapers on the street during the day and wrote at night.

Rodney G. King, whose 1991 videotaped beating by the Los Angeles police became a symbol of the nation’s continuing racial tensions and subsequently led to a week of deadly race riots after the officers were acquitted, was found dead on June 17 in a swimming pool at the home he shared with his fiancée in Rialto, Calif. He was 47.

Andy Griffith charmed audiences for more than 50 years on Broadway, in movies, on albums and especially on television, most notably as Andy Taylor, the small-town sheriff of the fictional Mayberry, N.C., in “The Andy Griffith Show.” He died on July 3 at 86 at his home on Roanoke Island in North Carolina.

Ernest Borgnine seemed destined for tough-guy characters, but he won an Academy Award for embodying the gentlest of souls, a lonely Bronx butcher, in the 1955 film “Marty,“ and later showed his comic touch as the title character in the popular 1960s sitcom “McHale’s Navy.” He died on July 8 in Los Angeles at 95.

Kitty Wells was on the verge of quitting music to be a homemaker when she recorded a hit in 1952. “Honky Tonk Angels” struck a chord with women and began opening doors for them in country music. Wells died on July 16 at her home in Madison, Tenn. She was 92.

Sally Ride, a physicist who was accepted into the space program in 1978 after she answered a newspaper ad for astronauts and who later became the first American woman to fly in space, died on July 23 at her home in San Diego. She was 61. Did you know that Ride spent a total of 14 days, seven hours and 46 minutes in space?

Sherman Hemsley, the comic actor who portrayed the newly rich George Jefferson on the hit CBS sitcom “The Jeffersons,” died on July 24 at his home in El Paso. He was 74.

Robert S. Ledley, a dentist turned biomedical researcher and computing trailblazer who invented the first CT scanner capable of producing cross-sectional images of any part of the human body, died on July 24 in Kensington, Md. He was 86.

Phyllis Diller, whose sassy, screeching, rapid-fire stand-up comedy helped open the door for two generations of funny women, died on Aug. 20 at her home in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. She was 95.

J. Christopher Stevens, the United States ambassador to Libya, died in an assault on the consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11. He became the first United States ambassador killed in an attack while on duty since 1979. He was 52.

Andy Williams, the boyishly handsome crooner who defined both easy listening and wholesome, easygoing charm for many American pop music fans in the 1960s, most notably with his signature song, “Moon River,” died on Sept. 25 at his home in Branson, Mo. He was 84.

George McGovern, the United States senator who won the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 1972 as an opponent of the war in Vietnam and a champion of liberal causes, and who was then soundly defeated by President Richard M. Nixon in the general election, died on Oct. 21 in Sioux Falls, S.D. He was 90.

Larry Hagman, whose portrayal of one of television’s most beloved villains, J. R. Ewing, led the CBS series “Dallas” to enormous worldwide popularity, died on Nov. 23 in Dallas. He was 81.

N. Joseph Woodland, along with his college classmate Bernard Silver, conceived the modern bar code. The duo tried to sell their patented idea to IBM but decided the offer was too low and sold it instead to Philco, reportedly for just $15,000. He died on Dec. 9 at 91.