Arts Obituaries

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.

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.

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.

Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman dead at 46

By Hiram Lee, 3 February 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman, the award-winning American film and stage actor, has died of an apparent drug overdose at the age of 46.

The unknown women of Joan Fontaine (1917-2013)

By Hiram Lee, 1 February 2014

Actress Joan Fontaine, who passed away in December at the age of 96, contributed a number of remarkable performances to Hollywood films of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.

American folksinger Pete Seeger dead, at 94

By David Walsh, 30 January 2014

In a career that lasted almost three quarters of a century, Seeger wrote, co-wrote or was identified with a number of the most popular folk or protest songs of the second half of the twentieth century.

Argentine poet Juan Gelman dies in Mexico City at 83

By Rafael Azul, 29 January 2014

Argentine poet Juan Gelman died in Mexico city on January 14. Gelman was considered one of the most important Spanish-language poets, as well as a fighter against the Latin American dictatorships of the 1970s.

Amiri Baraka (1934-2014): Poet, playwright, black nationalist

By Fred Mazelis, 18 January 2014

The career and legacy of Amiri Baraka reveal, above all, the dead end of black nationalism, as well as communalism and ethnic-based cultural exclusivism of every kind.

Frank Wess, Chico Hamilton, Yusef Lateef: A tribute to three important jazz musicians

By D. Lencho, 8 January 2014

These great, although lesser-known figures in jazz, who died in the last few months of 2013, left a legacy of beautiful music.

An appreciation of Phil Everly and the Everly Brothers

By Hiram Lee, 7 January 2014

Singer Phil Everly, one half of the early Rock ‘n’ Roll duo The Everly Brothers, has died at the age of 74.

“I will stir the smooth sands of monotony:” Peter O’Toole, 1932-2013

By Paul Bond, 23 December 2013

Actor Peter O’Toole, one of the remarkable film and stage actors of his generation, died December 14 at 81.

Novelist Doris Lessing (1919-2013) and the long retreat

By Sandy English, 9 December 2013

Doris Lessing, the Nobel Prize winning novelist , died at age 94 in London on November 11. She produced over 50 novels and scores of short stories.

On the death of literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki (1920-2013): A passionate advocate of literature—Part 1

By Sybille Fuchs, 31 October 2013

Polish-born literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki was one of the most important figures in contemporary German cultural life.

American musician, performer Lou Reed dead at 71

By Hiram Lee, 29 October 2013

Lou Reed, founder of the influential rock band The Velvet Underground, has died at the age of 71.

Bobby “Blue” Bland (1930-2013): An appreciation

By Hiram Lee, 27 August 2013

Rhythm and blues great Bobby “Blue” Bland, whose hits included “Cry, Cry, Cry” and “Turn on Your Lovelight,” died this summer at the age of 83.

Actor James Gandolfini, lead actor in The Sopranos, dies at 51

By David Walsh, 21 June 2013

American actor James Gandolfini, best known for his role in The Sopranos, died in Rome on Wednesday night.

Ray Manzarek, a founding member of The Doors, dead at 74

By Hiram Lee, 25 May 2013

Ray Manzarek, keyboardist of the 1960s rock band The Doors, died May 20 at the age of 74.

Country music legend George Jones dead at 81

By Hiram Lee, 29 April 2013

Legendary country singer George Jones died in Nashville on April 26. A remarkable performer, Jones was a significant figure in American popular music during the second half of the 20th century.

Remembering Cleotha Staples and the Staple Singers

By Hiram Lee, 10 April 2013

Singer Cleotha Staples of the popular gospel, folk and R&B group the Staple Singers, died recently at the age of 78.

Van Cliburn, US pianist who achieved fame at Moscow competition, dead at 78

By Fred Mazelis, 2 March 2013

A musician who became world-famous more than half a century ago, Van Cliburn had a career that was noteworthy, even if he never achieved the potential that seemed possible in his youth.

Donald Byrd, extraordinary jazz trumpeter, dies at 80

By John Andrews, 11 February 2013

Donald Byrd, a trumpet master associated with the post-bebop jazz that emerged in New York City during the 1950s and 1960s, died last week at the age of 80.

Ravi Shankar, acclaimed Indian musician, dies at 92

By Kapila Fernando, K. Ratnayake and Peter Symonds, 20 December 2012

What was unique about Ravi Shankar was the breadth of his interests, willingness to experiment and passion for making classical Indian music available to the world.

Jazz musician Dave Brubeck dies at 91

By Hiram Lee, 10 December 2012

A significant figure in postwar American culture, Brubeck’s classic 1959 album Time Out sold a million copies, the first jazz album to hold that distinction.

Elliott Carter (1908-2012) and the crisis of contemporary music

By Fred Mazelis, 6 December 2012

American composer Elliott Carter reflected the trajectory of Western classical music in the past century.

Art History with a capital A and H: Art critic and social historian Robert Hughes (1938-2012)

By Clare Hurley, 30 August 2012

Australian-born art critic and social historian Robert Hughes (The Shock of the New, The Fatal Shore) died August 6 in New York City after a long illness.

American writer and liberal thinker Gore Vidal, 1925-2012

By Sandy English, 27 August 2012

Gore Vidal, novelist, playwright, essayist and one-time television personality, died July 31 at his home in Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles.

Kitty Wells, “Queen of Country Music” (1919-2012)

By Hiram Lee, 23 July 2012

Country music icon Kitty Wells died July 16 at her home in Nashville, Tennessee.

Film critic Andrew Sarris 1928-2012: An appreciation

An interview with film critic Andrew Sarris

By David Walsh, 26 June 2012

One of the leading American film critics of the past half-century, Andrew Sarris, died in New York City on June 20. The WSWS is reposting an interview we did with Sarris and a review of one of his later books. The interview includes a new introduction.

Film critic Andrew Sarris 1928-2012: An appreciation

Andrew Sarris and American filmmaking

By David Walsh, 26 June 2012

The World Socialist Web Site is reposting here an article originally published on July 1, 1998. See also the accompanying interview with Andrew Sarris, also from 1998, with a new introduction following his death June 20.

Science fiction writer Ray Bradbury: 1920-2012

By Christine Schofelt and Hector Cordon, 14 June 2012

The American science fiction and fantasy writer Ray Bradbury was one of the most influential popular authors for the generation that grew up after the Second World War.

Science fiction writer Steven Brust on the death of Ray Bradbury

14 June 2012

Science fiction and fantasy writer Steven Brust, best known for the Vlad Taltos series of novels, offers the WSWS a comment on Ray Bradbury, who died June 5.

Guitar and folk music great Doc Watson dead at 89

By Hiram Lee, 8 June 2012

Legendary guitarist and folk singer Doc Watson died May 29 in North Carolina.

Remembering Maurice Sendak

By Christine Schofelt, 7 June 2012

Beloved author and illustrator Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are and many others) died May 8.

Donald “Duck” Dunn, legendary bass player, dead at 70

By James Brewer, 26 May 2012

Booker T. and the M.G.’s bass player Donald “Duck” Dunn, died suddenly while on tour in Tokyo on May 13.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, one of the great vocal artists of the 20th century, dies at 86

By Dorian Griscom, 25 May 2012

The German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was renowned for his interpretations of Schubert, Schumann and Brahms songs, but his repertoire included opera and oratorio as well.

Obituary: Hilton Kramer, art critic and neoconservative

By Sandy English, 3 May 2012

Hilton Kramer spoke for some of the most retrograde forces in American culture.

Dick Clark, longtime host of American Bandstand, dead at 82

By Hiram Lee, 25 April 2012

Broadcaster and entrepreneur Dick Clark, host of the long-running teen dance show American Bandstand, died April 18.

Levon Helm, the distinctive voice of The Band, dies at 71

By James Brewer, 23 April 2012

After 14-year bout with cancer, Levon Helm, the drummer and singer of The Band, dies in New York.

Bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs dies at 88

By Hiram Lee, 31 March 2012

Earl Scruggs, a pioneering figure in Bluegrass music and an innovator on the 5-string Banjo, has died at the age of 88.

The death of Whitney Houston

By Hiram Lee, 13 February 2012

American popular singer Whitney Houston has died in Los Angeles at the age of 48.

American actor Ben Gazzara (1930-2012)

By David Walsh, 9 February 2012

Ben Gazzara had a long career in film, theater and television, which began in the mid-1950s. He worked with numerous interesting directors, although he seems to have found the greatest artistic satisfaction working with John Cassavetes.

The death of Greek filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos

“I no longer deal with politics, with generalisations. I have stopped understanding them.”

By Stefan Steinberg, 27 January 2012

In many respects Angelopoulos expresses the artistic and political crisis of a generation of intellectuals who tragically failed to come to grips with the traumas of the past century and the extraordinary social and intellectual challenges of the new.

“Sing like your life depends on it”: Etta James—1938-2012

By Paul Bond, 26 January 2012

Etta James had an instantly recognisable voice, sinuous, tender and harsh in equal measure. She died a few days short of her 74th birthday.

Johnny Otis, R&B’s renaissance man, dies at 90

By Hiram Lee, 24 January 2012

Influential R&B musician Johnny Otis, best-known for the hit dance record “Willie and the Hand Jive” died January 17 at the age of 90.

Blues guitarist Hubert Sumlin (1931-2011): “Feel the soul and the pain”

By Paul Bond, 5 January 2012

The longtime sideman for Chicago blues great Howlin’ Wolf, Hubert Sumlin, died last month at the age of 80.

“Understatement never won a war”: British filmmaker Ken Russell (1927-2011)

By Paul Bond, 29 December 2011

British filmmaker Ken Russell, who directed Women in Love, The Music Lovers, The Devils and many other works, died last month aged 84.

Jazz drummer Paul Motian (1931-2011)

By Hiram Lee, 28 December 2011

Jazz drummer Paul Motian, a member of the classic Bill Evans Trio of the early 1960s, died recently at the age of 80.

Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure of an American Director—a new biography of a major American filmmaker

By Charles Bogle, 12 September 2011

In writing Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure of an American Director, biographer Patrick McGilligan has performed the valuable service of tracing the fitful arc of a great and troubled director’s life and career.

Motown songwriter Nick Ashford dies at 70

By Hiram Lee, 6 September 2011

Songwriter Nick Ashford who, along with his wife Valerie Simpson, wrote several significant hits for Motown records in the late 1960s, has died at age 70.