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Opinion: Folks who left us in 2021

“Mama always said, dying was a part of life. I sure wish it wasn’t.”

— Forrest Gump

Every year, some of the people who became icons of our culture leave us for the great beyond, and 2021 was no exception. Here is a brief, and partial, month-by-month list of some of those who passed away.

Tommy Lasorda, 93, 1/7/21. Tommy was the overly-enthusiastic Dodger manager who bled “Dodger Blue” and led the team to two World Series titles.

Hank Aaron, 86, 1/22/21. One of baseball’s greatest players who endured racist threats while breaking Babe Ruth’s career home-run record.

Larry King, 87, 1/23/21. Television star whose interviews gave us an insider’s perspective of world leaders and celebrities.

Cloris Leachman, 94, 1/27/21. Oscar-winning actress who will always be remembered as Phyllis on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

Cicely Tyson, 96, 1/28/21. Pioneering African American actress who won our hearts in “Sounder” and “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.”

Rush Limbaugh, 70, 2/17/21. Fire-breathing radio host who became one of the most powerful voices of right-wing politics.

Beverly Cleary, 104, 3/25/21. Beloved author of children’s books who introduced us to Ramona, Beezus Quimby, and Henry Huggins.

John Naisbitt, 92, 4/8/21. Author of “Megatrends” who helped us see the “big picture.”

Olympia Dukakis, 89, 5/1/21. Veteran actress who will be remembered for her roles in “Moonstruck” and “Steel Magnolias.”

Lee Evans, 74, 5/19/21. African American Olympic medalist who, along with Tommie Smith, drew worldwide attention to racism at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

F. Lee Bailey, 87, 6/3/21. “Celebrity” attorney who came to public attention by defending O.J. Simpson, Patricia Hearst, and the alleged “Boston Strangler.”

Ron Popeil, 86, 7/28/21. Quintessential TV personality and inventor of such diverse products as Veg-O-Matic and the Pocket Fisherman.

Ed Asner, 91, 8/29/21. Movie actor who will never be forgotten as Mr. Grant who told Mary Tyler Moore’s TV character that she had “spunk,” and then following it with “I hate spunk.” He visited Madera several times for local productions.

Willard Scott, 87, 9/4/21. NBC’s “Today” show’s weatherman who charmed viewers for two generations.

Norm Macdonald, 61, 9/14/21. “Saturday Night Live” comedian who hosted “Weekend Update” during the 1990s. His droll sense of humor distinguished him among American comics.

Betty Lynn, 95, 10/16/21. TV and movie actress who was featured in “The Andy Griffith Show” as Barney Fife’s girlfriend, Thelma Lou.

Colin Powell, 84, 10/18/21. U.S. Army General who served as the first African American Secretary of State. He was a diplomat and statesman for both Republican and Democratic presidents.

Mort Sahl, 94, 10/26/21. Comedian and social critic whose debut performance at San Francisco’s hungry i nightclub in 1953 led to his reputation as the “only real political philosopher in comedy” since Will Rogers.

Aaron Beck, 100, 11/1/21. American psychologist who is known as the “Father of Cognitive Therapy.” His approach to treatment revolutionized the field of behavioral psychology.

F.W. deKlerk, 85, 11/11/21. The last president of South Africa’s apartheid government. He shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela for ending “official discrimination” in his country.

Stephen Sondheim, 91, 11/26/21. Musical composer whose Broadway hits included West Side Story, Gypsy, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Sweeney Todd: The Barber of Fleet Street, and other outstanding productions.

Lee Elder, 87, 11/28/21. African American golfer who helped to break the racial barriers in professional golf. He was the first black golfer to play in the Masters Tournament in Georgia, paving the way for Tiger Woods and others to follow.

Bob Dole, 98, 12/5/21. American politician who represented Kansas in the U.S. Senate for 27 years, from 1960 to 1996. During World War II, he was seriously wounded in his back and upper right arm, which was paralyzed. He was the Republican candidate for president of the United States in 1996.

Anne Rice, 80, 12/11/21. American author of best-selling gothic novels. She reinvented blood-drinking immortals in her tales, including “Interview with the Vampire.” Her “immortals” were presented as “tragic antiheroes.”

Joan Didion, 87, 12/23/21. The “author’s author” who was an essayist, memoirist, and novelist. Her “personal commentary” was a signature for her newspaper columns. She was also the clear-eyed critic of the 1960s hippie era with classics like “The White Album” and “The Year of Magical Thinking.” Her debut novel, “Play It As It Lays,” exposed the noir side of L.A.

Desmond Tutu, 90, 12/26/21. Nobel Peace Prize recipient who helped to bring an end to apartheid. He was a life-long uncompromising activist for racial justice and LGBTQ rights.

Edward O. Wilson, 92, 12/26/21. Harvard biologist who proposed the theory that there is a genetic basis for such disparate human actions as war and altruism. He was also a proponent of protecting the world’s ecosystems.

John Madden, 85, 12/28/21. Highly animated coach of the Oakland Raiders and broadcaster for NFL games for three decades. He was elected to the football Hall of Fame and was noted for highlighting critical plays with “Boom!”

Betty White, 99, 12/31/21. Saucy, man-crazy TV host on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” Betty was also well known for her portrayal of Rose Nyland on “The Golden Girls.” When she was 88, she was also the oldest person to host “Saturday Night Live.” Upon her death, just a couple of weeks before turning 100, people asked, “Who doesn’t love Betty White?”

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Jim Glynn is Professor Emeritus of Sociology. He may be contacted at


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