2014 Yearbook: In Memoriam

Sean Knight acknowledges those we lost in 2014.

End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it… White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.

— Gandalf

The amount of talent that leaves this world every year is staggering. Some are titans of the industry whose body of work will endure for decades; others are smaller artists whose names you may not know, but who helped shape the careers of those titans while making their own personal mark in their given field. So often with these In Memoriam tributes it is the people behind the scenes who are forgotten, while the world at large bows to the almighty alter of celebrity. That is the natural order of Hollywood. In a year like 2014 when so many legends left us (many far too early) it is easy to forget those who keep this industry running, whether it be the character actors whose faces you know (but names you do not), or the stuntmen, editors, cinematographers, and designers who crafted the very foundations of cinema and television.

In doing my research for this piece I came across hundreds of names that merit mention for the work they left behind, but then this tribute would probably never end. It’s easy to watch award shows and criticize their In Memoriam tributes for leaving out certain individuals, but the truth is there are just too many people. You can only hope that someone somewhere has dedicated some space to their accomplishments.

When making lists like these it often comes down to personal biases and the recognition that some names are just too big to ignore. The three deaths this year that will undoubtedly make everyone’s list are that of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Williams, and Mike Nichols. Hoffman and Williams died far too young, especially the former who at age 46 appeared to have so many great performances left in him. Only two years prior he had been nominated for an Supporting Actor Oscar for The Master, where his charisma and commanding screen presence gave enormous power to his cult religious leader, Lancaster Dodd. Hoffman was a chameleon who could seemingly disappear into any character. His roles were wide and varied, ranging from an escort service pimp in Punch Drunk Love to the impish and flamboyant Truman Capote in Capote, for which Hoffman won his only acting Oscar. Hoffman’s departure was made all the more tragic due to his relapse into drug addiction and the family he left behind. He had been 20 years sober. Earlier this year Chase wrote an eloquent and beautiful piece remembering Hoffman’s remarkable body of work. I encourage you all to revisit it.

Robin Williams had his own demons, and the revelations about his diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease and signs of dementia after his passing made the loss ever harder to bear. It may have been some time since Williams had turned in a truly great performance, but his heyday of the 80’s and 90’s is something to admire. Williams was a touchstone of my own childhood and many others’ with his family friendly performances in Mrs. Doubtfire and Hook. His comedic voiceover performance as the genie in Aladdin changed the landscape of animated films, and showed the power of celebrity in key leading voiceover roles. It also gave him a whole new generation of fans who knew nothing of his exuberant comedic brilliance in stand up and on television sitcoms such as Mork and Mindy.

And then there are the dramatic performances, sparked with little flares of comic hijinks, like Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, and The Fisher King, all of which were nominated for Academy Awards. Williams would finally win his Oscar for his purely dramatic role as Sean Maguire, a therapist who treats a troubled young genius, in Good Will Hunting. In the early 2000s Williams left his good guy image behind and took on much darker roles, such as the disturbed photo developer Sy Parish in One Hour Photo. It was always my feeling that Williams never got enough credit for these roles. Perhaps they clouded his image and appeal too much, but they were brave and showed off his truly remarkable range.

My favorite Williams performance remains Armand Goldman in Mike Nichols’s hilarious remake of the french film La Cage Aux Folles, The Birdcage. It is here in a film stuffed with over-the-top hilarity that Williams tones down his wild persona and plays the “straight man,” letting his honesty provide the laughs. I always found his relationship to Nathan Lane’s Albin to be a beautiful display of love, despite the politics of the 90’s limiting the amount of same-sex affection allowed to be shown on screen. With his condition I don’t know how much longer he could have kept on working, but to know that there will never be another Robin Williams performance is certainly tough to take.

And then there is Mike Nichols, who at 83 years old never showed his age either in his work, or his life. He had only the year before directed yet another Broadway play, Betrayal, after winning his 6th Tony Award for directing with the 2012 revival of Death of a Salesman. Nichols got his start in Chicago doing improvisational and sketch comedy with frequent collaborator and former flame Elaine May. From there he moved to directing on Broadway, and then the big screen with his incendiary adaptation of Edward Albee’s Whose Afraid of Virginia Wolf? for which he was nominated for his first Academy Award. The very next year he would win the Best Director Oscar for The Graduate, a film that was and still is considered a cultural masterpiece of the American 60s.

Nichols excelled in every medium he worked in, often getting inspired performances from his actors and always leaving room for a little comedic improvisation. His 2003 television adaptation of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America was another career-defining revelation. His knack for transforming personal, relationship driven theater into truly cinematic, dynamic filmmaking is a skill unmatched by any of his peers. And yes, his The Birdcage remains my favorite piece of his filmography for the sheer skill at which he handles his comedic ensemble.

But what of the others who passed in 2014? It would be a shame not to mention brilliant character actor and one of the founding members of the actors studio, Lee Wallach, who made a career playing western villains in films like The Magnificent Seven and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. He kept working up until 2010 at the age of 94. He was 98 at the time of his death. And then there is surrealist painter and designer H.R. Giger, without whom the Xenomorph from Alien would not exist and our cinematic nightmares would surely be incomplete. And Dick Smith, whose transformative makeup for The Exorcist, The Godfather, and Little Big Man remain pinnacles of the craft. Or the “Prince of Darkness,” cinematographer Gordon Willis, whose use of shadow and light remain ahead of their time. And then there are the parade of actors, directors, producers etc. who broke barriers and leave behind a collective body of work unlikely to be matched in the near future – Lauren Bacall, Sid Caesar, Richard Attenborough, Ruby Dee, James Garner, Juanita Moore, Bob Hoskins, Saul Zanetz, Mickey Rooney, Elaine Stritch, Joy Todd… The list goes on and on.

And finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a personal hero who directly touched my life: Sheldon Patinkin. It’s a name you probably don’t know unless you are part of the Chicago Theater community, but I guarantee that many in the industry mourned his passing only a few short months ago, as evidenced by the tweets from celebrities like Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, who named him her mentor. The truth is Sheldon was a mentor to hundreds of actors who passed through the halls of the famed comedy club The Second City (of which he was one of the original founders), which has started the careers of dozens of the most famous comedians in the country. He was a writer for SC-TV during its brief run on television and also worked with The Steppenwolf Theater company in Chicago, among many others.

But it is for his role as a teacher and head of the theater department at Columbia College Chicago that he will be remembered most fondly by those who rehearsed in its halls. Sheldon loved to teach. I was privileged to be directed by the man on two separate occasions both in and outside of college. He was probably the most caring, passionate, and giving theater professional I’ve ever met. He could also be a cranky grump, but underneath there was always that warm glow and mischievous, knowing smile. I won’t pretend I knew him very well, but I cherish the time I spent with him and, yes, he truly was a mentor to so, so many of us.

Below you will find a list of 50 artists, with accompanying clips, photos, and IMDB links, who gave so much of themselves to their craft. They will live on in the stunning body of work they leave behind.

IN MEMORIAM

Richard Attenborough – Academy Award Winning Director, Actor (1923-2014)

Gabriel Axel – Academy Award Winning Director, Writer, Actor (1918-2014)

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Lauren Bacall – Actor (1924-2014)

Malik Bendjelloul – Academy Award Winning Documentary Filmmaker (1977-2014)

Harvey Bernhard – Producer (1924-2014)

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Claudine Bouche – Film Editor (1925-2014)

Marilyn Burns – Actor (1949-2014)

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Sid Caesar – Comedian, Actor, Writer (1922-2014)

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Christine Cavanaugh – Voiceover Actor (1963-2014)

Dave Comer – Location Scout, Still Photographer (1956-2014)

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Ruby Dee – Actor (1922-2014)

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James Garner – Actor (1928-2014)

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H.R. Giger – Set Designer, Creature Designer, Surrealist Painter (1940-2014)

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John Henson – Puppeteer (1965-2014)

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Edward Herrmann – Actor (1943-2014)

Philip Seymour Hoffman – Academy Award Winning Actor (1967-2014)

Bob Hoskins – Actor (1942-2014)

Nancy Malone – Actor, Producer, Director (1935-2014)

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Margery Mason – Actor (1913-2014)

Juanita Moore – Actor (1914-2014)

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Oswald Morris – Academy Award Winning Cinematographer (1915-2014)

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Mike Nichols – Academy Award Winning Director, Producer, Actor, Comedian (1931-2014)

Sheldon Patinkin – SC-TV Writer, Director, Mentor (1935-2014)

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Don Pardo – Radio and Television Announcer (1918-2014)

Tom Quinn – Actor (1934-2014)

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Luise Rainer – Academy Award Winning Actor (1910-2014)

Harold Ramis – Actor, Director, Writer (1944-2014)

Arthur Rankin Jr. – Animation Director (1924-2014)

James Rebhorn – Actor (1948-2014)

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Alicia Rhett – Actor, Dialect Coach (1915-2014)

Alicia Rhett with Thomas Mitchell and Howard Hickman as John Wilkes

Terry Richards – Actor, Stuntman (1932-2014)

Joan Rivers – Comedian, Actor (1933-2014)

Tom Rolf – Film Editor (1931-2014)

Mickey Rooney – Actor (1920-2014)

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Maximilian Schell – Academy Award Winning Actor (1930-2014)

Marian Seldes – Actor (1928-2014)

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Richard Shepard – Director, Screenwriter (1965-2014)

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Tom Sherak – President of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ’09-12’ (1945-2014)

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Dick Smith – Make-up Artist (1922-2014)

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Elaine Stritch – Actor (1925-2014)

Shirley Temple – Actor (1928-2014)

Stanford Tischler – TV Editor, Producer (1921-2014)

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Joy Todd – Casting Director (?-2014)

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Ralph Waite – Actor (1928-2014)

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Eli Wallach – Actor (1915-2014)

Billie Whitelaw – Actor (1932-2014)

Robin Williams – Academy Award Winning Actor, Comedian (1951-2014)

Gordon Willis – Cinematographer (1931-2014)

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Saul Zaentz – Academy Award Winning Producer (1921-2014)

7-Michael Douglas, Milos Forman, Louise Fletcher, Jack Nicholson & Saul Zaentz posando con los cinco premios Oscars

Carmen Zapata – Actor (1927-2014)

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