By Robert Simonson

January 13, 2016

Billie Allen, an African-American actress who was involved in original productions of such pivotal stage works as A Raisin in the Sun and Funnyhouse of a Negro, died Dec. 29 at her home in Manhattan. She was 90.

Ms. Allen received a Lortel Award nomination for her direction of a 2006 production of Adrienne Kennedy’s Funnyhouse. She had a special connection to the piece, having played the lead role of the disturbed young woman Sarah in the 1964 premiere of the drama. Also in 1964, on Broadway, she was a member of the cast of James Baldwin’s play about racial intolerance, Blues for Mister Charlie, playing a small part while understudying the lead role portrayed by Diana Sands.

Ms. Allen was an understudy, too, in the famous 1959 premiere of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. Eventually, she assumed the role of Beneatha Younger. She became friends with her fellow cast member in that play, Ruby Dee, and later directed Dee in Miss Lucy’s Eyes in 2001.

Off-Broadway, Ms. Allen directed as often as she acted. Her directing credits included The Brothers and Day Trips. As an actor, she was in Take a Giant Step, Black Monday, Trainer Dean Liepolt and Company, The Ofay Watcher and Every Night When the Sun Goes Down.

Wilhelmina Louise Allen was born in Richmond, VA, on Jan. 13, 1925, to Mamie Wimbush, a teacher, and William Allen, an actuary. Early on, she studied both acting and dance, and early roles on Broadway, in Caribbean Carnival and Virgil Thompson’s Four Saints in Three Acts, were dance oriented. Other Broadway credits included Critic’s Choice and A Teaspoon Every Four Hours.

She had a recurring role as a WAC on the 1950s sitcom “The Phil Silvers Show,” an anomaly at a time when black actors did not typically take part in predominantly white programs.

Billie Allen, one of the first black performers with a recurring network TV role, in 1955 on “The Phil Silvers Show,” with from left, Elisabeth Fraser, Barbara Berry, Midge Ware and Fay Morley. Credit CBS Photo Archive, via Getty Images

She was married to the composer and arranger Luther Henderson from 1981 to 2003. A previous marriage, to Duane H. Grant, Sr., ended in divorce. She is survived by two children from that marriage, Duane Grant, Jr., and Carolyn Grant.




January 11, 2016

Singer David Bowie, one of the most influential musicians of his era, has died of cancer at the age of 69.

A statement was issued on his social media accounts, saying he “died peacefully, surrounded by his family” after an “18-month battle with cancer”.

Tributes have been paid from around the world to the “extraordinary artist” whose last album was released days ago.

Sir Paul McCartney described him as a “great star” who “played a very strong part in British musical history”.

Bowie’s son Duncan Jones, who is a Bafta-winning film director, wrote on Twitter: “Very sorry and sad to say it’s true. I’ll be offline for a while. Love to all.”

The artist’s hits include Let’s Dance, Changes, Space Oddity, Starman, Modern Love, Heroes, Under Pressure, Rebel Rebel and Life on Mars.

He was also well known for creating his flamboyant alter ego Ziggy Stardust.

The singer, who had been living in New York in recent years, released his latest album Blackstar only last Friday, his birthday.

The album has been well received by critics and was intended as a “parting gift” to the world, according to long-time friend and producer Tony Visconti.

Visconti wrote on Facebook: “His death was no different from his life – a work of art.”

He added: “He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us.”

Blackstar is on course to be number one in the UK this Friday, according to the Official Charts Company, with combined sales of more than 43,000.

Hundreds of fans have gathered in his birthplace of Brixton, south London, to pay tribute to the singer, laying flowers and candles at his mural and taking part in an impromptu sing-along of his hits.

There have also been crowds outside his New York home and in Berlin where he lived in the late 1970s.

David Bowie in numbers:

In a career spanning 51 years

  • 140 million albums sold since his first release in 1967
  • 111 singles – averaging more than two a year during his career
  • 51 music videos, along with a number of film roles including The Man Who Fell to Earth and Labyrinth
  • 25 studio albums, including Blackstar, which was released two days before his death

Sir Paul McCartney said he would “always remember the great laughs” the pair shared, saying in a statement: “David was a great star and I treasure the moments we had together.

“His music played a very strong part in British musical history and I’m proud to think of the huge influence he has had on people all around the world.”

Friend and collaborator Brian Eno said: “David’s death came as a complete surprise, as did nearly everything else about him. I feel a huge gap now.”

‘Light of my life’

The Rolling Stones paid tribute to “an extraordinary artist” and a “true original”.

Brian May, guitarist with Queen – with whom Bowie collaborated on Under Pressure – described him as “a fearsome talent”.

Friend and collaborator Iggy Pop wrote on Twitter: “David’s friendship was the light of my life. I never met such a brilliant person. He was the best there is.”

Madonna said she was “devastated”, writing on Facebook that Bowie “changed the course” of her life after she saw him perform – her first ever concert.

“I found him so inspiring and innovative,” she wrote. “Unique and provocative. A real genius.”

Comedian and actor Ricky Gervais, who convinced Bowie to star as himself and ridicule Gervais in an episode of 2006 sitcom Extras, simply wrote: “I just lost a hero. RIP David Bowie.”

Midge Ure, who helped organise the Live Aid concert in 1985 – at which Bowie performed – said: “He wasn’t just a brilliant songwriter and an amazing creator, he excelled at everything.”

Will Gompertz, BBC Arts editor

David Bowie was the Picasso of pop. He was an innovative, visionary, restless artist: the ultimate ever-changing postmodernist.

Along with the Beatles, Stones and Elvis Presley, Bowie defined what pop music could and should be. He brought art to the pop party, infusing his music and performances with the avant-garde ideas of Merce Cunningham, John Cage and Andy Warhol.

He turned pop in a new direction in 1972 with the introduction of his alter ego Ziggy Stardust. Glam rock was the starting point, but Ziggy was much more than an eyeliner-wearing maverick: he was a truly theatrical character that at once harked backed to pre-War European theatre while anticipating 1980s androgyny and today’s discussions around a transgender spectrum.

He was a great singer, songwriter, performer, actor, producer and collaborator. But beyond all that, at the very heart of the matter, David Bowie was quite simply – quite extraordinarily – cool.

David Bowie performing at Hillsiders youth club, Biggin Hill, May 1963.Image copyright 2016: Image caption This picture, showing Bowie performing on saxophone at a youth club at Biggin Hill in May 1963, is believed to be one of the first images of him on stage

Chris Hadfield, the former commander of the International Space Station who recorded a video of a version of Space Oddity during his final mission, said his “brilliance inspired us all”.

Yoko Ono said Bowie was “as close as family” for her and late husband John Lennon, describing him as a “father figure” for their son Sean.

Bowie was born David Jones in Brixton, south London, on 8 January in 1947. He changed his name in 1966 after The Monkees’ Davy Jones achieved stardom.

He was in several bands before he signed with Mercury Records, which released his album Space Oddity in 1969, with the title track becoming his first UK number one.

His breakthrough came with 1972’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.

Bowie performing at Live Aid, alongside Pete Townshend, Paul McCartney and Bob GeldofImage copyright AP Image caption Bowie performing at Live Aid alongside Pete Townshend, Paul McCartney and Bob Geldof

Mark Savage, BBC Music reporter

David Bowie changed music forever. Throughout his career, he reinvented not just his sound but his persona over and over again.

He was a proudly progressive composer, drawing on any genre that came to mind – from the hippy folk of Space Oddity to the crunching industrial rock of 1995’s Outside album and his ambitious, jazz-flecked swansong Blackstar, released just last week.

His style shifted with the sands, but he was always recognisably David Bowie.

That powdery voice – vibrating off the back of his teeth – is unmistakable; while his impressionist lyrics had a constant theme – he was an outsider, an alien, a sexually ambiguous spectre.

Bowie also carved out a successful acting career, including his role as an alien seeking help for his dying planet in Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth in 1976.

Other roles included Labyrinth, Cat People, The Last Temptation of Christ and The Hunger.

The late 1980s were dominated by Bowie’s involvement with his new band, a postmodernist heavy metal outfit, Tin Machine.

The 1990s saw him flirting with drum-and-bass on the Earthling album, while his 2002 album Heathen saw a long-awaited return to form for the singer.

David Bowie arriving at the Theatre Workshop in New York in December 2015 for the premiere of LazarusImage copyright Photoshot
Image caption Bowie attended the Theatre Workshop in New York last month for the premiere of Lazarus

He headlined Glastonbury in 2000 – his first appearance there since 1971.

Festival founder Michael Eavis told the BBC: “He’s one of the three greatest in the world, ever – Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and David Bowie. There’s no-one else even close.”

Bowie was thought to have suffered a heart attack in 2004, after which he largely stopped making public appearances. His last live performance was at a New York charity concert in 2006.

But after a decade without a studio album he released The Next Day in 2013, surprising fans who thought he had retired. It became his first UK number one for 20 years.

He co-wrote Lazarus, a musical featuring his songs and inspired by his role in The Man Who Fell to Earth, which opened in New York last month.

And a truncated version of Blackstar, the title track of his new album, appears as the theme music for the TV show The Last Panthers.

Watch a special tribute programme David Bowie: Sound and Vision on the BBC iPlayer



David Bowie, Master of the Music Video

He helped transform the idea of the music video from a mere promotion to an art form in its own right.

Jan. 11, 2016


The Man Who Fell From Fame

Brett Smiley, who was poised for Bowie-like glam rock fame in the 1970s, should be mourned, too.

The Man Who Fell From Fame

Jan. 16, 2016




January 11, 2016,  4:47 PM

Associated Press

William Del Monte, Rose Cliver

The last survivor of the devastating San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906 has died.

William A. “Bill” Del Monte died Monday at a retirement home in Marin County. He was 11 days shy of his 110th birthday. His niece, Janette Barroca of San Francisco, confirmed his death of natural causes.

He’d been doing “great for 109 years old,” Barroca said.

Del Monte was 3 months old when the quake struck — forcing his family into the streets to escape in a horse-drawn buckboard with fire burning on both sides. The family crossed the bay to Alameda County and returned to San Francisco after their home was rebuilt, Barroca said.

His father had opened the famous Fior d’Italia on Broadway in 1886, which was destroyed in the quake but reopened in a tent not long after. Del Monte attended San Francisco schools and after graduation worked briefly for his father at the North Beach restaurant.

In his teens he was interested in playing the stock market — and he was good at it. By 1929, when he was 23, he was worth $1 million, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

He lost the money, but around the same time he gained a wife: Del Monte and Vera Minetti eloped to Reno in 1925 and were married for more than 55 years before she died in 1991. They never had children. Though his true passion was playing the stocks, he also ran a San Francisco Bay Area theater for years.

Del Monte’s death leaves a void in the city’s history.

At 113, Ruth Newman was the oldest remaining survivor of the earthquake before her death last summer. Four years old when the quake struck in the early morning of April 18, 1906, she never attended the city’s annual quake commemorations.

But Del Monte did over the years. In 2010, he was the only survivor who made it to Lotta’s Fountain downtown, riding in the back of the city’s big black 1930 Lincoln convertible.

More than 1,000 people were killed in the earthquake and fire. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the quake’s magnitude has ranged from 7.7 to 8.3.

“The common thread I would draw with all of these survivors is they had a unique, dry, wry sense of humor as anyone would have at being so rudely tossed out of bed at 5:11 in the morning,” said commemoration organizer Lee Houskeeper. “But none could compare to Bill.

“He had absolutely the sharpest mind of anybody I’ve ever known. A sharp mind, a sharp sense of humor and he was a complete flirt. My guess is there are a lot of heartbroken nurses out there today.”




January 14, 2016

Media captionActor Bill Paterson has said he had “no inkling of the seriousness” of Alan Rickman’s illness despite visiting him just two weeks ago

Actor Alan Rickman, known for films including Harry Potter, Die Hard and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, has died at the age of 69, his family has said.

The star had been suffering from cancer, a statement said.

He became one of Britain’s best-loved acting stars thanks to roles including Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films and Hans Gruber in Die Hard.

Harry Potter author JK Rowling led the tributes, describing him as “a magnificent actor and a wonderful man”.

She wrote on Twitter: “There are no words to express how shocked and devastated I am to hear of Alan Rickman’s death.”

She added: “My thoughts are with [Rickman’s wife] Rima and the rest of Alan’s family. We have all lost a great talent. They have lost part of their hearts.”

Emma Thompson, who appeared with Rickman in productions including Love Actually and was directed by him in The Winter Guest, said he was “the finest of actors and directors” and “the ultimate ally”.

She wrote in a statement: “Alan was my friend and so this is hard to write because I have just kissed him goodbye.

“What I remember most in this moment of painful leave-taking is his humour, intelligence, wisdom and kindness.

“His capacity to fell you with a look or lift you with a word. The intransigence which made him the great artist he was – his ineffable and cynical wit, the clarity with which he saw most things, including me, and the fact that he never spared me the view. I learned a lot from him.”

She added: “He was, above all things, a rare and unique human being and we shall not see his like again.”

Announcing his death on Thursday, a family statement said: “The actor and director Alan Rickman has died from cancer at the age of 69. He was surrounded by family and friends.”

Alan Rickman in Harry PotterImage copyright Warner
Image caption Rickman played the mysterious Professor Snape in all eight Harry Potter films

Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe said Rickman was “undoubtedly one of the greatest actors I will ever work with”.

He wrote on Google Plus: “Working with him at such a formative age was incredibly important and I will carry the lessons he taught me for the rest of my life and career.

“Film sets and theatre stages are all far poorer for the loss of this great actor and man.”

Sir Michael Gambon, who appeared with Alan Rickman in Harry Potter as well as on stage, told BBC Radio 4 he was “a great friend”.

He added: “Everybody loved Alan. He was always happy and fun and creative and very, very funny. He had a great voice, he spoke wonderfully well.

“He was intelligent, he wrote plays, he directed a play. So he was a real man of the theatre and the stage and that’s how I think of Alan.”

Director Ang Lee, who cast Rickman opposite Kate Winslet in 1995’s Sense and Sensibility, called him a “brilliant actor… a soulful actor… [and] a great human being.”

Alan Rickman


  • 41 when he played Hans Gruber in Die Hard, his breakthrough film performance
  • 68 film credits to his name
  • 16 awards, including an Emmy, golden globe, and BAFTA

Actor Richard E Grant wrote on Twitter: “Farewell my friend. Your kindness and generosity ever since we met in LA in 1987 and ever since is incalculable.”

TV star and Bafta ceremony host Stephen Fry wrote: “What desperately sad news about Alan Rickman. A man of such talent, wicked charm and stunning screen and stage presence. He’ll be sorely missed.”

Actor David Morrissey also paid tribute. He said: “So sad to hear the news of Alan Rickman. A wonderful actor and lovely man. Tragic news.”

Alan Rickman in 1978's Romeo & Juliet
Image caption Rickman (left) made his TV debut in 1978’s Romeo and Juliet
Rickman and Juliet Stevenson with The Queen in 2000Image copyright Ian Jones/Daily Telegraph/PA
Image caption Rickman and his Truly Madly Deeply co-star Juliet Stevenson met the Queen in 2000

The London-born star began his career in theatre, including with the Royal Shakespeare Company, before winning roles in TV dramas like Smiley’s People and The Barchester Chronicles in the 1980s.

His performance as the manipulative seducer the Vicomte de Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses on Broadway in 1986 brought him the first of two Tony Award nominations.

It also brought him to the attention of Die Hard producer Joel Silver, who offered him his film debut as a result.

He went on to become best known for playing screen villains – including the Sheriff of Nottingham in 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, for which he won a Bafta award, and Judge Turpin opposite Johnny Depp in 2007’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

But he showed his gentler side in films like 1990’s Truly Madly Deeply, in which he played Juliet Stevenson’s ghost lover and which also earned him a Bafta nomination.

Further Bafta nominations came for his roles as Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility and the calculating Irish politician Eamon de Valera in 1996’s Michael Collins.

The following year, he won a Golden Globe for best actor in a miniseries or television film for the title role in Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny.

Linsday Duncan and Alan Rickman in Private LivesImage copyright PA
Image caption He starred with Lindsay Duncan in Private Lives in the West End and on Broadway

Other film credits ranged from Tim Robbins’ 1992 political satire Bob Roberts to Richard Curtis’s 2003 romantic comedy Love, Actually, 1999’s sci-fi spoof Galaxy Quest and the voice of the Blue Caterpillar in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.

He also moved behind the camera in 1997 directing Thompson and her mother, Phyllida Law, in The Winter Guest.

Two years ago, he also directed period saga A Little Chaos, in which he co-starred with Kate Winslet.

Meanwhile, he continued to be a major presence on the stage in London and New York.

Another Tony nomination came for Private Lives in 2002, in which he appeared opposite Lindsay Duncan on Broadway following a transfer from London.

He recently revealed he had married Rima Horton in secret last year. The couple had been together since he was just 19 and she was 18.




The Grizzly Adams star had much in common with his on-screen alter ego, says Ben Lawrence

Rugged: Haggerty's physical prowess was shown off in several films

Rugged: Haggerty’s physical prowess was shown off in several films Photo: Rex

Dan Haggerty, who has died aged 74, may have been known for only one role but it’s a role which will linger in the memory of many TV viewers of a certain age.

For any child of the Seventies, Grizzly Adams was a fascinating folk hero. This hirsute Californian woodsman who fled into the Californian mountains after he was wrongly accused of murder was irresistible to youngsters because he seemed so free from the constraints of normal adult life. Here was a man of integrity with a knack for survival and a mistrust for authority, and who, most importantly, was kind to animals. Ben, the grizzly bear cub he adopted, brought out the gruff Grizzly’s caring side and many a young heart was melted by this unlikely friendship.

The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams was originally a feature film, based on Charles E Seller’s novel and released in 1974. It was the seventh highest-grossing film of that year, making $65million worldwide. The subsequent series, which aired from 1978 to 1982 (including TV specials), brought Dan Haggerty to an even wider audience.


Haggerty was perfect casting for the role of Adams. Born in Wisconsin in 1941, he grew up in a family that helped raise wild animals. To modern sensibilities this wasn’t quite the noble endeavour that it sounds. The Haggerty family ran a small wild animal attraction and the young Dan trained a black bear to perform tricks – this early experience would, of course, prove invaluable when he was cast as Grizzly at the age of 32.

Before that time, Haggerty’s career is best described as spotty. His powerful physique led to early appearance in the cult classic Muscle Beach Party. He also worked as a stuntman in the Sixties TV version of Tarzan, and as an animal trainer and handler for Walt Disney. He had a bit part in Dennis Hopper’s counter-culture classic Easy Rider, though his off-screen role bears much more significance – he assisted in the building of many of the motorcycles which roared iconically through the heart of that film.

Dan Haggerty as Grizzly AdamsMan mountain: Dan Haggerty as Grizzly Adams

Following the demise of Grizzly Adams, Haggerty failed to capitalise on its success although his imposing presence was a gift to casting directors looking for quirkier roles. He appeared in TV show The Love Boat and in the film Night Wars as a Vietnam veteran and psychologist who deals with the nightmares of other ex-soldiers. Haggerty supplemented his acting career by working as an animal handler in several productions. For example, he directed bears, foxes and even hawks in the 1997 film Grizzly Mountain.

Life was not always kind to Haggarty. He was arrested for cocaine possession in 1984 and spent several months in jail. Then, in 1991, he was seriously injured in a motorbike crash and it took him 18 operations to recover. In a terrible twist of fate, his wife of over 20 years, Samantha, was killed in a similar accident in 2008.

Haggarty, who had been suffering from spinal cancer, never gave up. He continued acting despite various setbacks, appearing in the irresistibly titled Axe Giant: the Wrath of Paul Bunyan in 2013. At the time of his death, he had two films in production. Here was a bold adventurer and a resilient spirit – much like Grizzly Adams in fact.




By , January 9, 2016

Otis Clay, “Trying to Live My Life Without You” soul singer and Blues Hall of Fame inductee, passed away Friday at the age of 73 Simon Ritter/Redferns

Clay’s longtime collaborator Billy Price told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Saturday following the singer’s passing, “After the shock of this wore off a little, I was left with a feeling of gratitude to have known him. I had the opportunity to sing with him and to learn from one of the true masters of the genre I work in. We first sang together in 1983, and I have so many memories of the great shows we did together over the years.” Clay and Price released their This Time for Real in 2015.

The Mississippi-born Clay ventured into the music world with gospel vocal groups before branching out to secular music in the mid-Sixties. After signing with Chicago label One-derful! Records, Clay nabbed R&B hits with 1967’s “That’s How It Is (When You’re In Love)” and “A Lasting Love.” Following a move to Atlantic Records’ Cauldron subsidiary, Clay recorded a version of the Sir Douglas Quintet’s “She’s About a Mover” at Muscle Shoals, Alabama’s FAME Studios.

Clay next teamed with Al Green producer Willie Mitchell at Memphis-based Hi Records in 1971, resulting in Clay’s biggest hit, “Trying to Live My Life Without You”; nearly a decade later, Bob Seger would climb the Hot 100 with his own version of the single. Similarly, Clay’s 1980 single “The Only Way Is Up” would be the inspiration for Yazz’s U.K. chart-topping cover in 1988.

“My life always has been a combination of things musically,” Clay told the Chicago Tribune in 2013. “Every Saturday night I listened to the Grand Ole Opry. During the day, later on, you listened to (radio) coming out of Memphis. During the noonday, at 12 o’clock, we listened to Sonny Boy Williamson, coming out of Helena, Arkansas, and I’m listening to Vaughn Monroe and Rosemary Clooney and listening to Hank Williams and Roy Acuff.”

Clay continued to record and perform live in the ensuing decades, including contributing a cover of “Wild Horses” to the Rolling Stones tribute comp Paint it Blue in 1997 and scoring a 2008 Grammy nomination in the Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance category for “Walk a Mile in My Shoes.” In 2014, Clay appeared in the Memphis-centric music documentary Take Me to the River. Clay was a 2013 inductee into the Blues Hall of Fame.

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