Updated Fri at 8:08pmFri 26 Feb 2016, 8:08pm

Tony Burton, who drew on his career as a prizefighter to play boxing trainer Tony “Duke” Evers in all six Rocky films, has died aged 78.

Sylvester Stallone, who stars in the franchise, led the tributes after relatives announced Burton’s death in a southern California hospital from suspected pneumonia, following a long illness.

Tony Burton filmography

  • Rocky, Rocky II, III, IV, V, Rocky Balboa
  • Assault on Precinct 13
  • Stir Crazy
  • The Shining
  • Knockout

Burton, who had been living in California for 30 years, played the trainer of Apollo Creed, the antagonist of the first two Rocky films, before switching to Rocky’s corner in the subsequent movies.

“Tony Burton who played the character of Duke brilliantly in all six Rocky movies… Rest in peace,” Stallone said on Instagram, posting a still from Rocky IV of the pair with Apollo Creed actor Carl Weathers.

“Sad news. RIP Tony Burton. His intensity and talent helped make the Rocky movies successful,” Weathers tweeted.

Burton’s younger sister Loretta “Peaches” Kelley told news portal MLive that Burton had been in and out of the hospital over a year.

His ill health prevented him from appearing in Rocky spin-off Creed, for which Stallone earned an Oscar nomination, but the character was briefly present.

“There’s a scene in the restaurant of that movie where his picture is on the wall,” Ms Kelley told MLive.

Burton, who graduated from high school in Flint in 1955, was a city-level athlete in football and baseball and won two Flint “Golden Gloves” light heavyweight titles in the 1950s.

He has spoken publicly about turning his life around with study and acting classes after being jailed at the California Institution for Men in Chino, California, for robbery.

As well as the Rocky films, Burton had scenes in Stanley Kubrick’s psychological horror The Shining, John Carpenter’s action thriller Assault on Precinct 13 and Sydney Poitier comedy Stir Crazy.

Burton outlived his son, Martin, who died of a heart attack two years ago, but is survived by his wife of 36 years, Rae.




The death toll of music-world notables in 2016 continued Friday, with the announcement of the death of Lennie Baker, a longtime member of the rock-and-doo-wop band Sha Na Na. He was 69.

His nephew, David Baker, confirmed Leonard J. “Lennie” Baker died Wednesday at a Weymouth, Mass, hospital, in an online obituary and condolence page by a local funeral home, and on his Boston Marathon fundraising page.

“It is with great sorrow and a tear in my eye that I inform you that I am now running the 2016 Boston Marathon in memory of Uncle Lennie.  He developed a serious infection this week and passed away peacefully at South Shore Hospital late yesterday afternoon,” David Baker wrote.

Lennie Baker’s church, Whitman First Congregationalist Church in Whitman, Mass., also confirmed the news in a tweet Friday.

The specific cause of death was not disclosed. In 2002 Lennie Baker underwent a kidney transplant, receiving a kidney donated by his nephew.

Lennie Baker was a vocalist and saxophone player for Sha Na Na, a band with a 1950s-era look and sensibility that was popular starting in the late 1960s. Baker joined the group in 1970 and toured the world with them until he retired in 2000.

He also appeared on the Sha Na Na variety TV show (1977-1981), and in the movie Grease, singing lead on the song Blue Moon, the Rogers and Hart standard that was a chart hit from the 1978 movie. Baker, who often said it was his favorite song, performed it at Carnegie Hall during his Sha Na Na career.

During his retirement years Baker took up residence on Martha’s Vineyard and continued to play the sax and sing with a local band, The Spellbinders.

Another former Sha Na Na member, co-founder Dennis Greene, who later became a movie-studio executive and then a law professor, died in September at age 66.

Recent deaths of major music stars include: Natalie Cole, David Bowie, Glenn Frey of the Eagles, country star Sonny James, Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire, and Denise “Vanity” Matthews.

Contributing: The Associated Press




James was a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame

By February 22, 2016

Sonny James
Sonny James, known for his hit “Young Love,” has died at 87. Ed Rode/WireImage

James was born James Hugh Loden in the small farming community of Hackleburg, Alabama, and played music with his parents and older sister Thelma. The young James, who first learned to play music on a homemade instrument fashioned from a molasses bucket, eventually earned a spot performing with his family on a Muscle Shoals radio show. The family soon became a local, then regional favorite, performing throughout the South, and appearing regularly on radio shows in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Raleigh, North Carolina.

While he was still in high school, James joined the National Guard and went on to work in the family store in Hackleburg. His music career was temporarily derailed when he and his fellow Guardsmen were among the first Guard troops to arrive in Korea at the outset of the Korean conflict late in 1950.

By 1952, James was back in Alabama but soon left for Nashville and reconnected with a former roommate, musician-producer Chet Atkins. In spite of Atkins’ leadership at RCA Records, he referred James to Ken Nelson, who was producing acts for Capitol Records in Los Angeles at the time. James’ alliance with Capitol, which began with a Top Ten single in 1953, “That’s Me Without You,” would lead to an unbroken streak of 16 chart-topping releases from 1967 to 1971. The singer also joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1965, the year he scored his second Number One (after the hugely successful “Young Love”) “You’re the Only World I Know.” Other hits during that time included “It’s Just a Matter of Time,” “Empty Arms” and “Since I Met You Baby,” all of which had originally been hits for R&B acts, making James the first — and most successful country act — to cover such material during the turbulent Civil Rights era. During his early years with Capitol, James also played fiddle on sessions for one of the label’s bluegrass acts, Jim & Jesse.

In the early Seventies, James produced three LPs for teenager Marie Osmond, whose debut country hit, “Paper Roses,” was a Number One country (and Top Five pop) song in 1973. By the mid-Seventies, James had moved to Columbia Records and released his final Number One, “Is It Wrong (For Loving You).”

James, who was nicknamed the Southern Gentleman, also appeared in a handful of country-music-themed films, including Nashville Rebel, Las Vegas Hillbillies and Second Fiddle to a Steel Guitar. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2006 by Kix Brooks and was the first country artist to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.





Dennis McLellan

George Kennedy, the veteran actor who built his early career playing heavies and won an Academy Award in 1968 for his supporting role as the tough Southern prison-camp convict who grew to hero-worship Paul Newman’s defiant title character in “Cool Hand Luke,” died Sunday in Boise, Idaho, of natural causes, said his grandson Cory Schenkel. He was 91.

In a more than 50-year screen career, the deep-voiced Kennedy appeared in dozens of movies, including “The Flight of the Phoenix,” “The Sons of Katie Elder,” “The Dirty Dozen,” “Earthquake,” “Cahill United States Marshal,” “The Eiger Sanction,” “Death on the Nile,” and the “Airport” series of films.

In a distinct change of pace in the late `80s and `90s, he played Capt. Ed Hocken in the “Naked Gun” series of cop spoofs starring Leslie Nielsen as detective Lt. Frank Drebin.

“I had the time of my life doing it,” Kennedy told New York’s Newsday after making the first one in 1988. “It’s so funny, it was hard to shoot the movie.”

A World War II combat veteran, Kennedy spent 16 years in the Army before launching his career in Hollywood in the late 1950s. At 6 feet 4 and 230 pounds, he was initially typecast as the bad guy in TV westerns and in films.

He went after Joan Crawford with an ax in “Strait-Jacket,” savagely attacked Audrey Hepburn with a prosthetic hand hook in “Charade” and attempted to assassinate Gregory Peck in “Mirage.”

Then came his break-out role in “Cool Hand Luke,” the hit 1967 film starring Newman as the newcomer to the road gang at a prison work-camp.

“I was completely overwhelmed when I saw the script,” Kennedy recalled in a 2003 interview with the Tennessean newspaper. “I remember saying to my agent, ‘They’re not going to give me this role. I’m one of those third-guy-through-the-door bad guys.’”

But, he said, “I screen-tested and lucked out. The test was very, very good; no way I was not going to take it seriously.”

As Dragline, Kennedy becomes Luke’s friend and biggest booster after the smaller Luke stubbornly refuses to stay down when Dragline brutally pummels him in a prison yard boxing match.

For the movie’s famous scene in which Newman’s Luke eats 50 hard-boiled eggs in an hour on a bet, Kennedy’s character serves as Luke’s trainer and “official egg peeler.”

In his review of the film, The Times’ Charles Champlin noted that “it will almost certainly do for George Kennedy what ‘Cat Ballou’ did for Lee Marvin — pay off with stardom in a long honorable hitch at lesser servitude.”

It was a beaming Kennedy who took the stage to accept the Oscar for his career-changing performance.

“Oh, I could bust,” he said at the start of his brief acceptance speech.

“Winning that was the highlight single moment of my life,” he said in the 2003 interview with the Tennessean.

The Oscar represented more than just the gold-plated centerpiece for his living-room mantel.
The day he was nominated for the award, he recalled, “my salary went up 10 times.”

For a while after “Cool Hand Luke,” Kennedy told Canada’s the Globe and Mail in 1978, “I did nothing but good guys. Now I play about 75% good guys and 25% bad guys.”
In addition to doing movies in the 1970s, Kennedy starred in two TV series: as a cop-turned-priest in “Sarge,” a 1971-72 drama; and as an old-school beat cop in “The Blue Knight,” a 1975-76 police drama.

Kennedy, who played President Harding on the 1979 mini-series “Backstairs at the White House,” also played cattle rancher Carter McKay on “Dallas” from 1988 to 1991.

He was born in New York City on Feb. 18, 1925. His mother was a member of a classical ballet dance team on the vaudeville circuit and his father was a pianist, composer and pit orchestra leader who died when Kennedy was 4.

Kennedy describes his poverty-stricken early years after his father died, including a period in which he and his mother lived in a brothel, in his 2011 book “Trust Me: A Memoir.”

During World War II, he enlisted in the Army in 1943 at 17 and served in the infantry in Europe, where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

Reenlisting after the war ended, he earned a commission as an officer and became part of the Armed Forces Radio Network in Frankfurt and Berlin and later in Tokyo and Korea.

His final assignment was as the military advisor for “The Phil Silvers Show,” a popular peacetime Army sitcom shot in New York and starring Silvers as the constantly scheming Sgt. Ernie Bilko.

“I was praying one of the [regular] guys wouldn’t show up, so I could stand in for him,” Kennedy recalled in a 1968 Times interview.

He wound up doing several bit parts as an MP on the series, which he later described as a “great training ground for me.”

Kennedy, who had been born with a curved spine, was hospitalized a number of times for spine problems before being retired from the Army with a partial disability. With no job prospects, he headed to Hollywood.

Within a week of meeting with a talent agent in 1959, he was cast as a bad guy on a TV western.

“If it had been the time of shorter heroes — Eddie Robinson, Alan Ladd, Bogart — I couldn’t have gotten arrested,” Kennedy said in a 1969 interview with The Times. “But it was the era of big guys. Men Like Jim Arness and Clint Walker needed someone big to beat up in their television series.”

Kennedy’s grandson, who lived with him and helped take care of him, described the actor as “just a quiet family man” who “always put his family first and was always happy to take time out to talk to fans. He never turned a fan away, just enjoyed making movies and bringing joy to other people.”

He was preceded in death by his wife, Joan Kennedy, and a son and a daughter. Besides Schenkel, he is survived by daughter Shannon Sullivan and granddaughter Taylor Kennedy.

McLellan is a former Times staff writer.

Times staff writer Jill Leovy contributed to this report.


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