Tributes to entertainers, artists who died from coronavirus
(CNN) — To honor some the creative forces who have died due to COVID-19, CNN turned to those who knew them, loved them and were deeply affected by the work that defined their legacies.
Below are tributes to these artists.
“Mark Blum was an actor’s actor. Everyone knew him and everyone respected him.
I met him in 1986 after he had already appeared in ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ and ‘Crocodile Dundee.’ We did a silly sitcom that lasted six episodes, but we were friends ever after. Anyone who worked with Mark was still his friend. And that was a lot of people. He appeared on stage in New York for the entirety of his career both on Broadway and off. I first saw him in ‘Say Goodnight, Gracie’ at Playwrights Horizons in 1978.
Mark had a deep intelligence and self-deprecating humor that made every part he played both tragic and comic at the same time. He loved to act, understood the rigor and joy, and remained curious about it his entire life. Which included teaching acting at HB Studios where his students adored him. I last saw Mark at an annual Christmas party in December. He had me laughing so hard I never wanted it to end. He would get this twinkle in his eye and you just knew he was delighted.
Mark and his wife Janet Zarish got married late in life. All of their friends were astonished and thrilled. I knew Janet from our early ‘As The World Turns’ days. She was the beautiful woman of every New Jersey boy’s dreams, and Mark just could not believe his luck. His death is a tragedy. Mark would have played it differently.”
— Dana Delany, Emmy-winning actress and Blum’s co-star in 1987’s “Sweet Surrender”
“The first time I met Floyd was when he came on ‘Top Chef Masters’ as a contestant in Season 3. I got to know him over the course of the weeks we filmed, and I learned not only his incredible cooking style but also about him as a human being — his kindness, his generosity, his natural mentoring way. He had a very calm demeanor that allowed Floyd to understand food in a certain way and he saw food as a means to teach people, which is a beautiful thing.
Of course, he went on to win that show and was crowned the champion, but more than that, even in victory, he was super humble and very, very decent. Our friendship blossomed after that. When I would go to New York, I would always try and make a point of catching up with Floyd at his restaurants. When he opened Paowalla, I was his biggest fan. It was super delicious, authentic, Indian cuisine that was done, again, in a very humble and sophisticated way.
More than anything, what I enjoyed about visiting was spending time with Floyd and talking to him about all the simple things like his family. I always admired guys who were proud to call themselves “family men.” His wife, kids, and what they accomplished in their lives was the most important thing to him. My heart is filled with sadness of Floyd leaving us way too early. I think about his family and send them all the love and prayers on the planet.”
— Curtis Stone, chef and TV host
Terrence McNally, playwright, 81
“We must be oh, so grateful for Terrence McNally, a master of the high-wire act.
His vision celebrated the bravery of lonely souls; his voice resounded with the anguish & joy of life itself. Out of the mundane, he shaped the opera of the human heart.
There was no area of human behavior that he didn’t explore. From the classy high tone of ‘Master Class’ to the glorious grit of ‘The Ritz,’ his range took our breath away. He waged a passionate, ongoing crusade for gay rights, & he never gave up. He forged paths where others were afraid to go, and made it easier for those who came after.
I look with wonder at his body of work, and I will never forget the twinkle in his eye, his smile, his kindness.”
— Swoosie Kurtz, Emmy- and Tony-winning actress
“Patricia Bosworth lived 9 lives. She was an actor who studied under Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio and starred in a film alongside Audrey Hepburn; an author who wrote bestselling biographies of Hollywood luminaries like Marlon Brando; a talented memoirist who adeptly chronicled her own life in two books (including 2017’s ‘The Men in My Life: A Memoir of Love and ‘Art in 1950s Manhattan’); and a journalist who worked as an editor at Vanity Fair for many years.
She was unabashedly proud of all that she accomplished. She defied stereotypes and found time for all that she wanted to do. I remember sitting with her at Marseille, a fancy eatery in Manhattan, and being profoundly struck by all that she had overcome. She carefully told me about her father, the legendary lawyer Bartley Crum, and her feelings about her brother’s suicide at an early age. She was someone who did not let tragedy hold her back — she was able to be marked by tragedy but proved that you can grieve and live at the same time, something that resonated personally with me.
She was also a lot of fun, someone who told bawdy and once-in-a-lifetime stories one after another. How many of us can say we really, really lived? Patricia Bosworth did. She worked until the last day of her life and her last book, ‘Protest Song: Paul Robeson, J. Edgar Hoover, and the Ongoing Fight for Racial Equality,’ will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux next year. As busy as she was, she always made time for me. and gave me the gift of her experience, wisdom, humor and friendship. There is no one else like her, and I, like many, will miss her dearly. We lost a great.”
–– Erin Lee Carr, director of “How to Fix a Drug Scandal” on Netflix
“Hal Wilner passed away the other day. He got the coronavirus and died from complications like thousands and thousands of others tragically have in these past months.
I was lucky enough to know Hal Willner from ‘Saturday Night Live,’ where he was the music supervisor, and from the many movies I did with him through the years like ‘Anchorman,’ ‘Step Brothers,’ ‘Vice’ and a dozen short films.
Hal was a creative force, producing records for the likes of Lou Reed, Lucinda Williams, William S Burroughs, Laurie Anderson and working with filmmakers like Robert Altman, Gus Van Zant and Wim Wenders.
But what Hal really meant to the creative community is hard to put into a resume or bio. He was really a stylistic tollbooth operator who connected musicians and creative people from incredibly disparate backgrounds.
His most popular album was ‘Stay Awake,’ a collection of Disney songs interpreted by the likes of Sun Ra, The Replacements, Tom Waits and Betty Carter to name a few. But Hal didn’t care about ‘popular.’ What made Hal so great besides his sweet collaborative nature, was that he was unapologetically weird. His entire life was a face-first dive into the unknown. He believed weird was as essential to mankind as love or the light bulb.
The first live show I saw of Hal’s was a tribute to Allen Ginsberg at St. Mark’s church in the mid-’90s lower east side. Kim Deal from the Breeders played guitar behind comedian Colin Quinn, who read a sort of stand-up poem about the contradictions in our society. “Gang bangers wear shower caps while housewives wear sweatsuits and gold chains.” Quinn rasped while Kim Deal shredded out the chords of Now I Wanna Be Your Dog. And then while Allen Ginsberg read his poetry he was heckled violently by his friend and fellow poet Gregory Corso from the upper balcony of the church. ‘Shut up you old queen!’ Corso yelled.
And amidst it all Hal smiled. It wasn’t about record sales or TV ratings for Hal. It was about this.
I was lucky enough to perform in one of Hal’s legendary tribute shows. This particular one celebrated Ken Nordine and Del Close. I sat next to Laurie Anderson who read Nordine’s word jazz mini stories while playing violin, and I got to read the old comedy record ‘How to Speak Hip’ with ‘SNL’ producer Steve Higgins. Hal greeted all the performers and musicians as well as the audience with a warm smile and his sheepish ‘Can you believe we’re doing this?’ shrug.
But amidst all this creativity and world traveling with some of the greatest artists of the past 50 years, the thing that most excited Hal was clearly his son Arlo. Every time I would see him he would tell me how he and Arlo were watching Laurel and Hardy together or how Arlo was really truly making him laugh. And through the years when Hal became a father I swear every time you would see him he would look younger and more healthy.
I don’t think Hal would ever say he was happy. Who the hell goes around saying they’re happy besides Disc Jockeys and Time Share Salesmen? But he was.
Because Willner was the son of Holocaust survivors. And you always had the sense that Hal was living the exact life the monsters of the 1940s didn’t want anyone to live: creative, strange, and amoral in the most moral of ways.
“You have to be honest to live outside the law” Bob Dylan once wrote.
And Hal really didn’t have a clue how to be anything but honest.”
— Adam McKay, Academy Award-winning writer and director
“Millions remember her as the grieving mother who slapped Roy Scheider across the face in ‘Jaws,’ but at least a thousand of us cherish our memories of Lee Fierro as teacher, mentor, and director.
Lee was a preeminent creative force in Island Theatre Workshop, which for five decades has offered performance opportunities for all ages on Martha’s Vineyard. There were plays, musicals, and a vibrant summer Children’s Theatre Camp, and she performed, directed and taught in all of them…but most remarkable (in my humble opinion) was Apprentice Players. Lee taught and directed Vineyard teenagers throughout the long, dark, isolated winters, keeping us out of trouble (mostly) and encouraging friendships between kids who otherwise might never have given each other the time of day.
In addition to acting and improv techniques, she coached us all (with gentle relentlessness) to look deep inside, and make peace with, our own anxious adolescent selves. She did more than teach us to perform; she helped us to become. A freakishly high percentage of us took what she taught and paid it forward as theatre professionals, musicians, and teachers. I became a writer and my strongest skills as a novelist — imagination, empathy, and authenticity — were developed under her theatrical mentorship, years before I ever wrote a book.
Lee gave me the audacity to pursue a creative life — and I know of countless others who grew up on this small island off the coast of Massachusetts who found their creative footing thanks to Lee Fierro.”
— Nicole Galland, author
“Jay Benedict really was one of the best humans; to know him was to love him. Charismatic, sharp-witted, with a killer smile, he generously welcomed everyone in to his life as if they were old pals and was fiercely loyal to all privileged to be in it. I was taken under his wing 6 years ago, and with his wonderful wife, Phoebe, taught everything I know about ADR. He called me his ‘protégé’ and it meant everything. Being a part of the family they’ve created in the post-production world is very special; a close-knit team of people who love and respect each other. That’s a testament to him.
A fabulous actor, Jay was born in Burbank, CA but began his career on stage in Paris in Zizi Je t’aime before moving on to star in films such as ‘Aliens.’ He went on to become a renowned post production artist in London setting up SyncorSwim with Phoebe. His passion for ADR was infectious. You’ve all heard him; his mighty voice is on most film and TV you’re watching.
The studios will be a little quieter now and will sorely miss his larger-than-life personality, but his incredible legacy lives on in his children Alexis, Fred and Leo and all those he taught. I’d give anything to be up at a mic with him now, sharing stories (oh, the stories!), laughing as always, as he bellowed in his Transatlantic twang ‘A l’image, kiddo. A’limage!’”
— Jessica Carroll, actor and voiceover artist
“Manu Dibango has been a hero of Africa and will continue to be for long into the future. We honor this man, his music and the way he represented all Africans during his glorious career. We had the great privilege to collaborate with Manu and create a beautiful recording together. We have many wonderful memories of Manu. In this year that has brought too much sadness, we listen to this great man’s music to find our smile again. Rest now brother, you have done well.”
— Ladysmith Black Mambazo (Thulani Shabalala, Sibongiseni Shabalala, Thamsanqa Shabalala, Msizi Shabalala, Albert Mazibuko, Abednego Mazibuko)
“Andrew Jack was a man of many talents: a grand master of dialects, a gifted actor, director, teacher, and a a dear friend. Andrew brought out the best in every actor he ever worked with– myself included. He was a striking figure on any movie set, with his long hair and beard, his aquiline features, and a voice that always lent patience and clarity to the work at hand.
He was compassionate towards all who had the courage to walk out on stage and into an empty space to create the alchemy of performance. He was there for me every time I played James Bond. He was there from the beginning. He will be missed by many of us who had the great privilege to know him and to work with him. My deepest condolences to his family.”
— Pierce Brosnan, actor
“Ellis Marsalis changed my life — musically and beyond.
As a young man, I learned infinitely from Ellis’ INCREDIBLE musicianship, as he was the greatest teacher and communicator I ever had. He had the rare ability to distill broad and complex concepts into bite-sized chunks my teenaged brain could understand. It wasn’t until I was married with three children, though, that I understood what a truly great man he was.
Ellis turned down many opportunities in the music business to pursue jazz and education. He raised six boys on a public teacher’s salary. He dedicated every ounce of time he had to making others better. These are the things that matter. These are the things that allow you to understand why we make music in the first place — to articulate the unspeakable joy within us that cannot be communicated in any other way but, in my and Ellis’ case, letting your fingers run free across a piano keyboard. To have the craft and skill it takes to romanticize the joy and pain of life in a melody, a chord, a rhythm…
Ellis gave me the chance to share in everything he had. He taught me how to be a musician. He taught me how to share my music. He taught me that the love of art goes much deeper than just “feeling it.” It’s about feeling, yes; but it’s also about having the ability to make choices about how those feelings are turned into something that someone else can feel, too.
Thank you, Ellis. I’m who I am because of you.
Please help me honor the legacy of this great man by supporting the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, where he dedicated himself to educating underserved children and musicians. Visit the Center at www.Ellis marsalisCenter.org.”
— Harry Connick Jr., Grammy-winning musician, Emmy-winning actor and co-founder of the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music
Adam Schlesinger, musician, 52
“I met Adam about 25 years ago. In his mid-late 20’s he had just been nominated for an Academy Award for writing all the crazily catchy music for the Tom Hanks film, “That Thing You Do.” (That irony is not lost on me, but I’d rather not acknowledge it…)
I’d met Adam because his new girlfriend, Katie Michel, was one of my (ex) wife’s best friends from Yale. Katie was — and is — a pretty extraordinary woman — witty, quirky and very attractive. Still, she’d had bad luck romantically and we were all eager for her to find her soulmate. In fact, one year, even though we were a couple already, we decided to throw a singles’ Halloween mixer, with the express purpose of finding Katie a great guy.
Halloween, traditionally, more often than not, used to be a time for young women to strut their stuff and dress in a free and provocative way. Katie, on the other hand, took this moment to dress as Super Grover. Blue makeup all over her face, a cape, and an old colander on her head. The evening didn’t end as planned. (Over-served and unhappy, as I recall, tears streaming down her blue makeup. But we were all in our 20’s and tomorrow was another day.)
Before social media and dating apps, if you wanted to meet someone, you had to go out. Katie went out, diligently even, hoping to eventually meet someone great. And her perseverance paid off. One day, good news. Katie had gone to a bar, WXOU Radio Bar on Hudson Street, and met Adam.
They fell in love.
She called him “the rock star.” Adam and I were both in show business so we also became close — and he (with his partner, Steven Gold) would write music on countless projects for me (including our Crank Yankers theme) — and why not? He was ridiculously, prodigiously talented. (He also had a recording studio downtown with his pal– The Smashing Pumpkins’– James Iha. It was there we recorded the first year of prank calls for “Crank Yankers.”)
He did a lot of comedy work too. He wrote all the music for Robert Smigel, and then all the original music for “Saturday Night Live” (including the famous “Ambiguously Gay Duo” theme). He was an EGOT nominee. (Emmy-Grammy-Oscar-Tony). He won the Grammy for a comedy album he wrote with Steven Gold and David Javerbaum for a Christmas special with Colbert (and sung by Elvis Costello).
He was also nominated for Grammys for his biggest commercial success, “Stacy’s Mom,” with the iconic video starring Rachel Hunter (now with over 111 million views). The story behind that was interesting too. Adam had two bands: Fountains of Wayne and Ivy. Both always garnered critically acclaimed 4 and 5 star reviews in Rolling Stone. But still Adam was perennially broke. But amongst his skill sets was writing super catchy songs. He decided he was going to write “a hit,” a catchy song that would get radio play. “Stacy’s Mom” was the result. Not his favorite song, but certainly one that paid the rent for many years.
When Neil Patrick Harris won so many kudos as Tony host, it was (IMHO) largely because Adam had written the brilliant, dry, funny songs. First, with his and Adam’s Emmy-winning song, “It’s Not Just for Gays Anymore.” (Then he followed up with an even stronger opening (and another Emmy nomination): Watch here, from the AV Club: Let’s Revisit Neil Patrick Harris’s Incredible Tony Awards Opener from 2013.) Finally, when Neil Patrick Harris hosted the Emmys and was lauded for his brilliant opening, again it was Adam who’d written the music.
I started a comedy consortium (called JASH) with Sarah Silverman (Reggie Watts, Tim & Eric and Michael Cera) around that same time– and immediately asked Adam to help. Normally it would be telling him we had no money (which was true. We had no money) — and him (rightfully) demanding we pay him. I’d bow out, asking a co-worker to negotiate, calling him “impossible,” even though I respected his dogged insistence to be paid.
But when we had money — like when we did ‘branded’ commercial pieces, we’d pay him — and the work always exceeded expectations– like when we had to do a trio of horrible Purina Dog Food spots. He turned around and wrote the music for this Angela Trimbur 1940s dance number we did — but maybe even more impressively, he wrote a hip hop anthem, “I Get Bacon,” starring a Corgi that got tens of millions of views online — and then went on to run as a full-fledged commercial during that year’s Grammys. And it was for a bacon-flavored dog treat.
Though my favorite thing Adam did for JASH was a music video idea he’d called me about — in the spirit of those Pitbull/Black Eyed Peas “club-bangers” like “I Gotta Feeling (Tonight’s Gonna Be A Good Night).” What if Sarah Silverman had a song like that — but her “Perfect Night” was about how she was going to stay home, order in, smoke some pot and maybe masturbate and go to bed.
I called Sarah, who loved it and agreed to do it. (When Adam died, he and Sarah were workshopping the (Atlantic Theater Company) musical of her autobiography, The Bedwetter, which was set to premiere in New York next month). First, we went to Pitbull (Sarah and I met him at the Peninsula Hotel and explained the idea to him. He laughed, but then suggested about a hundred unfunny fixes). Then we went to Will.i.am. He loved it and being a great sport, agreed to do it, even though he understood it was a parody of his own music.
Two weeks ago, right when all this crazy bullshit started, I suggested to Sarah that we show it again on social media– as it was sort of the perfect ‘theme’ for being locked down. Sarah politely demurred. But here it is…
Then, 10 days ago, on probably one of my last ventures out of the house, I did a grocery run. The Fountains of Wayne’s song, All Kinds of Time, came on. It was the perfect song for the moment, and I took a photo of my screen and emailed Adam: “This song just began playing randomly in my car… But still, amazingly fitting for these times. Also: just a great song. Hope you and family are safely ensconced and all right. Much love!”
I never heard back.”
— Daniel Kellison, TV producer and co-founder of comedy collective JASH
John Prine, musician, 73
“John Prine was one of the greatest artists of my life. Knowing him was a blessing.”
– Kris Kristofferson, Country Music Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame member
Those honored here are just a handful of the tens of thousands who’ve lost their lives.
Note: Updates — including the addition of tributes — may be made to this article.