RIP Jim Lehrer (1934-2020)

More sad news this week. Jim Lehrer, co-founder of the PBS NEWSHOUR, has passed away at the age of 85. According to reports, he died peacefully in his sleep at his Washington home.

The veteran journalist spent more than 30 years as anchor of the NEWSHOUR in its various incarnations. Lehrer stepped down as full-time anchor of PBS’ flagship news program in 2011.

Along the way, Jim Lehrer moderated multiple presidential debates, authored a host of books and received many accolades for his work, including an Emmy, a Peabody and the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism.

Condolences and tributes to the Jim Lehrer continue to appear on social media and across the web. Read more about the impressive life and career of a journalism giant at the PBS NEWSHOUR site’s post: REMEMBERING JIM LEHRER.

Stop Us If We’re Getting Too Silly

Terry Jones has died. The Monty Python member has passed away after a long struggle with dementia. He was 77.

The Pythons were (are!) one of the foremost comedy troupes of the 20th century, taking what they knew and loved and molding it into an absurdist pastiche that continues to influence those who came after (myself included). Jones was a writer, performer, author, director, poet, screenwriter, historian and much more. His long career included films, radio, television and stage.

Today, the world is sadder for his loss but it would be a disservice to the great talent to not remember him for all the comedy he gave us. Whether it’s the nude organist who punctuated many a Python sketch or Karl Marx on an unexpected game show, Terry Jones was truly ones of the greats.

Here’s a tribute posted by the Pythons to celebrate their late friend…

RIP Terry Jones. At the very least, he’ll no longer have to worry about the baggage retrieval system they’ve got at Heathrow.

RIP Neil Innes (1944-2019)

I think it’s safe to say that Neil Innes was never a household name but any true fan of British comedy should well recognize the songwriter and comedian who was a frequent collaborator of the Monty Python gang. Sadly, Neil Innes passed away of natural causes on Sunday at the age of 75.

Innes was a member of the avant-garde Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, a music group which appeared in the English children’s series Do Not Adjust Your Set (a show probably most famous for featuring then-future Pythonites Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam) and in the Beatles film Magical Mystery Tour. He was also instrumental in the creation and implementation of the Rutles, a pseudo-parody of the Beatles, which spawned TV specials and actual LPs.

Innes’ work with Monty Python included bits in the comedy series, record albums, stage shows and films. He appears to be one of the only two non-Pythons (along with the late Douglas Adams) to be credited with writing the groundbreaking series Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Certainly it can be assumed that Monty Python would still be the force it is in comedy without Neil Innes but since music has become so much a part of the group’s oeuvre it’s hard to imagine Python without him.

To celebrate the man and his music, let’s check out his appearance on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series from 2011…

Bye, Bird

A day later, the news of Caroll Spinney’s passing still hasn’t quite sunk in. His career spanned decades and his legacy will inspire others still for decades to come.

As such, I thought it nice to relive this tribute that SESAME STREET put out last year when the puppeteer retired. It takes on a special poignancy now but it should give you an idea how exceptional the man truly was (as if we all didn’t already know).

This Bird Has Flown

Very sad news. Caroll Spinney passed away Sunday in his Connecticut home. The beloved puppeteer will be best known for portraying Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch for nearly fifty years on SESAME STREET. He was 85.

Spinney had a lifelong love of puppets and first met Jim Henson at a puppetry festival in 1962. He was with SESAME STREET from the very start and earned multiple Daytime Emmy Awards for his work on the celebrated children’s program. Spinney also received a lifetime achievement award from the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in 2006.

Although Caroll Spinney retired from SESAME STREET in October of last year, he left a legacy of laughter, love and life for generations of kids and adults.

Dr. John (1940 – 2019)

Music legend Dr. John passed away yesterday at the age of 78. Born Malcolm John Rebennack, Dr. John was a six-time Grammy winner known for his music combining blues, pop, jazz, boogie woogie and rock & roll.

The New Orleans-born musician was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2011 and his fifty-plus-year career earned him numerous fans, accolades and status as a musical icon, especially in his hometown of New Orleans.

Around here, Dr. John will always be beloved for his rendering of the CURIOUS GEORGE theme song. Of course, he was so much more than that but if you want to celebrate and remember the music of the flamboyant singer-pianist then it’s a good place to start.

Albert Finney (1936-2019)

Actor Albert Finney has passed away at the age of 82. The five time Oscar nominee died February 7 after a short illness.

The talented performer, considered one of the foremost of the postwar period, attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and later transitioned from the stage to the big screen to appear in films like Tom Jones, The Dresser, Big Fish and Erin Brockovich.

Public television viewers may recall his roles in the Masterpiece Theatre presentations Nostromo, A Rather English Marriage and My Uncle Silas.

Albert Finney was born in Salford, Greater Manchester, England on May 9, 1936. He was the recipient of BAFTA, Golden Globe, Emmy and Screen Actors Guild Awards. Finney reportedly declined a Commander of the order of the British Empire in 1980 and a knighthood in 2000.

Koko Speaks No More

Koko, the western lowland gorilla best known to the public for mastering sign language, has passed away. According to the Gorilla Foundation, the 46-year-old Koko died in her sleep Tuesday morning.

Born at the San Francisco Zoo on Independence Day in 1971, Koko, originally called Hanabi-ko (Japanese for “fireworks child”), amazed and delighted caretakers, scientists, celebrities and the world at large through her ability to communicate via a modified form of American Sign Language (she was taught at an early age by Dr. Francine “Penny” Patterson) and her empathy for people and animals alike.

The Gorilla Foundation said of their late charge, “Her impact has been profound and what she has taught us about the emotional capacity of gorillas and their cognitive abilities will continue to shape the world.”

The incredible gorilla has been featured in print and on TV – including several PBS shows and documentaries. KOKO: THE GORILLA WHO TALKS aired in 2016 and I recall both KOKO’S KITTEN and A CONVERSATION WITH KOKO as titles from years past.

A Brilliant Mind

He was born 300 years to the day after the death of astronomer Galileo and died on the birthday of Albert Einstein. Stephen Hawking, one of the great minds of our time, passed away yesterday. He was 76.

While it may not seem Hawking was what one might call a PBS Personality, he was certainly a presence on our airwaves over the years in documentaries and biographies. His legacy is exceptional and PBS NEWSHOUR has a very nice obituary on this amazing theoretical physicist who was arguably one of the most famous and appreciated scientists of all time.

Former NOVA SCIENCENOW host Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted: His passing has left an intellectual vacuum in his wake. But it’s not empty. Think of it as a kind of vacuum energy permeating the fabric of spacetime that defies measure. Stephen Hawking, RIP 1942-2018.

[Note: UNC-TV will be airing the series GENIUS BY STEPHEN HAWKING starting April 17.]

Remembering Siegfried

I have just heard news of the death of Robert Hardy. Sadly, this is not current news as the beloved English actor passed away in early August. However, for whatever reason, I missed the notice. Still, I wanted to mention it because Hardy has had a long presence on UNC-TV.

Robert Hardy was born Timothy Sydney Robert Hardy in 1925 and he enjoyed a long career in theatre, film and television. The veteran performer may be best known to international audiences for his role as Cornelius Fudge in the Harry Potter film series but public broadcasting viewers will perhaps remember him most fondly as veterinarian Siegfried Farnon on the series All Creatures Great And Small, adapted from the books by James Herriot.

Aside from memorable guest appearances on many familiar programs (Lewis, Foyle’s War, MI-5, Inspector Morse, The Duchess of Duke Street), Hardy has also played roles on several series seen on Masterpiece including Elizabeth R (Robert Dudley), Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years (Winston Churchill), Northanger Abbey (General Tilney), Middlemarch (Mr. Brooke) and Little Dorrit (Tite Barnacle [Sr]). He was also appointed a Commander of the British Empire in the 1981 Birthday Honours.

Robert Hardy died on August 3 at the age of 91.