Neil Armstrong would always be taking that first step onto the moon, and Dick Clark was forever “the world’s oldest teenager.” Some of the notables who died in 2012 created images in our minds that remained unchanged over decades.
Sadly, for others an established image was shattered by a fall from grace. Whitney Houston ruled as a queen of pop music, but years of hard living harmed her voice while erratic behavior and a troubled marriage took a toll on her image. And Joe Paterno, Penn State’s longtime coach, won more games than anyone in major college football, but was ultimately fired amid a molestation scandal involving an assistant coach that scarred his reputation.
Some whose deaths we noted weren’t known by image or even name but by contributions that changed our lives — like Eugene Polley, inventor of the first wireless TV remote control, and Norman Joseph Woodland, co-inventor of the bar code that labels nearly every product in stores.
Among the political figures who died were George McGovern, Democrat presidential nominee who lost to Richard Nixon in a historic landslide, and ex-Sen. Arlen Specter, the outspoken Pennsylvania centrist.
The year also saw the deaths of a number of TV stars including Larry Hagman, who played oil baron J.R. Ewing on “Dallas.”
Others in entertainment and the arts who died included: Etta James, Andy Griffith, Ernest Borgnine, Sherman Hemsley, Donna Summer, Robin Gibb, Nora Ephron, Phyllis Diller, Michael Clarke Duncan, Don Cornelius, Ravi Shankar and Dave Brubeck.
Here is a roll call of some of the people who died in 2012. (Cause of death cited for younger people if available.)
Bob Anderson, 89. Olympic fencer and movie sword master, he donned Darth Vader’s black helmet and fought light saber battles in two “Star Wars” films. Jan. 1.
Lowell Randall, 96. Pioneer rocket scientist who helped launch the U.S. space program and tested intercontinental ballistic missiles. Jan. 3.
Jessica Joy Rees, 12. She became a nationally recognized face of child cancer with a blog that chronicled her fight against brain tumors. Jan. 5. Brain cancer.
Don Carter, 85. Bowling great who flourished as a genuine sports celebrity during the game’s golden age on TV. Jan. 5.
Edward Derwinski, 85. He represented Chicago’s south side and adjoining suburbs in Congress for nearly a quarter-century before becoming the nation’s first secretary of veterans affairs. Jan 15.
Jimmy Castor, 71. Funk and soul saxophonist, singer and songwriter whose tune, “It’s Just Begun,” morphed into an anthem for generations of musical acts. Jan. 16.
Johnny Otis, 90. He wrote and recorded the R&B classic “Willie and the Hand Jive” and for decades evangelized black music to white audiences as a bandleader and radio host. Jan. 17.
Etta James, 73. Blues singer best known for her performance of the enduring classic “At Last.” Jan. 20. Complications of leukemia.
Joe Paterno, 85. Longtime Penn State coach who won more games than anyone in major college football but was fired amid a child sex abuse scandal that scarred his reputation for winning with integrity. Jan. 22.
Robert Hegyes, 60. Actor best known for playing Jewish Puerto Rican student Juan Epstein on the 1970s TV show “Welcome Back Kotter.” Jan. 26.
Kevin H. White, 82. Former Boston mayor who led the city for 16 years including during racially turbulent times in the 1970s and was credited with putting it on a path to prosperity. Jan. 27.
Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, 88. Retired head of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and an uncharged central figure in a child sex-abuse case that involves the alleged shuffling of predator priests to unwitting parishes. Jan. 31.
Don Cornelius, 75. As host of “Soul Train,” he helped break down racial barriers and broaden the reach of black culture with funky music, groovy dance steps and cutting edge style. Feb. 1. Self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Angelo Dundee, 90. Trainer who helped groom Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard into world champions. Feb. 1.
Ben Gazzara, 81. Actor who brought intensity to roles in such iconic productions as the original “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” on Broadway and the film “The Big Lebowski.” Feb. 3.
Whitney Houston, 48. She ruled as pop music’s queen until her majestic voice was ravaged by drug use and her regal image ruined by erratic behavior and a tumultuous marriage to singer Bobby Brown. Feb. 11. Accidentally drowned in a bathtub.
Gary Carter, 57. Star catcher whose single for the New York Mets in the 1986 World Series touched off one of the most improbable rallies in baseball. Feb. 16.
Katie Hall, 73. Former Indiana congresswoman who was a key sponsor of the 1983 legislation that established a national holiday for Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Feb. 20.
Remi Ochlik, 28. Photojournalist who covered riots in Haiti and the upheaval sweeping across the Arab world. Feb. 22. Killed in a shelling attack in Syria.
Marie Colvin, 56. Journalist, recognizable for the eye patch that hid a shrapnel injury, who covered conflicts from Sri Lanka to Syria in her quest to bring stories about the world’s most troubled places to light. Feb. 22. Killed in a shelling attack in Syria.
Lynn D. “Buck” Compton, 90. Veteran whose World War II exploits were depicted in the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers.” Feb. 25.
Davy Jones, 66. Actor turned singer who helped propel the TV rock band The Monkees to the top of the pop charts. Feb. 29. Heart attack.
Andrew Breitbart, 43. Conservative media publisher and activist who was behind investigations that led to the resignation of former Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y. March 1.
James Q. Wilson, 80. Political scientist whose “broken windows” theory on crime-fighting helped launch a nationwide move toward community policing. March 2.
James T. “Jimmy” Ellis, 74. As frontman for The Trammps, he belted out the refrain “Burn, baby burn!” in the 1970s-era disco hit “Disco Inferno.” March 8.
Harry Wendelstedt, 73. Longtime umpire who worked five World Series and made a call involving Don Drysdale that became one of baseball’s most disputed plays in the late 1960s. March 9.
F. Sherwood Rowland, 84. Nobel prize-winning chemist who sounded the alarm on the thinning of the Earth’s ozone layer and crusaded against the use of chemicals that were harming earth’s atmospheric blanket. March 10.
Michael Hossack, 65. Longtime Doobie Brothers drummer whose work is heard on the hits “Listen To The Music” and “China Grove.” March 12. Cancer.
John Demjanjuk, 91. He was convicted of being a low-ranking guard at the Sobibor death camp, but his 35-year fight to clear his name made him one of the best-known faces of Nazi prosecutions. March 17.
Abdullahi Yusuf, 78. He rose from guerrilla warrior to president of Somalia only to watch his administration crumble under an Islamic insurgency. March 23. Complications from pneumonia.
Bert Sugar, 75. Iconic boxing writer and sports historian who was known for his trademark fedora and ever-present cigar. March 25.
Earl Scruggs, 88. Bluegrass legend and banjo pioneer who profoundly influenced country music with Bill Monroe in the 1940s and later with guitarist Lester Flatt. March 28.
Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, 76. He designed Porsche’s classic 911 sports car, the sleek model that evokes power, wealth and envy among aficionados. April
Mike Wallace, 93. Dogged CBS reporter who took on politicians and celebrities in a 60-year career highlighted by on-air confrontations that helped make “60 Minutes” the most successful prime-time television news program ever. April 7.
Dick Clark, 82. Ever-youthful television entrepreneur who helped bring rock ‘n’ roll into the mainstream on “American Bandstand,” and later produced and hosted game shows and the year-end countdown from Times Square. April 19.
Levon Helm, 71. Key member of the rock group The Band who lent his voice to classics like “The Weight” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” April 19.
Charles “Chuck” Colson, 80. Special counsel to President Richard Nixon who went to prison for his role in a Watergate-related case and became a Christian evangelical helping inmates. April 21.
George Vujnovich, 96. Intelligence agent who organized a World War II mission to rescue more than 500 U.S. bomber crew members shot down over Nazi-occupied Serbia. April 24.
Patricia Medina, 92. Actress who became a Hollywood leading lady in the 1950s opposite Glenn Ford, Alan Ladd, Karl Malden and Fernando Lamas. April 28.
Tomas Borge Martinez, 81. Last surviving founder of the Sandinista guerrilla movement that overthrew Nicaragua’s U.S.-backed right-wing dictatorship in 1979. April 30.