Many famous people passed away in 2013, from Patti Page (in January) to Nelson Mandela (in December). In between, we said goodbye to the legends (Lou Reed, Roger Ebert), the tragically young (Cory Monteith, Paul Walker), the much-loved (Annette Funicello, Deanna Durbin) and the political (Margaret Thatcher, Hugo Chavez). Once again, it’s time to remember some of the other significant or inspiring people who left this mortal plane this year—people whose deaths (or whose lives) might not have been on your radar.
1. and 2. Tony Sheridan (1940-2013) and Sid Bernstein (1918-2013): Beatles discoverers
Many people have made a claim to discovering the Beatles. These two gentlemen, however, have two of the strongest claims. Tony Sheridan, a northern English rock'n’roller, was playing in the German clubs when the Beatles arrived in 1960. He took them under his wing (Paul McCartney called him “The Teacher”), and they made their recording debut as his backup band. He remained in Germany, however, and never became a major star.
Later, New York concert promoter Sid Bernstein (top) turned the Beatles into international superstars. Intrigued by British reports of Beatlemania in 1963 (though he hadn’t yet heard their music), Bernstein persuaded their reluctant manager to send them to the U.S. the following year. None of Bernstein’s colleagues were interested, so he borrowed money himself to book Carnegie Hall. In 1965 he booked them into Shea Stadium, attracting a then-record crowd of 55,000. He also brought other top British bands to America, launching the so-called "British Invasion."
3. George Gray (1926-2013): liquid crystal wizard
If inventors became famous because of their effect on our everyday lives, Scottish chemist George Gray would be a household name. In the 1950s, he invented stable liquid crystal materials, which led to liquid crystal displays (LCDs). He was originally contracted to the UK Ministry of Defence, but by the late 1960s, LCDs were seen as an alternative to the heavy and expensive cathode-ray tubes used by television sets of the time. Still, it took a few more decades before they became the basis for common flat-screen televisions—not to mention smartphones and MP3 players. There are now more LCD screens in the world than there are people!
4. Mavis Lever (1921-2013): Enigma code-breaker
As an 18-year-old university student at the outset of World War II, Mavis Lever volunteered to be a British army nurse, but was instead recruited by British intelligence. Her job was not to be “Mata Hari seducing Prussian officers,” as she initially thought, but to use her German language skills to decipher secret codes used by Nazi Germany, especially the Enigma code. As many others had studied German, she was not sure why she was chosen, but later noted that Britain’s top code-breaker, Dilly Knox, liked to hire pretty young women for important jobs. It seemed to work; through a mixture of intuition and linguistic skill, she played a key role in at least two major British naval victories. In 1941, Lever and her colleague Margaret Rock deciphered part of a message by the German secret service. With this information, British spies learned that German generals were preparing to repel an Allied invasion of Calais in 1944. On D-Day in 1944, the Allied forces invaded Normandy instead—catching the Germans unaware—in one of the turning points of the war. “Give me a Lever and a Rock,” said Knox, “and I will move the universe.”
5. Sir Robert Edwards (1925-2013): the other IVF genius
Along with Patrick Steptoe, Yorkshire physiologist Robert Edwards worked for a decade on the most important discovery to treat infertility: in vitro fertilization. In 1978, this led to the first “test tube baby,” Louise Brown, who would regard Edwards as a “grandfather” figure. As of now, there have been more than four million IVF babies. Steptoe, as the senior partner, was more well-known than Edwards. However, as he died in 1988, he missed sharing Edwards’ knighthood and 2010 Nobel Prize.
6. Adrienne Asch (1946-2013): civil rights champion
Like many supporters of women’s rights during the 1970s, ethicist Adrienne Asch favored abortion rights—but not in every case. She strongly opposed the practices of prenatal testing and abortion to avoid bringing children with disabilities into the world. Asch, blind since her childhood, knew that disability did not make her worthless. She graduated in philosophy in 1969, but employers discriminated against her due to her blindness. Not as helpless as they thought, she saw disability as a civil rights issue, fighting for more respect and opportunity for people with disabilities. She later became a clinical psychotherapist, and received a PhD in 1992.
7. James H. Steele (1913-2013): super-vet
Steele was known as “the father of veterinary public health” for his work to prevent the spread of disease from animals to people. Even the ancients knew that animals spread disease, and numerous epidemics have happened over the millennia to remind us. However, after all that time, it was left to Steele to pioneer mass vaccination for animals—not just to protect them, but to protect humans as well. Steele brought more attention to zoonoses—diseases that spread from animals to humans. As these include 70 percent of diseases to emerge in the last 20 years (including West Nile virus, monkeypox and mad cow disease), he might yet prove to be one of the most important medical innovators of the past century.
8. and 9. Mother Antonia Brenner (1926-2013) and Sister Mary Nerney (1938-2013): prison angels
Some people who died this year were notable for their goodness as much as their great achievements. Mother Antonia Brenner, twice-divorced and active in charity work, left the high life of Beverly Hills at age 50 to be ordained as a Roman Catholic nun. She devoted herself to helping the inmates at Mexico’s notorious La Mesa state penitentiary, and lived in a cell at La Mesa for more than 30 years to be closer to them. Inmates recalled that she once walked fearlessly into the middle of a prison riot, avoiding the bullets and tear gas. But when the inmates saw her, they stopped fighting.
Another Roman Catholic nun, Sister Mary Nerney, was an equally tireless advocate for female convicts, especially survivors of domestic violence (who were, in many cases, imprisoned for murdering the perpetrators). She started Project Green Hope (to help reintegrate ex-prisoners into society) and Steps to End Family Violence (which assists battered men as well as women).
10. Natalya Gorbanevskaya (1936-2013): freedom fighter
A Russian dissident, Natalya Gorbanevskaya protested in Moscow’s Red Square in 1968 when Russian troops sent tanks into Czechoslovakia to quell the Prague Spring. Unlike most of her fellow protesters, she avoided arrest. Her activities, however, became even more courageous: forming a civil rights group; co-founding The Chronicle of Current Events, an influential underground newspaper focusing on civil rights news; and publishing a book about the trials of her arrested comrades. She was finally arrested in 1969 and thrown into a psychiatric prison for “continuous sluggish schizophrenia.” Joan Baez’ song “Natalya” was inspired by her plight. “It is because of people like Natalya Gorbanevskaya, I am convinced,” said Baez, “that you and I are still alive and walking around on the face of the earth.”
Happily, Natalya was released in 1972 and became known as an influential poet—whose poems, it so happened, rarely mentioned politics. Shortly before her death, she returned to Red Square with nine other demonstrators, to commemorate on the 45th anniversary of the Russian tanks. They were arrested for holding an unsanctioned rally.
11. Raymond Cusick (1928-2013): Dalek designer
BBC production designer Ray Cusick died early in 2013, just as the Doctor Who 50th anniversary celebrations were being planned. He had designed the Daleks, the show’s most popular alien monsters. Presented with a very low budget, and the directive to avoid making them look like a “man in the suit,” he envisioned them as robot-like creatures who resembled pepper-pots. (Indeed, he demonstrated them to a model-maker by gliding a pepper-pot across a table.) The children of Britain were scared witless by these metallic killing machines, making the Daleks an instant success—and making Doctor Who a must-see kids’ television show. Cusick designed other monsters for Doctor Who, and worked on more earthly television shows like Miss Marple, but would never equal the Daleks.
12. Mark Sutton (1971-2013): the Queen’s favourite James Bond
As Andy Warhol said, everyone might someday be famous for 15 minutes. Other people might provide an immortal moment, but they still might not become famous. Mark Sutton was one such person. In one of the opening ceremony highlights of the 2012 London Olympics, James Bond and Queen Elizabeth II parachuted into the Olympic Stadium. It was a terrific surprise – funny, ridiculous, thrilling and completely unexpected. However, the Bond who parachuted was not Daniel Craig, but Sutton, a veteran stuntman. (The Queen? No, that wasn’t her either. That was another stuntman, Gary Connery.) Sadly, Sutton died after hitting a cliff during a jump in Switzerland.