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Noteworthy Pioneers Who Passed Away in 2021

Noteworthy Pioneers Who Passed Away in 2021

Betty White, 1922-2021: Comedia Actress best remembered for her role on “The Golden Girls”.

The actress and comedian Betty Marion White Ludden (January 17, 1922 – December 31, 2021) was born into a family of actors. In addition to her work in the entertainment industry, White was a pioneer of early television with a career spanning nine decades. A 2018 documentary on her life referred to her as the First Lady of Television. As one of the first women to exert control in front of and behind the camera, she also was the first woman to produce a sitcom (Life with Elizabeth).

A Guinness World Record was awarded to White in 2018 for the longest career in television. In addition to eight Emmy Awards, White received three American Comedy Awards, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, and a Grammy Award. She was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1985 and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

White is sorely missed particularly by the African American community. White stuck her neck out for blacks by refusing to cancel a black musical act on her show. The show was canceled as a result, but she never expressed regret and became a small revolution within herself. She is remembered especially with this rendition of The Golden Girls Theme Song.

Gregg Leakes, 1955-2021: Husband of “Real Housewives of Atlanta” star NeNe Leakes.

Real estate investor Leakes married NeNe Leakes twice – once in 1997, and again in 2013 after their 2011 divorce. He began appearing on “Real Housewives of Atlanta” in 2008, and has continued to do so through 2019. “Real Housewives” documented Leakes’ battle with cancer as he underwent surgery in 2018 to remove part of his colon. Their second wedding was featured in the spinoff show, “I Dream of NeNe: The Wedding.

While some men and their antics on the show perturbed the cast of housewives, Greg Leakes was accepted and respected by them all as “The voice of reason” among the reality starlets. Although the RHOA franchise had others pass before Greg, when the news hit the cast, they were visibly moved in an authentic way that had not been seen before aside from the time when Kandi Buruss buried a former significant other.

John Madden, 1936-2021: Legendary NFL coach for Super Bowl-winning Oakland Raiders, longtime football commentator

His cause of death was not given in a statement from the National Football League. His agent, Sandy Montag, said he died at his home in Pleasanton, Calif. He was one of America’s most recognizable ambassadors of professional football, reaching millions of viewers from the broadcast booth and through the popular video game that bears his name.

Biz Markie, 1964 – 2021: “Just a Friend” Rapper and Actor

In contrast to the gangster-style lyrics of more menacing rappers, Biz Markie preferred humor and tunefulness in his lyrics, which he dubbed the “Clown Prince of Rap.” “I’d rather have a smile than be serious,” he said, confessing that he liked the comedy of Benny Hill and Richard Pryor. His biggest hit, “Just a Friend (1989)”, told the story of him trying to convince a girl that she, “got what I need!” only to be stopped by another guy she said was “just a friend”. Biz Markie was in fact foundational to Hip Hop culture especially in the area of beatboxing.

Colin Powell, 1937 – 2021: Former chairman of the joint chiefs and secretary of state

Powell served in public life for more than four decades as the nation’s top diplomat, soldier, and national security adviser. Powell’s speech at the United Nations in 2003 helped pave the way for the United States to invade Iraq. He was 84 years old.

His family said the cause of death was complications related to Covid-19; he had been vaccinated and was being treated at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md., when he died.

According to a spokeswoman, he was being treated for multiple myeloma, which had compromised his immune system. It was supposed to be his booster shot last week, but when he fell ill it had to be postponed. She said he also had Parkinson’s disease in its early stages.

Cicely Tyson, 1924 – 2021: Oscar-nominated actress

Cicely Tyson, who has died at the age of 96, resolved early in her career to bring a positive philosophy to the parts she played. In her memoir Just As I Am, published just weeks before her death, she explains, “My art had to reflect the times and propel them forward.” She was determined to change the narrative about Black people – to change the way Black women, in particular, were perceived by leading with grace and dignity.

Later films of her career include Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (1991), in which she played a cook who accidentally kills a racist brute; her colleagues barbecue him and serve the meat to investigators. She played in several movies by actor-writer-director Tyler Perry, wildly popular in the US, such as Madea’s Family Reunion (2006) and Why Did I Get Married Too? (2008). In the Oscar-winning film The Help (2011), she plays a Mississippi maid who is unjustly fired.

Michael K. Williams, 1966 – 2021: Actor, best known for his HBO roles in ‘The Wire’ and ‘Boardwalk Empire’

Michael Kenneth Williams played Omar Little on HBO’s drama series The Wire from 2002 to 2008 and Albert “Chalky” White on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire from 2010 to 2014.

As a result of his performances in the HBO television biopic Bessie (2015), the Netflix drama series When They See Us (2019), and the HBO series The Night Of (2016) and Lovecraft Country (2020), he was nominated for Primetime Emmy Awards. From 2011 to 2012, he was a recurring character on the sitcom, “Community”. Additionally, he appeared in a number of films including Gone Baby Gone (2006), The Road (2009), 12 Years a Slave (2013), Inherent Vice (2014), and Motherless Brooklyn (2019).

His death went viral leading to millions mourning the loss of a kind-spirited, principled, individual.

Young Dolph, 1985-2021: Rapper whose real name was Adolph Robert Thornton Jr.

A Black American rapper, he was. King of Memphis, his debut studio album, peaked at number 49 on the Billboard 200 chart in 2016. He appeared on O.T. Genesis’ hit single “Cut It,” which peaked at number 35 on the Billboard Hot 100.

He was shot to death. He went to pick up cookies for his loving matriarch, his grandmother, and never returned home. He is sorely missed by fans and loved ones.

Black Rob, 1968-2021: Bad Boy rapper best known for “Whoa”

Robert Ross, better known as Black Rob, grew up in Harlem and began rapping before he was even a teenager. In addition to 112’s “Come See Me,” Faith Evans’ “Love Like This,” and Mase’s “24 Hours,” he became a featured rapper on other artists’ songs. He released his debut album, “Life Story,” on Bad Boy Records in 1999 and it went platinum. The album yielded the 2000 hit “Whoa,” which was a Top 10 rap single and reached the Billboard Hot 100. He collaborated with P. Diddy and Mark Curry on the 2001 hit “Bad Boy for Life,” and in 2005 he had a minor R&B hit with “Ready.”

DMX, 1970 – 2021: Grammy-nominated rapper and actor.

DMX, who died aged 50 following a heart attack, was the first rapper to have five of his albums climb straight to the top of the US charts after the violent deaths of Notorious BIG and Tupac Shakur. His multi-platinum debut album It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot (1998) provided a stormy overview of greed, violence, crime and betrayal, and displayed his gift for blending light and heavy textures with an intense, menacing presence behind the microphone.

Suzzanne Douglas, 1957-2021: Actress, “The Parent Hood,”

Douglas starred in “Tap” (1989) opposite Gregory Hines (1946–2003) and Sammy Davis Jr. (1925–1990), playing the daughter of Davis’ character. Her performance won her an NAACP Image Award. Douglas made his television debut in 1995 as Jerri Peterson on the WB sitcom “The Parent ‘Hood,” starring in it for five seasons. She portrayed Angela in “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” (1998) and Cissy Houston in “Whitney” (2015). She starred in the 1990 TV series “Against the Law” and has appeared on shows such as “The Cosby Show,” “Touched by an Angel,” “The Parkers,” and “The Good Wife.” Her most recent role was in the 2019 Netflix miniseries “When They See Us.”

Drakeo the Ruler, 1993-2021: L.A. rapper

Known as Drakeo the Ruler, Darrell Wayne Campbell was raised by a single mother in the gang-ridden Hundreds section of South Central L.A. He was caught up in petty crime in the troubled neighborhood from an early age, landing in jail before he was 13 years old. Campbell and his brother Devante, like so many others from their hometown, turned to rap as a way to escape the punitive cycle of the streets, inspired by artists such as Boosie and Webbie, the Hot Boyz, and battle rapper Cocky. Campbell began releasing mixtapes in his 20s under the stage name Drakeo the Ruler, which was derived from the ancient Greek legislator Drakeo, and was discovered in 2015 by DJ Mustard, a party-favorite producer who worked with fellow West Coast artists YG and Ty Dolla Sign. Drakeo’s song “Mr.” was remixed by Mustard. Drakeo was featured on the first compilation mixtape of Drake’s 10 Summers label, after he brought “Get Dough” to widespread attention. Drakeo released I Am Mr. Mosley, his third mixtape under 10 Summers, a few months after those features.

Anthony ‘A.J.’ Johnson, 1966-2021: Comedian, actor in “Friday” and “House Party”

E.Z.E. was Johnson’s breakthrough role in “House Party” (1990). He then appeared in “Lethal Weapon 3” (1992) and “Menace II Society” (1993) before his best-known role came in 1995. “Friday” starred him alongside Ice Cube and Chris Tucker as the petty thief Ezal. Johnson’s other films include “Panther” (1995), “B.A.P.S.” (1997), and “I Got the Hook Up” (1998). He also appeared in music videos by Dr. Dre and Eazy-E, and made TV appearances in “Martin,” “The Parent ‘Hood,” and “Malcolm & Eddie.” Johnson was a stand-up comedian, appearing on “Def Comedy Jam” in 1994.

Kangol Kid, 1966-2021: “Roxanne, Roxanne” rapper with hip-hop group UTFO

Rapper Kangol Kid was a member of the Brooklyn rap group UTFO when he created one of hip-hop’s earliest viral hits, “Roxanne, Roxanne,” about a woman who rejects macho advances. Originally released in 1984 as the B-side to a largely forgotten single, “Hanging Out,” the track sold more than a quarter-million copies and launched what seemed like a thousand response records.

Kongol, whose stage name came from his favorite hat brand, was a rapper, producer, breakdancer and all-around hip-hop pioneer: one of the first dancers to perform on stage with a rap group, one of the first rappers to receive a brand endorsement, and one of the few artists at the center of the Roxanne Wars, one of the genre’s first major feuds.

Larry King, 1925 – 2021: Longtime radio and cable TV host

In 1980, Ted Turner, a US businessman, founded Cable News Network, which changed television forever. CNN’s 24-hour news cycle is credited with everything from bringing down the iron curtain to changing the television menus in hotels around the world.

Despite selling itself as a news channel, CNN’s most-watched program was not a news show at all, but Larry King Live. Larry King, who died at the age of 87 after suffering from Covid-19, was a celebrity interviewer who often hosted politicians and newsmakers as celebrities rather than policy experts.




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