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Milestones Sep. 24, 2007

4 minute read
Joe Lertola


THOSE FAMILIAR WITH the cognitive skills of African gray parrot Alex will never again use birdbrain as an insult. With help from researcher Irene Pepperberg, Alex learned to communicate, fueling debate over other species’ ability to learn human language. He knew 100 words and could count, express frustration and differentiate among some colors, shapes and textures. His last words to Pepperberg: “You be good. See you tomorrow. I love you.” He was 31.

NOW IT’S COOL TO BE GREEN, but in 1976, when Anita Roddick launched her eco-friendly Body Shop in Brighton, England, she was just odd. Taking cues from myriad cultures, the former U.N. worker infused her moisturizers and cleansers with natural ingredients, opposed animal testing, helped develop Third World communities and used her visibility to protest human-rights abuses. Roddick, who saw her company expand to 2,000 sites in 50 countries, died of a brain hemorrhage. She was 64.

FEW EUROPEANS CAN SAY they changed American jazz. But with his innovative electronic-piano playing and composing, most notably for Miles Davis in the 1960s, Vienna-born keyboardist Joe Zawinul pioneered the electrified genre of jazz fusion. He wrote the title song on Davis’ first electric-jazz album, In a Silent Way, and later co-founded the seminal jazz-rock band Weather Report, which he led for 15 years. Zawinul was 75.

AFTER several of her friends died within a short period, author Madeleine L’Engle aimed to make sense of her pain by writing about the universe. Result: her iconic 1962 children’s novel, A Wrinkle in Time, which follows angst-ridden adolescent Meg Murry and her brother on a quest through time and space to rescue their imprisoned father on a planet governed by the sinister Dark Thing. With its mythic struggles, biblical and literary references and themes of good and evil–Dad is saved with the one gift Dark Thing lacks, the power of love–Wrinkle was seen by some as anti-Christian and was often banned. (The spiritual author called it “great publicity.”) Wrinkle, which won the 1963 Newbery Medal, has sold more than 8 million copies. L’Engle was 88.

BABY BOOMERS KNOW HER AS the icy matriarch on TV’s hit prime-time soap Falcon Crest, as Ronald Reagan’s first wife and as mother of Maureen and Michael Reagan. Yet in the 1950s, the unpretentious Jane Wyman was one of Hollywood’s most respected stars. She broke out of B movies in Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend and went on to vibrant performances in such films as 1948’s Johnny Belinda (her portrayal of a deaf and mute rape victim won her an Oscar) and Alfred Hitchcock’s Stage Fright. She broke her long silence on Reagan after his death, calling him a “great President and … gentle man.” Wyman was 90.

“YOU SEE THAT BLACK MUD? Put a little sugar in it … add a little water, and you can paint all day.” So said American folk artist Jimmy Lee Sudduth, who got his start in mud painting as a toddler, accompanying his healer mom through the Alabama woods. Using his fingers as a brush, plywood as canvas, and sugar, berries and turnip greens for color and texture, Sudduth, a star of the folk-art explosion of the 1980s, painted his life–his dog, farm animals and, after traveling, the U.S. Capitol. Sudduth’s works are in the permanent collections of a number of museums and the Smithsonian. He was 97.


An Opera King’s Final Curtain Call

His family declined a state funeral in Rome, but the spirited, emotional farewell to singer Luciano Pavarotti in his hometown of Modena looked a lot like one

THE CASKET The bow-tied Pavarotti’s white maple coffin was lined with the maroon velvet used for the seats in La Scala and other houses. He held a rosary and the trademark white handkerchief he carried to mop his brow.

TRIBUTE The Pope sent a eulogy referring to the tenor’s “divine gift of music”; 10 air-force planes flew overhead, trailing green, white and red smoke; in the two days before the funeral, 100,000 visited the open casket.

CONTROVERSY Some local priests decried giving the divorced Pavarotti a public viewing and funeral as a “profanation of the temple”–despite the fact that higher officials, including the Archbishop of Modena, approved.

FINALE As the service came to a close, a recording of Pavarotti and his baker father singing a duet–César Franck’s hymn Panis Angelicus–brought tears and a last, several-minutes-long standing ovation.

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