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Obituaries of Note for the Year 2005


Traditionally, the end of the year is a time for reflection about notable figures who passed away. Some sought fame, others had it thrust upon them. All influenced how we see the world today.

For the last quarter century, Pope John Paul II was head of the Roman Catholic Church. Known as the most-traveled pope, he visited more than 120 countries.

Born Karol Wojtyla in Poland, the pope was a highly visible ally of the Solidarity movement in the 1980s, and rallied many to that cause. He was credited with helping to bring down communism. He also survived an assassination attempt.

Pope John Paul II was both outspoken and conservative. His stance on such sensitive issues as birth control and abortion alienated some.

The pope suffered from numerous ailments late in life. Despite concerns for his health, he continued working. His determination and dignity in difficult times were seen by many as courageous.

The pope was 84 when he succumbed to heart and kidney failure.

Senator Eugene J. McCarthy was a presidential hopeful who never even won his party's nomination. Yet for one moment, his influence on the American presidency was profound.

Sensing the growing unpopularity of the Vietnam War, Sen. McCarthy, in 1968, rallied many young Americans and challenged President Lyndon Johnson to be the Democratic Party presidential candidate.

McCarthy did not win, but his strong showing in the primaries prompted President Johnson to withdraw from the race.

"I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your President." announced President Johnson.

Robert Kennedy entered the race, but was assassinated. Vice President Hubert Humphrey became the Democratic candidate at a convention famous for its pitched street battles between anti-war protesters and Chicago police. He was defeated by the Republican Party's Richard Nixon, who later was forced to resign.

Arthur Miller was one of America's best-known and most honored playwrights. Mr. Miller was a prolific writer. During the 1940s and '50s, he won awards for his plays, "All My Children," and "The Crucible."

His most memorable creation was the success-hungry character, Willy Loman, in his Pulitzer Prize winning play, "Death of a Salesman."

Mr. Miller was 89.

Another of America's most honored playwrights was August Wilson. His singular achievement and literary legacy is a cycle of 10 plays, each set in a different decade, depicting the comedy and tragedy of the African-American experience in the 20th century. He won Pulitzer Prizes for two of those plays, "Fences" and "The Piano Lesson."

Fifty years ago, in segregated Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks, while riding on a bus, defied the driver's order to give up her seat to a white man. Her subsequent arrest triggered a nationwide fight for civil rights -- a fight she continued to her dying day. Ms. Parks was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, and was recently honored on the 50th anniversary of her arrest by the city of Montgomery.

Comedian Richard Pryor also battled racism, but in his own unique way. Born and raised in a brothel run by his family, Mr. Pryor incorporated the colorful characters he encountered in childhood into his standup act.

He was a star of TV and motion pictures in the 1970s and '80s, before drug and health problems slowed him down. But many fans agree, Mr. Pryor was at his best onstage, where his body contortions and earthy language conveyed, for many, a broad spectrum of African-American humor.

Richard Pryor was 65.

With his encyclopedic mind and movie star good looks, it was, perhaps, inevitable that Canadian-born Peter Jennings, whose father was a famous radio news reporter and anchor, became a TV news anchor.

Mr. Jennings said he enjoyed being a foreign correspondent most, but TV viewers will always remember him best as anchor on the American network, ABC's World News Tonight -- a post he held for 22 years.

Whatever news he covered, Mr. Jennings was, for many of his viewers, the calm, reassuring voice of reason.

He died of lung cancer in August.

Johnny Carson was another TV icon. For four decades, millions of Americans stayed up past their bedtime to watch Mr. Carson host the late night talk show, "The Tonight Show." The show consisted of skits, and comic and novelty acts.

It was usually Mr. Carson's opening monologue that viewers stayed up to watch. His occasional bad jokes and the audience's reaction inspired some of Mr. Carson's funniest ad-libs.

Johnny Carson was 79.

Don Adams' moment of fame was far briefer. During the 1960s, Mr. Adams played bumbling secret agent Maxwell Smart, on the hit TV show, "Get Smart."

Anne Bancroft was a versatile actress. A star of film, TV and stage, she won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Helen Keller's teacher in 1960s "The Miracle Worker."

But most movie fans agree her defining role was as Mrs. Robinson, the "older woman" who seduces a young Dustin Hoffman, in the 1967 movie, "The Graduate."

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