RIP May 2017

Some big names were scythed low in May - Roger Moore, Manuel Noriega, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Greg Allmann - but The Reaper prefers to delve into the lesser-known and disregarded. Such as Stanley Weston, who died at the start of the month...

Stanley Weston (pictured in main image) brought joy to the hearts of many young boys by the creation of the G.I. Joe action figure in 1963, the rights to which he more or less gave away – selling them to the US toy manufacturer Hasbro for a mere $100,000 – and then went on to set up a company licensing and merchandising other figures. He used to scour army and navy surplus stores to get ideas about what equipment G. I. Joe (and the many spin-offs) should be carrying. An American veteran of the Korean War, he died in California at the age of 84 on 1 May.

The epithet ‘distinguished’ is often applied to anybody who simply has reached a certain age. But both Hugh Thomas and Alistair Horne were truly distinguished historians. The former’s Spanish Civil War, published in 1961, set the direction for all future historians covering that conflict, while the latter’s The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916, published in 1962, was a brilliant corrective to the hitherto Anglo-centric view of the Great War. Thomas was professor of history at the University of Reading during 1966-75. When he set about writing his Spanish Civil War he knew nothing of the Spanish language; but being banned by General Franco’s dictatorship in Spain helped it gain huge success. He died on 7 May, aged 86. Alistair Horne, who wrote more than 20 books, died at the age of 91 on 25 May.

Quite a few footballers were taken by the Reaper this month

Noel Kinsey also made it to 91 before dying on 20 May. He was a professional footballer who started his career with Norwich City and played for Wales. Quite a few footballers were taken by the Reaper this month: Derek Neilson, 58 played for Brechin City and Berwick Rangers; Robert Hammond, 67, appeared for the Ghanaian team Hearts of Oak; the Spanish player Emili Vicente Vives died on 25 May aged 52, as a result of being knocked off his bike in a traffic accident; Recep Adanir, who played mainly for the Turkish club Beşiktaş, lived until he was 88; Roy Gater, who played for Port Vale among others, died age 76 as a result of Alzeheimer’s; Cammy Duncan, who played for the Scots team Partick Thistle, succumbed to cancer at 51; David Bystroň, who played in the First League of the Czech Republic, and who struggled with illegal drugs, hanged himself at the age of 34.

Mohamed Talbi, the Tunisian Islamic scholar who attempted to synthesize Islamic teaching with modern Western thought, died at the age of 95. His kind of balanced reasoning will be missed, particularly today. The award-winning Argentine writer Abelardo Castillo died at the age of 82, while at 83 the ground-breaking US journalist Anne Louise Morrissy Merick (pictured) died, from complications arising from dementia. Merick, who worked for ABC, successfully argued with the Pentagon to permit female reporters to go to the front lines with troops during the Vietnam War. The Mexican reporter Javier Valdez Cárdenas, who wrote widely and critically on organised crime and drug traffickers in his country, was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen. He was 50.

The Mexican reporter Javier Valdez Cárdenas, who wrote on organised crime and drug traffickers in his country, was killed by unidentified gunmen. He was 50.

Richard Dalby wrote more than 200 articles for Book and Magazine Collector and was the only contributor to be with the magazine from first (March 1984) to last (2010). But his real love was ghost stories – he edited more than 50 anthologies of them. He died at the age of 68. The French philosopher Ruwen Ogien, who died aged 67, developed a theory of ‘minimal ethics’, which eventually he boiled down to one principle: “do not harm others, nothing more”. He published in 2011 a book which, roughly translated, was called: The influence of the smell of croissants on human kindness and other matters of experimental moral philosophy.

You may never have heard of Yevhen Hrytsyak, who died in May at the age of 90; but he should be remembered. He was a leader of the Norilsk uprising in 1953, in the Arctic Circle in Russia. At the Gorlag gulag, or forced labour camp, in May to August 1953 the 16,000 prisoners, mostly political victims of Stalin, went on strike for 69 days, in protest at the shooting by gulag guards of several prisoners. A grandson of Stalin, Alexander Burdonsky, died from cancer at the age of 75; he’d spent his life  as a theatre and film director. Dai Zijin lived until 101 and was best known for being a Chinese pilot with the Flying Tigers in the Second World War. The Tigers were more formally known as the First American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air Force; in his later life Dai coached motorcyclists. The ‘Flying Finn’ Timo Mäkinen (pictured), who became famous in the 1960s and 70s for his success in Minis in motor-rally driving, died at 79.

Shulamit Kishik-Cohen lived a fascinating life and one fraught with risk and danger but managed to live to 100. Born in Argentina, she migrated to Palestine as a child and grew up near Jerusalem. From her youth she acted as a covert agent of the Israeli national intelligence agency Mossad, she spied on Lebanon and Syria from 1947 until 1961, when she was arrested by the Lebanese authorities, tortured, and sentenced to death, but in 1967 was freed as part of a prisoner exchange after the Six Day War. An equally risk-filled life was lived by the appropriately named Vince Deadrick Snr., the American stuntman who died aged 84. Deadrick’s career took in stints on Star Trek, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. The Canadian-born male impersonator Diane Marian Torr, who was a visiting lecturer at the Glasgow School of Art, died of a brain tumour aged 68. Mary Tsoni, the Greek singer and actress, was just 30 when she committed suicide on 8 May. Gabe Proctor, the African-American long-distance runner, also took his own life at just 27, following a long battle with severe depression.

The Macedonian percussionist Zoran Madzirov, who invented the Bottlephone, was killed at the age of 49 in a traffic accident

Erkki Juhani Kurenniemi was a Finnish artist and philosopher and an expert developer of electronic music, who died at the age of 75. A bit of a Renaissance figure, started his career at the University of Helsinki where in the 1960s he designed an electronic music studio. The London-born Clive Colin Brooks, a drummer with the innovative rock groups Egg, The Groundhogs, and Pink Floyd, died on 5 May aged 67. The Macedonian percussionist Zoran Madzirov (pictured), who invented the Bottlephone, was killed at the age of 49 in a traffic accident. The English contralto Norma Procter, who recorded many works of Gustav Mahler, reached the age of 89. Barbara Smith Conrad, the internationally recognised American mezzo-soprano, died aged 79. An African-American, she joined the University of Texas in 1956, one of the first cohort of African-Americans to do so. She was given the leading role in the university’s production of the opera Dido and Aeneas in 1957 but because of her race was removed from the cast as she was to have starred opposite a white Aeneas. The Russian violinist Grigori Yefimovich Zhislin, born in the dark days of 1945 Leningrad, survived until the age of 71. A professor of violin and viola at London’s Royal College of Music, he was an internationally renowned performer. One of the most important figures in British TV drama, Michael Wearing, who produced the gritty dramas Boys from the Blackstuff (1982) and Edge of Darkness (1985), died aged 78.

It wouldn’t be a regular round-up month for The Reaper without a mysterious Russian death and the demise of Vasily Mikhailovich Tarasyuk, a member of the extreme right-wing Liberal Democrat Party member of Russia’s State Duma, at 68, perhaps qualifies for being called odd. Apparently he drowned in the Red Sea while on holiday in Israel. On the other hand, it’s easier to be trapped upside down in the very salty Red Sea than one might imagine – particularly if a bout of heavy drinking has preceded the swim.

Her secret of living to an old age was munching on foie gras and pork belly

Not often the death of an Iranian prince can be recorded, but such was Shahpur Gholamreza Pahlavi, the half-brother of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran, overthrown by the Iranian Revolution on 11 February 1979. He was 93 and after 1979 lived out his life in exile in Paris, where he nurtured his fortune, having fled the country prior to the Revolution. But the longevity award this month goes to Juliana Koo, who has died aged 111. Born in Tianjin, China, as Yen Yu-yün in September 1905, she was one of the first female graduates of Fudan University. Eventually she became a Chinese-American diplomat who worked for the UN Protocol Department, the first female diplomat at the UN. She claimed that the secret of living to an old age was munching on foie gras and pork belly, eating as much butter as you want, no exercise or vegetables, and regular games of mahjong.

Picture sources: PSMS76, Wikimedia, Anonymous, Proleter