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10 People We Lost in 2008 (Who Are Worth Remembering)

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At the end of each year, the media reflects on the famous people who died over the past 12 months. This year's notable losses include Paul Newman, Edmund Hillary, Tim Russert and Arthur C. Clarke. But many others have been ignored by most news outlets. Here are ten more people who passed away in 2008 who are certainly worth remembering, including a Civil War widow, the world's oldest blogger and the man behind the McMuffin.

1. Irena Sandler: Cunning War Hero

During World War II, Catholic social worker Irena Sandler saved some 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto. Disguised as a nurse, she would smuggle them out through the sewer, or in sacks, coffins, suitcases and "“ for one baby "“ a mechanic's toolbox. In 1943, she was captured by the Gestapo and tortured. Her legs and feet were broken, and her body suffered permanent scars, but she refused to identify the children (now living new lives) or her accomplices. She escaped after a guard was bribed, returning to work under a different identity.

Though she later won Poland's highest honor, and was nominated last year for a Nobel Peace Prize (she lost to Al Gore), she still suffered from Oscar Schindler-like feelings of guilt. "We who were rescuing children are not some kind of heroes," she said in 2005. "That term irritates me greatly. The opposite is true. I continue to have qualms of conscience that I did so little. I could have done more. This regret will follow me to my death."

2. Maudie Hopkins: The Last Civil War Widow

Maudie Hopkins was almost certainly the last surviving widow of a Confederate soldier "“ and as the Civil War came to an end in 1865, it was no small achievement that she made it all the way to 2008. OK, it helps to know that her husband, widower William M. Cantrell, was only 16 when he enlisted. In 1934, 86-year-old Cantrell and 19-year-old Hopkins entered a marriage of convenience, as he offered to bequeath his land and home to her if she looked after him in his final years. He died only three years later, and she lived off his land, marrying three more times. It might have required a 67-year age difference, but Hopkins seems to have been the last surviving Civil War widow "“ and she was born 50 years after the war!

3. Albert Hofmann: Discovered LSD

Swiss scientist Albert Hoffman made an accidental discovery in 1943, while researching the use of lysergic acid derivatives in medicinal drugs. Absorbing a small quantity through his fingertips, he felt the effects on a bicycle ride home, experiencing the world's first LSD trip. Three days later, he deliberately consumed larger quantities of LSD, writing of the "remarkable restlessness" and "extremely stimulated imagination" that it gave him. Though it was used successfully in psychoanalysis, it became popular as a recreational drug in the sixties, as Timothy Leary promoted acid tripping as a spiritual experience and countless rock stars used it for inspiration. Hofmann was unhappy with this, feeling that his discovery was being misused by youth culture "“ and of course, demonized by the authorities for its dangerous side effects. He went on to defend LSD in numerous articles and books, and in an international symposium held on his 100th birthday in 2006.

4. Anita Page: Silent Film Star

anita.jpgEighty years after the first sound movies (or "talkies") were made, there is almost nobody left from the silent movie era. Anita Page was one of the youngest silent movie stars, making her first movie (in a small role) at age 15 in 1925. Over the next few years, she would co-star with such silent screen legends as Joan Crawford, Lon Chaney and Buster Keaton. A very pretty blonde best known for playing lively flappers, Page's fans included Benito Mussolini, who (she claimed) proposed to her several times via fan mail. Page was the last survivor of the original Academy Awards ceremony in 1929, and starred in The Broadway Melody, the first talkie to win an Oscar for best film. She retired from movies at age 26, but made one of the most surprising comebacks in history 60 years later, at age 86, in the obscure thriller Sunset After Dark. When she died at age 98, her last film, Frankenstein Rising, was still in post-production. Not bad for someone who retired in 1936.

So was she the last of the adult silent film stars? You would think so, unless you discover that Barbara Kent, co-star of movies like Flesh and the Devil (1926) and No Man's Law (1927), is still apparently living in Idaho at age 102.

5. Tony Schwartz: The Man Behind "Daisy"

daisy.jpgYou might not know the name, but you probably know some of his work. Tony Schwartz was an advertiser, art director and political consultant whose most famous advertisement was "Daisy," a notorious 30-second spot that helped Lyndon Johnson win the 1964 Presidential election by a landslide. "Daisy" is still remembered today, which is highly impressive because a) it aired 44 years ago, and b) it aired only once during the election. In the days before cable, that's all it took for one powerful commercial to be effective "“ and whether you consider this an amazing work of art or a disgraceful piece of fear-mongering, this ad was certainly powerful. It showed a young girl innocently counting the petals on a daisy, while a narrator counts down. The camera ominously zooms into the pupil of the girl's eye "“ and a nuclear bomb detonates, releasing a mushroom cloud. "These are the stakes," says Johnson's voice, suggesting (convincingly, it would seem) that a vote for his opponent, Barry Goldwater, could lead to ultimate disaster.

Schwartz made many political ads, mainly for Democrats, but in his long career, he also conceived ads for companies like Chrysler and Coca-Cola.

6. Jo Stafford: "G.I. Jo"

If you've never heard of Jo Stafford, you're probably too young"¦ like most other people. While her death at age 90 went unnoticed by many, she was a huge recording star at her peak, known for her pure, melodic and versatile voice. That peak, however, was the early 1950s "“ so she outlived most of her fans. Starting as a Big Band singer during World War II, she went solo in 1944, recording no less than 93 songs over the years, including chart-topping classics like "You Belong to Me" (1952) and "Make Love to Me" (1954). She also had her own television series and sang for servicemen, who called her "G.I. Jo." But she didn't win a Grammy Award until 1960 "“ and she did it by joking around. After a recording session, she and her husband, musician Paul Weston, did some songs as a truly awful duet called Jonathan and Darlene Edwards, with "Darlene" singing off-key and "Jonathan" playing piano badly. For a laugh, they released a few songs in these personae, winning a Grammy for best comedy album. Silly as it was, it was perhaps Stafford's most influential work. She is now viewed as a pioneer of musical parody.

7. Herb Peterson: Inventor of the Egg McMuffin

herb.jpgMost great inventors are only known for one invention. Herb Peterson, a food scientist, gave the world one very common innovation, enjoyed by millions of people each day: the McDonald's Egg McMuffin, first sold in 1972 at a McDonald's franchise he owned in Santa Barbara, California. A big fan of eggs benedict, he devised the McMuffin as McDonald's answer to this traditional breakfast dish "“ although, to the serious café patron, processed cheese might not hold quite the same appeal as rich hollandaise sauce. Nonetheless, it worked for McDonald's, which soon had a signature breakfast sandwich to complement the burgers. The fast food chain has since earned $4-5 billion from the Peterson's invention.

8. Del Martin: Gay Rights Activist

Del Martin was a pioneer lesbian rights activist, in the days when women in general (gay or straight) struggled to be regarded as equals. In 1955, she and her partner, Phyllis Lyons, co-founded the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian political organization in the US (named after a 19th-century collection of Sapphic love poems). Martin was also the first openly gay board member of the National Organization of Women, and helped form the Council of Religion and Homosexuality in 1964, fighting to ensure that homosexuals were accepted in churches. Her hard work was finally rewarded on June 16, 2008, when the law allowing same-sex marriages was passed in California. She and Lyons were legally wed in California's first union of that type. They were just in time; Martin was 87. She died in August, only months before the law was rescinded.

9. Clay Felker: Magazine Pioneer

Just as today's magazine editors worry about the internet, their predecessors of 40 years ago feared losing their readers and advertisers to the growing popularity of television. In fact, Clay Felker is part of the reason there are still so many magazines on the newsstand. As founding editor of New York in 1968, he invented a new style of magazine: chic, energetic, gossipy, civic-minded, cynical and in-crowd. With star writers like Tom Wolfe, Gail Sheehy (whom he later married) and Jimmy Breslin, he pioneered the famous "new journalism." It changed and revitalized the magazine world. Felker would also edit Esquire, The Village Voice, Adweek and other magazines, and helped Gloria Steinem "“ one of his staff writers at New York "“ start the influential feminist magazine, Ms.

10. Olive Riley: World's Oldest Blogger


Born in 1899 in the Outback mining town of Broken Hill, Olive Riley disproves the idea that older people can't learn to use new technology. She started her blog, The Life of Riley, in 2006. Over the next two years, she would write 70 posts and "“ thanks partly to a documentary about her life "“ accumulated 1.2 million hits. She was even nominated for a Blogger's Choice Award. Though she was probably Australia's oldest woman, she took more pride in the title of World's Oldest Blogger. Inspiring as this was, her posts mainly chronicled her declining health. She also spoke about her love of the environment and the importance of saving energy, encouraging tinkerers and inventors to make energy-saving devices. She posted her last blog in April (though her friends kept readers updated in later installments), and died in July at the age of 108.

Mark Juddery is a Australian writer and historian. His latest book, Busted! The 50 Most Overrated Things in History, is published by Random House.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
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Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.


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