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11 Not-So-Famous People We Lost in 2012

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It’s been a solemn year for the deaths of famous and significant people – and as always, many died who were less famous, but should be saluted nonetheless for their contributions to the world. Here are 11 of the lesser-known greats who passed this year.

1. Murray Lender: Bagel Tycoon

Lender's Bagels Historical Images

Murray Lender, son of a Polish baker in Connecticut, took his father’s bagels—the “Jewish English muffin”, as Murray called them—and turned them into a household food, as all-American as apple pie or hot dogs. In 1974, he became president of his father’s shop, Lender’s Bagels, and together with two brothers, expanded the kitchen where they spent their childhoods hand-rolling bagels into a New Haven factory which mass-produced bagels and sent them to 30 states. He promoted bagels (formerly known as a distinctly Jewish fare) across America, re-inventing them as a versatile sandwich bread. The company (now owned by Pinnacle Foods) made $41 million last year, but that’s now only a small part of the American bagel industry. Bagels, after all, are now so much a part of U.S. food culture that people probably assume George Washington ate them.

2. Jim Marshall: The Father of Loud

He might not be as famous as most rock stars, but his name is certainly familiar to rock music fans. Jim Marshall, a drummer and music teacher, opened a music shop in suburban London in 1960, which was frequented by teenage aspiring musicians like Peter Townshend (later of The Who) and Ritchie Blackmore (Deep Purple). At Townshend’s suggestion, Marshall developed the Marshall amplifier in 1962—an amp that was affordable, portable enough to be carried in the back of a car, but loud enough to give Marshall the title “the Father of Loud."  The sound was not as clean as the Fender amps that ruled the market at time, but introduced the “throaty” Marshall sound, which would influence the sound of rock music from then on. Marshall amps became a mainstay of rock concerts from Nirvana to Elton John. In the 1970s, The Who earned the Guinness Record as the loudest band in the world—using Marshall’s classic 100-watt amplifier.

3. Vladka Meed: Heroine of the Polish Resistance

[caption id="attachment_158016" align="aligncenter" width="560" caption="Vladka Meed, center, with First Lady Laura Bush, 2001. /Alex Wong"][/caption]

Vladka Meed’s life as a courier and weapons smuggler for the Jewish resistance in Poland during World War II would make an incredible book—so she wrote it. In 1948, she published On Both Sides of the Wall, one of the first eyewitness accounts of the ghetto and the uprising, and a salute to her toughness. She was one of the hundreds of thousands of Jews systematically rounded up and forced into a filthy, one-square-mile Warsaw ghetto. “Her father died of pneumonia in the ghetto, and her mother and two siblings were deported, to perish at the Treblinka death camp. To remain a human being in the ghetto one had to live in constant defiance, to act illegally,” she recalled. She joined the Jewish Fighting Organization, using forged papers and her fluency in Polish to pose as a Gentile, moving outside the ghetto among the ethnic Polish population. As the resistance force grew, she smuggled homemade dynamite and other weapons into the ghetto for an uprising that launched in April 1943 and lasted 27 days, decimating the ghetto and freeing its prisoners. She later arranged hiding places for the survivors, remaining in Poland until the end of the war. For the next six decades, her writings and lectures revealed more about the horrors of the Polish ghettos, and in 1984 she started a national teacher-training program on the Holocaust, highlighting the role of the Warsaw resistance.

4. Richard B. Scudder: Newspaper Recycling Pioneer

Richard B. Scudder was co-founder of the Denver-based MediaNews Group Inc., one of the largest U.S. newspaper companies, with 57 newspapers in 11 states. However, for those who don’t read journals like The Denver Post or The San Jose Mercury News, he should still be remembered for helping to invent a process allowing newsprint to be recycled. While many people extolling the virtues of internet news have talked about how many trees are knocked down to print the daily papers, it could have been much worse if not for Scudder, who perhaps saved several forests. In the early 1950s, a news dealer suggested a process to remove ink from newsprint so that newspapers could be recycled into quality newsprint. Scudder used his resources to test the process in his office and develop it further, before moving it to the labs. In 1961, he founded the Garden State Paper Co., whose New Jersey mill became among the largest in the world for recycled newspaper.

5. Camilla Williams: America's First Great African-American Soprano

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In 1955, Marian Anderson made headlines as the first African-American singer to appear at New York's prestigious Metropolitan Opera. Nine years earlier, however, Camilla Williams broke down even greater barriers at the New York City Opera, becoming the first African-American woman to appear with a major U.S. opera company. Her performance as Cio-Cio-San in Puccini's Madame Butterfly was well-praised, with The New York Times saying that she displayed “a vividness and subtlety unmatched by any other artist who has assayed the part here in many a year.” She later toured overseas, and was the first black artist to sing a major role with the Vienna State Opera. The daughter of a chauffeur, she was singing at a Baptist church when a Welsh voice teacher came to the segregated town of Danville, Virginia, where she grew up. Though the teacher was assigned to teach at a school for white girls, she decided to teach a group of black girls on the side, and Williams was a star pupil, becoming a music teacher and eventually being offered a scholarship for vocal training. Many African-American blues and rock stars were involved in the civil rights movement, of course, but few opera singers. Williams, however, added a classical presence to concerts in 1963 to raise funds to free jailed civil rights demonstrators. She sang at the 1963 civil rights march on Washington, D.C., immediately before Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream" speech. She also sang at King's Nobel Peace Prize ceremony the following year.

6. F. Sherwood Rowland: Ozone-Hole Explorer

Unlike other major awards, there is no time limit for the Nobel Prizes, provided they are presented within the recipients’ lifetimes. F. Sherwood Rowland shared the Nobel Prize for chemistry with two other scientists in 1995, a few years after they had already saved the world. Almost two decades earlier, Rowland, of the University of California, and post-doctoral student Mario Molina built upon findings by atmospheric scientist Paul Crutzen, suggesting that the Earth’s fragile ozone layer is formed and decomposed through chemical processes in the atmosphere. Among their discoveries: chlorofluorocarbons (or CFCs), used regularly in household aerosols, were fast destroying the ozone layer. This won enormous attention and, of course, was strongly challenged by industry, as the non-toxic properties of CFCs were thought to be environmentally safe. When the ozone hole was found over the Earth's polar regions a decade later, even the most skeptical corporations had to admit that they had a point. Rowland spoke out to ban CFCs, and the United Nations did so in 1989. Now that this work was done, he became a prominent voice for scientists concerned about global warming. “If you believe that you have found something that can affect the environment, isn't it your responsibility to do something about it, enough so that action actually takes place?" he said at a White House climate change roundtable in 1997. “If not us, who? If not now, when?”

7. Joseph E. Murray: Organ Transplant Pioneer

[caption id="attachment_158018" align="aligncenter" width="560" caption="Joseph E. Murray, center, and team perform the first successful kidney transplant operation. 1954, Brigham and Women's Hospital"][/caption]

Dr. Joseph Murray not only performed the first successful kidney transplant in 1954, but the first transplant of any human organ. Working at Boston's Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, he developed new surgical techniques, experimenting by transplanting kidneys in dogs. The first human patient was 23-year-old Richard Herrick, suffering from end-stage kidney failure, who received a kidney from his identical twin, Ronald. Sadly, Richard only lived another eight years, but that was long enough to marry a nurse from the hospital and have two children. Murray continued to achieve breakthroughs, so that patients lived many years longer, and in 1962, he completed the first organ transplant from an unrelated donor. (This was eight years before Dr. Christiaan Barnard became famous for performing the first heart transplant.) Proving that Nobel Prizes don’t guarantee fame (though they do provide some fortune) – and that you might need to be patient if you want one – Murray won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1990. “Kidney transplants seem so routine now,” he said, “but the first one was like Lindbergh's flight across the ocean.”

8. William Lawlis Pace: Miracle Man

[caption id="attachment_158019" align="aligncenter" width="560" caption="William Lawlis Pace points to the place where a bullet is lodged in his head. 2007, P Photo/The Modesto Bee"][/caption]

Another man with a very different place in medical history, Texan cemetery custodian William Pace holds the Guinness World Record for (are you ready for this?) living the longest with a bullet in his head. He died peacefully this year at age 103, a full 94 years and six months after his older brother accidentally shot him with their father's .22-caliber rifle in 1917. Doctors left the bullet in place because they worried that surgery might cause brain damage. The injury damaged one of his eyes and facial nerves, but Pace lived a very long and full life.

9. Eugene Polley: Patron Saint of Couch Potatoes

Lazy people everywhere can thank Eugene Polley for a machine that has enabled them to live their sedentary lifestyles: the TV remote-control. Though he wasn’t the first inventor to pioneer remote-control devices (Nikola Tesla was experimenting with one in the 19th century!), Polley changed the world with “Flash-Matic tuning," a unique feature of Zenith televisions way back in 1955, operated through a green contraption with a red trigger that could perform “TV miracles” while remaining “absolutely harmless to humans!” Pointing a beam of light at photo cells in the corners of the television screen, the Flash-Matic could turn on the picture, mute the sound during annoying commercials and, of course, change the channels. But the Chicago engineer’s invention (one of 18 patents that he received) achieved more than just a world of couch potatoes. It opened a new world beyond mechanical knobs and levers. “Without his idea, you might not have gotten to the Internet,”said Richard Doherty, CEO of technology research company Envisioneering. “It set the pace for dozens for follow-on inventions that go beyond the physical.” Polley also worked on radar advances for the U.S. Department of Defense during World War II, and helped develop the automobile push-button radio and the video disc, a forerunner of the DVD (the size of a vinyl LP rather than a CD).

10. Frances Williams Preston: Champion of Songwriters

Getty Images: Rick Diamond

Frances Preston’s name might not be well-known even to country music devotees, but she has been described as “the single most important figure responsible for making Nashville ‘Music City’.” Fortune magazine called her “one of the true powerhouses of the pop music business.” She won the highest Grammy Award for a non-performer (the National Trustees Award), and was a member of three Halls of Fame. For 22 years, Preston was president of the New York-based royalties company Broadcast Music Inc., which collects and distributes royalties to songwriters. Credited with coining the famous creed “It all begins with a song,” she had previously headed the company’s office in Nashville, ensuring that songwriters were given their due. Of course, many of these songwriters – Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn – were performers as well, and thanks to her efforts, many made more from composers’ royalties than from concert tours. Wielding such influence, she discovered new artists, mentored new music executives, and turned Nashville into a major music hub. When she moved to New York, she helped increase revenues to more than 300,000 songwriters and music publishers, and pioneered licensing rules for the tricky new world of digital media.

11. Jo Dunne: Foremost Fuzzboxing Brit

Jo Dunne was the guitarist, drummer and occasional bassist for the 1980s all-female pop group We've Got A Fuzzbox and We're Gonna Use It!! They were almost unknown outside Britain, though they did become the UK’s best-selling female rock band, as opposed to all-girl vocal group. But seriously, with a name like that (usually abbreviated to Fuzzbox), plus songs co-written by Dunne with titles like “Help Me Rhonda, My Boyfriend’s Back” — which, as you might guess, consisted of lines from other songs — they deserve some kind of place in history. Sadly, Dunne was only 43 years old.

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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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