In Memoriam: 50 Southerners We’ve Lost This Decade
Dennis Hopper 1936-2010
The Kansas-born actor first found his way to the big screen alongside fellow Hollywood outlaw, James Dean, in both Rebel without a Cause and Giant. Despite building a reputation for being a troublemaker, his career flourished and spanned 5 decades. Other notable films include Easy Rider, True Grit, and Waterworld.
Dixie Virginia Carter 1939-2010
This was the year we had to say goodbye to one of the South’s most beloved television legends. We’ve still never gotten over the loss of Julia Sugarbaker and her zingers have stood the test of time. Before she became a TV icon, Carter, was born in McLemoresville, Tennessee and earned an English degree from Memphis State University (Now the University of Memphis) and got her acting start on the stage right there in the Bluff City.
Rue McClanahan 1934-2010
2010 also took the sassiest Southern Belles to ever grace our television sets, Blanche Devereaux. McClanahan was one fourth of our all-time favorite girl squad, The Golden Girls from 1985-1992, and the role earned her an Emmy in 1987. The Oklahoma born actress was first discovered by Norman Lear and also appeared in All in the Family and Mama’s Family.
Bubba Smith 1945-2011
Bubba Smith’s real name was Charles Aaron Smith and he was born in Orange, Texas. Smith first rose to fame on the football field, having played 9 seasons in the NFL with the Baltimore Colts, Oakland Raiders, and Houston Oilers. When he retired from football, Smith transitioned to acting and he is probably most well known in that arena as Moses Hightower in the Police Academy movie franchise.
Clarence Clemons 1942-2011
Fans of Bruce Springsteen and the E. Street Band will know that Clarence Clemons was also referred to as “The Big Man.” The Norfolk, Virginia born musician played saxophone alongside the Boss from 1972 until his untimely death in 2011 due to complications after a stroke.
Charles Napier 1936-2011
The Kentucky born actor made a name for himself as the tough guy or the villain and perhaps is best known for his role opposite Sylvester Stallone in Rambo: First Blood Part II.
Joe Frazier 1944-2011
Smokin’ Joe Frazer, born in Beaufort, South Carolina, reigned supreme as the world heavyweight-boxing champion from February 16, 1970, until January 22, 1973. He was finally defeated by George Foreman to lose the title. But he his most recognizable fight was a 14-rounder with Muhammad Ali in the Philippines, known as the “Thrilla in Manila.” Frazier died of liver cancer in 2011.
Earl Scruggs 1924-2011
North Carolina born Earl Scruggs was a musical pioneer. He developed the three-finger banjo picking style, that would later be called Scruggs Style, and it became the defining sound of bluegrass music. Scruggs was 88.
Andy Griffith 1926-2012
Born in Mount Airy, North Carolina as Andrew Samuel Griffith, Andy Griffith was one of the South’s most beloved actors. Griffith was forever endeared to our hearts in not one, but two iconic TV shows. First as the lovable Sheriff Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show and later as the lawyer in the signature seersucker on Matlock. He also appeared on Broadway in several productions, earning two Tony Award nominations.
Chuck Brown 1936-2012
Although he was born in North Carolina, musician Chuck Brown is commonly known as “The Godfather of Go-Go,” a musical movement that came to life in Washington, D.C. in the 1970s. This sub-genre of funk music changed America’s musical landscape forever. Brown died after a long health battle at the age of 75.
Helen Gurley Brown 1922-2012
Helen Gurley Brown was born in the small town of Green Forest, Arkansas and went on to forge a path for women in the publishing world. Brown’s iconic book, Sex and Single Girl was published in 1962, and she then went on to take over the helm as editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan Magazine in 1965, where she remained for 32 years.
Larry Hagman 1931-2012
“Who shot J.R. Ewing?” Just about anyone who lived during TV’s Dallas era will recognize this epic TV cliffhanger. Larry Martin Hagman was born in Fort Worth, Texas and he became the actor to play the iconic Texas oil tycoon. Prior to donning that signature cowboy hat, Hagman began on the stage, spent some time in the Air Force, and was on several earlier TV shows, most notably, I Dream of Jeanie.
Tom Clancy 1947-2013
Maryland’s Tom Clancy was an insurance broker who dreamed of writing novels. When he finally gave writing a go, his first book, The Hunt for Red October, published in 1984, was a roaring success thanks to a very high-profile recommendation—President Ronald Reagan. Clancy then went on to become a staple in the suspense-thriller section of bookstores world-wide and gave us fictional heroes to root for like Jack Ryan and John Clark.
Although many of his stories are set in Detroit, Elmore Leonard was born in New Orleans and moved to several other Southern cities including Dallas, and Memphis, before his family settled in Michigan when Leonard was nine. At the time of his death, Leonard’s body of work included over 40 novels, several short stories, and a television show, Justified. More than a dozen of his novels were adapted into film including The Big Bounce, Freaky Deaky, and Get Shorty.
Patti Page 1927-2013
Clara Ann Fowler, born in Claremore, Oklahoma, was better known by her stage name, Patti Page. She was a pop and country music superstar, selling over 100 million records in her six-decade-long career. Page’s signature song was “Tennessee Waltz,” and it is now one of the state of Tennessee’s official songs.
Jan Hooks 1957-2014
Decatur Georgia’s Jan Hooks was a fixture of our Saturday night TV lineup in the late 80s. Janet Vivian Hooks was a brilliant comedian who joined the cast of Saturday Night Live in 1986 where she remained until 1991. She then appeared in one of our favorite shows, Designing Women for the last two seasons, and several other TV shows and films. Hooks died at just 57 from throat cancer.
Maya Angelou 1928-2014
Dr. Maya Angelou remains one of the most celebrated voices in American literature, well beyond her death. The writer and activist left us with a collective body of remarkable work that include collections of poetry, memoirs, and even cookbooks. Her first book, I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings was an autobiography deemed so powerful that landed both on the Best Seller’s List and the Banned Book List.
Jimi Jamison 1951-2014
Jimmy Wayne Jamison was born in Durant, Mississippi and grew up to be the front man of 80s rock band, Survivor. He voiced many of the 80’s most iconic songs and movie themes including, “The Moment of Truth,” from Karate Kid, “Is this Love,” and “Burning Heart,” from Rocky IV. And after going solo, he recorded “I’m Always Here,” which later became the theme song to mega hit TV show, Baywatch.
Polly Bergen 1930-2014
Born as Nellie Burgin, this Knoxville born actress began her career in radio as a teenager. She held on for a productive six-decade career in all areas of entertainment from Broadway to films such as Escape from Fort Bravo, Cape Fear, Move Over Darling, and television, including her very own variety show, The Polly Bergen Show.
BB King 1925-2015
When Riley B. King died, the thrill was indeed gone. Born in Mississippi, King came to Memphis and worked as a DJ at WDIA where he acquired his now world-famous moniker, B.B. (Blues Boy) King. He will remain immortal as the father of modern blues music.
Chef Paul Prudhomme 1940-2015
The larger than life chef from Louisiana was the first to really introduce the rest of the country to his region’s native cuisine. Prudhomme sparked the Cajun food movement and people traveled far and wide to get to dine on his blackened redfish and jambalaya.
Fred Thompson 1942-2015
The Tennessee senator turned actor successfully transitioned out of Washington and into Hollywood in many film roles but perhaps he will be most remembered (thanks to re-runs) as District Attorney Arthur Branch on Law & Order.
James Best 1926-2015
Jewel Franklin Guy was born in Powderly, Kentucky. He became a renowned character actor, appearing in over 80 films but he is remembered first as Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane from the iconic TV show, Dukes of Hazzard.
Donna Douglas 1932-2015
Louisiana native Donna Douglas was an actress and singer who starred as Elly May Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies TV show in the 60s and 70s. Later in life she became an author.
Percy Sledge 1941-2015
The Alabama born R&B icon gave us one of the greatest love songs of all time, “When a man loves a woman,” along with many more hits. Sledge was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.
Maurice White 1941-2016
Hailing from that musical Mecca of Memphis, Maurice White was a pioneer for soul and R&B music. He was a founding member of Earth, Wind, and Fire and a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.
Edgar Mitchell 1930-2016
Edgar Mitchell was an astronaut aboard Apollo 14 and became the sixth man to walk on the moon.
Harper Lee 1926-2016
Daughter of Alabama, Harper Lee went on to become one of the most prolific voices in American literature. Her novel, To Kill a Mockingbird became a classic with a message that will stand the test of time for eternity.
Joey Feek 1975-2016
Our hearts collectively broke as the country music singer-songwriter lost her hard-fought battle with cancer. She was one half of the duo Joey+Rory with her husband Rory Feek.
Pat Conroy 1945-2016
This year saw the death of author Pat Conroy, known for telling stories of the low country. He was inspired by the marshlands of his coastal South Carolina home and gave us hits like The Prince of Tides, The Great Santini, and The Lords of Discipline.
“Float like a butterfly. Sting like a bee.” Born Cassius Clay in Louisville, Kentucky, the boxer turn activist was nicknamed “The Greatest,” and he truly was.