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Passages 2013: Remembering those we lost

10:30 AM, Dec 27, 2013   |    comments
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(USA TODAY) -- "Oh it's such a perfect day, I'm glad I spent it with you ... "

Who would have imagined that Lou Reed, the leather-weary poet who sang of sex, drugs and walks on the wild side, might be remembered just as much, if not more, for Perfect Day, a sweet paean to a summer day in the park? After all, the 1972 song has been the soundtrack for everything from AT&T commercials to the BBC and PlayStation 4.

"It's been sung by all manners of earnest voices, including mine and children's choirs,'' U2's Bono told Rolling Stone after Reed died at the age of 71 in late October. "It never fails to give me some kind of extra ache as they sing the last line, 'You're going to reap just what you sow.' "

Perfect days or not, there's no guarantee how any of us will be remembered by family, friends or colleagues. Who we are is hard-wired in our DNA, yes, and sometimes the wink of a distant relative shows up again in the eyes of a newborn child.

But it is how we live over the long term, what emotions we evoke, whom we lift up, inspire or sometimes disappoint, that determines our legacies, great or small. We reap, in the end, what we sow.

That's why this year's Passages, USA TODAY's annual roundup of notable people we lost in 2013, is such a rich and often unexpected series of encounters.

PHOTOS | Notable deaths in 2013

Each notable, from global giants Nelson Mandela, 95, and "Iron Lady'' Margaret Thatcher, 87, to sturdy spaceman Scott Carpenter, 88, baseball's Stan "The Man'' Musial, 92, unlikely TV stars such as James Gandolfini, 51, and Jean Stapleton, 90, as well as trailblazers such as journalist Helen Thomas, 92, and the founder of USA TODAY, Al Neuharth, 89, all found success that ran against expectations.

Overshadowing all, of course, is Mandela, whose 27-year battle from jail against the cruel racism of apartheid in South Africa showed the power of Gandhi-like defiance even in a superpower age.

Mandela will go down as one of the 20th century's giants -- "He no longer belongs to us; he belongs to the ages," President Obama said in eulogy -- even if his struggle was not always so well-received.

No hero, after all, is the 100% construct produced by media, contemporaries or rivals. Mandela certainly had an insurgent's past in the midst of apartheid horror. Revolutions do not start in paradise.

Yet the South African regime changed peacefully, and in 1994, Mandela became president of the nation that had imprisoned him. "Do not judge me by my successes,'' Mandela once said. "Judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again."

That perseverance does not have to move nations, but whether found in business leaders, entertainers or athletes, it still can inspire.

PORTRAITS IN COURAGE ABOUND

Take movie critic Roger Ebert, 70, who didn't let his battle against throat cancer stop his trademark thumbs-up, thumbs-down takes on the latest cinema offerings. Or Baby Boomer icon Annette Funicello, 70, who was remembered fondly for being a blossoming Mouseketeer, then a chaste Beach Party actress -- she always called her boss "Mr. Disney" -- even as she spent decades fighting a very adult MS disease that took her life.

Street fighters such as Muriel Siebert, 84, declawed the wolves of Wall Street when she became the first female member of the New York Stock Exchange. Feisty Ed Koch, 88, used street smarts to be elected New York City's most colorful mayor since Fiorello LaGuardia. And Elmore Leonard, 87, elevated crime novels from the shadows of noir to gritty and respected literature.

And one can only wonder what the tormenter of umpires, Earl Weaver, 82, would make of next season's introduction of instant replay to Major League Baseball. "Do you mind looking at that call again?'' We doubt he'd be so gentle.

SOUNDS OF MUSIC SILENCED

The music world lost hitmakers such as '50s radio star Patti Page, 86, bebop perennial Eydie Gorme, 84, and two of the founders of Nashville's male country sound, George Jones, 81, and Ray Price, 87.

Pianist Van Cliburn, 78, helped defuse the Cold War, just for a little while, when the 23-year-old Texan won a classical music contest in Moscow in 1958; Woodstock was opened memorably in 1969 by a Freedom-singing Richie Havens, 72; and maestro saxophonist Yusef Lateef, 93, who played with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Charlie Mingus, helped meld world music into a new form of American jazz.

GENIUSES OF FILMS AND FANTASY

The comedian who just might be the funniest man of the past 60 years, Jonathan Winters, 87, was remembered at the Emmys by one of his comic offspring. "Jamming with Jonathan was like dancing with Fred Astaire,'' said Robin Williams. "He always brought out your best.''

Peter O'Toole, 81, Joan Fontaine, 96, and Julie Harris, 87, were among the aging Hollywood stars lost in 2013. Younger Americans were affected more directly by the too-soon deaths of Glee's Cory Monteith, 31, and Fast and Furious star Paul Walker, 40.

Three men who are not household names -- special effects animator Ray Harryhausen, 92, science fiction author Richard Matheson, 87, and comic book artist Carmine Infantino, 87 -- helped shape creativity for generations.

Harryhausen's design for creatures in films such as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad inspired filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Peter Jackson. Movie historian Bill Warren calls Harryhausen "the Walt Disney of special effects.''

It was Matheson who seemed to write all the best Twilight Zone episodes, along with the TV movie Duel, and books such as I Am Legend and The Incredible Shrinking Man. Stephen King calls Matheson the author "who influenced me the most.''

And Infantino's elegant rendering of The Flash for DC Comics in 1959 helped launch the Silver Age of comics, leading to Marvel Comics' rebirth a few years later.

All three creators can lay legitimate claims to helping spark the billion-dollar movie franchises of today.

AN UNTIMELY DEATH

Finally, there are those who become symbols, sometimes on opposite sides of a battle neither chose.

Mikhail Kalashnikov, 94, was the inventor of the Soviet era AK-47, the world's most popular assault rifle. He said he was never troubled by its uses; how to settle conflicts was for politicians to decide, not him.

Then there is Claire Davis, the 17-year-old senior at Arapahoe High School in Colorado who was shot down when she came face to face with a suicidal teen armed with a shotgun. "Despite the best efforts of our physicians and nursing staff, and Claire's fighting spirit, her injuries were too severe," a Littleton hospital statement read.

We dedicate this year's Passages to Claire and all those whose lives ended too fast and too soon in 2013. Their legacies were only partly written, but they will never be forgotten.

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(USA TODAY)

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