Last month was a particularly hard one for television lovers. We lost a lot of very talented people during June. Like many of the shows they worked on, there are a lot of talented people that won’t be back in the Fall.
David Carradine, 72, was found dead in his hotel room in Central Thailand. He was there shooting a movie and his June 3rd death is still under investigation. Carradine was born in Hollywood, the son of actor John Carradine, and is related to several other performers that share his last name. His early roles include those on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Virginian, and Wagon Train. In the 1970s, he starred in the series Kung Fu as “Grasshopper” Kwai Chang Caine and it would become his most-successful television role. He was nominated for both an Emmy and a Golden Globe for the show. Carradine returned to the role in a TV movie in 1986, with Brandon Lee playing his son. Then, in the 1990s, he came back to series television in Kung Fu: The Legend Continues and played the grandson of his original character. He appeared in many movies over the years (most notably the Kill Bill movies) and guested on shows like Charmed, Medium, Alias, and Jackie Chan Adventures.
On June 4th, character actor Ward Costello passed away at the age of 89, as the result of a stroke. An accomplished performer, he had a long career on stage and in movies and television. He starred in The Edge of Night soap opera and appeared in many TV shows like The Streets of San Francisco, Little House on the Prairie, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Newhart, and General Hospital. In addition, Costello was also a composer and lyricist who wrote music for a James Cagney movie, The Gallant Hours.
Johnny Palermo died at the age of 27 on June 8th, due to a car crash in North Hollywood. The young actor was born in Rochester, New York and moved to Los Angeles in 2002 to pursue an acting career. He subsequently appeared in several films and more than a dozen shows like Passions, Campus Ladies, Just for Kicks, Everybody Hates Chris, and ER.
Michael Roof, 32, took his own life on June 9th. The actor was born in Florida and had a role in the WB sketch comedy show Hype in 2000. The show was cancelled after one season and Roof moved to Hollywood. He had parts in a few films like Black Hawk Down and The Dukes of Hazzard. In 2006, the Spike cable channel gave him his own reality show, Raising the Roofs, but it was cancelled after a half dozen installments. Roof then moved to Georgia with his wife and three sons. He was apparently suffering from bipolar disorder and had been despondent about finances at the time of his death.
Hal Riddle passed away on June 17th at the age of 89. The actor began his career in summer theater in Pennsylvania and went on to a very long career in television. He appeared in dozens of TV shows from the 1950s until the 1990s. Some of his credits include Green Acres, The FBI, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Eight is Enough, The Waltons, and Dallas. Riddle was also an avid collector of Hollywood memorabilia, amassing some 1,700 pieces. In 2001, he donated his collection to Murray State University in Kentucky, his alma mater.
Ken Roberts died on June 19th at the age of 99 from pneumonia. A performer who worked for eight decades, Roberts began in radio and became known as one of the medium’s top announcers. On television, he was the announcer on Candid Camera and on soap operas Love of Life and The Secret Storm. He parodied soaps on The Electric Company with the ongoing skit, Love of Chair. He had some onscreen roles, including Woody Allen’s Radio Days in which he appeared with his son, Broadway veteran Tony Roberts.
Anne Roberts Nelson, 86, passed away on June 20th from natural causes. A business affairs executive at CBS, Nelson was one of the industry’s first female executives. She began working at the network in 1945 as a temp and worked her way up to become a senior VP of Business Affairs, TV Movies and Miniseries. She held the position until earlier this year. In her day, Nelson negotiated contracts for shows like I Love Lucy, All in the Family, Gunsmoke, and The Young and The Restless.
Lorena Gale passed away at the age of 51 on June 21st. She’d been battling cancer. A Canadian actress, director and writer, Gale had more than 120 roles to her credit at the time of her passing. She appeared on TV shows like The X-Files, Smallville, Reunion, Bionic Woman, and The 4400. In 2006, she played Gary Coleman’s mother on Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Diff’rent Strokes. She was perhaps best known for her recurring role as Elosha on the reimagined Battlestar Galactica. She plays the librarian in the upcoming made-for-DVD prequel movie Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins.
Ed McMahon, 86, died in Los Angeles on June 23rd. Born in Detroit, he was raised in Massachusetts. After serving as a Marine in World War II, he got his Bachelor’s Degree and then returned to active service. McMahon was sent to Korea in 1952, later became a Marine Corps. Reserve and retired with the rank of Colonel in 1966. After working with Johnny Carson on the game show Who Do You Trust? in the 1950’s and 60’s, he became Carson’s announcer and sidekick on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson for more than 30 years. McMahon also hosted the talent competition Star Search for a dozen years, co-hosted TV Bloopers and Practical Jokes for 16 years, and co-hosted Jerry Lewis’ annual MDA Telethon for 41 years. The author of two books, McMahon made numerous guest appearances on shows over the years and was also the announcer on ALF’s Hit Talk Show for TV Land.
Michael Jackson, 50, passed away unexpectedly in Los Angeles on June 25th. He had been preparing for a special series of concerts in London. Born in Indiana, Jackson was the seventh of nine kids. As a child, he was part of The Jackson 5 singing group with his brothers and their popularity spawned the Jackson 5ive animated TV series. The singers didn’t provide their own voices on the series but could be heard singing the theme song. Many of the Jacksons got their own live-action variety show in 1976 but it lasted just one season. Aside from his incredible accomplishments as a music performer, Michael acted a few more times over the years, most memorably in a season three episode of The Simpsons.
Farrah Fawcett also died on June 25th after a long battle with cancer. She was 62. Born in Texas, Fawcett moved to Los Angeles as a teen to pursue a career in show business. She landed many commercials and guest spots on shows like I Dream of Jeannie and The Six Million Dollar Man (opposite her future husband, Lee Majors). She was then cast in the Charlie’s Angels series, alongside Kate Jackson and Jaclyn Smith. The show became an immediate success but, eyeing bigger opportunities, Fawcett left the show after only one season. She starred in many TV movies and guested on shows like Ally McBeal, The Guardian, and Spin City. In 2005, she had her own TV Land reality series called Chasing Farrah. The recent special about her battle with cancer, Farrah’s Story, became a ratings smash for NBC.
Gail Storm, 87, passed away on June 27th in Danville, California. At the age of 17, while living in Texas, two teachers urged her to enter a Hollywood talent contest. She won and received a contract with RKO Radio Pictures. She did several movies for the studio and then landed the starring role in My Little Margie. The TV show was originally a summer replacement for I Love Lucy and ran for four seasons. She then went on to star in The Gale Storm Show for four years as well. Storm had success as a singing artist and made a few TV appearances in later years, on shows like The Love Boat and Murder, She Wrote.
Billy Mays died at the age of 50 from heart disease on June 28th. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Mays worked in his father’s hazardous waste company before moving to Atlantic City. There, he worked on the boardwalk, selling portable washing devices. He moved on to home shows and other shows nationwide, hawking a variety of products. He then moved into television and became the most recognizable face in infomercials. This year, he and Anthony Sullivan began starring in Pitchmen for the Discovery Channel. All episodes were filmed at the time of Mays’ death and it remains to be seen if the series will continue for additional seasons without him. At his funeral on July 3rd, Mays’ pallbearers all wore blue shirts and khaki pants, his infomercial “uniform.”
On June 30th, veteran character actor Harve Presnell died from pancreatic cancer. He was 75. Born in California, Presnell made his debut at the age of 16, singing opera. He moved on to Broadway and appeared in The Unsinkable Molly Brown. He reprised the role in the film and did other musicals on screen and stage as well. For television, Presnell appeared in The Pretender, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Dawson’s Creek, and Andy Barker, PI. He is perhaps best remembered for his role as William H. Macy’s father-in-law in the dark comedy Fargo.