LOUISVILLE, Ky. — One was a gravelly-voiced football coach who was almost always holding a pipe.
Another was a pudgy character actor who made his first mark in the movies as a genial vacationer brutally assaulted by a backwoodsman in “Deliverance.”
A third appeared each Friday on KET’s “Comment on Kentucky,” hosting a civil discussion of current events in which neither he nor his guests ever raised their voices.
Howard Schnellenberger, Ned Beatty and Al Smith were among notable Kentuckians who died in 2021.
Others we lost included the former editors of both of the commonwealth’s major newspapers, as well as the founder and CEO of a restaurant chain, a former congressman and a District Court judge who was one of 76 people to die in the Dec. 10-11 tornadoes that ravaged Western Kentucky.
As the number of Kentuckians to die from COVID-19 surpassed 10,000, the virus claimed the lives of prominent state residents, as well as children as young as 7 weeks.
And 2021’s death toll included victims of the record number of Louisville homicides, including one boy whose drive-by shooting shocked the community.
Tyree “Ty” Smith, 16, had a brother, a sister and a pet lizard. He worked hard in school, balancing a weekend job at McDonald’s with playing football at Eastern High School, where he was a junior.
Ty was shot to death Sept. 22 while waiting in the early morning darkness at West Chestnut and Dr. W.J. Hodge streets for the bus to school.
Another who suffered a violent death was Brandon Shirley, 26, a Jefferson County deputy sheriff, was shot and killed Aug. 5 while working security at Rockford Auto Sales.
While LMPD Chief Erika Shields initially described the shooting as an ambush and said he had been targeted, the family later said the department told them his death may have been an accident.
“He loved being a deputy sheriff, and he was a good one,” Sheriff John Aubrey said.
Among those who died from the coronavirus were:
From the world of literature, Kentucky lost bell hooks and Ed McClanahan.
hooks, who insisted on using all lowercase letters in her name (she said she wanted to draw attention to her writing, rather than herself, died Dec. 15 in Berea at 69.
A groundbreaking Black feminist and author, her 30 books encompassed literary criticism, children’s fiction, self-help, a memoir and poetry and tackled education, capitalism and American history as well as love and friendship.
McClanahan, one of Kentucky’s most beloved novelists and short story writers, who died (Nov. 27) at 89, was one of the “Fab Five” of Kentucky authors who included friends Gurney Norman, Wendell Berry, Bobbie Ann Mason, and the late James Baker Hall.
Studying at Stanford, he met Ken Kesey, author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” and became one of his band of Merry Pranksters; McClanahan was known as “Captain Kentucky,” and wore costumes like a cape, Air Force sunglasses and gold cowboy boots.
Beatty, 83 (died June 13) was born in Louisville and grew up in St. Matthews, never played a leading man. But his first screen role in 1972′s “Deliverance” launched him on a long, prolific and accomplished career.
For a time he thought of becoming a priest, but changed his mind after he was cast in a high school production of “Harvey.”
His more than 150 movies and television credits included “Network,” “All the President’s Men” (1976), “Superman” (1978) the inspirational sports drama “Rudy” (1993) and the Rodney Dangerfield comedy “Back to School” (1986).
He was a familiar face on television as well, playing Stanley Bolander, the detective known as “Big Man,” on the series “Homicide: Life on the Street,” from 1993 to 1995. He was also seen in several episodes of “Roseanne.”
When Schnellenberger returned to Louisville in 1985 to coach the Cardinals, it was at such a low ebb the Board of Trustees was considering dropping the sport. But Schnellenberger pronounced the team was on a “collision course” with a national championship.”
It didn’t get quite that far.
But Schnellenberger, 87 (died March 27), who played baseball, football and basketball at Flaget High School and was an all-American at the University of Kentucky under Coach Blanton Collier, delivered U of L’s first 10-win season, its first New Year’s Day bowl game and blowout victories over brand names such as Alabama and Texas. Schnellenberger also coached at Miami and Oklahoma.
The death of former University of Kentucky guard Terrence Clark, 19 (died April 22) in a car accident in Los Angeles, where he was training for the NBA draft, shocked the program and saddened sports fans across the commonwealth.
His former coach, John Calipari, said Clark “owned the room with his personality, smile and joy. A young person who we all love has just lost his life too soon.”
Both The Courier Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader lost former editors.
David Hawpe, 78 (died July 18), led the Louisville newspaper The Courier-Journal to four Pulitzer Prizes and championed school reform, working people and Eastern Kentucky.
Former Washington and Frankfort bureau chief Robert T. Garrett said Hawpe was a perfect steward of the Bingham family’s tradition of serving the entire state and the belief that government could be a force for good. The Binghams owned The Courier Journal and Louisville Times before they were sold to Gannett.
Former attorney general and congressman Ben Chandler called Hawpe one of the finest journalists Kentucky has produced.
Timothy M. “Tim,” Kelly, 73 (died May 3) an Ashland native, oversaw Pulitzer Prize-winning work at several newspapers, including the Lexington Herald-Leader, where he was editor and later publisher.
Named top editor in 1991, the newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize the next year for a series of editorials that led to significant reforms in how Kentucky police and courts handled domestic-violence cases. It won another Pulitzer in 2000 for editorial cartooning while Kelly was publisher.
“He was gifted in every dimension,” said former Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who is now state Transportation secretary. “He knew that a vigorous and robust press, an aggressive press, was good for the city.”
Another newspaper editor, Albert Perrine “Al” Smith Jr., 94 (died March 19) was best known for his 33 years as host of KET’s public affairs program “Comment on Kentucky.”
He was a fixture in Kentucky and known for his encyclopedic knowledge of state politics and his gregarious personality.
“Al Smith practiced the journalism of good faith,” journalist and professor Al Cross wrote after his death. “He had some strong beliefs and opinions, but he believed most strongly in the value of journalism to democracy, so he always had respect for those who disagreed with him.”
Photo-journalist Charles “Bud” Ford Dorsey Jr., 80, (July 8), captured images of the African American community for the Louisville Defender and taught photography to Black children at the West End Photographic Club.
Dorsey was born in Louisville’s Beecher Terrace Housing Complex in April 1941 and went to Madison Street Junior High, where Muhammad Ali — then Cassius Clay — was one of his classmates, he wrote in his 2017 book, “Available Light: Through the Lens of Bud Dorsey.”
Deaths also hit the thoroughbred industry hard.
Dr. J. David Richardson, who won more than 100 races as a horse owner and raised and sold more than 1,000 that ultimately won races, died Sept. 7 in the horse racing mecca of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., at age 76 of COVID-related pneumonia. Richardson served the board of the Breeders’ Cup.
But horse racing was just his advocation. He was chief of surgery at U of L Health and worked as a trauma surgeon there for 30 years. In 2016, when he was president of the American College of Surgeons, he publicly condemned KentuckyOne Health, which then ran U of L Hospital, for staffing cuts that he said rendered it “unsafe’ for seriously ill and injured patients.
F. Thomas Conway, 83, (died Sept 18) was a successful trial lawyer and horseman whose Bluegrass Stakes winner Stately Victor ran in the 2010 Kentucky Derby. Conway, the father of former attorney general Jack Conway, won some of the state’s biggest verdicts in more than 50 years of practice.
Defense lawyer Don Brown said he was a “fearless and ferocious advocate but a lot of fun to be around outside the courtroom.”
Former Kentucky Derby jockey, Miguel Mena, 34, (Oct. 31) died after he was hit by a car on Interstate 64 which he was trying to cross after he had gotten dropped off by a Lyft.
The Peruvian-born jockey won 16 stakes races at that track and won 451 races there overall, ranking fifteenth all-time. Mena was struck by a car driven by former U of L tennis coach Rex Ecarma. No charges were filed.
In 38 years riding at Churchill Downs, jockey Larry Melancon, 65, (died May 24) totaled 2,857 victories and more than $60 million in purse earnings through his 38 years riding.
When he retired, his 914 wins at Churchill Downs ranked No. 3 all-time, with his 47 stakes victories ranking fourth. Former Courier Journal turf writer Jennie Rees said no Churchill Downs jockey could match his resilience or longevity.
Other lawyers who died included:
The most prominent politician who died in 2021 was former U.S. Rep. Larry Hopkins, 88 (died Nov. 15), who represented Central Kentucky in Congress from 1979 to 1993 and was known for his bipartisanship.
He was the Republican candidate for governor in 1991 but lost to Brereton Jones. Hopkins was well-liked, political columnist Al Cross wrote.
“Hopkins was too nice a guy for today’s politics,” Cross wrote in the Northern Kentucky Tribune.
Others who died in 2021 included:
Eula Hall, 93, (died May 8), was one of Eastern Kentucky’s most admired residents. She founded Mud Creek Clinic, which provided medical care and other services to a chronically underserved community of miners, mountain people and their families. She called herself a “hillbilly activist” and in an obituary, The New York Times described her as a “one-woman relief agency.” When someone looking for drugs burned the clinic down in 1982, she ran a makeshift version on a picnic table, then raised $120,000 to build a new one in Floyd County. It is now called the Eula Hall Health Center.
Andrew Wolfson: 502-582-7189; email@example.com; Twitter: @adwolfson.
Actor, coach, horsemen, attorneys and authors among Kentucky famous deaths in 2021 – Courier Journal
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — One was a gravelly-voiced football coach who was almost always holding a pipe.