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Final Chapters: John G. Avildsen, Helmut Kohl, Bill Dana, Stephen Furst

John G. Avildsen, who died June 16, received an Oscar for best director for “Rocky” in 1977.
John G. Avildsen, who died June 16, received an Oscar for best director for “Rocky” in 1977. The Associated Press

John G. Avildsen was the director of “Rocky” and “The Karate Kid,” two underdog movies that went on to become Hollywood franchises. He died June 16 in Los Angeles from pancreatic cancer, according to his son, Anthony Avildsen. He was 81. Avildsen received the Academy Award for best director in 1977 for “Rocky,” which also won the Oscar for best picture. He returned to the franchise to direct “Rocky V” in 1990. Avildsen directed another surprise hit, “The Karate Kid,” in 1984 and returned for “The Karate Kid, Part II” (1986) and “The Karate Kid, Part III” (1989). He also directed Jack Lemmon in an Oscar-winning performance in “Save the Tiger” (1973).

Helmut Kohl was a physically imposing politician who guided Germany through reunification after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He died June 16 at his home in Ludwigshafen, Germany. He was 87. Kohl, who was 6 feet 4 and weighed well over 300 pounds in his leadership years, became chancellor of West Germany in 1982. Less than a year after the November 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, he spearheaded the end of Germany’s decades-long division into East and West. He served as chancellor of Germany until 1998. His legacy was later clouded by disgrace over a party fund-raising scandal.

Bill Dana was a comedy writer and performer who won stardom in the 1950s and ’60s with his character Jose Jimenez. He died June 15 at his home in Nashville, Tenn., according to Emerson College, his alma mater. He was 92. Dana wrote early in his career for Steve Allen, on whose show he served as head writer and introduced his Jose Jimenez character. “My name … Jose … Jimenez” was soon a national catchphrase. The character was embraced by the Latino community, but he bowed to changing standards and criticisms of stereotyping and retired Jimenez in 1970. He had his own sitcom, “The Bill Dana Show,” which aired on NBC during 1963-65. He also wrote the classic “Sammy’s Visit” episode of “All in the Family,” which featured Sammy Davis Jr. kissing bigoted Archie Bunker on the cheek.

Stephen Furst was best known as the hapless Delta House fraternity pledge Kent “Flounder” Dorfman in the comedy “National Lampoon’s Animal House.” He died June 16 at his home in Moorpark, Calif., of complications from diabetes, his family said. He was 63. Furst’s long list of credits included the 1980s medical drama “St. Elsewhere,” on which he played Dr. Elliot Axelrod. He played Vir Coto and was an occasional director on the 1990s sci-fi series “Babylon 5.” He also voiced characters on projects including TV’s “Buzz Lightyear of Star Command” and the video “The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea.”

Prodigy was a member of the hardcore New York hip-hop duo Mobb Deep. He was found dead June 20 in Las Vegas. The exact cause of death was not clear, his publicist said, but she said the rapper had been hospitalized in Las Vegas “for complications caused by a sickle cell anemia crisis.” He was 42. Prodigy, who was born Albert Johnson, found success in the 1990s with fellow rapper Havoc in Mobb Deep. The duo’s hits included “Quiet Storm” with Lil Kim, “Shook Ones (Part II)” and “Hey Luv (Anything).”

Venus Ramey was a former Miss America who helped rally the nation during World War II. She died June 17, according to a funeral home in Science Hill, Ky. She was 92. Ramey represented Washington, D.C., where she lived at the time, in the 1944 Miss America pageant. She was the first redhead to win the Miss America title and the first to be photographed in color. After winning the crown, she embarked on a vaudeville tour and sold $5 million in war bonds. Her likeness also graced a B-17 that made 68 raids over Germany and other Nazi-occupied nations. She made headlines in 2007 when, at age 82, she shot out the tires of some intruders who drove onto her farm in Waynesburg, Ky., and detained them until the authorities arrived. The exploit earned her an appearance on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno.

Yuri Drozdov was a Soviet spymaster who oversaw a sprawling network of KGB agents abroad. He was 91. The Foreign Intelligence Service, a KGB successor agency known as the SVR, announced his death but did not provide additional details. Drozdov, a World War II veteran, joined the KGB in 1956. In 1962, he took part in the exchange of Soviet undercover agent Rudolf Abel, convicted in the U.S., for downed American spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers. The story was made into Steven Spielberg’s movie “Bridge of Spies” in 2015 as well as “The Shield and the Sword,” a 1968 Soviet movie that Russian President Vladimir Putin once said inspired him to join the KGB. In 1979, Drozdov came to head a KGB department overseeing a network of undercover agents abroad, a job he held until resigning in 1991.

Frank Kush was a fearsome coach who transformed Arizona State from a backwater football program into a powerhouse. He died June 22. Dan Kush, the coach’s oldest son, told The Arizona Republic that his father suffered from dementia. He was 88. Kush was 176-54-1 with the Sun Devils from 1958 to 1979. He coached the NFL’s Colts for two years in Baltimore and one in Indianapolis from 1982 to 1984, compiling an 11-28-1 record. He also coached the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1981, and finished his coaching career with the USFL’s Arizona Outlaws in 1985. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1995.

Ketumile Masire was president of Botswana from 1980 to 1998. He died June 22 at a hospital in Gaborone, the country’s capital. The government of Botswana posted a statement from Masire’s family on Facebook that said he died “peacefully.” He was 91. Masire was Botswana’s second president after independence in 1966.

Larry Grantham was a starting outside linebacker for the New York Jets in their victory in Super Bowl III. He died June 17 in Jackson, Miss., from complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, according to his son, James Larry Grantham II. He was 78. Grantham starred at the University of Mississippi before he became an original member of the New York Titans franchise, which became the Jets in 1963 after three seasons. He was a five-time AFL All-Star during his 13 years with the team and was inducted into the Jets’ Ring of Honor in 2011.

Tony DiCicco was coach of the U.S. women’s soccer team when it won the 1999 World Cup title in front of an overflow Rose Bowl crowd. He died June 19 at his home in Wethersfield, Conn., his son, Anthony DiCicco said Tuesday. No cause of death was announced. He was 68. DiCicco became the U.S. coach in 1994 and led the team to the gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the first games to feature women’s soccer. In the final of the 1999 World Cup, the U.S. beat China 5-4 on penalty kicks in Pasadena, Calif., in front of 90,185 fans, by far the largest attendance for a women’s soccer game. He later did television work, was commissioner of the Women’s United Soccer Association and coached the Boston Breakers in Women’s Professional Soccer during 2009-11.

Compiled from news service reports by Chris Carter, ccarter@kcstar.com

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