Summer 2012’s Lost Legends: Nora Ephron, Tony Scott & More (PHOTOS)

Helen Gurley Brown, Andy Griffith—the list goes on. A look back at the luminaries we lost this season.

The summer of 2009—when we lost Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, John Hughes, Walter Cronkite, and nearly two dozen more celebrities and high-profile people—was, rightfully so, branded the Summer of Death. Bad things are supposed to happen in threes, after all, not dozens. The summer of 2012, though not quite as severe, rivals those tragic months from three years ago as an alarming number of pioneering pop-culture figures, trailblazers in entertainment, and industry titans passed away between June and September. Here’s a look back at the lives of the luminaries we lost this summer.

Charles Sykes / AP Photo

Nora Ephron

(May 19, 1941–June 26, 2012)

It speaks to the impact Nora Ephron had on Hollywood—culture as a whole, really—that the likes of Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Rosie O’Donnell, and Meg Ryan all attended and paid tribute at her memorial service. It speaks to Ephron’s subversive and whimsical wit that the prolific writer planned the entire affair before her passing: who would speak, in what order, and for how long. Ephron, who died June 26 at age 71, reinvented the modern romantic comedy by crafting razor-sharp banter and smart, strong female leads who deserved their happy endings: When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, Julie & Julia. She was a trailblazer in two industries. She began her career as a journalist for publications including the New York Post, Esquire, and New York, and became one of the first truly successful female screenwriters and directors. Summed up Streep at Ephron’s service: “She was a breathtaking original.”

Marty Lederhandler / AP Photo

Helen Gurley Brown

(Feb. 18, 1922–Aug. 13, 2012)

Women enjoy sex. And sometimes they’re not even married when they have it. It was a landmark notion when Helen Gurley Brown, who ++died Aug. 13++ [] at age 90, introduced it to mainstream readers in the early 1960s. Brown’s culture-shaking bestseller, Sex and the Single Girl, was published in 1962. It was a work—championed by some, reviled by others, and progressive to all—that taught unmarried women how to seize the opportunities afforded by single life, even if that “opportunity” happened to be a married man. As the editor of Cosmopolitan from 1965 to 1977, she liberated readers with frank talk about sex, fashion, and what a woman’s well-being really entailed. But more than anything, says author John Searles at The Daily Beast of his many years working for Brown at Cosmo: “I learned that Helen was much more than a sex kitten.”

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Andy Griffith

(June 1, 1926–July 3, 2012)

Mayberry was small-town utopia. The fictional setting of the classic ’60s sitcom The Andy Griffith Show was comfort food in a decade that grew increasingly tumultuous. And Andy Griffith was its venerable mayor. Griffith, who died July 3 at age 86, spent seven seasons as Sheriff Andy Taylor, the straight man and heart of a comedy so popular it was still No. 1 in the ratings when it went off the air. Three decades later, the actor struck gold again as cantankerous defense attorney Ben Matlock on the popular long-running drama Matlock, but Malcolm Jones at The Daily Beast says that The Andy Griffith Show and the charming town of Mayberry will forever be Griffith’s finest achievement: “Fifty years later, faults and all, it’s still one of the best things ever to appear on American television.”

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Phyllis Diller

(July 17, 1917–Aug. 20, 2012)

It’s hard to settle on Phyllis Diller’s signature attribute. Her famously wild hair? Her unmistakable cackle—so often employed to laugh at her own jokes—and raspy smoker’s voice? The long cigarette she held as a prop? Yet what Diller, who died Aug. 20 at age 95, will most be remembered for is forging the way for women in comedy, hanging her hat right next to the men with her self-deprecating zingers and acerbic wit. She broke out with guest appearances on Bob Hope’s TV specials, starred in two eponymous TV shows, and was a regular on Laugh-In. “She knew a woman’s place was not in the home,” says Roseanne Barr at The Daily Beast, “at a time when everyone on earth regurgitated that canard every minute of the day.”

Everett Collection

Tony Scott

(June 21, 1944–Aug. 19, 2012)

“He’s a bull, and I am too,” said Ridley Scott of his brother and occasional producing partner, Tony, in an interview just before the Top Gun director’s death. “Nothing takes him down. We have enormous pain resistance.” The words were especially haunting, as they were released three days after Tony Scott’s apparent suicide Aug. 19 at age 68. A veteran director, Scott was best known for testosterone-fueled action flicks like Top Gun, True Romance, and Unstoppable. “In many ways, Tony Scott helped define the modern Hollywood blockbuster,” says The Daily Beast’s Marlow Stern, “with his trademark hyperkinetic camera, dazzling set pieces, booming orchestral scores, and A-list star power.”

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Gore Vidal

(Oct. 3, 1925–July 31, 2012)

Gore Vidal’s words were both incomparably clever—“Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little”—and timeless. His shrewd political play The Best Man was as resonant in its recent hit Broadway revival as it was when it was first staged in 1960. An author, a playwright, a commentator, and, briefly, a politician, Vidal died July 31 at age 86. Beginning as a teenager, he wrote 25 novels, including Lincoln, Burr, and Myra Breckenridge. His 1948 work The City and the Pillar was so controversial (it featured openly gay characters) that The New York Times refused to review his next few books. Rebellious and political-minded, he ran for office twice, though he lost both times.

Alex J. Berliner / AP Photo

Marvin Hamlisch

(June 2, 1944–Aug. 6, 2012)

Legendary composer and conductor Marvin Hamlisch, who died Aug. 6 at age 68, is in rare company. He is one of only 11 people to win the EGOT grand slam, snagging each of the four major creative awards: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. His music played vital roles in films like The Way We Were and The Sting, for both of which he won Academy Awards. He was named 1974’s Best New Artist at the Grammys, and took home two of his three Emmys for his work on Barbra Streisand’s 1995 TV special. His iconic melodies for the Broadway musical A Chorus Line not only earned him a Tony but also the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Steve Castillo / AP Photo

Ray Bradbury

(Aug. 22, 1920–June 5, 2012)

“You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.” That’s one of the most enduring quotations from Ray Bradbury, who died June 5 at age 91—and there are plenty more poignant pieces of wisdom to choose from. The New York Times calls the author “the writer most responsible for bringing modern science fiction into the literary mainstream,” which he did with his smash works The Martian Chronicles, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and, chiefly, Fahrenheit 451. By extension, says The Daily Beast’s Malcolm Jones, he “taught generations of readers the benefits of letting their imaginations run wild.”

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Ernest Borgnine

(Jan. 24, 1917–July 8, 2012)

To call Ernest Borgnine’s career prolific would still be selling the award-winning actor short. The stocky World War II vet, who died July 8 at age 95, was one of Hollywood’s most unconventional and memorable leading men. He won the Best Actor Oscar for his tender performance as a lonely butcher in 1955’s Marty. Among his five decades of impressive film credits: From Here to Eternity, The Dirty Dozen, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Wild Bunch, and The Poseidon Adventure. His TV career spans the comedy classic McHale’s Navy to 2011’s telefilm Love’s Christmas Journey, with heralded stops on ER and SpongeBob SquarePants along the way. A pistol, he recently revealed his shocking secret to longevity: “I masturbate a lot.”

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Sherman Hemsley

(Feb. 1, 1938–July 24, 2012)

Before there were the Huxtables, there were the Jeffersons. Sherman Hemsley, who died July 24 at age 74, first endeared himself to audiences by sparring with Archie Bunker as George Jefferson on All in the Family. The character became so wildly popular that he and his wife, played by Isabel Sanford, soon “moved on up to the East Side” in a spinoff called The Jeffersons. It ran for a whopping 11 seasons and was remarkable for its portrayal of an affluent (the Jeffersons had their own maid), opinionated, and loving black couple. Hemsley went on to star in the sitcom Amen and lend a voice to the series Dinosaurs, but it’s the lovably imperious George Jefferson for which he’ll be forever remembered.

Mark Humphrey / AP Photo

Kitty Wells

(Aug. 30, 1919–July 16, 2012)

Patsy Cline, Reba McEntire, Taylor Swift—they all followed a path first traversed by the cowboy boots of trailblazer Kitty Wells, the first female superstar of country music. Wells, who died July 18 at age 92, scored the first No. 1 hit on the country music charts by a female solo artist with her song “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” in 1952. In the decades that followed, Wells recorded 50 albums and had 25 top 10 country hits, cementing her status as a legendary crooner. As country singer Laura Cantrell writes at The Daily Beast, “Kitty Wells started her career as a ‘girl singer’ in the 1940s and ended it as the ‘Queen of Country Music.’”

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Richard Dawson

(Nov. 20, 1932–June 2, 2012)

He may have broken out as an actor in the popular TV comedy Hogan’s Heroes, but it’s the smirk and swagger—not to mention puckered lips—that Richard Dawson hosted Family Feud with from 1976 to 1985 that truly charmed audiences. As famous for kissing the game show’s female contestants as he was for his bellowing of “survey says,” Dawson, who died June 2 at age 79, later parodied his cheeky reputation in the 1987 action flick The Running Man. “You think Don Draper typifies that lost American masculinity we’re all obsessed with these days?” says Rebecca Dana at The Daily Beast. “Don Draper is an inarticulate slob compared to Richard Dawson.”

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Celeste Holm

(April 29, 1917–July 15, 2012)

Celeste Holm’s career as a scene-stealing character actress began when she was cast as Ado Annie, the boy-crazy beauty who “cain’t say no,” in the original Broadway cast of Oklahoma! It wasn’t long after that the actress, who died July 15 at age 95, was accepting the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her witty turn opposite Gregory Peck in Gentleman’s Agreement. In the next three years, she would be nominated for two more Oscars, for Come to the Stable and All About Eve. The rest of her six-decade career was split between stage—where she performed in The King and I and Mame—and screen, where she had memorable roles in High Society, the TV version of Cinderella, and the drama series Promised Land.

Chris Pizzello / AP Photo

Kathryn Joosten

(Dec. 20, 1939–June 2, 2012)

Kathryn Joosten didn’t begin acting until she was 42, but the Emmy-winning actress, who died June 2 at age 72, made a lasting impression on the industry in those later years. As President Bartlet’s no-nonsense secretary, Mrs. Landingham, on The West Wing, she was one of the few characters who could believably dress down Martin Sheen’s strong-willed commander in chief. She won two Emmy awards as Karen McCluskey, Wisteria Lane’s most cantankerous, snoopy resident, on Desperate Housewives. She’s nominated again at this year’s Emmys, and could score a third trophy for her emotional final run—which included a heartrending death scene—on the dramedy.

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Chad Everett

(June 11, 1936–July 24, 2012)

Chad Everett’s dashing smile was a staple on TV for more than 40 years but was never more engaging than when flashed for his role as surgeon Dr. Joe Gannon, whom the actor played on Medical Center for seven years. Everett, who died July 24 at age 75, was nominated for two Golden Globes for the series, which was at the time the longest-running medical drama in TV history. His career also included roles in the series Hagen, the 2001 film Mulholland Drive, and, most recently, an episode of Castle that aired last February.

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Ron Palillo

(April 2, 1949–Aug. 14, 2012)

No list of TV’s most lasting, lovable nerds—Screech, Steve Urkel, the Glee kids, or Sheldon Cooper—would be complete without Ron Palillo’s Arnold Horshack on Welcome Back, Kotter, who embodied the phrase “adorkable” long before Zooey Deschanel ever twisted her face into a goofy smirk. Palillo, who died Aug. 14 at age 63, crafted the iconic geek, with his habit of screeching “oooh, oooh, oooh” while raising his hand in class, his grating laugh, and signature delivery of “How-wah-ya? I’m Ahnold Horshaaack!” Says Kotter costar Gabe Kaplan, “I think everyone had a Horshack in their school, and there’s also a bit of Horshack in all of us.”

Tim Boyle / Getty Images

Maeve Binchy

(May 28, 1940–July 30, 2012)

Maeve Binchy’s novels often depicted friendship between women, evoked Ireland, and were prodigious—routinely tallying more than 600 pages and large enough to be a doorstop. The Irish author’s best-known works included Light a Penny Candle, Circle of Friends, and Tara Road, which earned publishing’s golden stamp of approval—an Oprah’s Book Club Selection—in 1998. Binchy, who died July 30 at age 72, sold more than 40 million books worldwide, a level of success that didn’t go unnoticed. “I do realize that I’m a popular writer who people buy to take on vacation,” she once said. “I’m an escapist kind of writer. I was just lucky I lived in this time of mass-market paperbacks.”

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Ann Rutherford

(Nov. 2, 1917–June 11, 2012)

Ann Rutherford launched her career as the girl next door. Then she played one of cinema’s most famous sisters. The actress, who died June 11 at age 94, broke out as an MGM studio star, playing opposite Mickey Rooney in You’re Only Young Once and reprising her role as Polly, the girl next door, in a dozen movies. Her rising profile soon landed her the part of Scarlett O’Hara’s younger sister in Gone With the Wind. Rutherford went on to play a number of iconic roles, from a Bennett sister in 1940’s Pride and Prejudice to Suzanne Pleshette’s mother in The Bob Newhart Show—though she ended up turning down one of the most famous roles in modern film: Rose Calvert, eventually played by Gloria Stuart, in 1997’s Titanic.

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Alexander Cockburn

(June 6, 1941–July 21, 2012)

Alexander Cockburn was, above all things, a radical journalist. The fiery writer, who died July 21 at age 71, wrote for The Village Voice, The Nation, The New Statesman, The Wall Street Journal, and numerous other publications. His work was caustic, unapologetic, and sometimes indefensible. A left-wing journalist who condemned the fecklessness of the American liberal establishment and criticized Israel’s policies in the Middle East, he earned both the ire and respect of colleagues for his punishing and controversial opinions.