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updated: 8/25/2012 4:27 PM

Notable deaths last week

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  • Associated Press/May 17, 1999Emmy award winning game show host, Alex Trebek greets actress and comedian Phyllis Diller before receiving his newly-dedicated star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles.

      Associated Press/May 17, 1999Emmy award winning game show host, Alex Trebek greets actress and comedian Phyllis Diller before receiving his newly-dedicated star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles.

  • Associated Press/March 23, 1996William Windom, left, shows a swagger stick to "Murder She Wrote" star Angela Lansbury, center, and former first lady Nancy Reagan prior to Lansbury being presented the Caritas Award by Mrs. Reagan in Beverly Hills, Calif.

      Associated Press/March 23, 1996William Windom, left, shows a swagger stick to "Murder She Wrote" star Angela Lansbury, center, and former first lady Nancy Reagan prior to Lansbury being presented the Caritas Award by Mrs. Reagan in Beverly Hills, Calif.

 

Long before Kathy Griffin was languishing on the D-list, Roseanne Barr was calling herself a domestic goddess and Joan Rivers was asking audiences if they could talk, wild-haired housewife-turned-comedian Phyllis Diller was dishing one-liners about her husband, Fang.

"I should have suspected my husband was lazy," she once joked. "On our wedding day, his mother told me, 'I'm not losing a son. I'm gaining a couch."'

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Diller was the template for self-deprecating female comedians. She not only motivated a generation of funny women, such as Ellen DeGeneres and Whoopi Goldberg, her silver-tongued zingers -- often punctuated by her trademark cackle -- paved the way for them. And she inspired funny guys, too.

Diller passed away in her Los Angeles home at age 95.

She wasn't the first woman to crack jokes on stage; Gracie Allen had been getting laughs for decades playing dumb for George Burns. But Diller was among the first who didn't need a man around. The only guy in her act was a husband named Fang, who was never seen and didn't exist.

Neil Armstrong was a soft-spoken engineer who became a global hero when as a steely-nerved pilot he made "one giant leap for mankind" with a small step onto the moon. The modest man, who had people on Earth entranced and awed from almost a quarter-million miles away, but credited others for the feat, has died at 82.

Jerry Nelson, the puppeteer behind a delightful menagerie of characters including Count von Count on "Sesame Street" and Gobo Fraggle on "Fraggle Rock," has died. He was 78.

The Brazilian soccer federation says Felix, its starting goalkeeper when it won the 1970 World Cup, has died of complications from emphysema. He was 74.

James Fogle, who wrote "Drugstore Cowboy," an autobiographical crime novel that led to an acclaimed 1989 film starring Matt Dillon, has died. He was 75.

Jerry Grant, a race driver who made history by breaking 200 mph in an Indianapolis 500-style car, has died at age 77.

Steve Van Buren, the square-jawed Hall of Fame running back who led the Philadelphia Eagles to NFL titles in 1948 and 1949, has died. He was 91.

British writer Nina Bawden, who wrote children's classics including the World War II story "Carrie's War," has diedy. She was 87.

Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia's long-time ruler and a major U.S. counter-terrorism ally who is credited with economic gains but blamed for human rights abuses, died of an undisclosed illness after not being seen in his East African country for weeks, Ethiopian authorities said. He was 57.

Ben Isaacs, a charismatic centenarian believed to be the oldest surviving Pullman railcar porter, has died at his Southern California desert home at age 107.

Guy Spitaels, a Belgian socialist leader who was convicted in 1998 of corruption along with ex-NATO Secretary General Willy Claes, has died of a brain tumor. He was 80.

George Hickman, one of the original Tuskegee airmen and a longtime usher at University of Washington and Seattle Seahawks games, has died at age 88.

William Windom, who won an Emmy Award for his turn in the 1969 TV comedy series "My World And Welcome To It" and went on to score guest appearances on several popular shows, has died at 88.

The easy-going Windom was an in-demand television character actor for decades and scored guest appearances on several American TV staples, including episodes of "Twilight Zone" and "Star Trek" and appeared on more than 50 segments of "Murder, She Wrote" beginning in the mid-1980s. There, Windom played a Maine country doctor opposite series star Angela Lansbury's Jessica Fletcher.

Tony Scott, 68, director of such Hollywood hits as "Top Gun," "Days of Thunder" and "Beverly Hills Cop II," has died after jumping from a towering suspension bridge spanning Los Angeles harbor and leaving behind several notes to loved ones, authorities said.

Singer Scott McKenzie, who performed "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)" -- which became a hit in 1967 during the city's "Summer of Love" -- has died at age 73.

McKenzie also co-wrote "Kokomo," a No. 1 hit for The Beach Boys in 1988, and toured with The Mamas and the Papas in the 1990s.

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