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updated: 3/1/2014 6:55 PM

Notable deaths last week

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  • Actor/director Harold Ramis celebrates The Second City's 50th anniversary  in Chicago in 2009.

      Actor/director Harold Ramis celebrates The Second City's 50th anniversary in Chicago in 2009.
    Associated Press

  • Spanish flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia performs on the Miles Davis Hall stage at the 44th Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland.

      Spanish flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia performs on the Miles Davis Hall stage at the 44th Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland.
    Associated Press

  • Jim Lange, left, congratulates Connie and Steve Rutenbar of Mission Viejo, Calif., after they won $1 million on the TV show " The $1,000,000 Chance of a Lifetime".

      Jim Lange, left, congratulates Connie and Steve Rutenbar of Mission Viejo, Calif., after they won $1 million on the TV show " The $1,000,000 Chance of a Lifetime".
    Associated Press/1986

 
Associated Press and news wire reports

"Caddyshack." "National Lampoon's Animal House." "Ghostbusters." "Groundhog Day." "Stripes."

Those titles are some of the most beloved and widely quoted comedy classics of the last 30 years. They're also Harold Ramis' filmography.

Ramis, the writer-director-actor who quietly and often off-screen created an unparalleled and hugely influential body of laughs, has died at 69.

He suffered for several years from an autoimmune disease that caused inflammation and damage to his blood vessels, and died at his home in the Chicago suburbs, surrounded by family and friends, his talent agency said.

His death rattled a modern comedy world Ramis helped build. His legacy as a father figure to generations of comedians was appropriately captured in Judd Apatow's "Knocked Up," in which Ramis was cast as Seth Rogen's father, Apatow said, "because we all saw him as the dream dad."

"Harold Ramis made almost every movie which made me want to become a comedy director," Apatow said. "These films are the touchstones of our lives."

Chevy Chase, whom Ramis directed in "Caddyshack" and "National Lampoon's Vacation," called him "a great man who shunned unnecessary Hollywood-type publicity."

"It was Harold who acted out and gave me the inspiration for the character of Clark Griswold," Chase said. "I was really copying Harold's impression of Clark."

The Chicago native and early member of the improv comedy troupe Second City was a force behind the camera. The intellectual Ramis was the Zen master to a wild, improvising comic storm that included Murray, John Belushi, Chase and Dan Aykroyd.

He co-wrote and directed "Caddyshack," "Groundhog Day," and "Analyze This." He helped pen "Meatballs," "Stripes" and "Ghostbusters."

Ramis, who became a Buddhist in midlife, was known to have a spiritual pull, on full display in the wry but earnest existentialism of "Groundhog Day" (1993), in which Murray re-lives a day until he finally gets it right. His "Ghostbusters" co-star and Second City mate Aykroyd said: "May he now get the answers he was always seeking."

The son of Chicago shopkeepers, Ramis was born Nov. 21, 1944, in Chicago. Ramis would help recalibrate the epicenter of American comedy at Second City, which he joined in 1969. He was soon followed by many of his later collaborators: Belushi ("Animal House"), Murray and Aykroyd. In 1976, he became head writer for the Canadian-based comedy show Second City Television, or SCTV.

Chicago, he later said in the book of interviews "And Here's the Kicker," conditioned him to living "slightly on the outside of the mainstream."

The maker of MiG fighter jets says that its chief designer Rostislav Belyakov has died. He was 94.

Belyakov became the MiG chief designer in 1969, succeeding the firm's founder, Artyom Mikoyan, and led the development of a family of MiG fighters, including MiG-23, MiG-25, Mig-29 and their versions, which have been the backbone of Soviet and then Russian air force.

Jim Lange, the first host of the popular game show "The Dating Game," has died at his home in Mill Valley, Calif. He was 81.

Though Lange had a successful career in radio, he is best known for his television role on ABC's "The Dating Game," which debuted in 1965 and on which he appeared for more than a decade, charming audiences with his mellifluous voice and wide, easygoing grin.

He also played host to many celebrity guests. Michael Jackson, Steve Martin and Arnold Schwarzenegger, among others, appeared as contestants.

Even a pre-"Charlie's Angels" Farrah Fawcett appeared on the program, introduced as "an accomplished artist and sculptress" with a dream to open her own gallery.

Huber Matos Benitez, who helped lead the Cuban Revolution as one of Fidel Castro's key lieutenants before his efforts to resign from the burgeoning communist government landed him in prison for 20 years, has died. He was 95.

"The revolution didn't have to become a catastrophe," Matos said. "If (Castro) would have brought reforms within the democratic framework, Cuba would have been a great country."

Belgian contemporary art director Jan Hoet, who organized a major exhibition in private homes and curated Germany's Documenta art fair, has died at 77.

Paco de Lucia, one of the world's greatest guitarists who dazzled audiences with his lightning-speed flamenco rhythms and finger work, has died in Mexico, officials said. He was 66.

The Spaniard had a heart attack while on vacation at the Caribbean beach resort of Playa del Carmen and died in a hospital, Quintana Roo state attorney general Gaspar Armando Garcia said.

"Paco lived as he wished and died playing with his children beside the sea," said a statement from de Lucia's family.

De Lucia was awarded the Spanish Culture Ministry's Fine Arts Gold Medal in 1992 and the prestigious Prince of Asturias prize for the Arts in 2004. He was granted a Doctor Honoris Causa degree by Berklee College of Music in 2010.

His last studio album "Cositas buenas" (Good Things) earned him his first Latin Grammy in 2004 while his 2012 live recording "En Vivo" (Live) received a second.

Henry Casso, a longtime civil rights leader in New Mexico who worked his way out of an orphanage to become a noted educational scholar and a founder of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, has died. He was 82.

Born in Detroit, Casso grew up in an orphanage after his father was severely injured in a train accident. It was at an orphanage, Casso would later say, where he developed a desire to join the priesthood and use biblical stories to fight poverty.

Ordained as a priest in 1957, he served a number of San Antonio parishes before leaving the church for a life of scholarship and fighting discrimination against Mexican-Americans. A supporter of President Lyndon B. Johnson's "War on Poverty" programs, he founded PADRES, a national organization that pushed for Latino bishops and urged the Catholic Church to address equality.

A long-time publisher of The Herald-News in Joliet has died. The newspaper reports 82-year-old George H. Fisk died Tuesday.

He had a more than 40-year career with the paper. He started working there in 1948 as a proof boy and retired in 1993 as publisher and editor of The Herald-News and president of Fox Valley Press.

Franny Beecher, lead guitarist for Bill Haley and the Comets, which helped kick off the rock and roll era with the hit "Rock Around the Clock" in 1955, has died. He was 92.

The Comets, whose hits also included "See You Later, Alligator," are credited by some music historians with having recorded the first rock and roll song in 1953 with "Crazy Man, Crazy," the group's biography on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website says.

Former astronaut Dale Gardner, who helped haul a stranded satellite into the space shuttle during a 1984 spacewalk, has died at age 65.

During the historic D-Day invasion of World War II, Walter D. Ehlers accomplished some of the most awe-inspiring acts of bravery imaginable, earning a Medal of Honor for knocking out two German machine-gun nests and saving countless Allied soldiers' lives.

The 23-year-old staff sergeant charged through enemy gunfire to kill seven enemy soldiers, chase away several others, put a halt to mortar fire and carry a wounded comrade to safety, even after he had been shot in the back.

Ehlers died this week at age 92. His passing leaves only seven surviving World War II Medal of Honor recipients.

On the 50th anniversary of D-Day he returned to France, where he joined President Bill Clinton and others in commemorating the event.

A former state legislator who spent years pushing to win approval for a casino in the southern Indiana town of French Lick has died.

Former Democratic Rep. Jerry Denbo of French Lick, was 63.

The French Lick Resort opened in 2006.

Alice Herz-Sommer, believed to be the oldest Holocaust survivor, has died at age 110.

The accomplished pianist's death came just a week before her extraordinary story of surviving two years in a Nazi prison camp through devotion to music and her son is up for an Oscar.

"We all came to believe that she would just never die," said Frederic Bohbot, a producer of the documentary "The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life." "There was no question in my mind, 'would she ever see the Oscars."'

The film, directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Malcolm Clarke, has been nominated for best short documentary.

Maria von Trapp, the last surviving member and second-eldest daughter of the musical family whose escape from Nazi-occupied Austria was the basis for "The Sound of Music," has died. She was 99.

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