• Howard Baker Jr., who played key roles in Ronald Reagan's presidency as legislative "spear-carrier" in the U.S. Senate during the administration's triumphant first year, and as a steadying hand inside the White House during its troubled later years, has died. He was 88.
The namesake son of a seven-term congressman and son-in-law of Senate Republican leader Everett Dirksen, Baker represented Tennessee in the Senate for 18 years, rose to majority leader and ran unsuccessfully for president before replacing Donald Regan as President Reagan's chief of staff.
His 17 months at the White House, from March 1987 to July 1988, coincided with a dark time for Reagan. The president's detached management style was under criticism in the wake of the Iran-contra affair, the secret effort to aid right-wing guerrillas in Nicaragua with money raised by selling arms to Iran. Democrats had retaken control of the Senate, and Reagan's recent prostate surgery had heightened concerns about his stamina.
Baker was known for his gentility and conciliation toward colleagues of both parties, a reputation that generated suspicion among hardcore Republicans, who didn't warm to him when he ran for president.
His 1951 marriage to Joy Dirksen brought Baker into the political arena. That year, Dirksen's father, an Illinois Republican, joined the U.S. Senate following eight terms in the House of Representatives.
When former White House Counsel John Dean came before the committee, Baker told him: "The central question is simply put: What did the president know, and when did he know it?" Baker would reiterate that question throughout the committee's three months of public hearings.
• Bobby Womack, a colorful and highly influential R&B singer-songwriter who influenced artists from the Rolling Stones to Damon Albarn, has died. He was 70.
With an incomparable voice few could match, Womack was a stirring singer and guitarist in his own right and a powerful songwriter whose hits like "Across 110th Street," "If You Think You're Lonely Now" and "I Wish He Didn't Trust Me So Much" captured the imagination of future stars in rock 'n' roll and R&B.
"He had a style that nobody else could ever capture," longtime friend, gospel singer Candi Staton, said. "I loved him and I will miss him so, so very much."
In a statement, musician Peter Gabriel said: "I'm very sad to learn of Bobby Womack's death ... His songs and his voice have been so much a part of the fabric of so many musical lives. In recent years, it was great to see Richard Russell and Damon Albarn bringing his music back into our attention. He was a soul legend. Our thoughts and condolences are with his family and friends at this time."
"I think the biggest move for me was to get away from the drug scene," Womack said. "It wasn't easy. It was hard because everybody I knew did drugs. ... They didn't know when to turn it off. So for me looking at Wilson Pickett, close friends of mine, Sly Stone, Jim Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and I can go on and on and on, and I say all of them died because of drugs."
According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website, Womack was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and sang gospel music at a young age, performing with his brothers in The Womack Brothers. Under the influence of gospel and R&B legend Sam Cooke, who signed the group to his personal label, Womack moved into secular music. In the early 1960s his group recorded "It's All Over Now," which was covered and by the Stones and became the band's first number-one hit.
• Rollin King, a San Antonio businessman who helped start Southwest Airlines Co. and create a new age of competition in the airline industry, has died at 83.
Longtime Southwest CEO Herb Kelleher praised King for coming up with the idea of a discount airline that would serve Texas travelers. Kelleher said in a statement issued by Southwest on Friday that the notion of a low-cost, low-fare airline with quality service became a model not only in the U.S. but worldwide.
"The people of Southwest Airlines grieve with Rollin's family, mourn his absence, and thank him for his vision," Kelleher said.
• Leslie Manigat, a prominent figure in the Haitian political establishment whose term as president was cut short by a military coup in 1988, has died. He was 83.
President Michel Martelly said he was saddened by the loss of Manigat, referring to him as "professor," as he was widely known in Haiti. "With this death, the Republic has lost one of its worthy sons," he said.
• Mary Rodgers, the daughter of Broadway icon Richard Rodgers who found her own fame as composer of the 1959 musical "Once Upon a Mattress" and as the author of the body-shifting book "Freaky Friday," has died. She was 83.
Rodgers' hit "Once Upon a Mattress," a musical adaptation of the Hans Christian Anderson fable "The Princess and the Pea," made a star of Carol Burnett. A Broadway revival in 1996 starred Sarah Jessica Parker. Her other shows include "From A to Z," a revue featuring her songs, and two other short-lived shows: "Hot Spot" and "The Madwoman of Central Park West," a one-person musical starring Phyllis Newman.
She was also a children's book author who scored big with "Freaky Friday," in which a mother and daughter trade bodies. The book was twice adapted into a Disney movie, most recently in 2003 starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan. Her other books include "A Billion for Boris," "Summer Switch" and "The Rotten Book."
The daughter of "South Pacific" and "Flower Drum Song" composer Richard Rodgers and Dorothy Rodgers, Mary Rodgers was also the mother of a musical theater composer, Adam Guettel, a Tony Award winner for "The Light in the Piazza."
• A man who nearly lost his life in New York City's first instance of bubonic plague in more than 100 years has died of an unrelated illness.
John Tull was diagnosed with a rare cancer last month, but doctors didn't believe it was connected to his previous health struggles, said Lucinda Marker, his wife. Tull was 65.
In November 2002, the New Mexico couple was on vacation in the Big Apple when both came down with flu-like symptoms including a fever and swollen lymph nodes. They were diagnosed with the plague, an exceedingly rare disease that wiped out a third of Europe in the 14th century. It was considered New York's first plague case in more than a century, but doctors said Tull and Marker had likely become infected back home in Santa Fe.
• Julius Rudel, who was the general director and principal conductor of the New York City Opera for 22 years until 1979 and led other operas around the world, has died at 93.
Rudel was born in Austria, but moved to America as a teenager. He led more than 150 operas in the world's major opera houses, including the Vienna Staatsoper, Paris Opera, Metropolitan Opera and Los Angeles Opera.
He joined the New York City Opera in 1944. The City Opera filed for bankruptcy and shut down late last year.
• Caleb Bankston, a former contestant on the "Survivor" reality show, has died in a railway accident in Alabama. He was 27.
Jefferson County Deputy Coroner Bill Yates says Bankston, who was working at the Alabama Warrior Railway in Birmingham, was thrown from a train in a partial derailment on Tuesday.
Bankston, of Collinsville, Alabama, appeared on "Survivor: One World" in 2012 and "Survivor: Blood vs. Water" in 2013, according to the show's website.
• Mabon "Teenie" Hodges, the guitarist and songwriter who created a dynamic, rhythmic foundation for numerous Memphis soul records and co-wrote million-selling hits with singer Al Green, died Sunday at a hospital in Dallas. He was 68 and lived in Memphis.
The cause was complications of emphysema, said Lawrence "Boo" Mitchell, grandson of Hodges's mentor, the late producer Willie Mitchell. Hodges was hospitalized in March following a performance at Austin's South By Southwest music festival, where he came down with pneumonia.
Hodges's bluesy, funk-inflected guitar work defined the 1970s Memphis soul sound.
• As a masterful character actor and early product of postwar, Method-style theater, Eli Wallach wore countless faces, disappearing into them all. But he was always propelled -- in acting and in life -- by a mischievousness and an abiding playfulness that made him a tireless performer, an enduring family man and, of course, one immortal scoundrel.
"I never lost my appetite for acting," Wallach wrote in his 2005 memoir "The Good, the Bad, and Me," named after his most famous film. "I feel like a magician."
Wallach died Tuesday evening from natural causes after 98 years of life, 66 years of marriage and some 100 films, including several he made in his 90s.
The versatile, raspy-voiced actor was a mainstay of Tennessee Williams' plays (he won a Tony Award for "The Rose Tattoo" in 1951) and an original member of the Actors Studio in the early days of Method acting. But the most notable credit in his prolific career was "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," in which he played the rascally Mexican outlaw Tuco.
As the Ugly of the title, he stole Sergio Leone's 1966 spaghetti Western from the Good, Clint Eastwood, with lines like: "When you have to shoot, shoot, don't talk."
Wallach also starred in the steamy "Baby Doll" (1956), "The Magnificent Seven" (1960), "The Misfits" (1961) and "The Godfather III" (1990), in which he played a murderous mobster who dies after eating poisoned cannoli.
• Richard Sharp, longtime CEO of now-defunct electronics retailer Circuit City and co-founder of used-car dealership chain CarMax Inc., has died at 67.
According to CarMax and investment firm V-Ten Capital Partners, Sharp died at his home just outside Richmond from a rare form of Alzheimer's disease.
Before joining Circuit City in 1982, the Alexandria, Virginia, native led a custom hardware and software business development company he founded at age 27.
• The award-winning Spanish author Ana Maria Matute, best known for her books set during the Spanish Civil War, has died at 88.
Matute died in the northeastern city of Barcelona where she was born and lived, the Spanish Royal Academy for Language said.
The cause of death was not disclosed.
Matute won many Spanish literary awards, including the 2010 Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world's top literary honor. She also won Spain's National Literature Award for Children's and Young People's Literature in 1984 and Spain's National Literature Award in 2007.
Among her most popular novels are "Los Abel" (The Abels), "Los Soldados Lloran de Noche" (Soldiers Cry By Night), and "La Trampa" (The Trap).
Matute was ranked as one of the country's best post-Civil War writers. Her work often centers on that conflict, which took place from 1936-39.
Admired for her lyrical style, Matute's novels commonly consider the lives of children and adolescents and focus on issues of betrayal and isolation.
Matute has also been praised for her children's books and young adult novels, including "Los Ninos Tontos" (The Stupid Children), and "El Verdadero Final de La Bella Durmiente" (The True Story of Sleeping Beauty).
She is survived by a son. No information was immediately available about funeral arrangements.
• Former Venezuelan president Ramon Jose Velasquez, known for his role in opposing dictatorship in the South American country, has died. He was 97.
Velasquez assumed the presidency for eight months from 1993 to 1994 after his predecessor was impeached for embezzlement.
He was the last living former president of Venezuela.
Felix Dennis, a flamboyant publisher who co-edited the 1960s underground magazine Oz and went on to build a magazine empire, has died. He was 67 and had cancer.
An enthusiastic participant in the 1960s counterculture, Dennis came to prominence as a defendant in the 1971 trial of Oz for "conspiracy to corrupt public morals."
Dennis and his two co-defendants were charged after asking high-school students to put together an issue of the magazine; it included an obscene depiction of children's character Rupert Bear.
The cause became a cause celebre, with the "Oz Three" drawing support from celebrities including John Lennon.
Defended by lawyer and novelist John Mortimer, creator of fictional barrister "Rumpole of the Bailey" they were acquitted of conspiracy but sentenced to jail for lesser offenses. They were eventually acquitted on appeal.
Dennis went on to run his own magazine firm, launching it with Kung-Fu Monthly, at the height of Bruce Lee's popularity. Dennis Publishing went on to publish some of Britain's first computer magazines and produce titles including men's magazine Maxim and news digest The Week.
• Fouad Ajami, a Middle East scholar who rallied support for the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 and advised policy makers in the Bush administration, has died. He was 68.
In the period leading to the Iraqi invasion, The New York Time reported that Ajami advised national security adviser Condoleeza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz, then the deputy secretary of defense. In a 2002 speech, Vice President Dick Cheney invoked Ajami as predicting that after liberation, Iraqis would greet the American military with joy.
• Steve Rossi, one half of the prolific comedy duo Allen & Rossi, which became a favorite of "The Ed Sullivan Show" and other TV variety shows, has died at age 82.
The duo appeared regularly on "The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson" and "The Merv Griffin Show." They also toured comedy clubs nationwide and headlined shows at major Las Vegas casinos in the 1960s until they split up in 1968. They also famously appeared on Ed Sullivan's show multiple times with The Beatles.
• Grand Ole Opry member Jimmy C. Newman, known for mixing Cajun and country music, has died at 86.
The Tennessean reports Newman's first Top 10 country hit, "Cry, Cry, Darling," came 60 years ago, in the summer of 1954. That same year he joined Shreveport-based radio show "The Louisiana Hayride," where he performed alongside Johnny Horton, Elvis Presley and others.
He joined the Opry in 1956, after notching five straight Top 10 records, including "Seasons Of My Heart." In 1957, Newman earned his highest-charting record with "A Fallen Star," which reached No. 2 on the Billboard country chart and No. 23 on the pop chart.