Notable death last week: Irish playwright; sprint car champion

 
Associated Press
Updated 10/3/2015 7:06 PM
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  • Playwright Brian Friel sitting in a theatre in Dublin. Authorities say Brian Friel, the Tony Award-winning playwright who created ''Dancing at Lughnasa'' and more than 30 other plays, has died at the age of 86.

    Playwright Brian Friel sitting in a theatre in Dublin. Authorities say Brian Friel, the Tony Award-winning playwright who created ''Dancing at Lughnasa'' and more than 30 other plays, has died at the age of 86. Associated Press/Sept. 11, 2009

  • This undated photo provided by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Ore., shows actress Catherine Coulson, best known for her role as the Log Lady in the TV series "Twin Peaks."

    This undated photo provided by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Ore., shows actress Catherine Coulson, best known for her role as the Log Lady in the TV series "Twin Peaks." Associated Press

  • Leon Varjian leads a boom-box parade down State Street in Madison, Wis. Varjian, who came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the 1970s to study in "the graduate school of fun" and ended up masterminding such famous pranks as the 1,000 plastic pink flamingoes on Bascom Hill and the Statue of Liberty head on frozen Lake Mendota, has died at age 64, a relative said.

    Leon Varjian leads a boom-box parade down State Street in Madison, Wis. Varjian, who came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the 1970s to study in "the graduate school of fun" and ended up masterminding such famous pranks as the 1,000 plastic pink flamingoes on Bascom Hill and the Statue of Liberty head on frozen Lake Mendota, has died at age 64, a relative said. Associated Press/1980

  • University of Wisconsin-Madison student Joan O'Donnell takes a snack break on Bascom Hill amid a flock of pink plastic flamingos put up as a prank by the Pail and Shovel Party of the Wisconsin Student Association in Madison, Wis.

    University of Wisconsin-Madison student Joan O'Donnell takes a snack break on Bascom Hill amid a flock of pink plastic flamingos put up as a prank by the Pail and Shovel Party of the Wisconsin Student Association in Madison, Wis. Associated Press

  • Madison residents surround "Miss Liberty" that appears to be poking through the ice of Lake Mendota behind the Memorial Union in Madison, Wis. The stunt, which garnered national attention, was the handiwork of the whimsical Pail & Shovel Party, headed by Leon Varjian and Jim Mallon. Varjian has died at age 64.

    Madison residents surround "Miss Liberty" that appears to be poking through the ice of Lake Mendota behind the Memorial Union in Madison, Wis. The stunt, which garnered national attention, was the handiwork of the whimsical Pail & Shovel Party, headed by Leon Varjian and Jim Mallon. Varjian has died at age 64. Associated Press/February 1979

• A former top racecar driver was among four Indiana men who died Friday in a plane crash while traveling to the Notre Dame-Clemson football game.

The wreckage of the Piper PA-32 was found near Lake Hartwell on the Georgia-South Carolina border, Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Berger said.

Authorities have not given a cause for the crash. They said the men were flying from Warsaw, Indiana, to Clemson, South Carolina, to attend Saturday's game.

The four were Tony Elliott, 54; Charles Smith, 71; son Scott Smith, 44; and Scott Bibler, 51, Oconee County Coroner Karl Addis said.

Elliott won the U.S. Auto Club national sprint car series championship in 1998 and 2000. Tony Stewart Racing posted a message on its Facebook page Saturday, calling Elliott a "fierce competitor on the track. He lauded him as a "father, husband, son, brother and friend."

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Elliott family at this time. Godspeed & Rest In Peace," the post said.

The elder Smith was a councilman and former high school football coach. Bibler also used to coach high school football. Scott Smith was an attorney.

• Brian Friel distrusted the reliability of mere facts. Ireland's greatest playwright of his generation, who has died at the age of 86, spent much of his life trying to convey the deeper truths of our existence -- of a world filled with compelling fictions constructed by people, families and whole nations.

Friel's fictional County Donegal universe of Ballybeg -- whose name, in Ireland's native tongue of Gaelic, means "little town" -- provided the setting for most of his two dozen plays over five decades in which he sought to explore what he once called "the dark and private places of individual souls."

In each work, he created worlds of meaning set in distinctive eras: of the imminent 1960s emigrant hoping to leave behind dashed dreams in "Philadelphia, Here I Come!"; of the mutual incomprehension and growing enmity in the 1830s between Gaelic Ireland and imperialist England in "Translations"; and of the claustrophobic power of 1930s rural Catholic Ireland in "Dancing at Lughnasa."

"Lughnasa" earned Friel his greatest accolades, including a trio of Tony Awards in 1992. But on those rare occasions when Friel permitted himself to be interviewed, he gently mocked the whole notion of success for a writer. He insisted that, while interviewers could ask questions, even the easiest ones had no definite answers. He often said that an invented or conflated memory could convey a greater sense of truth than a faithfully recorded snippet of reality.

• John Guillermin, a veteran British director best known for bringing to life big budget adventure films like "The Towering Inferno" and the 1976 "King Kong" has died. He was 89.

Over the course of his long career, Guillermin directed numerous Hollywood legends, including Peter Sellers, Bette Davis, Paul Newman, Orson Welles and Fred Astaire.

• Phil Woods, a leading alto saxophonist in mainstream jazz for more than 60 years whose piercing solos could also be heard on hit records by Billy Joel and Paul Simon, has died. He was 83.

Woods gave his last concert on Sept. 4 in Pittsburgh, using oxygen to complete a performance of the classic album "Charlie Parker With Strings" with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. That night he announced he had emphysema and was retiring.

Woods released more than 50 albums as a leader and many more as a sideman with such jazz luminaries as Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Bill Evans and Clark Terry. He won four Grammys.

But Woods was perhaps best known outside the jazz world for his alto sax solo at the end of Joel's 1977 hit recording "Just the Way You Are." He also performed on recordings by Paul Simon ("Have a Good Time") and Steely Dan ("Doctor Wu").

• Catherine E. Coulson, an actress best known as the quirky Log Lady in the TV series "Twin Peaks," has died.

Amy Richard with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where Coulson appeared in 50 plays over the course of 22 seasons, said Coulson died at her home in Ashland, Oregon. Coulson was 71 and had been battling cancer.

Richard said Coulson met "Twin Peaks" director David Lynch in the early 1970s at an acting workshop at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, and he cast her as a nurse in his movie "Eraserhead." She also served as assistant director, still photographer and special effects technician on the film.

In 1990 Lynch cast her as Margaret in "Twin Peaks," a mysterious woman who carries around a log.

Coulson grew up in California, where her mother was a ballet dancer and her father was a radio and television producer who also worked in public relations. She earned a bachelor of arts in theater form Scripps College and a master of fine arts from San Francisco State University.

Other film and TV credits include "Portlandia," "Psych," "Calvin Marshall," "The Secret Life of Houses," and "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me."

• Sheri Goldhirsch, who rose from an intern to help lead the Young Playwrights Inc., which has nurtured and developed playwrights ages 18 and under, died, according to the group. She was 55.

Young Playwrights was founded by composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim in 1981 and is now led by award-winning writer David Henry Hwang. Goldhirsch, who joined in 1982, was artistic director since 1993 and had worked for the group for 34 years.

"Sheri devoted her entire career to encouraging young people to find their creative roots and let them grow. Our loss is their loss, and it is a mighty one," Sondheim wrote in a statement.

The Pace University graduate read thousands of plays submitted to the group as part of its annual competition and was known for her personal notes to playwrights.

She also produced a Broadway concert revue celebrating Sondheim's 75th birthday featuring artists including Whoopi Goldberg, Angela Lansbury, Neil Patrick Harris, Anne Hathaway, Patti Lupone, Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch.

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