In films such as “Nashville,” Robert Altman constructed a complex world, interweaving a large ensemble of players, famous and unknown, to portray human beings in all their wisdom and folly.
When Altman died in November at age 81, he was celebrated for his vivid characters, his realistic use of overlapping dialogue, his pungent blend of humor and drama, his stubborn independence from Hollywood norms.
Katherine Dunham, who died in May at 96, was another artistic independent. As a dancer and choreographer, she brought African and Caribbean influences to America’s European-dominated dance world. She also was an activist who, in her 80s, staged a hunger strike to protest to protest U.S. policy toward Haitian refugees.
James Brown, dead on Christmas Day at 73, was celebrated for the energy and flamboyance of his performances and the incalculable influence he had on fellow musicians in the rock, soul and rap worlds.
They are just three of the exceptional artists and entertainers who died in 2006.
The frank, outspoken Shelley Winters went from blond bombshell to socially conscious, Oscar-winning dramatic actress and author of well-received memoirs.
Don Knotts had a bug-eyed face, puny physique and squeaky voice – great ingredients for a funnyman – and added a perfect sense of comic timing to create Deputy Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show.”
In her plays such as “The Heidi Chronicles” and “The Sisters Rosensweig,” Wendy Wasserstein portrayed the contradictions of the modern woman seeking to juggle life, love and fulfillment.
Singer Lou Rawls could be smooth – expressing aching regret in “Love Is a Hurtin’ Thing” – or gritty, conjuring up the biting winter wind of Chicago in his riveting “Dead End Street.”
Buck Owens put out a string of country hits – “Act Naturally” was even covered by the Beatles. Jane Wyatt was America’s mom on “Father Knows Best.” Novelist William Styron depicted the human torment of slavery and the Holocaust in “The Confessions of Nat Turner” and “Sophie’s Choice.”
German soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was ranked alongside Maria Callas as a giant of the opera and concert stage. Gerald Levert, gone too soon at age 40, sang passionate R&B love songs. Mickey Spillane created tough guy detective Mike Hammer.
Television brought us phenomenally popular producer Aaron Spelling, crocodile hunter Steve Irwin, who combined love of nature and keen showmanship, and Ed Bradley of “60 Minutes,” who interviewed everyone from Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh to music legend Lena Horne.
Here, a roll call of some of the notables in the arts and popular culture who died in 2006. (Cause of death cited for younger people if available.)
Raul Davila, 74. Played Hector Santos on “All My Children” in the 1990s. Jan. 2.
Lou Rawls, 72. Velvet-voiced singer of such hits as “Love Is a Hurtin’ Thing.” Jan. 6.
Shelley Winters, 85. The forceful, outspoken star who won two Oscars (“The Diary of Anne Frank”.”) Jan. 14.
Wilson Pickett, 64. Fiery soul music pioneer (“Mustang Sally.”) Jan. 19.
Chris Penn, 40. Actor (“Reservoir Dogs”); brother of Sean. Jan. 24. Enlarged heart; multiple medications.
Arthur Bloom, 63. TV news director who helped found “60 Minutes”; his stopwatch used for its ticking image. Jan. 28.
Wendy Wasserstein, 55. Playwright who celebrated women’s lives (“The Heidi Chronicles.”) Jan. 30. Lymphoma.
Moira Shearer, 80. British ballerina and actress whose debut film, “The Red Shoes,” created a sensation. Jan. 31.
Al Lewis, 82. Grandpa on “The Munsters.” Feb. 3.
Peter Benchley, 65. His 1974 novel, “Jaws,” made millions think twice about stepping into the water. Feb. 11.
Curt Gowdy, 86. Sportscaster; called 13 World Series, 16 All-Star games, first Super Bowl. Feb. 20.
Dennis Weaver, 81. Chester on “Gunsmoke”; the cop hero in “McCloud.” Feb. 24.
Don Knotts, 81. Won five Emmys for “The Andy Griffith Show.” Feb. 24.
Darren McGavin, 83. Tough-talking actor; grouchy dad in “A Christmas Story.” Feb. 25.
Dana Reeve, 44. Actress-singer; devoted herself to husband Christopher Reeve after he was paralyzed. March 6. Lung cancer.
Maureen Stapleton, 80. Oscar-winning actress who excelled on stage, screen, and television. March 13.
Oleg Cassini, 92. His designs helped make Jacqueline Kennedy the most glamorous first lady in history. March 17.
Buck Owens, 76. Flashy rhinestone cowboy who shaped country music with hits like “Act Naturally.” March 25.
Gene Pitney, 66. Singer with a string of hits (“Town Without Pity.”) April 5.
Vilgot Sjoman, 81. Swedish director; explicit films such as “I Am Curious (Yellow)” stirred controversy. April 9.
June Pointer, 52. Youngest of hitmaking Pointer Sisters (“I’m So Excited.”) April 11. Cancer.
Dame Muriel Spark, 88. British novelist (“The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.”) April 13.
“Pem” Farnsworth, 98. She helped husband Philo invent television. April 27.
Jay Bernstein, 69. Hollywood publicist, manager; helped turn Farrah Fawcett into household name. April 30.
Pramoedya Ananta Toer, 81. Indonesian author, democracy advocate. April 30.
Jay Presson Allen, 84. Adapted “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” for stage, screen. May 1.
Louis Rukeyser 73. Public TV host known for commonsense commentary on business. May 2.
Billy Preston, 59. Exuberant keyboardist and singer (“Nothing From Nothing”); played with the Beatles and Rolling Stones. June 6. Heart infection; kidney failure.
Aaron Spelling, 83. TV impresario whose stylish shows (“Beverly Hills 90210”) were wildly popular. June 23.
George Page, 71. Creator, host of PBS series “Nature.” June 28.
June Allyson, 88. Hollywood movies’ “perfect wife.” July 8.
Red Buttons, 87. Actor-comedian; won Oscar with a dramatic turn in “Sayonara.” July 13.
Carrie Nye, 69. Stage actress (“Half a Sixpence.”) July 14.
Mickey Spillane, 88. Macho mystery writer who wowed millions of readers. July 17.
Jack Warden, 85. Emmy-winning, Oscar-nominated actor who played gruff characters. (“Heaven Can Wait.”) July 19.
Bob Thaves, 81. Created quirky comic strip “Frank & Ernest.” Aug. 1.
Mike Douglas, 81. Affable TV talk show host and singer (“The Men in My Little Girl’s Life.”) Aug. 11.
Bruno Kirby, 57. Character actor (“When Harry Met Sally,” “City Slickers.”) Aug. 14.
Joe Rosenthal, 94. Associated Press photojournalist who took picture of flag-raising on Iwo Jima. Aug. 20.
Glenn Ford, 90. Actor who played strong, thoughtful protagonists (“The Blackboard Jungle,” “Gilda.”) Aug. 30.
John Conte, 90. Actor (“The Man With the Golden Arm.”) Sept. 4.
Steve Irwin, 44. Television’s irrepressible “Crocodile Hunter.” Sept 4. Sting ray attack.
Pat Corley, 76. Actor; Phil the barkeep on “Murphy Brown.” Sept. 11.
Mickey Hargitay, 80. Actor, bodybuilder; husband of Jayne Mansfield, father of actress Mariska Hargitay. Sept 14.
Patricia Kennedy Lawford, 84. Her marriage to Peter Lawford lent Hollywood glamour to the Kennedy dynasty. Sept. 17.
Maureen Daly, 85. Noted for 1942 coming-of-age novel “Seventeenth Summer.” Sept. 25.
Tamara Dobson, 59. Actress; played Cleopatra Jones in two blaxploitation films. Oct. 2. Multiple sclerosis, pneumonia.
Freddy Fender, 69. Texas’ “Bebop Kid”; sang the smash country ballad “Before the Next Teardrop Falls.” Oct. 14.
Miriam Engelberg, 48. Graphic author; found improbable humor in her fight with cancer (“Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person.”) Oct. 17.
Jane Wyatt, 96. Actress who for six years on “Father Knows Best” was one of TV’s favorite moms. Oct. 20.
Arthur Hill, 84. Character actor; had title role in the early 1970s series “Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law.” Oct. 22.
William Styron, 81. Pulitzer-winning novelist (“The Confessions of Nat Turner.”) Nov. 1.
Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, 98. Her memoir on life with 11 siblings, “Cheaper by the Dozen,” inspired several films. Nov. 4.
Ed Bradley, 65. The TV journalist who created a distinctive, powerful body of work on “60 Minutes.” Nov. 9.
Jack Palance, 87. Hollywood heavy (“Shane”) who turned successfully to comedy, winning Oscar for “City Slickers.” Nov. 10.
Ruth Brown, 78. Grammy and Tony-award-winning singer (“Teardrops in My Eyes.”) Nov. 17.
Robert Altman, 81. Caustic Hollywood director (“Nashville.”) Nov. 20.
Betty Comden, 89. Her collaboration with Adolph Green produced “On the Town,” “Singin’ in the Rain.” Nov. 23.
William Diehl, 81. Best-selling novelist (“Primal Fear.”) Nov. 24.
Bebe Moore Campbell, 56. Best-selling author (“Brothers and Sisters.”) Nov. 27. Brain cancer.
Peter Boyle, 71. The curmudgeonly father on “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Dec. 12.
Joe Barbera, 95. With Bill Hanna, created Yogi Bear, Tom and Jerry, other beloved cartoon characters. Dec. 18.
James Brown, 73. The pompadoured dynamo of music for a half-century whose classic singles included “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “I Got You (I Feel Good).” Dec. 25.