Just as the new year brings us a renewed sense of hope and optimism for a better future to come, it also offers us a chance to reflect on the year gone by. As happens in any year (even these days) 2018 was punctuated by many milestones worth celebrating. Global poverty levels fell, as did infections rates of many diseases. In November, Americans elected many more women and people of color to the House of Representatives.
As also happens every year, 2018 saw the deaths of many notable people, people for whom the world is richer to have had. Here are 10 gentlemen we lost in 2018 and who will be long missed.
Born on January 8, 1942 and dead at age 76 when he passed away on March 14, 2018, Professor Stephen William Hawking was one of the most brilliant men of our times — perhaps of all times. While severely physically disabled by ALS, Hawking’s mind remained both sharp and expansive throughout the course of his life, from his studies at Oxford University as a young man to his long career as a professor to his many books, TV programs, and public appearances. During his life, his work contributing to human understanding of space, physics, and time itself earned him more than a dozen honorary degrees and awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
President George Herbert Walker Bush, 41st POTUS, defined the post-presidency role of elder statesman, commanding great respect and affinity from people across the political spectrum despite his single term in office generally being considered a disappointment. Bush served as an aviator in World War II, made a fortune as a Texas oilman, ran the CIA, and was the straight-laced vice president of the ebullient President Regan. When H. W. Bush’s own time in the White House began, he seemed poised to be a successful president. He remained steadfast as the Soviet Union fell and he moved swiftly to beat back the invading forces of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. But then he raised taxes after the whole “read my lips” quote and was bested in the 1991 elections by Bill Clinton
Without Stan Lee, there would be no Avengers: Infinity War. Nor would there be a Captain America: Civil War. Or Ant-Man. Or dozens of other movies, thousands of comic books, and hundreds of the superheroes who populate them. Born in 1922, Stan Lee was just 17 years old when he began his career as a comic book artist. By the time of his death at age 95 on November 12, 2018, Lee had created some of the most iconic characters of the modern era, including Spider-Man and Iron-Man. He had also been married to his wife Joan for more than 69 years; she preceded him in death by less than 18 months.
Burt Reynolds may be gone, having passed away at age 82 on September 6, 2018, but his mustache will live on in our hearts forever. As a younger actor, Reynolds never established a true A-list Hollywood career, but on TV he was a star, cast in such series as Riverboat and Gunsmoke. His major hit while still a younger man was the film Smokey and the Bandit. Reynolds would not have another major success in a film role until his Academy Award-nominated role in the 1997 movie Boogie Nights. Throughout the course of his life, he was many times married and divorced, in and out of relationships, and went bankrupt several times, but through it all, he maintained a reputation as an affable, charming gentleman.
Senator John McCain was a lifelong fighter, first as a pilot flying attack missions over Vietnam in 1967. During one flight, McCain’s A-4E Skyhawk was downed by a North Vietnamese missile. McCain bailed out, was captured, and would spend the next five years as a prisoner of war. Returned home in 1973, McCain continued to serve in the Air Force unit the early 1980s, when he entered politics. He would serve in the U.S. House of Representatives for several terms, then was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986. There he would remain for the rest of his life, with a career generally celebrated for the maverick streak that saw him break from the GOP when he saw fit. A failed run for president in 2012 only briefly marred his generally successful time in politics.
Out of a wild ride fueled by drugs, booze, and a passion for food came the celebrated world traveler and chef Anthony Bourdain. His 200o book Kitchen Confidential was both one man’s memoir and an exposé of the “underbelly” of many high-end restaurants. The bestseller rocketed Bourdain to fame, who soon had his own globetrotting TV shows, penned several more books and multiple essays and articles, and appearances on numerous programs and print works. The celebrated chef and celebrity tragically passed in June 2018.
Tom Wolfe, along with a few of his contemporaries like Hunter S. Thompson and Truman Capote, formed the so-called school of New Journalism which, during the late 1960s and through the 1970s, changed the way much reporting was conducted. Wolfe penned multiple celebrated long-form nonfiction works that bridged the gap between reporting and storytelling, such as his books The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and The Right Stuff, which detailed the doings of author/provocateur Ken Kesey and the Mercury program astronauts, respectively. Beyond his insightful, adroit writing, Wolfe was also known for his signature white suits, which he wore almost daily from the early 1960s until his death at age 88 on May 14, 2018.
Though perhaps best known as the seriously pissed off drill sergeant from the 1987 Stanley Kubrick film Full Metal Jacket, actor R. Lee Ermey was in fact an approachable and likable man in real life. He was indeed a Marine drill instructor in real life, and eventually a staff sergeant. He served in the military from 1961 to 1972, including a tour in Vietnam. His acting career came about almost by accident, as he was working as a technical advisor to Francis Ford Coppola during the production of Apocalypse Now, in which he also took on a minor role as a pilot. His star-making turn in Full Metal Jacket also came after he landed on screen time following what was to be only a consulting position.
Astronaut John Young wasn’t the first man to walk on the moon, but as a club numbering only 12 (so far), his time on the lunar surface is still notable. He is also one of only three men to have flown to the moon twice. And he was the commander of the first Space Shuttle flight. And he was the only astronaut to fly in the Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle programs. Young would work for NASA for more than four decades, all told, retiring from the space agency at the age of 74. He died at age 87 in January 2018.
Kofi Annan was the first Secretary-General of the United Nations of Subsaharan African descent, a barrier he broke through in 1997, starting what would be a nearly decade-long role at the head of this august body. Born in Ghana in April 1938, Annan would dedicate much of his life to humanitarian causes, eventually earning a 2001 Nobel Peace Prize which he shared with the United Nations itself. Annan was 80 years old when he passed away on August 18, 2018.
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