Chris Kelly of Kris Kross performs in February 2013.
By Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, NBC News
Kris Kross rapper Chris Kelly's death is being investigated as a possible drug overdose, Cpl. Kay Lester, a spokeswoman for Atlanta's Fulton County police, told NBCNews.com.
Information obtained from family members and others at the scene helped lead the investigation in that direction, but more information won't be known until toxicology results are back from Kelly's autopsy, Lester said.
That autopsy, completed Thursday morning in Atlanta, showed no signs of foul play or trauma, the Fulton County medical examiner's office told NBCNews.com. Toxicology results will be available in approximately three weeks, a spokeswoman said.
Kelly, 34, was discovered unresponsive in his Atlanta home Wednesday and pronounced dead early that evening. Kelly and childhood friend Chris Smith traveled the world as 1990s rap group Kris Kross when they were just 13, and their hit song "Jump" was certified double platinum.
On Thursday, both Chris Smith and Kelly's family issued statements mourning Kelly.
"His legacy will live on through his music, and we will forever love him," said the statement from Kelly's mother, Donna Kelly Pratte, and his record label So So Def.
In his statement, Kelly's musical partner Smith said, "Our friendship began as little boys in first grade. We grew up together. It was a blessing to achieve the success, travel the world and entertain Kris Kross fans all around the world with my best friend."
By Andrew Rafferty and Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, NBC News
UPDATED Thursday 12:06 p.m. ET: Chris Kelly, one-half of the rap duo Kris Kross — known for making America "Jump" in the 1990s — passed away on Wednesday, Georgia authorities announced. He was 34.
Kelly was discovered unresponsive in his Atlanta home and pronounced dead at Atlanta Medical Center shortly after 5:30 p.m. local time, according to the Fulton County Medical Examiner.
The cause of death has not yet been determined. An autopsy is planned for Thursday.
Kelly and fellow Kris Kross member Chris Smith were just 13 in 1991 when they were famously discovered at Atlanta's Greenbriar Mall by well-known rapper and producer Jermaine Dupri, who was just 19 himself.
Kelly went by the nickname "Mac Daddy" and Smith went by "Daddy Mac."
They were best known for the 1992 hit "Jump" on their debut album "Totally Krossed Out" and their penchant for wearing their clothes backwards. "Jump" rode the No.1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for eight weeks, and that same year, the teens toured Europe as part of Michael Jackson's "Dangerous" world tour. Although they would go on to release two more albums, they would never again reach the heights of "Jump."
Getty Images file
Kris Kross in 1992.
The duo also had a video game (ranked one of the 20 worst of all time by Electronic Gaming Monthly) and recorded a rap song for the cartoon "Rugrats." They appeared on the "Cosby Show" spinoff "A Different World" and in the 1993 hip-hop comedy film "Who's the Man?"
In February, Kris Kross performed together once more, performing at the 20th anniversary party for So So Def Recordings, Dupri's Atlanta record label. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted that the two were "all grown up and wearing clothes the right way."
Kelly's mother, Donna Kelly Pratte, and record label So So Def released this statement:
"It is with deep sadness that we announce that our beloved Chris Kelly has passed away on May 1. To millions of fans worldwide, he was the trendsetting, backwards pants-wearing one-half of Kris Kross who loved making music. But to us, he was just Chris -- the kind, generous and fun-loving life of the party. Though he was only with us a short time, we feel blessed to have been able to share some incredible moments with him. His legacy will live on through his music, and we will forever love him."
Chris Smith issued his own statement, grieving over the loss of his one-time bandmate.
"Chris Kelly was my Best Friend," the rapper said in a statement, reported by E! Online. "He was like a brother. I love him and will miss him dearly.
"Our friendship began as little boys in first grade. We grew up together. It was a blessing to achieve the success, travel the world and entertain Kris Kross fans all around the world with my best friend," he continued. "It is what we wanted to do and what brought us happiness. I will always cherish the memories of the C-Connection."
On Wednesday night, rapper LL Cool J tweeted a link to his new song, "Jump On It," with the words, "R.I.P Chris Kelly. This song is now officially dedicated to you. May GOD embrace your soul & lift up your family."
Opinion: Johnny Cash had a stock answer to that oft-asked question, "Who is your favorite singer?" "You mean," he teased, "apart from George Jones?"
Yes, there's pretty much universal agreement among country singers that Jones, who died Friday at age 81, was the greatest of all time. From the oldies -- Cash, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard -- to the relative newbies -- Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Randy Travis -- all were of one mind.
And even non-country singers appreciated him -- none other than Frank Sinatra called him "the second best white singer in America." (No prizes for guessing first place)
What they loved was that rarest of combinations: a seamless voice -- no change of tone and timbre between low and high registers -- exquisite phrasing, and enough soul to rival Ray Charles and Otis Redding.
I believe, though, that there is also a case to be made that Jones was the greatest American popular singer ever recorded. The ones usually named are Charles, Billie Holliday, Sinatra, Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin. I would argue that he has them beaten on all counts. Sinatra's phrasing, without Sinatra's forcedness. Charles's soul, without Charles's hamminess. Franklin's power, but without Franklin's screeches. Holliday's ability to laugh at his troubles, but without her self-pity. (Redding, though brilliant, was not tested by a long career.)
So, why isn't he usually mentioned among this pantheon? Why, when I bring up my Jones obsession, do people say, "Isn't that the guy who was married to Tammy Wynette?"
Partly because, somehow, he didn't manage to die young.
Also because country music has hardly ever been cool. Mostly, it has operated in its own universe, rarely crossing over into the pop world. And the artists who have had mainstream hits, such as the brilliant Patsy Cline, are about as far removed on the country spectrum from Jones as you can get.
And partly because he was drunk and/or high most of the time, a fact that made his career trajectory one of a few highs and many lows. Jones loved the music fiercely, but the limelight frightened him, a fear that led him to inoculate himself with the bottle and harder drugs, which in turn resulted, famously, in missed concerts, exasperated record companies and fuming fans. And his lack of self-control led him to sign contracts he was too bombed to understand, leaving him to be dragged into session after session to mouth lyrics that he should have known were rubbish. He put out (literally) hundreds of albums, mostly filled with trash.
Among the dreck, though, were diamonds. Quite a few, in fact, including 15 No. 1 hits (and dozens of Top 10 ones), starting with "White Lightning" in 1959. If Jones honed in on a song he liked, he put his heart and soul into it.
His biggest success came in the '70s and early '80s with such hits as "The Door" and "He Stopped Loving Her Today," the latter often cited as the greatest recorded country performance of all time. I think, though, that his best recording came in the early '60s before his long association with producer Billy Sherrill, the Nashville schlockmeister he signed with in 1972, after he met Wynette and with whom he made "He Stopped Loving Her Today.” It's not that I don't like the later material; it's just that the earlier tracks, free of the dubious delights of massed violins and warbling choruses, highlight his incredible voice. At the same time, enhanced studio technology -- including the newly created stereo -- had improved on the sound quality that marked his rudimentary early discs.
Jones was best known for his ballads, especially in the later part of his career; however, he was actually a greater master of fast-paced material. His rhythmic genius was particularly effective when matched with a tight session band, such as with "Mr. Fool," a driving honky-tonker about lost love that is perhaps the supreme recorded example of Jones's exquisite phrasing. "No one can ever call me Mr. Fool no more," runs the last line of the chorus. Each of four renditions of the phrase takes you on a spellbinding journey of his vocal arsenal -- swooping, clipping, playing with the beat, riding herd on the back-up band. In those lines, as with the rest of the song, you never know where Jones is going to lead you; at the same time, none of it sounds forced or contrived. The whole happy confection is aided by the spare production of his first producer (and discoverer), Pappy Daily.
I also think that the early '60s, when "Mr. Fool" was recorded, was when he was at his vocal peak. Writers often rave about how Sherrill persuaded Jones to explore a greater range, but the high-lonesome sound on this cut has a rawness and emotion that travels even further into the heart than his later efforts. (If you agree, "Cup of Loneliness," a 1994 double-CD, is worth the investment. It has 51 songs -- with hardly a dud -- excellent liner notes, and has been carefully re-mastered from the original recordings.)
What these songs do is breathe emotion. In his never-equaled way, Jones drifts across the beat, never failing to surprise with a speeded-up phrase or a well-placed drawn-out note. At the same time, he never made a mush of the lyrics; one of his great assets was that the listener understands every word.
Jones just sounds so sad, it's painful. He's as sad-sounding as Hank Williams at his most abject. Of course, the difference is that Jones could sing, whereas Williams only wailed. Some words are clipped, some are stretched and played with, as only Jones did. Some lines are almost whispered; others cried out -- all beautifully set up by man who really understood -- whether by design or instinct -- what to do with a lyric.
High and lonesome, but not always alone. A measure of Jones' greatness was his generosity and skill as a duetist. Most often, he took the harmony part -- the most difficult -- and never sought to dominate. His most famous duets, of course, were with third wife Wynette ("Golden Ring," "We’re Going to Hold On"), but probably his best are with Melba Montgomery in the mid-'60s. In these collaborations, he was the much bigger star and could easily have hogged the sessions. But no -- these are real duets, not a lead singer with a backup.
As a live performer, Jones was even more mixed than his records. He could be very lazy and unfocused, leading to lackluster concerts that were intensely disappointing. But when he was on, it was electrifying. I feel bad saying this, but the drunker and higher he was, the better was his performance. It seemed that the more reason was stripped from his mind, the better he sang, as if his emotions were uncontrolled and he was operating on instinct alone.
I will never forget one concert I witnessed, in the early '80s, when he was at the depth of his drinking and drugging. As was his usual pattern, he had his band, the Jones Boys, warm up the audience with several songs. But the tunes just kept on coming, and there was no George. After about six songs, there he was, literally being dragged onto the stage. "Oh, no," I thought, "he’s going to be terrible." It was the best concert I ever saw. In contrast, the ones I witnessed when he was stone-cold sober (or a near facsimile) tended to be rote and unrewarding, with Jones making light of his material -- "slobbing tear-jerkers" was how he disparaged some of his greatest songs.
Quite simply, no one else -- before, then or now -- was capable of his vocal fireworks, or at least carrying it off without making it sound like he or she is showing off. That was one of the joys of Jones: Though he had every tool at his disposal, he never used them other than to enhance the song.
That’s why he was often called "the singers’ singer." Powerful, yet somehow understated. Apparently revealing raw personal emotion, but at the same time a mystery. If one were to compare him to a painter, I pick Velazquez.
Unlike Velazquez, though, who was loved and lauded by his patrons, Jones was too wild and uncompromising for the tastes of the Nashville establishment, a factor that kept him from its greatest prizes until relatively late in his career.
Country music legend George Jones has died in Nashville, Tenn., his representative confirmed in a statement on Friday. He was 81.
Jones had been in the midst of a year-long goodbye tour, deciding to withdraw from the road over health issues including an upper respiratory infection. He was hospitalized on April 18 with fever and irregular blood pressure; he died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. A cause of death has not yet been reported.
Jones was a Country Music Hall of Famer, Grand Ole Opry member and Kennedy Center Honoree, and the singer of such hits as "The Grand Tour," "She Thinks I Still Care" and "He Stopped Loving Her Today."
Born in Saratoga, Tex., on Sept. 12, 1931, Jones grew up in nearby Beaumont and played on the streets for tips while still a teenager, then joined the U.S. Marine Corps. When he left service he began recording for the Starday label in Houston, and his first top 10 song "Why Baby Why" hit the charts in 1955. He hit No. 1 with "White Lightning" four years later. He continued to record and hit the charts throughout the next few decades, shifting from a classic honky-tonk style into a more mainstream sound called "countrypolitan."
Jones' public persona was shaped by his addiction to alcohol and cocaine; he became known for missing many concerts, notes the Houston Chronicle. In 1983 police chased after an intoxicated Jones through Nashville, and the event was captured on TV (documentary video clip here).
He was married four times; his third wife was country singer Tammy Wynette, with whom he recorded several songs. They hit No. 1 three times, with "We're Gonna Hold On," "Golden Ring," and "Near You." Their daughter Georgette Jones is a performer, and appeared onstage with her father.
Arbus' most recent television work was as Uncle Nathan on the HBO series "Curb Your Enthusiasm," in 2000. His credits at IMDb.com list appearances in numerous TV series over the years, from "Taxi" to "Wonder Woman" to "Matlock" and many more.
His film credits include roles in "Coffy," "Crossroads," and "Damien: Omen II."
Arbus was born in New York City on Feb. 15, 1918. He was an Army photographer in the 1940s and along with his wife, the famed photographer Diane Arbus (née Nemerov), started a photographic business in New York in 1946.
The business broke apart 10 years later as Diane Arbus pursued her own photography. The couple divorced in 1969 and she committed suicide in 1971.
Arbus appeared in just a dozen episodes of "M*A*S*H," but endeared himself to fans with the ability of his character (Dr. Freedman) to match wits with Capt. Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda). Check out this great collection of some of Arbus' best lines on the show:
Folk singer and guitarist Richie Havens, who opened the 1969 Woodstock music festival with a legendary and lengthy set that helped make him famous, died Monday at age 72.
Fin Costello / Redferns file via Getty Images
Richie Havens in concert in 1973.
His family says Havens died of a heart attack, and that a public memorial will be announced later. A statement on his official website posted before Havens' death says that the singer never fully recovered from kidney surgery he underwent several years ago.
His career spans decades, but he may be most famous for his role as the first performer at Woodstock. He launched the three-day festival with more than two hours of music, even running out of songs and thus improvising the song "Freedom" based on the old spiritual "Motherless Child."
Steve Davidowitz, who co-wrote Havens' 1999 autobiography, "They Can't Hide Us Anymore," tells TODAY that the book title was what Havens said while looking out at the enormous Woodstock crowd.
"The promoters of the event actually appealed to Richie to perform for 20 minutes or so, because no one wanted to be first," Davidowitz told TODAY. "Instead of 20 minutes, the crowd kept him on stage for more than two hours with their cheers and demands for more."
Many Woodstock fans noticed that Havens didn't have his top row of teeth while performing at the festival. After the event, and with the encouragement of Johnny Carson, who had the singer on "The Tonight Show" more than a dozen times, the singer bought dental implants.
Brad Barket / Getty Images file
Richie Havens in 2009.
After Woodstock, Havens started his own record label, Stormy Forest. He also worked as an actor, appearing in the London stage version of The Who's "Tommy" and in the 1977 Richard Pryor movie "Greased Lightning," about the first black stock-car driver to win an upper-tier NASCAR race.
"Richie Havens was gifted with one of the most recognizable voices in popular music," Havens' agent said in a statement. "His fiery, poignant, soulful singing style has remained unique and ageless since his historic appearance at Woodstock in 1969. For four decades, Havens used his music to convey passionate messages of brotherhood and personal freedom."
Havens was always grateful for his fans. "From Woodstock to The Isle of Wight to Glastonbury to the Fillmore Auditorium to Royal Albert Hall to Carnegie Hall, Richie played the most legendary music festivals that ever were, and most of the world’s greatest concert venues," the statement went on to say. "But even when performing in a Greenwich Village coffeehouse or a small club or regional theater, he was eternally grateful that people in any number turned up each time to hear him sing. More than anything, he feels incredibly blessed to have met so many of you along the way."
Actor Lou Gossett Jr. was Havens’ co-writer on one of his most popular songs, “Handsome Johnny,” which was released in 1967 and was also part of Havens' Woodstock set. In 2001, the song was covered by reggae musician Peter Tosh, and in 2002, by The Flaming Lips.
Havens also had a 1971 hit with his cover of The Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun."
"Working with Richie to write his book -- a very good book, one with no curse words, no sexual exploits, but a book that shared how he self-taught himself virtually everything ... was the single most enjoyable professional experience of my life," Davidowitz told TODAY. "Besides that, he was a great friend, an amazing, fantastic performer, a truly warmhearted, giving human being. "
Former Divinyls singer Chrissy Amplett was last month named as one of Australia's top 10 singers of all time. The 1991 hit "I Touch Myself" climbed the charts in both Britain and the United States.
By James Grubel, Reuters
CANBERRA, Australia -- Chrissy Amphlett, who fronted the Australian group the Divinyls best known for the worldwide hit "I Touch Myself", has died in New York at the age of 53 after battling breast cancer and multiple sclerosis.
Her husband and former Divinyls drummer Charley Drayton said Amphlett died in her sleep, surrounded by close friends and family.
"Chrissy expressed hope that her worldwide hit "I Touch Myself" would be utilized to remind all women to perform annual breast examinations," Drayton said.
Amphlett also acted on stage and in film, and starred alongside Oscar winner Russell Crowe in the Australian production of the musical "Blood Brothers" in 1988, playing the mother of Crowe's character.
In 2007, Amphlett said she had multiple sclerosis and in 2010 announced she was also fighting breast cancer.
"Unfortunately the last 18 months have been a real challenge for me, having breast cancer and MS and all the new places that will take you," she wrote on Facebook in March 2012.
"My illnesses have really exhausted this little body of mine that I have thrown from one end of a stage to another and performed thousands of shows."
Storm Thorgerson, the Engish album-cover designer most famous for his iconic work with Pink Floyd, died Thursday after battling cancer, his family announced. He was 69.
Yui Mok / AP file
Storm Thorgerson stands next to his album cover artwork for Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon" at a 2008 art exhibit.
"His ending was peaceful and he was surrounded by family and friends," Thorgerson's family said in a statement. "He had been ill for some time with cancer though he had made a remarkable recovery from his stroke in 2003."
Pink Floyd members remembered him on the band's official website. Drummer Nick Mason described Thorgerson as a "scourge of management, record companies and album sleeve printers; champion of bands, music, great ideas and high, sometimes infuriatingly high, standards."
Mason also described Thorgerson as a "tireless worker right up to the end," saying, "Two days before he passed away, and by then completely exhausted, he was still demanding approval for art work and haranguing his loyal assistants."
He went on to praise the designer as a "dear friend to all of us, our children, our wives (and the exes). Endlessly intellectual and questioning. Breathtakingly late for appointments and meetings, but once there invaluable for his ideas, humour, and friendship."
Pink Floyd lead singer David Gilmour wrote on the band's site that he first met Thorgerson when the two were young teenagers.
"We would gather at Sheep's Green, a spot by the river in Cambridge, and Storm would always be there holding forth, making the most noise, bursting with ideas and enthusiasm," Gilmour wrote. "Nothing has ever really changed. He has been a constant force in my life, both at work and in private, a shoulder to cry on and a great friend. The artworks that he created for Pink Floyd from 1968 to the present day have been an inseparable part of our work. I will miss him."
His work with Pink Floyd, especially the prism reflecting a rainbow that graces the "Dark Side of the Moon" album cover, was Thorgerson's most famous. But he also created album covers for bands such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, AC/DC and Muse.
"They hadn’t really celebrated their light show," he told the magazine. "That was one thing. The other thing was the triangle. I think the triangle, which is a symbol of thought and ambition, was very much a subject of Roger (Waters)'s lyrics.
Thorgerson is survived by his mother, Vanji, his son Bill, his wife Barbie Antonis and her two children Adam and Georgia.
Gospel singer George Beverly Shea passed away on April 16 in Asheville, N.C.
MONTREAT, N.C. -- George Beverly Shea, whose booming baritone voice echoed through stadiums, squares and souls during a decades-long career with evangelist Billy Graham, died Tuesday. He was 104.
Billy Graham Evangelistic Association spokesman Brent Rinehart said Shea died in Asheville after a brief illness.
Shea's rendition of "How Great Thou Art" came to define the faith of a Protestant generation that Graham helped bring to Jesus Christ. He performed live before an estimated 200 million people at crusades over the years — taking him from North Dakota to North Korea and beyond.
He joined Graham's crusade team in 1947 and stayed until Graham's declining health ended most of the evangelist's public appearances nearly 60 years later.
"As a young man starting my ministry, I asked Bev if he would join me," Graham said then. "He said yes and for over 60 years we had the privilege of ministering together across the country and around the world. Bev was one of the most humble, gracious men I have ever known and one of my closest friends. I loved him as a brother."
A Canadian emigrant who became one of America's most-recognized gospel soloists, Shea himself summed up his career with one of his inspirational trademarks: "The Wonder of It All."
"I just thought it was such a privilege," Shea said in a January 2009 interview.
Despite several chances to perform on the secular stage, Shea largely stuck with gospel music. He recorded dozens of albums of sacred music and was nominated for 10 Grammys. He won in 1965 for his album "Southland Favorites." At age 88, he recorded his first country-and-western album.
Shea believed the simplicity of old hymns drew people to his music.
"It's the message of the lyrics, the test that hits the heart in a hurry and the melody that goes along with it and seems to all go together," Shea said.
Born Feb. 1, 1909, in Winchester, Ontario, George Beverly Shea grew up singing around the family dinner table and then later in his father's church choir.
Though his father was a Wesleyan minister, Shea recalled that he was a wandering teenager who needed direction. He had wavered several times from the gospel until the week his father put on a special effort to draw people to the faith.
When the invitation came, the gospel song "Just As I Am" — a tune that he himself later sang and recorded — filled the sanctuary. His father left the pulpit and walked to the back pew where Shea said, putting his hand on his shoulder and saying, "son, tonight might be the night."
"I love my Dad. I walked with him right down that middle aisle," Shea recalled. "My father always knelt on one knee, so I knelt on one knee. That's when it happened."
With more drive and focus, Shea moved to New York City and trained with voice coaches, singing on radio stations WMCA and WHN. Though he had a chance to work in the secular business, Shea instead chose to move to Chicago, where he built his popularity at radio station WMBI and later on ABC radio's "Club Time." So he was already well-known in Christian music circles even before he met Graham when the lanky young man, then a student at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., came to the WMBI studio in Chicago in the early 1940s.
"I knew he was from the South. I could hear it in my ears," Shea recalled. "He was what I call a Southern gentleman. He was just too complimentary of what he was hearing on the air."
Their friendship began with that first handshake.
"I said: 'The only gospel singers I've ever heard of, they have to sing a little bit and then talk for a while, would I have to do that?'" Shea recalled.
"I hope not," was Graham's response. A few years later, in 1947, the two began their crusade ministry.
Shea always performed a peaceful hymn just before the famed evangelist preached his message and asked people to make Jesus their personal savior. Graham "really loves the quiet song before he speaks. Perhaps something that will point to what he's going to speak on," Shea said.
Kurt Kaiser, Shea's accompanist of 30 years, recalled his personal touch.
"When he begins to sing a song, he can sing it directly to you. He tried to find a single face in the audience, maybe a sympathetic gaze," Kaiser once said. "This personal quality is same thing that can be found in the gospel message."
The soloist had two children from his marriage to his first wife, Erma, who died in 1976. Shea and his second wife, Karlene, lived in Montreat.
Actor Richard LeParmentier, whose character was infamously choked by villain Darth Vader in the original "Star Wars" movie, has died at age 66, his representative confirms to TODAY.
LeParmentier died suddenly, his son Tyrone told Derek Maki, who represented the actor.
LeParmentier's name may be unfamiliar to many, but "Star Wars" fans well know his most famous scene.
"Don't try to frighten us with your sorcerer's ways, Lord Vader," says LeParmentier in his role as General (sometimes described as Admiral) Motti. "Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the rebels' hidden fort--"
At that point, LeParmentier's character stops speaking and grabs at his throat as if he was being choked by an invisible hand. Darth Vader (voice of James Earl Jones) then delivers one of his most famous lines, "I find your lack of faith disturbing."
The actor's family noted that LeParmentier, who lived in Bath, England, was visiting his children in Austin, Texas when he died. The family remembered him in a statement that fondly referenced his most famous scene.
"Every time we find someone's lack of faith disturbing, we'll think of him," the family statement said. "At age 66, Richard Le Parmentier is one with the Force."
The statement went on to thanks LeParmentier's friends and fellow "Star Wars" fans, saying it was tributes from those people who gave the family "all the best lines in this message."
LeParmentier, who was also a screenwriter, was still working right up until the end, the family said. "He edited another draft of his latest project two days before death, with its sorcerer's ways, took him from us," the statement noted in another homage to the famed scene. "He has gone to the Stars, and he will be missed. We love you dad, and thank you to everyone. Love, Rhiannon, Stephanie, and Tyrone Le Parmentier."
LeParmentier also had numerous film and television appearances, though his most famous after "Star Wars" was the role of Lt. Santino in 1988's "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" He also provided the narration for the 2004 video game "Soldiers: Heroes of World War II."
Alternative metal bassist Chi Cheng of the Deftones has died, four years after a car accident left him in a coma.
Ethan Miller / Reuters, file
Chi Cheng, right, -- seen with his fellow Deftones (left to right) drummer Abe Cunningham, guitarist Stephen Carpenter, keyboardist Frank Delgado and singer Chino Moreno -- died after a four-year coma following a car accident.
Cheng died on Saturday after being brought to a hospital emergency room, according to a website set up to raise funds for the stricken musician. He was 42.
Jonathan Winters, who earned laughs playing everyone from an alien baby to a crotchety grandma, and who inspired numerous comedians in the field of improvisational comedy, has died of natural causes at age 87.
Winters' agent told NBC News that the actor died Thursday night at his home in Montecito, Calif., while surrounded by family and friends.
Winters was born in Dayton, Ohio, on Nov. 11, 1925. His career kicked off when his wife, Eileen, encouraged him to enter a talent contest, which he won. That performance led to a DJ job at WING-AM in Dayton in 1946, and he eventually moved to New York and became a performer at Manhattan's Blue Angel nightclub.
Winters became known for his numerous classic comedy characters and routines, including sharp-tongued Maude Frickert, whom the comic said he based on a large, humorous but bedridden relative.
“I decided, having seen a lot of older people, that many of them even today are shelved,” Winters told the Archive of American Television. “I decided to get a hip old lady.” Johnny Carson was inspired by Frickert to create his own version, Aunt Blabby, who appeared frequently on Carson's "Tonight Show." His other popular recurring characters included countryish Elwood P. Suggins, wealthy B.B. Bindlestiff, football coach Piggy Bladder and Princess Leilani-nani, the world's oldest hula dancer.
Winters' improvisational comedy inspired a generation of funny men and women. In a classic 1964 clip from "The Jack Paar Program," host Paar hands Winters a stick and the comic launches into four minutes of off-the-cuff prop humor, switching from an all-American fisherman to an Austrian violinist to a Spanish bullfighter.
Winters worked as an actor in more than 73 movies and television shows, and currently has two projects in post-production: the voice of Papa Smurf in "The Smurfs 2," due to be released in July, and a character named Dayton in "Big Finish," which is scheduled for late next year. His many movies included "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" and "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming."
From left, Robin Williams, Jonathan Winters and Pam Dawber on 1980s sitcom "Mork & Mindy."
One of his most popular roles was that of Mearth, Mork (Robin Williams) and Mindy's (Pam Dawber) child, who was hatched -- as a fully grown adult -- from an egg Mork laid. The character was introduced during the show's fourth and final season in the hopes of improving the sci-fi comedy's ratings. Winters had previously made a guest appearance on the show in season three as Mindy's uncle Dave.
Winters won an Emmy in 1991 for his work as the goofy father of Randy Quaid on the short-lived sitcom "Davis Rules." He also won two Grammys and the second-ever Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
Winters also voiced multiple commercials. Among his most popular ads were the ones he did for Hefty garbage bags, in which he played a garbageman dressed to the nines in a spiffy white suit.
Winters' life wasn't always easy. Before he finished high school, he enlisted in the Marines and served during World War II. In 1959 while performing in San Francisco he suffered a nervous breakdown and eventually stopped touring with his comedy shows. He battled alcoholism and manic-depression, and spent eight months in a mental hospital. But he didn't lean on his experience for sympathy.
The Associated Press quotes him as saying, "If you make a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year and you're talking to the blue-collar guy who's a farmer 200 miles south of Topeka, he's looking up and saying, 'That bastard makes (all that money) and he's crying about being a manic depressive?'"
On his birthday in 2011, Winters posted on Facebook, "I can't thank you enough for all the birthday wishes. The only thing I can imagine worse than being 86 is being 96."
The actor is survived by his two children and five grandchildren.
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