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At the end of the year it is common to list the important people who died during that year along with a list of their honors and accomplishments.  Looking at some of these lists for 2010 frustrated me because most of the obituaries were for actors, musicians, hyper-rich maniacs, and politicians rather than for people whom I actually admire. I have therefore compiled the obituaries of various eminent people whose deaths did not necessarily make a big splash on CNN or similar mass media news outlets. You may never have heard of some of these people until now, but their lives and works were moving to me (and in some cases, such as those of Mandelbrot, Nirenberg, and Black—truly important to a great many people).  I only wrote a very brief biography for each but I included Wikipedia links if you want more information.

Farewell to the following souls. May they rest in peace and may their ideas live on:

January 11 – Éric Rohmer was the last French new wave director.  His flirtatious movies combined knowledge of our secret longings with everyday cheerfulness (always expressed in a very Gallic fashion).  His last work Romance of Astree and Celadon was a screen adaptation of 17th century pastoral play by Honoré d’Urfé.

A still shot from "Pauline at the Beach" (Éric Rohmer, 1983)

January 15 – Marshall Warren Nirenberg was a biologist who won the Nobel Prize (and many other scientific prizes) for ascertaining how genetic instructions are translated from nucleic acids into protein synthesis.

March 22 –  Sir James Whyte Black was a Scottish doctor and pharmacologist who developed a beta blocker used for the treatment of heart disease.  The Texas Journal of Cardiology described this innovation as “one of the most important contributions to clinical medicine and pharmacology of the 20th century.”

May 10 – Frank Frazetta was a groundbreaking commercial illustrator whose work has influenced the genres of fantasy and science fiction.

The cover of "Conan the Usurper" (Frank Frazetta, 1967)

June 18 – José Saramago was a Portuguese novelist.  A communist, atheist, and pessimist Saramago wrote metaphorical novels about the human condition in an increasingly crowded & mechanized world.  His most successful work is Blindness a novel about a plague of blindness sweeping through modern society.  The novel is simultaneously a soaring literary allegory and a harrowing horror story.

August 23 – Satoshi Kon was a director of visionary animated movies.  Although his films didn’t always soar to the emotional heights reached by his countryman Miazaki, they were awesomely innovative and greatly forwarded the medium (which in Japan has been moving from children’s entertainment towards literature and art).

A still shot from "Paprika" (Satoshi Kon, 2006)

October 14 – Benoît Mandelbrot was a Franco-American mathematician (born in Poland) who is best known as the father of fractal geometry. His intuition and imagination allowed him to perceive self-similar mathematical underpinnings behind all manner of natural structures.  From galaxies, to coastlines, to blood vessals , to biorhythms–the entire universe is increasingly recognizable as interlocking fractals thanks to his insights.

A Mandelbrot Fractal

October 28 – Akiko Hoshino was a gifted pastel artist who I knew from the Art Students’ League.  She was just beginning to make progress in the art world with her luminous realistic pastel drawings when she was struck and killed by a careless driver who was driving backwards.

Wait for the Right Moment II (Akiko Hoshino, 2010)

November 28 – Leslie Nielsen was a hilarious comic straight man whose deadpan acting carried the great parody films Airplane and The Naked Gun (as well as innumerable derivative spoofs).  As an enduring testament to his greatness, my friends are still stealing his jokes.  Surely he was one of a kind.

"...and don't call me 'Shirley.'"

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