Celebrity Friends Who Passed Away in 2022

Blurry photo of candles in the dark with the words "in memoriam"

Over the past year, I had the unenviable task of writing a number of obituary columns about celebrity friends of mine who had passed away. Now, during this season of celebration, it is only fitting that we celebrate their remarkable lives and careers. What follows are excerpts from those columns.



Peter Bogdanovich

Filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich

It is both surprising and shameful that Peter Bogdanovich doesn’t have a star along Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Perhaps that’s because it would take about a dozen stars to do him justice. He was, after all, a writer, director, producer, actor, author, documentarian, film historian, editor, voice-over talent, casting agent, film preservationist, and cinematographer. 

I caught up with Peter the Great back in 2011 when he was an artist in residence at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. My main reason for doing the interview was to talk about the 40th anniversary of The Last Picture Show ,but we also touched on his 1968 cult film Targets, about a young guy who goes on a shooting spree.

“I thought it would raise a little bit of controversy, but it didn’t raise much,” Peter told me. “The thing that’s awful about the film is that it’s not dated, a story where a guy buys a gun and starts killing people. That’s still very much alive.”

The genius filmmaker died on January 6. Peter Bogdanovich was 82.



Tony Dow

Actor Tony Dow, left, with Jim Longworth, center, and Dow's 'Leave it to Beaver' co-star Jerry Mathers, right

Most of us have a special place in our homes where we display pictures of our immediate family. For me, that special place is a credenza on top of which are framed photos of my wife Pam, our parents, my sister, and my two make-believe brothers, Tony Dow and Jerry Mathers.

From 1957 to 1963, Jerry and Tony played brothers Theodore and Wally Cleaver on Leave it to Beaver, a sitcom about the adventures of two siblings growing up in Middle America. I first met the famous duo when they participated in an event that I was moderating in Los Angeles back in 2008, and we stayed in touch ever since.

Though Tony was best known for playing a big brother on TV, his real passion was sculpting, which he did masterfully. In fact, his burlwood sculptures were shown and sold all over the world, and once were even on display in the Louvre. Tony was a quiet, unassuming man who preferred the solitude of his workshop to the glitz of Hollywood, so it took some doing for me to coax him to my event. Once there, he and Jerry received the longest-standing ovation I’ve ever witnessed. Tony seemed surprised by the warm reception. That’s because he never realized what he meant to so many millions of fans. I was proud to have that humble man as my make-believe big brother. Tony Dow passed away on July 27. He was 77.



Clu Gulager

Jim Longworth with actor Clu Gulager

Clu Gulager was one of America’s greatest character actors, perhaps best known for his work in TV Westerns. But unlike most actors who have merely pretended to be a cowboy, Clu actually was one. 

“I was a cowboy in Oklahoma where we raised white-face cattle. I used to have to ride the fences and when I saw a break in the fence, I had to get down off my pony take some wire and fix that break. The thing I’m most proud of in my whole life is that, on my watch, not one white-face cow got away.”

Clu is also famous for being the only TV actor to be thrown out of work by Congress. It happened while he was portraying Billy the Kid on the NBC series The Tall Man.

“Congress debated the fact that Billy the Kid was a killer, and that I was playing him as a hero on television, which they thought wasn’t good for children. So, they pressured NBC to take The Tall Man off the air.”

But Congress couldn’t kill Clu’s career. He was constantly in demand as a guest star in movies and television. I first met Clu at the 2013 Western Film Festival, and I will always remember his wry sense of humor and cowboy charisma. Clu Gulager died on August 5th. He was 93.



Angela Lansbury

Actress Angela Lansbury with Jim Longworth in 2006

Geoffrey Rush referred to Dame Angela Lansbury as “The Living Definition of Range.” It’s an appropriate description for a woman who could play anything from a teapot to a communist conspirator. Angela was nominated for her first Oscar at age 17, and went on to win a slew of Tony awards for smash Broadway hits like Gypsy and Mame. But she will best be remembered as a middle-aged author turned sleuth in the long-running CBS series, Murder She Wrote.

I first met Angela at an event which I produced and moderated for the Television Academy back in 2006. She wanted me to call her Angie, but I refused. I told her it wouldn’t be dignified. She laughed. At one point I asked her what impact her portrayal of Jessica Fletcher had on women of her generation.

“I started Murder She Wrote when I was 59 years old, coming up to 60, and I was lucky to fall into an extraordinary role, a role model for women of my age. Women had never been represented in the way Jessica Fletcher approached her middle age, and for the first time, those women really counted for something. They became fascinated by what was possible for women of our age to attain.”

Dame Angela Lansbury died on October 11. She was 96 years old.



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