I’m Faith Lapidus.
And I’m Steve Ember with PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English. Today we remember four interesting Americans who died in two thousand seven.
The woman often called the First Lady of New York died on August thirteenth. Brooke Astor was one hundred five years old. The extremely wealthy and famous New Yorker spent much of her life helping the needy in her beloved city.
She was born Brooke Russell in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She was the only child of a high level military officer. She lived in several countries and liked learning about different cultures.
After two earlier marriages, she married Vincent Astor in nineteen fifty-three. He came from a family that had been rich for at least one hundred years. Among other things, he owned many buildings in New York City.
Brooke Astor became one of the richest women in the world when Vincent Astor died. She also became head of a huge charity organization founded by her husband. He reportedly had told her she would have fun giving away his money.
And apparently she did. Missus Astor gave tens of millions of dollars mainly to places and people in New York City. She said it was the sensible choice because that was where the money had been made. She gave financial support to the city’s cultural centers, its poor and disabled as well as to many other smaller charities. She won a Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work.
Brooke Astor also wrote two books about her life. She suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in the last years of her life. When she died, the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, said the city would not be what it is today without her support.
America lost its most famous daredevil this year. Evel Knievel rode motorcycles through the air in increasingly dangerous and exciting tricks in the nineteen sixties and seventies. He became a folk hero.
Robert Craig Knievel was born in nineteen thirty-eight in Butte, Montana. As a boy, he was arrested for stealing car parts. He said the police gave him the nickname “Evil,” spelled E-V-I-L. He later legally changed his first name to "Evel," spelled E-V-E-L.
Evel Knievel began riding motorcycles in his teens. He said his first motorcycle was a Harley Davidson he had stolen. He was a good athlete and played professional ice hockey for a time. He also served in the United States Army where he became a paratrooper. He made more than thirty jumps from airplanes.
Evel Knievel performed his first public motorcycle jump when he was twenty-seven. He had just opened a motorcycle store and wanted the public to know about it. He lined up several cars along with a box of poisonous snakes and a mountain lion tied up at the end. He drove his motorcycle up a ramp and began the twelve-meter long jump. He landed in the rattlesnakes.
Later, he began performing such tricks all over the United States and Europe. Sometimes his jumps were successful; sometimes they were not. But his shows were always popular. Toy companies sold dolls that looked like him. His life story was told in two movies and a song about him became a hit.
But Evel Knievel’s body suffered greatly. He said he had as many as fifteen major operations to repair broken bones. One crash was so bad he was in a coma and lost consciousness for a month. Knievel’s personal choices also damaged his health. He drank too much alcohol and used illegal drugs. In his later years, he also suffered from diabetes and an incurable lung disease. The former daredevil died November thirtieth in Clearwater, Florida, at the age of sixty-nine.
She was known as the "Queen of Mean" because she was not a very nice person. Leona Helmsley owned costly hotels and other property in New York City. She died August twentieth of heart failure. She was eighty-seven.
Leona Rosenthal was born in nineteen twenty in a rural area of New York state. Her family moved to Brooklyn, New York, where she grew up.
She became a successful real estate agent, selling homes in New York City. She met a rich investor, Harry Helmsley, as a result of her work. He soon asked her to work for one of his companies. Shortly after that he left his wife of more than thirty years and married Leona in nineteen seventy-two.
Over the years, the Helmsleys owned property worth five billion dollars. At one time, they owned the famous Empire State Building in New York City and thirty hotels around the country. Leona became the main spokesperson for their hotels. She was the star of a very successful advertising campaign.
Reports of Leona Helmsley’s treatment of employees and family members often appeared in New York newspapers. She was criticized for her self-important behavior. A former housekeeper said Helmsley told her that she and her husband did not pay taxes. “Only the little people pay taxes,” Helmsley reportedly added.
But Leona Helmsley later may have regretted that statement. In nineteen eighty-nine she was found guilty of not paying federal income taxes. She served eighteen months in prison and had to pay millions of dollars.
When she died, Leona Helmsley left twelve million dollars to her little dog, Trouble. The money is to care for him until the end of his life. It was the largest amount of money she left anyone, including her brother and grandchildren.
And finally we remember the inventive and highly skilled jazz drummer, Max Roach.
He died August sixteenth in New York City at the age of eighty-three. He had been sick for several years.
Max Roach established an unusual new rhythm to jazz that was an important part of the birth of bebop. Until the nineteen forties, jazz drummers mainly served to keep musical time. But Max Roach believed the drums had greater musical possibility. The drum beat style he and others established was more closely linked to the melody of the music. Here he plays at a live concert in Frankfurt, Germany in nineteen fifty-two. The song is “Undecided.” He performs with several other jazz greats including saxophone player Lester Young.
Maxwell Lemuel Roach was born in a small town in North Carolina in nineteen twenty-four. His family moved to Brooklyn, New York when he was four. Max’s mother was a gospel singer and he followed in her musical footsteps. He learned to play the piano and bugle as a very young boy. But by the age of ten he was playing the drums for gospel bands.
When he was still a teenager Max began playing with Duke Ellington’s orchestra at the Paramount Theater in Brooklyn. He also played at music clubs in the Harlem area of Manhattan. Listen now as he plays “Garvey’s Ghost,” recorded in nineteen sixty-one.
(MUSIC: “Garvey’s Ghost”)
Max Roach won many awards and honors. He was among the most politically active jazz musicians. In nineteen sixty, he made an album called "We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite." It was about the black people's struggle for equality in the United States and Africa.
In the nineteen seventies, Max Roach formed an all percussion orchestra called M’Boom. We leave you with Max Roach and that group performing “A Quiet Place.”
(MUSIC: “A Quiet Place”)
This program was written and produced by Caty Weaver. I’m Steve Ember.
And I’m Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for People in America in VOA Special English.