Recent passings in the Irish and Irish-American communities
1926 – 2012
After a long battle with stomach cancer, comedian Frank Carson died at the age of 85 in Blackpool, England.
Carson was born on November 6, 1926 to an Irish Italian family. He was raised in Belfast and began his stand-up career after winning ITV’s Opportunity Knocks talent show. He went on to television, appearing in shows like The Good Old Days, The Comedians and Tiswas. He performed for the royal family. He is also remembered for catch phrases like “It’s a cracker!” and “It’s the way I tell ‘em!”
Aside from his comedic career, Carson led an active life. He was once mayor of Balbriggan near Dublin. After moving his family to Blackpool, Carson became very involved in charity work, his biggest cause being the integrated education fund. This led to what he considered his greatest achievement, becoming a Knight of St. Gregory. He met Pope John Paul II and was quoted saying, “I was in there for 17 minutes – the priests time it. President Reagan only got 11, so that was nice.”
Carson died February 22 surrounded by family in Blackpool. He will be laid to rest in Belfast. He is survived by his wife Ruth, their three children, 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
1954 – 2012
Contemporary artist Mike Kelley was found dead in his South Pasadena home on February 1, an apparent suicide. He was 57. Kelley is best known for having laid the groundwork of present-day installation art, though he has received critical acclaim for his work in a number of mediums.
Born into a Catholic working-class family in a suburb of Detroit, Kelley became involved with Detroit’s heavy metal subculture during his teen years, eventually performing in the band Destroy All Monsters. His passion for music continued through his time as a graduate student at the California Institute of the Arts, where he first began creating his signature multimedia installations. He was interested in performance art, often using it to explore sadomasochistic and scatological themes, until stage fright eventually forced him to stop performing altogether in 1986.
Kelley’s work has served as a source of inspiration throughout the art world, influencing artists as varied as rock band Sonic Youth, Maria Arena Bell (head writer and co-executive producer of The Young and the Restless) and filmmaker John Waters. Kelley is survived by his brother, George.
1929 – 2012
Irish actor David Kelly, best known for his roles as Grandpa Joe in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) and as Michael O’Sullivan in Waking Ned Devine (19998), died in Dublin on February 12. He was 82.
Kelly had a long and successful career in film, television and on the stage. Educated at Synge Street Christian Brothers school, he was drawn to acting at an early age, appearing on the Gaiety Theatre stage at age 8. Kelly did not gain major acting notoriety until 1959, when he originated the role of Krapp in Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape. Following this, he made the transition from stage to television. In the 1980s, he starred in RTE’s Strumpet City alongside Peter O’Toole. Kelly then went on to BBC’s hit show Ballykissangel (1996-2001).
Kelly tended to get cast in small, idiosyncratic film roles throughout his career. His role in Waking Ned Devine was his first major film breakthrough, and he was nominated for a SAG Award. After starring in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Irish Film & Television Academy presented Kelly with the Lifetime Achievement Award. His last cinematic role was in 2007’s Stardust. He leaves behind his wife, Laurie, and their two children David and Miriam.
1927 – 2012
Harry Keough of U.S. soccer fame died in his St. Louis home on February 7. He was 84. Keough was a starting player at the famous 1950 World Cup game, hosted in Brazil, where the Americans defeated England 1-0. This win is considered to be one of the greatest upsets in soccer history.
Born to Patrick “Paddy” John Keough and Elizabeth Costley Keough, he grew up in St. Louis when it was the center of United States soccer.
After leaving the team in 1957, Keough coached St. Louis University to five NCAA soccer titles. “While his participation on the U.S. team that beat England in the 1950 FIFA World Cup remains a memory that fans around the world treasure,” U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati told ESPN, “it is his lasting contribution to soccer in St. Louis and around the country as a player and a coach that will be his true legacy.” Keough only coached part-time. His day job was at the U.S. Postal Service, where he worked for 36 years.
Keough was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1976. He is survived by his wife, Alma, their son Ty – who also played for the American national team – and daughters, Colleen and Peggy.
Judge Frank J. McGarr
1921 – 2012
Frank McGarr, a federal judge, died of complications from Parkinson’s Disease at his home in Downers Grove, Illinois, on January 6. He was just over a month shy of his 91st birthday.
Born in Chicago on February 25, 1921, McGarr attended St. Ignatius Prep high school, and received his bachelor’s degree from Loyola University in 1942. He fought in the Navy during WW II, taking leave in 1943 to marry his childhood sweetheart, Margaret. After the war, he returned to school in pursuit of a law degree. Graduating from Loyola in 1950, he remained at the university in a teaching position until being appointed first assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago in 1954. He was nominated to the federal bench in 1970 by President Nixon. After retiring from the bench in 1988, McGarr joined the Chicago law firm of Phelan, Pope, & John. He served as chairman of Governor George Ryan’s Commission on Capital Punishment in the early 2000s.
“As a judge, he never took himself too seriously,” his daughter Patricia DiMaria told the Chicago Tribune in January. “He would say, ‘You don’t have honor and intelligence just by putting on a robe.’” He is survived by his wife, five children, a sister, 13 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.
John T. “Jack” O’Neill
1935 – 2012
Jack O’Neill, a beloved public spirit in Holyoke, MA, died on February 2. Jack was a 50-year-plus member of the St. Patrick’s Committee of Holyoke, the second largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the U.S. He served as parade president in the 1980s.
Born in Holyoke, he was a graduate of Holyoke Catholic High School and the former Hampden College of Pharmacy. Known as “Pharmacy Jack” because there were two Jack O’Neill’s, the other being “Sportscaster Jack,” he operated Oakdale Pharmacy before going to work at Providence Hospital, where he was employed for over 35 years. Jack served his community well and was on many committees over the years. He was the recipient of the O’Connell Award in 1991, and the Rohan Award in 2010. He was a member of Holyoke Lodge of Elks #902 and a proud member of the Beefers’ Club and the B&B. John was a Eucharistic Minister at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, where he also coached in its CYO program, and served on the CYO Board of Directors. He was a Knight of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem and a former member of the Board of Directors of the Holyoke Boys & Girls Club. He was a commissioner for the Holyoke Geriatric Authority Board, and also served as its Chairman.
Jack was an avid Yankees, Patriots, and Celtics fan. He was predeceased by son Kevin O’Neill and his second wife, Susan M. O’Neill. He is survived by five children, three grandchildren, a great-granddaughter and several nieces and nephews.
1925 – 2012
Singer-songwriter Dory Previn, who first gained notoriety for her Oscar-nominated collaborations with former husband Andre Previn and went on to enjoy a career as a solo artist, died at home in Southfield, MA on February 14. She is survived by her husband, Joby Baker, three step-children and six step-grandchildren.
Born Dorothy Veronica Langan on October 22, 1925 in New Jersey, she was raised in a troubled Irish-Catholic home in Hawthorne, NJ. As she would later recount in her autobiographies Midnight Baby and Bog-trotter: An Autobiography with Lyrics, her father had suffered mental trauma from his time in WWI. He refused to believe that he was her real father and once locked Dory, her mother and siblings in the dining room of their house for four months.
After high school, Dory tried her luck singing and working odd jobs in both New York and California, before her work was brought to the attention of MGM producer Arthur Freed, who hired her as a lyricist. It was at MGM that she met composer Andre Previn, who would become her collaborator and husband. Their first album together was called The Leprechauns Are Upon Me. They were nominated for two Oscars, for “The Faraway Part of Town,” sung by Judy Garland in Pepe, and for “Second Chance” from Two for the Seesaw. Their soundtrack to 1967’s The Valley of the Dolls was immensely popular, and Previn was also nominated in 1969 for “Come Saturday Morning,” from The Sterile Cuckoo, starring Liza Minelli.
That year Dory experienced a nervous breakdown, which led to several months in a sanitorium. Her marriage with Andre dissolving (he had left her for a rising star named Mia Farrow), Previn sought solace in writing the songs that would form her immensely personal and revealing first solo album, On My Way to Where. She released five other albums throughout the 70s, including the critically acclaimed Mythical Kings and Iguanas and Reflections in a Mud Puddle.
Previn married Joby Baker, a painter, in 1986. She and Andre resurrected both their friendship and working relationship, collaborating once again in 1997 on “The Magic Number,” which premiered in New York performed by the New York Philharmonic and soprano Sylvia McNair.
1927 – 2012
Waterford-born comedian Hal Roach, who was sometimes referred to as the “King of Blarney” or the “King of Irish comedy” passed away at the age of 84 in Florida on February 29.
Roach, not to be confused with the former Hollywood comedic producer of the same name, was born John Roach on November 4, 1927. He started his
career after winning a local talent competition for singing and began touring Ireland as a magician. He eventually moved to comedy.
Roach performed for over 60 years and once held the Guinness World Record for longest running engagement as a comedian at the same venue. He worked for 26 consecutive years at Jury’s Cabaret at Jury’s Hotel Ballsbridge in Dublin. He was well known among American tourists visiting Dublin, which led to his becoming an entertainment fixture in Irish-American circles. With his catch phrase “write it down, it’s a good one!” in mind, Roach published several popular books aimed at Irish Americans. He also released several CDs and a DVD set.
Roach is survived by his wife, Mary, children Sandra, Terry, Grainne, John and Shane, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.