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FAITH LAPIDUS: I’m Faith Lapidus.
STEVE EMBER: And I’m Steve Ember with PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English. Today we remember six interesting people who died in the past year.
FAITH LAPIDUS: We start with Elizabeth Edwards. She was the wife of former senator John Edwards and served as a political adviser during his campaigns.
Mr. Edwards was the Democratic vice-presidential nominee in two thousand four. He unsuccessfully competed for the presidential nomination in two thousand eight.
Elizabeth Edwards had a successful career as a lawyer long before she became involved with politics. She was also the mother of four children.
She faced several tragedies in her life. The Edwards’ teenage son Wade was killed in a car accident in nineteen ninety-six. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at age fifty-five. And, during his last campaign, it became public that John Edwards had had an affair and child with another woman. The Edwards later separated.
For many people Elizabeth Edwards was a hero for her brave and very public battle with cancer. She did not let the disease stop her campaign work and activism. She became a fierce supporter for health care reform and women’s health issues. She also wrote two best-selling books about her life.
Shortly before her death, she posted her last message on Facebook. She said that she had been supported in her life by three saving graces: her family, her friends, and her belief in the power of hope. Elizabeth Edwards died of cancer in December at the age of sixty-one.
STEVE EMBER: Paul Miller was a lawyer who became a leader in the disability rights movement. In nineteen eighty-six, he graduated at the top of his class from Harvard Law School in Boston, Massachusetts.
Many law firms wanted to hire him. But after meeting him, none would give him a job. Paul Miller was born with a condition called achondroplasia, a form of dwarfism. As an adult, he stood about one hundred thirty-seven centimeters tall.
Later in his career, Paul Miller would work to change such forms of discrimination. He became a member of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He helped enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act of nineteen ninety. This law protected disabled people in both public and private employment. He served as an advisor to President Clinton and President Obama.
He also worked to create federal laws protecting the privacy of people’s genetic information. Employers and insurance agencies cannot use this information in a discriminatory way.
As a child, Paul Miller’s parents took him to meetings of the Little People of America. This group gives support and information to people of short height and their families.
He later said going to these meetings made him want to help others like himself.
Paul Miller died of cancer in October at the age of forty-nine.
Dorothy Kamenshek in a photo from the National Baseball Hall of Fame
FAITH LAPIDUS: Dorothy Kamenshek was considered one of the best female players in baseball history. In nineteen forty-three, the owner of the Chicago Cubs created the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
At the age of seventeen, Kamenshek was picked to be on the Rockford Peaches team. Known as “Dottie” to her fans, she became a huge success.
She would jump over a meter in the air to catch the ball at the first base position. She was also a great hitter. She had one of the league’s top ten batting averages. Kamenshek played for the All-American Girls League for ten seasons. She was chosen to be on the All-Star team seven times in her career.
Her life influenced the role played by Geena Davis in the nineteen ninety-two movie “A League of Their Own.”
Dorothy Kamenshek was such a skillful player that a men’s minor league team from Florida once tried to buy her contract. She refused the offer.
Kamenshek retired from baseball in nineteen fifty-three. She earned a degree in physical therapy. She later worked for the Crippled Children’s Services Department in Los Angeles, California.
Dorothy Kamenshek died in May at the age of eighty-four.
Leslie Nielsen in 1991
STEVE EMBER: Leslie Nielsen’s was a serious actor in television and movies for many years. But using this seriousness to make people laugh changed his career.
Leslie Nielsen was born in Canada and later became an American citizen. After serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force, he began studying acting in Toronto and New York City.
He worked in theater and television before making his first movie in nineteen fifty-six. He had major roles in movies including “Forbidden Planet,” “Tammy and the Bachelor” and “The Poseidon Adventure.”
By the nineteen sixties, Nielsen’s hair had turned white. He was often chosen to play the serious roles of government and military leaders.
In nineteen eighty, he was chosen to be in a very different kind of film. The movie “Airplane!” was very funny. It is about a plane and its crew and passengers in a difficult situation.
LESLIE NIELSEN: "Can you fly this plane and land it?"
ROBERT HAYS: "Surely you can’t be serious."
LESLIE NEILSEN: "I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley."
“Airplane!” changed Leslie Nielsen’s career. He became famous for his roles in the funny “Naked Gun” movies. He played detective Frank Drebin, a man who does everything wrong.
Nielsen spent the rest of his career playing funny parts in movies including “Dracula: Dead and Loving It” and “Spy Hard.” One reporter said his fans loved him because he seemed to be having a good time while making sure the audience had a good time, too.
Leslie Nielsen died in November at the age of eighty-four.
A giant spider sculpture by Louise Bourgeois during an exhibit in New York's Rockefeller Center in the summer of 2001
FAITH LAPIDUS: Louise Bourgeois was an influential artist best known for her large sculptures of metal spiders. Much of her art was fearless, sexual and strange.
Her paintings and sculptures were often shaped by painful experiences. Her anger toward her father for betraying her mother with another woman was one big influence in her work.
She once said that her artwork was a way to battle her tensions and fears and attempt to be a better person.
Louise Bourgeois was born in nineteen eleven in Paris, France. Her parents had a business repairing ancient tapestries. She used her drawing skills to help with repairs. Louise studied math in college, but later changed her area of study to art.
In nineteen thirty-eight she met art historian Robert Goldwater in Paris. They married and moved to New York City. She continued to work as an artist while raising their three sons.
Bourgeois took part in many gallery and museum shows in New York. But she did not become internationally famous until she was in her sixties. In nineteen eighty-two the Museum of Modern Art organized a show of her work. Major museums around the world later bought her artworks.
She once said she was glad she was discovered later in life. This gave her time to work without interruption at her own speed and in her own way. Louise Bourgeois kept working on her art until her last days.
She died in May at the age of ninety-eight.
Jerry Bock in 2006
STEVE EMBER: Jerry Bock was a celebrated composer who wrote music for many popular Broadway shows. He worked with the songwriter Sheldon Harnick to create seven musicals. These include “Fiorello” and “She Loves Me.” But their most famous musical was “Fiddler on the Roof.” It first played on Broadway in nineteen sixty-three.
The play tells about Jewish life in a small Russian village during the early nineteen hundreds. The main characters are a milkman named Tevye, his wife and five daughters. Jerry Bock was influenced by the Jewish musical traditions he heard as a child.
“Fiddler on the Roof” became a huge success. It won nine Tony Awards. The show played for eight years, making it Broadway’s longest-running musical at the time. It was also made into a popular movie.
Jerry Bock was born in nineteen twenty-eight and grew up in New York City. At a young age he was able to play complex music on the piano. In high school he wrote his first musical. He wrote his first musical play for Broadway in nineteen fifty-six.
Later in his career, Jerry Bock wrote music for television programs for children. He died in November at the age of eighty-one. We leave you with one of the most popular songs from “Fiddler on the Roof --“If I Were a Rich Man.”
FAITH LAPIDUS: This program was written and produced by Dana Demange. Our programs are online with transcripts and MP3 files at voaspecialenglish.com I’m Faith Lapidus.
STEVE EMBER: And I’m Steve Ember. Join us again next week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.