Remembering Five Special People Who Died in 2004

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I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus with PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English. Today we tell about five special people who died during the past year. We start with actor Christopher Reeve. He became a hero in real life as well as in the movies.

Christopher Reeve became famous as "Superman" in the movies about the comic-book hero who flew through the air and saved people's lives. But Mr. Reeve may be remembered longest for his activities during the last part of his life. He was thrown from a horse during a horseback-riding competition in nineteen ninety-five. He broke his neck and was unable to move his body. He was even unable to breathe for long periods without mechanical help. But later, he exercised hard on special equipment. Doctors expressed great surprise at the progress he made long after his injury.

He also was a strong activist for medical research. He urged scientists to work to cure disabilities caused by back and neck injuries and disease.

Christopher Reeve was born in New York City in nineteen fifty-two. After college, he studied acting at the Juilliard School of the Performing Arts in New York.

Mr. Reeve first acted in a Broadway play in nineteen seventy-six. Then he became "Superman." The movie was a huge success when it opened in nineteen seventy-eight. Mr. Reeve starred in three more "Superman" films. Critics praised his performances in a number of other movies and plays.

Mr. Reeve continued acting even after his riding accident. He appeared in an award-winning television movie in nineteen ninety-eight. In "Rear Window", he played a man in a wheelchair who watches a murder in a nearby building. Most recently, Christopher Reeve directed a television film and wrote two books. He died October tenth at age fifty-two. He had suffered a severe infection resulting from his inability to move.

Do you recognize that voice? Many Americans, especially older ones, would. Julia Child was welcomed into homes across the United States for years through her television show, "The French Chef."

Julia Child was not French, however. She was born Julia McWilliams in Pasadena, California in nineteen twelve. After college, Julia went to work for the United States' intelligence agency, then called the Office of Strategic Services. World War Two was going on and Julia wanted to be a spy. The O.S.S. put Julia to work in Ceylon, now called Sri Lanka.

There, she met Paul Child, another O.S.S. worker. They married in nineteen forty-six and later moved to Paris, France. Julia began taking classes at the famous cooking school, Cordon Bleu. She became friends with two French students, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle. In time, the three began a cooking school of their own.

The Childs returned to America after about ten years. Julia kept working with her French friends to write a cookbook. The women wrote what is probably the most famous French cookbook in English. "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" was published in nineteen sixty-one. It was written for the average person. And the recipes called for products that could be found easily in American food stores.

Julia Child was asked to talk about the book on a television show in Boston, Massachusetts. Instead, she cooked on the show. The television station asked Child to create her own cooking show. "The French Chef" was first broadcast in nineteen sixty-three. It became the longest running show on American public television, with more than two hundred episodes. Part of the show's popularity was Julia Child's friendly personality. She made mistakes while cooking and she did not try to hide them.

"The French Chef," died in Montecito, California, on August thirteenth. She would have been ninety-two years old on August fifteenth.

Poet Mattie Stepanek lived for only thirteen years. But he had an important effect on the world. Former President Jimmy Carter praised the young boy as "the most extraordinary person" he had ever known.

Mattie Stepanek lived in Rockville, Maryland. He suffered from a rare form of a muscle-weakening disease called muscular dystrophy. This same disease had killed his three brothers when Mattie died on June twenty-second.

Mattie's goal in life was to help bring peace to the world. At age three, he was already writing poetry. He began writing after one of his brothers died.

A publisher printed two hundred copies of his collected poems in two thousand one. The book was called "Heartsongs." Before long, people across the country wanted copies. He wrote four more books of poetry. They have sold more than one million copies.

Mattie appeared on television programs and became famous. But he was a very sick boy. He had to use a wheelchair to get around. Mattie spent a lot of time in hospitals. Yet he never seemed sad or angry. Here Mattie Stepanek reads from his poem "About Things That Matter."


"A person by my name and being existed

With a strong spirit and an eternal mindset

To become a peacemaker for all

By sharing the things that really matter."

A very successful business leader also died this year. Estee Lauder died April twenty-fourth at the age of ninety-seven. She had sold beauty products for more than seventy years. Her business, the Estee Lauder Companies, began on the streets of New York City.

She was born Josephine Esther Mentzer in Queens, New York. Her parents had come to America from Hungary. They did not have much money. But they did have a beautiful daughter.

Estee's uncle was a chemist. Together, they worked to develop skin care creams in the nineteen-twenties when Estee was still a teenager. She took her products to New York City and stopped women on the street. She let them try the creams for free, calling the products "jars of hope."

Soon, young Estee was selling the products to large stores that sold things to wealthy women. She wrote powerful marketing messages such as "I have the secrets" or "start the New Year with a new face." She also used many smart sales tricks.

Estee Mentzer married Joseph Lauder in nineteen thirty. He became her business partner. Estee Lauder once said, "I never dreamed about success. I worked for it." In nineteen ninety-five, she decided she had worked long enough, so she retired. Today, her two sons and a grandson lead the Estee Lauder Companies. The business is worth about ten thousand million dollars. It employs more than twenty thousand people.

Singer Robert Merrill lived a long and musical life. He died at home in New York State on October twenty-third. Records say he was either eighty-five or eighty-seven years old.

For thirty years, his rich baritone voice rang out at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Mr. Merrill recorded popular music as well as opera music. He also played a leading part in the musical play "Fiddler on the Roof."

Robert Merrill took pleasure in New York City life. He often traveled on the underground subway train to sing at the Metropolitan Opera. For many years, he sang America's national song at the opening game of the New York Yankees baseball team.

Mr. Merrill was born in the Brooklyn area of New York in about nineteen seventeen. As a young man he worked in a poorly paid job in the area of New York where clothing is made.

One day, he heard singers preparing for a performance of Giuseppe Verdi's "La Traviata" at the Metropolitan Opera. On that day, the young man decided what he wanted to do with his life.

Robert Merrill worked and studied hard at his music. He sang at weddings and in hotels. In nineteen forty-five, the Metropolitan Opera hired Robert Merrill. His first performance was in "La Traviata." He sang more than five hundred performances of operas there during his long life.

This program was written by Jerilyn Watson and Caty Weaver. It was produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus.