Remembering Five Special People Who Died in 2006

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I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Barbara Klein with PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.  Today we tell about five special people who died during the past year.  We start with the movie director Robert Altman. During his fifty-year career, he made some of the most influential movies of modern times.

Robert Altman's films were different from the usual methods of Hollywood movie storytelling. He started his film career in the nineteen forties directing industrial movies in his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri. Later, he moved to Hollywood, California, to make television shows.

His first major film, "M*A*S*H", was released in nineteen seventy. It tells about a group of American medical workers in a temporary military hospital in Korea during the Korean War in the nineteen fifties. The movie was a great success. It questions the rules of the military establishment in a way that was sharply funny and intelligent.

Robert Altman continued to make movies with strong political and social commentary. His next major movie, "Nashville," came out in nineteen seventy-five. This movie provides a complex look at changes in the country music industry.

Robert Altman's movies have a very special style. Often, his actors speak so naturally it is hard to believe they are performing. Altman liked his actors to be free to make up their own lines. He often layered different recordings of actors talking at once. Altman wanted to copy the way people talk and act in real life. And he was willing to fight with movie studio businessmen to make sure he had total creative control over his work.

Even as an old man, Robert Altman continued to make movies. Many of his thirty-three films were nominated for Academy Awards, including "The Player" and "Gosford Park." Robert Altman died in November in Los Angeles, California. He was eighty-one years old.

Ann Richards was a famous Democratic party politician from the southern state of Texas. She served as the governor of Texas for four years. Richards was known for her big white hair, big smile, and sharply funny comments. She was also known for forming what she called a "New Texas" during her time as governor. She created a government in which women, Hispanics, and African-Americans played important roles.

Ann Richards did not always have a career in public service. As a young woman, she worked as a teacher and raised four children. She and her husband were very involved in local politics. Richards began working hard to help Democratic Party candidates win seats in the Texas legislature.

Then one day, she decided to run for office herself -- and she won. She served first as country commissioner, then as Texas state treasurer. In nineteen ninety she was elected governor. She fought for equal rights, environmental protection and laws to restrict guns. After losing a second term as governor to George W. Bush, Richards worked in public relations.

She died in September at the age of seventy-three. At her funeral service, leaders from around the country gathered to celebrate her life. Former President Bill Clinton spoke at the service. He said Ann Richards helped create a world where young girls could be scientists, engineers and police officers. He said she was a great woman with a big heart and big dreams.

The journalist R.W. Apple, known as Johnny, wrote about many subjects, from politics and war to food and drink. During his forty-three years writing for the New York Times newspaper, he enjoyed a rich and eventful career. He was the paper's chief reporter in cities like London, Moscow, Lagos and Nairobi. He covered events such as the Vietnam War, the Iranian revolution and the Gulf War. He reported on ten presidential elections. And, Johnny Apple's opinions on fine food, travel and the world's best restaurants were very influential.

Raymond Walter Apple was born in nineteen thirty-four in Akron, Ohio. His father owned several food stores and wanted his son to take over the business. But the young man fell in love with journalism instead. He began as a reporter for his high school and then college newspaper.  He later wrote news stories for the Wall Street journal and the NBC news television network. But it was his years at the New York Times that established him as one of the greatest political and cultural writers of his time.

Johnny Apple died in October at the age of seventy-one. Earlier this month his friends and family gathered in Washington, D.C. for a large memorial service. Famous writers, politicians, and cooks told about his warm personality, sharp intelligence, and extraordinary energy. After the service, guests enjoyed fine foods provided by some of the best cooks in the area.

William Styron wrote intense books about tragic periods in history. His stories are filled with rich language and complex moral questions. Many of his books try to understand the evil actions of people. His first novel, "Lie Down in Darkness," was published in nineteen fifty-one when he was only twenty-five. It is about a troubled young woman who kills herself.  It established him as a great new voice in American literature. The book received the Rome Prize, which required him to live in Italy for a year. He soon became friends with many famous American writers including James Baldwin and Norman Mailer.

William Styron was born and raised in Newport News, Virginia. He quit college to join the Marines during World War Two. He later continued his studies in English literature. After briefly working in publishing, he started to write.

Styron wrote "The Confessions of Nat Turner" in nineteen sixty-eight. It told about a nineteenth century slave revolt in the southern state of Virginia. Critics praised the book and it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. But African American writers strongly criticized the story.

Styron's book "Sophie's Choice" won the American Book Award in nineteen eighty. It is a tragic story about a woman and her children who are sent to a Nazi death camp in Poland during World War Two. The book was made into a movie starring Meryl Streep.

Later in life William Styron suffered from severe depression. After recovering, he wrote honestly and bravely about his experience in "Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness."  He received great praise for educating people about the difficulties of mental illness. William Styron died in November at the age of eighty-one.

Did you recognize that powerful voice? It is Ruth Brown singing "Lucky Lips." Brown recorded many rhythm and blues hits in the nineteen fifties. Her popular songs helped build the Atlantic Records company.

Ruth Brown was born in Portsmouth, Virginia in nineteen twenty-eight. She learned to sing traditional music at her Christian religious center. But she liked the popular jazz and rock music of the time even more. She left home at a young age to build a career in music. One night the jazz expert and broadcaster Willis Conover heard her perform in Washington, D.C. He helped her meet the owners of Atlantic Records. By nineteen forty-nine she was recording albums. Soon, she became known as "the girl with the tear in her voice" because of her emotional way of singing.

In the early nineteen sixties Brown married and led a more private life. But by the nineteen seventies and eighties, she started singing again in musicals and performed on television and in movies. She also started to fight for musicians' rights. Many musicians recorded hit songs that made their record companies very rich. But the musicians themselves rarely received fair payment later.

Ruth Brown worked hard to make these companies change their policies. In nineteen eighty-eight, Atlantic Records agreed to pay her and thirty-five other musicians the money they owed them for using their songs for twenty years. Ruth Brown continued performing for the rest of her life. She died in October.

This program was written and produced by Dana Demange.  I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Barbara Klein. You can read and listen to this report on our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com.  Join us again next week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.