Los Angeles, like cities across the globe, suffered unending pain and loss throughout 2021. Yet it was not only the coronavirus that was ripping at the city’s seams—numerous influential figures left us in the last 12 months.
A chronicle of Angelenos who died this year could go on for pages, and ranges from entertainment icons Ed Asner, Hal Holbrook and director Richard Donner, to sports figures Don Sutton and Elgin Baylor, to writers Eve Babitz and Joan Didion (yes, Didion died in New York, but her ties to L.A. and California are well documented). Pioneering restaurateur Mark Peel passed away, as did Fred Segal and Vans shoes co-founder Paul Van Doren.
The city also experienced the loss of key civic leaders, people whose lives were spent making Los Angeles a better, more livable place. Here is a by-no-means exhaustive list (in order of the date they died) of some of those who changed the fabric of L.A.
No one loved Los Angeles like LaBonge loved Los Angeles. The man known as “Mister L.A.” spent a lifetime urging people to celebrate and embrace the city. A Silver Lake native, LaBonge played football at John Marshall High School, and worked for nearly 40 years in city government, serving under political legends Tom Bradley, Richard Riordan and John Ferraro before winning the District 4 City Council seat he would hold for 15 years. During and even after leaving office, LaBonge drove around town with a shovel in his trunk, and was famous for pulling over to sweep trash from curbs and unclog flooded storm drains. He died Jan. 7 of a heart attack at the age of 67, but his influence already lives on—the inaugural Tom LaBonge Day of Service, with community cleanups and other improvement projects, took place at five locations on Oct. 9. It will be an annual event.
Lasorda never held elected office, ran a Fortune 500 company or helmed a groundbreaking nonprofit, but ever since the Dodgers relocated to Los Angeles in 1958, the Blue has been part of the culture of the city, and Lasorda was a voluble fixture with the team nearly the entire time. After a short playing career, Lasorda joined the Dodgers as a scout in 1961, and in 1976 began a 20-year managerial stint that would net two World Series. Although he stepped down in 1996 after suffering a heart attack, he remained affiliated with the team, surviving ownership changes and functioning partly as an advisor, and more as an ambassador, appearing seemingly everywhere to tout the roster and tell the world that he bleeds Dodger Blue. Lasorda died Jan. 7 at the age of 93. His widow Jo Lasorda passed away on Sept. 21. She was 91.
The name may prompt some to think of The Broad art museum on Grand Avenue, but the dazzling facility that opened in 2015 was only the capstone for a philanthropic billionaire who embraced being seen as “unreasonable.” In an incomparable career Broad (rhymes with “road”) would found not one, but two billion-dollar companies: homebuilder Kaufman and Broad, and retirement services firm SunAmerica. His greater impact was on the civic and charitable fronts. His monetary donations put the Broad name on buildings across the region. He helped found MOCA and rescued it decades later when the museum hit financial troubles. When fundraising for Walt Disney Concert Hall stalled in the mid-’90s, Broad and Mayor Richard Riordan twisted arms to get corporations to donate seven- and eight-figure sums. Broad and his wife Edythe collected more than 2,000 contemporary artworks, and when The Broad opened, he ensured admission would be free. He died on April 30 at the age of 87.
Robert F. Maguire III
Only a handful of people can say they literally helped define the skyline of Los Angeles. Maguire, for decades a force in the real estate development world, was one of them. In the 1980s and ’90s, he and business partner Jim Thomas became some of the biggest office developers in the nation, building structures including the granite-clad Wells Fargo Center on Grand Avenue, the nearby Gas Company Tower, and the 73-story U.S. Bank Tower, which for decades ranked as the tallest structure west of the Mississippi. While Maguire would later develop office complexes across the region, he also helped rebuild Downtown’s Central Library after it was badly damaged in a 1986 arson fire (the library’s Maguire Gardens is named for him). He died on May 18 at the age of 86.
Archbishop Carl Bean
Bean first gained a following in 1978, when his song “I Was Born This Way,” a celebration of LGBTQ pride, became a disco hit (decades later it would inspire Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”). His enduring Los Angeles legacy stems from his turn toward religion, as he founded the Unity Fellowship Church, which operated under the slogan, “God is love and love is for everyone.” Bean, a Baltimore native who was openly gay, was ordained as a minister in 1982, and attained the archbishop rank in 1999. His work included launching the Minority AIDS Partnership in 1985, which was created to serve and educate primarily Black and Latino communities impacted by AIDS and HIV. Bean died on Sept. 7 at the age of 77.
“General” Jeff Page
The figure known to everyone in Downtown as General Jeff first gained a modicum of fame as a hype man for rappers Rodney O and Joe Cooley, but would find lasting influence as a Skid Row activist. General Jeff, who died on Oct. 13 at the age of 56, was unafraid of a fight, but could work with people from all sides of an issue; he may be the only person ever whose death prompted laudatory tweets from both Ice Cube and Councilman Kevin de León. General Jeff, who arrived in Skid Row in 2006, sought to remind Angelenos that it was not just a place for people experiencing homelessness, but also a unique community with committed residents. He was omnipresent, launching neighborhood improvement efforts in Skid Row, donning a suit and tie when visiting City Hall, speaking to classes at USC, and working with federal Judge David O. Carter as he sought to understand the scope of homelessness.
The murder of 81-year-old Avant during a robbery at her Beverly Hills home on Dec. 1 shook the region, but it was her decades of philanthropic work, and not the way she died, that defined her. The wife of legendary music producer Clarence Avant, who was known as “The Black Godfather,” Jacqueline Avant was a prominent supporter of the UCLA International Student Center, and had roles including being on the cultural committee of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, and serving as president of the group Neighbors of Watts. She and her husband were also active in political circles. Her death resonated well beyond Los Angeles, with President Bill Clinton tweeting that, “She inspired admiration, respect & affection in everyone who knew her.”
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