From a titan of sports and entertainment to a man who ran a delightfully quirky arcade, Michigan lost many notable current and former residents in 2017.
Some of them were high-profile public personalities, their names often in the news. Others were rarely in the spotlight, but still they touched others' lives in unique ways. Here's a look back:
Mike Ilitch rose from a humble west-side neighborhood to assemble a food, sports and entertainment empire that enabled him to return the Stanley Cup to Hockeytown, build a new arena and ballpark, restore the grandeur of downtown’s iconic Fox Theatre and introduce metro Detroit to the concept of “pizza-pizza.” He died Feb. 10 at age 87.
From his first Little Caesars outlet in a Garden City strip mall in 1959, Ilitch became a major metro Detroit personality and a key figure in the revival of downtown Detroit. In addition to founding the Little Caesars pizza chain, he owned the Red Wings, Tigers and the Fox Theatre, and operated city-owned Joe Louis, Cobo, and Little Caesars arenas, among other smaller businesses, teams and restaurants.
Marvin Jay Yagoda, a pharmacist by trade who was best known for creating Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Farmington Hills, died Jan. 8. He was 78. Tucked in the back of a strip mall on Orchard Lake Road just south of 14 Mile, Yagoda's museum is a cacophony of gizmos, games and gadgets that bills itself as "A mind blowing fully interactive museum open to the public 365 days a year with free admission!" The place is so unusual that rapper Eminem rented it to host his 30th birthday bash.
Jack Demmer, the head of his namesake family dealerships, died Jan. 31 at age 93. As the CEO of Jack Demmer Automotive Group, Demmer worked in his dealerships — Jack Demmer Lincoln in Dearborn and Jack Demmer Ford in Wayne — until the last few weeks of his life.
Jim Myers, also known as George (The Animal) Steele, a hulking, hairy brute with a green tongue who became famous in a professional wrestling career that spanned three decades in the WWF and WWE, died in February at age 79. Myers grew up in the Detroit area and taught for several years at Madison High School in Madison Heights.
Ron Savage, an Emmy Award-winning journalist and volunteer on-call firefighter, died Feb. 25 after collapsing while training with the Milford Fire Department. He suffered a cardiac arrest at age 63. Savage co-anchored Fox 2 News Weekends and produced Michigan's Most Wanted segments, highlighting unsolved crimes. At the time of this death, Fox 2 officials said more than 1,000 fugitives had been arrested from tips from viewers.
Another longtime news anchor, Rich Fisher, died March 24 at age 67. A fixture on the Detroit media scene, the Emmy-award winning anchor spent seven years at Fox 2 before resigning in 1997. Prior to that, he worked as an anchor and reporter for 12 years at WXYZ-TV (Channel 7).
Francine Hughes walked into the Ingham County Jail on March 9, 1977 and confessed that, fearing for her life, she had set fire to her home in Dansville, where her abusive ex-husband Mickey Hughes was sleeping. A jury eventually acquitted her in Hughes' death. Her defense — that her actions were the result of the beatings and verbal abuse she had endured for more than a decade — brought the plight of battered women into the national spotlight, inspiring dozens of domestic violence laws. Her story also inspired the best-selling book "The Burning Bed," a TV movie of the same name, a folk song and a hit for country star Martina McBride ("Independence Day"). Known as Francine Wilson after remarrying, she died March 22 in Alabama. She was 69.
Maurice (Bud) Lezell, known as Belvedere Construction Co. owner "Mr. Belvedere" in his metro Detroit TV commercials of the 1960s and 1970s, died March 26. He was 95. Lezell, who was living in Florida, was a local icon to baby boomers and their parents who saw the commercials for his home remodeling business.
Robert D. Mahoney, who was Michigan's first blind lawmaker and who raised 10 children with his wife, Jennie, who is also blind, died March 30 at age 95. Mahoney, who attended Northern High School in Detroit and the Michigan School for the Blind, lost his eyesight at age 15 and worked as a door-to-door salesman before he was first elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in 1954, representing northeast Detroit for 18 years.
Songwriter and producer Sylvia Moy, who helped spark Stevie Wonder's career while breaking barriers for women at Motown Records, died April 15. She was 78. Moy, a Detroit native, gave Wonder his second Top 10 hit with 1965's "Uptight (Everything's Alright)," helping convince Motown chief Berry Gordy Jr. to give her the role of producer — making her the first woman to land that position at Hitsville.
Michigan native Kirk Jones, the first person to have survived an unprotected plunge into Niagara Falls, is believed to have died in April after a second attempt at plunging into the same falls, according to the Associated Press. Jones' body was recovered June 2 from the waters under the falls. He was 53.
Thomas Pleger, the president of Lake Superior State University, died May 7, two days after undergoing emergency brain surgery. He was 48. Pleger, the university's eighth president, often quipped that he had the best job in the world because he never had to leave college.
John Kivela, 47, a state representative from Marquette and a former Marquette mayor, was known for inviting members from both sides of the political aisle to his house in Lansing to enjoy a meal. He committed suicide May 9 after being released on bond from jail following his second drunken-driving arrest in less than two years.
Jack McCloskey, the architect of the Detroit Pistons' back-to-back championship teams in 1989-90, died June 1 in Georgia. He was 91. McCloskey was nicknamed “Trader Jack” for his many astute trades during his tenure as the team’s general manager from 1979-92.
Restaurateur Lucia Avila died June 23 at age 69. She and her husband, Alfonso, opened the popular El Rancho Mexican Restaurant in southwest Detroit in 1983. Avila loved to cook and often manned the kitchen, churning out tasty tamales and an exquisite mole sauce.
Geri Allen, a Detroit native and renowned jazz pianist, composer and educator who bucked classification in favor of an impeccable, genre-bending style, died June 27 in Philadelphia. She was 60. Allen was widely considered by critics and her peers as one of the greatest contemporary jazz pianists.
Arthur (Earl) Owens fed generations of burger-lovers at his Telway Hamburger stands in Detroit and Madison Heights. He died in June at age 87.
Bob Pisor, whose varied career included work as a Vietnam War correspondent, City Hall press spokesman, magazine editor, TV reporter and artisanal bread maker, died in July at age 77. He worked at the Detroit News and WDIV-TV (Channel 4).
Radio personality Bob Bauer, whose voice was familiar to decades of Detroit rock listeners, died July 21 at age 63. Bauer was best known for his tenure at Detroit stations WLLZ-FM ("Wheels"), WABX-FM, WCSX-FM and others. During the last decade, he embraced online radio, including a pair of programs webcast from the UDetroit studio in Detroit's Harmonie Park district. Most recently, he hosted a show that spotlighted local music at DetroitMusicStation.com.
Former U.S. Rep. Vern Ehlers, a nuclear physicist and former Calvin College professor who served more than 17 years in Congress as a moderate Republican representing a west Michigan district, died Aug. 15. He was 83.
Gunnar Birkerts, a Latvian-born architect who over half a century of practicing in Detroit designed some of southeast Michigan's most notable buildings, died in August in Massachusetts. He was 92. His best-known works included Domino's Farms in Ann Arbor, the 1300 Lafayette residential tower near downtown Detroit, the orange-hued Calvary Baptist Church near Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit, the University of Detroit Mercy's Fisher Administration Building and the University of Michigan Law School's underground library.
As an editor at the Detroit Free Press, Thomas Edison Wark helped oversee the paper's Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the 1967 Detroit riots and created a hugely popular public service column that other newspapers copied. Wark, who also held senior editing posts at the Philadelphia Inquirer and New York Times, died Aug. 18 of pancreatic cancer. He was 82. In revealing his terminal diagnosis to friends, Wark wrote, "It's been a good ride. No regrets. Grateful for so many good friends."
Jud Heathcote, the iconic coach who led the Michigan State Spartans to their first national championship in 1979, died Aug. 28 at age 90. Heathcote, known for his matchup zone defense, coached Michigan State from 1976-95 before turning over the reins over to his self-named successor, Tom Izzo.
Known around Detroit as Christmas Carol, singer Jeanie Daar Sinclair-Smith was a frequent guest for decades on many local TV and radio programs. Sinclair-Smith, 93, died Aug. 29. Known professionally as Jeanie Daar, she was a regular on radio station WJR-AM's "Jack Harris Show," and she delighted thousands of children over many years as Christmas Carol, taking over the role made famous by Maureen Bailey in Hudson's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Carrie DeKlyen, 37, of Wyoming, Mich., made headlines when she chose not to undergo chemotherapy or experimental treatments for her brain cancer in an effort to save her unborn sixth child. Doctors delivered her baby daughter, named Life, on Sept. 6. DeKlyen was removed from life support the next day. She died Sept. 9. Life, who weighed 1 pound, 4 ounces when she was delivered by cesarean section, died Sept. 20. She was to be buried with her mother.
Harry T. Cook, clergyman, classical scholar, journalist and all-round upsetter of complacency and indifference, was one Detroit's most passionate voices for peace and justice. He died Oct. 9 at age 78.
West Michigan philanthropist Helen DeVos died Oct. 18. She was the wife of Amway co-founder Rich DeVos. She was a supporter of children's health, Christian education and the arts. DeVos death was due to complications from a stroke after a short battle against acute myeloid leukemia. She was 90-years-old.
U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor, the first black woman to serve as chief judge of the federal bench in Detroit, who spent much of her six-decade-long career shunning the spotlight, died Nov. 4. She was 84. Taylor was a liberal with Democratic roots who defended civil rights workers in the South in the 1960s. She was appointed to the federal bench in 1979.
Warren (Pete) Moore, the Detroit-born singer and songwriter who co-wrote many of the Miracles’ biggest hits, died in Las Vegas on Nov. 19, his 79th birthday. Moore — whose credits ranged from “Ooo Baby Baby” to “Love Machine” — was remembered by Motown founder Berry Gordy as “a quiet spirit with a wonderful bass voice.”
Detroit native Della Reese, who enjoyed dual careers as a singer and later as a TV star on the CBS hit "Touched By An Angel," died in November at age 86. Born Delloreese Early in 1931, she was the daughter of a factory worker father and a mother with a third-grade education. She grew up at 984 E. Vernor in Detroit's Black Bottom district, attending Bishop Elementary and later Northeastern, Miller and Cass Tech high schools.
Eugene Applebaum, who grew a Dearborn pharmacy into the eighth-largest drugstore chain in the U.S. and was a major donor to Wayne State University, died Dec. 15. He was 81. Applebaum started Arbor Drugs with a single drug store, Civic Drugs in Dearborn, in 1963. The enterprise grew over 35 years to 208 stores, until CVS acquired it in 1998. In 1998, Applebaum contributed the largest individual gift in the history of Wayne State University, his alma mater. His $5 million gift helped pay for construction of a new home for health education in his native Detroit. The Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences building opened in 2002.
Broadcaster Dick Enberg, a master at calling big events across the sports spectrum but who held a special love for baseball, died Dec. 21 at 82. Born in Mt. Clemens, Enberg's radio career began at the radio station at Central Michigan University. Perhaps his biggest night on the air was for the 1979 NCAA men's basketball title game, when Magic Johnson's Michigan State team topped Larry Bird's Indiana State in the highest rated college basketball game in U.S. television history. Enberg was also on the mic when Detroit Lions great Barry Sanders eclipsed 2,000 yards rushing in a season at the Pontiac Silverdome.
Marquette Mayor Tom Baldini died Dec. 26 after taking the top office for the city in Michigan's Upper Peninsula just last month. He was 74. Mayor Pro-Tem Dave Campana said Baldini's death followed a recent stroke.
April Stevens, Ann Zaniewski, Brian McCollum, John Gallagher, Bill McGraw, John Wisely, Carlos Monarrez, Niraj Warikoo, Perry A. Farrell, Vickki Dozier, Zlati Meyer, Frank Witsil, Paul Egan, Kathleen Gray, Robert Allen, Bill Laitner, Ryan Patrick Hooper, Chris Solari, Joe Swickard, Tim Kiska, Tresa Baldas and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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