December 29, 2017 at 9:00 am EDT | by Kathi Wolfe
YEAR IN REVIEW 2017: Edith Windsor, Jim Graham among notable 2017 LGBT deaths
Edie Windsor, Capital Pride parade, gay news, Washington Blade, LGBT deaths 2017

Edie Windsor served as one of the Grand Marshals of the 2017 Capital Pride parade. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Many acclaimed LGBT people died in 2017 from the world of politics, the entertainment industry and beyond. They include:

Acclaimed British actor Alec McCowen died, at 91, on Feb. 6 at his London home.  He was renowned for playing Mark in the one-man show “St. Mark’s Gospel.” 

Max Ferra, founding director of New York City’s INTAR Hispanic American Arts Center, died at 79 on February 4 in Miami.  The Center nurtured numerous Latino playwrights, including Pulitzer Prize winner Nilo Cruz, Lisa Loomer and Milcha Sanchez-Scott. Ferra left Cuba, his native country, in 1958.  “There were a bunch of young Latino playwrights coming of age who were writing plays in English that had a Hispanic essence,” he told the “New York Times, “but there was no arena for them.”

Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne, a lifelong aficionado of Old Hollywood and its movies, died at 84 on March 6 in his Manhattan home. During his 25 years at TCM, he told viewers intriguing stories about stars from Bette Davis to Audrey Hepburn. “I love those people,” Osborne told “CBS Sunday Morning.” “These were people that once ruled the world.”

Robert Osborne (Photo courtesy TCM)

George Weinberg, the psychotherapist who coined the term homophobia in the 1960s, died on March 20 in New York City at 87 of cancer. “As long as gay people suffer from homophobic acts, the word (homophobia) will remain crucial to our humanity,” Weinberg wrote in the Huffington Post.

Gilbert Baker, creator of the rainbow flag, known as the “gay Betsy Ross,” died at 65 at his New York City home on March 31. The first rainbow flags were unveiled during the San Francisco 1978 gay pride parade. “We … watched and saw the flags, and their faces lit up,” gay rights activist Clive Jones told the New York Times. “It needed no explanation. People knew immediately that it was our flag.”

William M. Hoffman, who wrote the groundbreaking play “As Is” during the height of the AIDS epidemic and the libretto for John Corigliano’s opera “The Ghosts of Versailles,” died at 78 of cardiac arrest in the Bronx on April 29.   

Gay attorney Jim Graham, who was elected to four terms on D.C. Council, died at 71 on June 11 at George Washington Hospital following complications from an intestinal infection. “LGBT activists … say he played a key role in advancing the city’s fight against HIV/AIDS during the early years of the epidemic while serving as executive director of Whitman-Walker from 1984-1999,” the Blade reported.

Queer actor Nelsan Ellis, who played Lafayette Reynolds, a gay cook, on the HBO vampire series “True Blood” died at 39 on July 8 of heart failure due to alcohol withdrawal. Ellis waged a long battle with alcohol and drug addiction.

Tony Award-winning producer Stuart J. Thompson died at 62 from complications of esophageal cancer in Manhattan on Aug. 17. He produced and served as general manager to more than 70 Broadway, Off Broadway and national touring productions.

Gay Republican operative Arthur J. Finkelstein, who helped boost the careers of conservative Republicans from James. L. Buckley to Jesse Helms, died at 72, from metastasized lung cancer on Aug. 18 at his Ipswich, Mass., home. He “sells his talents to lawmakers who would outlaw his family’s very existence,” a New York Times columnist said of Finkelstein in 1996.

Gay novelist Mark Merlis died on Aug. 15 at 67 from pneumonia associated with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis at a Philadelphia hospital. In his debut 1996 novel “American Studies” and three subsequent works, Merlis wrote sensitively about the joy, turmoil and pride of American 20th century gay life.

Kate Millett, the queer, groundbreaking second wave feminist writer, whose iconic 1970 book “Sexual Politics, transformed our cultural understanding of gender roles, died at 82 from cardiac arrest while on vacation in Paris with her spouse Sophie Keir. When “Sexual Politics” came out, the New York Times called the work “the Bible of women’s Lliberation.”

Marriage equality icon Edith (Edie) Windsor died at 88 in Manhattan on Sept. 12.  In her landmark case the Supreme Court for the first time granted federal recognition to same-sex married couples. The Windsor decision struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited same-sex couples from receiving the 1,138 federal benefits available to heterosexual married couples. “I had the privilege to speak with Edie a few days ago, and to tell her one more time what a difference she made to the country we love,” former President Barack Obama said.

Gossip column doyenne Liz Smith, died on Nov. 12 at 94 at her Manhattan home. For decades, Smith on New York City TV and in the tabloids (from the Daily News to the New York Post) regaled viewers and readers with tidbits about the lives of the rich and famous. She had relationships withe men and women, including archaeologist Iris Love.

Drag pageant impresario Jack Doroshow died at 78 in Manhattan. As drag queen Flawless Sabrina, Doroshow began organizing shows in 1959. “The Queen,” a documentary about his 1967 Town Hall show in New York, is a queer cultural touchstone.

Actor Jim Nabors, known for playing Gomer Pyle on the CBS TV shows “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Gomer Pyle: U.S.M.C.,” died at 87 on Nov. 30 at his home in Honolulu. Stan Cadwallader, his husband, said he had been in ill health for more than a year. Nabors said that he “never made a big secret” about being queer, but he didn’t officially come out until he married Cadwallader in 2013.

Jim Nabors (Photo courtesy CBS Television Distribution)

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