In the last week, many notable Americans have passed away. This will cover a few of these amazing people from various walks of life that helped to shape American culture and life in some way.


Benjamin Barber (1939-2017) was a political theorist, author, and adviser. He is best known for his classic 1984 book on democratic theory, 'Strong Democracy' and his 1995 bestseller, 'Jihad vs. McWorld.' Barber was an outside adviser to President Bill Clinton and served as foreign policy adviser during Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign. He was also the president and founder of the Interdependence Movement and was the Walt Whitman Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Rutgers.

Barber died on April 24 at age 77 from pancreatic cancer.


Kathleen Crowley (1929-2017) was an actress who appeared in a number of films and TV shows before retiring in 1970. In 1949 she won the Miss New Jersey contest and finished seventh at that year's Miss America pageant. She made her first appearance as an actress in 1951 and work on many low-budget science fiction and horror movies. Crowley died on April 23 at age 87.

Michael Mantenuto (1981-2017) was an actor best known for his role as Jack O'Callahan in the 2004 Disney movie 'Miracle'. He got the role partially due to his experience playing hockey at the University of Maine and the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He only appeared in two other movies, not pursuing acting as a job and joined the army in 2010.

He became a Special Forces (Green Berets) communications sergeant with the 1st Special Forces Group. Mantenuto was found dead on April 24 at age 35 after committing suicide by shooting himself.

Calep Emphrey Jr. (1949-2017) was a blues drummer. From 1969 to 1977 he was the drummer for Little Milton's band, Freddie King, and Albert King.

In 1977 he joined the band of the legendary B.B. King and would remain with them until 2009. He then formed the Calep Emphrey Blues Band, releasing the album 'Handcuffed to the Blues' in 2010. Emphrey Jr. died on April 25 at age 67.

Johnathan Demme (1944-2017) was a director, producer, and writer who worked on a number of films.

He became known in the 1980s for a number of comedy films, such as 'Married to the Mob', 'Melvin and Howard and 'Something Wild.' His best-known works came in the early 1990s when he directed 'Silence of the Lambs' and 'Philadelphia.' He would win the Academy Award for Best Director in 1992 for 'Silence of the Lambs.' Demme died on April 26 at age 73 from complications due to heart disease and esophageal cancer.


Ken Sears (1933-2017) was a professional basketball player. He played college basketball at Santa Clara, where his number is retired. Before starting his NBA career, Sears was the first basketball player to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine, appearing on the December 20, 1954, issue.

Sears spent his eight seasons in the NBA with the New York Knicks and San Francisco Warriors, playing from 1955 until 1964. He spent the 1961-62 season with the San Francisco Saints in the short-lived American Basketball League (ABL). For his career, Sears was a 2x NBA All-Star and a 1x ABL ALL-Star. Sears died on April 23 at age 83 after battling pulmonary fibrosis.

Joe Leonard (1932-2017) was a professional motorcycle and race car driver. During his motorcycle career, Leonard won the AMA Grand National Championship Series in 1954, 56 and 57. He also won the Daytona 200 in 1957 and 58. He retired from motorcycle racing with 27 career wins in 1961 to pursue auto racing. His career high in auto racing came when he won back-to-back USAC Championship Car Series in 1971-72.

In 1991, he was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America and seven years later was also inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame. Leonard died on April 27 at age 84.


Robert M. Pirsig (1928-2017) was a writer and philosopher. He is best known for two books, his 1974 bestseller 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' and its 1991 follow-up 'Lilia: An Inquiry into Morals.' He also was a professor at Montana State University and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Pirsig died on April 24 at age 88 after having been in failing health.

Tom Forkner (1918-2017) was a lawyer, businessman, and golfer. He worked as a lawyer until World War II, where he served as an Army Intelligence officer.

Following the war, he took over his father's real estate agency, but his life would change when he met Joe Rodgers Sr. after selling him a house. The two would team up to become founders of Waffle House, with the first restaurant opening in 1955. Forker was also a successful senior golfer, winning the Georgia Senior Championship (1968, 69, 86), International Senior Championship (1974, 80) and World Super Seniors Championship (2003, 04). In 2007 he was inducted into the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame. Forkner died on April 26 at age 98.