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.


Ji-Tu Cumbuka (1940-2017) was a film and television actor who appeared in 81 different movies, TV movies and TV shows during a career that stretched from 1968 to 2004. He is best known for played Wrestler in the 1977 TV mini-series 'Roots', Slim Snedeger in the 1976 movie 'Bound for Glory' and as Torque in the short-lived TV series 'A Man Called Sloane.' In 2011 he published his autobiography called, 'A Giant to Remeber: The Black Actor in Hollywood.' Cumbuka died on July 4 at age 77.

John Blackwell (1973-2017) was a drummer who performed contemporary R&B, funk, fusion, jazz and pop music with a number of different acts. He is best known for having been Prince's on and off drummer over the course of 12 years. Blackwell also performed with Patti LeBelle, Utada Hikaru, Justin Timberlake, Maze and D'Angelo among others. In 2009, he released his debut album 'The John Blackwell Project.' Blackwell died on July 4 at age 43 from a brain tumor.

Nelsan Ellis (1977-2017) was a film and television actor, best known for playing Lafayette Reynolds on 'True Blood' during the show's run from 2008-14. His other notable TV roles were playing Carter Howard on 'The Inside' and Shinwell Johnson on 'Elementary.' His best-known movie role was as Bobby Byrd in 2014's 'Get on Up.' He also acted in movies like, 'The Express', 'Secretariat', 'Gods Behaving Badly' and 'The Stanford Prison Experiment.' Ellis died on July 8 at age 39 due to complications from heart failure.


Gene Conley (1930-2017) was an MLB pitcher and a forward/center in the NBA, noted for being one of only two men (Otto Graham) to win championships in two major American sports. In his MLB career, Conly played from 1952-63 for the Boston/Milwaukee Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, and the Boston Red Sox. He was a four-time All-Star and won the 1957 World Series with the Braves.

For his career, he had a 91-96 record with a 3.82 ERA and 888 strikeouts.

In the NBA, Conley was drafted 90th by the Boston Celtics in the 1952 draft. He played his rookie season in 1952-53, but then decided to focus on baseball until coming back and playing for the Celtics from 1958-61 and the Knicks from 1962-64. He also played for the ABA's Washington Tapers from 1961-62 and the Hartford Capitals of the Eastern Basketball League from 1966-68.

In his NBA career, he won three championships with the Celtics from 1959-61 and averaged 5.9 points and 6.3 rebounds. Conley died on July 4 at age 86 from congestive heart failure.


Spencer Johnson (1938-2017) was an author best known for his 'ValueTales' series of 43 children's books, which he published between 1977 and 1998. He is also known for his 1998 motivational business fable, 'Who Moved My Cheese?', which sold 25 million copies and made it onto the 'New York Times' Bestseller list. He also wrote 'Yes or No: The Guide to Better Decisions', 'Peaks and Valleys' and co-authored the 'One Minute Manager' series with Ken Blanchard. Johnson died on July 3 at age 78.

Diego E. Hernandez (1934-2017) was a United State Navy officer who served from 1955 until 1991.

During the Vietnam War, he flew two combat tours. He held command on the USS John F. Kennedy and USS Truckee during his career. He last active duty assignment was as Deputy Commander in Chief of U.S. Space Command.

He was also dual-hatted as Vice Commander, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the first Hispanic commander to be named to that role. Some of the awards he won during his career include a Purple Heart, Silver Star, Legion of Merit and a Distinguished Service Medal. Hernandez died on July 6 at age 83.