Musican Gurley and sportscaster Michael also pass away

Actress Connie Hines, who played Wilbur’s wife on the popular 1960s television show “Mister Ed,” died Dec. 18. She was 78.James Gurley, the innovative guitarist who helped shape psychedelic rock’s multilayered, sometimes thundering sounds as a member of Big Brother and the Holding Company, the band that propelled Janis Joplin to fame, died Dec. 20 in Palm Springs of a heart attack. He was 69.George Michael, a longtime Washington, D.C.-based sportscaster for WRC-TV and NBC, who attracted a nationwide following as host of popular weekly show “The George Michael Sports Machine,” died Dec. 24 in D.C. of cancer. He was 70.

Her “Mister Ed” co-star Alan Young told the Los Angeles Times that Hines died at her Beverly Hills home from complications of heart problems.

Hines was best known for portraying Carol Post on the show that featured a talking horse. She wrote a book in 2007 entitled “Mister Ed and Me and More.”

Born in Massachusetts, Hines also appeared in the 1960 film “Thunder in Carolina” and such TV shows as “The Millionaire,” “Johnny Ringo” and “Riverboat.”

Hines was married twice, the second time to Lee Savin, an entertainment lawyer and producer. Savin died in 1995.

One of many prominent guitarists to emerge from San Francisco’s psychedelic music scene in the mid-1960s — others included the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia, Jefferson Airplane’s Jorma Kaukonen and Barry Melton of Country Joe and the Fish — Gurley was hailed by many as the original innovator of the sound.

I would say all of my guitar-playing contemporaries strived to have their own sound, but I think James was a huge influence on all of us because he wasn’t afraid to break the boundaries of conventional music,” Melton said Thursday. “What one thinks of that genre of music is that place that it takes you to where the beat is just assumed and the whole thing is transported to another place, and James is the guy who started that.”

Doing things like using an electric vibrator as a slide on his guitar and picking up amplifiers and shaking them during performances, Gurley created a loud, esoteric sound that was the driving force behind Joplin’s voice on such classic songs as “Ball and Chain,” “Piece of My Heart” and “Summertime.”

Some of the innovations were the result of the fact he came from kind of a progressive bluegrass school of music where weirdness was encouraged,” said Peter Albin, the group’s bass player.

One of the few rock guitarists to use finger picks rather than a flat pick, Gurley had taught himself to play by listening to old Lightnin’ Hopkins blues records as a teenager. He was playing acoustic guitar in a coffee house in San Francisco in 1965 when legendary counterculture figure Chet Helms, founder of the Family Dog commune, introduced him to the other band members.

Although Joplin would become the public face of the band when she joined in 1966, Albin recalled Gurley as a force of nature who introduced the other members to alternative lifestyles, psychedelic drugs and musical innovation.

He was very influential to the whole band early on, and even later, just by being a guy who had strange tastes and played guitar in a very bizarre manner,” Albin told the Associated Press.

When he first met Gurley, Albin said, the guitarist was living in a walk-in closet with his wife and young son and told him that before that he’d lived in a cardboard house along the California coast and with indigenous people in the mountains of Mexico, where he had taken part in hallucinogenic religious ceremonies.

After Joplin left Big Brother in 1968, the group disbanded, but it has since re-formed and continues to perform to this day. Gurley left for good in the late 1990s after a falling out with the other members.

Born in Detroit in 1939, Gurley was the son of a stunt-car driver and, according to the band’s website, would sometimes perform as a “human hood ornament” when his father drove a car through a flaming plywood wall.

After leaving Big Brother, he lived quietly in Palm Desert, occasionally working on solo projects. He released the album “Pipe Dreams” in 2000.

He is survived by his wife, Margaret, and two sons.

Michael began his broadcasting career as a record promoter in his native St. Louis during the 1960s and working for several Midwestern radio stations. He was later hired by WFIL-AM Philadelphia as a rock-and-roll DJ known as “King George.” In 1974 he joined WABC-AM New York as successor to Bruce Morrow as a top-40s jock.

Michael was lured into TV sports in 1980 by WRC, an NBC O&O, where he parlayed an oversized personality, strong competitive zeal and flair for showmanship into a role as the city’s dominant sportscaster until retiring in 2008. He quickly earned a reputation among fans for his affably contemptuous style of interviewing area sports figures including pompous team owners. He was viewed by competitors as a tireless and enterprising reporter and by colleagues as a sometimes-demanding perfectionist.

Sports Machine” was launched in 1984 as the first nationwide sports show, airing Sunday nights for more than 20 years to a peak audience of 194 U.S. markets and 10 foreign countries. It pioneered the use of satellite-fed video clips of prominent sports events, along with NASCAR, rodeo riding, professional wrestling and even dog shows. It was canceled in 2007.

Michael also created and hosted two D.C. sports shows, “Redskins Report” and “Full Court Press.” The shows helped launch the TV careers of Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, two Washington Post sports columnists who co-host ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption.”

He is survived by his wife of 31 years, Patricia, as well as a daughter.

Vic Chesnutt, the paraplegic singer-songwriter whose dark, candid songs dealt with human frailty and mortality, died Friday in Athens, Ga. He was 45.

Chesnutt’s label, Montreal-based Constellation Records, confirmed the musician’s passing on its website on Christmas afternoon. Reports indicate he had taken an intentional overdose of prescription medication.

The vocalist, who had attempted suicide in the past, had bemoaned mounting hospital bills in recent interviews. He had struggled with depression and drug and alcohol abuse throughout his life.

Born in Jacksonville, Fla., Chesnutt began writing songs at an early age. A 1983 car crash left him confined to a wheelchair, but he continued to write and perform in a pared-down style. He credited his mature, ruminative writing style to his discovery of “The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry.”

After moving to Athens to study English, Chesnutt became active in the city’s fertile music scene, playing regularly at its most prominent venue, the 40 Watt. One of his chief sponsors was Michael Stipe, lead vocalist of R.E.M., who produced his first two albums, “Little” (1990) and “West of Rome” (1992), for the small Los Angeles independent label Texas Hotel. Summing up Chesnutt’s early work in “The Trouser Press Guide to ’90s Rock,” critic Ira Robbins noted, “His skilled songwriting burns with reality’s pain while glowing with imagination.”

Two more indie releases secured a cult reputation for Chesnutt, who was also the subject of Pete Sillen’s 1992 documentary “Speed Racer: Welcome to the World of Vic Chesnutt.” In 1995, he released the first of two albums he recorded with Brute, a collaborative project with members of the jam band Widespread Panic.

He reached the apex of his renown in 1996, when Columbia Records issued “Sweet Relief II: The Gravity of the Situation,” a benefit album on which such top acts as R.E.M., Madonna and Smashing Pumpkins interpreted his songs. The same year, he released “About to Choke” on major label Capitol Records. An album for Capricorn Records’ Velocette subsidiary, “The Salesman and Bernadette,” followed in 1998; he was backed on the collection by Nashville alt-country group Lambchop.

During the ’00s, he recorded for the L.A. roots label New West (which also reissued his Texas Hotel work) and Constellation; his two albums for the latter label featured contributions by
Guy Picciotto of the Washington, D.C., punk band Fugazi and members of the experimental Canadian groups Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mt. Zion Orchestra.

His most recent album, “At the Cut,” was released in September. He reportedly cut an as-yet-unreleased set with singer-songwriter Jonathan Richman.

Casting director Shari Rhodes died Dec. 20 in Santa Fe, N.M., after a long battle with breast cancer. She was 71.

Rhodes was an exec producer on “The Man in the Moon” and helped give Reese Witherspoon her start. Most recently, she has been location casting in New Mexico casting for the TV series “Breaking Bad,” “In Plain Sight” and “Crash.”

She started in the casting department on films including “Jaws” and served as casting director on “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Mulholland Falls.” Her feature film credits include “Tender Mercies,” “Once Upon a Time in the Hood,” “Even Money,” “The Sandlot.” Rhodes handled location casting for films including “There Will Be Blood,” “Mississippi Burning,” “Come See the Paradise” and “Raggedy Man.”

She also worked on TV projects including “The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” “Walker, Texas Ranger” and “The Dollmaker.”

She is survived by her mother, two sisters and a brother.

Donations may be made to Presbyterian Medical Services, Hospice Center, 1400 Chama Ave., Santa Fe, NM 87505.

Alaina Reed-Amini, the Broadway star and TV actress best known for her long-running roles on “Sesame Street” and “227,” died Dec. 17 in Santa Monica after a two-year battle with breast cancer. She was 63.

Previously known as Alaina Reed Hall, she remarried in 2008. Her stage credits include “Chicago” and “Hair.” She appeared in several movies, including “Cruel Intentions” and “Death Becomes Her,” and in guest-starring roles on numerous TV shows such as “ER,” “NYPD Blue,” “The Drew Carey Show” and “Ally McBeal.”

Reed-Amini joined the “Sesame Street” cast in 1976 and played Olivia, a photographer and sister of the character Gordon. She remained on the show until 1988.

She starred on NBC’s “227″ from 1985-90, playing the landlady and best friend of the show’s main character. On the show’s final season, Reed-Amini married a character played by her real-life husband, Kevin Peter Hall, who died in 1991.

Born Bernice Reed in Springfield, Ohio, Reed-Amini is survived by her husband, Tamim Amini, and two children from a previous marriage.

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