Speed queen Mary Victor Bruce, 94, who was arrested in 1930 for flying a small plane in a tight circle around New York City’s Empire Slate Building, died of natural causes May 21 at her home at Bradford-on-Avon, England. A British-born daredevil, Bruce set auto racing, horse-show jumping, flying and boating records, including a 79-minute powerboat crossing of the English Channel in 1929. At age 81, she climbed back into a cockpit after a 37-year layoff and looped the loop. “What a lark!” she said. “It’s knocked 50 years off my life.”
Vic Tayback, who, as Mel, for nine seasons flipped burgers and dished with the waitresses at Mel’s Diner in CBS’s Alice series, died at age 60 of a heart attack in Los Angeles. The actor, whose own father was a short-order cook, created the role of Mel in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, the 1975 film upon which the TV series was based. “He was very dear, and I’ll miss him enormously,” says Alice’s Linda Lavin.
Just 26 days after their Las Vegas wedding, Guns N’ Roses singer Axl Rose, 28, has filed for divorce from wife Erin Everly, 24, the daughter of singer Don Everly. The couple had been together, on and off, for three years. A judge will determine property rights and assets division.
Rocky Graziano, a boxer who went from brawling in the streets of Manhattan’s Lower East Side to winning the middleweight championship in 1947, died at age 71 of heart failure on May 22 in New York City. Born Thomas Rocco Barbella, Graziano said of his rough childhood, “I never lost a street fight. Never.” He lost with the law, however, since he was put on parole after stealing from a subway gum machine and then was sent off to reform school at age 12 for stealing a bicycle. “Rocky G. attended the same college of the streets as me. And like me, he was counted out by the courts before he even got started,” says heavyweight contender Mike Tyson, a Graziano devotee. Graziano retired in 1952, following 11 years in the ring. He then began a show business career, appearing in the 1950s on The Martha Raye Show and The Henny and Rocky Show, and was perennially popular for his warmth and tough-guy humor. In his later years, he acted as a commercial spokesman for everything from foot powder to dog food and appeared in ads for a pizza parlor chain bearing his name. A film of his life story, Somebody Up There Likes Me, was made in 1956 with Paul Newman starring as Graziano.
Comedian Chevy Chase, 46 (below), was awarded an honorary doctorate on May 26 by his alma mater, Bard College. Chase advised the graduates, “Avoid smoking, drugs, Bensonhurst, the Gaza Strip, bungee jumping, humorless people…and never call me.”
…Also picking up honorary degrees were: Baseball’s Joe DiMaggio, from Columbia University; Bill Cosby, from Notre Dame; musician Wynton Marsalis, from the State University of New York at Buffalo; cartoonist Garry Trudeau and Lady Bird Johnson, from Johns Hopkins; and Robert Redford, from the University of Massachusetts.