Elaine Stritch 1925–2014

The actress and Broadway icon wasn’t always easy to work with. But she was beloved

One word—brash—kept surfacing in the chorus of tributes to Elaine Stritch, 89, the showbiz survivor who died July 17 in her native Michigan after battling stomach cancer, diabetes, alcoholism and just about anything else that dared come into her crossfire. Brash may have been an understatement. The ferocious actress and singer “scared the hell out of me,” says her friend and agent Joel Dean. “She was a character—and a great lady.” While never a star at the box office, Stritch became a Broadway legend, a status cemented by her delivery of Stephen Sondheim’s “The Ladies Who Lunch” in the 1970 musical Company—her sheer spirit raised the rafters—and then again with her 2001 one-woman show (later filmed for HBO), Elaine Stritch: At Liberty. Stritch may not always have been kind— her hardly maternal Colleen Donaghy on 30 Rock wasn’t exactly thinly veiled— but then the fates weren’t necessarily kind to her. She lost two plum roles that could have made her a TV fortune: Trixie on The Honeymooners and Dorothy on The Golden Girls. And her one marriage, to actor John Bay, lasted only nine years, until his death in 1982. Still, she was admired and adored, a Manhattan fixture who lived for decades in the swank Carlyle Hotel. Tweeted her TV son Alec Baldwin after her passing: “I’m sure that even God is a bit nervous right now. I love you, Elaine.”

ENGAGED

Jeff Goldblum, 61, proposed to Emilie Livingston, 31, on July 8. “I was taken over by tears of joy n ecstasy!” she posted on Twitter. After popping the question, the actor flew his actress-aerialist bride-to-be to Hawaii for a romantic getaway.

• Two and a Half Men actress Aly Michalka, 25, is engaged to Stephen Ringer. The director proposed while the two were hiking in Big Sur, Calif. “I definitely want a really relaxed, sentimental wedding,” she told People. “I don’t want it to be insanely expensive.”

DEATHS

Blues legend Johnny Winter died July 16 while on tour in Europe. He was 70. The cause of death is unknown, though Winter was recently diagnosed with pneumonia. His new album Step Back is set for a September release and features collaborations with other acclaimed guitarists such as Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler.

• Skye McCole Bartusiak, who played the youngest daughter of Mel Gibson’s character in The Patriot, died on July 19 at her home in Houston. She was 21. Investigators had not determined a cause of death at press time, but Bartusiak had been suffering from epileptic seizures in the days before she died, according to her mother, Helen McCole Bartusiak. “She was a kind and really beautiful girl,” her mother told CNN.

HONORED

Retired Army Staff Sgt. Ryan M. Pitts, 28, became the ninth living recipient of the Medal of Honor for actions during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq when President Obama presented him on July 21 with the highest honor for military bravery. Six years ago, after suffering a critical wound to his right leg, Pitts hurled a series of grenades to defend his platoon in one of the bloodiest battles of the war in Afghanistan. “This was a team effort,” Pitts, from Nashua, N.H., said of the award. “It belongs to every man there that day.”

SPLIT

It’s over between Alias actor Michael Vartan, 45, and his wife of three years. Lauren Skaar filed for divorce from the actor, citing irreconcilable differences. “It’s a thing that people always say: ‘When you know, you’ll know.’ I never really understood what that meant, and I do now,” he told PEOPLE in 2010. “I literally cannot imagine my life without her. It’s crazy. It’s wonderful.”

Rallying for a Police Chief

Crystal Moore was fired—for being gay, she says. Then her town voted to hire her back

When openly gay Police Chief Crystal Moore was fired from her job by a mayor who called her lifestyle “questionable,” the conservative town of Latta, S.C., banded together and voted overwhelmingly to get her reinstated. “People came with their walkers and their oxygen hooked to them to vote,” Moore says. “That was tear-jerking. People that I had locked up were here saying, ‘I’m here to support you.’ ” Councilman Jarett Taylor adds, “It was all about Crystal. They wanted her to have her job back.” For his part Mayor Earl Bullard denies he let Moore go because of her sexual orientation: “I don’t have anything against gays.”

Why I Care

PERSONAL STORIES ABOUT GIVING BACK

Minnie Driver

The actress works to fight poverty—and teaches her son to help people in need

I was 8 when I did my first sponsored swim for Oxfam. Whenever there was a crisis in our world, it was always the organization that I raised money for, because I trusted them from a very young age. Apart from attending meetings and raising awareness about the charity, which fights poverty around the world, I’ve lobbied CEOs to try to make their companies more ethically inspired, and I’ve traveled to Southeast Asia with Oxfam, working for women and children’s labor rights. We visited a garment factory in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where there were six girls living in a space no bigger than a prison cell. They have one day off a year, which is the Buddha’s birthday, and we happened to be there. It also was this 17-year-old girl’s birthday, and she had no way of visiting her family, so we all got in this truck. We came into her village, and her mom dropped the broom that she was sweeping with. She was running and crying. They hadn’t seen each other in a few years, and it was one of the most beautiful moments. I’ll do whatever Oxfam asks me to do. I want to teach my son [Henry, 5] the importance of service, and of kindness.

For more information, go to oxfam.org

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