“One of the all-time GREAT vocalists,” wrote Trace Adkins, who featured with Diffie on a recent song by HARDY. “Joe Diffie was my friend. RIP, buddy.”
Alan Merrill was literally big in Japan—he was a rare Western singer to break out in the country in the ’60s and ’70s—but he’s best remembered for being the cowriter of “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll,” which later became a smash hit for Joan Jett. Merrill died on March 29. He was 69.
On Facebook, Merrill’s daughter, Laura, wrote that she saw him perform a couple of weeks before his death. “He played down the ‘cold’ he thought he had,” she wrote.
Merrill recorded “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” in 1975 with his band, the Arrows. Six years later, Jett covered the track and it exploded. The song topped the charts and is regularly considered one of the best of the ’80s. “[It] was a knee-jerk response to the Rolling Stones’ ‘It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll,’” Merrill said in a 2009 interview. “I remember watching it on Top of the Pops. I’d met Mick Jagger socially a few times, and I knew he was hanging around with Prince Rupert Loewenstein and people like that jetsetters. I almost felt like ‘It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll’ was an apology to those jet-set princes and princesses that he was hanging around with—the aristocracy, you know. That was my interpretation as a young man: Okay, I love rock and roll.”
A dialect coach who worked with the casts of some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters from the last 30 years, Andrew Jack died on March 31 at 76 from coronavirus complications. “Andrew Jack was as lovely as they come,” director J.J. Abrams, who worked with Jack while making Star Wars: The Force Awakens, wrote on Twitter. “He was so handsome, we had to cast him. Sending love to his friends and family. He will be missed.” Jack served as a dialect coach on both The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. He also had a voice role in Solo: A Star Wars Story.
But his science fiction and fantasy bona fides ran deep. In addition to a galaxy far, far away, Jack worked on Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films and multiple features within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He was a dialect coach on many of Pierce Brosnan’s James Bond films too, and most recently, worked with Matt Reeves on The Batman, the Robert Pattinson–led reboot of the Caped Crusader’s story that was filming in England before the coronavirus pandemic forced production to go on a hiatus.
New Orleans jazz legend Ellis Marsalis, the father of musicians Wynton and Branford Marsalis, died on April 1 at the age of 85 after being admitted to the hospital with pneumonia-like symptoms. He had been tested for the coronavirus before his death (the results are still pending).
“He was the prototype of what we mean when we talk about New Orleans jazz,” New Orleans mayor LaToya Cantrell said in a statement. “He was a teacher, a father, and an icon—and words aren’t sufficient to describe the art, the joy and the wonder he showed the world. This loss cuts us deeply.”
Marsalis was a music educator as well as a deft performer, having taught not just his sons but also Harry Connick Jr. and Terence Blanchard, among many others.
Julie Bennett wasn’t a household name, but, for three decades, her voice was piped into homes around the country. She voiced Cindy Bear, the love interest to Yogi Bear in the widely popular Hanna-Barbera cartoons, and lent her dulcet tones to a number of other cartoons as well. As an actor, Bennett appeared on some of the most popular television shows of the 1950s, including Dragnet and Leave It to Beaver, and worked well into the 1980s. Bennett died on March 31 at 88 of complications from the coronavirus.
To residents of Martha’s Vineyard, Lee Fierro was a local legend, a woman who spent decades mentoring more than 1,000 children at the local theater workshop. But to the millions of others who have watched Jaws, Steven Spielberg‘s 1975 thriller that launched the modern summer blockbuster, Fierro was Mrs. Kintner, the grieving and outraged mother who slaps Chief Brody (Roy Schneider) after her son is killed. It was announced on April 5 that Fierro had died at age 91 as a result of complications due to coronavirus.