Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Series-Disabled Legend David Niven

James David Graham Niven was born on 1 March 1910 in London, England, UK and died on 29 July 1983 in Switzerland of motor neurone disease (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) at the age of 73. Bitter, estranged, and plagued by depression, David Niven’s wife Hjördis showed up drunk at the funeral, having been persuaded to attend by family friend Prince Rainier III of Monaco. Hjördis added insult to injury by noting in her will that “under no circumstances” was she to be buried alongside her husband in the place left for her in the crypt in Switzerland.

David Niven was an English Academy Award-winning actor probably best known for his role as the punctuality-obsessed adventurer Phileas Fogg in Around the World in 80 Days (1956).

David Niven was the son of William Edward Graham Niven and the French/British Henrietta Julia Degacher who was born in Wales, was the daughter of army officer William Degacher (who changed his original name of Hitchcock to his mother’s maiden name of Degacher in 1874 and Julia Caroline, the daughter of Lieutenant General James Webber Smith. James was named David for his birth on St. David’s Day. Although he often claimed to have been born in Kirriemuir, Angus, Scotland in 1909, it was only after his birth certificate was checked following his death that this was found to be incorrect.

David’s father was killed during the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915 and his mother remarried Sir Thomas Comyn-Platt. In his biography, NIV: The Authorised Biography of David Niven, Graham Lord suggests that Comyn-Platt had been conducting an affair with David Niven’s mother for some time prior to her husband’s death, and that Sir Thomas may well have been David Niven’s biological father, a supposition not without some support from her children.

After attending Stowe as a boy, David Niven trained at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, which gave him the “officer and gentleman” bearing that was to be his trademark. Although he had done well at Sandhurst, David Niven did not enjoy his time in the regular Army, in part because he was not accepted for the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders on which he had set his heart. David served for 2 years in Malta and 2 years in Dover with the Highland Light Infantry. While on Malta, he became acquainted and friendly with Captain Roy Urquhart, who would later lead the British 1st Airborne Division in the ill-fated Operation Market-Garden.

David Niven grew tired of the peacetime Army and saw no opportunity for promotion or advancement. As he related in his memoirs, his ultimate decision to resign came after a lengthy lecture on machine guns, which was interfering with his plans for dinner with a particularly attractive young lady. At the end of the speech, the major general giving the lecture asked if there were any questions. Showing the typical rebelliousness of his early years, David Niven stated that he felt compelled to ask, “Could you tell me the time, sir? I have to catch a train.”

After being placed under close arrest for this act of insubordination, David Niven claims to have finished a bottle of whisky with the officer who was guarding him and, with the connivance of the latter, escaped from a 1st floor window. En route across the Atlantic, David Niven sent a telegram resigning his commission. David Niven relocated to New York, where he began an unsuccessful career in whisky sales and horse rodeo promotion in Atlantic City. After subsequent detours to Bermuda and Cuba, he finally arrived in Hollywood in the summer of 1934.

According to his autobiography, The Moon’s a Balloon, David Niven arrived in Hollywood to try to break into the movies by first finding work as an extra. David was given lodgings with the Belzer family, one of whose daughters – Gretchen – was already a major Hollywood star, under her stage name of Loretta Young. When he presented himself at the doors of Central Casting, he found out that he had to have a work permit, to allow him to reside and work in the U.S. Luckily for him, he was given the chance to do a screen test for director Edmund Goulding. Unfortunately, it was not long after this that he was paid a visit by the U.S. Immigration Service and told he had to apply for a Resident Alien Visa.

This meant that David Niven had to leave U.S. soil in the meantime, and again, according to his autobiography, he left for Mexico – specifically Mexicali – where he worked as a “gun-man”, cleaning and polishing the rifles of the visiting Americans who came there to hunt quail and various other game. After a lengthy wait for his birth certificate to be sent out from England, he successfully applied – and received – his Resident Alien Visa from the American Consulate. David then returned to the U.S. and was accepted by Central Casting as “Anglo-Saxon Type No. 2008.”

David Niven’s first work as an extra was as a Mexican in a Western. This inauspicious start notwithstanding, he then found himself an agent – Bill Hawks. After this, he was then signed up for a non-speaking part in MGM’s “Mutiny On The Bounty” (1935), starring Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian and Charles Laughton as Captain Bligh.

David Niven then landed a long-term contract as a supporting player with independent film producer Samuel Goldwyn, which firmly established his career and enabled him to become a leading man in many films. Given his privileged English upbringing, David Niven had no problems infiltrating what became known as the Hollywood Raj, a select group of British actors who had made Hollywood their home. Other members of the group, included Boris Karloff, Stan Laurel, Basil Rathbone, Ronald Colman and their self appointed leader C. Aubrey Smith. One of his 1st major roles was in The Charge of the Light Brigade in 1936, in which he starred alongside one of his closest friends Errol Flynn. A year later he starred as Capt. Fritz von Tarlenheim in 1937’s The Prisoner of Zenda with C Aubrey Smith and Ronald Colman. However, not wanting to be typecast as a ‘swashbuckler’ as Errol Flynn had been, David Niven also made films in a light hearted vein such as the 1939 RKO comedy Bachelor Mother with Ginger Rogers, and Raffles, in which he played a gentleman thief.

After the United Kingdom declared war in 1939, David Niven was one of the 1st British actors to return to England. David rejoined the British Army. 1st serving with the Rifle Brigade, David Niven was assigned to a motor training battalion. David Niven later interviewed for a position with the British Commandos, and was assigned to a training base at Inverailort House in the Western Highlands of Scotland. David Niven would later claim credit for introducing British hero Robert Laycock to the Commandos. Working with the Army Film Unit, he also took part in the deception campaign, using a minor actor M.E. Clifton James, a Montgomery lookalike, to convince the Germans that the D-Day landings would be made in the Mediterranean. Promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel by General Frederick E. Morgan and assigned as a liaison officer between the British Second Army and the First United States Army, David Niven took part in the Normandy landings, arriving several days after D-Day. David acted in 2 films during the war, both of strong propaganda value: The First of the Few (1942) and The Way Ahead (1944). During his war service, his batman was Private Peter Ustinov (with whom he would later co-star in Death on the Nile).

David Niven remained politely, but firmly, close-mouthed about the war, despite public interest in celebrities in combat and a reputation for telling good stories over and over again. David said once: “I will, however, tell you just one thing about the war, my first story and my last. I was asked by some American friends to search out the grave of their son near Bastogne. I found it where they told me I would, but it was among 27,000 others, and I told myself that here, David Niven, were 27,000 reasons why you should keep your mouth shut after the war.” David Niven also had special scorn for the newspaper columnists covering the war who typed out self-glorifying and excessively florid prose about their meagre wartime experiences. David Niven stated, “Anyone who says a bullet sings past, hums past, flies, pings, or whines past, has never heard one − they go crack.” One story has surfaced: about to lead his men into a battle with an expectation of heavy casualties, David Niven supposedly eased their nervousness by telling them, “It’s all very well for you chaps, but I’ll have to do this all over again in Hollywood with Errol Flynn!”

David Niven did, however, finally open up about his war experience in his 1971 autobiography, The Moon’s a Balloon, mentioning his private conversations with Winston Churchill, the bombings, and what it was like entering a nearly completely destroyed Germany with the occupation forces. David Niven stated that he first met Winston Churchill during a dinner party in February 1940 when Winston Churchill singled him out from the crowd and stated, “Young man, you did a fine thing to give up your film career to fight for your country. Mark you, had you not done so − it would have been despicable.”

In spite of a 6 year virtual absence from the screen, he came 2nd in the 1945 Popularity Poll of British film stars. On his return to Hollywood after the war, he was made a Legionnaire of the Legion of Merit, the highest American order that can be earned by a foreigner. This was presented to Lt. Col. David Niven by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.

David Niven was actually a member of the specialist Phantom Signals Unit, and was responsible for reporting and locating enemy positions, bomb lines and also keeping rear Commanders up to date on changing battle lines. David Niven was posted at one time to Chilham in Kent. Dwight Eisenhower was so disappointed with communications difficulty on D-Day that he personally ordered a Phantom Unit to be attached to his headquarters.

David Niven resumed his career after the war, with films such as A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Around the World in 80 Days (1956) (as Phileas Fogg), The Guns Of Navarone (1961), and The Pink Panther (1963).

The same year as he hosted the show with Jack Lemmon and Bob Hope, David Niven won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in Separate Tables (1958). David Niven had a long and complex relationship with Samuel Goldwyn, who had first given him his start, but whom David Niven believed had been treating him unfairly. Despite their long business history, David Niven and Samuel Goldwyn went through an 8 year estrangement in which David Niven was essentially blacklisted from the movie industry after demanding greater compensation for his work. After winning the Academy Award, David Niven received a telephone call from Samuel Goldwyn with the invitation that he should come to his home. David Niven claimed that he was in Samuel Goldwyn’s drawing room when he noticed a picture of him in uniform that he had sent to Samuel Goldwyn from England during World War II. David claimed that in happier times with Goldwyn, he had observed this same picture sitting on top of Samuel Goldwyn’s piano. Now years later, the picture was still in the exact same spot. David Niven claimed that as he was looking at the picture, Samuel Goldwyn’s wife, Francis, approached him and said, “Sam never took it down.”

David Niven had in fact been Ian Fleming’s preference for the part of James Bond, however EON Productions chose Sean Connery for their series. In 1967, he starred with Deborah Kerr and Barbara Bouchet in the James Bond satire, Casino Royale. In a documentary included with the U.S. DVD of the 1967 release of Casino Royale, Charles K. Feldman states that Ian Fleming had written the book with David Niven in mind, and therefore sent a copy of the book to David. David Niven is the only James Bond actor who is mentioned by name in the text of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond visits an exclusive ski resort in Switzerland where he is told that David Niven is a frequent visitor and in You Only Live Twice, David Niven is referred to as the only real gentleman in Hollywood.

Late in life, he gained critical acclaim for his memoirs of his boyhood and acting career, The Moon’s a Balloon (1971) and Bring On the Empty Horses (1975). Although it has since come to light that despite David Niven’s frequent recounting of anecdotes about Hollywood in a manner that suggested that he had been personally involved at the time, in many cases he had not in fact been a witness to them and he was merely embroidering stories he had heard at third hand.

Perhaps one of David Niven’s finest moments came when he had to present the 46th Annual Oscars ceremony, and a naked man appeared behind him, running across the stage. Not to be outclassed or nonplussed even for a moment, David Niven came back with the one liner “Isn’t it fascinating to think, that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life, is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings!”

After a whirlwind 2 week romance in 1940, David Niven married Primula Susan Rollo (1918, London – 21 May 1946, Beverly Hills, California), the aristocratic daughter of a British lawyer. The couple had 2 sons, David Jr. and Jamie. Primula died at age 28, only 6 weeks after moving to America, of a fractured skull and brain lacerations from an accidental fall in the home of Tyrone Power. While playing hide and seek, she walked through a door believing it led to a closet. Instead, it led to a stone staircase to the basement. David Niven recalled this as the darkest period of his life, years afterwards thanking his friends for their patience and forbearance during this time. David later claimed to have been so grief stricken that he thought for a while that he’d gone mad. David eventually rallied and returned to film making.

David Niven met Hjördis Paulina Tersmeden (née Genberg, 1921–1997), a divorced Swedish fashion model and frustrated actress, in 1948. The moment of his meeting her was recounted by David Niven in what might be a classic example of his writing style:

I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life – tall, slim, auburn hair, uptilted nose, lovely mouth and the most enormous grey eyes I had ever seen. It really happened the way it does when written by the worst lady novelists…I goggled. I had difficulty swallowing and had champagne in my knees.

They married 10 days later.

In October 1951, while pheasant shooting with friends in New England, Hjördis was shot in the face, neck and chest by 2 of David Niven’s companions. While convalescing in the Blackstone Hotel in New York, David Niven and Hjördis were next door neighbours with Audrey Hepburn, who made her debut on Broadway that season. In 1960, while filming Please Don’t Eat the Daisies with Doris Day, David Niven and Hjördis separated for a few weeks, though they later reconciled.

They had 2 adopted daughters, Kristin and Fiona, one of whom has long been rumored to be David Niven’s child by another fashion model, Mona Gunnarson. The marriage was as tumultuous as David Niven’s previous marriage had been happy. Thwarted from pursuing an acting career, Hjördis was reported as having affairs with other men and became an alcoholic.

In February 1983, using a false name to avoid publicity, David Niven was hospitalised for 10 days for treatment, ostensibly for a digestive problem. Afterwards, he returned to his chalet at Chateau d’Oex in Switzerland, where his condition continued to decline. David refused to return to the hospital, and his family supported his decision.

According to Graham Lord, who wrote a biography on David Niven, called simply “Niv”, Lord writes that there have been reports that some have accused David Niven of being especially friendly to people who could have done him some good. Graham Lord also says that “the biggest wreath, worthy of a Mafia Godfather’s funeral, was delivered from the porters at London’s Heathrow Airport, along with a card that read: “To the finest gentleman who ever walked through these halls. David Niven made a porter feel like a king.”

David Niven died on the same day as Raymond Massey, his co-star in The Prisoner of Zenda and A Matter of Life and Death. David Niven had just completed work on Trail of the Pink Panther and Curse of the Pink Panther. David was incomprehensible at times during the filming of both movies, and his voice was dubbed over in post-production by impressionist Rich Little, a fact that David Niven later learned through a gossip column.

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Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Series-Disabled Legend Lane Smith

Walter Lane Smith III was born on 29 April, 1936 in Memphis, Tennessee, USA and died on 13 June, 2005 of Lou Gehrig’s Disease at his home in Northridge, California at the age of 69. Lane Smith was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease in April 2005.

Lane was an American actor best known for his role as Perry White in the American television series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and as Richard Nixon in The Final Days, for which he received a Golden Globe award nomination.

Lane graduated from The Leelanau School, a boarding school in Glen Arbor, Michigan where he is enshrined in the school’s Hall of Fame, and spent 1 year boarding at The Hill School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania before going off to study at the Actors Studio in the late 1950s and early 1960s along with Dustin Hoffman and Al Pacino.

After his graduation, he found steady work in New York theater before making his film debut in Maidstone in 1970. During the 1970s, he regularly made appearances in small film roles including Rooster Cogburn in 1975 and Network in 1976. Lane also acted on television, notably playing a U.S. Marine in Vietnam in the made for television miniseries A Rumor of War.

Lane made a major breakthrough in 1984 with significant roles in Red Dawn, Places in the Heart and the television series V. In 1989, Lane Smith gained great recognition for his portrayal of former President Richard Nixon in the docudrama The Final Days. Newsweek praised Lane Smith’s role by stating, “is such a good Nixon that his despair and sorrow at his predicament become simply overwhelming.” Lane Smith later earned a Golden Globe nomination for his performance. Lane Smith also appeared in the original Broadway stage production of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross as James Lingk. For his role, he received a Drama Desk Award.

In 1990, he appeared in Air America playing a U.S. Senator. 2 years later, he played a small-town district attorney opposite Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny, followed by a role as Coach Jack Reilly in The Mighty Ducks. However, it was not until 1993 that Lane Smith landed his 1st major television role as Perry White in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. The show last for 4 seasons before ending in 1997. Lane Smith’s final film appearance was in The Legend of Bagger Vance in 2000.

Lane Smith was married twice. Lane’s 1st marriage was to writer Sydne MacCall. The couple had 1 son together: Robby Smith born on 24 January, 1987. In 2000, he remarried to Ruth Benedict who had 1 son from a previous marriage.

Lane Smith was previously in a relationship with actress Mariette Hartley before the 2 split.

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Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Series-Disabled Legend Charles Mingus

Charles Mingus was born on 22 April 1922 in Nogales, Arizona and died on 5 January 1979 at the age of 56 in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where he had traveled for treatment and convalescence. Charles’ ashes were scattered in the Ganges River.

At the time of his death, Charles Mingus had been recording an album with singer Joni Mitchell, which included vocal versions of some of his songs (including “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”) among Mitchell originals and short, spoken word duets and home recordings of Joni Mitchell and Charles Mingus. The album also featured Jaco Pastorius, another massively influential bassist and composer.

Charles was an American jazz bassist, composer, bandleader, and occasional pianist. Charles was also known for his activism against racial injustice.

Charles is highly ranked among the composers and performers of jazz, and he recorded many highly regarded albums. Dozens of musicians passed through his bands and later went on to impressive careers. Charles’ tunes—though melodic and distinctive—are not often re-recorded, in part because of their unconventional nature. Charles was also influential and creative as a band leader, recruiting talented and sometimes little-known artists whom he assembled into unconventional and revealing configurations.

Nearly as well known as his ambitious music was Charles’ often fearsome temperament, which earned him the nickname “The Angry Man of Jazz.” Charles’ refusal to compromise his musical integrity led to many on-stage eruptions, though it has been argued that his temper also grew from a need to vent frustration.

Charles was prone to depression. Charles tended to have brief periods of extreme creative activity, intermixed with fairly long periods of greatly decreased output.

Most of Charles’ music retained the hot and soulful feel of hard bop and drew heavily from black gospel music while sometimes drawing on elements of Third Stream, free jazz and even classical music. Yet Charles avoided categorisation, forging his own brand of music that fused tradition with unique and unexplored realms of jazz. Charles focused on collective improvisation, similar to the old New Orleans Jazz parades, paying particular attention to how each band member interacted with the group as a whole. In creating his bands, Charles looked not only at the skills of the available musicians, but also their personalities. Charles strove to create unique music to be played by unique musicians.

Due to his brilliant writing for mid-size ensembles—and his catering to and emphasizing the strengths of the musicians in his groups—Charles is often considered the heir apparent to Duke Ellington, for whom he expressed unqualified admiration. Indeed, Dizzy Gillespie had once claimed Charles reminded him “of a young Duke”, citing their shared “organisational genius.”

Charles was raised largely in the Watts area of Los Angeles, California. Charles’ mother’s paternal heritage was Chinese and English, while historical records indicate that his father was the illegitimate offspring of a black farmhand and his Swedish employer’s white granddaughter.

Charles’ mother allowed only church-related music in their home, but Charles developed an early love for jazz, especially the music of Duke Ellington. Charles studied trombone, and later cello. Much of the cello technique he learned was applicable to double bass when he took up the instrument in high school.

Beginning in his teen years, Charles was writing quite advanced pieces; many are similar to Third Stream Jazz. A number of them were recorded in 1960 with conductor Gunther Schuller, and released as Pre-Bird, referring to Charlie “Bird” Parker.

Charles gained a reputation as something of a bass prodigy. Charles toured with Louis Armstrong in 1943, then played with Lionel Hampton’s band in the late 1940s; Louis performed and recorded several of Charles’ pieces. A popular trio of Charles Mingus, Red Norvo and Tal Farlow in 1950 and 1951 received considerable acclaim, but Charles’ mixed origin caused problems with club owners and he left the group. Charles was briefly a member of Ellington’s band in the early 1950s, and notorious temper reportedly led to his being the only musician personally fired by Ellington (although there are reports that Sidney Bechet in 1925 was another), after an on-stage fight between Charles and Juan Tizol.

Also in the early 1950s, before attaining commercial recognition as a bandleader, Charles played gigs with Charlie Parker, whose compositions and improvisations greatly inspired and influenced him. Charles considered Charlie Parker the greatest genius and innovator in jazz history, but he had a love-hate relationship with Charlie Parker’s legacy. Charles Mingus blamed the Parker mythology for a derivative crop of pretenders to Charlie Parker’s throne. Charles was also conflicted and sometimes disgusted by Charlie Parker’s self-destructive habits and the romanticised lure of drug addiction they offered to other jazz musicians. In response to the many sax players who imitated Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus titled a song, “If Charlie Parker were a Gunslinger, There’d be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats” (released on Mingus Dynasty as “Gunslinging Bird”).

In 1952 Charles co-founded Debut Records with Max Roach, in order to conduct his recording career as he saw fit; the name originated with a desire to document unrecorded young musicians. Despite this, the best known recording the company issued was of the most prominent figures in bebop. On 15 May, 1953, Charles joined Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Max Roach for a concert at Massey Hall in Toronto, which is the last recorded documentation of the two lead instrumentalists playing together. After the event, Charles chose to overdub his barely-audible bass part back in New York; the original version was issued later. The 2 10″ albums of the Massey Hall concert (one featured the trio of Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach) were among Debut Records’ earliest releases. Charles may have objected to the way the major record companies treated musicians, but Gillespie once commented that he did not receive any royalties “for years and years” for his Massey Hall appearance. The records though, are often regarded as among the finest live jazz recordings.

In 1955, Charles was involved in a notorious incident while playing a club date billed as a “reunion” with Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Max Roach. Bud Powell, who had suffered from alcoholism and mental illness for years (potentially exacerbated by a severe police beating and electroshock treatments), had to be helped from the stage, unable to play or speak coherently. As Bud Powell’s incapacitation became apparent, Charlie Parker stood in one spot at a microphone, chanting “Bud Powell…Bud Powell…” as if beseeching Bud Powell’s return. Allegedly, Charlie Parker continued this incantation for several minutes after Bud Powell’s departure, to his own amusement and Charles Mingus’ exasperation. Charles Mingus took another microphone and announced to the crowd, “Ladies and gentlemen, please don’t associate me with any of this. This is not jazz. These are sick people.” This was Charlie Parker’s last public performance, about a week later Charlie Parker died after years of alcohol and drug abuse.

Charles Mingus often worked with a mid-sized ensemble (around 8–10 members) of rotating musicians known as the Jazz Workshop. Charles Mingus broke new ground, constantly demanding that his musicians be able to explore and develop their perceptions on the spot. Those who joined the Workshop (or Sweatshops as they were colorfully dubbed by the musicians) included Pepper Adams, Jaki Byard, Booker Ervin, John Handy, Jimmy Knepper, Charles McPherson and Horace Parlan. Charles Mingus shaped these promising novices into a cohesive improvisational machine that in many ways anticipated free jazz. Some musicians dubbed the workshop a “university” for jazz.

The decade which followed is generally regarded as Charles Mingus’s most productive and fertile period. Impressive new compositions and albums appeared at an astonishing rate: some 30 records in 10 years, for a number of record labels (Atlantic Records, Candid, Columbia Records, Impulse! Records and others), a pace perhaps unmatched by any other musician except Ellington.

Charles Mingus had already recorded around 10 albums as a bandleader, but 1956 was a breakthrough year for him, with the release of Pithecanthropus Erectus, arguably his first major work as both a bandleader and composer. Like Ellington, Charles Mingus wrote songs with specific musicians in mind, and his band for Erectus included adventurous, though distinctly blues-oriented musicians, piano player Mal Waldron, alto saxophonist Jackie McLean and the Sonny Rollins-influenced tenor of J. R. Monterose. The title song is a 10 minute tone poem, depicting the rise of man from his hominid roots (Pithecanthropus erectus) to an eventual downfall. A section of the piece was improvised free of structure or theme.

Another album from this period, The Clown (1957 also on Atlantic Records), with an improvised story on the title track by humorist Jean Shepherd, was the first to feature drummer Dannie Richmond. Dannie Richmond would be his preferred drummer until Charles Mingus’s death in 1979. The two men formed one of the most impressive and versatile rhythm sections in jazz. Both were accomplished performers seeking to stretch the boundaries of their music while staying true to its roots. When joined by pianist Jaki Byard, they were dubbed “The Almighty Three”.

Though he initially expressed rather mixed feelings for Coleman’s innovative music: “…if the free-form guys could play the same tune twice, then I would say they were playing something…Most of the time they use their fingers on the saxophone and they don’t even know what’s going to come out. They’re experimenting.” Charles Mingus was in fact a prime influence of the early free jazz era. Charles Mingus formed a quartet with Dannie Richmond, trumpeter Ted Curson and saxophonist Eric Dolphy. This ensemble featured the same instruments as Coleman’s quartet, and is often regarded as Charles Mingus rising to the challenging new standard established by Coleman. Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus, the quartet’s sole album, is frequently included among the finest in Charles Mingus’s catalogue.

In 1963, Charles Mingus released The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, a sprawling, multi-section masterpiece, described as “one of the greatest achievements in orchestration by any composer in jazz history.” The album was also unique in that Charles Mingus asked his psychotherapist to provide notes for the record.

1963 also saw the release of an unaccompanied album Mingus Plays Piano. Charles’ piano technique, though capable and expressive, was somewhat unrefined when compared to Herbie Hancock or other contemporary jazz pianists, but the album is still generally well regarded. A few pieces were entirely improvised and drew on classical music as much as jazz, preceding Keith Jarrett’s landmark The Köln Concert in those respects by some 12 years.

In 1964 Charles Mingus put together one of his best-known groups, a sextet including Dannie Richmond, Jaki Byard, Eric Dolphy, trumpeter Johnny Coles, and tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan. The group was recorded frequently during its short existence; Johnny Coles fell ill during a European tour. On 28 June, 1964 Eric Dolphy died while in Berlin, and Charles Mingus was evicted from his New York home in 1966.

Charles Mingus’s pace slowed somewhat in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1974 he formed a quintet with Dannie Richmond, pianist Don Pullen, trumpeter Jack Walrath and saxophonist George Adams. They recorded 2 well-received albums, Changes 1 and Changes 2. Charles also played with Charles McPherson in many of his groups during this time.

Cumbia and Jazz Fusion in 1976 sought to blend Colombian music (the “Cumbia” of the title) with more traditional jazz forms.

In 1971, Charles Mingus taught for a semester at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York as the Slee Professor of Music.

By the mid-1970s, Charles Mingus was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (popularly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), a wastage of the musculature. Charles Mingus once formidable bass technique suffered, until he could no longer play the instrument. Charles continued composing, however, and supervised a number of recordings before his death.

The music of Charles Mingus is currently being performed and reinterpreted by the Mingus Big Band, which plays every Tuesday at Iridium Jazz Club in New York City, and often tours the rest of the U.S. and Europe. Elvis Costello has written lyrics for a few Mingus pieces. Charles Mingus had once sung lyrics for one piece, “Invisible Lady”, being backed by the Mingus Big Band on the album, Tonight at Noon: Three of Four Shades of Love.

In addition to the Mingus Big Band, there is the Mingus Orchestra and the Mingus Dynasty, each of which are managed by Jazz Workshop, Inc., and run by Charles’s widow Sue Graham Mingus. Other tribute bands are also active all around the US and the world, including Mingus Amungus in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the Swedish Mingus Band Siegmund Freud’s Mothers in Stockholm.

Epitaph is considered by many to be the masterwork of Charles Mingus. It is a composition which is more than 4,000 measures long, requires 2 hours to perform and was only completely discovered during the cataloging process after his death by musicologist Andrew Homzy. With the help of a grant from the Ford Foundation, the score and instrumental parts were copied, and the piece itself was premiered by a 30-piece orchestra, conducted by Gunther Schuller. This concert was produced by Charles Mingus’s widow, Sue Graham Mingus, at Alice Tully Hall on 3 June, 1989, 10 years after his death. Epitaph is one of the longest jazz pieces ever written.

Considering the number of compositions that Charles Mingus has written, his works have not been recorded as often as comparable jazz composers. Of all his works, his elegant elegy for Lester Young, “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” (from Mingus Ah Um) has probably had the most recordings. Besides recordings from the expected jazz artists, the song has also been recorded by musicians as disparate as Jeff Beck, Andy Summers, Eugene Chadbourne, and Bert Jansch and John Renbourn with and without Pentangle. Joni Mitchell sang a version with lyrics that she wrote for the song. Elvis Costello has recorded “Hora Decubitus” (from Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus) on My Flame Burns Blue (2006). “Better Git It in Your Soul” was covered by Davey Graham on his album “Folk, Blues, and Beyond.” Trumpeter Ron Miles performs a version of “Pithecanthropus Erectus” on his EP “Witness.” New York Ska Jazz Ensemble has done a cover of Charles Mingus’s “Haitian Fight Song”, as have Pentangle and others. Hal Willner’s 1992 tribute album Weird Nightmare: Meditations on Mingus (Columbia Records) contains idiosyncratic renditions of Charles Mingus’s works involving numerous popular musicians including Chuck D, Keith Richards, Henry Rollins and Dr. John. The italian band Quintorigo recorded an entire album devoted to Charles Mingus’ music, titled Play Mingus.

As respected as Charles Mingus was for his musical talents, he was often feared for his sometimes violent onstage temper, which was at times directed at members of his band, and other times aimed at the audience. Charles Mingus was physically large, prone to obesity (especially in his later years), and was by all accounts often intimidating and frightening when expressing anger or displeasure.

When confronted with a nightclub audience talking and clinking ice in their glasses while he performed, Charles Mingus stopped his band and loudly chastised the audience, stating “Isaac Stern doesn’t have to put up with this shit.” Charles once played a prank on a similar group of nightclub chatterers by silencing his band for several seconds, allowing the loud audience members to be clearly heard, then continuing as the rest of the audience snickered at the oblivious “soloists”.

Guitarist and singer Jackie Paris was a first-hand witness to Charles Mingus’s irascibility. Paris recalls his time in the Jazz Workshop: “He chased everybody off the stand except [drummer] Paul Motian and me… The three of us just wailed on the blues for about an hour and a half before he called the other cats back.”

While onstage at a memorial concert in Philadelphia, he reportedly attempted to crush his pianist’s hands with the instrument’s keyboard cover, then punched trombonist Jimmy Knepper in the mouth.[On 12 October, 1962, Charles Mingus slapped Jimmy Knepper in the mouth while the 2 men were working together at Charles Mingus’s apartment on a score for his upcoming concert at New York Town Hall and Jimmy Knepper refused to take on more work. The blow broke a cap and its tooth stub. According to Jimmy Knepper, this ruined his embouchure and resulted in the permanent loss of the top octave of his range on the trombone. This attack ended their working relationship and Jimmy Knepper was unable to perform at the concert. Charged with assault, Charles Mingus appeared in court in January, 1963 and was given a suspended sentence. In another incident, saxophonist Jackie McLean, fearing the bassist was about to kill him, nearly stabbed Charles Mingus after Charles Mingus punched him.

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Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Series-Disabled Legend Lead Belly

Huddie William Ledbetter, was born in January, 1888 and died on 6 December, 1949 in New York City, New York, USA and was buried in the Shiloh Baptist Church cemetery in Mooringsport, 8 miles (13 km) west of Blanchard, Louisiana, in Caddo Parish.

Lead Belly was an American folk and blues musician, notable for his clear and forceful singing, his virtuosity on the 12 string guitar, and the rich songbook of folk standards he introduced.

Ledbetter is best known as Leadbelly or Lead Belly. Though many releases list him as “Leadbelly,” he himself spelled it “Lead Belly.” This is also the usage on his tombstone, as well as the Lead Belly Foundation.

Although he most commonly played the 12 string, he could also play the piano, mandolin, harmonica, violin, concertina, and accordion. In some of his recordings, such as in one of his versions of the folk ballad “John Hardy”, he performs on the accordion instead of the guitar. In other recordings he just sings while clapping his hands or stomping his foot. The topics of Lead Belly’s music covered a wide range of subjects, including gospel songs; blues songs about women, liquor and racism; and folk songs about cowboys, prison, work, sailors, cattle herding and dancing. Lead Belly also wrote songs concerning the newsmakers of the day, such as President Franklin Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler, Jean Harlow, the Scottsboro Boys, and Howard Hughes.

Lead Belly’s date of birth is uncertain. Lead Belly was probably born in January 1888, although his gravestone gives his year of birth as 1889. The earliest year given for his birth has been 1885, although other sources stated either 1888 or 1889. According to the 1900 census, Hudy (the spelling given in the census) is 1 of 2 listed children (the other is his step-sister, Australia Carr), of Wes and Sallie (Brown) Ledbetter of Justice Precinct 2, Harrison County, Texas. Wesley and Sallie were legally born on wednesday 26 February, 1888, shortly after Lead Belly’s likely date of birth, even though they had lived together as husband and wife for years. The 1900 census, differing from the usual census in that it lists the month and year of birth, rather than just the age, states the birth year of ‘Hudy’ Ledbetter to be 1888 and the month listed as January; Huddie’s age is listed as 12. The census of 1910 and the census of 1930 confirm 1888 as the year of birth.

The day of his birth has also been debated. The most common date given is 20 January, but other sources suggest he was born on 21 or 29 January. The only document we have that Lead belly, himself, helped fill out is his World War II draft registration from 1942 where he gives his birth date as 23 January, 1889.

Lead Belly was born to Wesley and Sallie Ledbetter as Huddie William Ledbetter in a plantation near Mooringsport, Louisiana, but the family moved to Leigh, Texas, when he was 5 years old. By 1903, Lead Belly was already a ‘musicianer’, a singer and guitarist of some note. Lead Belly performed for nearby Shreveport, Louisiana audiences in St. Paul’s Bottoms, a notorious red-light district in the city. Lead Belly began to develop his own style of music after exposure to a variety of musical influences on Shreveport’s Fannin Street, a row of saloons, brothels, and dance halls in the Bottoms.

At the time of the 1910 census, Lead Belly, still officially listed as ‘Hudy’, was living next door to his parents with his first wife, Aletha “Lethe” Henderson, who at the time of the census was 17 years old, and was, therefore, 15 at the time of their marriage in 1908. It was also there that he received his first instrument, an accordion, from his uncle, and by his early 20s, after fathering at least 2 children, he left home to find his living as a guitarist (and occasionally, as a laborer). Lead Belly would later claim that as a youth he would “make it” with 8 to 10 women a night.

Influenced by the sinking of the RMS Titanic in April 1912, he would go on to write the song “The Titanic”, which noted the racial indifferences of the time. “The Titanic” was the first song he ever learned to play on a 12 string guitar, which was later to become his signature instrument. Lead Belly first played it in 1912 when performing with Blind Lemon Jefferson (1897-1929) in and around Dallas, Texas. Lead Belly noted that he had to leave out the verse about boxer Jack Johnson when playing before a white audience.

Lead Belly’s volatile nature sometimes led him into trouble with the law. In 1915 he was convicted “of carrying a pistol” and sentenced to do time on the Harrison County chain gang, from which he miraculously escaped, finding work in nearby Bowie County under the assumed name of Walter Boyd. In January 1918 he was thrown into prison for the second time, this time after killing one of his relatives, Will Stafford, in a fight over a woman. In 1918 he was incarcerated in Sugar Land, Texas, where he probably learned the song Midnight Special. In 1925 he was pardoned and released, having served 7 years, or virtually all of the minimum of his 7 to 35 year sentence, after writing a song appealing to Governor Pat Morris Neff for his freedom. Lead Belly had swayed Governor Neff by appealing to his strong religious values. That, in combination with good behavior (including entertaining by playing for the guards and fellow prisoners), was Lead Belly’s ticket out of jail. It was quite a testament to his persuasive powers, as Neff had run for governor on a pledge not to issue pardons (pardon by the governor was at that time the only recourse for prisoners, since in most Southern prisons there was no provision for parole). According to Charles K. Wolf and Kip Lornell’s book, The Life and Legend of Lead belly (1999), Neff had regularly brought guests to the prison on Sunday picnics to hear Lead belly perform.

In 1930, Lead Belly was back in prison, after a summary trial, this time in Louisiana, for attempted homicide — he had knifed a white man in a fight. It was there, 3 years later, that he was “discovered” by musicologists John Lomax and his 18 year old son Alan Lomax during a visit to the Angola Prison Farm. They were enchanted by Lead Belly’s talent, passion, and singularity as a performer and recorded hundreds of his songs on portable aluminum disc recording equipment for the Library of Congress. They returned to record in July of the following year (1934). On 1 August, Lead Belly was released (again having served almost all of his minimum sentence), this time after the Lomaxes had taken a petition to Louisiana Governor O.K. Allen at Lead belly’s urgent request. The petition was on the other side of a recording of his signature song, “Goodnight Irene.” A prison official later wrote to John Lomax denying that Lead Belly’s singing had anything to do with his release from Angola, and state prison records confirm that he was eligible for early release due to good behavior. A descendant of his has also confirmed this. For a time, however, both Lead Belly and the Lomaxes believed that the record they had taken to the governor had hastened his release from Angola.

There are several, somewhat conflicting stories about how Ledbetter acquired his famous nickname, though the consensus is that it was probably while in prison. Some say his fellow inmates dubbed him “Lead Belly” as a play on his last name and reference to his physical toughness; others say he earned the name after being shot in the stomach with shotgun buckshot. Another theory has it that the name refers to his ability to drink homemade liquor, which Southern farmers, black and white, used to make to supplement their incomes. Blues singer Big Bill Broonzy thought it came from a supposed tendency to lay about “with a stomach weighted down by lead” in the shade when the chain gang was supposed to be working. (This seems unlikely, unless it was ironic, given his well-known capacity for hard work.) Whatever its origin, he adopted the nickname as a pseudonym while performing, and it stuck. Regarding his toughness, it is also recounted that during his second prison term, another inmate stabbed him in the neck (leaving him with a fearsome scar that he subsequently covered with a bandanna), and he took the knife away and in turn almost killed his attacker with it. Lead belly – King of the 12 String Guitar Retrieved on 30 January, 2007.

Bob Dylan once remarked, on his XM radio show, that Lead Belly was “One of the few ex-cons who recorded a popular children’s album.”

It was the Depression and jobs were very scarce. A month after his release and in need of regular work in order to avoid having his release canceled and being sent back to prison, in September 1934, Lead Belly met with John A. Lomax and begged him to take him on as a driver. For 3 months he assisted the 67 year old John Lomax in his folk song collecting in the South. (Alan Lomax (then 19) was ill and didn’t accompany them on this trip.) In December, Lead Belly participated in a “smoker” (group sing) at an MLA meeting in Bryn Mawr College in PA., where John A. Lomax had a prior lecturing engagement. Lead Belly was written up in the press as a convict who had sung his way out of prison. On New Year’s Day, 1935, the pair arrived in New York City, where John Lomax was scheduled to meet with his publisher, Macmillan, about a new collection of folk songs. The newspapers were eager to write about the “singing convict” and Time magazine made one of its first filmed newsreels about him. Lead Belly attained fame (though not fortune). The following week, he began recording with the American Record Corporation (ARC), but achieved little commercial success with these records. Part of the reason for the poor record sales may have been because ARC insisted on releasing only his blues songs rather than the folk songs for which he would later become better known. In any case, Lead Belly continued to struggle financially. Like many performers, what income he made during his lifetime would come from touring, not from record sales. In February 1935, he married his sweetheart, Martha Promise, who came north from Louisiana for the purpose. The month of February was spent recording his and other African-American repertoire and interviews about his life with Alan Lomax for their forthcoming book, Negro Folk Songs as Sung by Lead Belly (1936). Concert appearances were slow to materialize, however, and in March 1935, Lead Belly accompanied John A. Lomax on a 2 week lecture tour of colleges and universities in the Northeast, culminating at Harvard. These lectures had been scheduled before John Lomax had teamed up with Lead Belly. At the end of month, John Lomax decided he could no longer work with Lead Belly and gave him and Martha money to go back to Louisiana by bus. Lead Belly gave Martha the money that he had earned from 3 months of performing, but in installments, on the pretext that Lead Belly would drink it all if given a lump sum. From Louisiana Lead Belly then successfully sued Lomax for the full amount and for release from his management contract with Lomax. The quarrel was very bitter and there were hard feelings on both sides. Curiously, however, in the midst of the legal wrangling Lead Belly wrote to John A. Lomax proposing that they team up together once again. But it was not to be. Nor was the book the Lomaxes published that year about Lead Belly financially successful.

In January of 1936, Lead Belly returned to New York on his own without John Lomax for an attempted comeback. Lead Belly performed twice a day at Harlem’s Lafayette theater in a live dramatic recreation of the Time Life newsreel (itself a recreation) about his prison encounter with John A. Lomax, in which he had worn stripes, even though by this time he was no longer associated with Lomax. Life magazine ran a 3 page article titled, “Lead Belly – Bad Nigger Makes Good Minstrel,” in the 19 April, 1936 issue. It included a full-page, colour (rare in those days) picture of him sitting on grain sacks playing his guitar and singing. Also included was a striking picture of Martha Promise (identified in the article as his manager); photos showing Lead Belly’s hands playing the guitar (with the caption “these hands once killed a man”); Texas Governor Pat M. Neff; and the “ramshackle” Texas State Penitentiary. The article attributes both of his pardons to his singing of his petitions to the governors, who were so moved that they pardoned him. The article’s text ends with “he… may well be on the brink of a new and prosperous period.” Lead Belly failed to stir the enthusiasm of Harlem audiences. Instead, he attained success playing at concerts and benefits for an audience of leftist folk music aficionados. Lead Belly developed his own style of singing and explaining his repertoire in the context of Southern black culture, taking the hint from his previous participation in John A. Lomax’s college lectures. Lead Belly was especially successful with his repertoire of children’s game songs (as a younger man in Louisiana he had sung regularly at children’s birthday parties in the black community). Lead Belly was written up as a heroic figure by the black novelist, Richard Wright, then a member of the Communist Party, in the columns of the Daily Worker, of which he (Wright) was the Harlem editor. The 2 men became personal friends, though Lead Belly himself was a-political — if anything, a supporter of Wendell Willkie, the centrist Republican candidate, for whom he wrote a campaign song.

In 1939, Lead Belly was back in jail for assault, after stabbing a man in a fight in Manhattan. Alan Lomax, then 24, took him under his wing and helped raise money for his legal expenses, dropping out of graduate school to do so. After his release (in 1940-41), Lead Belly appeared as a regular on Alan Lomax and Nicholas Ray’s groundbreaking CBS radio show, Back Where I Come From, broadcast nationwide. Lead Belly also appeared in night clubs with Josh White, becoming a fixture in New York City’s surging folk music scene and befriending the likes of Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Woody Guthrie, and a young Pete Seeger, all fellow performers on Back Where I Come From. During the first half of the decade he recorded for RCA, the Library of Congress, and for Moe Asch (future founder of Folkways Records), and in 1944 headed to California, where he recorded strong sessions for Capitol Records. Lead belly was the first American country blues musician to see success in Europe. In 1949 Lead Belly had a regular radio broadcast on station WNYC in New York on Sunday nights on Henrietta Yurchenko’s show. Later in the year he began his first European tour with a trip to France, but fell ill before its completion, and was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Lead Belly’s final concert was at the University of Texas in a tribute to his former mentor, John A. Lomax, who had died the previous year. Martha also performed at that concert, singing spirituals with her husband.

Lead Belly styled himself “King of the 12-string guitar,” and despite his use of other instruments like the concertina, the most enduring image of Lead Belly as a performer is wielding his unusually large Stella 12-string. This guitar had a slightly longer scale length than a standard guitar, slotted tuners, ladder bracing, and a trapeze-style tailpiece to resist bridge lifting.

Lead Belly played with finger picks much of the time, using a thumb pick to provide a walking bass line and occasionally to strum. This technique, combined with low tunings and heavy strings, gives many of his recordings a piano-like sound. Lead Belly’s tuning is debatable, but appears to be a downtuned variant of standard tuning; more than likely he tuned his guitar strings relative to one another, so that the actual notes shifted as the strings wore. Lead Belly’s playing style was popularised by Pete Seeger, who adopted the 12-string guitar in the 1950s and released an instructional LP and book using Lead belly as an exemplar of technique.

In some of the recordings where Lead Belly accompanied himself, he would make an unusual type of grunt between his verses. Lead Belly would do this grunt, “Haah!”, through many of his songs, such as, Looky Looky Yonder, Take this Hammer, Linin’ Track and Julie Ann Johnson. It gave a somewhat catchy sound to the songs. Lead Belly explains that, “Every time the men say ‘haah’, the hammer falls. The hammer rings, and we swing, and we sing”, an apparent reference to prisoners’ work songs. The grunt represents the tired deep breaths the men would take while working, singing and pausing in cadence with the work.

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Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Series-Disabled Legend Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong was born on 26 December, 1893 in a village called Shaoshan in Xiangtan County (湘潭縣), Hunan province and died on 9 September, 1976. Mao Zedong was a Chinese military and political leader who led the Communist Party of China (CPC) to victory against the Kuomintang (KMT) in the Chinese Civil War, and was the leader of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from its establishment in 1949 until his death in 1976.

Regarded as one of the most important figures in modern world history, and named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century, Mao Zedong is still a controversial figure today, over 30 years after his death. Mao Zedong is generally held in high regard in mainland China where he is often portrayed as a great revolutionary and strategist who eventually defeated Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in the Chinese Civil War, and transformed the country into a major power through his policies. However, many of Mao Zedong’s socio-political programmes such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution are blamed by critics from both within and outside China for causing severe damage to the culture, society, economy and foreign relations of China, as well as a probable death toll in the tens of millions.

Although still officially venerated in China, his influence has been largely overshadowed by the political and economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping and other leaders since his death. Mao Zedong is also recognised as a poet and calligrapher.

The eldest child of a relatively prosperous peasant family, his ancestors migrated from Jiangxi province during the Ming Dynasty, and had settled there as farmers. Mao Zedong’s father was Mao Jen-sheng, a peasant farmer. Mao Zedong’s good friend Chan Pak-Lam guided Mao Zedong in his youth. Wen Chi-mei, his mother, was a very devout Buddhist. Due to his family’s relative wealth, his father was able to send him to school and later to Changsha for more advanced schooling.

During the 1911 Revolution, Mao Zedong enlisted as a soldier in a local regiment in Hunan which fought on the side of the revolutionaries. Once the Qing Dynasty had been effectively toppled, Mao Zedong left the army and returned to school.

After graduating from the First Provincial Normal School of Hunan in 1918, Mao Zedong travelled with Professor Yang Changji, his high school teacher and future father-in-law, to Beijing during the May Fourth Movement in 1919.

Professor Yang held a faculty position at Peking University. Because of Professor Yang’s recommendation, Mao Zedong worked as an assistant librarian at the University with Li Dazhao as curator. Mao Zedong registered as a part-time student at Beijing University and attended many lectures and seminars by famous intellectuals, such as Chen Duxiu, Hu Shi, Qian Xuantong, etc. During his stay in Beijing, he read as much as possible, and through his readings, he was introduced to Communist theories. Mao Zedong married Yang Kaihui, Professor Yang’s daughter who was his fellow student, despite an existing marriage arranged by his father at home. Mao Zedong never acknowledged this marriage. In October 1930, the Guomindang (GMD) captured Yang Kaihui with her son, Anying. The GMD imprisoned them both and Anying, then, was later sent to his relatives after the GMD killed his mother, Yang Kaihui. At this time , Mao Zedong was living with a co-worker, He Zizhen, a 17 year old girl from Yongxing, Jiangxi. Mao Zedong turned down an opportunity to study in France because he firmly believed that China’s problems could be studied and resolved only within China. Unlike his contemporaries, Mao Zedong concentrated on studying the peasant majority of China’s population.

On 23 July, 1921, Mao, age 27, attended the first session of the National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Shanghai. 2 years later, he was elected as 1 of the 5 commissars of the Central Committee of the Party during the 3rd Congress session. Later that year (1923), Mao Zedong returned to Hunan at the instruction of the CPC Central Committee and the Kuomintang Central Committee to organise the Hunan branch of the Kuomintang. In 1924, he was a delegate to the 1st National Conference of the Kuomintang, where he was elected an Alternate Executive of the Central Committee. In 1924, he became an Executive of the Shanghai branch of the Kuomintang, and Secretary of the Organisation Department.

For a while, Mao Zedong remained in Shanghai, an important city that the CPC emphasised for the Revolution. However, the Party encountered major difficulties organising labor union movements and building a relationship with its nationalist ally, the Kuomintang. The Party had become poor, and Mao Zedong was disillusioned with the revolution and moved back to Shaoshan. During his stay at home, Mao Zedong’s interest in the revolution was rekindled after hearing of the 1925 uprisings in Shanghai and Guangzhou. Mao Zedong’s political ambitions returned, and he then went to Guangdong, the base of the Kuomintang, and took part in the preparations for the 2nd session of the National Congress of Kuomintang. In October 1925, Mao Zedong became acting Propaganda Director of the Kuomintang.

In early 1927, Mao Zedong returned to Hunan where, in an urgent meeting held by the Communist Party, he made a report based on his investigations of the peasant uprisings in the wake of the Northern Expedition. This is considered the initial and decisive step towards the successful application of Mao Zedong’s revolutionary theories.

Mao Zedong had a great interest in the political system, encouraged by his father. Mao Zedong’s 2 most famous essays, both from 1937, ‘On Contradiction’ and ‘On Practice’, are concerned with the practical strategies of a revolutionary movement and stress the importance of practical, grassroots knowledge, obtained through experience. Both essays reflect the guerrilla roots of Maoism in the need to build up support in the countryside against a Japanese occupying force and emphasise the need to win over ‘hearts and minds’ through ‘education’. The essays, reproduced later as part of the ‘Red Book, warn against the behaviour of the blindfolded man trying to catch sparrows, and the ‘Imperial envoy’ descending from his carriage to ‘spout opinions’.

In addition to his limited formal education, Mao Zedong spent 6 months studying independently. Mao Zedong was first introduced to communism while working at Peking University, and in 1921 he co-founded the Communist Party of China (or CPC) Mao Zedong first encountered Marxism while he worked as a library assistant at Peking University.

Other important influences on Mao Zedong were the Russian revolution and, according to some scholars, the Chinese literary works: Outlaws of the Marsh and Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Mao Zedong sought to subvert the alliance of imperialism and feudalism in China. Mao Zedong thought the Nationalists to be both economically and politically vulnerable and thus that the revolution could not be steered by Nationalists.

Throughout the 1920s, Mao Zedong led several labour struggles based upon his studies of the propagation and organisation of the contemporary labour movements. However, these struggles were successfully subdued by the government, and Mao Zedong fled from Changsha after he was labeled a radical activist. Mao Zedong pondered these failures and finally realised that industrial workers were unable to lead the revolution because they made up only a small portion of China’s population, and unarmed labour struggles could not resolve the problems of imperial and feudal suppression.

Mao Zedong began to depend on Chinese peasants who later became staunch supporters of his theory of violent revolution. This dependence on the rural rather than the urban proletariat to instigate violent revolution distinguished Mao Zedong from his predecessors and contemporaries. Mao Zedong himself was from a peasant family, and thus he cultivated his reputation among the farmers and peasants and introduced them to Marxism.

In 1927, Mao Zedong conducted the famous Autumn Harvest Uprising in Changsha, Hunan, as commander-in-chief. Mao Zedong led an army, called the “Revolutionary Army of Workers and Peasants”, which was defeated and scattered after fierce battles. Afterwards, the exhausted troops were forced to leave Hunan for Sanwan, Jiangxi, where Mao Zedong re-organised the scattered soldiers, rearranging the military division into smaller regiments. Mao Zedong also ordered that each company must have a party branch office with a commissar as its leader who would give political instructions based upon superior mandates. This military rearrangement in Sanwan, Jiangxi initiated the CPC’s absolute control over its military force and has been considered to have the most fundamental and profound impact upon the Chinese revolution. Later, they moved to the Jinggang Mountains, Jiangxi.

In the Jinggang Mountains, Mao Zedong persuaded 2 local insurgent leaders to pledge their allegiance to him. There, Mao Zedong joined his army with that of Zhu De, creating the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army of China, Red Army in short. (the Fourth Front of Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army of China).

From 1931 to 1934, Mao Zedong helped establish the Soviet Republic of China and was elected Chairman of this small republic in the mountainous areas in Jiangxi. Here, Mao Zedong was married to He Zizhen. Mao Zedong’s previous wife, Yang Kaihui, had been arrested and executed in 1930, just 3 years after their departure.

In Jiangxi, Mao Zedong’s authoritative domination, especially that of the military force, was challenged by the Jiangxi branch of the CPC and military officers. Mao Zedong’s opponents, among whom the most prominent was Li Wenlin, the founder of the CPC’s branch and Red Army in Jiangxi, were against Mao Zedong’s land policies and proposals to reform the local party branch and army leadership. Mao Zedong reacted first by accusing the opponents of opportunism and kulakism and then set off a series of systematic suppressions of them. It is reported that horrible forms of torture and killing took place. Jung Chang and Jon Halliday claim that victims were subjected to a red-hot gun-rod being rammed into the anus, and that there were many cases of cutting open the stomach and scooping out the heart. The estimated number of the victims amounted to several thousands and could be as high as 186,000. Critics accuse Mao Zedong’s authority in Jiangxi was secured and reassured through the revolutionary terrorism, or red terrorism.

Mao Zedong, with the help of Zhu De, built a modest but effective army, undertook experiments in rural reform and government, and provided refuge for Communists fleeing the rightist purges in the cities. Mao Zedong’s methods are normally referred to as Guerrilla warfare; but he himself made a distinction between guerrilla warfare (youji zhan) and Mobile Warfare (yundong zhan).

Mao Zedong’s Guerrilla Warfare and Mobile Warfare was based upon the fact of the poor armament and military training of the red army which consisted mainly of impoverished peasants, who, however, were all encouraged by revolutionary passions and aspiring after a communist utopia.

Around 1930, there had been more than 10 regions, usually entitled “soviet areas,” under control of the CPC. The prosperity of “soviet areas” startled and worried Chiang Kai-shek, chairman of the Kuomintang government, who waged 5 waves of besieging campaigns against the “central soviet area.” More than 1,000,000 Kuomintang soldiers were involved in these 5 campaigns, 4 out of which were defeated by the red army led by Mao Zedong. By June 1932 (the height of its power), the Red Army had no less than 45,000 soldiers, with a further 200,000 local militia acting as a subsidiary force.

Under increasing pressures from the KMT encirclement campaigns, there was a struggle for power within the Communist leadership. Mao Zedong was removed from his important positions and replaced by individuals (including Zhou Enlai) who appeared loyal to the orthodox line advocated by Moscow and represented within the CPC by a group known as the 28 Bolsheviks.

Chiang Kai-shek, who had earlier assumed nominal control of China due in part to the Northern Expedition, was determined to eliminate the Communists. By October 1934, he had them surrounded, prompting them to engage in the “Long March,” a retreat from Jiangxi in the southeast to Shaanxi in the northwest of China. It was during this 9,600 kilometer (5,965 mile), year-long journey that Mao Zedong emerged as the top Communist leader, aided by the Zunyi Conference and the defection of Zhou Enlai to Mao Zedong’s side. At this Conference, Mao Zedong entered the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China.

According to the standard Chinese Communist Party line, from his base in Yan’an, Mao Zedong led the Communist resistance against the Japanese in the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). However, Mao Zedong’s further consolidated power over the Communist Party in 1942 by launching the Zheng Feng, or “Rectification” campaign against rival CPC members such as Wang Ming, Wang Shiwei, and Ding Ling. Also while in Yan’an, Mao Zedong divorced He Zizhen and married the actress Lan Ping, who would become known as Jiang Qing.

During the Sino-Japanese War, Mao Zedong’s strategies were opposed by both Chiang Kai-shek and the United States. The US regarded Chiang as an important ally, able to help shorten the war by engaging the Japanese occupiers in China. Chiang, in contrast, sought to build the ROC army for the certain conflict with Mao Zedong’s communist forces after the end of World War II. This fact was not understood well in the US, and precious lend-lease armaments continued to be allocated to the Kuomintang. In turn, Mao Zedong spent part of the war (as to whether it was most or only a little is disputed) fighting the Kuomintang for control of certain parts of China. Both the Communists and Nationalists have been criticised for fighting amongst themselves rather than allying against the Japanese Imperial Army. However, the Nationalists were better equipped and did most of the fighting against the Japanese army in China.

In 1944, the Americans sent a special diplomatic envoy, called the Dixie Mission, to the Communist Party of China.

Most of the Americans were favorably impressed. The CPC seemed less corrupt, more unified, and more vigorous in its resistance to Japan than the Guomindang. United States fliers shot down over North China…confirmed to their superiors that the CPC was both strong and popular over a broad area. In the end, the contacts with the USA developed with the CPC led to very little.

Then again, modern commentators have disputed such claims. Amongst others, Willy Lam stated that during the war with Japan:

The great majority of casualties sustained by Chinese soldiers were borne by KMT, not Communist divisions. Mao Zedong and other guerrilla leaders decided at the time to conserve their strength for the “larger struggle” of taking over all of China once the Japanese Imperial Army was decimated by the U.S.-led Allied Forces.

After the end of World War II, the U.S. continued to support Chiang Kai-shek, now openly against the Communist Red Army (led by Mao Zedong) in the civil war for control of China. The U.S. support was part of its view to contain and defeat world communism. Likewise, the Soviet Union gave quasi-covert support to Mao Zedong (acting as a concerned neighbor more than a military ally, to avoid open conflict with the U.S.) and gave large supplies of arms to the Communist Party of China, although newer Chinese records indicate the Soviet “supplies” were not as large as previously believed, and consistently fell short of the promised amount of aid.

On 21 January, 1949 Kuomintang forces suffered massive losses against Mao Zedong’s Red Army. In the early morning of December 10, 1949, Red Army troops laid siege to Chengdu, the last KMT-occupied city in mainland China, and Chiang Kai-shek evacuated from the mainland to Taiwan (Formosa) that same day.

Chinese poster depicting Mao as “the Helmsman”, his revolutionary epitaph, 1969
Stalin and Mao Zedong depicted on a Chinese postage stampThe People’s Republic of China was established on 1 October, 1949. It was the culmination of over 2 decades of civil and international war. From 1954 to 1959, Mao Zedong was the Chairman of the PRC. During this period, Mao Zedong was called Chairman Mao (毛主席) or the Great Leader Chairman Mao (伟大领袖毛主席). The Communist Party assumed control of all media in the country and used it to promote the image of Mao and the Party. The Nationalists under General Chiang Kai-Shek were vilified as were countries such as the United States of America and Japan. The Chinese people were exhorted to devote themselves to build and strengthen their country. In his speech declaring the foundation of the PRC, Mao announced: “The Chinese people have stood up!”

Mao Zedong took up residence in Zhongnanhai, a compound next to the Forbidden City in Beijing, and there he ordered the construction of an indoor swimming pool and other buildings. Mao Zedong often did his work either in bed or by the side of the pool, preferring not to wear formal clothes unless absolutely necessary, according to Dr. Li Zhisui, his personal physician. (Li’s book, The Private Life of Chairman Mao, is regarded as controversial, especially by those sympathetic to Mao.)

Mao Zedong’s first political campaigns after founding the People’s Republic were land reform and the suppression of counter-revolutionaries, which centered on mass executions, often before organised crowds. These campaigns of mass repression targeted former KMT officials, businessmen, former employees of Western companies, intellectuals whose loyalty was suspect, and significant numbers of rural gentry. The U.S. State department in 1976 estimated that there may have been 1,000,000 killed in the land reform, 800,000 killed in the counterrevolutionary campaign. Mao Zedong himself claimed a total of 700,000 killed during the years between 1949 to 1953. However, because there was a policy to select “at least 1 landlord, and usually several, in virtually every village for public execution”, 1, 000,000 deaths seem to be an absolute minimum, and many authors agree on a figure of between 2,000,000 and 5,000,000 dead. In addition, at least 1.5,000,000 people were sent to “reform through labour” camps. Mao Zedong’s personal role in ordering mass executions is undeniable. Mao Zedong defended these killings as necessary for the securing of power.

Following the consolidation of power, Mao Zedong launched the 1st 5 Year Plan from 1953 to 1958. The plan aimed to end Chinese dependence upon agriculture in order to become a world power. With the USSR’s assistance, new industrial plants were built and agricultural production eventually fell to a point where industry was beginning to produce enough capital that China no longer needed the USSR’s support. The success of the 1st 5 Year Plan was to encourage Mao Zedong to instigate the 2nd 5 Year Plan, the Great Leap Forward, in 1958. Mao Zedong also launched a phase of rapid collectivisation. The CPC introduced price controls as well as a Chinese character simplification aimed at increasing literacy. Land was taken from landlords and more wealthy peasants and given to poorer peasants. Large scale industrialisation projects were also undertaken.

Programmes pursued during this time include the Hundred Flowers Campaign, in which Mao Zedong indicated his supposed willingness to consider different opinions about how China should be governed. Given the freedom to express themselves, liberal and intellectual Chinese began opposing the Communist Party and questioning its leadership. This was initially tolerated and encouraged. After a few months, Mao Zedong’s government reversed its policy and persecuted those, totalling perhaps 500,000, who criticised, and were merely alleged to have criticised, the Party in what is called the Anti-Rightist Movement. Authors such as Jung Chang have alleged that the Hundred Flowers Campaign was merely a ruse to root out “dangerous” thinking. Others such as Dr Li Zhisui have suggested that Mao Zedong had initially seen the policy as a way of weakening those within his party who opposed him, but was surprised by the extent of criticism and the fact that it began to be directed at his own leadership. It was only then that he used it as a method of identifying and subsequently persecuting those critical of his government. The Hundred Flowers movement led to the condemnation, silencing, and death of many citizens, also linked to Mao’s Anti-Rightist Movement, with death tolls possibly in the millions.

In January 1958, Mao Zedong launched the 2nd 5 Year Plan known as the Great Leap Forward, a plan intended as an alternative model for economic growth to the Soviet model focusing on heavy industry that was advocated by others in the party. Under this economic program, the relatively small agricultural collectives which had been formed to date were rapidly merged into far larger people’s communes, and many of the peasants ordered to work on massive infrastructure projects and the small-scale production of iron and steel. All private food production was banned; livestock and farm implements were brought under collective ownership.

Under the Great Leap Forward, Mao Zedong and other party leaders ordered the implementation of a variety of unproven and unscientific new agricultural techniques by the new communes. Combined with the diversion of labor to steel production and infrastructure projects and the reduced personal incentives under a commune system this led to an approximately 15% drop in grain production in 1959 followed by further 10% reduction in 1960 and no recovery in 1961. In an effort to win favour with their superiors and avoid being purged, each layer in the party hierarchy exaggerated the amount of grain produced under them and based on the fabricated success, party cadres were ordered to requisition a disproportionately high amount of the true harvest for state use primarily in the cities and urban areas but also for export. The net result, which was compounded in some areas by drought and in others by floods, was that the rural peasants were not left enough to eat and many millions starved to death in what is thought to be the largest famine in human history. This famine was a direct cause of the death of tens of millions of Chinese peasants between 1959 and 1962. Further, many children who became emaciated and malnourished during years of hardship and struggle for survival, died shortly after the Great Leap Forward came to an end in 1962.

The extent of Mao Zedong’s knowledge as to the severity of the situation has been disputed. According to some, most notably Dr. Li Zhisui, Mao was not aware of anything more than a mild food and general supply shortage until late 1959.

“But I do not think that when he spoke on 2 July, 1959, he knew how bad the disaster had become, and he believed the party was doing everything it could to manage the situation” Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, in Mao: the Unknown Story, alleged that Mao knew of the vast suffering and that he was dismissive of it, blaming bad weather or other officials for the famine.

“Although slaughter was not his purpose with the Leap, he was more than ready for myriad deaths to result, and hinted to his top echelon that they should not be too shocked if they happened (438-439).”

Whatever the case, the Great Leap Forward led to millions of deaths in China. Mao Zedong lost esteem among many of the top party cadres and was eventually forced to abandon the policy in 1962, also losing some political power to moderate leaders, notably Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping. However, Mao Zedong and national propaganda claimed that he was only partly to blame. As a result, he was able to remain Chairman of the Communist Party, with the Presidency transferred to Liu Shaoqi.

The Great Leap Forward was a disaster for China. Although the steel quotas were officially reached, almost all of it made in the countryside was useless lumps of iron, as it had been made from assorted scrap metal in home made furnaces with no reliable source of fuel such as coal. According to Zhang Rongmei, a geometry teacher in rural Shanghai during the Great Leap Forward:

We took all the furniture, pots, and pans we had in our house, and all our neighbors did likewise. We put all everything in a big fire and melted down all the metal.

Moreover, most of the dams, canals and other infrastructure projects, which millions of peasants and prisoners had been forced to toil on and in many cases die for, proved useless as they had been built without the input of trained engineers, whom Mao Zedong had rejected on ideological grounds.

Several leaders expressed concern that the Great Leap Forward was not as successful as planned. The most direct of these was Minister of Defence and Korean War General Peng Dehuai. Mao Zedong, fearing loss of his position, orchestrated a purge of Peng and his supporters, stifling criticism of the Great Leap policies.

There is a great deal of controversy over the number of deaths by starvation during the Great Leap Forward. Until the mid 1980s, when official census figures were finally published by the Chinese Government, little was known about the scale of the disaster in the Chinese countryside, as the handful of Western observers allowed access during this time had been restricted to model villages where they were deceived into believing that Great Leap Forward had been a great success. There was also an assumption that the flow of individual reports of starvation that had been reaching the West, primarily through Hong Kong and Taiwan, must be localised or exaggerated as China was continuing to claim record harvests and was a net exporter of grain through the period. Censuses were carried out in China in 1953, 1964 and 1982. The first attempt to analyse this data in order to estimate the number of famine deaths was carried out by American demographer Dr Judith Banister and published in 1984. Given the lengthy gaps between the censuses and doubts over the reliability of the data, an accurate figure is difficult to ascertain. Nevertheless, Banister concluded that the official data implied that around 15,000,000 excess deaths incurred in China during 1958 to 1961 and that based on her modelling of Chinese demographics during the period and taking account of assumed underreporting during the famine years, the figure was around 30,000,000. The official statistic is 20,000,000 deaths, as given by Hu Yaobang. Various other sources have put the figure between 20,000,000 and 72,000,000.

On the international front, the period was dominated by the further isolation of China, due to start of the Sino-Soviet split which resulted in Khrushchev withdrawing all Soviet technical experts and aid from the country. The split was triggered by border disputes, and arguments over the control and direction of world communism, and other disputes pertaining to foreign policy. Most of the problems regarding communist unity resulted from the death of Stalin and his replacement by Khrushchev. Stalin had established himself as the successor of “correct” Marxist thought well before Mao Zedong controlled the Communist Party of China, and therefore Mao Zedong never challenged the suitability of any Stalinist doctrine (at least while Stalin was alive). Upon the death of Stalin, Mao Zedong believed (perhaps because of seniority) that the leadership of the “correct” Marxist doctrine would fall to him. The resulting tension between Khrushchev (at the head of a politically/militarily superior government), and Mao Zedong (believing he had a superior understanding of Marxist ideology) eroded the previous patron-client relationship between the CPSU and CPC. In China, the formerly favourable Soviets were now denounced as “revisionists” and listed alongside “American imperialism” as movements to oppose.

Partly-surrounded by hostile American military bases (reaching from South Korea, Japan, Okinawa, and Taiwan), China was now confronted with a new Soviet threat from the north and west. Both the internal crisis and the external threat called for extraordinary statesmanship from Mao Zedong, but as China entered the new decade the statesmen of the People’s Republic were in hostile confrontation with each other.

At a large Communist Party conference in Beijing in January 1962, called the “Conference of the 7,000” State President Liu Shaoqi denounced the Great Leap Forward as responsible for widespread famine. The overwhelming majority of delegates expressed agreement, but Defense Minister Lin Biao staunchly defended Mao Zedong A brief period of liberalisation followed while Mao Zedong and Lin plotted a comeback. Liu and Deng Xiaoping rescued the economy by disbanding the people’s communes, introducing elements of private control of peasant smallholdings and importing grain from Canada and Australia to mitigate the worst effects of famine.

Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping’s prominence gradually became a challenge to Mao Zedong’s position of power. Liu and Deng, then the State President and General Secretary, respectively, had favoured the idea that Mao Zedong should be removed from actual power but maintain his ceremonial and symbolic role, and the party will uphold all of his positive contributions to the revolution. They attempted to marginalise Mao Zedong by taking control of economic policy and asserting themselves politically as well.

Facing the prospect of losing his place on the political stage, Mao Zedong responded to Liu and Deng’s movements by launching the Cultural Revolution in 1966. Under the pretext that certain liberal “bourgeois” elements of society, labeled as class enemies, continue to threaten the socialist framework under the existing dictatorship of the proletariat, the idea that a Cultural Revolution must continue after armed struggle allowed Mao Zedong to circumvent the Communist hierarchy by giving power directly to the Red Guards, groups of young people, often teenagers, who set up their own tribunals. Chaos reigned over the country, and millions were prosecuted, including a famous philosopher, Chen Yuen. During the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong closed the schools in China and the young intellectuals living in cities were ordered to the countryside. They were forced to manufacture weapons for the Red Army. The Revolution led to the destruction of much of China’s cultural heritage and the imprisonment of a huge number of Chinese citizens, as well as creating general economic and social chaos in the country. Millions of lives were ruined during this period, as the Cultural Revolution pierced into every part of Chinese life, depicted by such Chinese films as To Live, The Blue Kite and Farewell My Concubine. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, perished in the violence of the Cultural Revolution. When Mao Zedong was informed of such losses, particularly that people had been driven to suicide, he blithely commented: “People who try to commit suicide — don’t attempt to save them! . . . China is such a populous nation, it is not as if we cannot do without a few people.”

It was during this period that Mao Zedong chose Lin Biao, who seemed to echo all of Mao Zedong’s ideas, to become his successor. Mao Zedong and Lin Biao formed an alliance leading up to the Cultural Revolution in order for the purges to succeed. Mao Zedong needed Lin’s clout for his plan to work. In return, Lin was made Mao Zedong’s successor. By 1971, however, because of Lin’s grip over the military and Mao Zedong’s own paranoia, a divide between the 2 men became clear, and it was unclear whether Lin was planning a military coup or an assassination attempt. Lin Biao died trying to flee China, probably anticipating his arrest, in a suspicious plane crash over Mongolia. It was declared that Lin was planning to depose Mao Zedong, and he was posthumously expelled from the CPC. At this time, Mao Zedong lost trust in many of the top CPC figures. The highest-ranking Soviet Bloc intelligence defector, Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa described his conversation with Nicolae Ceauşescu who told him about a plot to kill Mao Zedong with the help of Lin Biao organised by KGB.

In 1969, Mao Zedong declared the Cultural Revolution to be over, although the official history of the People’s Republic of China marks the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976 with Mao Zedong’s death. In the last years of his life, Mao Zedong was faced with declining health due to either Parkinson’s disease or, according to Li Zhisui, motor neurone disease, as well as lung ailments due to smoking and heart trouble. Mao Zedong remained passive as various factions within the Communist Party mobilised for the power struggle anticipated after his death.

At 5:00 in the afternoon of 2 September, 1976, Mao Zedong suffered another myocardial infarction (heart attack), far more severe than the previous 2 and affecting a much larger area of his heart. Mao Zedong’s body was giving out. The personal doctors group began emergency treatment immediately. X-rays indicated that his lung infection had worsened, and his urine output dropped to less than 300 cc a day. Mao Zedong was awake and alert throughout the crisis and asked several times whether he was in danger. Mao Zedong’s condition continued to fluctuate and his life hung in the balance. 3 days later, on 5 September Mao Zedong’s condition was still critical, and Hua Guofeng called Jiang Qing back from her trip. Jiang Qing spent only a few moments in Building 202 before returning to her own residence in the Spring Lotus Chamber. On the afternoon of 7 September, Mao Zedong took a turn for the worse. Jiang Qing came to Building 202 (where Mao Zedong was staying) where she learned the news. Mao Zedong had just fallen asleep and needed the rest, but she insisted on rubbing his back and moving his limbs, and she sprinkled powder on his body. The medical team protested that the dust from the powder was not good for his lungs, but she instructed the nurses on duty to follow her example later. The next morning, 8 September, she came again. Jiang Qing wanted the medical staff to change Mao Zedong’s sleeping position, claiming that he had been lying too long on his left side. The doctor on duty objected, knowing that he could breathe only on his left side, but she had him moved nonetheless. Mao Zedong’s breathing stopped and his face turned blue. Jiang Qing left the room while the medical staff put him on a respirator and performed emergency cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Mao Zedong barely revived, and Hua Guofeng urged Jiang Qing not to interfere further with the doctor’s work, as her actions contributed to Mao Zedong’s death. Mao Zedong was taken off life support few minutes after midnight, 9 September was chosen because it was an easy day to remember. Mao Zedong had been in poor health for several years and had declined visibly for some months prior to his death. Mao Zedong was a chain smoker. Mao Zedong’s body lay in state at the Great Hall of the People. A memorial service was held in Tiananmen Square on 18 September, 1976. There was a 3 minute silence observed during this service. Mao Zedong’s body was later placed into the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, although he wished to be cremated and had been 1 of the 1st high-ranking officials to sign the “Proposal that all Central Leaders be Cremated after Death” in November 1956.

Mao Zedong’s figure is largely symbolic both in China and in the global communist movement as a whole. During the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong’s already glorified image manifested into a personality cult that stretched into every part of Chinese life. Mao Zedong presented himself as an enemy of landowners, businessmen, and Western and American imperialism, as well as an ally of impoverised peasants, farmers and workers.

At the 1958 Party congress in Chengdu, Mao Zedong expressed support for the idea of personality cults if they venerated figures who were genuinely worthy of adulation:

“ There are two kinds of personality cults. One is a healthy personality cult, that is, to worship men like Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin. Because they hold the truth in their hands. The other is a false personality cult, i.e. not analyzed and blind worship. ”

In 1962, Mao Zedong proposed the Socialist Education Movement (SEM) in an attempt to educate the peasants to resist the temptations of feudalism and the sprouts of capitalism that he saw re-emerging in the countryside (due to Liu’s economic reforms). Large quantities of politicised art were produced and circulated — with Mao Zedong at the centre. Numerous posters and musical compositions referred to Mao Zedong as “A red sun in the centre of our hearts” (我们心中的红太阳) and a “Savior of the people” (人民的大救星).

The Cult of Mao Zedong proved vital in starting the Cultural Revolution. China’s youth had mostly been brought up during the Communist era, and they had been told to love Mao Zedong. Thus they were his greatest supporters. Their feelings for him were so strong that many followed his urge to challenge all established authority.

In October 1966, Mao Zedong’s Quotations From Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, which was known as the Little Red Book was published. Party members were encouraged to carry a copy with them and possession was almost mandatory as a criterion for membership. Over the years, Mao Zedong’s image became displayed almost everywhere, present in homes, offices and shops. Mao Zedong’s quotations were typographically emphasised by putting them in boldface or red type in even the most obscure writings. Music from the period emphasized Mao Zedong’s stature, as did children’s rhymes. The phrase Long Live Chairman Mao Zedong for 10,000 years was commonly heard during the era, which was traditionally a phrase reserved for the reigning Emperor.

After the Cultural Revolution, there are some people who still worship Mao Zedong in family altars or even temples for Mao Zedong.

As anticipated after Mao Zedong’s death, there was a power struggle for control of China. On one side was the left wing led by the Gang of Four, who wanted to continue the policy of revolutionary mass mobilisation. On the other side was the right wing opposing these policies. Among the latter group, the restorationists, led by Chairman Hua Guofeng, advocated a return to central planning along the Soviet model, whereas the reformers, led by Deng Xiaoping, wanted to overhaul the Chinese economy based on market-oriented policies and to de-emphasize the role of Maoist ideology in determining economic and political policy. Eventually, the reformers won control of the government. Deng Xiaoping, with clear seniority over Hua Guofeng, defeated Hua in a bloodless power struggle a few years later.

Mao Zedong’s legacy has produced a large amount of controversy. Many historians and academics are critical of Mao Zedong, especially his many campaigns to suppress political enemies and gain international renown, some comparing him to Hitler and Stalin.

Supporters of Mao Zedong credit him with advancing the social and economic development of Chinese society. They point out that before 1949, for instance, the illiteracy rate in Mainland China was 80%, and life expectancy was a meager 35 years. At his death, illiteracy had declined to less than 7%, and average life expectancy had increased to more than 70 years (alternative statistics also quote improvements, though not nearly as dramatic). In addition to these increases, the total population of China increased 57% to 700,000,000, from the constant 400,000,000 mark during the span between the Opium War and the Chinese Civil War. Supporters also state that, under Mao Zedong’s government, China ended its “Century of Humiliation” from Western and Japanese imperialism and regained its status as a major world power. They also state their belief that Mao Zedong also industrialised China to a considerable extent and ensured China’s sovereignty during his rule. Many, including some of Mao Zedong’s supporters, view the Kuomintang, which Mao Zedong drove off the mainland, as having been corrupt.

They also argue that the Maoist era improved women’s rights by abolishing prostitution, a phenomenon that was to return after Deng Xiaoping and post-Maoist CPC leaders increased liberalisation of the economy. Indeed, Mao Zedong once famously remarked that “Women hold up half the heavens”. A popular slogan during the Cultural Revolution was, “Break the chains, unleash the fury of women as a mighty force for revolution!”

Skeptics observe that similar gains in literacy and life expectancy occurred after 1949 on the small neighboring island of Taiwan, which was ruled by Mao Zedong’s opponents, namely Chiang Kai-Shek and the Kuomintang, even though they themselves perpetrated substantial repression in their own right. The government that continued to rule Taiwan was composed of the same people ruling the Mainland for over 20 years when life expectancy was so low, yet life expectancy there also increased. A counterpoint, however, is that the United States helped Taiwan with aid, along with Japan and other countries, until the early 1960s when Taiwan asked that the aid cease. The mainland was under economic sanctions from the same countries for many years. The mainland also broke with the USSR after disputes, which had been aiding it.

Another comparison has been between India and China. Noam Chomsky commented on a study by the Indian economist Amartya Sen.

Amartya Sen observes that India and China had “similarities that were quite striking” when development planning began 50 years ago, including death rates. “But there is little doubt that as far as morbidity, mortality and longevity are concerned, China has a large and decisive lead over India” (in education and other social indicators as well). In both cases, the outcomes have to do with the “ideological predispositions” of the political systems: for China, relatively equitable distribution of medical resources, including rural health services and public distribution of food, all lacking in India.
The United States placed a trade embargo on China as a result of its involvement in the Korean War, lasting until Richard Nixon decided that developing relations with China would be useful in also dealing with the Soviet Union.

Mao Zedong’s military writings continue to have a large amount of influence both among those who seek to create an insurgency and those who seek to crush one, especially in manners of guerrilla warfare, at which Mao Zedong is popularly regarded as a genius. As an example, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) followed Mao Zedong’s examples of guerrilla warfare.

The ideology of Maoism has influenced many communists around the world, including Third World revolutionary movements such as Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, The Communist Party of Peru, and the revolutionary movement in Nepal. The Revolutionary Communist Party, USA also claims Marxism-Leninism-Maoism as its ideology, as do other Communist Parties around the world which are part of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement. China itself has moved sharply away from Maoism since Mao Zedong’s death, and most people outside of China who describe themselves as Maoist regard the Deng Xiaoping reforms to be a betrayal of Maoism, in line with Mao Zedong’s view of “Capitalist roaders” within the Communist Party.

As the Chinese government instituted free market economic reforms starting in the late 1970s and as later Chinese leaders took power, less recognition was given to the status of Mao Zedong. This accompanied a decline in state recognition of Mao Zedong in later years in contrast to previous years when the state organised numerous events and seminars commemorating Mao Zedong’s 100th birthday. Nevertheless, the Chinese government has never officially repudiated the tactics of Mao Zedong.

In the mid-1990s, Mao Zedong’s picture began to appear on all new renminbi currency from the People’s Republic of China. This was officially instituted as an anti-counterfeiting measure as Mao Zedong’s face is widely recognised in contrast to the generic figures that appear in older currency. On 13 March, 2006 a story in the People’s Daily reported that a proposal had been made to print the portraits of Sun Yat-sen and Deng Xiaoping.

In 2006, the government in Shanghai issued a new set of high school history textbooks which omit Mao Zedong, with the exception of a single mention in a section on etiquette. Students in Shanghai now only learn about Mao Zedong in junior high school.

Mao Zedong lived in the government complex in Zhongnanhai, Beijing.

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Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Series-Disabled Legend Professor Stephen Hawking

Prof. Stephen Hawking was born on 8 January 1942 (300 years after the death of Galileo) in Oxford, England. Prof. Stephen Hawking parents’ house was in north London, but during the second world war Oxford was considered a safer place to have babies. When he was 8, his family moved to St Albans, a town about 20 miles north of London.

At the age of 11 Prof. Stephen Hawking went to St Albans School, and then on to University College, Oxford, his father’s old college. Prof. Stephen Hawking wanted to do Mathematics, although his father would have preferred medicine. Mathematics was not available at University College, so he did Physics instead. After 3 years and not very much work he was awarded a first class honours degree in Natural Science.

Stephen then went on to Cambridge to do research in Cosmology, there being no-one working in that area in Oxford at the time. Prof. Stephen Hawking’s supervisor was Denis Sciama, although he had hoped to get Fred Hoyle who was working in Cambridge. After gaining his Ph.D. he became first a Research Fellow, and later on a Professorial Fellow at Gonville and Caius College.

After leaving the Institute of Astronomy in 1973 Prof. Stephen Hawking came to the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, and since 1979 has held the post of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics. The chair was founded in 1663 with money left in the will of the Reverend Henry Lucas, who had been the Member of Parliament for the University. It was first held by Isaac Barrow, and then in 1669 by Isaac Newton.

Prof. Stephen Hawking has worked on the basic laws which govern the universe. With Roger Penrose he showed that Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity implied space and time would have a beginning in the Big Bang and an end in black holes. These results indicated it was necessary to unify General Relativity with Quantum Theory, the other great Scientific development of the first half of the 20th Century. One consequence of such a unification that he discovered was that black holes should not be completely black, but should emit radiation and eventually evaporate and disappear. Another conjecture is that the universe has no edge or boundary in imaginary time. This would imply that the way the universe began was completely determined by the laws of science.

Prof. Stephen Hawking’s many publications include: The Large Scale Structure of Spacetime with G F R Ellis, General Relativity: An Einstein Centenary Survey, with W Israel, and 300 Years of Gravity, with W Israel. Prof. Stephen Hawking has 3 popular books published; his best seller A Brief History of Time, Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays and most recently in 2001, The Universe in a Nutshell.

There are .pdf and .ps versions of his full publication list. Prof. Stephen Hawking has 12 honorary degrees, was awarded the CBE in 1982, and was made a Companion of Honour in 1989. Prof. Stephen Hawking is the recipient of many awards, medals and prizes and is a Fellow of The Royal Society and a Member of the US National Academy of Sciences.

Prof. Stephen Hawking continues to combine family life (he has three children and one grandchild), and his research into theoretical physics together with an extensive programme of travel and public lectures. Prof. Stephen Hawking suffers from ALS.

What is ALS?

ALS stands for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, sometimes called Lou Gehrig’s disease. It is a rapidly progressive and fatal neuromuscular disease that is characterized by degeneration of a select group of nerve cells and pathways (motor neurons) in the brain and spinal cord. This loss of motor neurons leads to progressive paralysis of the voluntary muscles. The heart is not a voluntary muscle, and therefore, remains unaffected by the disease. However, since breathing is controlled voluntarily by the chest muscles, death usually occurs when the chest muscles are no longer able to help the lungs achieve adequate oxygenation. Generally, there is little impairment of the brain or the senses.

“Amyotrophic” means:A = absence ofmyo = muscletrophic = nourishmentlateral = side (of spine)sclerosis = hardening or scarring ALS is not contagious, but it is fatal.For the most part, the battle is short, with 80% losing their lives within three to five years of diagnosis. While between 10% and 20% live ten years or more after diagnosis, others live only a few months. While the cause is unknown, research is being conducted in areas relating to genetic predispositions, viral or infectious agents, environmental toxins and immunological changes. For some people, the muscles for speaking, swallowing or breathing are the first to be affected. This is known as bulbar ALS.

The term “bulbar” refers to the motor neurons located in the brain stem, that control the muscles used for chewing, swallowing, and speaking. ALS symptoms, and the order in which they occur, vary from one person to another. In 85% of cases, ALS effects the lower portion of the spinal cord first. This is known as limb onset ALS. In these cases, muscle weakness, cramps and weakened reflexes affects the muscles in the arms and legs as the first signs of ALS. The rate of muscle loss can vary significantly from person to person with some patients having long periods with very slow degeneration. Signs and Symptoms Upper Motor Neuron Degeneration muscle stiffness or rigidity emotional lability (decreased ability to control emotions) excessive fatigue dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) dyspnea (shortness of breath) dysarthria (a speech disorder caused by impairment of the muscles used for speaking) incresed or ‘b risk’ reflexesgait spasticiy Lower Motor Neuron Degeneration muscle weakness and atrophy involuntary contraction of muscle fibres muscle cramps weakened reflexes flaccidity (decreased muscle tone)difficulty swallowing disordered articulation shortness of breath at rest.

Is ALS a Rare Disease?

ALS is not considered a rare disease. Approximately 2,500-3,000 Canadians currently live with ALS. 2 or 3 Canadians lose their battle to this devastating disease every day. In Ontario, roughly 1,000 people have ALS at any one time. “ALS is clearly the most common cause of neurological death on an annual basis,” Dr. Michael Strong, clinician at the University Health Sciences Centre and research scientist at the Robarts Research Institute, London, Ontario.

What Causes ALS?

We don’t really know what causes ALS, but we do know that it can strike any adult at any time. While the usual age at onset is between 45 and 65, people as young as 17 have been diagnosed in the past. Between 5 and 10% of ALS cases are found in the same families, meaning that they are “familial”, and are definitely linked genetically. But for the most part, diagnosis is sporadic and we don’t know how it is caused.

What are the early symptoms?

ALS usually becomes apparent either in the legs, the arms, the throat or the upper chest area. Some people begin to trip and fall, some may notice muscle loss in their hands and arms and some find it hard to swallow and slur their speech. ALS is difficult to diagnose. There is no specific test available that will either rule out or confirm the presence of ALS. Diagnosis is usually made through a ‘diagnosis of exclusions’. Neurologists conduct a number of tests, thereby ruling out other disorders that may cause similar symptoms, such as strokes or multiple sclerosis and if nothing else is positive and yet the symptoms continue to worsen, ALS is often the reason.

What are the effects of ALS?

Because ALS frequently takes its toll before being positively diagnosed, many patients are debilitated before learning they have ALS. The disease usually does not affect the senses – taste, touch, sight, smell, and hearing – or the mind. ALS has a devastating effect on patients and their families. As they cope with the prospect of advancing disability and eventually death, it consumes their financial and emotional reserves. It is a costly disease in its later stages, demanding both extensive nursing care and expensive equipment.

What can be done about ALS?

There is no known cure at this time and very little in the way of treatment that will have an effect on the disease itself.

Is there hope for people with ALS?

Research is looking to find not only the cause of the disease so that a cure can be developed but also other medications or treatments that can help until a cure is found. With improved knowledge about ALS, healthcare providers and families can help people living with ALS live life more fully. The services offered by the ALS Society of Ontario help improve the quality of life for those who live with ALS and their families.

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Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) Series-Disabled Legend Lou Gehrig

Lou Gehrig Henry Louis “Lou” Gehrig was born on 19 June, 1903 in the Yorkville section of Manhattan, USA and died on 2 June, 1941, at 10:10 p.m., 16 years to the day after he replaced Wally Pipp at first base, Henry Louis Gehrig died at his home at 5204 Delafield Avenue, in the Fieldston section of the Bronx, New York.

Upon hearing the news, Babe Ruth and his wife Claire went to the Gehrig’s house to console Eleanor. Mayor LaGuardia ordered flags in New York to be flown at half-staff, and Major League ballparks around the nation did likewise.

Following the funeral at Christ Episcopal Church of Riverdale, Lou Gehrig’s remains were cremated and interred on 4 June at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York. Lou Gehrig and Ed Barrow are both interred in the same section of Kensico Cemetery, which is next door to Gate of Heaven Cemetery, where the graves of Babe Ruth and Billy Martin are located.

Lou Gehrig’s headstone in Kensico Cemetery (the year of his birth was inscribed erroneously as 1905) Eleanor Gehrig never remarried following her husband’s passing, dedicating the rest of her life to supporting ALS research. Eleanor died on 6 March, 1984, on her 80th birthday. They had no children.

The Yankees dedicated a monument to Lou Gehrig in center field at Yankee Stadium on 6 July, 1941, the shrine lauding him as, “A man, a gentleman and a great ballplayer whose amazing record of 2,130 consecutive games should stand for all time.” Lou Gehrig’s monument joined the one placed there in 1932 to Miller Huggins, which would eventually be followed by Babe Ruth’s in 1949.

Lou Gehrig’s birthplace in Manhattan, 1994 Second Avenue (near E. 103rd Street), is memorialised with a plaque marking the site. Another early residence on E. 94th Street (near Second Avenue) is noted with a plaque. The Gehrigs’ white house at 5204 Delafield Avenue in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, where Lou Gehrig died, still stands today on the east side of the Henry Hudson Parkway and is likewise marked by a plaque.

Born Ludwig Heinrich Gehrig was an American baseball player in the 1920s and 1930s, chiefly remembered for his prowess as a hitter and the longevity of his consecutive games played record, which stood for more than a half-century, and the pathos of his tearful farewell from baseball at age 36, when he was stricken with a fatal disease. Popularly called “The Iron Horse” for his durability, Lou Gehrig set several Major League records. Lou Gehrig’s record for most career grand slam home runs (23) still stands as of 2008. Lou Gehrig was voted the greatest first baseman of all time by the Baseball Writers’ Association. Lou Gehrig was the leading vote-getter on the Major League Baseball All-Century Team, chosen by fans in 1999.

Lou Gehrig was a native of New York City, he played for the New York Yankees until his career was cut short by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), now commonly referred to in the United States as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Over a 15-season span between 1925 and 1939, he played in 2,130 consecutive games. The streak ended when Lou Gehrig became disabled with the fatal neuromuscular disease that claimed his life 2 years later. Lou Gehrig’s streak, long believed to be one of baseball’s few unbreakable records, stood for 56 years until finally broken by Cal Ripken, Jr., of the Baltimore Orioles on 6 September, 1995.

Lou Gehrig accumulated 1,995 runs batted in (RBIs) in 17 seasons with a lifetime batting average of .340, a lifetime on-base percentage of .447, and a lifetime slugging percentage of .632. A 7 time All-Star (the first All-Star game was not until 1933; he did not play in the 1939 game, retiring a week before it was held — at Yankee Stadium), he won the American League’s Most Valuable Player award in 1927 and 1936 and was a Triple Crown winner in 1934, leading the American League in batting average, home runs, and RBIs.

Lou Gehrig weighed almost 14 pounds (6.4 kg) at birth, the son of poor German immigrants Heinrich Gehrig and Christina Fack. Lou Gehrig’s father was a sheet metal worker by trade, but frequently unemployed due to ill health, so his mother was the breadwinner and disciplinarian. Both parents considered baseball to be a schoolyard game; his domineering mother steered young Lou Gehrig toward a career in business.

Lou Gehrig went to PS 132 in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan and then to Commerce High School, graduating in 1921. Lou Gehrig then studied at Columbia University for 2 years, although he did not graduate. While attending Columbia, he was a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity. Initially, Lou Gehrig could not play intercollegiate baseball for the Columbia Lions because he had played baseball for a summer professional league during his freshman year. At the time, he was unaware that doing so jeopardised his eligibility to play any collegiate sport. Lou Gehrig was ruled eligible to play on the Lions’ football team and was a standout fullback. Lou Gehrig later gained baseball eligibility and joined the Lions on that squad as well.

Lou Gehrig first garnered national attention for his baseball ability while playing in a game at Cubs Park (now Wrigley Field) on June 26, 1920. Lou Gehrig’s New York School of Commerce team was playing a team from Chicago’s Lane Tech High School, in front of a crowd of more than 10,000 spectators. With his team winning 8-6 in the top of the ninth inning, Lou Gehrig hit a grand slam completely out of the Major League ballpark, an unheard-of feat for a 17-year old high school boy.

Lou Gehrig on the Columbia University baseball team On 18 April, 1923 the same day that Yankee Stadium opened for the first time and Babe Ruth inaugurated the new stadium with a home run, Columbia pitcher Lou Gehrig struck out 17 Williams batters for a team record. However, Columbia lost the game. Only a handful of collegians were at South Field that day, but more significant was the presence of Yankee scout Paul Krichell, who had been trailing Lou Gehrig for some time. It was not Lou Gehrig’s pitching that particularly impressed him. Instead, it was Lou Gehrig’s powerful left-handed hitting. During the time Krichell had been observing the young Columbia ballplayer, Lou Gehrig had hit some of the longest home runs ever seen on various Eastern campuses, including a 450-foot (137 m) home run on 28 April at Columbia’s South Field which landed at 116th Street and Broadway. Within 2 months, Lou Gehrig had signed a Yankee contract.

Lou Gehrig joined the New York Yankees midway through the 1923 season and made his debut on 15 June 1923, as a pinch hitter. In his first 2 seasons, he saw limited playing time, mostly as a pinch hitter — he played in only 23 games and was not on the Yankees’ 1923 World Series roster. In 1925, he batted 437 times for a respectable .295 batting average with 20 home runs and 68 runs batted in (RBIs).

Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in exhibition game at West Point, NY (May 6, 1927) The 23 year old Yankee first baseman’s breakout season came in 1926, when he batted .313 with 47 doubles, an American League leading 20 triples, 16 home runs, and 112 RBIs. In the 1926 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Lou Gehrig hit .348 with  2 doubles and 4 RBIs. The Cardinals won a 7 game series, winning 4 games to 3.

In 1927, Lou Gehrig put up one of the greatest seasons by any batter in history. That year, he hit .373, with 218 hits: 52 doubles, 18 triples, 47 home runs, 175 runs batted in, and a .765 slugging percentage.

Despite playing in the shadow of the larger-than-life Ruth for 2/3 of his career, Lou Gehrig was one of the highest run producers in baseball history: he had 509 RBIs during a 3 season stretch (1930-32). Only 2 other players, Jimmie Foxx with 507 and Hank Greenberg with 503, have surpassed 500 RBIs in any 3 seasons; their totals were non-consecutive. (Babe Ruth had 498.) Playing 14 complete seasons, Lou Gehrig had 13 consecutive seasons with 100 or better RBIs (a Major League record he shares with Jimmie Foxx). Lou Gehrig had 6 seasons where he batted .350 or better (with a high of .379 in 1930), plus a 7th season at .349. Lou Gehrig had 8 seasons with 150 or more RBIs, 11 seasons with over 100 walks, 8 seasons with 200 or more hits, and 5 seasons with more than 40 home runs. Lou Gehrig led the American League in runs scored 4 times, home runs 3 times, and RBIs 5 times. Lou Gehrig’s 184 RBIs in 1931 is still an American League record as of 2008 and second all-time to Hack Wilson’s 191 RBIs in 1930. 3 of the top 6 RBI seasons in baseball history were Lou Gehrig’s. Lou Gehrig also holds the baseball record for most seasons with 400 total bases or more, accomplishing this feat 5 times in his career.

During the 10 seasons (1925-1934) in which Lou Gehrig and Ruth were both Yankees and played a majority of games, Lou Gehrig had more home runs than Ruth only once, in 1934, when he hit 49 compared to Ruth’s 22 (Ruth played 125 games that year). They tied at 46 in 1931. Ruth had 424 home runs compared to Lou Gehrig’s 347. Lou Gehrig had more RBIs in 7 years (1925, 1927, 1930-1934) and they tied in 1928. Ruth had 1,316 RBIs compared to Lou Gehrig’s 1,436, although the latter had more hits in 8 years (1925, 1927-28, 1930-34) and a higher slugging percentage in 2 years (1933-34). Lou Gehrig also had a higher batting average in 7 years (1925, 1927-28, 1930, 1932-34). For that span, Lou Gehrig had a .343 batting average, compared to .338 for Ruth.

Lou Gehrig and Carl Hubbell on 1936 Time Magazine coverIn 1932, Lou Gehrig became the first player of the 20th century to hit 4 home runs in a single game, accomplishing the feat on 3 June against the Philadelphia Athletics. Lou Gehrig narrowly missed getting a 5th home run in the game when Athletics center fielder Al Simmons made a leaping catch of another Lou Gehrig-hit fly ball at the centerfield fence. After the game, Manager Joe McCarthy told him, “Well, Lou, nobody can take today away from you…” However, on that same day, John McGraw chose to announce his retirement after 30 years of managing the New York Giants, and so McGraw, not Lou Gehrig, got the headlines in the sports sections the next day and Lou Gehrig, as usual, was overshadowed. The following year, in September 1933, Lou Gehrig married Eleanor Twitchell, the daughter of Chicago Parks Commissioner Frank Twitchell.

In a 1936 World Series cover story about Lou Gehrig and Carl Hubbell, Time magazine proclaimed Lou Gehrig “the game’s No. 1 batsman”, who “takes boyish pride in banging a baseball as far, and running around the bases as quickly, as possible”.

On 1 June 1925, Lou Gehrig entered the game as a pinch hitter, substituting for shortstop Paul “Pee Wee” Wanninger. The next day, 2 June, Yankee manager Miller Huggins started Lou Gehrig in place of regular first baseman Wally Pipp. Wally Pipp was in a slump, as were the Yankees as a team, so Miller Huggins made several lineup changes to boost their performance. 14 years later, Lou Gehrig had played 2,130 consecutive games. In a few instances, Lou Gehrig managed to keep the streak intact through pinch hitting appearances and fortuitous timing; in others, the streak continued despite injuries. For example:

On 23 April 1933, an errant pitch by Washington Senators hurler struck Lou Gehrig in the head. Although almost knocked unconscious, Lou Gehrig recovered and remained in the game.

On 14 June 1933, Lou Gehrig was ejected from a game, along with manager Joe McCarthy, but he had already been at bat, so he got credit for playing the game.

On 13 July 1934, Lou Gehrig suffered a “lumbago attack” and had to be assisted off the field. In the next day’s away game, he was listed in the lineup as “shortstop”, batting lead-off. In his first and only plate appearance, he singled and was promptly replaced by a pinch runner to rest his throbbing back, never taking the field. A&E’s Biography speculated that this illness, which he also described as “a cold in his back”, might have been the first symptom of his debilitating disease.

In addition, X-rays taken late in his life disclosed that Lou Gehrig had sustained several fractures during his playing career, although he remained in the lineup despite those previously undisclosed injuries.

Lou Gehrig’s record of 2,130 consecutive games played stood until 6 September, 1995, when Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr. played in his 2,131st consecutive game to establish a new record.

Plaque in St. Petersburg, Fla., where Lou Gehrig collapsed in 1939 during spring training At the midpoint of the 1938 season, Lou Gehrig’s performance began to diminish. At the end of that season, he said, “I tired mid season. I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t get going again.” Although his final 1938 stats were respectable (.295 batting average, 114 RBIs, 170 hits, .523 slugging percentage, 689 plate appearances with only 75 strikeouts, and 29 home runs), it was a dramatic drop from his 1937 season (when he batted .351 and slugged .643). In the 1938 post-season his batting average was .286 and all 4 of his hits were singles.

When the Yankees began their 1939 spring training in St. Petersburg, Florida, it was obvious that Lou Gehrig no longer possessed his once-formidable power. Even Lou Gehrig’s base running was affected, and at one point he collapsed at Al Lang Field, the Yankees’ spring training park at the time in St. Petersburg. By the end of spring training, Lou Gehrig had not hit even one home run. Throughout his career, Lou Gehrig was considered an excellent runner on the basepaths, but as the 1939 season got underway, his co-ordination and speed had deteriorated significantly.

By the end of April, his statistics were the worst of his career, with just 1 RBI and a .143 batting average. Fans and the press openly speculated on Lou Gehrig’s abrupt decline. James Kahn, a reporter who wrote often about Lou Gehrig, said in one article:

I think there is something wrong with him. Physically wrong, I mean. I don’t know what it is, but I am satisfied that it goes far beyond his ball-playing. I have seen ballplayers ‘go’ overnight, as lou Gehrig seems to have done. But they were simply washed up as ballplayers. It’s something deeper than that in this case, though. I have watched him very closely and this is what I have seen: I have seen him time a ball perfectly, swing on it as hard as he can, meet it squarely — and drive a soft, looping fly over the infield. In other words, for some reason that I do not know, his old power isn’t there… Lou Gehrig is meeting the ball, time after time, and it isn’t going anywhere.

Lou Gehrig was indeed meeting the ball, with only one strikeout in 28 at-bats. But Joe McCarthy found himself resisting pressure from Yankee management to switch Lou Gehrig to a part-time role. Things came to a head when Lou Gehrig had to struggle to make a routine put-out at first base. The pitcher, Johnny Murphy, had to wait for Lou Gehrig to drag himself over to the bag so he could catch Murphy’s throw. Murphy said, “Nice play, Lou.”

On 30 April, Lou Gehrig went hitless against the weak Washington Senators. LouGehrig had just played his 2,130th consecutive Major League game.

On 2 May, the next game after a day off, Lou Gehrig approached Joe McCarthy before the game in Detroit against the Tigers and said, “I’m benching myself, Joe”, telling the Yankees’ skipper that he was doing so “for the good of the team”. Joe McCarthy acquiesced and put Ellsworth “Babe” Dahlgren in at first base, and also said that whenever Gehrig wanted to play again, the position was his. Gehrig himself took the lineup card out to the shocked umpires before the game, ending the 14-year stamina streak. Before the game began, the Briggs Stadium announcer told the fans, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the first time Lou Gehrig’s name will not appear on the Yankee lineup in 2,130 consecutive games.” The Detroit Tigers fans gave Lou Gehrig a standing ovation while he sat on the bench with tears in his eyes. Lou Gehrig stayed with the Yankees as team captain for a few more weeks, but he never played baseball again.

As Lou Gehrig’s debilitation became steadily worse, Eleanor called the famed Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Eleanor’s call was transferred to Dr. Charles William Mayo, who had been following Lou Gehrig’s career and his mysterious loss of strength. Dr. Mayo told Eleanor to bring Lou Gehrig as soon as possible.

Eleanor and Lou Gehrig flew to Rochester from Chicago, where the Yankees were playing at the time, arriving at the Mayo Clinic on 13 June, 1939. After 6 days of extensive testing at Mayo Clinic, the diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) was confirmed on 19 June, Lou Gehrig’s 36th birthday. The prognosis was grim: rapidly increasing paralysis, difficulty in swallowing and speaking, and a life expectancy of fewer than 3 years, although there would be no impairment of mental functions. Eleanor Gehrig was told that the cause of ALS was unknown but it was painless, non-contagious and cruel — the central nervous system is destroyed but the mind remains fully aware to the end.

Lou Gehrig often wrote letters to Eleanor, and in one such note written shortly afterwards, said (in part):

The bad news is lateral sclerosis, in our language chronic infantile paralysis. There isn’t any cure… there are very few of these cases. It is probably caused by some germ…Never heard of transmitting it to mates… There is a 50-50 chance of keeping me as I am. I may need a cane in 10 or 15 years. Playing is out of the question…

Following Lou Gehrig’s visit to the Mayo Clinic, he briefly rejoined the Yankees in Washington, DC. As his train pulled into Union Station, he was greeted by a group of Boy Scouts, happily waving and wishing him luck. Lou Gehrig waved back, but he leaned forward to his companion, a reporter, and said, “They’re wishing me luck — and I’m dying.”

 On 21 June, the New York Yankees announced Lou Gehrig’s retirement and proclaimed 4 July, 1939, “Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day” at Yankee Stadium. Between games of the Independence Day doubleheader against the Washington Senators, the poignant ceremonies were held on the diamond. In its coverage the following day, The New York Times said it was “Perhaps as colourful and dramatic a pageant as ever was enacted on a baseball field [as] 61,808 fans thundered a hail and farewell”. Dignitaries extolled the dying slugger and the members of the 1927 Yankees World Championship team, known as “Murderer’s Row”, attended the ceremonies. New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia called Lou Gehrig “the greatest prototype of good sportsmanship and citizenship” and Postmaster General James Farley concluded his speech by predicting, “For generations to come, boys who play baseball will point with pride to your record.”

Yankees Manager Joe McCarthy, struggling to control his emotions, then spoke of Lou Gehrig, with whom there was a close, almost father and son-like bond. After describing Lou Gehrig as “the finest example of a ballplayer, sportsman, and citizen that baseball has ever known”, Joe McCarthy could stand it no longer. Turning tearfully to Lou Gehrig, the manager said, “Lou, what else can I say except that it was a sad day in the life of everybody who knew you when you came into my hotel room that day in Detroit and told me you were quitting as a ballplayer because you felt yourself a hindrance to the team. My God, man, you were never that.”

The Yankees retired Lou Gehrig’s uniform number “4”, making him the first player in Major League Baseball history to be accorded that honor. Lou Gehrig was given many gifts, commemorative plaques, and trophies. Some came from VIPs; others came from the stadium’s groundskeepers and janitorial staff. Footage of the ceremonies shows Lou Gehrig being handed various gifts, and immediately setting them down on the ground, because he no longer had the arm strength to hold them. The Yankees gave him a silver trophy with their signatures engraved on it. Inscribed on the front was a special poem written by The New York Times writer John Kieran. The trophy cost only about $5, but it became one of Lou Gehrig’s most prized possessions. It is currently on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

After the presentations and remarks by Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig addressed the crowd:

“Fans, for the past 2 weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for 17 years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

“Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent 6 years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next 9 years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.

“When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift — that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies — that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter — that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body — it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed — that’s the finest I know.

“So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.”

Lou Gehrig at Yankee Stadium, 4 July, 1939

The crowd stood and applauded for almost 2 minutes. Lou Gehrig was visibly shaken as he stepped away from the microphone, and wiped the tears away from his face with his handkerchief. Babe Ruth came over and hugged him as a band played “I Love You Truly” and the crowd chanted “We love you, Lou”. The New York Times account the following day called it “one of the most touching scenes ever witnessed on a ball field”, that made even hard-boiled reporters “swallow hard”.

In December 1939, Lou Gehrig was elected unanimously to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in a special election by the Baseball Writers Association, waiving the waiting period normally required after a ballplayer’s retirement. At age 36, he was the youngest player to be so honoured.

“Don’t think I am depressed or pessimistic about my condition at present,” Lou Gehrig wrote following his retirement from baseball. Struggling against his ever-worsening physical condition, he added, “I intend to hold on as long as possible and then if the inevitable comes, I will accept it philosophically and hope for the best. That’s all we can do.”

In October 1939, he accepted Mayor LaGuardia’s appointment to a 10 year term as a New York City Parole Commissioner and was sworn into office on 2 January, 1940. The Parole Commission commended the ex-ballplayer for his “firm belief in parole, properly administered”, stating that Lou Gehrig “indicated he accepted the parole post because it represented an opportunity for public service. Lou Gehrig had rejected other job offers – including lucrative speaking and guest appearance opportunities – worth far more financially than the $5,700 a year commissionership.” Lou Gehrig visited New York City’s correctional facilities, but insisted that they not be covered by news media. Lou Gehrig, as always, quietly and efficiently performed his duties. Lou Gehrig was often helped by his wife Eleanor, who would guide his hand when he had to sign official documents. About a month before his death, when Lou Gehrig reached the point where his deteriorating physical condition made it impossible for him to continue in the job, he quietly resigned.

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