Obituaries in the news

Eds: PMs. ADDS Piasecki. Separates on Bell and Lantos moved on general news wire. Separates on Nielsen and Scheider moved on entertainment and general news wire.

By The Associated Press

Freddie Bell

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Freddie Bell, a forerunner in the 1950s rock 'n' roll era whose toe-tapping versions of "Giddy Up A Ding Dong" and "Hound Dog" inspired Elvis Presley to cover the songs, died. He was 76.

Bell died Sunday in a Las Vegas hospital from complications of cancer, said his publicist Norm Johnson.

Bell was performing at the Sands casino-hotel on the Las Vegas Strip in the mid-1950s when Presley was just an opening act across the street at the New Frontier. Bell's upbeat covers, and perhaps his knee-wiggling dance moves, inspired Presley, Johnson said.

Bell came to Las Vegas in 1953 from his home town of Philadelphia and was considered one of the great lounge acts of the time, alongside the trio of saxophonist Sam Butera, Louis Prima and Keely Smith, Johnson said.

Bell also appeared in a number of films, including "Rock Around the Clock" (1956) starring Bill Haley.

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Kirk Browning

NEW YORK (AP) -- Kirk Browning, who rose from music librarian at a television network to become the award-winning director of the enduring series "Live from Lincoln Center," has died. He was 86.

Browning died of cardiac arrest at his Manhattan home on Sunday, Lincoln Center announced.

In a career spanning 58 years, Browning directed 185 broadcasts of "Live from Lincoln Center," winning 10 Emmys, and such pioneering works as Frank Sinatra's first TV show and the world premiere of Gian Carlo Menotti's "Amahl and the Night Visitors," the first opera written for television.

He never retired, and in recent weeks he was beginning work on another "Live from Lincoln Center," a New York City Opera production of "Madama Butterfly," to be broadcast March 20.

Browning, a New York native, began his career filing musical scores at the NBC music library. Rising swiftly at the network, he directed live telecasts of the NBC Symphony led by Arturo Toscanini and later the NBC Opera Company.

Along with his Lincoln Center Emmys and three prime-time Emmys for other productions, Browning earned two Christopher awards, a CITA award and a George Foster Peabody award.

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Tom Lantos

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Rep. Tom Lantos, who escaped the Nazis and grew up to become a forceful voice for human rights all over the world, has died. He was 80.

The California Democrat, the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress, died Monday at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center in Maryland, said his spokeswoman, Lynne Weil. He disclosed last month that he had cancer of the esophagus.

Lantos, who chaired the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was serving his 14th term in Congress. He had said he would not seek re-election in his Northern California district, which takes in the southwest portion of San Francisco and suburbs to the south.

Lantos assumed his committee chairmanship when Democrats retook control of Congress. He said at the time that in a sense his whole life had been a preparation for the job -- and it was.

Lantos, who called himself "an American by choice," was born to Jewish parents in Budapest, Hungary, and was 16 when Adolf Hitler occupied Hungary in 1944. He survived by escaping twice from a forced labor camp and coming under the protection of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who used his official status to save thousands of Hungarian Jews.

Lantos' mother and much of his family perished in the Holocaust.

That background gave Lantos a unique moral authority that he used to speak out on foreign policy issues, sometimes courting controversy. He advocated for human rights in Sudan, Myanmar and elsewhere, and in 2006 was one of five members of Congress arrested outside the Sudanese Embassy protesting what the Bush administration describes as genocide in Darfur.

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Inga Nielsen

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) -- Inga Nielsen, the Danish soprano who performed in some of the world's leading opera houses, has died. She was 61.

Nielsen died Sunday at a hospital in Copenhagen, Royal Opera music director Michael Schoenwandt said Monday. He declined to give the cause of death. Nielsen had suffered from cancer in recent years.

One of Denmark's best known sopranos, Nielsen performed on stages such as La Scala in Milan, the Vienna State Opera and London's Covent Garden.

Nielsen sang at festivals across Europe, including Bayreuth in Germany and Salzburg in Austria, Aix-en-Provence in France and Edinburgh, Scotland, as well as the Mostly Mozart festival in New York.

The daughter of a Danish father and an Austrian mother, Nielsen was considered a musical prodigy as a child. She made her first recordings -- Danish folk songs and Christmas carols -- at the age of nine.

She began her professional career in 1971 as a soubrette at Gelsenkirchen, in Germany's industrial Ruhr region. In 1975, she became an ensemble member of the Frankfurt Opera.

Some of her most memorable performances came when she sang "Constance" in Mozart's "The Abduction from the Seraglio" in Salzburg and when she played Salome in Richard Strauss' work of the same name, Schoenwandt said.

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Frank Piasecki

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Aviation pioneer Frank Piasecki, inventor of the tandem-rotor helicopter used in troop-transport missions and land and sea rescue flights, has died at his home in the Philadelphia suburbs. He was 88.

Piasecki's wife, Vivian, was with him when he fell ill Monday at his home in Havertown. The cause of his death had not been determined but he had suffered several recent strokes, his son, John Piasecki, said early Tuesday.

Piasecki was born in 1919 in Lansdowne and was involved in the earliest days of helicopters. Igor Sikorski became the first American to build and fly a helicopter, in 1941, and Piasecki became the second, in 1943.

In the 1940s, Piasecki invented the twin-rotor craft that was developed into the Army Chinook and Navy Sea Knight helicopters still operating today. The Chinook was used for long-distance troop-ferrying in Vietnam in the 1960s, and newer models continue to fly special operations missions.

Piasecki eventually left Piasecki Helicopter Co. In 1955, he formed Piasecki Aircraft Corp. to continue exploring new technology. Piasecki Helicopter became Vertol Aircraft Corp. and was acquired by Boeing in 1960. Boeing now manufactures the Chinook and Sea Knight helicopters at its Ridley Township plant.

Piasecki was still chief executive of Piasecki Aircraft, and testing is under way on his latest invention. In place of a sideways facing tail rotor, the Speed Hawk helicopter has a rear-facing ducted propeller designed to improve stability and forward speed.

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Roy Scheider

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- Roy Scheider, a two-time Oscar nominee best known for his role as a police chief in the blockbuster movie "Jaws," has died. He was 75.

Scheider died Sunday at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences hospital in Little Rock, hospital spokesman David Robinson said. The hospital did not release a cause of death.

However, hospital spokeswoman Leslie Taylor said Scheider had been treated for multiple myeloma at the hospital's Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy for the past two years.

Scheider was nominated for a best-supporting actor Oscar in 1971's "The French Connection" in which he played the police partner of Oscar winner Gene Hackman and for best-actor for 1979's "All That Jazz," the autobiographical Bob Fosse film.

However, he was best known for his role in Steven Spielberg's 1975 film, "Jaws," the enduring classic about a killer shark terrorizing beachgoers and well as millions of moviegoers.

Widely hailed as the film that launched the era of the Hollywood blockbuster, it was the first movie to earn $100 million at the box office.

In 2005, one of Scheider's most famous lines in the movie -- "You're gonna need a bigger boat" -- was voted No. 35 on the American Film Institute's list of best quotes from U.S. movies.