Feb. 1, 1931 — April 23, 2007
Boris Yeltsin was the controversial former Russian president who was a key player in ending 70 years of Soviet communism, and was credited with creating democracy in Russia. He introduced a new constitution and banned the Communist Party, further consolidating his own executive power. Under Yeltsin's rule, Russians experienced unprecedented political and civil liberties, and the country opened its doors to new ideas and outside influences, including market reforms. Some of his actions confused onlookers, including, in 1993, when he ordered tanks to fire on his own parliament house while he was locked in a conflict with his political opposition. He was also sharply criticized for launching a war against Chechnya in 1994, which killed more Russians than the bloody ten year war between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan. When he retired in 1999, he handed over his post to Vladimir Putin, a former head of the Russian secret service. Yeltsin died of heart failure at the age of 76.
Oct. 17, 1938 — Nov. 30, 2007
Evel Knievel was a motorcycle daredevil whose death-defying stunts won him international recognition. His feats — not always successful — ranged from jumping 14 Greyhound buses at Kings Island, Ohio, to jumping into a tank full of live sharks at the Chicago Amphitheater. Knievel was best known for a failed 1974 attempt to jump an Idaho canyon on a rocket-powered cycle, and a spectacular crash at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. He suffered nearly 40 broken bones before he retired in 1980. Although he dropped off the pop culture radar in the '80s, Knievel always had fans and enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent years. In his later years, he still made a good living, selling his autographs and endorsing products. "No king or prince has lived a better life," he said in a May 2006 interview with The Associated Press. "You're looking at a guy who's really done it all. And there are things I wish I had done better, not only for me but for the ones I loved." He had been in failing health for years, suffering from diabetes and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable condition that scarred his lungs.
Aug. 11, 1933 — May 15, 2007
Jerry Falwell was a Protestant Christian televangelist and pastor who founded Liberty University and co-founded the Moral Majority, which became one of the most influential Christian lobby groups in the United States during the 1980s. Falwell said that the church was the necessary foundation of a successful, patriarchal family. At the age of 22, he founded the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Va., which now has a congregation of 24,000. After six months of establishing the church, Falwell was already on the radio and television airwaves with his "Old Time Gospel Hour." The power lobbying group he co-founded in 1979, the Moral Majority, was based on pro-family, pro-life, pro-defense and pro-Israeli beliefs. During his career, Falwell launched legal wars against magazines like Hustler and Penthouse, and was known for his demonization of gay groups and claims of an imminent apocalypse. Falwell had a history of heart trouble, and eventually died of heart failure at the age of 73.
April 10, 1934 — April 23, 2007