When former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated at a rally last week, protests erupted across parts of Pakistan, and troops were called out to put down some of the most chaotic violence the country had seen in years. Bhutto was not only an iconic leader, but a living symbol of hope for change in Pakistan.
Along with Bhutto, here are some extraordinary human beings who died in 2007 — just some of the icons who have created history.
June 21, 1953 — Dec. 27, 2007
Benazir Bhutto was the youngest person and first woman to lead a Muslim state. Bhutto entered the political spotlight as the daughter of one of Pakistan's most democratically leaning prime ministers, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was imprisoned and executed following a military coup. She replaced him at the helm of his political party, and was elected prime minister of Pakistan in 1988 at the age of 35. She was removed from office both times on charges of alleged corruption, which were never proved, but drove her into self-imposed exile. Even while in exile, she maintained her devoted following. Bhutto returned to her home city of Karachi this past October, which rallied hundreds of thousands of supporters and set off political protests against President Pervez Musharraf. For months, she negotiated an agreement to share power with Musharraf, but instead, Musharraf declared a state of martial law. Bhutto was killed this past Thursday in a shooting and suicide bombing attack at a rally in Rawalpindi.
July 6, 1925 — Aug. 12, 2007
Merv Griffin was both an entertainer, who entered American homes as a beloved talk and game show host, and a show biz magnate, cementing his reputation by creating shows like "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune." Born into a middle-class Irish-American family, Griffin began his performance career as a choir boy and then church organist, and later became a singer. At the age of 19, Griffin began singing on radio and was later discovered by Doris Day while singing in a nightclub. A successful screen test at Warner Brothers Studios launched an acting career, which evolved into one as a game and talk show host. From 1958 to 1962, he hosted numerous shows, including "Play Your Hunch," as well as an ABC show called "Keep Talking." He also produced some game shows, including an unsuccessful attempt to make a show out of the board game Monopoly.
March 31, 1929 — June 26, 2007
For Liz Claiborne, it wasn't enough to be a modern working woman — she created the first professional wardrobe for modern women in 1976, just as women were making forays into corporate America. Turned off by women's work clothes, which began as simply a reinterpretation of men's professional wear, Claiborne imagined and reinvented workwear for women. She injected color, creativity and sensibility into well-tailored clothing, which was an affordable alternative to the other, more costly clothing options available to women. Liz Claiborne Inc., was the first women's company to make the Fortune 500 list, and by the time Claiborne retired in 1990, it was the largest women's apparel company in the United States, logging $1.4 billion in sales. Claiborne died of complications from cancer at the age of 78.
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
David Halberstam was a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author. Halberstam began his career writing for small papers in the South and later covered the American civil rights movement for The New York Times. He won a Pulitzer Prize at the age of 30 for his reporting on the Vietnam War. From the 1970s through the '90s, Halberstam published a series of critically acclaimed books, including "The Best and the Brightest," a thesis on John F. Kennedy's foreign policy decisions on Vietnam. He later produced a series of books on sports, including "Summer of '49" and "The Breaks of the Game." Halberstam died in a traffic accident while on his way to give a talk at UC Berkeley.
Tammy Faye Messner
March 7, 1942 — July 20, 2007
Tamara "Tammy" Faye Messner helped revolutionize television evangelism in America. From 1976 to 1987, Messner and her former husband, Jim Bakker, co-hosted a show on the PTL, a cable network that reached 13 million American homes. At their peak, the power couple controlled the PTL, and was worth $125 million, until it was revealed that the organization had paid $287,000 in hush money to Jessica Hahn, who had had a sexual encounter with Bakker. Bakker was sentenced to 45 years in prison on fraud and conspiracy counts, and Messner married contractor Roe Messner, who was later convicted of bankruptcy fraud. Despite the scandals, Tammy Faye Messner was able to maintain her fame with a string of books, movies and television appearances, the most brazen being a VH-1 series called "The Surreal Life." Messner seemed comfortable, poking fun at herself, and called regret "a waste of good brain space." She died at the age of 65 after an 11-year battle with colon cancer, which spread to her lungs.