Oscar-winning actor Robin Williams dies at 63

Year
2014
Month Day
August 11

Robin Williams, the prolific Oscar-winning actor and comedian, died by suicide on August 11, 2014. He was 63. 

On the big screen, Williams, who was born in Chicago in 1951, made his debut in the 1977 low-budget comedy “Can I Do it ‘Til I Need Glasses?” then went on to appear in films such as “The World According to Garp” (1982), “Moscow on the Hudson” (1984) and “Good Morning, Vietnam” (1987), for which he earned his first Academy Award nomination, in the best actor category, for his performance as an Armed Forces Radio disc jockey. Williams also received best actor Oscar nods for his role as an influential English teacher in “Dead Poets Society” and his role as a delusional homeless man in “The Fisher King” (1991).

Among the performer’s other credits are “Aladdin” (1992), in which he voiced the part of the genie, “Mrs. Doubtfire,” in which he portrayed a British nanny and “Good Will Hunting,” for which he won an Oscar, in the best supporting actor category, for his role as a therapist. Williams followed these projects with films including “One Hour Photo” (2002), “The Night Listener” (2006), the “Happy Feet” series (2006-11) and the “Night at the Museum” series (2006-14). 

Williams was involved in a number of charitable causes, such as co-hosting telethons, along with Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg, for Comic Relief, an organization that helps homeless people. The actor also was a regular on USO tours, entertaining American troops around the world. In his stand-up routines, Williams spoke openly about his experiences with substance abuse and sobriety.

After Williams died, tributes poured in from the Hollywood community and beyond. Then-president Barack Obama said: “[He] was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan and everything in-between. But he was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien—but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit.”

Source

Watts Rebellion begins

Year
1965
Month Day
August 11

In the predominantly Black Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, racial tension reaches a breaking point after two white policemen scuffle with a Black motorist suspected of drunken driving. A crowd of spectators gathered near the corner of Avalon Boulevard and 116th Street to watch the arrest and soon grew angry by what they believed to be yet another incident of racially motivated abuse by the police. 

An uprising soon began, spurred on by residents of Watts who were embittered after years of economic and political isolation. The rioters eventually ranged over a 50-square-mile area of South Central Los Angeles, looting stores and torching buildings as snipers fired at police and firefighters. Finally, with the assistance of thousands of National Guardsmen, the violence was quelled on August 16. 

The five days of violence left 34 dead, 1,032 injured, nearly 4,000 arrested and $40 million worth of property destroyed. The Watts Rebellion, also know as the Watts Riots or the Watts Uprising, foreshadowed many rebellions to occur in ensuing years, including the 1967 Detroit Riots and Newark Riots. 

Source

Hussein succeeds to Jordanian throne

Year
1952
Month Day
August 11

Prince Hussein is proclaimed the king of Jordan after his father, King Talal, is declared unfit to rule by the Jordanian Parliament on grounds of mental illness. Hussein was formally crowned on November 14, 1953, his 18th birthday. Hussein was the third constitutional king of Jordan and a member of the Hashemite dynasty, said to be in direct line of descent from the Prophet Muhammad.

During his nearly five decades of rule, he maintained good relations with the West and steadily developed Jordan’s economy. He fought against Israel in 1967’s Six-Day War and later against Palestinian guerrillas who tried to seize control of the Jordanian state. He opposed the Persian Gulf War of 1991 but supported the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He died in 1999 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Prince Abdallah. He was the 20th century’s longest-serving executive head of state.

Source

Federal prisoners land on Alcatraz

Year
1934
Month Day
August 11

A group of federal prisoners classified as “most dangerous” arrives at Alcatraz Island, a 22-acre rocky outcrop situated 1.5 miles offshore in San Francisco Bay, on August 11, 1934. The convicts—the first civilian prisoners to be housed in the new high-security penitentiary—joined a few dozen military prisoners left over from the island’s days as a U.S. military prison.

READ MORE: 10 Things You May Not Know About Alcatraz 

Alcatraz was an uninhabited seabird haven when it was explored by Spanish Lieutenant Juan Manuel de Ayala in 1775. He named it Isla de los Alcatraces, or “Island of the Pelicans.” Fortified by the Spanish, Alcatraz was sold to the United States in 1849. In 1854, it had the distinction of housing the first lighthouse on the coast of California. Beginning in 1859, a U.S. Army detachment was garrisoned there, and from 1868 Alcatraz was used to house military criminals. In addition to recalcitrant U.S. soldiers, prisoners included rebellious Indian scouts, American soldiers fighting in the Philippines who had deserted to the Filipino cause, and Chinese civilians who resisted the U.S. Army during the Boxer Rebellion. In 1907, Alcatraz was designated the Pacific Branch of the United States Military Prison.

In 1934, Alcatraz was fortified into a high-security federal penitentiary designed to hold the most dangerous prisoners in the U.S. penal system, especially those with a penchant for escape attempts. The first shipment of civilian prisoners arrived on August 11, 1934. Later that month, more shiploads arrived, featuring, among other convicts, infamous mobster Al Capone. In September, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, another luminary of organized crime, landed on Alcatraz.

In the 1940s, a famous Alcatraz prisoner was Richard Stroud, the “Birdman of Alcatraz.” A convicted murderer, Stroud wrote an important study on birds while being held in solitary confinement in Leavenworth Prison in Kansas. Regarded as extremely dangerous because of his 1916 murder of a guard at Leavenworth, he was transferred to Alcatraz in 1942. Stroud was not allowed to continue his avian research at Alcatraz.

Although some three dozen attempted, no prisoner was known to have successfully escaped “The Rock.” However, the bodies of several escapees believed drowned in the treacherous waters of San Francisco Bay were never found. The story of the 1962 escape of three of these men, Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin, inspired the 1979 film Escape from Alcatraz. Another prisoner, John Giles, caught a boat ride to the shore in 1945 dressed in an army uniform he had stolen piece by piece, but he was questioned by a suspicious officer after disembarking and sent back to Alcatraz. Only one man, John Paul Scott, was recorded to have reached the mainland by swimming, but he came ashore exhausted and hypothermic at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. Police found him lying unconscious and in a state of shock.

In 1963, U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy ordered Alcatraz closed, citing the high expense of its maintenance. In its 29-year run, Alcatraz housed more than 1,500 convicts. In March 1964 a group of Sioux Indians briefly occupied the island, citing an 1868 treaty with the Sioux allowing Indians to claim any “unoccupied government land.” In November 1969, a group of nearly 100 Indian students and activists began a more prolonged occupation of the island, remaining there until they were forced off by federal marshals in June 1971.

In 1972, Alcatraz was opened to the public as part of the newly created Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which is maintained by the National Park Service. More than one million tourists visit Alcatraz Island and the former prison annually.

READ MORE: Escape From Alcatraz, 1962 

Source

Germans begin to evacuate Sicily

Year
1943
Month Day
August 11

On August 11, 1943, German forces begin a six-day evacuation of the Italian island of Sicily, having been beaten back by the Allies, who invaded the island in July.

The Germans had maintained a presence in Sicily since the earliest days of the war. But with the arrival of Gen. George S. Patton and his 7th Army and Gen. Bernard Montgomery and his 8th Army, the Germans could no longer hold their position. The race began for the Strait of Messina, the 2-mile wide body of water that separated Sicily from the Italian mainland. The Germans needed to get out of Sicily and onto the Italian peninsula. While Patton had already reached his goal, Palermo, the Sicilian capital, on July 22 (to a hero’s welcome, as the Sicilian people were more than happy to see an end to fascist rule), Montgomery, determined to head off the Germans at Messina, didn’t make his goal in time. The German 29th Panzergrenadier Division and the 14th Panzer Corps were brought over from Africa for the sole purpose of slowing the Allies’ progress and allowing the bulk of the German forces to get off the island. The delaying tactic succeeded. Despite the heavy bombing of railways leading to Messina, the Germans made it to the strait on August 11.

Over six days and seven nights, the Germans led 39,569 soldiers, 47 tanks, 94 heavy guns, 9,605 vehicles, and more than 2,000 tons of ammunition onto the Italian mainland. (Not to mention the 60,000 Italian soldiers who were also evacuated, in order to elude capture by the Allies.) Although the United States and Britain had succeeded in conquering Sicily, the Germans were now reinforced and heavily supplied, making the race for Rome more problematic.

Source

Last U.S. ground combat unit departs South Vietnam

Year
1972
Month Day
August 11

The last U.S. ground combat unit in South Vietnam, the Third Battalion, Twenty-First Infantry, departs for the United States. The unit had been guarding the U.S. air base at Da Nang. This left only 43,500 advisors, airmen, and support troops left in-country. This number did not include the sailors of the Seventh Fleet on station in the South China Sea or the air force personnel in Thailand and Guam.

Source

Reagan jokes about bombing Russia

Year
1984
Month Day
August 11

On August 11, 1984, President Ronald Reagan makes a joking but controversial off-the-cuff remark about bombing Russia while testing a microphone before a scheduled radio address. While warming up for the speech, Reagan said “My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”

Although the press throng and his aides in attendance laughed at the obvious joke, the comment unnerved Democratic opposition leaders and those already fearful of the hard-line posturing Reagan had displayed toward the USSR since assuming office in 1981. Others simply dismissed his remark, which came at a time of heightened tensions between the U.S. and Russia, as a moment of poor taste.

Reagan’s tough, anti-communist rhetoric and his policy to increase American defense spending contrasted with the Soviet policies of former Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter, who had tried to cultivate improved relations with Soviet Russia on friendly terms, offering cultural and technology exchanges. In retrospect, many analysts view Reagan’s get-tough policies as responsible for scaring the Russians into spending more on their military just to keep pace with American military expenditures—a fact that likely led to the collapse of the Russian economy and, by extension, the country’s communist political system.

Although Reagan, a former actor, was known for his clever way with words, the “bombing Russia” joke was considered by many to be an embarrassing political gaffe—not the first of his career. In 1969, while serving as governor of California, Reagan responded to student protestors at the University of California at Berkeley by saying “if there has to be a bloodbath then let’s get it over with.” Some of his more witty comments include a comparison between politics and prostitution and the 1980 campaign quip “a recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.” Even after an attempted assassination in March 1981, Reagan never lost his sense of humor. The first thing he said to his wife Nancy when she arrived at the hospital was “honey, I forgot to duck.” (This quote was originally attributed to boxer Jack Dempsey after losing a championship match to Gene Tunney in 1926.)

Although it is not known what Soviet leaders thought of Reagan’s joke, the comment did color some Americans’ opinion of Reagan, whose approval rating suffered a slight drop in the aftermath of the incident, temporarily boosting the electoral hopes of Democratic presidential hopeful Walter Mondale. Reagan recovered and beat Mondale; he began his second term in 1985.

READ MORE: The Cold War

Source

Meriwether Lewis is shot in the leg

Year
1806
Month Day
August 11

While hunting for elk along the Missouri River, Meriwether Lewis is shot in the hip, probably by one of his own men.

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark had embarked on their epic journey to the Pacific two years earlier. The 33 members of the Corps of Discovery had experienced many adventures and narrowly escaped disaster on several occasions, but they had lost only one man (Sergeant Floyd, a probable victim of appendicitis) and suffered relatively few serious injuries. Now, at last, they were returning home; St. Louis was scarcely a month away.

READ MORE: Lewis and Clark: A Timeline of the Extraordinary Expedition

A few weeks earlier, Lewis and Clark had divided the party in order to explore additional new territory. The two groups were supposed to reunite at the junction of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers. Lewis, traveling with nine men, hurried down the Missouri, eager to be reunited with Clark and the main body of the expedition. However, he periodically had to take time to stop and hunt for game to feed the hardworking men.

On the morning of this day in 1806, Lewis spotted some elk on a bar in the river thickly overgrown with willows. He put to shore and set out to hunt accompanied by Private Cruzatte. Spotting an elk, Lewis was just about to fire his rifle when he was hit in the buttocks by a bullet. The blow spun him around and slashed a three-inch gash in his hip. Knowing that Cruzatte was blind in one eye and nearsighted in the other, Lewis immediately assumed the private had mistaken him for an elk. “Damn you,” Lewis cried. “You have shot me.”

When Cruzatte did not respond, Lewis feared Indians might have attacked him. Rushing back to the boat, he rallied the men and sent them off to save Cruzatte. Twenty minutes later, the men returned with Cruzatte. They had seen no Indians, and Cruzatte denied having shot Lewis and claimed he had not heard his shouts.

For the rest of his days, Cruzatte insisted he had not shot his captain. Lewis, however, had the offending bullet: A .54 caliber slug from a modern U.S. Army rifle. Lewis was shot by a gun identical to the one carried by Cruzatte, and one unlikely to be in the hands of any Indian. The near-sighted Cruzatte probably mistook the leather-clad Lewis for an elk, though it is unlikely the private’s guilt will ever be proven with absolute certainty.

His wound was not serious, but Lewis spent the next several days lying faced down in the bottom of a canoe as the party proceeded down river. The following day, they caught up with Clark. By the time they reached St. Louis on September 23, Lewis’ wound had healed and the excitement of homecoming overshadowed the event.

Source

Hip hop is born at a birthday party in the Bronx

Year
1973
Month Day
August 11

Like any style of music, hip hop has roots in other forms, and its evolution was shaped by many different artists, but there’s a case to be made that it came to life precisely on August 11, 1973, at a birthday party in the recreation room of an apartment building in the west Bronx, New York City. The location of that birthplace was 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, and the man who presided over that historic party was the birthday girl’s brother, Clive Campbell—better known to history as DJ Kool Herc, founding father of hip hop.

LISTEN ON APPLE PODCASTS: The Birth of Hip Hop

Born and raised to the age of 10 in Kingston, Jamaica, DJ Kool Herc began spinning records at parties and between sets his father’s band played while he was a teenager in the Bronx in the early 1970s. Herc often emulated the style of Jamaican “selectors” (DJs) by “toasting” (i.e., talking) over the records he spun, but his historical significance has nothing to do with rapping. Kool Herc’s contribution to hip hop was even more fundamental.

DJ Kool Herc’s signature innovation came from observing how the crowds would react to different parts of whatever record he happened to be playing: “I was noticing people used to wait for particular parts of the record to dance, maybe [to] do their specialty move.” Those moments tended to occur at the drum breaks—the moments in a record when the vocals and other instruments would drop out completely for a measure or two of pure rhythm. What Kool Herc decided to do was to use the two turntables in a typical DJ setup not as a way to make a smooth transition between two records, but as a way to switch back and forth repeatedly between two copies of the same record, extending the short drum break that the crowd most wanted to hear. He called his trick the Merry Go-Round. Today, it is known as the “break beat.”

By the summer of 1973, DJ Kool Herc had been using and refining his break-beat style for the better part of a year. His sister’s party on August 11, however, put him before his biggest crowd ever and with the most powerful sound system he’d ever worked. It was the success of that party that would begin a grassroots musical revolution, fully six years before the term “hip hop” even entered the popular vocabulary.

Source

“American Graffiti” opens

Year
1973
Month Day
August 11

On August 11, 1973, the nostalgic teenage coming-of-age movie American Graffiti, directed and co-written by George Lucas, opens in theaters across the United States. Set in California in the summer of 1962, American Graffiti was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture, and helped launch the big-screen careers of Richard Dreyfuss and Harrison Ford, as well as the former child actor and future Oscar-winning filmmaker Ron Howard. The film’s success enabled Lucas to get his next movie made, the mega-hit Star Wars (1977).

George Lucas was born May 14, 1944, in Modesto, California, and attended film school at the University of Southern California. He made his directorial debut in 1971 with the futuristic feature THX 1138, which was based on an award-winning project he produced in film school. His next movie was American Graffiti, which followed two young men (Howard and Dreyfuss) who spend a final night cruising around town with their buddies before they are both scheduled to leave for college the next morning. One of the producers of the film was Francis Ford Coppola, who a year earlier had emerged from relative obscurity to direct the instant classic The Godfather. In addition to his Best Director nod, Lucas was also nominated for the American Graffiti screenplay, which he co-wrote with Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck.

Lucas’ career-making space odyssey, Star Wars, broke box-office records and ushered in a new wave of filmmaking centered around special effects and fast-paced storylines. The film was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and ultimately collected six Oscars, for Best Effects, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction, Best Music, Best Sound and Best Film Editing. Star Wars made millions in merchandise tie-ins and spawned multiple sequels, becoming one of the most popular franchises in movie history. Lucas struck gold again with the screenplay for 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was directed by Steven Spielberg and starred Ford (whom Lucas also directed in three Star Wars films) as the globetrotting archaeologist Indiana Jones. Raiders of the Lost Ark also became a successful multi-film franchise.

READ MORE: The Real History That Inspired “Star Wars”

Source