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Former Atlanta Falcons All-Pro Bill Fralic dead at 56

Former Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman Bill Fralic, who played for the team from 1985 to 1992, died Thursday following a battle with cancer, according to the University of Pittsburgh.

He was 56.

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After a storied career at the University of Pittsburgh, the three-time All-American was drafted second overall in the 1985 draft by the Falcons.

He started immediately at right guard and went to four Pro Bowls and was twice named to the All-Pro team

After 1992, he played one season with the Detroit Lions. He played in 132 NFL games, 131 as a starter.

>> Notable deaths of 2018

“I enjoyed being around him,” said David Archer, who was the Falcons’ quarterback during Fralic’s first three years with the team. “He was a very intense guy when it came to game day. He was one of those guys who looked at you on game day and you almost felt like I better play pretty well or this guy is going to rip my head off. That’s kind of the way he played, too.”

Fralic was on the 1991 Falcons team that finished the regular season 10-6 and went to the playoffs under coach Jerry Glanville. 

“I was sad to hear that,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said after practice Friday. “I didn’t know he was battling through some stuff.”

Falcons owner Arthur Blank issued a statement Friday:

“On behalf of the Atlanta Falcons we would like to extend our condolences to all the family and friends of Bill Fralic,” he said. “Bill was a cornerstone of the Falcons for eight seasons, while earning four Pro Bowl nods and two All-Pro selections. He was a beloved Falcon, and we will always be grateful for the impact he made here in Atlanta.”

Fralic appreciated a good locker room prank and was a fine teammate. 

“From a teammate standpoint, he and I had many beers together,” said Archer, who currently is the Falcons’ color analyst on radio. “He was a good teammate. He was a good guy that loved to laugh. He loved to play little jokes on guys.”

Fralic knew how to carry out his pranks, too. 

“He had a really cool sense of humor because he was one of those guys who could pull a joke on a guy, or get a guy in an awkward position and make fun of him in the locker room, and he wouldn’t give it away,” Archer said. “A lot of guys would give away the joke, but Bill was really good at keeping the poker face. Then the dude would never knew who did it because Bill wouldn’t give him any indication that he was the guy who did it.” 

As good as he was on the field, he was also very outspoken off it and in 1989 testified in a U.S. Senate hearing about the rampant use of steroids in the NFL, pushing for stricter testing.

Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time, said Fralic’s testimony was “refreshing and believable.”

Fralic, who was 6-foot-5 and 280 pounds, starred at the University of Pittsburgh from 1981 to 1984. He became the first offensive lineman to twice finish in the top 10 of the Heisman Trophy balloting, placing sixth in 1984 and eighth in 1983.

Fralic's collegiate career led to the phrase “Pancake Block” being added to the football lexicon. Pitt publicists used “Pancakes” as a statistical barometer for each time Fralic put an opposing defensive lineman on his back. 

Fralic additionally was named to the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team. 

Fralic’s No. 79 jersey was retired by Pitt at halftime of his final home game in 1984, a 21-10 win against Tulane. He would go on to be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1998.

A western Pennsylvania native, Fralic became the first sophomore to letter in football at Penn Hills High School. He also became a WPIAL heavyweight wrestling champion for the Indians, compiling a 98-7 record on the mat. 

Fralic was a member of the inaugural Pitt Athletics Hall of Fame class that was enshrined in September.

In 1989, he established Bill Fralic Insurance, which became a leader in specialized commercial trucking insurance. Fralic also did radio analyst work for the Falcons and Pitt football.

“Bill Fralic was not only an all-time player at the University of Pittsburgh, but also an all-time human being,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “His generosity, support and concern for others was unmatched. For as hulking a figure as he was, Billy was even larger in his kindness and passion for others. He leaves a wonderful legacy that goes well beyond football at Pitt, Penn Hills and all of Western Pennsylvania. Our hearts and prayers are with his wife, Susan, and all of his loved ones.” 

Memorial arrangements will be announced at a later date.

“A gentle giant off the field and a guy who was fun to be around,” Archer said. “He had a great smile and a great laugh. But was also just an assassin on the field from a blocking standpoint and how he played with his demeanor.”

Houston Texans owner Bob McNair dead at 81

Bob McNair, who brought professional football back to Houston as the founder and owner of the National Football League’s Houston Texans, died Friday afternoon, the Houston Chronicle reported. He was 81.

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McNair had been dealing with skin cancer for several years, the newspaper reported.

"It is with deep sadness that we announce Houston Texans Founder, Senior Chairman and Chief Executive Officer and philanthropist, Robert C. McNair passed away peacefully in Houston today with his loving wife, Janice, and his family by his side,” the Texans wrote on the team’s Twitter feed.

McNair, who moved to Houston in 1960, grew up in Forest City, North Carolina, and was a 1958 graduate of the University of South Carolina, the Chronicle reported. According to Forbes magazine, he was one of America’s richest men.

>> Notable deaths of 2018

McNair stepped in to fill the void left when the Oilers left Houston for Nashville after the 1996 season. He was awarded the NFL’s 32nd franchise on Oct. 5, 1999, and the Texans began play in 2002, ESPN reported.

“Mr. McNair was an amazing man who made tremendous contributions to the NFL and the City of Houston,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said in a statement. “He was a very caring, thoughtful and passionate individual. As much as he cared about winning, I think the thing I will remember most about Mr. McNair is the way he cared about the players.”

McNair was the founder of Cogen Technologies, which was sold to Enron in 1999, the Chronicle reported. He also was chairman and CEO of The McNair Group, a financial and real estate company in Houston, and also owned a private investment company, the newspaper reported.

Juan Romero, busboy who cradled dying RFK following 1968 assassination, dies at 68

Juan Romero, who as a teenage busboy was immortalized in photos depicting him cradling a dying Sen. Robert F. Kennedy moments after his 1968 assassination, has died.

Romero, 68, died Monday in Modesto, Calif., several days after suffering a heart attack, a friend told the Los Angeles Times. Romero’s niece and brother confirmed his death. 

Romero was a 17-year-old busboy at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 3, 1968, when he met Kennedy, who had ordered room service. The Mexico native told the Times in 1998 that Kennedy had shaken his hand firmly that night and had looked at him with respect. 

“I remember walking out of that room feeling 10 feet tall, feeling like an American,” Romero said

By the next night, Romero was cradling the head of the dying presidential candidate, who was gunned down in the hotel’s pantry moments after winning the California Democratic primary. The teen, who, like Kennedy, was Roman Catholic, pulled his own rosary beads from his pocket and placed them in Kennedy’s hand.

Kennedy died at a hospital early June 6, about 26 hours after being shot. 

Romero recalled the hectic atmosphere of the hotel pantry for NPR’s StoryCorps in June, as the nation observed the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. As aides led Kennedy through the kitchen following his victory speech in the nearby ballroom, Romero said he rushed to congratulate the senator.

“I remember extending my hand as far as I could, and then I remember him shaking my hand,” Romero told StoryCorps. “And as he let go, somebody shot him.”

The shooter, Sirhan Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian immigrant, was tackled by bystanders, who pinned him against a steam table and wrestled his revolver away from him. Five other people were wounded in the shooting, but all of them survived. 

Sirhan was later convicted of Kennedy’s murder and sentenced to life in prison. 

As Sirhan was held down on the table nearby, Romero tended to the fallen Kennedy.

“I kneeled down to him and I could see his lips moving, so I put my ear next to his lips and I heard him say, ‘Is everybody OK?’” Romero said in June. “I said, ‘Yes, everybody’s OK.’ I put my hand between the cold concrete and his head just to make him comfortable.”

Listen to Romero recall Kennedy’s assassination on StoryCorps below. 

Photos of that moment, shot by photographers from Life magazine and the Los Angeles Times, became the most iconic imagery of Kennedy’s assassination. 

Romero said he could feel Kennedy’s blood, coming from a bullet wound behind Kennedy’s right ear, streaming through his fingers.

“I remember I had a rosary in my shirt pocket and I took it out, thinking that he would need it a lot more than me,” Romero said. “I wrapped it around his right hand and then they wheeled him away.”

The following morning, Romero went to school as usual. He tried to forget the horrific images from the night before, but a woman sitting near him on the bus recognized him from photos in the newspaper. 

As she asked if that was him, Romero said, he looked down at his hands. His fingernails were still stained with the senator’s blood. 

The assassination haunted Romero for the rest of his life. Initially, he said, he got letters thanking him for what he had done for Kennedy. 

He also got angry letters blaming him for Kennedy’s death. 

“One of them even went as far as to say that, ‘If he hadn’t stopped to shake your hand, the senator would have been alive,’ so I should be ashamed of myself for being so selfish,” Romero told StoryCorps

Times columnist Steve Lopez, who spoke with Romero multiple times over the five decades since Kennedy’s death, wrote Wednesday that the infamy of that fateful night eventually got to him. He grew tired of Ambassador guests asking for his picture and moved to Wyoming, where he found work. 

Lopez wrote that he once heard from Maria Shriver, former California first lady and Kennedy’s niece, after he wrote about Romero. Shriver wanted to send Romero a note thanking him for helping her uncle in his final moments of consciousness. 

Upon learning of Romero’s death, Shriver told Lopez that she always felt empathy for him because he seemed to have such a hard time moving past Kennedy’s death. 

“God bless him,” Shriver said, according to the Times. “It’s kind of hard to know why someone gets put into a situation that they’re locked in forever. But as I see it, he was locked into an image of helping someone.”

Romero ultimately ended up back in California, living in San Jose and working as a paver of roads and driveways, NPR reported. He went to Arlington National Cemetery in 2010 and visited Kennedy’s gravesite, where he said he asked the slain senator’s forgiveness for being unable to stop his killing. 

To show Kennedy the same respect he’d shown him in 1968, he wore a suit, NPR reported. 

“When I wore the suit and I stood in front of his grave, I felt a little bit like that first day that I met him,” Romero told StoryCorps. “I felt important. I felt American. And I felt good.”

Nancy Sinatra Sr., first wife of Frank Sinatra, dead at 101

Nancy Sinatra Sr., the first of entertainer Frank Sinatra’s four wives and mother of their three children, died Friday, according to The Hollywood Reporter. She was 101.

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Her death was announced on Twitter by her daughter Nancy, who tweeted “My mother passed away peacefully tonight at the age of 101. She was a blessing and the light of my life. Godspeed, Momma. Thank you for everything.”

Nancy Barbato was born March 25, 1917, in Jersey City, New Jersey. She met Sinatra in the summer of 1934 and married her high school sweetheart five years later. The couple’s first two children were born in Jersey CIty: Nancy, who sang the 1966 hit “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’” in 1940, and Frank Jr. in 1944. The family moved to California in late 1944, and daughter Tina was born in Toluca Lake in 1948, the Hollywood Reporter said.

>> Photos: Notable deaths of 2018

Their marriage ended in 1951 after Sinatra’s affair with actress Ava Gardner, CNN reported. Sinatra married Gardner days after the divorce was final. 

After he divorced Gardner, Sinatra went on to marry Mia Farrow in 1966 and Barbara Marx in 1978. 

He died in 1998 at the age of 82.

Nancy Sinatra Sr. never remarried, The Hollywood Reporter said.

James Avery, Texas jewelry icon, dead at 96

James Avery, the founder of one of Texas’ most beloved jewelry brands, has died, according to a Facebook message posted Monday by James Avery Artisan Jewelry. Born in 1921, Avery was 96 when he died, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

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“It is with heartfelt sorrow that we announce the passing of our founder, James Avery,” the jewelry company’s Facebook post reads. “We are forever grateful to Mr. Avery for giving us the opportunity to be a part of his dream. He was a dynamic, creative and generous man who touched the lives of many people during his lifetime through his work, his art and his giving spirit. His contributions will always be remembered as the company continues to build upon his artistic legacy.”

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Avery started his business in 1954, setting up shop in a two-car garage with $250 in capital, according to the jeweler’s website. The brand is well-known for its Christian-themed jewelry and is headquartered in Kerrville.

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“In lieu of sending flowers or other gifts, and in recognition of Mr. Avery’s generous and giving spirit, we welcome you to give to the charity of your choice,” the company’s Facebook post reads. Fans can also share memories and condolences at the James Avery website or by emailing JAtribute@jamesavery.com.

’Break out the Kleenex': Family shares cartoon of Barbara Bush, late daughter

Family members of Barbara Bush were touched by a cartoon that shows the former first lady greeting her late daughter in heaven.

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Marshall Ramsey of the Clarion Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, drew the cartoon of Bush, who died Tuesday at 92, reuniting with daughter Pauline Robinson Bush -- known as Robin -- who died of leukemia in October 1953 when she was 3.

“I came at it from a different angle,” Ramsey wrote Thursday in the Clarion Ledger. “Obituary cartoons are tough. Who do you draw one for? What can you say that won't be said 1,000 times by other cartoonists? A scene at the Pearly Gates is always a popular theme.”

Ramsey said he remembered reading the story about the Bush family’s third child, Robin, and he began to sketch. He considered several ideas, but then decided to go with his first choice.

>> Barbara Bush funeral set to begin Friday in Houston

“Once a cartoon leaves the drawing board, it takes on a life of its own,” Ramsey wrote. 

Did it ever.

Jeb Bush Jr. shared the cartoon, tweeting “Break out the #Kleenex.” Barbara Bush’s granddaughter, Jenna Bush Hager, shared the cartoon on Instagram, writing that “I don’t know the artist but I love him.”

>> Photos: Barbara Bush through the years

Ramsey admits the reaction has been overwhelming.

“My phone is still dinging like a slot machine,” he wrote.

The reaction has extended beyond the Bush family. Ramsey wrote that he also heard from parents who also had lost young children.

“Cartoons take on a life of their own once they leave the drawing board,” Marshall wrote. “This one has taken on a life more beautiful than I ever could have imagined.”

Publishing heir Peter Pulitzer dies in Palm Beach at 88

Palm Beach publishing heir Peter Pulitzer, scion of two prominent American families, died Saturday at home, surrounded by his children. He was 88 and had been in excellent health until recently.

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“We always thought he would be eaten by a shark or killed by a bear in the woods or fall out of a seaplane,” said his daughter, Liza Calhoun, of the sportsman and adventurer. “We were all together on Easter Sunday when he suddenly got very tired. A few days later, hospice was called in.”

A college dropout who turned $500,000 in family money into a wide-ranging business fortune, Pulitzer was perhaps best-known for his acrimonious divorce from his second wife, Roxanne Pulitzer. Lilly Pulitzer, his first wife, launched what would become a fashion empire of bright cotton dresses during their marriage.

Born Herbert Peter Pulitzer on March 22, 1930, he was the son of Herbert Pulitzer, known as Tony, and Gladys Munn. His maternal grandparents were Charles and Carrie Louise Gurnee Munn. His paternal grandparents were newspaperman Joseph and Katherine Davidson Pulitzer.

Like most children of wealthy Palm Beachers, he was raised primarily by nannies until he went off to St. Mark’s in Southborough, Massachusetts, a feeder school for the Ivy League.

He went to college but soon became bored, using a half-million dollars of his family’s money to seed a career that began with a liquor store and bowling alley and grew to include citrus groves, cattle ranches, a popular Palm Beach restaurant, wide real estate holdings, and hotels.

Along the way, he gained a reputation as a ladies man.

Laura Clark, a friend of the woman who would become his first wife, described Peter Pulitzer to Vanity Fair as “very beautiful to look at” with “great personal charm, the kind of charm that you knew he was waiting all his life just to talk to you.”

Society bandleader Peter Duchin said of Pulitzer: “He was racy -- I mean in the sense of just jumping into his plane and flying off. He eschewed the normal social crap.”

In 1950, he met his sister Patsy’s friend, a prim Miss Porter’s alumna — from a Northeastern family as prominent, and certainly as rich, as his own — named Lillian McKim, known as Lilly.

The two eloped, surprising everybody.

“Peter was drop-dead gorgeous and very charming and a real turn-on,” Susannah Cutts, a friend of Lilly’s, said at the time. “She was raised in a very proper way, a very proper background, and I think he was the forbidden, the exciting someone who was encouraging her to take a romantic leap of faith, to run away from it all.”

He helped her build her wildly successful fashion business as he continued building his own empire.

In the late 1960s, with his friend, war hero Joseph Dryer, Pulitzer founded an international hotel group with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. “They said they might consider participating in a new hotel (in Amsterdam) if a business study proved positive and if a well-known American hotel chain would manage it,” Dryer would later tell a newspaper reporter.

The pair had already built a Howard Johnson’s in Miami and were able to enlist the help of its founder. The new partnership purchased six old canal houses near Amsterdam’s Dam Square Royal Palace and, with architect Bart Van Kasteel, turned them into the Hotel Pulitzer.

“The six houses we started with eventually turned into 25 houses, a five-star hotel, and the largest national historic monument of the Netherlands,” Pulitzer would later say. “This was the beginning of the Pulitzer empire.”

It was also the end of the marriage. The couple divorced around the same time as the hotel opened. Lilly Pulitzer died in 2013.

Pulitzer would marry twice more — to Roxanne Dixon in 1976 and to Hilary King in 1986. His divorce from Roxanne in 1982 became tabloid fodder when their 21-day divorce trial even drew coverage from gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson of Rolling Stone, as each seemed to try to top the other in vicious accusations. Ultimately, he won custody of their twin sons.

His marriage to Hilary has been his longest, at 32 years.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his children, grandchildren, and a wide circle of friends and extended family.

Funeral services are pending.

Jimmy Fallon's mother, Gloria, dies at 68

A spokesperson for Jimmy Fallon’s family confirmed Saturday evening that the Fallons were mourning the loss of their matriarch.

“Jimmy Fallon’s mother, Gloria, died peacefully on Saturday,” a family spokesperson told People. “Jimmy was at his mother’s bedside, along with her loved ones, when she passed away at NYU Langone Medical Center in NYC. Our prayers go out to Jimmy and his family as they go through this tough time.”

>> On Rare.us: 'Teen Mom' star shares message to Kylie Jenner about the harsh reality of young motherhood

News of Gloria Fallon’s death comes 24 hours after NBC canceled a taping of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” At the time, an unspecified family emergency was cited. On Saturday, Amir “Questlove” Thompson of the legendary Roots crew seemed to confirm her death to TMZ.

“The Tonight Show” bandleader was signing autographs in Los Angeles when asked about the canceled taping.

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“When you lose someone, it’s always sad,” Questlove said.

Questlove was unclear as to when Fallon would return to the show.

Biltmore Estate owner dies at his North Carolina home

The owner of the iconic Biltmore Estate in North Carolina has died at his home.

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Officials at the Biltmore Co. said William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil died Tuesday in Asheville. He was 89.

Cecil had a career in finance before returning to Asheville in 1960 in hopes of preserving his childhood home, which was the private estate of his grandfather, George Washington Vanderbilt III.

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Local media outlets reported that Cecil's parents opened the Biltmore house to the public in 1930, but it didn't make a profit until 1969, and then it was only $17. Cecil said, "My dad was very proud of that."

Today, the 8,000-acre (3,238-hectare) estate, French-style chateau and attractions draw more than 1.4 million people annually.

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