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Wellstone, Hedberg, Sealy among notable Minnesotans lost this decade

Some of the hardest times this difficult decade have been surrounding the passing of these local personalities. Our list is hardly exhaustive; no doubt many others deserve to be mentioned and remembered. Please post your own respectful memorials in the comments section.

Malik Sealy
On May 20, 2000, the Minnesota Timberwolves franchise was rocked by a tragedy that made on-court concerns suddenly seem trivial. Malik Sealy an amiable, defensive-minded role player, was killed in a car crash early that morning when a drunk driver, going the wrong way, struck Sealy's airbag-less SUV head-on on Highway 100 in St. Louis Park. The 30-year-old was heading home from Kevin Garnett's birthday party.

Before the November 4 home opener against the Kings six months later, the Wolves retired his #2 jersey in front of a packed house of 19,006 fans. PA announcer Rod Johnson read a tribute before the solemn crowd.

"As I was reading, I happened to look over at the Timberwolves standing along the sidelines," says Johnson. "I saw the tears streaming down their cheeks. That's the closest I've ever come to getting choked up and not being able to continue."

In honor and memory of Sealy, the team left his locker untouched for the remainder of the season.

Abigail Taylor
Six-year-old Abigail Taylor's parents took her to the Minneapolis Golf Club in St. Louis Park in the summer of 2007 so she could splash in the wading pool, but their day came to a tragic end after Abby fell and found herself stuck, sitting on the pool's drain -- she couldn't move as its pump sucked out 21 feet of her intestines. Grievously injured, she eventually endured a triple organ transplant, couldn't eat or drink regular food, and eventually died nine months after the accident. Sen. Amy Klobuchar was among those later sponsoring federal legislation aimed at preventing similar accidents in the future.

Senator Paul Wellstone
The tragic death of Sen. Wellstone, along with his wife Sheila, daughter Marcia, and four others in a northern Minnesota plane crash in October 2002, sent shock waves throughout the state that in some ways are still reverberating. Wellstone's death was felt not just politically but personally by his supporters (and by many who weren't), who had come to admire the onetime college professor after his wildly improbable underdog victory in 1990 over incumbent Rudy Boschwitz. That impish, underfunded campaign, and his uncompromising liberalism in an era of ideological dissembling, made Wellstone not just a well-liked politician but a mascot for political integrity, a position that has gone largely unfilled since.

 

Earl Root
Did anybody in the Twin Cities know or love metal more than this man? Maybe you could find one or two people who could try to lay claim to that, but none of them did so much in so many of the local scene's corners at the same time. As a musician, he held down guitar duties for bands like Aesma Daeva and On the Rocks at a time when metal was still considered a weirdo sideshow by the mainstream press. As the owner of Root Cellar Records, he had all the benefits of the dedicated record store employee (encyclopedic knowledge and endless enthusiasm) without the condescending attitude. And as host of KFAI's "Root of All Evil", which covered everything from vintage thrash to operatic prog-metal to the blackest of Scandinavian sounds, he made sure every facet of his love for music could be heard. His death of lymphoma in 2008 was a major loss, as though local headbangers -- hell, the entire music community -- lost the cool older brother they wished they had.

Sonia Peterson
Responsible for intensely creative and colorful hairstyles and the overall trendiness of Uptown since the early '80s, Hair Police owner and Lyn-Lake's Orbit Mall founder Sonia passed away two weeks into her somewhat abrupt lung cancer diagnosis at the age of 56 on April 23, 2004. The legendary style maven and her friends Kevin Cole, Thomas Spiegel and Chris Strouth were a team of some of the best party promoters in Minneapolis' hey day and and responsible for the city's first electronic music parties.  Peterson also had the longest guestlist ever honored at First Avenue, and played a role in the club extending its business hours to 3 a.m. in the 90s. She was notoriously future-forward, opening the first-ever Internet relay-chat cafe in Minneapolis before the WWW even existed and calling it The Center For Intelligent Travel. Hairpolice remains an Uptown institution thanks to both Peteron's vision and the technique she invented called "pinch braiding" that is used all over the world today.

Wellstone, Hedberg, Sealy among notable Minnesotans lost this decade
By Einar Falur

Bill Holm
Bill Holm was a poet, essayist, and trailblazer on the local writing scene. His enthusiasm and support for new Minnesota writers and local, independent bookstores rivaled no one else. He grew up on a small farm outside of Mineota and it influenced his writing as much as his travels to China and Iceland did. Upon receiving the McKnight Distinguished Artist Award this year he threw a raucous party that friends, colleagues, and family warmly remember. His death this February was sudden; he collapsed from heart trouble after returning home from traveling. His jovial warmth, energy, and joy for life will be sorely missed on the local literature scene.

 

Korey Stringer
The Vikings' decade has been a tumultuous and ridiculous one, filled with sex boat parties and whizzinators and the usual playoff disappointments. But the 2001 death of Korey Stringer stings as the franchise's saddest nadir of the decade: not only did the team lose a talented Pro Bowl-caliber offensive lineman, not only did a wife lose her husband and a family lose a son, but the circumstances of Stringer's passing -- death by heatstroke during offseason training -- made for a tragic and easily-preventable mistake.


Mitch Hedberg

In a standup comedy world still financially and creatively reeling from the big industry bust of the early '90s, St. Paul Native Mitch Hedberg helped revive pure silliness with his alternately cerebral and spacey act, a mellow but potent concoction of one-liners ("A severed foot is the ultimate stocking stuffer"), bizarre observations ("An escalator can never break, it can only become stairs"), and whimsical flights of fancy (the "Smacky the Frog" bit). His unmistakable delivery -- nearly over-annunciating each word through a wide grin, often peering at the floor behind tinted glasses and veil of hair -- was startlingly original. His posthumously released 2008 album, Do You Believe in Gosh, is yet another reminder that Mitch is irreplaceable, and what a tragic loss his 2005 death really was. But the body of work he leaves behind easily stands alongside that of legends like Pryor, Carlin, Martin, Wright, and Hicks.


Bob Feldman
The folk world received a heavy blow in January of 2006 with the death of Red House Records founder Bob Feldman, a longtime champion of local and national roots music. Feldman founded Red House back in 1983 with only a general knowledge of the business and a passion for music, recruiting folk artist Greg Brown as his first signee. With Feldman at the helm, Red House grew to become one of the most highly-respected Americana/roots labels in the country. The label is still active to this day, supporting local acts like Storyhill and the Pines and national acts like Brown, Lucy Kaplansky, Ramlin' Jack Elliot, and many, many more.

Wellstone, Hedberg, Sealy among notable Minnesotans lost this decade

Jeff Hanson
The music scene saw a few tragic losses in 2009, with the passing of sound engineer Tom Cesario in January and the Suburbs guitarist Bruce Allen just this month. Halfway through the year, we received the sad news that ethereal singer-songwriter Jeff Hanson had passed away unexpectedly at the age of 31. Hanson was in the midst of a successful recording career for Kill Rock Stars, and had released what many critics considered his best work yet, Madam Owl, just last year. An autopsy later revealed that his death was caused by a drug overdose, though whether it was accidental or intentional was undetermined.


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