Other notable deaths

Other notable deaths

September 12, 2006

King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, 88, a towering figure in Tonga for four decades, has died in a New Zealand hospital, the tiny Pacific Island nation announced yesterday.

His death ended one of the world's longest reigns by a monarch in modern times. He ruled for 41 years.

King Toupou IV died after a long, unspecified illness in a hospital where he had spent most of the past several months, plunging the remote country into a mourning period expected to last months, the Tongan government said.

The end of Tupou IV's reign is likely to fuel a push for more democracy in the near-feudal kingdom. The royal family has ruled with absolute power since tribal groups on more than 170 Polynesian islands united into a single kingdom in 1845.

Tupou IV benefited from a historical reverence for the monarchy. That sentiment has waned in recent years as most people languished in poverty even as the royal family enriched itself from the nation's meager resources, fell prey to criminal schemes and oversaw bad economic decisions.

Tupou IV ascended the throne in 1965 after his mother, Queen Salote, died.

At age 14, he was one of Tonga's top athletes; he could pole vault more than 9 feet, played tennis, cricket, rugby and also rowed competitively in a racing skiff.

But like many of his countrymen, he became obese and remained so for most of his adult life.

In the 1990s, Tupou IV led his 108,000 people on a diet and exercise regime aimed at cutting the levels of fat in a nation where coconut flesh and mutton flaps are dietary staples.

From a weight listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the heaviest for any monarch -- 462 pounds -- the king shed about 154 pounds.

Clair Burgener, 84, who served the San Diego area in the U.S. House of Representatives for five terms, died Saturday in Encinitas, Calif., of complications from Alzheimer's disease.

An ally and friend of presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, Mr. Burgener served the staunchly Republican former 43rd Congressional District -- covering parts of San Diego, Imperial and Riverside counties -- from 1973 to 1983.

He was in the minority party for all but nine months of his political career, which included stints on the San Diego City Council and California legislature.

Usually a reliable conservative voter, Mr. Burgener broke ranks with his party in the late 1970s to support the Equal Rights Amendment. He also was one of only 29 Republicans to vote against the confirmation of Nelson Rockefeller as President Ford's vice president.

But he was best-known for defeating Ku Klux Klan leader Tom Metzger, the Democratic candidate, for election to his final term in Congress in 1980.

The race was never close -- Metzger had little money, few volunteers and virtually no support among Democrats. But it received national media attention and caused many sleepless nights for Mr. Burgener, who later expressed worries that he might have somehow lost to the white supremacist.

Mr. Burgener won 86 percent of the vote and broke a 40-year-old record for votes received in a House race.

Astrid Varnay, 88, the Swedish-American soprano who made her Metropolitan Opera debut virtually without rehearsal in a nationally broadcast performance and went on to sing for half a century, died of a pericardial infection Sept. 4 in a hospital in Munich, Germany, where she had resided since the 1950s.

She was a contemporary of some of the great Wagnerian sopranos, singing in an era that included Kirsten Flagstad, Birgit Nilsson, Helen Traubel and Martha Moedl.

She got her break on Dec. 6, 1941 -- a day before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor -- when she filled in for an indisposed Lotte Lehmann as Sieglinde in Wagner's Die Walkuere in a performance conducted by Erich Leinsdorf that was broadcast nationally on radio. She would sing some 200 performances with the Metropolitan Opera over her career.

Gyorgy Faludy, 95, a poet and translator considered one of Hungary's greatest literary figures of the past century, died Sept. 1 in his Budapest home.

Mr. Faludy, who fled the both the Nazis and the communists and whose works were banned in his home country for decades, first gained acclaim in the mid-1930s for his translations of the ballads of the 15th-century French poet Francois Villon.

He left Hungary in 1938 fearing rising intolerance against Jews and hostility to his political views. He returned after World War II and was imprisoned in 1950 on false charges by Hungary's Stalinist regime. He was released in 1953. He left Hungary in 1956 after that year's anti-communist uprising and spent the next 33 years in exile, first in Europe and later mainly in Toronto, where he obtained Canadian citizenship. He returned to Hungary in 1989.

Peter Greenough, 89, a journalist and the husband of opera soprano Beverly Sills for nearly a half-century, died Wednesday at a Manhattan hospital after a long illness.

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