The deaths of two local icons, growth in downtown Fort Worth (and near the Trinity, and at the Kimbell), roller-coaster years for North Texas stars and one big retirement help round out DFW.com’s top local-entertainment stories for 2013.
1. Kidd Kraddick dies
Fans of Kidd Kraddick in the Morning — and the radio world in general — received a shock July 27 when Kidd Kraddick, the show’s ringleader and a longtime DFW radio personality, passed away unexpectedly of cardiac died of heart disease at the age of 53. Kraddick’s show has been the most popular radio show in DFW since Arbitron (now Nielsen Audio) introduced Portable People Meters to the North Texas ratings scene in 2008. He had been on the air at KHKS/106.1 FM “KISS-FM” since 1993, and had been on DFW radio since 1984. But Kraddick’s reach was national, thanks to a syndication deal he scored in 2001. His show airs on nearly 80 stations, so his death was mourned as far away as Australia. He touched many families through his Kraddick Foundation charity and Kidd’s Kids, which takes terminally and chronically ill children and their families on a trip to Disney World every year. Two — and sometimes three — generations of DFW fans listened to his show, whose cast has soldiered on well after their leader left them. That’s the way it should be: The cast is like a family, and families suffer losses but find ways to get past their grief.
2. Van Cliburn dies
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Unlike Kraddick’s death, this was expected — Cliburn, the boundary-breaking classical pianist and longtime Fort Worth resident, revealed he was suffering from bone cancer months before his Feb. 27 death — but that didn’t make his death, at age 78, hit any less hard. Cliburn became an international sensation in 1958, when at 23 he traveled to Moscow and won the first Tchaikovsky International Competition, an impressive feat at any time but given extra weight because, at the height of the Cold War, the tall young Texan had won an event designed to show off Soviet cultural superiority. He became a musical ambassador for America, playing for U.S. presidents and other dignitaries, and more specifically an ambassador for Fort Worth, where the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition has bore his name since 1962. He was a member of Broadway Baptist Church, where about 1,400 attended his funeral in early March; and he was such a fixture at Fort Worth’s Ol’ South Pancake House — where he and his companion Tommy Smith were always served by Cliburn’s favorite waitress, Dottie Satterwhite — that there is now a plaque commemorating Cliburn’s favorite corner booth in the University Drive restaurant.
3. Sundance Square gets its square
On Nov. 1, Fort Worth unveiled Sundance Square Plaza, a $110 million project that turned a couple of parking lots and part of Main Street into a pedestrian-only square — ending the longstanding mystery of where the “square” is in Sundance Square. The plaza proved instantly popular, with crowds checking it out to discover its kid-friendly fountain and wave wall, its 32-foot-tall umbrellas that open like flowers each morning, its courthouse views and the occasional music group playing on its performance stage. It’s sure to attract more attention as its restaurants — Del Frisco’s Grille, a swankier-than-usual Starbucks, the opening-any-day-now Bird Cafe and the upcoming Taco Diner — gather momentum into 2014; heck, it already can be hard to get a seat a Del Frisco’s Grille at lunch.
4. Pam Minick retires from Billy Bob’s Texas
It’s not every day that the retirement of a club’s marketing director is front-page news. But Billy Bob’s, the world’s largest honky-tonk, isn’t just any club, and Minick wasn’t just any marketing director. The former Miss Rodeo USA, who was the face of the club, two-stepped off into the sunset on June 30 to see the country while she and her husband, Billy, the club’s co-owner, were still young enough to do it. Pam Minick did the job for some 24 years, moving seamlessly among the rodeo set and the roadies, the media and the musical artists, the fans and the Fort Worth city leaders. Garth Brooks made his breakthrough at Billy Bob’s during Pam’s tenure, and she’s dealt with Willie, Waylon and even Ringo among dozens of country and rock artists that have played the world’s largest honky-tonk. “Retirement” is a relative term: the Minicks remain partners in Billy Bob’s; Concho, Billy’s son and Pam’s stepson, is the club’s president; and Pam continues her work as a television host on cable’s RFD-TV.
5. The JFK assassination anniversary
The 50th anniversary of the tragic events of Nov. 22, 1963, turned the national spotlight back on Dallas — and to some extent, Fort Worth — as seemingly every TV network spent November airing specials examining the assassination. National Geographic Channel brought out-of-town journalists to DFW for a press tour featuring screenings of JFK: The Final Hours at the Fort Worth Hilton — formerly the Hotel Texas, where President Kennedy spent his last night — and Killing Kennedy at Dallas’ Texas Theatre, where Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested. Fort Worth’s Bob Schieffer, who was on the Star-Telegram metro desk in 1963 and gave Oswald’s mother a ride to Dallas, anchored Face the Nation from the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, and fellow Texan Scott Pelley did the CBS Evening News from there. And that just scratches the surface of the numerous specials, movies, stage plays and books that brought memories of November ’63 back to DFW.
6. Randy Travis’ health and legal problems
The country singer’s problems carried over from 2012: In January 2013, he was formally charged with driving while intoxicated in connection with an Aug. 7, 2012, accident near Tioga, about 60 miles north of Dallas. (Travis was found naked lying in the road and, according to police reports, had walked, again naked, into a Tiger Mart earlier that evening to buy cigarettes.) Later in January, he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor assault citation he received after an Aug. 23, 2012, fight in a Plano church parking lot (Travis contended that he joined the fight to protect his fiance, Mary Beougher, and her daughter from Mary’s estranged husband, Ritchie, and his uncle; Travis filed a lawsuit aganst the two men). Travis, whose downward spiral had made him a late-night talk show punchline, rebounded somewhat in March with a well-received show at Billy Bob’s Texas. But in July, the 54-year-old singer was hospitalized with congestive heart failure because of a viral illness and suffered a stroke during treatment. After being released from Baylor Heart Hospital in Plano at the end of July, Travis released a covers album, Influenced Vol. 1: The Man I Am, and appeared in a Lifetime TV-movie, Christmas on the Bayou. Are these signs of a better 2014? Stay tuned. Meanwhile, he recently filed suit seeking to destroy the dash-cam video of his naked arrest in Tioga.
7. Trinity River Vision comes more into view
With the opening of the Coyote Drive-In just north of downtown Fort Worth in May, the Tarrant Regional Water District — which agreed to lease the approximately 20-acre site to Coyote Theaters — took another step toward branding for Trinity Uptown, a $909 million Trinity River Vision flood-control and economic development project. That vision also includes Panther Island Pavilion, a music venue that has held a succesful “Rockin’ the River” tubing/concert series highlighting local acts three years in a row (DFW.com is a sponsor) and continues to grow as a venue, this year hosting Dia de Los Toadies, the Fort Worth Music Festival and Ranch Bash. But it’s not all warm-weather stuff; along with its first drive-in theater in some 20 years, Fort Worth got its first-ever outdoor ice-skating rink when the TRVA installed Panther Island Ice in the canteen area of the Coyote Drive-In. Trinity Uptown — now known as Panther Island — has a long way to go; infrastructure for the 800-acre upscale waterfront development and flood-control plan north of downtown is scheduled for completion in late 2023. But the vision is coming into focus.
8. The Piano Pavilion takes a bow
In November, Fort Worth’s Kimbell Art Museum debuted a long-anticipated, much-needed expansion with the Piano Pavilion, an approximately 100,000-square foot addition designed by architect Renzo Piano, who had worked with original Kimbell architect Louis Kahn and worked on more than 20 other museum projects during his nearly 50-year career. The idea of expanding on the sacrosanct Kimbell building had its critics and doubters, but Piano created an annex that respects and complements the original. “It plays very nicely with the Kahn building,” our Gaile Robinson wrote in November. “They face each other across what Piano calls a lawn for conversation.” Piano’s building — just to the west of the original — refocuses attention on what Kahn considered to be the entrance, even though most visitors enter the Kimbell to the east (in other words, the back door). The new building includes three large galleries, an auditorium that seats 298, and a four-room education center. Best of all, the Piano Pavilion gives the Kimbell space to display pieces from its permanent collection that often had to go into storage when the museum hosted special exhibitions.
9. Kelly Clarkson’s big year
Granted, Burleson-bred Clarkson has had a lot of big years since she won the first American Idol in 2002, but this may have been the biggest: She sang at President Obama’s second-term inauguration in January. In February, she won a Grammy for best pop vocal album and fought back against record-industry legend Clive Davis. In his memoir The Soundtrack of My Life, he described the drama surrounding Clarkson’s 2007 album, My December, and she shot back in an online rebuttal: “Growing up is awesome, because you learn that you don’t have to cower to anyone — even Clive Davis.” Her March homecoming concert at Grand Prairie’s Verizon Theatre was well-received. In October, she quietly wed music manager Brandon Blackstock, announcing it via Twitter with a photo: “I’m officially Mrs. Blackstock.” A month after her wedding, the 31-year-old singer announced, again via Twitter, that she and Blackstock are expecting their first child together; around the same time, she released her first full-length Christmas album, Wrapped in Red, which is at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 albums chart and helped generate an old-school TV special, Kelly Clarkson’s Cautionary Christmas Music Tale, in December. Don’t expect her to slow down in 2014: Radio.com reported this month that she’ll appear as herself on a January episode of ABC’s Nashville singing Mazzy Star’s 1994 dream-pop hit, Fade Into You. She’s far from fading away.
10. Jerry Russell dies
A local arts-and-entertainment year that sometimes felt like it needed its own “In Memoriam” reel also saw the passing of Stage West founder Russell at age 77 on Sept. 5. He had been a force on the local theater scene for nearly 35 years, since he staged The Zoo Story -- directing and appearing in the Edward Albee play -- in his downtown Fort Worth sandwich shop. The show was a success, as was the rest of the ambitious inaugural ’79-’80 season that featured 10 shows by heavy hitters including Jason Miller and Harold Pinter. Stage West quickly established itself in a scene that had been dominated by Casa Mañana and Fort Worth Community Theatre, and it’s still going, despite several moves and financial ups and downs through the years. But Russell was about more than just Stage West, forming the Live Theatre League of Tarrant County and lobbying for more arts funding from the city of Fort Worth. Russell had retired once, came back, and retired again at the end of 2012, but he had well-prepared the company for the future. He stayed busy till he was hospitalized on Aug. 17 -- at the time, he had several projects in the works, including an upcoming appearance in Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas. Russell and his third wife, actress Suzi McLaughlin, got married on stage during Stage West’s second season, and had four children, including Texas Sen. Wendy Davis.
This report includes material from DFW.com archives