Arts & Culture

In Memoriam: The Southerners We Lost in 2022

This year, we said goodbye to luminaries in music, sports, food, fashion, and beyond

photo: AP Photo/Mike Brantley

Jeff Cook

August 27, 1949–November 7, 2022

“Mountain Music” is infectiously catchy from the get-go, but it’s Cook’s late fiddle break that revs Alabama’s 1983 hit into a whole new foot-stomping gear. His virtuosity on that instrument—plus lead guitar, mandolin, and keyboards—defined the band’s sound as much as its vocal harmonies and populist themes and certainly helped usher Alabama into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005.


Vince Dooley

September 4, 1932–October 28, 2022

Nice guys typically don’t keep jobs as SEC football coaches for twenty-five seasons, racking up six conference titles and a national championship in the process. University of Georgia icon Dooley was the calm, erudite exception. As G&G shared, when not cheering his former team, he became a master gardener, likely making Dooley the only coach to lend his likeness to a campus statue and his name to a hydrangea variety.

Mickey Gilley

March 9, 1936–May 7, 2022
Already a country-western star, Gilley opened his own dance hall in 1971 in Pasadena, Texas. When “world’s biggest honkytonk” Gilley’s served as the backdrop for the hugely popular movie Urban Cowboy, the limelight propelled his crossover remake of “Stand By Me” up the charts. In 1989, he was among the first country artists to establish a permanent theater in Branson, Missouri, where he performed until shortly before his death.

photo: Getty Images

Lusia Harris

February 10, 1955–January 18, 2022

When Harris became the only female player ever to be drafted officially by an NBA team in 1977, she didn’t report to training camp, suspecting a publicity stunt. The rest of her trailblazing career was an authentic slam dunk: The dominant center led Delta State University to three national championships. She played on the first U.S. Olympic women’s team. And in 1992, she was the second woman inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

photo: Getty Images/Timothy Hiatt

Syl Johnson

July 1, 1936–February 6, 2022

Memphis’s Hi Records label produced bigger artists, but perhaps none better. Johnson’s voice lived at the intersection of soul and blues, whether he was guiding us through heartbreak’s bitter aftermath in “Any Way the Wind Blows” or the unvarnished social protest of “Is It Because I’m Black?” Now, as then, he deserves greater acclaim.

photo: pETER YANG

Leslie Jordan
April 29, 1955–October 24, 2022

It seems almost wrong to mourn a comedian who once told G&G he “was born with a large capacity for happiness.” Whether stealing scenes on Will & Grace, steering the autobiographical stage production Hysterical Blindness and Other Southern Tragedies That Have Plagued My Life Thus Far, or becoming a surprise Instagram star during the pandemic, the diminutive Jordan brought outsized joy, and a drawl thicker than buttermilk, to all he did.


Naomi Judd
January 11, 1946–April 30, 2022

Judd’s death the day before she and daughter Wynonna were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame only underscored the pains and triumphs that fueled the duo’s music. After the Judds’s 1980s heyday, her frank admissions about her depression helped fans facing similar struggles. “By the time I got into country music,” she once said, “I feel like what I did was just communicate.”


Jerry Lee Lewis
September 29, 1935–October 28, 2022

Launched from Ferriday, Louisiana, “the Killer” exploded through Sun Records into a 1950s piano-banging supernova until collapsing under the revelation that he’d wed his underage cousin. Still he wowed whatever audience he found, even through decades of wild antics and self-inflicted scandal, and, against any smart bet, outlasted all his rock ’n’ roll–pioneer peers. Great balls of fire, indeed.

photo: David McClister

Loretta Lynn
April 14, 1932–October 4, 2022

No country icon held onto hardscrabble roots as proudly as the Butcher Hollow, Kentucky–born Lynn, even as she smashed Nashville norms with songs from “Fist City” to “The Pill.” That authenticity, plus pure talent, garnered dozens of hits, the most awards of any female country artist (including the Academy of Country Music’s Artist of the Decade in 1980), and generations of fans. She was the coal miner’s daughter—and so much more.


André Leon Talley 

October 16, 1948–January 18, 2022
Growing up in Durham, North Carolina, Talley was transfixed by the style of new First Lady Jackie Kennedy. In New York City, he became a kaftan-clad fashion icon in his own right as the first Black creative director of Vogue. He described being awarded France’s Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2020 for contributions to fashion as “the best day of my life.”

photo: AP Photo/Matt Sayles

Sidney Poitier
February 20, 1927–January 6, 2022

Any credible list of Southern-set films ranks In the Heat of the Night high, largely due to Poitier’s charismatic performance as a homicide detective. Having endured racism growing up in Florida and the Bahamas, Poitier early on stated an intent to portray Black men of “refinement, education, and accomplishment.” Did he ever, and with 1964’s Lilies of the Field, he became the first Black man to win the Oscar for best actor.


Alzina Toups
August 16, 1927–May 2, 2022

To say that Toups didn’t try to parlay her mastery of Cajun cuisine into fame and riches is a major understatement. Alzina’s Kitchen, her restaurant in Galliano, Louisiana, was hidden in a former welding shop. She refused to advertise and cooked only for groups, by reservation. Still the foodies found her, from local parish priests to culinary pilgrims from abroad, to experience her gumbo and amaretto yams. None left unhappy.

G&G also remembers two esteemed contributors.

photo: Herman Estevez

Robert Hicks 

January 30, 1951–February 25, 2022
The author of Widow of the South and other historical novels, Hicks wrote about his chosen home of Franklin, Tennessee, for G&G as well as a memorial to B. B. King. Hicks became King’s “Curator of Vibe” for his blues clubs, in part because of Hicks’s meaningful connections throughout the worlds of writing, art, music, and preservation.

photo: James Kegley

P.J. O’Rourke 

November 14, 1947–February 15, 2022

A beloved humorist, O’Rourke was among the few to publish two G&G Good Dog columns—one that riffed on applying dog training methods to children and a second about his Brittany, a delight in the field and a demon in the house.