Notable deaths: Zhuang Zedong, John Kerr


In this photo taken in April 1972, Zhuang Zedong, right, shakes hands with U.S. table tennis player Glenn Cowan during a visit to the United States. Zhuang, a key figure in 1971's "pingpong diplomacy" between China and the U.S., died at the age of 72 in Beijing on Feb. 10, 2013. (Xu Bihua/AP)
February 11, 2013
Zhuang Zedong
table tennis champion

Zhuang Zedong, 72, a three-time table tennis world champion and a key figure in the groundbreaking “Ping-Pong diplomacy” between China and the United States, died Feb. 10. He had cancer.

His death was reported by China’s official Xinhua News Agency.

Mr. Zhuang won fame by presenting a gift to American player Glenn Cowan, who had inadvertently boarded a bus carrying the Chinese team at the world championships in Nagoya, Japan, in 1971.

Mr. Zhuang and Cowan were photographed together, creating an international sensation at a time when China and the United States were bitter Cold War rivals.

At the order of Chinese leader Mao Zedong, the 15-member U.S. team was invited to China at the end of the Nagoya championships for an ice-breaking visit. Ten months later, President Richard M. Nixon made a surprise visit to China, leading to the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1979.


John Kerr, who won a 1954 Tony Award for best actor in the original Broadway production of Robert Anderson’s drama “Tea and Sympathy,” playing a sensitive prep school student bullied for his apparent homosexuality, died Feb. 2 in Los Angeles. He was 81. (Courtesy of The Ettinger Company)

Mr. Zhuang became a favorite of Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, a member of “the Gang of Four,” which held sway during the radical turmoil of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution. Jiang appointed Mr. Zhuang to a number of political posts in the sports ministry.

Mr. Zhuang came under investigation after the Gang of Four was deposed and Jiang was imprisoned following Mao’s death in 1976. Mr. Zhuang subsequently spent years coaching the provincial team in the northern province of Shanxi. He returned to Beijing in 1985 and coached young players for several years.

John Kerr
actor

John Kerr, who won a 1954 Tony Award for best actor in the original Broadway production of Robert Anderson’s drama “Tea and Sympathy,” playing a sensitive prep school student bullied for his apparent homosexuality, died Feb. 2 in Los Angeles. He was 81.

The cause was congestive heart failure, his son, Michael, told the New York Times.

Mr. Kerr repeated his role in the 1956 film version of “Tea and Sympathy.” Subsequent film roles included Lt. Cable in the 1958 screen version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical “South Pacific” and a young man probing his sister’s death in Roger Corman’s 1961 low-budget adaptation of the Edgar Allen Poe story “The Pit and the Pendulum.”

Mr. Kerr was a frequent actor on television anthology shows in the 1950s. He had recurring roles as a district attorney in the series “Peyton Place” in the mid-1960s and as a prosecutor in the drama “The Streets of San Francisco” in the mid-1970s.

The son of a British playwright and American actress, Mr. Kerr was born in New York and graduated from Harvard University in 1952.

He debuted on Broadway that year in the Mary Chase comedy “Bernadine” and received ecstatic reviews when he began a long run in 1953 in “Tea and Sympathy,” directed by Elia Kazan.

He portrayed Tom Lee, the wounded student who is comforted by a boarding school official’s neglected wife, played on stage and screen by Deborah Kerr (no relation).

While maintaining an acting career, Mr. Kerr graduated in 1969 from law school at the University of California at Los Angeles. He devoted much of his later life to a private law practice.

— From news services

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