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Bobcat Fire: Blaze Grows Past 113K Acres; Containment Increases To 39%

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Published
Firefighters undertook a defensive firing operation at Mount Wilson on Tuesday, Sept. 22 as the Bobcat Fire continued to burn in the San Gabriel Mountains. (Courtesy L.A. County Fire Department)

This story is no longer being updated. Follow our coverage of the Bobcat Fire for Thursday, Sept. 24 >>

Yesterday's coverage:

The Bobcat Fire in the Angeles National Forest continued to burn into its 18th day on Wednesday. The blaze grew aggressively this week, driven by strong wind gusts, but firefighters were able to make huge gains on containment today, as those winds let down.

After surpassing 100,000 acres over the weekend, the Bobcat Fire is now one of the largest wildfires in Los Angeles County history.

Firefighters are hard at work in the northern section of the fire, which has threatened homes and forced evacuations in the foothill communities bordering the Antelope Valley.

At least 52 structures have been destroyed, according to L.A. County officials. That number is expected to rise as damage assessment continues.

Here's what else we know:

THE BASICS

  • Acreage: 113,733 acres
  • Containment: 39%
  • Structures destroyed/damaged: At least 52 (full damage assessment pending)
  • Resources deployed: 1,556 firefighters

The fire erupted on Sept. 6 near the Cogswell Dam and then spread rapidly amid an intense, record-breaking heat wave, prompting evacuation orders for Mt. Wilson Observatory. The cause is under investigation.

Currently, forest officials project that they'll reach full containment on Oct. 30.

On Wednesday morning, forest officials said firefighters had finished a strategic firing operation to the north from Mt. Wilson to Highway 2, and east to burn zone.

Forest officials say today's firefighting efforts will focus on the northeastern section of the fire along Highway 2 and the Antelope Valley.

"If crews determine that direct line is not feasible, they will be preparing for additional strategic firing along Highway 2 to stop fire movement northeast towards Wrightwood," officials wrote on the fire incident page.

To the northwest, crews will be building direct lines south from Littlerock and north from Highway 2.

North of Mt. Wilson, firefighters will work to strengthen containment lines, and officials warned that residents in the foothills may see more smoke toda "as the interior burns out and aerial ignition may be used to help this process along."

The southern and lower eastern area of the fire perimeter remains in patrol status.

EVACUATIONS

Mandatory

Emergency officials issued evacuation orders for residents in the following areas as of Monday afternoon:

  • Residences along Angeles Crest Highway, between Angeles Forest Highway and Highway 39.
  • The unincorporated areas of Crystal Lake, East Fork of the San Gabriel River, and Camp Williams.
  • Communities of Pearblossom, Juniper Hills, Valyermo, and Llano. (Except for the Longview section, which is under a warning)
  • South and west of Upper Big Tujunga, east of Angeles Forest Highway, and north of Angeles Crest Highway
The Bobcat Fire burns in the Angeles National Forest on Sept. 21, 2020. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Warnings

  • Pasadena and Altadena: north of Sierra Madre Bl., west of Michillinda Av, east of Washington Bl., north of New York Dr. and north of New York Drive & Woodbury Dr., east of Hahamongna Watershed Park.
  • Wrightwood.
  • Littlerock: South of Pearblossom Hwy, north of Weber Ranch Rd., east of Cheseboro Rd., and west of 87th St. East.
  • South of Hwy 2, north of Blue Ridge Truck Trail, east of Hwy 39, and west of the Los Angeles Co. border.
  • Longview: South of Ave U-8, north of East Ave W-14, east of 121st East, and west of 155th St East.
  • South of Pearblossom Hwy (Hwy 138), south and east of Pearblossom Hwy (Hwy 122), north and west of Mt. Emma Rd., north and east of Angeles Forest Hwy, and west of Cheseboro Rd.
  • South of Mt. Emma Rd., north of Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Rd., east of Angeles Forest Highway, and west of Pacifico Mountain.

SHELTER SITES

The Red Cross has established a temporary evaction point at Palmdale High School, 2137 East Avenue R. Accomodations for 300 large animals are available at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds, 2551 W. Avenue H, Lancaster.

Shelter for small animals is available at Lancaster Animal Care Center, 5210 West Ave. I, and Palmdale Animal Care Center, 38550 Sierra Highway.

A shelter site for up to 300 horses and cattle has been established at the Pomona Fairplex, 2201 N. White Ave. Officials there can be reached at 909-576-9272.

A firefighter watches as the Bobcat Fire burns near Cedar Springs in the Angeles National Forest on Sept. 21, 2020. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

CLOSURES

  • The Angeles National Forest remains closed through at least Sept. 24
  • All roads leading into San Gabriel Canyon
  • State Route 39 is closed from north of Azusa to State Route 2
  • State Route 2 is closed from Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road to Big Pines
  • Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road between State Route 2 and Angeles Forest Highway
  • Mt. Wilson Road from State Route 2 to Mt. Wilson
  • Chantry Flat Road
  • Fort Tejon / Valyermo Road
  • Valyermo Road / Bob's Gap Road
  • Big Pines Highway / Largo Vista Road
  • Big Pines Highway / Mescal Creek Road
  • Big Pines Highway / Highway 2

WEATHER AND AIR QUALITY

The weather today is expected to be warmer and drier than the past couple days, and conditions are projected to stay mostly the same Thursday and Friday. But beginning Saturday, forest officials say a "significant heat wave is expected with very low relative humidity," which will also bring the chance of gusty winds.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District has issued a smoke advisory for the region, which is in place through this afternoon. The impact from the Bobcat, El Dorado and Snow fires is creating unhealthy air quality across parts of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties.

Look up the latest air quality info for your area at airnow.gov.

ABOUT MT. WILSON

Firefighters on duty to protect Mt. Wilson Observatory and nearby broadcast towers as the Bobcat Fire burns in the Angeles National Forest on Sept. 17, 2020. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

In recent days, the fire was burning dangerously close to the facility, which is arguably one of the world's most important spots for scientific discovery. Firefighters have used a variety of tactics to protect the observatory, including carving out lines by hand and with bulldozers, setting strategic backfires and using aircraft to make water drops.

The Mt. Wilson Observatory houses 18 telescopes, many of which were used to make some of the greatest astronomical discoveries of the last century. They include the 100 inch Hooker telescope that Edwin Hubble used in the 1920s to prove that our universe is still expanding.

The fire also threatens a seismic station that has recorded earthquake activity for 100 years, seismologist Lucy Jones said via Twitter.

Numerous television and radio stations have transmitters in the area, including our newsroom which broadcasts on the radio at 89.3 KPCC.

HOW WE’RE REPORTING ON THIS

This is a developing story. We fact check everything and rely only on information from credible sources (think fire, police, government officials and reporters on the ground). Sometimes, however, we make mistakes and/or initial reports turn out to be wrong. In all cases, we strive to bring you the most accurate information in real time and will update this story as new information becomes available.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

For the latest information straight from local emergency officials, check the following websites and social media accounts:

FIRE RESOURCES

YOUR QUESTIONS OR IDEAS

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Join Us Tonight For A Conversation On Prop 16

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Among the slew of measures on the November ballot is Proposition 16, which would erase the ban on affirmative action at public institutions from California’s constitution.

That ban was put in place in 1996 when voters approved Proposition 209, which prohibits the state from considering race, ethnicity and gender in hiring and contracting for all government-run institutions, and for admissions to public universities.

Proposition 16 on the ballot this November would repeal it.

Join KPCC/LAist Higher Education correspondent Adolfo Guzman-Lopez tonight as he hosts a virtual event featuring a live conversation with guest experts exploring the pros and cons of Proposition 16, impartial analysis of the measure, and a range of perspectives on the issue.

This virtual event is free, but you need to RSVP.


♦︎ RSVP HERE ♦︎
Prop 16 and Affirmative Action: A Voter Game Plan Event
Sept. 23, 6:30 p.m.


Our guests:

Cecilia Estolano, Vice Chair of the Board of Regents, University of California and CEO of Estolano Advisors

Audrey Dow, Senior Vice President, Campaign for College Opportunity

Tony Guan, board member, Silicon Valley Chinese Association Foundation and founder of StopProp16.org

Gail Heriot, Professor of law, University of San Diego

Lourdes Morales, Principal Fiscal & Policy Analyst, California Legislative Analyst's Office

Eva Paterson, Co-chair, Yes on 16 campaign; President of Equal Justice Society

Richard Sander, Professor of law, UCLA

What Are Scores Of L.A.-Based Chinese Immigrants Doing On An Illegal Navajo Nation Cannabis Farm?

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A laborer, who said he was recruited “to come build something out here by a businessman from L.A.,” steps outside his trailer for a smoke at a cannabis farm near Shiprock, New Mexico. Don J. Usner/Searchlight New Mexico

In the fertile northeast corner of the Navajo Nation, near the town of Shiprock, New Mexico, fields that only months ago were traditional open-air corn farms are now stuffed with hundreds of industrial-sized greenhouses, each glowing with artificial lights and brimming with emerald cannabis plants. Security cameras ring the perimeters and guards in flak jackets patrol the public roads alongside the farms.

Every weekday throughout the summer, a group of local kids woke at sunrise and arrived at the farm by 7:30, ready for a 10-hour shift of hard labor under the high desert sun. Many were teenagers, 13- and 14-year-olds lured by offers of quick cash. A few were as young as 10.

Joining them were scores of foreign workers — more than 1,000 people, many of them Chinese immigrants brought to New Mexico from Los Angeles, according to Navajo Police Chief Phillip Francisco.

The crops, according to the man responsible for the operation, are merely hemp plants — a type of cannabis that is grown for its fiber and over-the-counter health products. Hemp, a common agricultural crop, looks and smells identical to regular marijuana, but contains only trace amounts of psychoactive THC. But according to the seven employees interviewed by the nonprofit newsroom Searchlight New Mexico, the farms are not only growing hemp — they’re also producing high-powered, black-market marijuana.

Irving Lin, a Los Angeles-based real estate agent who has been named a primary player in the operation, acknowledged that was true.


“A few places” are growing marijuana, Lin told Searchlight, adding that most of the crops are hemp. “Some people … might want to give it to their friend or something, or maybe they can sell it for a higher price.”

Lin also acknowledged that some of the farm workers are Chinese immigrants brought from L.A., a community KPCC/LAist has covered in-depth.

READ THE WHOLE STORY AT SEARCHLIGHT NEW MEXICO:

LEARN MORE ABOUT CHINESE IMMIGRANT LIFE IN L.A.:

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Breonna Taylor Shooting: 1 Of 3 Officers Indicted

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Signs are placed at a memorial to Breonna Taylor at Jefferson Square Park in downtown Louisville, Kentucky on September 23, 2020. (Jeff Dean/AFP via Getty Images)

Brett Hankison, one of the three officers involved in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky in March, has been indicted by a grand jury. He faces three counts of wanton endangerment.

No charges were announced against the other two officers.

The announcement comes six months after Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician, was killed in her home during a botched narcotics raid.

Officers entered Taylor's home after midnight, as she and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, were sleeping. Walker, thinking the police were intruders, fired a warning shot that struck one of the officers in the leg. Police returned fire, striking Taylor eight times.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced a countywide curfew before the announcement had been made. Yesterday, he declared a preemptive state of emergency as the city braces for possible protests.

Protests have already been announced in Los Angeles.

This is a developing story.

READ THE FULL STORY:

Cal State University Picks Fresno State President As New System Chancellor

Updated
Published
Joseph Castro. (Cal State Board of Trustees meeting screenshot)

After a nearly year-long search, California State University trustees today picked Cal State Fresno President Joseph I. Castro as the new chancellor of the 23-campus system.

“I’m excited and honored to be the first California native and first Mexican American to serve as the chancellor of the California State University,” Castro said.

He’s been president of Fresno State since 2013. Castro earned a bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley, and a PhD from Stanford University.

“Like the majority of students we serve at CSU, I was the first in my family to attend and graduate from a university,” he said.

Castro is replacing Chancellor Timothy White, who announced his retirement last year. White had been scheduled to step down in July but agreed to stay on longer to help the university system navigate the coronavirus crisis. Castro takes over the CSU system during one of the most challenging times in higher education in recent memory.

READ THE FULL STORY:

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California To End Sales Of New Gas Cars by 2035

Updated
Published
The tailpipe of a vehicle (David McNew/Getty Images)

Today, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order requiring that only zero-emission passenger vehicles be sold in the state as of 2035. That includes both cars and trucks.

“We will move forward to green and decarbonize our vehicle fleet here in the state of California,” said Newsom during a press conference.

“If you want to reduce asthma, if you want to mitigate the rise of sea level, if you want to mitigate the loss of ice sheets around the globe, then this is a policy for other states to follow,” he said.

People will still be able to own and resell gasoline powered cars even after the deadline.

By 2035, heavy duty trucks that transport items to and from ports – significant contributors of pollution for places like the Inland Empire – will also be required to be zero emission. And by 2045, that’ll apply to medium and heavy duty vehicles when possible.

Transportation is the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in California, accounting for approximately 40 percent as of 2017. Passenger vehicles themselves are responsible for 28 percent, while heavy duty trucks are responsible for about eight percent.

Newsom said that there are an estimated 726,000 electric vehicles currently registered in the state, only a small portion of the 26 million cars in total.

“This would certainly have a large impact on the environmental justice issue of higher pollutants near freeways,” said Suzanne Paulson, Director of the Center for Clean Air at UCLA.

“It would take a while before it would have a big impact, because most of the pollution comes from cars that are six, ten yeras old, and trucks. It would take a while before we cycle out of the old more polluting vehicles.”

However, she said “it’s not a panacea,” when it comes to reducing fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5 – only one of the many pollutants released by vehicles across the region.

It’s the stuff that burrows deep into the lungs and spreads through the bloodstream, causing inflammation and causing problems with the immune response. Long term exposure can cause all sorts of issues, including an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

There are both direct and indirect sources of PM2.5. Direct sources account for 30 percent of the fine particulate matter that we experience in the South Coast Air Basin. Of that, only 11 percent is attributable to light duty vehicles.

Indirect is more complex, as it forms in the atmosphere when nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, ammonia and other volatile organic compounds are emitted by burning fossil fuels.

Nitrogen oxide is of particular concern and was mentioned by Governor Newsom as one of the pollutants that’ll be curbed. However, only 10 percent of it comes from light duty vehicles.

Other sources of all of the pollutants we inhale deep into our lungs include ships and trucks, manufacturing, construction, dust from roadways, consumer products, and the growing number of wildfires pummelling the region yearly.

“Reducing emissions in all sectors is necessary and should be applauded,” said Philip Fine, deputy executive officer with the South Coast Air Quality Management district. “It’s a great goal that the Governor has laid out. We support it 100 percent. We need to find ways to accelerate those emission reductions even sooner to meet our clean air goals.”

This story was updated to clarify the sources of fine particulate matter.

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As Fires And Floods Wreak Havoc On Health, New UCLA Climate Center Seeks Solutions

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The buildings of downtown Los Angeles are partially obscured in the afternoon on November 5, 2019 (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

For the past month, record-breaking wildfires have torched millions of acres from the Mexican border well into Canada, their smoke producing air so toxic that millions of people remained indoors for days on end while many visited hospitals because of respiratory distress.

Last week, Hurricane Sally left a trail of watery devastation in Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, even as four other storms brewed offshore.

All of that on top of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed nearly 1 million people worldwide.

The timing couldn’t have been better for the opening this month of the Center for Healthy Climate Solutions at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health.

Its mission is to work with policymakers and community groups to help safeguard human health against the ravages of climate change. The center was founded on the premise that the long-feared effects of climate change are already here and must be met with policies not only to slow the warming of the planet but also to help people adapt to its reality.

The center’s co-directors, Dr. Jonathan Fielding and Michael Jerrett, believe the clock is running out and we must quickly reduce the amount of carbon being pumped into the atmosphere to have any hope of preserving a viable planet.

“A lot of the predictions of what could happen with climate change have been wrong. But the predictions have been wrong in that they haven’t been catastrophic enough,” Fielding, a professor of medicine and public health at UCLA and former head of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, said in an interview last week.

Jerrett, a professor of environmental health sciences at UCLA’s Fielding School who also participated in the interview, is the principal investigator on a study hypothesizing that long-term exposure to air pollution elevates the risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes. Other studies have yielded similar findings.

The following excerpts of the interview with Fielding and Jerrett were edited for length and clarity:

Q: Could the hazardous air quality from the wildfires burning across much of the West Coast fuel an increase in severe COVID-19 cases and deaths?

Jonathan Fielding: There’s a very good chance of that. There is no doubt the effects of air pollution on the lungs and other organs are substantial and contribute to people with chronic problems being more susceptible to the severe effects of COVID.

Michael Jerrett: When we have wildfire events like this, as people are exposed to these high levels of smoke, we see increases in those indicators of morbidity and mortality. And we’ve seen those effects for several lung diseases that have similarities to COVID, like pneumonia.

Q: How does climate change exacerbate the racial, ethnic and socioeconomic health disparities that are so prevalent in our society?

Fielding: You already have people who have a higher rate and burden of chronic illness. Just look at the rates of obesity, for example, as well as the rate of cardiovascular disease. Those are certainly exacerbated by increased heat and by where people can afford to live. A lot of people can only afford a place that’s going to have a lot of heat islands, it’s not going to be air-conditioned, it might not have much in the way even of public transportation.

Jerrett: If you look through very long periods of time, people who have more resources — whether that’s better social contacts or they’re more highly educated, or have higher incomes, or other factors that put them at a social advantage — have always been able to protect themselves from environmental risks better than people who lack those resources.

Q: Can you explain how wildfires affect mental health?

Jerrett: There’s emerging and increasingly convincing literature that shows air pollution is related to anxiety and depression. It’s thought that the change in the nervous system that seems to be stimulated by air pollution, and perhaps the vascular system changes, can affect brain function and lead people into a more depressive state. … Secondly, the loss of immediate surroundings that people are familiar with: So if you are used to looking out and seeing a beautiful forest, and you walk out and you look in your backyard and you see nothing but smoke, and the whole forest is gone, that can affect mental health.

Q: Can we expect to see pandemics more frequently?

Fielding: What I think most people are missing in discussing this issue is population growth. We’re increasing the interface between humans and other species that have viruses that may not affect them but very severely affect humans. So, that’s one issue. The second issue is that climate change is increasing the area where you have vectors that can thrive. So, for example, we’re going to wind up with mosquitoes that can transmit dengue fever and malaria in the U.S.

Q: You talk about the “health co-benefits” of programs that can help slow climate change while mitigating its impact on public health. What are some examples?

Jerrett: Some of the leading practices in terms of generating benefits involve, say, increasing the green cover. As we increase green cover, we absorb more carbon, so we’re going to reduce the risk of long-term climate change, but you can also have substantial health benefits from that. We know that the introduction of more vegetation generally lowers extreme heat, particularly in disadvantaged neighborhoods where they don’t have a lot of park space or a lot of trees. Another leading practice, where the Europeans are way ahead of us — but we do see signs of improvement across California, in places like Santa Monica — is promoting what’s known as active travel: to get people out of their cars and get them on a bicycle or walking for incidental trips or going to work. We get a benefit in terms of their increased physical activity, and we also reduce the amount of emissions.

Q: Are the climate changes we are already seeing permanent, or can they be halted or even reversed?

Jerrett: We’re already in what I would call a climate crisis. It’s elevating to a climate catastrophe, and that’s going to happen in the next 20 years. We still have a chance to pull back. If we don’t, then we’re going to start seeing massive species die-offs; it’s going to affect the ability of people all over the world to feed themselves. We’re going to have these extraordinary, extreme events like wildfires that are going to dwarf what we’ve seen in the past, and large portions of the planet may become uninhabitable.

Fielding: Here I would draw a parallel to COVID. Even though many of us predicted a pandemic, most people didn’t really believe it, the government didn’t prepare well for it, and we’re learning the same thing with climate change. The difference is we have a way, through vaccination and maybe drugs, to reverse what’s going on with COVID. We don’t know that we have the ability to do that with climate change. You have people politicizing it and calling it a hoax, and that, unfortunately, is very detrimental to what we all want, which is to have a habitable planet.

This story was produced by KHN (Kaiser Health News), which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation. KHN is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Morning Briefing: Reconsidering Higher Education

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Published
The University of California Los Angeles celebrates its centennial in 2019. (Andrew Cullen for LAist)

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Good morning, L.A.

It’s not news that colleges and universities have long favored the children of donors and alumni. But the numbers of students admitted this way are usually vague, amorphous and not exactly public knowledge – until now.

A new report conducted by the California State Auditor found that at least four UC schools, including UCLA and UC Berkeley, admitted a total of 64 students as favors to donors and staff over six years. According to the report:

“The majority of these applicants were white and at least half had annual family incomes of $150,000 or more … UC Berkeley admitted 42 applicants through its regular admissions process based on their connections to donors and staff, while concurrently denying admission to others who were more qualified.”

If this all sounds kind of familiar, maybe it’s because of the college admissions scandal that broke last year, in which 50 people – including 13 from Southern California – were charged with buying their childrens’ way into top universities. One of those people was actress Lori Laughlin, who is about to serve two months at the prison of her choice – a facility that happens to have yoga, pilates, origami and ukulele lessons.

Perhaps we’ve finally reached the long-overdue moment in which we step back, collectively, and reconsider what higher education is really about.

Keep reading for more on what’s happening in L.A. today, and stay safe out there.

Jessica P. Ogilvie


Coming Up Today, September 23

California State University trustees are scheduled to announce a new chancellor to replace retiring Timothy White at their board meeting. Adolfo Guzman-Lopez reports.

The climate change center at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health plans to study and help implement policies for slowing and adapting to climate change. Bernard J. Wolfson of California Healthline has the story.

Never miss an LAist story. Sign up for our daily newsletters.


The Past 24 Hours In LA

Wildfires: The Bobcat Fire in the Angeles National Forest continues to burn, and has now surpassed 109,000 acres.

Policing Law Enforcement: Dijon Kizzee was shot 15 times by Sheriff’s deputies, including seven times in the back, according to an independent autopsy.

Reopening California: Disney called on Gov. Gavin Newsom to provide guidelines to allow for the reopening of the still-shuttered Disneyland and California Adventure parks in Anaheim.

California Kids: K-12 schools in Orange County have the green light to welcome students and staff back for in-person instruction. A state audit found that at least four UC schools admitted students as favors to donors and staff members.

Election 2020: Tune in to our voter event tonight to hear from experts on both sides of the debate over Proposition 16, which would restore affirmative action to California’s constitution. (Yes, restore.)


Photo Of The Day

A mural in Echo Park honors Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who passed away at the age of 87 last week.

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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