January 1

    Cenk Uygur

    Cenk Uygur

    On this date in 1970, Cenk Kadir Uygur was born in Istanbul, Turkey. When he was 8, his family moved to New Jersey, where he graduated from high school. He majored in management at the Wharton School of Business, and later earned a J.D. from Columbia University. Uygur was raised as a “not-very-strict” Muslim but lost his faith after taking a college course about Islam and reading the Quran and the Bible.

    He now describes himself as a secular humanist and an agnostic. He worked as an attorney, then became involved in local talk radio and television news production. In 2004 he created the online news talk show “The Young Turks.” In addition to internet video, the show was also broadcast on Sirius Satellite Radio until 2010.

    Uygur has appeared on many television networks as a commentator, including MSNBC, Fox News and Al Jazeera. In 2010 he became a substitute host and paid contributor for MSNBC. In January 2011 he became the anchor of MSNBC Live, but left the network in June 2011 and started hosting “The Young Turks with Cenk Uygur” on Current TV, which went off the air in 2013.

    In 2018 “The Young Turks” launched its own 24-hour channel on YouTube TV. In 2010 he accepted FFRF’s Emperor Has No Clothes Award. He received the American Humanist Association’s 2012 Humanist Media Award. Uygur and his wife Wendy Lang have a son, Prometheus Maximus, and a daughter, Joy.

    Uygur apologized in 2017 for a series of blog posts from 1999 to the mid-2000s that were sexist toward girls and women, calling what he wrote “offensive, insensitive and ignorant.” He said he wrote the posts, deleted more than a decade earlier, while he was a conservative and before he underwent a political transformation into a liberal.

    “I’m offended by [evangelical leaders’] actions, but I’m not offended by their opinion. They believe in a sky god who’s going to suck them up into the sky with a vacuum cleaner. What’s there to get offended by? That’s funny! That’s hilarious! Have at it, Hoss, I’d love to see it!”

    — Uygur speech to FFRF’s 2010 national convention
    Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski; photo by Brent Nicastro
    © Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

    Daniel Radcliffe

    Daniel Radcliffe

    On this date in 1989, actor Daniel Jacob Radcliffe was born to a Protestant father and Jewish mother in London. Radcliffe was selected for the 1999 BBC television production of “David Copperfield” to play the young title character. The film was well-received in Britain, and it helped land Radcliffe a small role in the 2001 Pierce Brosnan movie, “The Tailor of Panama.” During filming, there was a massive search in the UK to find someone to play Harry Potter in the film version of the J.K. Rowling creation. Jamie Lee Curtis, on the set of “The Tailor of Panama,” sized up Daniel Radcliffe and told his mother, “He could be Harry Potter.” Indeed, Radcliffe became immortalized as the star of the eight-movie Harry Potter series.

    Radcliffe also acted in “December Boys” (2007), “My Boy Jack” (2007) and had his first theatrical role in the critically acclaimed West End play “Equus” (2007), followed by a role in the 2011 Broadway revival of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” His first non-Potter movie role was in the 2012 horror film “The Woman in Black” and was followed by other starring roles, the latest as of this writing, in 2019’s “Escape From Pretoria.” In the 2019 seven-episode series “Miracle Workers” on TBS, he played a low-level angel who answers prayers from a basement office, with Steve Buscemi playing God. 

    In a January 2012 interview with Parade magazine, Radcliffe said he has a problem with religion or anything else that says, “We have all the answers. … We change our minds on issues all the time. Religion leaves no room for human complexity.” He has been in a relationship since 2012 with actress Erin Darke. As of this writing, they live in London.

    “I’m not religious, I’m an atheist, and a militant atheist when religion starts impacting on legislation. We need sex education in schools. Schools have to talk to kids from a young age about relationships, gay and straight.”

    — Radcliffe interview, Attitude magazine (March 2012)
    Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch and Bill Dunn; photo by Featureflash, Shutterstock.com
    © Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

    Rosalind Franklin

    Rosalind Franklin

    On this date in 1920, chemist and freethinker Rosalind Elsie Franklin was born in London to Jewish parents Ellis and Muriel (Waley) Franklin. Before dying in her 30s of ovarian cancer, she made significant contributions to the understanding of DNA and RNA, contributions which were only recognized by the scientific community after her death. “We were a family which debated things,” her younger sister, Jenifer Glynn, said in an interview with BBC News. (Sept. 12, 2015) “So Rosalind grew up with a love of argument.  My mother said that when my sister was told something, even when she was very young, she wanted proof. It’s a scientific trait.”

    After earning advanced degrees in physical chemistry, she became a research associate at King’s College London in 1951 and worked on X-ray diffraction studies, which would eventually facilitate the double helix theory of DNA. It was her famous “Photograph 51” that finally revealed DNA’s helical structure to James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953. They, along with Franklin’s colleague Maurice Wilkins, shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962, four years after her death.

    Crick and Watson failed to mention her in their acceptance speeches, even though Crick had written to Jacques Monod that “the data which really helped us to obtain the structure was mainly obtained by Rosalind Franklin,” according to a 2012 account by Glynn in The Lancet. Wilkins made a brief reference to her “very valuable” contribution.

    Franklin made respected contributions to the study of coal, carbon, graphite and viruses and published nearly 50 scientific papers, a remarkable achievement for a woman of her era who lived only 37 years. She is the namesake of Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, a graduate school in North Chicago, Ill., and the British Royal Society’s Rosalind Franklin Award, presented annually for outstanding work in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

    “Photograph 51” by American playwright Anna Ziegler opened in London in September 2015 and continues to be presented in theaters around the world. Nicole Kidman played Franklin in the London production. A Mars rover named the Rosalind Franklin is scheduled to be launched in 2020 by the European and Russian space agencies. The name was chosen by a British panel from almost 36,000 suggestions. (D. 1958)

    PHOTO: National Portrait Gallery, London

    “[As to] the question of a creator. A creator of what? … I see no reason to believe that a creator of protoplasm or primeval matter, if such there be, has any reason to be interested in our insignificant race in a tiny corner of the universe, and still less in us, as still more insignificant individuals.”

    — Franklin letter to her father in 1940 when she was 20. "Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA," by Brenda Maddox, p. 61 (2002)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn
    © Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

    Ed Asner

    Ed Asner

    On this date in 1929, actor Edward (né Etye) Asner was born in Kansas City, Mo., to Lizzie (née Seliger), a housewife, and Morris Asner, who ran a junkyard and secondhand shop. His Orthodox Jewish parents were born in Russia.

    Asner didn’t like Judaism as a child, feeling it alienated him from his peers in public school when he wanted to be “the regular Joe that everybody else was. I resented it and wanted to put it behind me as fast as I could.” (Fox News interview, Nov. 15, 2012)

    After attending the University of Chicago from 1947-49, he worked on the assembly line for General Motors and served with the U.S. Army Signal Corps in Europe. He helped found the Playwrights Theatre Co. in Chicago before moving to New York City. His first Broadway role in “Face of a Hero” alongside Jack Lemmon was in 1960 and he started to make inroads as a television actor. His film debut in 1962 was in the Elvis Presley vehicle “Kid Galahad.”

    Asner was best known for his character Lou Grant, a crusty news editor on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in 1970 and later spun off on the “Lou Grant,” “Rhoda” and “Phyllis” series. He had nearly 400 acting credits and is the most honored male performer in the history of the Primetime Emmy Awards, having won eight, including five for portraying Grant and two for TV mini-series: “Rich Man, Poor Man” (1976) and “Roots” (1977). He served two terms as Screen Actors Guild president from 1981-85.

    In the 2007 touring stage production “The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial,” Asner played William Jennings Bryan opposite John de Lancie as Clarence Darrow. De Lancie, best known as “Q” on the TV series “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” was the first recipient of FFRF’s Clarence Darrow Award. 

    At age 82 in 2012, Asner returned to Broadway after a 23-year absence, joining the cast of “Grace,” a play starring Paul Rudd as a religious idealist trying to open a chain of Gospel motels in Florida. Asner played a gruff exterminator. In 2013 during his one-man show “FDR” in Indiana, he was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with exhaustion.

    In 2018 he started playing the title character in a touring stage production of the political comedy “God Help Us!” in which he used his “divine” judgment to moderate a heated exchange of ideas between characters Randi and Larry. It could be presented either with a veteran cast or with local actors playing Larry and Randi. Asner played God. When the show played in December 2019 in Madison, Wis., Asner visited FFRF’s headquarters to be a guest on its TV show “Freethought Matters.”

    Asner was married to Nancy Sykes from 1959-88 and they had three children: Kate and twins Matthew and Liza. In 1987 he had a son, Charles, with Carol Jean Vogelman. He married producer Cindy Gilmore in 1998 after a seven-year engagement. They divorced in 2015.

    Asner was a parent and grandparent of children with autism and was actively involved with the nonprofit group Autism Speaks. He published “The Grouchy Historian: An Old-Time Lefty Defends Our Constitution Against Right-Wing Hypocrites and Nutjobs” in 2017. In 2018 he announced the creation of the Ed Asner Family Center to support differently abled people.

    His death at age 91 was announced on his official Twitter account: “We are sorry to say that our beloved patriarch passed away this morning peacefully.  Words cannot express the sadness we feel. With a kiss on your head — Goodnight dad.  We love you.” (D. 2021)

    PHOTO: Asner at age 82 at the 2012 Phoenix Comicon; Gage Skidmore photo under CC 3.0

    “I don’t know if there is a God, I’m agnostic — the cheap and easy way.”

    — Asner, Fox News interview (Nov. 15, 2012)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn
    © Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

    Chris Kluwe

    Chris Kluwe

    On this date in 1981, Christopher James Kluwe, athlete, author and activist, was born in Philadelphia to Ronald and Sandra Kluwe. He grew up in California and graduated from Los Alamitos High School before enrolling at UCLA, where he graduated in 2005 with majors in political science and history.

    Kluwe excelled in high school and college as a football punter and placekicker, skills that led him to join the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League in 2005. He spent seven seasons with the Vikings as one of the top punters in the league and set 14 individual punting records for the franchise before retiring in 2014. While playing he was an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights and same-sex marriage and was named grand marshal of the Twin Cities Pride parade in 2013. Ellen DeGeneres, a Packers fan, named him the first inductee in her TV show’s Hall of Fame.

    In 2012, after Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo spoke out in favor of a Maryland ballot initiative to legalize gay marriage, state delegate Emmett Burns Jr. urged Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti to “inhibit such expressions from your employee.” Kluwe responded to Burns in an open letter: “It baffles me that a man such as yourself, a man who relies on that same First Amendment to pursue your own religious studies without fear of persecution from the state, could somehow justify stifling another person’s right to speech. To call that hypocritical would be to do a disservice to the word.”

    He also clashed with Vikings management and threatened to sue the team in 2014 over alleged homophobic remarks by special teams coordinator Mike Priefer. Kluwe also alleged he was released by the Vikings due to his activism. After an independent investigation, the team suspended Priefer for three games, announced a $100,000 contribution to LGBTQ charities and pledged to enhance sensitivity training. Kluwe, who did not receive any money, and the team have since mended their relationship. In 2018 the Vikings were the first NFL franchise to host a large-scale summit focused on the inclusion of gay athletes.

    He published Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies: On Myths, Morons, Free Speech, Football, and Assorted Absurdities in 2013, a collection of short essays, vignettes, letters, digressions, lists, rants and complaints. “Who Is John Galt?” is one of the essays. In it he takes apart the hero of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, calling Galt “a remorseless shark feeding on those unable to get out of his way.”

    With Andrew Reiner, he published the science fiction novel Prime: A Genesis Series in 2015. Kluwe’s futuristic novel Otaku, geared to young adults, was released in 2020 and features a black female protagonist who is one of the world’s top gamers. Its themes include bullying and online hate speech directed at women gamers. (The Gamergate controversy in 2014 stemmed from a vicious harassment campaign against female video game developers and progressive politics and culture.)

    Kluwe married Maria Isabel Alvarado in 2004 near the end of his UCLA years. Thеу hаvе twо daughters, Remy аnd Olivia, born in 2008 аnd 2010. Kluwe describes himself as “cheerfully agnostic” and spoke at the 2014 American Atheists annual convention. 

    “My religion is doubt. I believe with all my heart that I will never know everything, that the decisions I make will necessarily be flawed by the imperfect assumptions I base them on but that the only way to keep learning is to change those assumptions when faced with new evidence.”

    — "Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies" (2013)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn
    © Freedom From Religion Foundation. All rights reserved.

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