October 28

    Bill Gates (Quote)

    Bill Gates (Quote)

    “Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient. There’s a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning.”

    —Time magazine interview with Gates, the principal founder of Microsoft (Jan. 13, 1996)
    Annie Laurie Gaylor

    Joaquin Phoenix

    Joaquin Phoenix

    On this date in 1974, Joaquin Phoenix was born Joaquin Rafael Bottom in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Children of God missionaries. His parents became disillusioned with the cult-like aspects of the Children of God and left the group when he was a small child. At age 4, his family, which included siblings River, Rain, Liberty and Summer, moved to Los Angeles, where the children sang and played music and eventually gained small roles on television.

    Phoenix’s film debut was in “SpaceCamp” (1986) but he landed his first successful role in 1989 in the Ron Howard film “Parenthood.” While his brother River was becoming a hot new star in Hollywood, Joaquin decided to leave the business at age 15 to travel around Latin America. At 19 he was by 23-year-old River’s side as he died of an overdose outside an L.A. night club.

    He achieved success in the 1990s with the films “To Die For” (1995), “Inventing the Abbotts” (1997) and “Return to Paradise” (1998). His most critically acclaimed roles occurred in the next decade, with his Academy Award-nominated role as Commodus in “Gladiator” (2000), Mel Gibson’s brother in “Signs” (2002), a reporter in “Hotel Rwanda” (2004) and the lead in “The Village” (2004). His most famous role, for which he earned an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe, was playing country music legend Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line” (2005).

    He then had roles in “Reservation Road” (2007), “Two Lovers” (2009), “I’m Still Here” (2010), “The Master” (2012, for which he was Oscar-nominated), “The Immigrant” (2013), “Inherent Vice” (2014), “You Were Never Really Here” (2017, Cannes Film Festival Best Actor Award), “Mary Magdalene” (2017, playing Jesus) and “The Joker” (2019).

    A longtime vegan, he has been a spokesperson for the Lunchbox Fund, which provides healthy meals to needy children, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. He has dated actress Rooney Mara since 2016. Outspoken about his atheism, he told the Sunday Times (UK) in April 1999, “I’m not into organized religion.”

    “I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in an afterlife. I don’t believe in a soul. I don’t believe in anything. I think it’s totally right for people to have their own beliefs if it makes them happy, but to me it’s a pretty preposterous idea.”

    Joaquin Phoenix, Nylon Guys magazine (Winter 2008)

    Compiled by Bonnie Gutsch; photo by Everett Collection, Shutterstock.com

    Elsa Lanchester

    Elsa Lanchester

    On this date in 1902, actress Elsa Sullivan Lanchester was born In London to atheist parents. She studied to be a dancer with Isadora Duncan, then turned to acting as a teenager, debuting in films in 1924. Routinely described as a “dedicated nonconformist,” she married Charles Laughton in 1929, with whom she had an unorthodox marriage.

    Her splashy American debut was as the “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935). She played Anne of Cleves in “The Private Life of Henry VIII” (1933). Her many other films include: “Lassie Come Home” (1946), “The Spiral Staircase” (1947), “The Big Clock” (1949), “Come to the Stable” (1949), “Les Miserables” (1955), “The Glass Slipper” (1958), “Witness for the Prosecution” (1957), “Bell, Book & Candle” and “Mary Poppins” (1964), “Pajama Party” (1965), “That Darn Cat” (1968), “Murder by Death” (1976) and “Die Laughing” (1980).

    She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her roles in “Come to the Stable” and “Witness for the Prosecution.” She wrote two autobiographies: Charles and I (1938) and Elsa Lanchester Herself (1983). Ultra-religious actress Maureen O’Hara, in her own autobiography, mentioned twice that Lanchester did not believe in God. D. 1986.

    Photo: Lanchester in 1935 in “Naughty Marietta.”

    “I never understood the changing of her last name from Sullivan to Lanchester because it sounded more elegant. Nor did I understand her hatred of religion of any kind.”

    —" 'Tis Herself: An Autobiography" by Maureen O'Hara with John Nicoletti (2004)

    Matt Smith

    Matt Smith

    On this date in 1982, actor Matthew Robert Smith was born in Northampton, England. Smith originally intended to be a soccer player, but after suffering from career-ending back injuries and advice from his theater teacher, he turned to acting instead. He joined England’s National Youth Theatre and went on to study creative writing and drama at the University of East Anglia.

    Smith is most famous for his portrayal of the 11th reincarnation of The Doctor on BBC’s “Doctor Who,” the longest running science fiction show in history. He was the youngest actor (at 26) to play the role but fans and critics responded most positively to his performance.

    He has received many honors and awards, including a BAFTA nomination in 2010 for “Doctor Who.” He has also appeared in the BBC’s adaptations of Philip Pullman’s “The Ruby in the Smoke” and “The Shadow in the North” and had a major role in BBC’s “Party Animals,” a political drama. In film he starred in “Womb” (2010) and “Terminator Genisys” (2015). It was announced in 2019 that he had roles in Sony’s “Spider-Man” spinoff “Morbius” and Edgar Wright’s “Last Night in Soho.”

    Smith is active in BBC’s two charities, Children in Need and Sports Relief, which help children and vulnerable people, respectively. In 2015 he was named one of GQ’s 50 Best-Dressed British Men.

    “I recently read ‘The God Delusion’ by Richard Dawkins, which ignited my interest in a scientific, mathematical version of the world. No, I’m not religious. At all. I’m an atheist.”

    —Smith interview in The Guardian (Dec. 3, 2011)
    Compiled by Sarah Eucalano; photo by Featureflash, Shutterstock.com

    Norma Cunningham

    Norma Cunningham

    On this date in 1917, Norma Ella Cunningham (née Steines), educator and freethought advocate, was born in St. Louis, where she attended Lutheran elementary school. She was valedictorian of the 1935 graduating class of Cleveland High School and was awarded a full-tuition scholarship to Washington University, where she earned a B.A. in 1939 and an M.A. in 1940. 

    She taught in the St. Louis area for four years before moving in 1944 to Mascoutah, Ill., where she taught high school German, Latin and English and headed the fine arts department. She taught there for 31 years before retiring. In 1953 she married Joseph Cunningham, who taught business and other classes at Mascoutah High. They were married for 64 years until her death in 2018. Their daughters are Kathryn and Linda.

    In a 1998 column in Freethought Today, Cunningham told about her “parochial brainwashing” as a Lutheran elementary school student and how after college she started “intensive Bible study and the application of reason to matters of religion. I was fast becoming an agnostic. Not much later the study of philosophy and the sciences put ‘finis’ even to my agnosticism and brought about a metamorphosis to atheism.”

    Cunningham joined FFRF in 1981 and served for many years on its executive board of directors after being named one of its first members. She and her husband were avid travelers, visiting all 50 states and Canada, the Caribbean, most of Europe, Russia, China and Japan.  She died at age 100 at an assisted living facility in April 2018 but was mentally sharp even as her health declined and correctly answered all five “Final Jeopardy” questions one week a few months before she died.

    In her 1998 Freethought Today column, Cunningham wrote, “As children we were like the persons referred to by [Scottish poet] William Drummond: ‘He who will not reason is a bigot; he who cannot is a fool; and he who dares not, is a slave.’ Thank Ingersoll I was liberated!”

    Photo: Norma Cunningham on her wedding day on Dec. 23, 1953.

    “Women to him were brood mares, who were created with large hips just to stay at home and sit on them. His opinions, frankly stated, were frequently shockingly outrageous, even for his time. For instance, he suggested that witches be burned and that objectors not believing in infant baptism should be put to death!”

    —"What They Never Told Us About Martin Luther," Freethought Today (January/February 1998)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

    Andy Richter

    Andy Richter

    On this date in 1966, entertainer Paul Andrew Richter was born in Grand Rapids, Mich., to Glenda (Palmer) Swanson, a kitchen designer, and Laurence Richter, a Russian language teacher at Indiana University. He grew up in Ilinois, where he was Yorkville High School prom king (the school where future U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert was accused and convicted of molesting his wrestling team members).

    Richter’s parents divorced when he was 4, and his father later came out as gay. He attended the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and Columbia College Chicago as a film major. He worked as a production assistant on commercial shoots, took acting classes and started writing for television. After playing Mike Brady in “The Real Live Brady Bunch,” a staged version of the ’70s TV sitcom, he was hired as a writer for “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” which debuted in 1993. He soon became O’Brien’s sidekick. The show aired until 2009 but Richter left in 2000 to pursue an acting career. 

    His first major venture, Fox’s “Andy Richter Controls the Universe,” was canceled after two mid-season runs. “Quintuplets,” also on Fox, lasted one season. His 2007 series, “Andy Barker P.I.,” was co-written and produced by O’Brien. NBC canceled the show after six episodes.

    In 2009 he rejoined O’Brien on NBC as the announcer for “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien,” also writing and performing in sketches. When Jay Leno moved from prime time to again host the later “Tonight Show” time slot, Richter joined O’Brien on “Conan” on TBS in 2010. The series finale aired in June 2021. He started his own podcast, “The Three Questions with Andy Richter,” on the Earwolf network in 2019. Guests are asked: Where do you come from? Where are you going? What have you learned? 

    In January 2017 he began hosting the ABC game show “Big Fan” produced by Jimmy Kimmel. Only four episodes aired, with guests Matthew McConaughey, Aaron Rodgers, Kim Kardashian West and Kristen Bell. He has also had numerous roles non-recurring roles in TV and film. “The Incredibly Inaccurate Biography of Andy Richter” is an Audible Original audiobook divided into “chunks” of his actual life. He was scheduled as a contestant on “Celebrity Wheel of Fortune Season 2” set to debut in September 2021 on ABC.

    As of this writing, Richter holds the record for highest one-day score on “Celebrity Jeopardy!” He won $68,000 on the 2009-10 season’s “Jeopardy! Million Dollar Celebrity Invitational” and donated his earnings  to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

    Richter was married to actress and writer Sarah Thyre from 1994 to 2019. Before divorcing, they had a son, William Oscar (b. 2001), and a daughter, Mercy Josephine (b. 2007). Richter is a supporter of Planned Parenthood. At a 2016 fundraiser in 2016, he referenced abortion services provided in 1992 for Thyre when they had split up and were undergoing personal difficulties.

    Asked in 2002 about his religious beliefs, Richter said it’s not something he thinks about much “because I figure, what’s the point? I don’t know if it’s agnosticism. There are things that are beyond our comprehension, so why bother? That’s sort of my spiritual feelings. 

    “When you pray, I don’t think anyone’s listening,” he added. “I don’t think there’s anybody sitting in the sky watching you. You’re on your own. All you have is other people around you, and how you treat them.” 

    PHOTO: Richter at the 2017 Children’s Defense Fund’s “Beat the Odds” Awards  in Beverly Hills, Calif.; photo by Eugene Powers / Shutterstock.

    THE ONION: Is there a God?
    RICHTER: I don’t think so. I don’t know. … I actually think that not having a focus on God would make life better, because there would be more of an imperative to be nice to each other. There would be no more brand-name wars over stuff, and pointless arguments over east side/west side, go-fight-win.

    —Interview, The Onion AV Club (Oct. 9, 2002)
    Compiled by Bill Dunn

Freedom From Religion Foundation