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Nigerian dissident, Chinua Achebe, 82

NEW YORK – The opening sentence was as simple, declarative and revolutionary as a line out of Hemingway:

“Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond,” Chinua Achebe wrote in “Things Fall Apart.”

Africans, the Nigerian author announced more than 50 years ago, had their own history, their own celebrities and reputations. Centuries of being defined by the West were about to end, a transformation led by Achebe, who continued for decades to rewrite and reclaim the history of his native country.

Achebe, the internationally celebrated Nigerian author, statesman and dissident, died at age 82 in Boston on Thursday after a brief illness. He lived through and helped define traumatic change in Nigeria, from independence to dictatorship to the disastrous war between Nigeria and the breakaway country of Biafra in the late 1960s.

He spent much of his adult life in the U.S. but never stopped calling for democracy in Nigeria or resisting literary honors from a government he refused to accept.

Cuban music icon Bebo Valdes, 94

Renowned Cuban pianist Bebo Valdes, a composer and bandleader who recorded with Nat “King” Cole, was musical director at Havana’s legendary Tropicana Club and a key participant in the golden age of Cuban music in the 1950s, died Friday in Sweden at age 94.

Valdes began playing at Havana’s famous night clubs in the 1940s. After leaving Cuba following Fidel Castro’s Communist revolution in 1959, Valdes went to Stockholm in 1963 for a concert and fell in love with Rose Marie Pehrson, a cavalry officer’s daughter.

They got married the same year, and Valdes lived in Sweden until a late resurgence in his career led him to move to Spain in 2007.

Last member of 1st Everest climb, 89

George Lowe, the last surviving climber from the team that made the first successful ascent of Mount Everest, died Wednesday at 89 at a nursing home in central England.

Lowe and his friend Edmund Hillary were the only New Zealanders on the 1953 British-led attempt to climb the world’s highest peak.

Lowe was part of a small group that established the final camp 1,000 feet below the mountain’s summit May 28, 1953. The next day, Hillary and Tenzing Norgay of Nepal reached the 29,035-foot peak.

Opera and film star Rise Stevens, 99

Rise Stevens, an opera star who defined the role of Carmen for a generation and brought opera to millions of Americans through her performances on the radio and in films such as “Going My Way,” died Wednesday at her home in New York City. She was 99.

As the Washington Post once noted, more people heard Stevens sing Carmen’s “Habañera” in “Going My Way,” which co-starred Bing Crosby and swept the Academy Awards for 1944, than in all her theater performances combined.

“The entire country … was her audience,” opera scholar Roger Pines said, “not just people who went to the Metropolitan.”