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Before it’s too late, a tribute to some famous Dons

Every year, there are fewer and fewer Donalds born in the United States. So, before there are none of us left, I wanted to salute a sampling of Dons who have made their mark in society and pop culture.

Horrors! Did you know that every year there are fewer and fewer Donalds born in the United States?

As you might guess, this is very depressing news for anyone named Don to hear.

But it’s true: Back in 1934, Donald was actually the sixth-most-popular name for boys born that year, according to the Social Security Administration. By 1943, it had dropped out of the Top 10 and completely out of the Top 100 by 1991. By 2009, the most recent year with complete data, Donald was down to No. 364, so you can see my concern.

At this rate, eventually there may be no more Donalds, Dons or Donnies. What a poorer place the world would be for that.

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Believe me, I can relate: When I started at the Pioneer Press in 1978, there were eight Dons in the Newsroom alone –  one Don A, a B, two C’s, a D, an E (me, of course), an R and an S. When I took a buyout in 2006, I was the last Don out.

One ominous — and possibly prophetic — sign of this disastrous trend is the 1997 TV miniseries fatalistically named “The Last Don” — although in fairness, I must admit that the title refers to the head of a Mafia family, not a person named Donald.

So, before it’s too late, I wanted to salute a sampling of famous Dons, and I’d invite you to add to this list with your suggestions in the Comment section below.

The word “Don,” of course, can be misleading, because it can function both as a formal title and as a first name.

So, let’s get some of those other non-Don Dons out of the way right at the start. They include some real fellows (for instance, Don Bosco, better known as St. John Bosco) and quite a few not so real, such as:

“Don Carlo”/ “Don Carlos,” Verdi’s five-act grand opera.

Don Corleone, the family head featured in Mario Puzo’s novel and subsequent “Godfather” films: Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando in “The Godfather,” Robert DeNiro in “The Godfather: Part II”) and his son and successor, Michael (Al Pacino).

Don Diego De La Vega, better known to the world as Zorro (shown here in the Disney version with Guy Williams).

“Don Giovanni,” the two-act operatic tale of the unrepentant rake with music by Mozart and libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte.

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Don Juan, a character who has become a symbol of libertinism.

Don Quixote, the enduring knight-errant title character of Cervantes’ landmark novel — played by Peter O’Toole in the 1972 movie version of “The Man of La Mancha.”

Two world-famous Donalds
But we’ll start with the two biggest Donalds (in uncertain order):

• Newsmaker and gossip magnet — “The Donald” — the tycoon always making headlines, whether for his TV show “Celebrity Apprentice,” for his business dealings or for all the current chatter about his possible run for the presidency. Now, the publicity-savvy Donald Trump is talking about combining TV and politics by announcing his political decision on the season finale of “Celebrity Apprentice.”

• And that other world-famous Donald: Donald Duck. And did you know that Donald and his duck friends invented some amazing things, including supposedly the plot of the mega-movie “Inception,” the opening sequence of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and even manga? Wow. I didn’t — until I checked this out.

These are just two of the many Donalds, Dons and Donnies (and other spelling variations) who have left their mark in history and society. So, let’s pay tribute to a few others by category, starting with a home-state tribute:

 Four famous Minnesotans: Former WCCO anchor and now MinnPost writer Don Shelby, former Minneapolis Mayor and 5th District Congressman Don Fraser, the late Northwest Airlines executive Donald Nyrop … 

… And the beloved Don Herbert, TV’s “Mr. Wizard,” and everybody’s favorite science teacher (at least until that Bill Nye guy came along).

Music makers
There are plenty of musicians, too. Here’s an alphabetical sampling (with music) — from longtime stars to one-hit wonders and everything in between:

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• Doo-woppers Don and Juan with their one hit, “What’s Your Name.” 

Donny Brooks, explaining his undying love in “Mission Bell.”

Don Cherry, with his 1950s hit recording of “Band of Gold” and, decades later, his PBS nostalgia performance.

• Pop music arranger and conductor Don Costa

• Stax Records studio bassist extraordinaire Donald “Duck” Dunn, with the big hit “Green Onions,” from his days with Booker T. and the MG’s 

Don Everly, one-half of the Everly Brothers, members of the first class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

Donald Fagen, co-founder of Steely Dan, with his solo hit, “I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World).”

• British singer Don Fardon.

• Country singer and songsmith Don Gibson.

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Don Henley, co-founder of the Eagles.

Don Ho, Hawaii’s most famous singer.  

• “American Pie” man Don McLean, with my favorite song of his, “Castles in the Air.” 

• Child/teen star Donny Osmond, here in his “mature years” with “Soldier of Love.”

Don Robertson, “The Happy Whistler.” 

Don Rondo, with his Top 10 hit, “White Silver Sands.” 

• Country singer Don Williams, with “I Believe in You.”

• And one quite obscure song, “Donnie” by the Bermudas.

Other entertainment figures
Don Adams, the bumbling secret agent of “Get Smart.”

• Veteran radio and movie actor Don Ameche.

• Character actor Joe Don Baker

• Versatile actor Don Cheadle.

Don DeFore, a regular on the TV shows “Hazel” and “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.”

Controversial radio personality Don Imus.         

Don Johnson, an actor probably best known for his “Miami Vice” TV role.

• The late Don Kirshner, the hit records mogul.

• Actor Don Knotts, best known as the one-bullet deputy on “The Andy Griffith Show.”

• Actor and song-and-dance man Donald O’Connor, who steals the show with “Make ’Em Laugh” in “Singin’ in the Rain.”

• “Saturday Night Live” announcer Don Pardo

Donald Pleasence, who specializes in ominous roles in everything from James Bond movies to the “Halloween” film series.  

• Insult comedian Don Rickles.  

• Actor Donald Sutherland, film veteran of everything from “MASH” to the remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”   

• Singer and actor Donnie Wahlberg.

… And some quick-hit mentions
Four baseball stars:
Dodgers pitching great and Hall of Famer Don Drysdale; Yankee Don Larsen, the only one to pitch a World Series perfect game; former Yankee star Don “Donnie Baseball” Mattingly, who now manages the longtime rival Dodgers; and Don Mincher, one of the Twins’ first first-basemen.

Three football heroes: Green Bay Packer Don Hutson, considered the NFL’s first star wide receiver; another wide receiver, New York Jet Don Maynard; and “Dandy” Don Meredith, one of the original members of the “Monday Night Football” broadcast team.

Four unforgettable film and TV characters: Donnie Darko, the Jake Gyllenhaal title character of the 2001 film; Donald Hollinger (Ted Bessell), the boyfriend of Ann Marie/Marlo Thomas in TV’s “That Girl” and, later, the love interest for the star of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”); Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly in “Singin’ in the Rain”),  and “Mad Men” ad man Don Draper (Jon Hamm).

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One-of-a-kinds: Ad man and TV personality Donny Deutsch; golfer Don January; flamboyant boxing promoter Don King and politician and two-time Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.