A look back at the entertainment legends who left us this year by the artists who knew and loved them

By EW Staff
Updated December 14, 2012 at 05:00 AM EST

Whitney Houston
Aug. 9, 1963 – Feb. 11, 2012
I was very much a fan of her music, and of her as a singer. The first couple of records, where it was more simple, were my favorites. I did meet her once, in a very strange way: I was staying at a Santa Monica hotel called Shutters, and we had two Yorkies with us. We were walking in, and they were coming out, Whitney and Bobby, and they had Yorkies too. So we had this moment where all the Yorkie people were just, like, in love. She knew who I was and I knew who she was, of course, but it wasn’t about that. It was just a really nice, unsophisticated moment. And I liked her very much.

It was hard to watch her [struggle with addiction], and very hard to watch that show [Being Bobby Brown]. I didn’t want that to be her. And it was strange, because when we met that day at Shutters, that really wasn’t who they came off as being. They seemed much more together and happier, and they were both really smiling and luughing.

I saw her do an interview where she basically said, ”I’d had a thousand number-one hit records, I’d had huge albums, I’d toured the world, I’d met all the most famous people in the world, and I fell in love with this guy,” and she said, ”You know what, all I cared about was being in love. All I cared about was my husband. Nothing else mattered.” If you’ve ever been that deeply in love, where you’re ready to just give everything up, then you can kind of understand that. Especially because she had pretty much topped every pinnacle.

I think if she were still here today and you said to her, ”Would you change that? If you had met him, would you have said, ‘This isn’t gonna be good for me,’ and would you have walked away from him?” she would’ve said no. So I think that she was very aware of where she was going. And yeah, it’s a tragedy. But I also think sometimes when real big love gets in the way, there’s no turning back. —Stevie Nicks
Houston died in L.A. of accidental drowning and effects of heart disease and cocaine use.

Andy Griffith
June 1, 1926 – July 3, 2012
Andy Griffith never looked like he was acting. His brilliance was in his normalcy, his perfect reflection of real life. His art was the Norman Rockwell of the screen, rural and real. It was America in all its glory, humor, and heart. His was the hardest of all tasks, illustrating the middle and not so much the edge. He could find the charm in things we usually dismiss. And because he did it so perfectly, it’s just as comforting and familiar today. Knowing what he valued in life, I’d say he left here satisfied. He saved more souls than most preachers, and put smiles on more faces than almost anyone. —Brad Paisley
Griffith died of a heart attack in Manteo, N.C.

Michael Clarke Duncan
Dec. 10, 1957 – Sept. 3, 2012
His role in The Green Mile was a tremendously challenging part for any actor, much less one with as little experience as Michael had coming into it. His growth as an actor during the process was startling and inspiring. He was like a sponge, seizing command of his craft, determined to be great. Bottom line: Michael made it happen. He was pure heart and soul. By the time we were shooting, he had that role nailed. I was so proud of him when he got the nominations. Nobody deserved them more. The journey that man took as an artist still blows me away. —Frank Darabont
Duncan died in L.A. of complications from a heart attack.

Phyllis Diller
July 17, 1917 – Aug. 20, 2012
Phyllis Diller was a trailblazer in the truest sense of the word. Stand-up used to be a man’s world, and Phyllis was living in it virtually alone for decades. I had the pleasure of meeting her a couple times and it struck me how sweet she was. Sometimes with other female comedians there’s a competitive nature, but you never got that from Phyllis. She was exactly as you would assume Phyllis Diller would be in real life. She was Phyllis Diller-ific through and through. It’s important to remember that when you’re laughing at one of my shows or at Whitney Cummings or Tina Fey on TV, it’s because of Phyllis Diller and jokes like this: ”I have a tremendous sex drive. My boyfriend lives 40 miles away.” —Kathy Griffin
Diller died in L.A. of undisclosed causes.

Donna Summer
Dec. 31, 1948 – May 17, 2012
There may be few female chart-toppers who are actually aware of the doors Donna Summer’s unlocked for us in the industry. She embodied strong positive feminine energy in a way that compelled people to get up, dance, and enjoy themselves. It was impossible to stay an observer when she hit the stage.

Donna brought a new level of respect to professional female singers and to women in general with songs that made it okay for women to expect to be treated ”right.” She was part of a wave of powerful singers like Aretha Franklin and Diana Ross who made being a strong woman a desirable thing. Donna helped give the label diva a positive meaning. —Natasha Bedingfield
Summer died of lung cancer in New York City.

Adam Yauch
Aug. 5, 1964 – May 4, 2012
MCA is the strength of the Beastie Boys. He is the power of the group: his vocals, his character, and his personality. He’s the one who let it be known that even though we can make some outrageous and crazy music, you must listen to and pay attention to all of us and see that we are dope. The Beasties are like ”3 the Hard Way” in their own right, and Yauch was the father-type leader. There was a maturity to him even at the zaniest moments. And that voice! One of the top 10 greatest ever. —Darryl ”Dmc” Mcdaniels
Yauch died of cancer in New York City.

Etta James
Jan. 25, 1938 – Jan. 20, 2012
Man, Etta James. My grandmother first introduced me to her when I was 12 years old. She loved her and would always be playing her records, so that’s how I heard her first. And she really stuck with me. I mean, she’s obviously created an incredible presence for us all to live with.

I never met her, but I have sampled her. We would dig through crates, and we’d always come up with so many different musicians, and her voice and style just always stand out. There’s something very powerful about that voice. Nobody else’s can embody the soul of music like hers. She had a spirit about her that has clearly translated to many generations. She’s one of the few artists who has a truly timeless essence in her music, and in her soul. —Common
James died of leukemia in Riverside, Calif.

Larry Hagman
Sept. 21, 1931 – Nov. 23, 2012
Ask 100 people about Larry, and every answer starts with a smile. I’m not sure how large a person’s life can be, but I have not yet found the outer edges of Larry’s ability to include friends in his. I was his friend, and for 34 years I never doubted it for a second. I won’t go on and on about his amazing talent (Maj. Tony Nelson in I Dream of Jeannie, Murdoch in Mother, Jugs & Speed, and of course J.R. Ewing in Dallas), his indefatigable energy, and his clownish sense of fun. I just loved being around him because he made me feel good about being his friend, just being myself. Someone wrote me, ”A large person leaves a large hole in your heart.” I know what he meant, but my heart always will be full of Haggy. I just wish I could turn the corner and see him. And smile. —Patrick Duffy
Hagman died of acute myeloid leukemia in Dallas.

Gore Vidal
Oct. 3, 1925 – July 31, 2012
”Because there is no cosmic point to the life that each of us perceives on this distant bit of dust at galaxy’s edge, all the more reason for us to maintain in proper balance what we have here. Because there is nothing else. Nothing. This is it. And quite enough, all in all.” —Vidal, In 1988’S At Home

Ernest Borgnine
Jan. 24, 1917 – July 8, 2012
When I first came to Hollywood, I knew nothing about the business. Then this big, gentle teddy bear of a guy slipped his arm around me, took me to the set of McHale’s Navy, and taught me what it meant to be part of the wonderful business called ”show business.” Not just the acting part of it but also how to treat all of the people who make it the fantastic playground it is. —Tim Conway
Borgnine died of renal failure in L.A.

Dick Clark
Nov. 30, 1929 – AprIL 18, 2012
Dick Clark was always very generous and kind 2 us whatever the circumstance. He would call U personally and always speak with grace and candor that is rare in an industry that is rife with gamesmanship. That kinda class is sorely missed. Not sure why but Mr. Clark seemed 2 genuinely like me, and Eye liked him also. —Prince
Clark died of a heart attack in Santa Monica.

Don Cornelius
Sept. 27, 1936-Feb. 1, 2012
Don Cornelius was a visionary, a pioneer, a genius. Without a doubt, one of the most important influences in popular culture. What he did through Soul Train to advance music, and not just black music, cannot be understated. He expanded the boundaries of what artists, the music and television industries, and the audience thought was possible. It was the first time that society was able to see people of color on TV regularly. The global treasure that is Soul Train opened up doors for so many. —Patti Labelle
Cornelius died in an apparent suicide in L.A.

Jenni Rivera
July 2, 1969 – Dec. 9, 2012
Yesterday [Dec. 9] we were all waiting for her at the TV set — we were supposed to perform a duet together on The Voice Mexico. Shortly after arriving, we started hearing rumors about her plane being missing, and then we heard the tragic news — it was just overwhelmingly devastating. Jenni was a powerful artist, a wonderful human being, a dedicated mother and grandmother, a symbol of strength, a warrior, and a dear friend who truly helped all of us around her. It is still hard for me to comprehend and accept what has happened. —Paulina Rubio
Rivera died in a plane crash near Nuevo León, Mexico.

Mike Wallace
May 9, 1918 – AprIL 7, 2012
To say I grew up with Mike Wallace would not be entirely inaccurate, for he’d been hypnotizing me from the small screen since the ’50s. He was undeniably fascinating to watch. In those golden days among the golden group of journalists (Charles Collingwood, Edward R. Murrow, David Brinkley, etc.), Mike was television’s bad boy. He saw immediately that the medium invited danger, so he lined up the rich and powerful and extracted on-air confessions from them, often reducing them to tears in full view of the public. His interview tactics gave the Spanish Inquisition a run for its money!

I met Mike in 1981. I had made certain success on Broadway that year and he had deigned to interview me. He was utterly charming, and I felt extremely confident that my knowledge of his well-known tricks would keep me in control. I was wrong. His first question was ”Why is it that you’re not a household name?” It knocked me sideways, and for the next half hour I never stopped fighting for my life.

Some 16 years later, I had the thrill of playing Mike in Michael Mann’s wonderful film The Insider, about 60 Minutes and a controversial exposé of the tobacco industry. It was rumored that he hated the script. But sometime later, to my great surprise and relief, he told me how much he admired what I’d done for his character. He was a great journalist, always ahead of his time — and now he is gone. And gone too are his panache, wit, excitement, style, and daring. Television is all the poorer without them. —Christopher Plummer
Wallace died of undisclosed causes in New Canaan, Conn.

Nora Ephron
May 19, 1941 – June 26, 2012
Nora kept doing things well. It was really annoying! She was a great writer, a great director, and then it turned out she was a great chef. People can devote their entire lives to just one of those things and not get the same results she did. When I was in When Harry Met Sally … , which Nora wrote and associate-produced, she was the one woman on that side of the camera — I remember having a longish discussion with her about faking orgasms while they were still f—ing around with the script. She did everything with such dedication, whether she was raising children, cooking the perfect food, or writing a script. She was intimidating, but it seemed like no one intimidated her. Everyone in her life was substantial, whether it was Mike Nichols, Meryl Streep, David Geffen, or her ex-husbands. (She had really good ex-husbands.) Whatever she was doing, Nora set the bar. —Carrie Fisher
Ephron died of pneumonia resulting from acute myeloid leukemia in New York City.

Sherman Hemsley
Feb. 1, 1938-July 24, 2012
Sherman Hemsley gave me 10 years of love and fun. We were a wonderful family, and he was a generous and loving costar. Norman Lear put together a cast with incredible chemistry for The Jeffersons. We had such fun going on tour to promote Medicare awareness, too, and I of course loved teasing him, telling everybody he was the senior I was bringing with me. I had to get him before he got me. Perhaps he’ll be able to play Death of a Salesman on the other side. I hope he saves a role for me. —Marla Gibbs
Hemsley died of lung cancer in El Paso.

Tony Scott
June 21, 1944 – Aug. 19, 2012
I was working with Ridley Scott on Legend when I was offered Top Gun. Ridley said in that British accent, ”Look, you have to meet me brother.” So I went over to Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer’s office in L.A. and there he was. Tony was a total wild man, and I loved him within the first five minutes. Tony loved fast cars and fast motorcycles — all the boys’ toys. But he was never brash or macho. He knew a good story had to have heart.

Whether it was Crimson Tide, True Romance, or Enemy of the State, you always knew when you were watching a Tony Scott movie. I got to see his process up close on Top Gun — how do you tell a story so you’re not just looking at a bunch of jets flying around? One day we were shooting the scene where my character, Maverick, throws Goose’s dog tags off the side of an aircraft carrier. We were out off the coast of San Diego, and when it came time to do the scene, the light wasn’t right. And Tony said to the admiral, ”Look, we have to turn the aircraft carrier around now!” And the admiral just looked at him and said, ”This is an aircraft carrier! I’m not turning it around! It’s gonna cost too much!” Tony pulled out his checkbook right there and wrote a check for $25,000 to pay for the fuel. He was right, too. The light wasn’t right.

We worked together again on Days of Thunder. Tony really educated everyone on how to shoot motor sports — where to put the camera, the color schemes, how to make it cinematic. He had an unbelievable eye. Just before he died, we were talking about doing a Top Gun sequel together. I was excited to be working with him again after all these years. Like everyone, I was devastated when I heard that he was gone. He was a dear friend. I loved him. I still love him. —Tom Cruise
Scott died in an apparent suicide in L.A.

Ray Bradbury
Aug. 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012
Author of Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles
” … I’m not afraid of machines. I don’t think the robots are taking over. I think the men who play with toys have taken over. And if we don’t take the toys out of their hands, we’re fools.” —Bradbury, In A 1976 Interview

Maurice Sendak
June 10, 1928 – May 8, 2012
He left, in May, when the moon was full, and my life admits an absence shaped like a grumpy, maniacal genius. Maurice Sendak was my friend for 35 years, and he remains my muse despite the distance insisted upon by death. Few children fail to notice that in that single magical night of Max’s journey to and from the land Where the Wild Things Are, the moon waxes to fullness. The moon is a quieter but distant presence in In the Night Kitchen. She is a vengeful savior (We Are All in the Dumps With Jack and Guy) and, as Mother Goose, has a speaking role in Higglety Pigglety Pop! What is the moon in Sendak’s work? She is mystery, consolation, and constancy. Like Sendak’s legacy, she’s always fresh as long as children, those wildest of things, insist on being read to. I look for my friend; I miss him and love him. The moon winks back at me, once a month. —Gregory Maguire
Sendak died in Danbury, Conn., of complications from a stroke.