Stars we lost in 2020
Christopher Tolkien, the son and literary executor of The Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien, died Jan. 15 at age 95. Just as the elder Tolkien spent his life creating the mythology and characters of Middle-earth, Christopher spent his own life cataloguing and explicating his father's unfinished work. It was thanks to his efforts that The Silmarillion was finally published in 1977, giving a narrative account of Middle-earth's history up until the beginning of The Lord of the Rings. Many other volumes followed later, including Beren and Lúthien and The Fall of Gondolin.
Rocky “Soul Man” Johnson, the legendary pro wrestler and father of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, died Jan. 15 at age 75. Born Wayde Douglas Bowles, Johnson made WWE history in 1983 along with Tony Atlas — collectively known as the Soul Patrol — as the first African-Americans to be crowned World Tag Team Champions. Johnson retired from the ring in 1991 but helped train his son Dwayne to wrestle and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2008.
Character actress Norma Michaels died Jan. 11 at the age of 95. She was best known for her recurring role as Josephine opposite Jerry Stiller on King of Queens. Sally Fields’ mother in indie hit My Name is Doris, and guest roles on sitcoms like Modern Family, 2 Broke Girls, Playing House, and Everybody Loves Raymond. Her final television appearance was in 2016, guest starring as Mildred Lynch on an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Highlander star Stan Kirsch died Jan. 11 at age 51. Kirsch also had guest starring roles on popular shows including JAG, General Hospital, and most notably on a season 1 episode of Friends, playing Courteney Cox's love interest Young Ethan, who turned out to be a high school senior.
Edd Byrnes, best known for his portrayal of Vince Fontaine in Grease, died Jan. 8 of natural causes at the age of 87. He had small roles in ABC’s Crossroads, Wire Service, and Navy Log. He also starred in the series 77 Sunset Strip as the wisecracking Kookie. His most enduring role remained the oversexed National Bandstand host in 1978's Grease.
Buck Henry, the screenwriter behind 1967's The Graduate and co-creator of 1960s television series Get Smart died Jan. 8 after suffering a heart attack at the age of 89. Henry earned an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Graduate, in which he also played a small role. He also earned an Oscar nod alongside Warren Beatty for directing 1978's Heaven Can Wait. He won an Emmy for his writing on Get Smart, which he co-created with Mel Brooks. Other writing credits included special material for the 74th Academy Awards and work on the series Quark, The New Show, and The Garry Moore Show. Henry also penned the screenplays for films such as What’s Up, Doc?, The Owl and the Pussycat, Is There Sex After Death?, and The Day of the Dolphin. Henry also had notable turns in front of the camera, including as a frequent Saturday Night Live host and as Liz Lemon's dad on 30 Rock.
Neil Peart, the legendary drummer and primary lyricist for Canadian rock band Rush, died Jan. 7 after a battle with brain cancer. He was 67. Peart was the youngest person ever inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame when he was honored in 1983, and he was widely regarded as one of rock’s most skilled drummers. Rush were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013 and celebrated their 40th anniversary tour in 2015. Peart also wrote seven nonfiction books about his life and travels, with his final book, Far and Wide: Bring That Horizon to Me!, published in 2016.
Actor, model, and musician Harry Hains died on Jan. 7 at age 27. He appeared on episodes of American Horror Story: Hotel, The OA, and Sneaky Pete, and also performed music under the name Antiboy.Hains' mother, V actress Jane Badler, announced he had died in an Instagram post. She did not provide a cause of death, but wrote that her son “had the world at his feet. But sadly he struggled with mental illness and addiction.”
Writer Silvio Horta, best known for creating Ugly Betty, died by suicide Jan. 7 at the age of 45. Besides Ugly Betty, Horta was best known for writing the screenplay to 1998 horror-thriller Urban Legend. His TV credits also include The Chronicle and Jake 2.0. He won a Golden Globe for Best Comedy Series with Ugly Betty in 2007.
Acclaimed author Elizabeth Wurtzel, who sparked a surge of memoir writing with her book Prozac Nation, died Jan. 7 after a battle with breast cancer. She was 52. Following her music criticism for publications like The New Yorker and New York magazine, Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation was published in 1994 and featured an account of her own issues with atypical depression and drug addiction, as well as her days as a student at Harvard and her sex life. The book launched a whole new wave of confessional writing and transformed Wurtzel into a Gen X celebrity at the age of 26. Additional books included 1998’s Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women, 2001’s More, Now, Again: A Memoir of Addiction, and 2004’s The Secret of Life: Commonsense Advice for Uncommon Women.