Stars we've lost in 2021
Lloyd Price, the singer-songwriter behind such hits as "Personality" and "Stagger Lee" who helped lay the groundwork for the rise of rock 'n roll, died May 3 of complications from diabetes. He was 88. Nicknamed "Mr. Personality" after his 1959 hit, Price became a crossover success early in his career with his song "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," which was successful with white and Black listeners alike years before the ascent of rock 'n roll. "I revolutionized the South. Before 'Lawdy Miss Clawdy,' white kids were not really interested in this music," Price later recalled.
Tawny Kitaen, the actress and model known for her role in Bachelor Party and for appearing in music videos for the rock band Whitesnake in the '80s, died May 7 of undisclosed causes. She was 59. Kitaen rose to fame as a "video vixen" in the 1980s, appearing in several music videos for Whitesnake, most famously the hit single "Here I Go Again" in 1987.
The English model and singer Nick Kamen died at the age of 59 on May 5, according to multiple reports. There's no information as to the cause of death available at this time.
The Essex-born star rose to fame at age 18, after he appeared in a Levi's 501 commercial, filmed in a launderette in 1985, where he strips off down to his underwear to do laundry, while onlookers ogle. He soon became a sex symbol. He later pursued a singing career, reaching the U.K. top 5 with a song penned by Madonna.
Billie Hayes, best known as Witchiepoo on H.R. Pufnstuf, died April 29. She was 96. Hayes reprised the character of Witchiepoo, a villanous witch obsessed with stealing magical Freddy the Flute, several times throughout her career, including in a 1970 film Pufnstuf. She also played the role of Mammy Yokum in Lil' Abner on Broadway, as well as a 1959 movie and 1971 TV special.
Olympia Dukakis, the dry-witted stage and screen actress known for her Oscar-winning turn in the 1987 rom-com Moonstruck, died May 1 at age 89. Dukakis toiled under the radar for nearly 30 years before becoming a household name with her scene-stealing turn as indomitable matriarch Rose Castorini in Moonstruck, which became one of the highest-grossing and most beloved films of 1987. With a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in hand, she soon landed high-profile roles such as the personnel director in 1988's Working Girl, the bemused widow Clairee in 1989's Steel Magnolias, and the hard-edged high school principal in Mr. Holland's Opus.
Hip-hop legend and Digital Underground founder Greg "Shock G" Jacobs died in late April at age 57. Their biggest hit, "The Humpty Dance," featured Shock G as his alter ego Humpty Hump, whose persona would become synonymous with the group. The rapper was also known for helping to put Tupac Shakur on the map. He produced his debut album 2Pacalypse Now in 1991, followed by his breakthrough single "I Get Around" and "So Many Tears." Shock G also famously produced hits for Dr. Dre, Bobby Brown, KRS-One, and others.
The former lead singer of the Bay City Rollers died on April 20 at age 65. Though he was not a founding member of the Scottish pop-rock group, he was there for their peak in the 1970s, singing hits like “Saturday Night” and “Bye Bye Baby.” While he left the group in 1978, he reunited with them in 2015, and even wrote a 2019 memoir about his time in the band titled Shang-a-Lang: My Life With the Bay City Rollers. He is survived by his wife, Keiko, and son Jubei.
The bassist for the iconic band the Four Seasons died at age 88. Long joined the band in 1965, replacing one of the original band members, and remained with them through most of the 1970's.
Burlesque icon and sex symbol Tempest Storm died April 20 at her home in Las Vegas. She was 93. The stripping legend — who continued her act well into her 80s — rose to prominence in the 1950s, starring in sold-out stage revues and sexy films alongside the likes of Bettie Page. She even caused a riot at the University of Colorado merely by removing her mink coat.
Monte Hellman, the cult director of Two Lane Blacktop and an executive producer on Reservoir Dogs, died on April 20. His daughter, Melissa Hellman, confirmed the director died at Eisenhower Health hospital in Palm Desert a week after he had fallen in his home.
Jim Steinman, the songwriter and music producer who penned Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and Meat Loaf's breakthrough album Bat Out of Hell, died April 19 in Connecticut. He was 73. Steinman was known for his operatic pop-rock compositions and lyrics, and also wrote and produced such hits as Air Supply's "Making Love Out of Nothing At All" and Celine Dion's "It's All Coming Back to Me Now."
Rapper Black Rob, best known for the 2000 single "Whoa!," died at age 52 on April 17 from a cardiac arrest after contending with multiple other health issues, including lupus, kidney failure, diabetes, and multiple strokes. Black Rob became part of Sean "P. Diddy" Combs' label Bad Boy Records in the '90s and in 2000 released his debut record Life Story, with "Whoa!" fast becoming a standout single.
Best known for originating the role of Cousin Itt on the 1960s ABC TV series The Addams Family, actor Felix Silla died April 16. He was 84. He played the role of Cousin Itt 17 times in the show's two-year run. He also worked as a performer and stuntman on projects such as Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, The Black Bird, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and more.
Harry Potter and Peaky Blinders actress Helen McCrory died April 16th at age 52 after a long battle with cancer. McCrory was best known for playing the role of Narcissa Malfoy in the Harry Potter films and had roles in Skyfall, Hugo, and The Queen.
Rusty Young, a founding member and the frontman of the country-rock band Poco, died April 16th from a heart attack. In his long career with Poco, Young was the lead singer/songwriter and he played the pedal steel guitar, banjo, Dobro, guitar, and mandolin. He wrote "Crazy Love," the band's only No. 1 top 10 hit. In 1974, Young was inducted into the Guitar Player's Magazine "Gallery of Greats" and in 2012, he was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame.
DMX, the hip-hop superstar known for such hits as "X Gon' Give It to Ya" and "Party Up (Up in Here)," died April 9 after he was hospitalized following a drug overdose the previous week. He was 50. Born Earl Simmons, DMX found massive success as a rapper despite a turbulent, troubled lifestyle that included a lifelong struggle with substance abuse. He was known for his distinctive snarling vocals and aggressive style, and appeared in films including Belly, Cradle 2 the Grave, Romeo Must Die, and Exit Wounds.
Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, died April 9 at age 99.
"It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty The Queen has announced the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh," a Buckingham Palace statement read. "His Royal Highness passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle."
The British royal spent most of his adult life as the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, whom he married in 1947. He'd previously been hospitalized in March to undergo surgery for a heart condition. He later left the hospital March 16 and reunited with Elizabeth at Windsor Castle to recover.
The musician and Vine star, who went viral on the former social media app for his seven-second "Welcome to Chili's" clip, died at the age of 24. His twin brother, Patrick Perkins, confirmed the news but did not disclose the cause of death.
Midwin Charles, a CNN and MSNBC legal analyst, died after an illustrious career that included TV commentary, news reporting, and practicing as a defense attorney. She was remembered by colleagues like Joy Reid and Bernice King, who called her a "light that brightened the way for others."
British TV star Paul Ritter died on April 5 at age 54 following a battle with a brain tumor. He was best known for his leading role on the hit English sitcom Friday Night Dinner as well as his ongoing role as part of the main cast of the Epix historical series Belgravia. His film work included small roles in major franchise productions like Quantum of Solace and Harry Poter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Walter Olkewicz, the veteran character actor known for playing bartender and croupier Jacques Renault on Twin Peaks, oil refinery worker Dougie Boudreau on Grace Under Fire, and Nick the cable guy on Seinfeld, died April 6 at 72. Over his long career, he also appeared on shows including Who's The Boss?, Night Court, Cheers, Taxi, Barney Miller, Married… With Children, Moonlighting, L.A. Law, The Rockford Files, Newhart, ER, Family Ties, Dharma & Greg, and Murder, She Wrote.
Mark Elliott, a voice actor heard in trailers for some of Disney’s most beloved movies, died April 3, at 81. Elliott's iconic vocals featured in promos for The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Lion King, Hercules, Aladdin, Sleeping Beauty, and many other Mouse House movies. He also provided voice-overs for Star Wars radio spots and Muppet movie trailers, but he said his proudest work was doing the trailers for the 1981 film Chariots of Fire and the final episode of M*A*S*H. In addition to his behind-the-scenes work, Elliott appeared in the 1997 short film 5 Men and a Limo and portrayed himself in Lake Bell’s 2013 comedy In a World.
Gloria Henry, who played Alice Mitchell, the mom of the titular character in the sitcom Dennis the Menace, died April 4. She was 98.
In the '50s, Henry could be seen in TV shows like Perry Mason and The Files of Jeffrey Jones, but her starring role was as Dennis's warmhearted mother in the comedy series based on the long-running comic strip. She appeared in all 146 episodes of its 1959-1963 run.
Beverly Cleary, the iconic children's author behind such books as Henry Huggins, Beezus and Ramona, and The Mouse and the Motorcycle, died March 25 in Carmel, Calif., where she had lived since the 1960s. She was 104. Cleary was famous for her iconic characters like the inimitable Ramona Quimby and her easily annoyed big sister "Beezus." Her first children's book — about a boy named Henry Huggins and his mutt Ribsy — was published in 1950, but more than half a century later, all her 40-plus novels remain in print.
American novelist Larry McMurtry died March 25, at age 84. His best-known books included Lonesome Dove, The Last Picture Show, and Terms of Endearment — all of which were turned into beloved movies or, in Lonesome Dove's case, a popular TV miniseries. McMurtry was an accomplished screenwriter in his own right, and won an Oscar (alongside co-writer Diana Ossana) for Brokeback Mountain, which they adapted from Annie Proulx's short story.
Jessica Walter, the actress best known for her portrayal of sarcastic Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development, died March 24 at the age of 80. Walter's career spanned five decades across the stage, television, and film. Her most memorable film roles included turns in Play Misty for Me, The Group, and Grand Prix. She possessed a staggering amount of TV credits, but had notable roles on Trapper John M.D., Amy Prentiss, Streets of San Francisco, Dinosaurs, and Archer to name a few.
Richard Gilliland, the veteran character actor whose credits included Designing Women, 24, Desperate Housewives, and many other TV shows and films, died March 18 after a brief illness. He was 71. Gilliland was married to his Designing Women costar Jean Smart, who he met while working on the CBS sitcom and wed in 1987. Gilliland had a recurring role on the series as J.D. Shackleford, the on-again, off-again love interest of Annie Potts' Mary Jo. "I met him when he was kissing someone else," Smart quipped to EW in 2017.
Actor George Segal died on March 23 due to complications from bypass surgery. He was age 87. Segal , an Oscar nominee for his performance in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, became a household name for his television roles in Just Shoot Me! and later ABC's The Goldbergs. The actor's film credits include The Owl and the Pussycat, Blume in Love, Born to Win, For the Boys, and Flirting With Disaster, among others.
The former Top Gear host and German racing giant died March 16 at age 51 after a years-long battle with cancer. Her Top Gear family paid tribute to the star in remembering how she "radiated positivity, always wore her cheeky smile no matter how hard things got, and was a force of nature for female drivers in the motoring world."
Actor Yaphet Kotto died on March 15 at age 81. Kotto was best known for his roles in the films Alien and Midnight Run and the TV show Homicide: Life on the Street. Kotto's early film credits included 1968's The Thomas Crown Affair and 1972's The Limit, which he both directed and starred in, playing a highway patrolman. The following year, he portrayed the role of Bond villain Mr. Big in the 007 adventure Live and Let Die and was then nominated for an Emmy for his performance as Ugandan president Idi Amin in the 1977 TV movie Raid on Entebbe. He would go on to become a familiar face on the big screen, appearing in 1978's Blue Collar, 1987's The Running Man, and the 1991 horror sequel Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare, among other films.
Rising country singer Taylor Dee died March 14 after a car crash at age 33. Dee's first single, "The Buzz," was released in June 2019 and played on several Texas radio stations. Linda Wilson, president of the Texas Country Music Association, said Dee's death shocked the music community. "Taylor Dee was the real deal — a true talent with a heart and passion not only for her music but for people."
Reggie Warren, a member of famed R&B group TROOP, died on March 14 at age 52. TROOP (which stands for Total Respect of Other People) found a hit with 1989's "Spread My Wings," earning the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot Souls Singles chart. During their reign, the quintet dropped three No. 1 hits and a total of 10 top 10 singles. TROOP's most popular hit singles include "Mamacita, "My Heart" and "Still in Love." The group's tunes "All I Do Is Think Of You" and "Sweet November" both peaked at No. 1. The group also appeared in the 1991 film New Jack City, starring Wesley Snipes, Ice-T and Chris Rock.
Author of beloved 1961 children's book The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster, died March 8 of complications from a stroke. Though the cult classic remained his greatest legacy, Juster wrote several books over his lifetime, including The Dot and The Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics, which was adapted into an Oscar-winning animated short. He re-teamed with Tollbooth illustrator Jules Feiffer in 2010 for The Odious Ogre.
Filmmaker Leon Gast, whose documentary When We Were Kings won an Academy Award, died March 8 at age 85. When We Were Kings chronicled Muhammad Ali and George Foreman's famous "Rumble in the Jungle" 1974 heavyweight championship boxing match. It took Gast 22 years to edit and finance the documentary. It was named best documentary feature at the 1997 Oscars.
Geoffrey Scott, an actor and stuntman who appeared on Dynasty and Dark Shadows, died Feb. 23 at the age of 79. His wife Cheri Scott confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that Scott died of Parkinson's disease the day after his birthday.
On Dynasty, Scott portrayed Mark Jennings, the first husband of Linda Evans' character Krystle Carrington, from 1982 through 1984. His other soap opera roles include General Hospital, Where the Heart Is, and Guiding Light.
Jahmil French, an actor known for his role on Degrassi: The Next Generation, died March 1 of undisclosed causes at age 29. French played Dave Turner on the Canadian teen drama from 2009 to 2013, with his other credits including Netflix's Soundtrack, the Pop TV series Let's Get Physical, and the 2017 film Boost.
Bunny Wailer, the reggae icon who founded the Wailers with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, died on March 2 in Kingston, Jamaica at the age of 73. A cause of death wasn't given at the time, but Wailer had been in and out of the hospital since his second stroke in 2020.
Prince Markie Dee
The Fat Boys' rapper Prince Markie Dee died at age 52 on February 18. Dee's death was confirmed on Twitter by the band's manager Louis Gregory on Thursday. The songwriter would have been 53 on Friday. No cause of death has been released. "Forever in my Heart," wrote Gregory. "Prince Markie Dee was more than a rapper; he was one of my very best and closest friends.
"My heart breaks today because I lost a brother," he added. "I'll always love you Mark and I'll cherish everything you taught me. Tomorrow is your birthday, swing my way big bro."
Conservative firebrand and long-running radio host Rush Limbaugh died Feb. 17, at 70, a little more than a year after first telling listeners that he had been diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. Limbaugh made a habit of riling up conservatives and horrifying liberals during his multi-decade radio career, and many Republican politicians credited him with improving their popularity among voters.
Brayden Smith, a recent five-game champion on Jeopardy, died Feb. 12 at age 24 of undisclosed causes. Smith's appearances were some of the final Jeopardy episodes hosted by Alex Trebek, who died in November. "[Trebek] did, I believe, really like Brayden," executive producer Mike Richards previously told EW. "I could tell that he very much enjoyed that young man, and that was fun to watch. I think that energized him."
Acclaimed jazz pianist Chick Corea died Feb. 9 from a rare form of cancer. He was 79. Corea was known for collaborating with numerous jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, and Miles Davis. He played piano for Davis' group on albums such as In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew, which helped usher in the fusion era. Corea was also recognized for his band Return to Forever, which he helped found in 1971. With 23 Grammy wins, Corea is also the artist with the most jazz Grammys in the awards' history.
Larry Flynt, the longtime publisher of Hustler who fought many high-profile legal battles over pornography and free speech, died of heart failure Feb. 10 at age 78. Flynt was memorably portrayed by Woody Harrelson in the 1996 film The People vs. Larry Flynt, which dramatized his rise to success and his legal battles with anti-pornography activists. He positioned himself as an advocate for free speech, arguing passionately throughout his career that pornography was protected by the First Amendment. "The question is, am I a smut peddler or a First Amendment crusader?" Flynt told EW in 1996. "I'd say a little bit of both."
Mary Wilson, a co-founding member of Motown group The Supremes, died at the age of 76 on Feb. 8. As the longest-reigning member of The Supremes, she was there when the group was first known as The Primettes in the late 1950s and stayed until the group was officially disbanded in 1977.
Billy Brown, the patriarch from Discovery's Alaskan Bush People, died Feb. 7 after suffering a seizure. He was 68. The docudrama, which debuted in 2014, centered on Brown and his extended family living off the grid in Alaska and later in Washington. Brown's son Bear, who revealed the news, called his father "our best friend — a wonderful and loving dad, granddad and husband and he will be dearly missed."
For years, Plummer chafed against being typecast for his most famous role as Captain Von Trapp in the hit 1965 musical film The Sound of Music, which propelled him to worldwide stardom. But he continued to do varied work and late in his career scored Oscar nominations for the 2009 film The Last Station and the 2011 film Beginners, for which he became, at age 82, the oldest actor ever to win an Academy Award. (He also earned a third nomination for 2017's All the Money in the World after replacing Kevin Spacey in the role of J. Paul Getty.) In recent years, he also featured in the starry whodunnit Knives Out and the war film The Last Full Measure.
Dustin Diamond died on Feb. 1 from lung cancer at age 44. Diamond was best known for playing nerdy sidekick Samuel "Screech" Powers in the original incarnation of Saved by the Bell, and continuing the role in Saved by the Bell: The College Years, Saved by the Bell: The New Class, and Saved by the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas. Diamond then spent the 2000s picking up credits for independent films and playing himself in movies like Pauly Shore Is Dead and Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star. The actor subsequently published a tell-all, Behind the Bell, which he would later claim was ghostwritten, and ran into personal problems in recent years, culminating in a short prison sentence. Diamond was absent from the 2020 Saved by the Bell revival series on Peacock, but prior to his death the actor's reps told EW he was in talks about possibly reprising his role in season 2.
Jamie Tarses, the trailblazing TV executive and producer who became the first woman to serve as entertainment president of a broadcast network in 1996, died on Feb. 1 from heart complications at the age of 56. She suffered a stroke in the fall of 2020 and never regained consciousness. During her tenure as ABC president, Tarses launched such hits as Dharma & Greg, The Practice, Frasier, and Sports Night. At NBC, she played a key role in developing Friends, Mad About You, and Wings, among others. Her most recent triumphs included The Wilds on Amazon Prime and the upcoming The Mysterious Benedict Society on Disney+.
Allan Burns, the Emmy-winning writer and co-creator of The Munsters and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, died Jan. 30 at age 85. Burns also wrote for the big screen and scored an Oscar nod for co-writing the 1979 film A Little Romance. In addition, he created the Cap'n Crunch character for Quaker Oats. Burns' writing partner James L. Brooks and Ed Asner both paid tribute to the TV veteran on social media, with the actor calling Burns "a mensch like no other, a friend and so incredibly talented."
Sophie Xeon, the experimental and influential pop music producer known for her collaborations with Charli XCX, Vince Staples, and more, died on Jan. 30 after an accidental fall. She was 34. Known mononymously as Sophie, the Glasgow native made her way onto the music scenes with singles "Bipp" and "Lemonade," before collaborating with Madonna on "Bitch I'm Madonna" in 2015. After the release of her song "It's Ok to Cry" two years later, she came out as a trans woman. Her 2019 album Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides was nominated for a Grammy Award.
Pioneering Hollywood actress Cicely Tyson died Jan. 28, at 96, only two days after the release of her memoir Just As I Am. Tyson excelled across film, television, and stage, winning three Emmy Awards, a Tony, and an honorary Oscar. She was also Oscar-nominated for her work in 1972's Sounder. As the first Black woman in a recurring role in a TV drama, Tyson made her mark as a trailblazer early, and continued to do so in her career-long refusal to take roles she viewed as demeaning or stereotypical. An icon of both stage and screen, she left behind a litany of memorable performances.
Cloris Leachman, the Emmy- and Oscar-winning actress known for her memorable roles in television shows such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, movies like The Last Picture Show, and stage productions such as South Pacific, died Jan. 27 of natural causes. She was 94. Leachman was one of the most decorated performers in Primetime Emmys history, with eight wins, and her career spanned a stunning eight decades. Her other notable credits included Phyllis (spun off from Mary Tyler Moore), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Young Frankenstein, and Malcolm in the Middle.
Bruce Kirby, the veteran character actor most famously known for his roles in Columbo and L.A. Law, died on Jan. 24 at the age of 95. Throughout his decades long career, he appeared in a mix of popular film and TV projects including I Dream of Jeannie, Night Court, The Golden Girls, and Punky Brewster. One of his sons was When Harry Met Sally star Bruno Kirby, who died in 2006.
Tony and Emmy winning actor Hal Holbrook, who parlayed early fame performing a one-man show as Mark Twain into a long and celebrated career in film, television, and on the stage, died on Jan. 23 at age 95. Holbrook, who for years was best known to movie audiences for playing Deep Throat in the 1976 hit All the President's Men, enjoyed a late-career resurgence following his critically acclaimed turn in the 2007 drama Into the Wild, which earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. Holbrook regularly performed Twain monologues on stage for decades, even as he found a wide range of other roles in films such as Magnum Force, Wall Street, and The Firm as well as '80s and '90s sitcoms like Designing Women and Evening Shade. Holbrook continued to act in his elderly years, appearing in Water for Elephants and Steven Spielberg's 2012 period epic Lincoln.