Stars We Lost in 2016
Actress Carrie Fisher died Dec. 27 after suffering a heart attack on a flight days before. She was 60. Fisher, the daughter of Debbie Reynolds (who died the day after Fisher at age 84) and Eddie Fisher, was most known for playing Princess Leia in the Star Wars films, and recently chronicled her experience filming those movies in the 2016 memoir The Princess Diarist. She returned to the franchise in 2015 for a cameo in The Force Awakens. Aside from acting, Fisher was also heralded for being candid about her mental health: She openly discussed her struggles with substance abuse and bipolar disorder in multiple interviews and in her books, including 2011's Shockaholic, where she wrote about her experience with electroconvulsive therapy. She's survived by daughter Billie Lourd, an actress best known for her role on Scream Queens.
Screen and stage legend Debbie Reynolds died Dec. 28 at age 84 after a possible stroke, just one day after her daughter Carrie Fisher died at age 60. “She wanted to be with Carrie,” Reynolds' son Todd Fisher told Variety. Spanning nearly seven decades, Reynolds' career dates back to the Golden Age of Hollywood, when she signed with Warner Bros. at 16 and went on to star in Singin’ in the Rain (1952). The American sweetheart's personal life drew as much press as her career; in 1959, her marriage to Eddie Fisher crumbled when the pop singer left Reynolds for close friend Elizabeth Taylor. Reynolds later revealed she reconciled with Taylor when the icons found themselves on the same cruise before Taylor's death in 2011. A singer with a No. 1 Billboard hit under her belt ("Tammy" from her 1957 movie Tammy and the Bachelor), Reynolds was also known for her energetic live shows in Las Vegas. Throughout her multi-faceted career, Reynolds collected Hollywood memorabilia, including Marilyn Monroe’s white subway dress from The Seven-Year Itch, which she sold for $5.6 million in a 2011 auction.
Singer-songwriter George Michael was found dead on Dec. 25 at his home in England. He was 53. As one-half of musical duo Wham! with bandmate Andrew Ridgeley, Michael catapulted up the music charts and into the hearts of teenagers in the early 1980s with hits like "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" and his shaggy hair and tight jeans. Bit by the solo bug, Michael traded bubblegum pop for risqué fare in 1987, declaring "I don't need no bible" in "I Want Your Sex," the first single from his first solo album, Faith, which also spawned the rockabilly-soul hit of the same name. The singer's art was overshadowed by his personal life in 1998 when Michael came out as gay following an arrest for lewd behavior. He went on to release new music — his 2004 album Patience was partly inspired by his relationship with former long-time partner Kenny Goss — and triumphantly belt his anthem "Freedom! '90" at the London 2012 Olympic Games closing ceremony. Michael largely remained out of the spotlight following his Symphonica tour in 2012.
Everybody Hates Chris actor Ricky Harris died Dec. 26. He was 54. His entered the entertainment world in the '90s when he appeared on HBO's Def Comedy Jam, and went on to star in 1993's Poetic Justice opposite Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur. Aside from his roles on sitcoms Everybody Hates Chris and Moesha, Harris more recently appeared in 2015's Dope and on The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.
Zsa Zsa Gabor
Actress and socialite Zsa Zsa Gabor died Dec. 18 at age 99. Though she starred in such films as Moulin Rouge (1952), Lili (1953), and Ring Circus (1954), the Hungarian starlet was most famous simply for being famous. Decades before Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian became household names, Gabor’s sparkling personality caught the attention of the public — and of the men she married, of which there were nine. Her ex-husbands included actor George Sanders, Barbie creator Jack Ryan, and hotelier Conrad Hilton; upon her death, she had been married for 30 years to Frederic Prinz von Anhalt.
NBA sideline reporter Craig Sager died Dec. 15 after a battle with leukemia. He was 65. The legendary reporter, known for his colorful wardrobe in addition to his sideline interviews, was the subject of a Sports Illustrated cover story in May of this year. He was inducted into the Broadcasting Hall of Fame just days before his death.
Actor Bernard Fox died of heart failure on Dec. 14 at the age of 89. The veteran character actor is best known for playing Dr. Bombay on Bewitched, got his first TV credit in 1955, after fighting in WWII with the Royal Navy, on the British series Sixpenny Corner. Over the course of his long career, he appeared on series including The Dick Van Dyke Show, Perry Mason, I Dream of Jeannie, Knight Rider, and Murder, She Wrote; in 1965, he began an eight-episode arc as Colonel Crittenden on Hogan’s Heroes. His many film credits include a voice role in The Rescuers movies and parts in The Mummy and Titanic.
Actor, TV host, and songwriter Alan Thicke died Dec. 13 after suffering a heart attack while playing hockey. He was 69. The Canadian star was best known for playing Seaver family patriarch Jason on the family sitcom Growing Pains, which ran from 1985–1992. Thicke began his career in the 1970s working as a writer, producer, and talk show personality; his other behind-the-scenes work included writing the theme songs for shows including Diff’rent Strokes, The Facts of Life, and Wheel of Fortune. His more recent small screen credits include How I Met Your Mother, Scream Queens, This Is Us, and Fuller House. The father of three real-life sons (including singer Robin Thicke) in addition to his TV brood, Thicke also wrote two books about parenting.
Astronaut and former U.S. Senator John Glenn died Dec. 8, at the age of 95. After serving as a Marine pilot during World War II, Glenn set a speed record as an expert flyer for the Naval Air Test Center, all of which led to his being chosen for the first group of astronauts in NASA’s space program. In 1962, he became the first American to orbit the Earth. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1974, where he represented Ohio as a democrat until 1997. In 1998, he was invited back into NASA’s space program to return to space on the space shuttle Discovery. On Oct. 29 of that year, he became the oldest person ever to travel in space, at the age of 77. He was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.
Actor Joseph Mascolo died Dec. 8 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 87. Best known for playing the iconic soap villain Stefano DiMera on Days of Our Lives, Mascolo studied under acting coach Stella Adler and then began an impressive stage career with roles in 1966’s Dinner at Eight and 1973’s That Championship Game. His film roles include Jaws 2, and Heat, amd his non-Days TV credits include appearances on All in the Family and Kojak as well as a brief stint on The Bold and the Beautiful.
Actor Peter Vaughan, known for playing Maester Aemon on HBO’s Game of Thrones, died on Dec. 6 at the age of 93. Before joining Thrones in 2011, Vaughan had decades of stage and screen credits under his belt. His list of film roles includes 1960’s Village of the Damned, 1981’s Time Bandits, 1985’s Brazil, and 1993’s Remains of the Day; he was also well known for playing Harry “Grouty” Grout on the BBC sitcom Porridge in the 1970s.
Actress Margaret Whitton died Dec. 4 after a battle with cancer. She was 67. Whitton began her career onstage, with 1973’s off-Broadway Baby Goya, but she is best known for her role in as a spiteful baseball team over in the 1989 film Major League. Her other film roles include that movie’s 1994 sequel, 9 1/2 Weeks (1986), The Secret of My Success (1987), Ironweed (1987), and The Man Without a Face (1993). Her TV credits include Hometown, A Fine Romance, and Good & Evil.
Actor Don Calfa died Dec. 1 of natural causes at the age of 76. The prolific character actor is best known for playing the mortician Ernie Kaltenbrunner in 1985’s The Return of the Living Dead; he appeared in many other films, including New York, New York; 1941; and Weekend at Bernie’s, and his long list of television credits includes Barney Miller, Kojak, and Beverly Hills, 90210.
Actress Alice Drummond died Nov. 30 at the age of 88. Often playing elderly women, in both comedic and dramatic roles, Drummond’s many film credits include Ghostbusters, Awakening, Doubt, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Pieces of April, and Synecdoche, New York; her TV appearances include roles on Dark Shadows, Law & Order, and Boston Legal.
Actor Van Williams died Nov. 28 of renal failure. He was 82. Best known for starring in the 1960s TV series The Green Hornet as Britt Reid/The Green Hornet, Williams got his break when he was cast in the 1959 detective series Bourbon Street Beat. Other TV credits include The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Beverly Hillbillies, and he appeared in crossover episodes of Batman as Britt Reid as well.
Actor, producer, and director Keo Woolford died Nov. 28 after suffering a stroke. He was 49. Best known for playing Det. James Chang on Hawaii Five-0 on CBS, Woolford also had roles in films including Happy Texas (1999), Act of Valor (2012), and Godzilla (2014). He made his feature directorial debut with the 2013 indie The Haumana, which he also wrote and produced and which he was working to follow up when he died. He also starred in The King & I at the London Palladium, playing the King of Siam in over 300 performances.
Actor Ron Glass died of respiratory failure on Nov. 25. He was 71. Best known for playing Ron Harris on Barney Miller and Shepherd Book on Firefly and its movie sequel Serenity, Glass got his first role in the 1970s in All in the Family, and would go on to appear in such series as The New Odd Couple, Friends, and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. He also performed recurring voice roles in Rugrats and The Proud Family, and his films roles include Death at a Funeral and Lakeview Terrace.
Actress Florence Henderson, best known for playing lovely lady and iconic TV mom Carol Brady on The Brady Bunch, died Nov. 24 at the age of 82. She made her start as a teenager, enrolling at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and soon appearing in a slew of Broadway shows. While she would pick up roles on such series as The Love Boat; Murder, She Wrote; L.A. Law; Roseanne; Ellen; and 30 Rock and compete on reality shows The Surreal Life and Dancing With the Stars, she would always be best known for playing the warm Brady matriarch. She played Carol in the series’ original run from 1969–1974, two TV movies, and three spin-offs. She remained active in the industry until her death, hosting talk show The Florence Henderson Show and cooking show What’s Cooking with Florence Henderson.
Actor Peter Sumner died Nov. 22 at the age of 74. Best known for playing Death Star security officer Lt. Pol Treidum, a small but memorable role in 1977’s Star Wars, Sumner had the distinction of being the only Australian to work on the seminal sci-fi film. His other credits included the film Ned Kelly and series Play School, Spyforce, Heartbreak High, and Cluedo.
Soul singer Sharon Jones died Nov. 18 following a battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 60. The lead singer of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Jones released her debut album, Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, in 2002; she earned her only Grammy nomination for the Dap Kings’ 2014 album Give the People What They Want. Jones’ battle with cancer and return to the stage was documented in the 2015 documentary Miss Sharon Jones!
Journalist Gwen Ifill died Nov. 14 following several months of cancer treatment. She was 61. The longtime co-anchor and managing editor of PBS NewsHour, Ifill was also the moderator and managing editor of Washington Week, and moderated the vice presidential debates during the 2004 and 2008 elections. “Gwen was a standard bearer for courage, fairness, and integrity in an industry going through seismic change,” said Sara Just, PBS NewsHour executive producer and WETA-TV SVP. “She was a journalist’s journalist and set an example for all around her.”
Musician and songwriter Leon Russell died in his sleep on Nov. 13. He was 74. An inductee of both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Russell famously collaborated with such iconic musicians as Elton John, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, and the Rolling Stones over more than five decades in the industry, in addition to his solo work. He was the subject of a documentary, A Poem Is a Naked Person, made by Les Blank in 1974 but not released until 2015.
Legendary singer-songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen died in his sleep, following a fall, on Nov. 7. He was 82. He died just weeks after giving a lengthy interview in the New Yorker, in which he said, “I am ready to die. I hope it’s not too uncomfortable. That’s about it for me.” Cohen made his start as a poet with 1951’s award-winning collection Let Us Compare Mythologies, which he published at the age of 17. He released the first of his 14 studio albums, Songs of Leonard Cohen, in 1967; his last, You Want It Darker, came out just weeks before his passing. He is best known for having written such classic songs as “Suzanne,” “Sisters of Mercy,” and especially the oft-covered “Hallelujah.”
Children’s author and illustrator Natalie Babbitt died Oct. 31, having recently been diagnosed with lung cancer. She was 84. Babbitt wrote and illustrated over 20 books over the course of her career, which began in 1967 with the publication of her picture book Dick Foote and the Shark She was most famous for the 1975 children’s novel Tuck Everlasting, which has been adapted twice for the screen and once for the stage. Her final books were 2011’s The Moon Over High Street and 2012’s The Devil’s Storybooks, an omnibus edition of two of her earlier books.
Actor Michael Massee died of cancer on Oct. 20. He was 64. Best known for having played Ira Gaines, a villain in 2001’s first season of 24, Massee was prolific in both film and television, having had roles on Carnivàle, Alias, Supernatural, and Rizzoli & Isles. His film roles include 1994’s The Crow and 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man.
Actress Cecilia Hart died Oct. 16 after a battle with ovarian cancer. She was 68. The wife of James Earl Jones, whom she married in 1982 after meeting on the set of the crime drama Paris, the couple also appeared on Broadway together in a 1982 production Othello, with Jones playing the title character and Hart as Desdemona. Her other stage credits include The Heiress in 1976 and Tom Stoppard’s Dirty Linen & New-Found-Land in 1977; other TV roles include guest spots on such series as Three’s Company, MacGyver, and Law & Order.
Writer and producer Agnes Nixon died Sept. 28 from pneumonia as a result of Parkinson’s disease. She was 93. Nixon, who was nicknamed the Queen of Soaps, created such long-running soap operas as One Life to Live and All My Children. She was known for writing socially relevant issues and controversial topics to her programs, and also frequently appeared on them herself. “The beauty of a soap, for me as a writer, is to go into the characters,” Nixon told EW in 2010. “I think daytime soaps are the form of entertainment that mirrors real life.”
Filmmaker Curtis Hanson died Sept. 20, of natural causes, at the age of 71. He was most famous for 1997’s neo-noir L.A. Confidential, which he wrote, directed, and produced and for which he won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. He made his directorial debut in 1973 with the B-movie Sweet Kill, and his later credits include 2000’s Wonder Boys, 2002’s 8 Mile, and 2005’s In Her Shoes. Most recently, he co-directed and co-produced 2012’s Chasing Mavericks.
Actress Charmian Carr died Sept. 18 of complications resulting from a rare form of dementia. She was 73. Carr was best known for playing 16(-going-on-17)-year-old Liesl, the oldest von Trapp child, in 1965’s The Sound of Music, when she was 21. Soon after making The Sound of Music, Carr appeared in a made-for-TV musical written by Stephen Sondheim, Evening Primrose, opposite Anthony Perkins. The 1966 program was her final credited screen role, as she soon left Hollywood to focus on her family.
Celebrated playwright Edward Albee died Sept. 16 after a short illness. He was 88. Famous for his insightful examination of contemporary life, Albee was honored with three Pulitzer Prizes for Drama, two Tony Awards for Best Play, and a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement over the course of his decades-spanning career. He burst onto the scene in 1958 with his one-act The Zoo Story, but his best-known work is 1962’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, for which he won his first Tony and which was later adapted in Mike Nichols’ Oscar-winning film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. He later won his three Pulitzers for 1967’s A Delicate Balance, 1975’s Seascape, and 1994’s Three Tall Women.
Transgender actress Alexis Arquette died Sept. 11 at age 47, from complications related to AIDS. Born Robert Arquette, she was the fourth of five children in a family of actors; her siblings are David, Patricia, Rosanna, and Richmond Arquette. Arquette appeared largely in independent films, and also picked up credits on such films as Bride of Chucky and The Wedding Singer, and she chronicled her transition to a woman in 2007’s Alexis Arquette: She’s My Brother. Her last role was in 2014’s Blended.
Beloved writer, director, and actor Gene Wilder died Aug. 28 from complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 83. The comedy icon and two-time Oscar nominee got his breakout role in the 1971 classic Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, and his fruitful partnerships with Mel Brooks in the late ‘60s and ‘70s (The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein) and Richard Pryor into the ‘80s (Silver Streak, Stir Crazy, See No Evil, Hear No Evil) made him a comedy legend. Following the death of his third wife, Saturday Night Live alumna Gilda Radner, whom he lost to ovarian cancer in 1989, Wilder became an activist for cancer awareness and founded the national cancer support group Gilda’s Club. His last onscreen appearance was an Emmy-winning role in Will & Grace in 2003, and in recent years, he devoted much of his energy to writing books.
Actor Marvin Kaplan died in his sleep on Aug. 25 at the age of 89. Best known for playing Henry Beesmeyer on Alice and voicing the pink cat Choo-Choo on Top Cat, he made his film debut in 1949’s Adam’s Rib after being discovered by Katherine Hepburn. His other film credits include The Nutty Professor (1963); It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963); Freaky Friday (1976); and Wild at Heart (1990).
Musician Matt Roberts died Aug. 20 at the age of 38. The cause of death is unknown. Roberts was the former guitarist for 3 Doors Down, and was one of its founding members, having formed the band in 1996 along with Brad Arnold and Todd Harrell. He left the band in 2012 due to health concerns. “Words cannot express our sadness as we hear of the loss of our brother, Matt,” the band posted to Facebook the day after his death. “He was a truly talented artist and great friend. His memory will live on through the songs we all created. He will be greatly missed.”
Actor Jack Riley died from pneumonia on Aug. 19. He was 80. Best known for playing Elliot Carlin on The Bob Newhart Show and voicing Stu Pickles, Tommy Pickles’ father, on Rugrats, Riley had a long career in film and television which began in the 1960s, when he appeared on the sitcom Occasional Wife. His other TV credits include The Mary Tyler Moore Show, M*A*S*H, Diff’rent Strokes, Seinfeld, and Friends; he also appeared in several Mel Brooks movies, including History of the World: Part I, High Anxiety, and To Be or Not to Be.
Television host John McLaughlin died Aug. 16 at the age of 89. The moderator of PBS’ political commentary series The McLaughlin Group for over 30 years, McLaughlin had also hosted the series John McLaughlin’s One on One, McLaughlin, and McLaughlin’s Special Report during his time on the show. Before embarking on his long broadcast career, he was ordained as a priest, taught high school, wrote and edited for the Jesuit publication America, ran for office, wrote speeches for Richard Nixon, and wrote a column for the National Review.