Stars We Lost in 2017
One of the first stars to be known by her first name, the Dick Van Dyke Show actress died Dec. 28 in Van Nuys, Calif. at age 94. Earning three Emmy nominations for that sitcom, she also appeared on The Doris Day Show and was a 14-year staple on Hollywood Squares. The actress endeared herself to a new generation of fans with her entertaining Twitter updates, and was the subject of a 2017 documentary about her life entitled Wait For Your Laugh, which featured interviews with costars including Dick Van Dyke, Carl Reiner, and more.
The singer and actress, who became a household name while starring as a divine supervisor named Tess on CBS’ Touched by an Angel, died Nov. 19 at age 86. Although her biggest role was on Touched by an Angel, she also appeared in shows like Chico and the Man and It Takes Two, and in 1970, she became the first black woman to guest-host The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.
The veteran actor best known for playing patriarch Russell Huxtable in The Cosby Show died Nov. 17 at age 91. Aside from his recurring role on The Cosby Show, he was known for his impressive stage career: He made his Broadway debut as a teen in 1944's Anna Lucasta, won a Tony in 1980 for his performance in The Lady From Dubuque, and starred in a number of acclaimed productions including Othello and A Raisin in the Sun.
The actress, who played Lana Shields on ABC sitcom Three’s Company, died Nov. 16 at age 83 following a long illness. Throughout her decades-long career, she appeared in movies (Steel Magnolias, Scarecrow), TV series, and stage productions, winning a Tony for her performance in Chapter Two.
The fashion designer, known for competing on Project Runway, died Nov. 12 at age 53. She also appeared on other Bravo reality shows, Celebrity Poker Showdown and Battle of the Network Reality Stars.
The actor, who played Felix Toombs on Veronica Mars, died by suicide on Nov. 3 at the age of 34. In addition to his role on the noir WB/CW drama, Bufanda also appeared in 2004’s Hilary Duff vehicle, A Cinderella Story, and guest-starred on Days of Our Lives, CSI: Miami, and Malcolm in the Middle. He is set to appear in the forthcoming movie Garlic & Gunpowder, which stars Michael Madsen and Vivica A. Fox.
The legendary New Orleans musician died Oct. 25 at age 89. A prodigiously talented piano player, Domino — given name Antoine Domino Jr. — came of age in the post-war period and became a seminal force in the development and popularization of rock and roll. He began his recording career in 1949 with his first single, “The Fat Man,” which sold one million copies by 1953. He dominated the charts throughout the ’50s and early ’60s, catapulting nearly 40 hits into the Hot 100’s top 40 during that period.
Robert Guillaume, perhaps most celebrated for his role as the TV sitcom butler in Benson and Soap, died Oct. 24 at age 89. Guillaume’s widow confirmed the news, noting he had been battling prostate cancer. Through the ’70s, Guillaume appeared on episodes of All in the Family, The Jeffersons, and Good Times before he first appeared as Benson DuBois in Soap, which ran from 1977-1981. He then got his own spin-off on ABC in 1979 with Benson, a role which earned him two Emmys over the years. Among Guillaume’s lauded career, the actor voiced the character Rafiki in Disney’s animated The Lion King and Dr. Eli Vance in the Half-Life video game series.
Comedian Ralphie May died on Oct. 6 at age 45 after suffering cardiac arrest. May was best known as a stand-up comic who finished as a runner-up on Last Comic Standing in 2003.
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Tom Petty died on Oct. 2 at the age of 66 following cardiac arrest. Petty's longtime manager released a statement to PEOPLE, saying, "On behalf of the Tom Petty family we are devastated to announce the untimely death of our father, husband, brother, leader, and friend Tom Petty. He suffered cardiac arrest at his home in Malibu in the early hours of this morning and was taken to UCLA Medical Center but could not be revived. He died peacefully at 8:40p.m. PT surrounded by family, his bandmates, and friends."
The legendary Let's Make a Deal host and co-creator died on Sept. 30 at the age of 96.
Playboy founder Hugh Hefner died on Sept. 27 at the age of 91. “My father lived an exceptional and impactful life as a media and cultural pioneer and a leading voice behind some of the most significant social and cultural movements of our time in advocating free speech, civil rights, and sexual freedom,” Hefner’s son Cooper, Chief Creative Officer of Playboy Enterprises, said in a statement. “He defined a lifestyle and ethos that lie at the heart of the Playboy brand, one of the most recognizable and enduring in history. He will be greatly missed by many, including his wife Crystal, my sister Christie and my brothers David and Marston, and all of us at Playboy Enterprises.”
The soul legend, who began his career as a James Brown impersonator before breaking out in the 2000s with a trio of critically acclaimed albums, died on Sept. 23 at the age of 68 following a battle with cancer.
Legendary boxer Jake LaMotta, who was portrayed by Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull, died on Sept. 19, 2017 at a Miami-area hosptial at the age of 95. LaMotta took up fighting in 1941 after he was rejected for military service due to a medical issue. As a middleweight fighter, LaMotta won 83 of his 106 fights, earning the nickname “The Bronx Bull” because of his rugged fighting style. His memoir inspired the 1980 film Raging Bull, and De Niro won an Academy Award for his portrayal of the troubled boxer.
Bernie Casey, the actor and former athlete known for his roles in movies including Revenge of the Nerds and I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, as well as his seasons with the NFL’s 49ers and Rams, died Sept. 19, 2017 in Los Angeles after a brief illness. He was 78. Casey's other screen credits included the western sequel Guns of the Magnificent Seven, the James Bond movie Never Say Never Again, and the Martin Scorsese film Boxcar Bertha, as well as Cleopatra Jones, Another 48 Hrs., and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
Harry Dean Stanton
Harry Dean Stanton, the utterly unique performer whose career soared across generations of film history, died Sept. 15 in Los Angeles at age 91. The actor's career spanned decades, with roles in classic films like Godfather II, Pretty in Pink, Repo Man, Cool Hand Luke, Alien and Escape from New York. Having just reprised his role as the trailer park guardian Carl Rodd in Showtime's Twin Peaks: The Return, the actor was slated to be back in theaters with a leading role in the film Lucky.
The legendary film and television tough guy, who battled James Gandolfini and Robert De Niro in his most famous roles, died Sept. 13 at age 80. The New Jersey native began acting in the 1970s, and his career took off after he starred in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull in 1980 alongside Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, . More roles would follow 1995's Casino, including a part in the TV movie Gotti and work on New York Undercover and NYPD Blue. In 2004, Vincent joined the cast of The Sopranos as Phil Leotardo, the chief antagonist to Tony Soprano (the late James Gandolfini) as the series drew to its close.
The 'Gentle Giant' of country music died Sept. 8 at the age of 78. Earning 17 No. 1 country hits throughout his career, he recorded hits including "Tulsa Time," "Good Ole Boys Like Me," and "It Must Be Love." The singer inspired many current country music acts and was the subject of a 2017 tribute. He retired from performing in 2016, saying, "I’m so thankful for my fans, my friends, and my family for their everlasting love and support."
One half of the popular country duo, Montgomery Gentry, Troy Gentry tragically died at the age of 50 in a helicopter crash on Sept. 8 just hours before a scheduled concert in Medford, New Jersey. The duo was one of the most identifiable acts in country music since the late '90s and earned a Grammy nom for their 2008 song "Lucky Man." They were inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2009.
The Steely Dan co-founder died Sept. 3 at age 67. Said co-founder Donald Fagen in a statement, "Walter Becker was my friend, my writing partner and my bandmate since we met as students at Bard College in 1967. We started writing nutty little tunes on an upright piano in a small sitting room in the lobby of Ward Manor, a mouldering old mansion on the Hudson River that the college used as a dorm." Fagen added, "He was smart as a whip, an excellent guitarist and a great songwriter. He was cynical about human nature, including his own, and hysterically funny."
Horror legend Tobe Hooper, who directed 1974's seminal Texas Chain Saw Massacre died on Aug. 26 at age 74. In addition to that classic horror film, which launched a number of sequels, Hooper also directed Poltergeist and the television adaptation of Stephen King's Salem's Lot.
Emmy-winning Murphy Brown star and Cheers actor Jay Thomas died on Aug. 24. "Jay Thomas was one of the funniest and kindest men I have had the honor to call both client and friend for 25 years plus. He will be dearly missed by so many," his longtime publicist, Tom Estey, said in a statement. Thomas, who was also known for his radio broadcasting career , died from cancer.
Jerry Lewis, the hilarious and hugely influential rubber-faced comedian, trailblazing filmmaker, and tireless Muscular Dystrophy fundraiser, died of natural causes Aug. 20 at his home in Las Vegas. He was 91.
The famed civil rights advocate and comedian died Aug. 19 at age 84. Gregory is widely regarded as the first black comic to perform in front of white audiences.
The country singer and entertainer, who sold more than 50 million albums during a career that spanned over a half century, died Aug. 8 after several years of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 81.
The British actor, known for his role in the TV series All Creatures Great and Small and portraying Cornelius Fudge in the Harry Potter films, died at the age of 91.
The celebrated playwright and Oscar-nominated actor, who earned a Pulitzer Prize for his play Buried Child and had roles in films such as Black Hawk Down and The Right Stuff, died at the age of 73.
The character actor, best known for playing Kevin McCallister's dad in 1990's Home Alone and for appearances on The Sopranos and numerous other television series, died July 21 at age 72.
Chester Bennington, the frontman of the alternative rock band Linkin Park, died in an apparent suicide. The musician was found in a private residence on the morning of July 20, what would have been the late Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell’s 53rd birthday. The Linkin Park musician performed at the funeral for Cornell, who died by suicide in May. “You have inspired me in many ways you could never have known,” Bennington wrote in part in a moving tribute shared on Twitter after Cornell’s death. Bennington was 41 and leaves behind a wife and six children from two marriages.
George A. Romero
The legendary filmmaker, known as the godfather of the zombie genre, made such classics as Night of the Living Dead, Day of the Dead, and Creepshow, among many others. He died July 16 at age 77 after a short battle with lung cancer.
Martin Landau, who won an Oscar for playing Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton's Ed Wood and also had memorable costarring roles in Crimes and Misdemeanors and Rounders, died on July 15 at age 89.
The actor, best known for his work on the HBO series True Blood and for roles on CBS' Elementary and films like The Help and Get On Up, died on July 8 from complications due to heart failure. He was 39.
Lee, the wife of Marvel legend Stan Lee, died July 6 at age 93. Marvel, home to the majority Stan's comic creations and where he was once the executive vice president and publisher, mourned Joan in a statement: "We are so saddened to hear about the loss of Joan Lee. We lost a member of the Marvel family today and our thoughts and prayers go out to Stan and his daughter Joan in this difficult time."
John Blackwell Jr.
Blackwell, a prolific musician who was known for his work with Prince died on July 4 at age 43. Blackwell's wife, Yaritza, confirmed the news on Blackwell's Instagram account. "My husband incredible drummer John Blackwell Jr. passed [away] peacefully in my company today. Thanks God for his life and thanks everyone for their support."
Ryan, a YouTube star who rose to fame with her Little Loca series, died by suicide on July 1 at age 33.
DeCarlo, who was best known as the singer of the 1960s hit "Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye), died on June 28 following a battle with cancer. He was 75.
The creator of Paddington Bear died on June 28 at age 91 following a short illness. "I feel privileged to have been Michael Bond’s publisher -- he was a true gentleman, a bon viveur, the most entertaining company and the most enchanting of writers," said Executive Publisher HarperCollins Children’s Books Ann-Janine Murtagh in a statement. "He will be forever remembered for his creation of the iconic Paddington, with his duffle coat and wellington boots, which touched my own heart as a child and will live on in the hearts of future generations. My thoughts and love are with his wife, Sue and his children Karen and Anthony."
Nyqvist, who played publisher Mikael Blomkvist in the original Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo films, died following a battle with lung cancer at age 56 on June 27. One of Sweden's most accomplished actors, Nyqvist also made an impact in Hollywood films like Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol and the Keanu Reeves thriller John Wick.
The New York rapper, who along with Havoc comprised the hip-hop duo Mobb Deep, died June 20 at the age of 42. "It is with extreme sadness and disbelief that we confirm the death of our dear friend Albert Johnson, better known to millions of fans as Prodigy of legendary N.Y. rap duo Mobb Deep," a Mobb Deep representative wrote in a statement to XXL. "Prodigy was hospitalized a few days ago in Vegas after a Mobb Deep performance for complications caused by a sickle cell anemia crisis. As most of his fans know, Prodigy battled the disease since birth. The exact causes of death have yet to be determined."
The actor, best known for playing Flounder in Animal House and also for his role on '80s television classic St. Elsewhere, died at age 63 on June 16.
John G. Avildsen
Avildsen, who won an Oscar for directing Sylvester Stallone in the original Rocky and also made Ralph Macchio a star with The Karate Kid, died on June 16 at age 81 following complications due to pancreatic cancer.
West, who played Batman on the campy, classic 1966-68 TV series (and in the feature film version of the show that was released in 1966 as well), died on June 9 at age 88. The Hollywood legend also provided memorable voice contributions to Family Guy among other shows.
The Emmy-nominated actress died on June 8 at age 62. Best known for major films like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988), Dick Tracy (1990), and Mr. Holland's Opus (1995), Headly got her start on the stage as an originating member of Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company. In recent years, she won acclaim for her supporting role on HBO's hit limited series The Night Of. Her Emmy nominations came for roles in Lonesome Dove and Bastard Out of Carolina.
Legendary rocker Gregg Allman died at 69 on May 27 from complications due to liver cancer. Allman's longtime manager announced the news of the Allman Brothers Band co-founder with a statement: "I have lost a dear friend and the world has lost a brilliant pioneer in music. He was a kind and gentle soul with the best laugh I ever heard. His love for his family and bandmates was passionate as was the love he had for his extraordinary fans. Gregg was an incredible partner and an even better friend. We will all miss him."
The author, best known for his exceptional story collection Jesus' Son, died at 67 on May 25. Johnson won the National Book Award in 2007 for his novel, Tree of Smoke, which was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Johnson's 2012 novella Train Dreams was also a Pulitzer Prize finalist, though no Prize was awarded that year.
Martin, perhaps best known for his role of Steven "Dusty" Farlow on the series Dallas, died at the age of 75 on May 25. In addition to his work on the popular '80s nighttime soap, Martin appeared on War of the Worlds, Murder, She Wrote, Magnum, P.I., One Life to Live, and The Love Boat, as well as a two-part stint on the original Wonder Woman. He also featured in films like Westworld and The Lonely Lady.
Lisa Spoonauer, the actress best known for portraying Dante’s (Brian O’Halloran) high school girlfriend Caitlin Bree in Clerks, died at age 44. Spoonauer reprised the role as a voice actor in the 2001 animated series of the same name, and appeared in only one other film, Gabe Torres’ Bartender, before ending her acting career. She went on to become a restaurant manager and event planner, according to an obituary posted by a New Jersey funeral home. Director Kevin Smith, who discovered Spoonauer in a community college acting class, announced the news on his Instagram account on May 23, 2017. In his tribute, he called Spoonauer “one of the most important people [he’d] ever meet” and credited her as being one of the “chief architects” of his debut feature, which was shot in the convenience and video stores where he worked as a clerk. Smith also praised her role as a mother, writing, “As strong an actress as she was, Lisa was an even more excellent Mother to her daughter Mia. Whenever we’d Facebook later in life, she’d gush about her baby girl proudly. My heart goes out to Tom, Mia and Lisa’s family. Thank you for dreaming my dream with me. You changed my life, Lisa.”
Sir Roger Moore died May 23 after a brief battle with cancer. He was 89. Moore was best known, of course, for having played James Bond in seven 007 films, beginning with 1973’s Live and Let Die and ending with 1985’s A View to Kill. He was the third actor, following original Bond Sean Connery and one-off 007 George Lazenby, to assume the mantle of the superspy, and was known for his suave, tongue-in-cheek portrayal. Before he was Bond, Moore started out appearing in toothpaste ads, became a contract player at MGM in the ‘50s, and finally achieved international fame playing Simon Templar on the British TV series The Saint, which ran from 1961–69. After his final Bond outing, Moore’s onscreen appearances — including a small role in 1997’s Spice World — were fewer and less frequent, but he remained very active as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations, a position he held for over 25 years. His autobiography, My Word Is My Bond, was published in 2008.
Roger Ailes, the controversial former chairman of Fox News, died May 18 at age 77. As one of the founders of Fox News, Ailes helped build the network into one of the highest-rated in cable media outlets as the founding CEO, beginning in 1996. However, his life and career were marred by allegations of sexual harassment. He was the subject of a lawsuit from former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson, and multiple other women came forward afterwards. Megyn Kelly, another ex Fox veteran, also claimed sexual harassment against Ailes in her memoir, though he denied them. He was ultimately replaced by Rupert Murdoch as CEO and chairman of Fox on July 21 last year. Prior to joining Fox, Ailes worked as a political consultant for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush.
Chris Cornell, the legendary frontman of Soundgarden who was known to possess one of the most powerful voices of the grunge era, died May 17 in Detroit while touring with his band. He at 52. Born in Seattle in 1964, Cornell was a fixture of the grunge generation, leading Soundgarden and supergroup Temple of the Dog in the late ’80s and into the ’90s. Soundgarden split in 1997, after which Cornell began his solo career, releasing Euphoria Morning in 1999. Soon after, Cornell joined up with the remaining members of Rage Against the Machine, minus lead singer Zack de la Rocha, to create the band Audioslave. After Audioslave and more solo work (including the theme song to 2006’s James Bond reboot Casino Royale), Soundgarden reformed in 2010. In addition to touring with his most-famous band, Cornell also recently completed a nationwide tour with Temple of the Dog — which is comprised of members of Pearl Jam, including current member and former Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron.
Former Paramount CEO Brad Grey died May 14 following a battle with cancer. He was 59. Grey stepped down from his position as chairman and CEO at Paramount just three months before his death, after having held the post for 12 years, overseeing such projects for the studio as the There Will Be Blood, the Paranormal Activity franchise, Up In the Air, No Country for Old Men, and the Transformers movies. Before joining Paramount, he started out as an assistant to Harvey Weinstein, then worked as a talent manager, mostly for stand-up comics. Later, he developed and shepherded The Sopranos and The Larry Sanders Show, among other projects, to great success through Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, which he launched with Bernie Brillstein; he was also an original co-founder of Plan B Entertainment along with Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston.
Powers Boothe died May 14 in his sleep from apparent natural causes. He was 68. The actor made his breakthrough in 1980 starring as a true-life cult-leader in the CBS docudrama Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones. Released just two years after the real incident, Boothe won an Emmy for his portrayal. There was still no shortage of roles for Boothe: He was the grinning, sociopathic “Curly Bill” terrorizing the citizens of 1993’s Tombstone, and the lawman’s old friend turned bloodthirsty drug trafficker in 1987’s Extreme Prejudice. On HBO’s Deadwood, he played the volatile, ruthless saloon owner Cy Tolliver, and in 1995’s Sudden Death, he was the CIA agent holding the Vice President hostage at a hockey arena. In recent years, Boothe played the vice president who ascends to the highest office in Season 6 of Fox’s 24, the nefarious World Security Council leader Gideon Malick in Marvel’s The Avengers and ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and on TV’s Nashville, he played the manipulative, wealthy father of Connie Britton’s country star Rayna Jaymes.
Actor Michael Parks died May 10 at the age of 77. He was a favorite collaborator of both Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith, the latter of whom broke the news of Parks’ death in an emotional post calling the actor “hands-down, the most incredible thespian I ever had the pleasure to watch perform.” Parks had memorable roles in Smith’s films Red State (2011) and Tusk (2014) — both of which Smith wrote with the actor in mind — and appeared in the Tarantino-penned From Dusk till Dawn (1996) as well as both of the filmmaker’s Kill Bill movies.
Christopher “Big Black” Boykin
MTV reality personality Christopher “Big Black” Boykin died May 9 from a heart attack. He was 45. He was known for having starred, along with skateboarder Rob Dyrdek, on MTV’s reality series Rob & Big from 2006–08. He appeared on the show as Dyrdek’s bodyguard, and the series came to its abrupt ending due to tension between the pair of them. Dyrdek described the “strange period” in a March 2016 interview: “I think we both struggled with I didn’t want to be known as like Rob from Rob & Big … and I think he didn’t want to be known for like the sidekick. So that created a lot of that tension between me and him.”
Bob Wilson, a local TV executive and father to Luke and Owen Wilson, died May 5 after years of battling Alzheimer’s disease. He was 75. A Texas TV pioneer, Wilson shaped North Texas’ public broadcasting station KERA, with the hiring of Jim Lehrer and the development of the landmark news program Newsroom. In addition to launching Lehrer’s career, Wilson’s KERA was also responsible for bringing Monty Python’s Flying Circus to the U.S., broadcasting it stateside for the first time in 1974. His lasting impression on public television was documented in the 2011 documentary Bob Wilson and the Early Years of KERA.