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.