Before we ring in a new year, let’s celebrate some of the celebrities we’ve lost this year, especially the ones we’ve come to know so well—the stars, athletes, authors and more who changed our world for the better.
Why look back? “It’s always been important to remember,” says Ben Mankiewicz, a host on TV’s Turner Classic Movies network. “It’s more than just a nostalgia factor. Shutting that history off is an obstacle to progress. Acknowledging our history and celebrating it is critical to moving forward as a society. It makes it particularly important to acknowledge where we came from. Celebrating the lives of great artists is a huge part of it.”
We forge a unique and powerful bond with public figures and celebrities, says Mo Rocca, a correspondent for CBS Sunday Morning, host of TV’s The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation and author of the recent book Mobituaries: Great Lives Worth Reliving. “People who we see on TV, I think especially, become part of our lives,” he says. “We mourn them. Maybe not in the same way we mourn family members, but they’re a part of us.”
Celebrities who died in 2019
1. Toni Morrison
The Nobel laureate, Pulitzer Prize–winning writer and educator leaves behind a transformative, boundary-crossing legacy. Her best-known works are Beloved and Song of Solomon. In 2012, President Barack Obama awarded Morrison the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She died Aug. 5 at age 88.
2. Doris Day
An indisputable icon of the big screen, the actress, singer and animal welfare activist rose to prominence in the golden age of Hollywood, best known for pictures made with co-star Rock Hudson. She sang in many movies, but most memorable may be her haunting rendition of “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)” in the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Man Who Knew Too Much. Day was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004 and was 97 when she died May 13.
Day has always seemed to occupy a place in pop-culture consciousness. She was named in the Beatles’ 1970 song “Dig It,” and drummer Ringo Starr sang the line “Just like Doris Day said, que sera” in his 1998 solo song “La De Da.” Elton John included her among the famous women he listed at the end of his 1985 song “Wrap Her Up.” Most famously, the English pop duo Wham! proclaimed “You make the sun shine brighter than Doris Day” in their 1984 No. 1 smash “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” And Billy Joel brought Day to the top of the charts again when he rhymed her name with “Johnnie Ray” in his 1989 No. 1 single “We Didn’t Start the Fire.”
Mankiewicz says Day “was so many things: a great dramatic actress, a comedy actress and a brilliant, brilliant singer. She was one of the most important stars from Hollywood’s golden age.” Adds Rocca, “She managed to be sunny without ever being saccharine, and I think that’s a very hard thing to pull off. And her sensitivity and kindness to her friend Rock Hudson, at a time when people were terrified by AIDS, just reminded us why we loved Doris Day.”
3. Robert Forster
Widely loved, Forster was one of the best character actors in the entertainment business. His notable turns include roles in the films Mulholland Drive and The Descendants and a recurring role on TV’s Last Man Standing. Forster died at 78 on Oct. 11, the same day Netflix premiered his masterful, bone-chilling supporting performance in the Breaking Bad sequel movie El Camino.
Mankiewicz says Forster was one of his all-time favorite actors. “I met him four or five times. He made every movie better, and any movie [he was in] couldn’t be all bad, just based on his presence. His [Oscar-nominated] role in Jackie Brown is forever imprinted on me: bail bondsman Max Cherry, one of the great characters of that era.”
4. Peter Mayhew
The 7-foot-3-inch English-American actor played Chewbacca in all of the character’s Star Wars appearances from 1977 through 2015’s The Force Awakens. (Finnish actor and basketball star Joonas Suotamo filled out the costume of everyone’s favorite Wookiee starting with The Last Jedi in 2017). This year’s The Rise of Skywalker is dedicated to the memory of Mayhew, who died April 30 at age 74.
5. Peggy Lipton
The actress and model was best known for her Golden Globe–winning role as Julie Barnes on TV’s The Mod Squad (1968–73) and Norma Jennings on Twin Peaks (1990s and 2017). Lipton had two children with former husband Quincy Jones: fashion designer Kidada Jones and actress Rashida Jones. She died at age 72 on May 11.
6. Bart Starr
Playing for the mighty Green Bay Packers from 1956 to 1971 (after which he coached for over a decade), Starr was the only quarterback in NFL history to win three consecutive league championships. He also led his team to victories in the first two Super Bowls. The Packers and Starr’s family announced his death at age 85 on May 26. He had suffered a stroke in 2014.
7. Carol Channing
An American Theater Hall of Fame inductee, Channing made her Broadway debut with a small part in Proof Thro’ the Night and broke through as Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1949. She won a Tony for Hello, Dolly! in 1964, then continued performing well into her 90s. She died on Jan. 15 at 97.
“I can think of no greater loyalty than that which Carol Channing had for the role of Dolly Levi. She played that role for nearly 5,000 performances,” says Rocca. “I have a real affection for the troopers and the survivors—people who love what they do, and just keep going, not for money, but for sheer love of performing. She was one of those. The role of Dolly Levi was like a religious vocation for her.”
8. Tim Conway
The co-star of Carol Burnett’s iconic variety show (for which he won four Emmys) passed away May 14 at the age of 85. The performer had exceptional talents for creating characters, wordplay and pure, glorious slapstick. Among Conway’s most unforgettable Carol Burnett Show sketches: “The Dentist” opposite Harvey Korman. Look it up on YouTube; you’ll laugh ’til it hurts.
“Nobody says ‘the Great Conway and Korman,’” says Mankiewicz. “But maybe they should.”
“Like his erstwhile partner Don Knotts,” says Rocca, “Tim Conway was one of those funny people who was both wildly popular and a comedian’s comedian. I think it’s because he so clearly did what he did simply because he loved cracking people up.”
9. Rip Torn
Born Elmore Rual Torn Jr. in Temple, Texas, the actor’s career spanned over six decades. He won an Emmy for his work on The Larry Sanders Show and was Oscar-nominated for Cross Creek. We can remember him fondly every time we laugh ourselves silly watching him play the crazy coach in Dodgeball. He died July 9, at 88.
“Character actors make movies,” says Mankiewicz. “Artie from The Larry Sanders Show is one of the greatest characters from my TV-watching lifetime. Man, did they nail it in casting him in that role; he had all the best lines and he drove the human dynamic. It was dramatic acting.”
10. Ross Perot
One of the richest men in the United States at the time, he ran for president in 1992 as an independent candidate (winning 19 percent of the popular vote) and as a Reform Party candidate in 1996 (winning more than 8 percent of the popular vote). The billionaire business magnate and philanthropist passed away at age 89 on the same day as Rip Torn, July 9.
11. John Singleton
One of the most distinct and influential voices in modern popular cinema, the South Los Angeles–native filmmaker died April 28 at age 51. For his searing 1991 breakthrough Boyz n the Hood, Singleton became the youngest (24) and first-ever black Oscar nominee in the category of Best Director.
12. Karen Pendleton
One of the original Mouseketeers on ABC-TV’s The Mickey Mouse Club from 1955 to 1958, Pendleton was one of only nine cast members on the show for the whole of its initial run. She died Oct. 6 at the age of 73 after a heart attack.
13. Luke Perry
The Beverly Hills, 90210 and Riverdale actor passed away March 4 in Burbank; he was 52. A Mansfield, Ohio, native, Perry moved to Hollywood to pursue acting shortly after high school. He auditioned for more than 250 roles before landing his first gig. His final feature performance was a supporting role in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, a funny and beautifully performed scene opposite Leonardo DiCaprio.
“He played the most complicated character on 90210,” says Mankiewicz, “and then he clearly established that he was not just another pretty face. Tarantino didn’t cast him as a gimmick. Anytime you suddenly lose anyone that young, there’s an extra layer of tragedy. Eighty is too young, but 50 is a particularly shocking and awful tragedy.”
14. Rep. Elijah Cummings
The Baltimore native, public servant and civil rights activist passed away Oct. 17 at age 68. The third child of seven, one of Cummings’ early feats of activism was integrating a segregated South Baltimore swimming pool when he was 11 years old.
15. Lee Iacocca
Best known for the development of the Ford Mustang and Pinto, the auto exec also co-authored several books, including an autobiography and Where Have All the Leaders Gone? He died July 2 at age 94.
He’s “such a vivid figure to me,” says Rocca. “He represents America’s comeback during one of this country’s worst recessions, in the early ’80s. He left Ford, then he went to Chrysler. Chrysler, like the American economy, was on the precipice at that point. Lee Iacocca turned that company around. There was a forcefulness and a warmth about him. Because he was a child of two Italian immigrants, there was something so American about him.”
16. Valerie Harper
Rhoda Morgenstern herself, the brilliant New York–born comic actress won three Emmys for The Mary Tyler Moore Show and one more for its spinoff Rhoda. Harper passed away Aug. 30, a week after her 80th birthday in Los Angeles. She was laid to rest at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
“She was one of the key reasons The Mary Tyler Moore Show will stand the test of time,” says Rocca. “The dynamic of Mary and Rhoda is so fundamental to so many friendships, female and male.”
17. Diahann Carroll
The actress, singer, model and activist broke down walls by starring in some of the earliest Hollywood studio films to feature black casts, and as the headline star of the 1968–71 TV series Julia. Carroll was the first black recipient of the Tony award for Best Actress. She also won a Golden Globe and was Oscar-nominated for the 1974 film Claudine. She died Oct. 4; she was 84.
“She’s always talked about as being a first, a pioneer as a successful black actress,” says Mankiewicz. “But it’s the talent that made it work, that made it happen. We always make a mistake by making actors of color carry the burden of representing their race. Nobody asked Paul Newman to do that: ‘Oooh, Paul Newman, one of the great white actors of all time!’ This minimizes their talent. I know that isn’t the intent, but it’s the effect.”
18. Georgia Engel
She’s was forever known as the ditzy, funny and lovable Georgette Franklin Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. But decades later, Engel returned to prime time as Brad Garrett’s character’s scene-stealing mother-in-law, Pat MacDougall, on Everybody Loves Raymond, for which she earned three consecutive Emmy nods. She died at age 70 on April 12.
19. Cokie Roberts
The TV journalist and best-selling author’s decades-spanning career as political reporter included prominent spots with NPR and ABC. Roberts died Sept. 17 at age 75, survived by husband and fellow journalist Steven V. Roberts.
“Growing up, I went to the same church as Cokie Roberts,” Rocca says. “Every week at noon mass, she would come in a few minutes late, because she came in from the taping of This Week With David Brinkley. She would go right to the front of the church and sing with the choir. That tells you something about Cokie Roberts—both her dedication and her willingness to put herself out there, in a really good way.”
20. Jim Bouton
In addition to a celebrated career pitching for the Yankees, the Pilots, the Astros and the Braves, Newark, New Jersey–born Bouton was a best-selling author, actor, activist and co-creator of Big League Chew bubble gum. He died at age 80 on July 10.
21. Peter Tork
Best known as the bassist and keyboardist of the “TV band” the Monkees, the Washington, D.C.–born teen idol—who cut his musical teeth on the folk scene of New York City’s Greenwich Village before heading to Hollywood—passed away in Mansfield, Connecticut, on Feb. 21. He was 77.
22. Mary Oliver
Among myriad other honors, Ohio-born poet Mary Oliver received the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in her lifetime. She died Jan. 17 at 83. She was known for her unique observations of the natural world. In 2007, The New York Times called Oliver “far and away, the country’s best-selling poet.” In her poem “A Summer Day,” she asks: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”
23. Leon Redbone
Cyprus-born singer-songwriter Leon Redbone (born Dickran Gobalian) was a master of jazz and blues. He sang the theme to TV’s Mr. Belvedere and released 17 albums before his death in Pennsylvania May 30 at the age of 69, due to complications from dementia.
24. Jan-Michael Vincent
The Denver native had early bit parts on Lassie, Gunsmoke and Bonanza but was best known for his acting work on TV’s 1980s series Airwolf and in the 1978 feature film Big Wednesday. He died following a cardiac arrest Feb. 10 at age 73.
25. Stanley Donen
Columbia, South Carolina–born filmmaker and choreographer Donen is best known for his two collaborations with Gene Kelly: On the Town and Singin’ in the Rain, the latter of which is widely considered the best screen musical ever. Donen passed away on Feb. 21 in New York City at age 94. He was the last living director of Hollywood’s golden age, and he’s survived by his partner of two decades, filmmaker and comedian Elaine May.
“He directed those incredibly important pictures with Gene Kelly, and then proved himself incredibly adept at handling material on his own, other than musicals,” says Mankiewicz. “Charade is the best Hitchcock movie that Hitchcock didn’t make; it’s noteworthy that it’s by Stanley Donen.”
“Under Donen, film musicals evolved,” says Rocca. “Singing became a way for characters to express themselves. I love Stanley Donen most for Funny Face. On a personal note, I once played charades with Stanley Donen [and May]. I played charades with the director of Charade.”
26. Karl Lagerfeld
The iconic, sometimes controversial German fashion designer passed away in Paris at age 85 on Feb. 19. He was instantly recognizable on any red carpet, known for his white hair, black sunglasses and dramatic collars.
27. Albert Finney
From 1974’s big-screen Murder on the Orient Express, to Erin Brockovich and Skyfall, the English five-time Oscar nominee displayed seemingly boundless range. One scene we’ll never forget is the hilarious, eroticized dinner date in Tom Jones—maybe the most gloriously cinematic display of questionable table manners ever.
“That’s the same actor that was in Tom Jones, Erin Brockovich and Miller’s Crossing and Skyfall. That should tell you everything you need to know about Albert Finney,” says Mankiewicz. “He was so capable of playing so many different roles that there’s sort of this temptation to forget about him, because he particularly could lose himself inside those parts.” Finney died in London on Feb. 7. He was 82.
28. Gloria Vanderbilt
The heiress, artist, author, actress and fashion designer was eulogized by her son, newscaster Anderson Cooper, in a CNN broadcast following her death on June 17. She was 95.
29. Grumpy Cat
Also known as Tardar Sauce, the world’s favorite calico-tabby mix with an underbite passed away on May 14 at the age of 7. In addition to becoming one of the most widely circulated memes on the internet, Grumpy Cat starred in Lifetime’s 2014 film Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever, voiced by Aubrey Plaza.
30. Peter Fonda
Son of Henry, brother of Jane and father of Bridget, the New York City–born actor cut his teeth in theater and established himself as a key figure in the counterculture movement of the 1960s before breaking through as a major star in the 1969 movie Easy Rider, which he produced, co-wrote and starred in. He died Aug. 16 at 79 in Los Angeles. In a statement to Variety shortly after his death, sister Jane said, “He was my sweet-hearted baby brother. The talker of the family. He went out laughing.”
31. Sid Haig
He began his acting career in small parts on episodic TV in the 1960s and ’70s (Batman, Laredo, Star Trek, Emergency!, The Rockford Files), but eventually became a horror-movie and action-flick icon in The Devil’s Rejects, House of 1000 Corpses, Kill Bill: Vol. 2 and Bone Tomahawk. The Fresno, California, native was 80 when he died Sept. 21.
32. John Witherspoon
The beloved actor/comedian, whose 80-plus TV and movie roles include the Friday movie franchise, Little Man, Adam Sandler’s Little Nicky and recurring appearances on TV’s The Wayans Bros., The Tracy Morgan Show and The Boondocks, died Oct. 29 at age 77.
33. Cameron Boyce
The star of Disney Channel’s Jessie and Descendants, and feature films like Grown Ups and Eagle Eye, Boyce tragically passed away on July 6 at age 20. Onscreen dad Adam Sandler mourned the young actor on social media, saying Boyce was “too young, too sweet, too funny.”
34. Eddie Money
Born Edward Joseph Mahoney, the Grammy-nominated, rock singer-songwriter notched about a dozen top 40 singles in the 1970s and ’80s, including “Two Tickets to Paradise,” “Take Me Home Tonight,” “I Wanna Go Back” and “Baby Hold On.” He died in Los Angeles on Sept. 13 at the age of 70.
35. Ginger Baker
English drummer and co-founder of the band Cream, Peter Edward “Ginger” Baker’s experimental and pioneering work earned him the reputation of “rock’s first superstar drummer.” He passed away in Kent, England, on Oct. 6 at the age of 80.
36. Beth Chapman
The wife and co-star of TV’s Dog the Bounty Hunter star Duane “Dog” Chapman died June 26 at age 51. She had fought cancer for nearly two years.
37. Rip Taylor
The flamboyant actor and campy comedian, best known for bit roles and his game-show and talk-show appearances in the 1970s—in which he would often shower himself and others with confetti—died following an epileptic seizure at the age of 88 on Oct. 6. He appeared in the movies Wayne’s World 2, Indecent Proposal and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
38. Agnès Varda
The late Belgian-born French film director, who died March 29 at age 90, was a pioneer of the French New Wave, a revolutionary movement of the 1950s and ’60s. Varda’s films were notably experimental, often based around feminist issues and social commentary. In 2018, her documentary Faces Places was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. She was the oldest nominated person at the show.
39. Laurel Griggs
The budding Broadway actress, who died at age 13 on Nov. 5 after a massive asthma attack, appeared onstage in the Tony-winning musical Once and in the Tennessee Williams drama Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as well as in the 2016 movie Café Society.
40. Harold Prince
Known to many as Hal, the theatrical producer and director was associated with countless iconic shows, including Cabaret, Evita and The Phantom of the Opera. Winner of 21 Tonys (more than any other individual), Prince died at age 91 on July 31; that night the lights of Broadway theaters were dimmed in his honor.
41. Dr. John
Six-time Grammy winner Malcolm John Rebennack Jr. recorded more than 30 albums over his decades-spanning career, blending blues, jazz, pop and more into a unique musical gumbo that became his signature sound. John Legend inducted “Dr. John” into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. He died at age 77 on June 6 in his hometown of New Orleans.
42. René Auberjonois
Known for his roles as Odo on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Chef Louis in The Little Mermaid and more, the actor died Dec. 8 of metastatic lung cancer. He was 79. Auberjonois also played Paul Lewiston in Boston Legal, Walter in Madam Secretary, Father John Mulcahy in the movie M*A*S*H and Clayton Runnymede Endicott III in Benson. In 1970, he won a Tony award for his role in his first Broadway musical, Coco, alongside Katharine Hepburn.
43. Juice WRLD
The rapper, singer and songwriter known for his songs “Bandit,” “Lucid Dreams” and (with Ellie Goulding) “Hate Me” died at the young age of 21 after suffering a seizure in Chicago’s Midway International Airport on Dec. 8. Juice WRLD’s debut album Goodbye & Good Riddance was certified platinum, and his second and final release, Death Race for Love, charted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
44. Caroll Spinney
The puppeteer behind the characters Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street died at the age of 85 at his home in Woodstock, Connecticut, on Dec. 8. He was a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and wrote and illustrated the comic strip Harvey, about the military. Spinney was also an author and painter.
45. Linda Porter
The actress from Superstore, Twin Peaks, Twins and more died Sept. 25 from cancer at the age of 86. She made dozens of TV and movie appearances, including guest spots in a Tenacious D music video and Nature Valley cereal commercials.
46. Robert Walker Jr.
The son of Hollywood stars Robert Walker and Jennifer Jones, who played the roles of Jack in Easy Rider, Charlie Evans in the original Star Trek series and countless others throughout the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, Robert Walker Jr. died in Malibu on Dec. 5 at the age of 79. His final film role was as Agent Mills in 2018’s Beyond the Darkness.
47. Michael J. Pollard
Known for his roles as C.W. Moss in Bonnie and Clyde, Owen in Tango & Cash and Herman in Scrooged, the actor died from cardiac arrest on Nov. 20 in Los Angeles at the age of 80. He also made appearances on The Andy Griffith Show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Gunsmoke and many other TV series.
48. Nipsey Hussle
The West Coast rapper known for his entrepreneurship and activism was shot and killed on March 31 at the age of 33. His final album, Victory Lap, was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rap Album in 2018, and that same year, Hussle founded the Vector90 STEM center and co-working space in his Los Angeles neighborhood of Crenshaw. He was involved in many other philanthropic initiatives in his community and is survived by his two kids with partner Lauren London.
49. Ron Leibman
The Emmy- and Tony-winning actor (for his roles as Martin ‘Kaz’ Kazinsky in Kaz and Roy Cohn in Angels in America, respectively) who played as Dr. Leonard Green on Friends and Ron Cadillac in Archer, died Dec. 6 at the age of 82 from complications of pneumonia. He is survived by his wife, actress Jessica Walter.
50. Danny Aiello
The actor behind the roles of Sal in Do the Right Thing, Johnny Cammareri in Moonstruck and Police Chief Aiello in Once Upon a Time in America, passed away Dec. 12 at 86 years old. Aiello was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for playing Sal. He also was a theater actor and sang and toured with a jazz band.