Every year we lose a variety of award-winning, awe-inspiring and at times, controversial figures in the entertainment, political, business, philanthropic and fashion worlds — and 2019 was no different. This year’s famous figures have made a long-lasting impact through their talents, skills, unique perspective and sacrifice. Some died having lived a full and long life, while others exited all too soon.
Here are the famous faces who said goodbye in 2019:
Carol Channing (January 31, 1921 – January 15, 2019)
With her bright eyes, husky voice and larger-than-life smile, Broadway legend Carol Channing mesmerized audiences with her stage performances of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Vamp, Lorelei and her Tony-Award winning role in Hello, Dolly! Her film work includes Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), for which she won a Golden Globe, and Skidoo (1968). Channing died at age 97 at her Rancho Mirage, California home, just two weeks before her 98th birthday.
Lee Radziwell (March 3, 1933 – February 15, 2019)
Forever in the shadow of older sister Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Lee Radziwell still managed to hold her own as a jet-setting style icon who sampled all the joys that a privileged life could offer. She dabbled in acting, worked in public relations and interior design, was a published author and even married a prince. But like her famous sister, Radziwell’s life had its fair share of complications and tragedies: Aside from her sibling rivalry with Onassis, she married and divorced three times and had a son, Anthony, whose life was cut short from cancer. Radziwell died at age 85 in New York City.
Albert Finney (May 9, 1936 – February 7, 2019)
As a graduate of The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Albert Finney seemed to be destined for a prominent career on stage but instead, found greater success on the big screen — so much so, that he was a five-time Oscar nominee. His notable films include Scrooge (1970), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), Annie (1982), Erin Brockovich (2000), The Gathering Storm (2002) and Skyfall (2012). Finney died at age 82 in London.
Karl Lagerfeld (September 10, 1933 – February 19, 2019)
Credited for transforming Chanel into the international fashion powerhouse that it is today, German designer Karl Lagerfeld was business savvy, outspoken and one of the most recognizable fashion leaders of his time, thanks to his trademark dark glasses, gloves and immaculate wintry white ponytail. Lagerfeld left a prolific fashion legacy, not only with the reinvention of Chanel but also by leading the creative direction at Fendi and his own label. Lagerfeld died in Paris at 85 from pancreatic cancer.
Peter Tork (February 13, 1942 – February 21, 2019)
Despite playing a simpleton in the 1960s musical TV sitcom The Monkees, Peter Tork was a reputable songwriter and musician. As the bass guitarist for his TV band, Tork produced a number of albums with The Monkees, but because of his teen idol status, never managed to be taken seriously by music critics. He quit The Monkees in 1968 and had a falling out with fellow members Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith and Davy Jones in the early 2000s before reconciling with them and participating in a number of reunion tours and albums. Stricken with recurring cancer, Tork died in his Connecticut home at 77.
Katherine Helmond (July 5, 1929 – February 23, 2019)
As scrappy Mona Robinson on the ’80s sitcom Who’s the Boss?, Katherine Helmond made audiences laugh with her character’s boldness and penchant for flirting. Before Who’s the Boss?, Helmond was known for being a ditzy socialite in the ABC sitcom Soap and further demonstrated her comedic chops on other sitcoms like Coach and Everybody Loves Raymond. Suffering from Alzheimer’s, Helmond died at age 89 in Los Angeles.
Luke Perry (October 11, 1966 – March 4, 2019)
He was called the James Dean of the ’90s for his hunky, brooding teen idol status as Dylan McKay on the television teen drama Beverly Hills, 90210. But in real life, Luke Perry was known for his kindness and professionalism. After 90210, Perry continued acting in television and film, appearing more recently on Riverdale as Archie Andrews’ father and in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019). Suffering from a massive stroke, Perry died in Los Angeles at age 52.
Agnes Varda (May 30, 1928 – March 29, 2019)
Despite her diminutive stature, French New Wave film pioneer Agnes Varda was bold, forthright and as original as they got. Varda’s oeuvre — a blend of fiction and documentary — explored taboo subjects like sex and death and reflected art at its most subjective and experimental. Known for films like Cléo From 5 to 7 (1962), Vagabond (1984), The Gleaners and I (2000), and Faces Places (2017), Varda received an honorary Oscar in 2017 — the first female director to do so. Varda released her last film, Varda by Agnes (2019), just a month before she died from breast cancer in Paris. She was 90 years old.
Nipsey Hussle (August 15, 1985 – March 31, 2019)
West Coast rapper and community activist Nipsey Hussle came to prominence starting in the mid-2000s with his numerous production of mixtapes, including his debut Slauson Boy Volume 1 and his highly touted Crenshaw. Hussle’s 2018 debut studio album Victory Lap soared to the top of the music charts and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rap Album. Hussle was 33 when he was fatally shot in front of his business, Marathon Clothing, in south Los Angeles. He would later receive three posthumous Grammy nominations.
John Singleton (January 6, 1968 – April 28, 2019)
John Singleton’s debut film Boyz N the Hood (1991) earned him two Oscar nominations — one of which was Best Director — making him, at age 24, the youngest individual to receive such an honor. Singleton fostered the importance of diverse storytelling in Hollywood and pioneered the way for black storytelling in the ’90s. He would go on to direct films like Poetic Justice (1993), Higher Learning (1995), Rosewood (1997), Shaft (2000) and Four Brothers (2005) and co-created FX’s drama Snowfall. Singleton died in Los Angeles at age 51 from a stroke.
Doris Day (April 3, 1922 – May 13, 2019)
Doris Day was the quintessential girl next door who would become one of the most successful actresses in Hollywood. She started her career as a big band singer in the late 1930s and produced chart-topping hits like “Sentimental Journey” and “My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time.” After World War II ended, Day launched her film career, with memorable roles in Calamity Jane (1953), Love Me or Leave Me (1955), Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and Pillow Talk (1959) — the last of which got her Oscar-nominated for Best Actress. She spent her later years as an animal rights activist before she died at 97 in Carmel Valley Village, California.
Gloria Vanderbilt (February 20, 1924 – June 17, 2019)
Famous for her family’s wealth, her branded designer jeans and later, for her son, Anderson Cooper, socialite Gloria Vanderbilt was thrust into the spotlight at age 10 when her mother and her paternal aunt each fought for her custody in addition to her $5 million ($95 million in 2019) trust fund in a nationally publicized trial. In her adult life, Vanderbilt expressed herself through her artistic endeavors in painting and fashion and later as a book author. Vanderbilt died at 95 in New York City after being diagnosed with stomach cancer.
Rip Torn (February 6, 1931 – July 9, 2019)
Oscar, Tony and Emmy nominee Rip Torn had a career that lasted over six decades in Hollywood. Torn’s Tony nomination came in 1960 for Tennessee Williams’ Sweet Bird of Youth and a little over two decades later, he received an Oscar nod as Best Supporting Actor for playing Marsh in the 1983 drama Cross Creek. In the ’90s he received praise for playing the producer Artie in Gary Shandling’s groundbreaking The Larry Sanders Show, for which he received six Emmy nominations and won in 1996. Torn died at 88 in his Connecticut home.
John Paul Stevens (April 20, 1920 – July 16, 2019)
As a U.S. Supreme Court appointee under President Gerald Ford, Republican conservative John Paul Stevens was an associate justice from 1975 to 2010. As a graduate of the University of Chicago and the Northwestern University School of Law, Stevens, who served as a decorated World War II naval officer, would go on to make judicial history at the U.S. Supreme Court in landmark cases such as Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council and Massachusetts v. EPA. as part of the majority opinion and famously dissented in Bush v. Gore and Citizens United v. FEC. Towards the end of his tenure, Stevens would often side with the liberal justices of the court. Stevens died in Florida at age 99. He was the third-longest-serving justice in history.
Toni Morrison (February 18, 1931 – August 5, 2019)
As a steward of the rich complexities of the African American experience, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Toni Morrison had a six-decade career that gave voice to the marginalized and inspired generations of writers of color. Morrison was the first African American female editor at Random House in the 1960s and wrote her first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970), when she was 39. Seven years later, she rose to prominence with Song of Solomon (1977) and Beloved (1987), the latter of which won her the Pulitzer Prize. In 1993 she won the Nobel Prize in Literature and continued to publish novels, essays, children’s books, plays and even an opera. In 2012 President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Morrison died at 88 in New York City.
Peter Fonda (February 23, 1940 – August 16, 2019)
Known as a counterculture icon for his starring role in 1969’s Easy Rider, Peter Fonda also co-wrote the film’s script, which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. He came from a family of actors — his father is acclaimed actor Henry Fonda and his older sister is actress Jane Fonda. His second Oscar nomination came from his starring role in the drama Ulee’s Gold (1997), and he’d extend his talents into directing a variety of projects. His daughter, Bridget Fonda, followed the family tradition and made a name for herself in Hollywood starting in the 1990s. Fonda died of lung cancer at 79 in Los Angeles.
David Koch (May 3, 1940 – August 23, 2019)
As one of the richest people in the world, conservative billionaire and philanthropist David Koch, along with his brother Charles, has been credited for transforming American politics and influencing its policies. Koch began his career as a chemical engineer and later joined his family’s business, Koch Industries, in 1970, eventually becoming its executive vice president. In 1980 he ran as a vice-presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party but later registered as a Republican, where he donated hundreds of millions of dollars towards ultra-conservative causes. Koch also donated to numerous nonprofits including the Lincoln Center, the American Museum of Natural History and medical institutions for cancer research. When Koch died at 79 in New York, he had a net worth of $50.5 billion, making him the 11th richest person in the world.
Valerie Harper (August 22, 1939 – August 30, 2019)
As Rhoda Morgenstern, the self-deprecating, bandana-wearing girl from the Bronx on the 1970s sitcom The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Valerie Harper instantly won fans…and three Emmys. As Moore’s best friend, Harper’s Rhoda was so popular that she was given her own spinoff show in 1974, which earned her another Emmy. Although Harper was a sitcom icon, she made some film appearances, continued working on stage and was later nominated for a Tony for her Broadway performance in Looped in 2010. After a long battle with cancer, Harper died at 80 in Los Angeles.
Ric Ocasek (March 23, 1944 – September 15, 2019)
With his raven black hair, thin frame and enigmatic air, The Cars frontman Ric Ocasek took his band to the top of the ’80s pop charts with New Wave hits like “You Might Think,” “Magic,” “Shake It Up” and “Drive.” After leaving The Cars in 1989, Ocasek embarked on his next career as a solo artist and as a producer of up-and-coming indie and punk bands, which included Weezer, Nada Surf and No Doubt. Famously married to ’80s supermodel Paulina Porizkova, with whom he separated from in 2017, Ocasek died from heart disease at 75 in his Manhattan townhouse.
Cokie Roberts (December 27, 1943 – September 17, 2019)
Raised by two parents who both served as U.S. House of Representatives, Cokie Roberts followed the family tradition of becoming a Washington insider but opted into it as a trailblazing journalist. In the 1970s she was one of the first female reporters who helped establish NPR and later reported and analyzed politics at ABC News, working with heavyweights like Peter Jennings, Sam Donaldson and Ted Koppel. Roberts was also a historian, writing many bestselling books on women in American history. With her sharp intellect and thoughtful analysis on politics, Roberts won multiple Emmys as well as the prestigious Edward R. Murrow award. After battling breast cancer, she died at age 75 in Washington D.C.
Diahann Carroll (July 17, 1935 – October 4, 2019)
Actress and singer Diahann Carroll broke barriers onstage and onscreen. She became the first African American woman to win a Tony Award in a leading role for her work in Broadway’s No Strings (1962) and six years later, the first to carry her own primetime network series Julia, which portrayed a strong black woman that defied stereotypes. In 1974 she starred in the romantic comedy-drama Claudine, which earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. In the ’80s, Carroll set her sights on becoming, in her own words, “the first black bitch on television,” which she ruthlessly demonstrated in the primetime soap Dynasty as Dominique Deveraux. Carroll died at 84 in Los Angeles after a battle with breast cancer.
Robert Forster (July 13, 1941 – October 11, 2019)
Actor Robert Forster knew a thing or to about being a comeback kid. He showed real promise in his early years in film and television with the Marlon Brando-led Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967), Haskell Wexler’s drama Medium Cool (1969), the TV show Banyon (1971-73) and Chuck Norris’ The Delta Force (1986). However, Forster experienced a long lull in his career until Quentin Tarantino offered him the role of bail bondsman Max Cherry in Jackie Brown (1996), earning Forster an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. From there, Forster starred in more prominent roles, including Mulholland Drive (2001) and Twin Peaks (2017). The day Forster died in Los Angeles from brain cancer at 78, his last film, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, premiered.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (January 18, 1951 – October 17, 2019)
The son of a sharecropper, Elijah Cummings was a civil rights activist and politician who served the state of Maryland in the U.S. House of Representatives, beginning in 1996 and until his death. As a U.S. congressman, Cummings addressed issues on poverty on behalf of his city of Baltimore. On the national level, he advocated for gun control and combating the rise of white nationalism under President Donald Trump’s administration. As the chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Cummings had a pivotal role in Trump’s impeachment inquiry, seeking to investigate the president’s finances and government dealings. Cummings, who suffered from many chronic health problems, died at age 68 in Baltimore and became the first black legislator to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol.
John Witherspoon (January 27, 1942 – October 29, 2019)
A stand-up comic first and foremost, John Witherspoon spent decades working the circuit and entertaining mainstream audiences in film and television. Witherspoon is perhaps best known for playing grumpy Willie Jones in the movie Friday (1995) and its sequels, as well as his roles in television shows like The Wayans Bros. (1995 – 99) and The Boondocks (2005 – 2014). A frequent guest on the Late Show with David Letterman, Witherspoon was close friends with the former TV show host who was godfather to his sons. Witherspoon, 77, died from a sudden heart attack at his Los Angeles home.
Caroll Spinney (December 26, 1933 – December 8, 2019)
Caroll Spinney spent 50 years giving life to the most joyful of Sesame Street characters (Big Bird) to the grouchiest (Oscar the Grouch). Through Big Bird and Oscar, the puppeteer shaped generations of young minds, teaching them the importance of friendship and navigating growing pains. In 2014 the puppeteer temporarily emerged from the shadows of his iconic Sesame Street characters to participate in a documentary called I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story, which explored his contribution to the children’s educational show and his relationship with Jim Henson. After battling dystonia, a muscle contraction disorder, Spinney died at his Connecticut home at the age of 85.
Don Imus (July 23, 1940 – December 27, 2019)
Taking on everyone from Hillary Clinton and Dick Cheney to Rush Limbaugh, radio shock jock Don Imus had few boundaries and became a national drive-time star during his four-decade-plus career. In 2007 he went too far in making racist comments about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team and CBS and MSNBC canceled his show. He returned to the airwaves less than a year later and retired in March 2018. Imus was also devoted to his charity, Imus Ranch Foundation, which benefits families of children with cancer and other illnesses. The radio personality passed away at age 79 at Baylor Scott and White Medical Center in College Station, Texas.