Celebrity Deaths In 2016: 20 Famous People We’ve Said Goodbye
To say that we lost a lot of great people in 2016 would be a supreme understatement; between the deaths of David Bowie, Muhammad Ali and Prince, the world inevitably now feels like a slightly less awesome place. From rock legends to Emmy-winning actors and, yep, TV psychics, take a look back at some of some of the saddest and most high-profile deaths Hollywood has grieved so far this year.
Singer, actor, and all-around icon David Bowie died on January 10 after a reported 18-month battle with cancer. Bowie’s death came as a shock to fans around the world, as he’d never disclosed his illness publicly and had just released a critically acclaimed CD, Blackstar, two days prior. As fans and the media quickly realized, Blackstar contained a number of hidden messages about his condition, particularly in the song “Lazarus,” which begins with the lyric, “Look up here, I’m in Heaven.”
Bowie’s producer and longtime friend, Tony Visconti, later confirmed on Facebook that Blackstar was a “parting gift” to fans from the ailing Bowie. “He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way,” Visconti wrote. “His death was no different from his life—a work of Art. He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn’t, however, prepared for it.” Bowie was 69.
Film and stage actor Alan Rickman lost his battle with cancer on January 14. Much like Bowie, Rickman’s cancer—rumored to be pancreatic—was kept secret from the public until his death at age 69. Still, close friends and family appear to have been in the know about his condition; shortly after his death, his Sense and Sensibility and Love Actually co-star Emma Thompson wrote, “I have just kissed him goodbye,” implying she had seen him shortly before he passed. “He was the ultimate ally. In life, art and politics. I trusted him absolutely,” she added. “He was, above all things, a rare and unique human being and we shall not see his like again.”
Rickman was arguably best known to movie fans for his role as Professor Snape in the beloved Harry Potter franchise. He first struck it big Stateside in the ’80s opposite Bruce Willis in the action thriller Die Hard. He also won a Golden Globe and an Emmy for Rasputin in the mid-’90s.
After a decades-long battle with throat cancer, René Angelil, the husband and manager of Grammy-winning singer Celine Dion, died on January 14. Two days later, tragedy struck Dion again when her brother Daniel died of brain, throat and tongue cancer.
Dion—who met Angelil when she was just 12—has been open about her and her family’s struggle to grieve Angelil’s loss. “It’s been a long, long journey,” Dion told People magazine in May. “We were living in hope, knowing that there’s no hope.” “René always insisted the show must go on … I miss him a lot from when he was great but not when he was suffering. I cannot be selfish. You have to let people go. I feel at peace,” she added to Good Morning America. Angelil—who had three sons with Dion—was 73.
Glenn Frey, guitarist and one of the founding members of the Eagles, died on January 18 of complications from rheumatoid arthritis, acute ulcerative colitis and pneumonia, the band confirmed in a statement on their website. “He was like a brother to me; we were family, and like most families, there was some dysfunction,” bandmate Don Henley added in a separate statement. “But the bond we forged 45 years ago was never broken, even during the 14 years that the Eagles were dissolved. We were two young men who made the pilgrimage to Los Angeles with the same dream: to make our mark in the music industry—and with perseverance, a deep love of music, our alliance with other great musicians and our manager, Irving Azoff, we built something that has lasted longer than anyone could have dreamed. But Glenn was the one who started it all. He was the spark plug, the man with the plan.”
Speaking to The Wrap, Azoff claimed that Frey died in part from the medications he was taking to treat his rheumatoid arthritis, which he had reportedly been battling for over 15 years. “One day his knees would hurt, his hands hurt,” Azoff said. “[The illness] moves from joint to joint.”
Frey—whose recurring intestinal issues forced the Eagles to postpone their Kennedy Centers Honors ceremony in November—wrote and co-wrote a number of the band’s hit songs, including the song that became arguably their defining number, “Hotel California.” He was 67.
Harper Lee, the Pulitzer-prize winning author of To Kill a Mockingbird, died in her sleep at an assisted living facility on February 19, as confirmed by the New York Times. After it was published in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird became one of most popular books in American history, selling almost 10 million copies by the late ’70s, according to the Times. It also inspired the Oscar-winning movie starring Gregory Peck in 1962.
Despite the popularity of the novel, Lee mostly lived her life out of the spotlight, leaving millions of fans wondering if she’d ever publish a second novel. Their wish was finally granted in February 2015 when HarperCollins announced it would be releasing a book she had submitted to her editors in 1957, called Go Set a Watchman. The book received mostly negative reviews when it was released that June, but still managed to sell over one million copies in its first week. She was 89.
Nancy Reagan, former First Lady and wife of President Ronald Reagan, died on March 6 from congestive heart failure at her home in Los Angeles, as reported by the New York Times. Although she started her career as an actress, Reagan would go on to become known for her loyalty to her husband and involvement in his many political campaigns, including his two terms in the White House. She also became an advocate against drug and alcohol abuse by the American youth, and later, for stem cell research after President Reagan lost his battle with Alzheimer’s in 2004.
Conversely, she and her husband were heavily criticized for allegedly ignoring the AIDS epidemic for years; according to reports, she famously “refused” to help out her friend Rock Hudson as he was dying from the syndrome. She was 94.
Comedian and actor Garry Shandling died unexpectedly on March 24. According to TMZ’s initial report, the Larry Sanders Show star had been “healthy and speaking to people” the morning of his death; it was later reported he had suffered a “massive heart attack, with no prior warning whatsoever.”
Shandling will forever be known for his work on the beloved HBO comedy The Larry Sanders Show, for which he finally received an Emmy for the show’s final season, in 1998. His career quieted down considerably in the ’00s, although he did make appearances as Senator Stern in Iron Man 2 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. He was 66.
Country singer Merle Haggard died on April 6, the morning of his 79th birthday, after battling double pneumonia for some time, TMZ confirmed via Haggard’s manager. According to the report, Haggard was first diagnosed with pneumonia in 2015 and later spent 11 days in the hospital in early 2016. The week before his death, Haggard was forced to cancel all shows for the month of April due to his tough recovery. TMZ added that Haggard actually told friends he thought he’d die on his birthday.
Haggard hit Number One on the Billboard country singles charts a staggering 38 times during the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Some of his biggest hits included “Swinging Doors,” “If We Make It Through December” and “Mama Tried.”
Emmy-winning actress Doris Roberts died in her sleep on April 17, according to Variety. She was 90. Roberts won an impressive four Emmy Awards for playing Ray Romano’s no-nonsense mother, Marie, on the popular CBS sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, which ran from 1996 to 2004. She also won an Emmy in 1983 for her work on the medical drama St. Elsewhere. Other popular roles included National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and the TV drama Remington Steele, for which she received an Emmy nomination.
Wrestling star Joanie Laurer, known by her stage name Chyna, was found dead in her Redondo Beach, California apartment on April 20 amid reports of an accidental overdose, as reported by TMZ. The tabloid site later reported that Chyna had been dead inside her apartment for at least a day, and that there were no signs of suicide.
Chyna’s career out of the wrestling ring was filled with numerous setbacks and scandals that included arrests, stints in the porn industry, battles with addiction and trips to the hospital. In the days before her death, Chyna posted a truly bizarre video to YouTube, leading some to believe that her final days on Earth were dark and sad. She was 43.
“Purple Rain” singer Prince was found dead in an elevator inside his Paisley Park estate in Minnesota on April 21, TMZ reported. After months of investigation, the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed that Prince died of an accidental overdose of Fentanyl, a powerful opiate that can be 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine and 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin. A criminal investigation was also launched to find out how he obtained the deadly drug. Counterfeit medication was found inside Paisley Park in August.
Prince’s health had been the subject of major speculation in the days leading up to his death. Just six days prior, his plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Moline, Illinois, after he allegedly suffered a Percoset overdose. He was 57.
Michelle McNamara, the wife of actor Patton Oswalt, died unexpectedly in her sleep on April 21. Oswalt has since openly grieved the loss of his wife on numerous occasions, including a Facebook post written 102 days after her death. “102 days at the mercy of grief and loss feels like 102 years and you have s*** to show for it,” Oswalt wrote. “You will not be physically healthier. You will not feel ‘wiser.’ You will not have ‘closure.’ You will not have ‘perspective’ or ‘resilience’ or ‘a new sense of self.’ You WILL have solid knowledge of fear, exhaustion and a new appreciation for the randomness and horror of the universe. And you’ll also realize that 102 days is nothing but a warm-up for things to come.”
“I was face-down and frozen for weeks,” he added later. “It’s 102 days later and I can confidently say I have reached a point where I’m crawling. Which, objectively, is an improvement. Maybe 102 days later I’ll be walking.” It remains unclear what caused McNamara’s death. She was 46.
60 Minutes icon Morley Safer died on May 19 after battling pneumonia, his wife, Jane, confirmed to the New York Times. Safer spent 46 years at 60 Minutes, filing nearly 1,000 reports for the CBS news program between 1970 and his retirement on May 11, 2016. He also became famous for his reports on the Vietnam War for CBS Evening News, which exposed some of the most horrific acts executed by American soldiers. He was 84.
Muhammad Ali, widely considered by fans—and, famously, himself—to be the greatest boxer who ever lived, died on June 4 after being hospitalized in Arizona for respiratory complications, according to NBC News. He was 74. The loss of Ali—whose career spanned multiple heavyweight titles, an Olympic Gold medal and protests against the Vietnam War—was so profound that even President Barack Obama released a statement honoring his legacy.
“Muhammad Ali was The Greatest. Period,” Obama wrote. “If you just asked him, he’d tell you. He’d tell you he was the double greatest; that he’d ‘handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder into jail. But what made The Champ the greatest—what truly separated him from everyone else—is that everyone else would tell you pretty much the same thing.” Indeed.
The world of sports lost another great on June 10 when hockey star Gordie Howe died after being diagnosed with dementia about four years prior, according to a statement released by the National Hockey League. He was 88. Howie spent five decades in the NHL, playing 1,687 of his recored-breaking 1,767 games with the Detroit Red Wings and winning four Stanley Cup championships along the way. Remarkably, Howe still holds the record as being the oldest player ever to skate in an NHL game, at 52 years and 11 days.
The report added that Howe had suffered a series of strokes in 2012. His family told the website that he had died of “old age” in Sylvania, Ohio.
The phrase “gone too soon” will forever be applied to Star Trek star Anton Yelchin, who died tragically and suddenly June 19 after his Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo rolled backwards and pinned him against the gate to his home, as reported by TMZ. He was 27. The Los Angeles County coroner’s office later said that Yelchin likely died “within a minute or so” of the accident based on his injuries.
In a truly ironic twist, the model Yelchin had been driving was recalled in May due to issues with its e-shift transmission. According to TMZ, the glitch may cause drivers of the model to think their car is in park when it is actually in neutral.
17.Youree Dell Harris
Youree Dell Harris, better known to millions of insomniacs as the Jamaican television psychic Miss Cleo, died on July 26 of colon cancer that had subsequently spread to her liver and lungs, as confirmed by TMZ. Harris’ Miss Cleo was a fixture on TV informercials during the late ’90s and early ’00s thanks to her allegedly “free” psychic readings—until the Federal Trade Commission charged Access Resource Services, Inc. and Psychic Readers Network with deceptive advertising, billing and collection practices in 2002. Despite her character’s instantly recognizable Jamaican accent, Harris was actually born in Los Angeles.
Harris’ popularity quickly faded; however, she did make headlines again in 2006 when she came out as a lesbian to The Advocate. She also voiced a character in the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
British actor Kenny Baker, the man who played R2-D2 in the Star Wars movies, died on August 13 after battling a long illness, BBC News confirmed via his niece. He was 81. Baker first played the beloved robot in the original Star Wars movie in 1977 and went on to play R2-D2 in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, as well as all three of the franchise’s prequels. Baker’s agent, Johnny Mans, shed a little more light on his health, claiming he had been sick for a couple of years. “He will be sadly missed,” Mans told BBC News.
Gene Wilder died on August 26 after battling Alzheimer’s disease for about three years, his nephew, Jordan Walker-Pearlman, told CNN. His disease was not made public until after his death, according to Pearlman, because “he simply couldn’t bear the idea of one less smile in the world.” Wilder became one of the great screen comics in the ’60s and ’70s, due in large part to his collaborations with Mel Brooks. He received an Oscar nomination for his performance in Blazing Saddles in 1969, as well as a screenplay nomination for Young Frankenstein in 1975, which he shared with Brooks.
Among his many memorable roles, Wilder will always be best remembered for his starring performance in the 1971 cult classic Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, for which he received a Golden Globe nomination. His last live-action role was a guest spot on Will & Grace, for which he won an Emmy in 2003.
Transgender actress and advocate Alexis Arquette died in the early hours of September 11 after battling an illness that sources now claim was AIDS, according to People magazine. Arquette’s death was confirmed by family members in a release written by her Oscar-winning sister, Patricia Arquette. “Alexis was born as Robert, our brother,” the statement, posted to brother Richmond Arquette’s Facebook, read. “But he came in as more than a sibling—he came as our great teacher. As Alexis transitioned into being a woman, she taught us tolerance and acceptance. As she moved through her process, she became our sister, teaching us what real love is.” The release added that the family listened to David Bowie’s “Starman” in her final moments.
Arquette—who transitioned into a woman in her 30s—was best known for her roles in The Wedding Singer, Pulp Fiction and Last Exit to Brooklyn. She was 47.