In the early hours on the very first day of 2020, the world had already said a final farewell to two celebrities — a troubled soul known for dark times, his demons and his connection with the death of a beloved late celebrity’s child, and a promising hip-hop ingenue gone too soon.
Even before January’s end, comedic and rock music legends, a fan-favorite reality starlet, a talented television actor, a teen idol-turned bit movie and TV star and a wrestling icon (who spawned one of the biggest blockbuster star’s on the planet) had also passed on, and they were all gone too soon … because it’s always too soon. Take a look back at the stars whose light burned out this year, but still shines on in the legacies they’ve left behind, the loved ones who survive them, and the memories they’ve given to us all.
Here are the celebrities we’ve lost in 2020.
Neil Peart, drummer and lyricist of the Canadian progressive rock band Rush, died on Jan. 7, 2020. He was 67 years old. « It is with broken hearts and the deepest sadness that we must share the terrible news that on Tuesday our friend, soul brother and bandmate of over 45 years, Neil, has lost his incredibly brave three-and-a-half-year battle with brain cancer, » Rush told the CBC in a statement.
Peart famously performed with a drum kit that completely surrounded him. He and Rush last toured in 2015, at the conclusion of which he revealed he’d suffered from pain throughout. Peart suffered from two major tragedies in 1997: His 19-year-old daughter Selena died in a car accident, and he lost his wife to cancer just 10 months later. He remarried and is survived by his wife, Carrie, and daughter Olivia. Stars including Slash, Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, Bryan Adams, Kiss’ Paul Stanley, the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson and even Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau all paid their respects to Peart on social media, with Trudeau writing, « We’ve lost a legend. But his influence and legacy will live on forever in the hearts of music lovers in Canada and around the world. RIP Neil Peart. »
Saturday Night Live favorite and screenwriter Buck Henry died on Jan. 8, 2020, Deadline confirmed. He was 89 years old. Henry was acclaimed for his screenplays, scoring an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Graduate and an Emmy win for Get Smart, the spy spoof series he co-created with comedy legend Mel Brooks. Though most screenwriters aren’t widely known to audiences, television viewers were familiar with Henry, who hosted SNL numerous times during the NBC staple show’s first five seasons. Henry was also an occasional director, helming Heaven Can Wait and First Family.
In addition to appearances on SNL, Henry had small acting roles in several films and TV shows, including parts in Hot In Cleveland, Law & Order: SVU, Franklin & Bash, and as Liz Lemon’s dad on 30 Rock. He also served as a guest host for late night shows including The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson, The Dick Cavett Show, and The Late Show With David Letterman.
Despite his success in comedy, Henry admitted in the 2009 book And Here’s The Kicker (via Vulture) that he doesn’t actually watch comedy much. « I just don’t find comedy as interesting as the forms that I don’t do myself, » he said, adding, « It’s harder to make me laugh than it is to make me cry. »
Rocky Johnson, wrestling legend and father to Dwayne « The Rock » Johnson, died on Jan. 15, 2020. He was 75 years old.
According to TMZ Sports, Johnson first became a professional wrestler in the 1960s, when he took to the ring in the National Wrestling Alliance, but he didn’t become a household name until the 1980s, when he joined the WWE (then known as the WWF). Johnson and partner Tony Atlas became the first African American wrestling tag team in the franchise’s history as the Soul Patrol. He retired from wrestling in 1991 and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2008.
Johnson was close with son Dwayne, who previously bought Rocky a house and purchased him a car for Christmas in 2016. On Father’s Day 2018, Dwayne wrote on Facebook, « Little boys by nature, look up to and idolize their old man. They want to be just like ’em, do whatever they do and are always looking for their approval. Funny thing is, the day I stopped looking for that approval was the day I understood what it meant to be man and more importantly, a father. That shift lifted me to a new level of gratitude for the tough love he always gave. Years later as a man and father of three girls, I know that tough love is a helluva lot better than no love at all. I’ll take it. It made me who I am today. Grateful to the original Rock. »
Terry Jones, co-founder of the Monty Python comedy troupe, died on Jan. 21, 2020, following a long battle with frontotemporal dementia, per The Hollywood Reporter. He was 77 years old. « Over the past few days his wife, children, extended family and many close friends have been constantly with Terry as he gently slipped away at his home in North London, » his agent stated. « We have all lost a kind, funny, warm, creative and truly loving man whose uncompromising individuality, relentless intellect and extraordinary humor has given pleasure to countless millions across six decades. »
Jones met Michael Palin while studying English at Oxford University in the 1960s. The duo began acting in sketches together, before meeting John Cleese, Graham Chapman, and Eric Idle while appearing on Do Not Adjust Your Set. Cleese introduced them to Terry Gilliam, and they soon launched Monty Python’s Flying Circus on the BBC. Following its run from 1969 to 1974, Jones co-directed Monty Python and the Holy Grail and directed Life of Brian and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. Jones was also a history buff and opponent of the war in Iraq, publishing a book of essays called Terry Jones’ War on the War on Terror in 2004 and nabbing an Emmy nod the same year for Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives.
With several celebs reacting to his death, collaborator Cleese tweeted in part, « It feels strange that a man of so many talents and such endless enthusiasm, should have faded so gently away. »
Jim Lehrer, the founder and longtime anchor of PBS Newshour, died peacefully at home on Jan. 23, 2020, according to PBS. Lehrer was 85 years old.
Lehrer was born in Wichita, Kansas, and attended Victoria College in Texas and studied journalism at the University of Missouri before serving in the Marines. He began his journalism career in Dallas 1959.
In 1975, Lehrer joined forces with Robert MacNeil to cover the Watergate scandal on what was then The Robert MacNeil Report. The show eventually became The MacNeil Lehrer Report and later The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour. In 1995, MacNeil retired and the show became The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer. Throughout Lehrer’s 36-year PBS career, he covered just about every major news story, including the Kennedy assassination and Bill Clinton’s impeachment. He moderated 12 presidential debates, the most of anyone in history, from 1988 through 2012 (including every debate in the 1996 race, making him the only person to ever to do that). He retired from NewsHour in 2011.
Lehrer was also a writer and the subject and host of the 1986 Emmy-winning documentary My Heart, Your Heart, in which he detailed his 1983 heart attack.
He told The American Journalism Review in 2011 (via The New York Times), « I have an old-fashioned view that news is not a commodity. News is information that’s required in a democratic society, and Thomas Jefferson said a democracy is dependent on an informed citizenry. That sounds corny, but I don’t care whether it sounds corny or not. It’s the truth. »
Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas died on Feb. 5, 2020 at 103 years old.
Born Issur Danielovitch Demsky to a Russian Jewish immigrant family, Douglas had six sisters. His acting career kicked off when fellow Manhattan American Academy of Dramatic Arts student Lauren Bacall helped him land his first movie role. He won two Golden Globes and was nominated for three Oscars in the 1950s, finally receiving an honorary Oscar in 1996. He was best known for Spartacus, for which he hired blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo at the height of McCarthyism’s attacks on alleged Communists. « Dalton was in prison because he refused to answer questions, so I decided, the hell with it! I’m going to put his name on it, » Douglas told People. « I think that’s the thing I’m most proud of because it broke the blacklist. »
Douglas survived a helicopter crash in 1991 and a stroke in 1996. He was a proud father of two sons with first wife Diana Dill; the actor Michael Douglas and Joel Douglas. He remarried to Anne Buydens in 1956, with whom he shared producer son Peter Douglas and actor son Eric Douglas, the latter of whom died of a drug overdose in 2004. Kirk and Anne were together until his death.
Michael Douglas said in part in a statement to People, « To the world, he was a legend, an actor from the golden age of movies who lived well into his golden years, a humanitarian whose commitment to justice and the causes he believed in set a standard for all of us to aspire to.
Inside the Actors Studio host James Lipton died following a battle with bladder cancer on March 2, 2020, TMZ reports. He was 93 years old.
Lipton first developed his hit Bravo series in 1994. With his first guest being screen legend Paul Newman, students featured on the show included future Oscar-nominee Bradley Cooper (who later appeared as a guest). The famously verbose host interviewed nearly 300 stars on the long-running series, and once told The Hollywood Reporter, « If you had put a gun to my head and said, ‘I will pull the trigger unless you predict that in 23 years, Inside the Actors Studio will be viewed in 94 million homes in America on Bravo and in 125 countries around the world, that it will have received 16 Emmy nominations, making it the fifth-most-nominated series in the history of television, that it will have received an Emmy Award for outstanding informational series and that you will have received the Critics’ Choice Award for best reality series host — predict it or die,’ I would have said, ‘Pull the trigger.' »
Lipton hosted the show until his 2018 retirement, when it moved to Ovation TV. Following his death, his wife, Kedakai, told The Hollywood Reporter, « He lived each day as if it were his last. His work was his passion, loved what he did and all the people he worked with. He empowered people to do their best, and hopefully his spirit, curiosity and passion will live on. »
Max Von Sydow
Legendary actor Max Von Sydow passed away on March 8, 2020, at the age of 90, his wife, Swedish filmmaker Catherine, revealed in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter.
The Swedish actor served two years in the Swedish military, before studying acting at Sweden’s Royal Dramatic Theatre. Von Sydow worked with iconic filmmaker Ingmar Bergman in both Sweden and Hollywood, with one of his first prominent roles being the knight Antonius Block in The Seventh Seal. He remains the only Swedish actor to date to earn an Oscar nomination, but it was an even more rare feat: he was nominated for best actor for Pelle The Conqueror, a foreign-language film. His more recent roles included Lor San Tekka in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the Three-Eyed Raven in Game of Thrones.
Von Sydow famously portrayed characters much older than he was in real life. When he was 43, he played 80-year-old priest Father Merrin in The Exorcist. He also portrayed Jesus Christ in The Greatest Story Ever Told, which was admittedly the actor’s most difficult role, because he felt the need to stay in character even off-set. « I couldn’t smoke or drink in public, » Von Sydow once lamented (via THR). « The most difficult part of playing Christ was that I had to keep up the image around the clock. As soon as the picture finished, I returned home to Sweden and tried to find my old self. It took six months to get back to normal. »
Kenny Rogers died on March 20, 2020, at 81 of natural causes, Rolling Stone reported.
Raised in a housing project in Houston, the musician joined a doo-wop group when he was 18, and had his first solo hit with « That Crazy Feeling » two years later. In 1967, Rogers found further success when he joined First Edition alongside Glen Campbell. However, Rogers’ first No. 1 singles as a solo artist came in 1977 with « Lucille » and « Coward of the County, » followed by his magnum opus « The Gambler, » as well the Grammy-winning « You Decorated My Life. »
Rogers’ 1983 duet with Dolly Parton, « Islands in the Stream, » became an instant classic, and Parton performed the song with Rogers at his 2017 farewell concert in Nashville. « You never know how much you love somebody until they’re gone, » Parton tweeted after his death. « I’ve had so many wonderful years and wonderful times with my friend Kenny, but above all the music and the success, I loved him as a wonderful man and a true friend. »
While Rogers sold 100 million records, country radio often refused to play his crossover music. « You know, country music has a box, and there’s four corners, » Rogers told Rolling Stone in 2001. « You can be all the way out to any one of those corners and still get played. But the minute you step outside that box, you’re gonna get shut down. The trick is to be so successful that you can move the box. »
Singer and songwriter John Prine passed away on April 7, 2020, from complications from coronavirus, Rolling Stone reported. He was 73 years old. Prine, a two-time Grammy winner, was one of the most prolific country and folk songwriters in America, widely known for his storytelling in hits like « Hello In There, » about a lonely elderly couple; « Paradise, » a song about his parents’ mining town of Paradise, Ky.; and « Sam Stone, » about a Vietnam War soldier numbing his PTSD with drugs. In 2018, Prine saw a resurgence with his first album of original material in 13 years, giving him his highest career debut at No. 5 on the Billboard 200. Everyone from Johnny Cash to Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, Miranda Lambert and Bette Midler has covered Prine’s tunes.
Prine’s wife, Fiona, who recovered from COVID-19, said in a statement after his passing, « My dearest wish is that people of all ages take this virus seriously and follow guidelines set by the CDC. We send our condolences and love to the thousands of other American families who are grieving the loss of loved ones at this time — and to so many other families across the world. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the outpouring of love we have received from family, friends and fans all over the world. John will be so missed but he will continue to comfort us with his words and music and the gifts of kindness, humor and love he left for all of us to share. »
Linda Tripp, famous for secretly recording her conversations with Monica Lewinsky that ultimately led to then-President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, died on April 8, 2020 at 70 years old. Tripp’s mother, Inge Carotenuto, told CNN that Tripp, who’d previously survived breast cancer, had been diagnosed with late stage pancreatic and lymph node cancers just days before her death.
Tripp was a friend of Lewinsky’s while the brunette anti-bullying activist was a White House intern. Lewinsky first told Tripp of her affair with Clinton in 1996; Tripp began recording their conversations in 1997. After contacting Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr about the tapes in early 1998, Tripp wore a wire when meeting with Lewinsky, who told Tripp what to say to attorneys about Kathleen Willey, a former White House staffer who accused Clinton of sexual misconduct in 1993.
Tripp told Larry King Live in 2003 that despite the fallout from the recordings, she would do it again, refusing to « fix a court case. » She would later say she was trying to protect Lewinsky, not vilify her, and that her intentions were to aid other women, including Paula Jones, who’d accused Clinton of sexual harassment previously, and stop Clinton from allegedly harassing other women in the future.
Despite their history, Lewinsky remained compassionate in Tripp’s final hours, tweeting shortly before Tripp’s passing, « No matter the past, upon hearing that Linda Tripp is very seriously ill, I hope for her recovery. I can’t imagine how difficult this is for her family. »
Actor Brian Dennehy died on April 15, 2020 at age 81, TMZ reported. « It is with heavy hearts we announce that our father, Brian passed away last night from natural causes, not Covid-related, » his daughter said in a statement. « Larger than life, generous to a fault, a proud and devoted father and grandfather, he will be missed by his wife Jennifer, family and many friends. »
Dennehy started his career with guest roles in TV series like M*A*S*H, Kojak, and Dallas before hitting it big with a starring role on Dynasty. His first big break on the big screen was as antagonist Sheriff Will Teasle in First Blood, the first film in the Rambo franchise, in 1982. He went on to star in Cocoon, Tommy Boy, Silverado, Presumed Innocent, and Romeo + Juliet, among other blockbusters. He also voiced Django in Disney’s Ratatouille. More recently, Dennehy starred in The Blacklist in 2001, and won a Golden Globe for the TV movie adaptation of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman — after winning a Tony two years earlier for the same role in the play on Broadway.
Dennehy is survived by his wife and five children. Sylvester Stallone honored Dennehy on Instagram, sharing a still from First Blood and writing, « The great actor Brian Dennehy has passed away. He simply was a brilliant performer… He also was a Vietnam vet that helped me very much building the character of RAMBO. The world has lost a great artist. #FirstBlood. »
Actor Irrfan Khan died on April 29, 2020. He was 53 years old. Khan was a prolific actor and Bollywood star with over 150 credits, including Slumdog Millionaire, Jurassic World, Life of Pi, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Darjeeling Limited. He appeared in the Oscar-nominated Salaam Bombay! in 1988; his breakout role was in The Warrior in 2001. He also appeared in New York, I Love You, A Mighty Heart, and the TV series In Treatment. Khan won numerous awards throughout his three-decade career, including an Independent Spirit Award for The Namesake.
Khan was diagnosed with a neuroendocrine tumor in 2018, Deadline reported, but continued working. Shortly before his death, the BBC reported that he was hospitalized for a colon infection. His family said in a statement in part, « ‘I trust, I have surrendered’: These were some of the many words that Irrfan expressed in a heartfelt note he wrote in 2018 opening up about his fight with cancer … Irrfan was a strong soul, someone who fought till the very end and always inspired everyone who came close to him. After having been struck by lightning in 2018 with the news of a rare cancer, he took life soon after as it came and he fought the many battles that came with it. » He was surrounded by his family when he died, and they said his final words were, « As if I was tasting life for the first time, the magical side of it. »
Actor Sam Lloyd died on April 30, 2020 « as a result of complications from lung cancer, » his wife Vanessa confirmed to People. He was 56 years old.
Lloyd was a prolific character actor, most famous for Scrubs, in which he starred as attorney Ted Buckland (later reprising the role in Cougar Town); he appeared in many other sitcoms as well as movies including Flubber and Galaxy Quest. He was also a musician and working on directing a country rock musical, With Pam and Gil, before his passing, Variety reported.
Lloyd was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2019 and it metastasized to several other organs. Vanessa said in a statement, « Our family is devastated. It doesn’t feel real. It never will. It just feels like he will walk through the door. The overwhelming outpouring of love and sharing your stories about working with or knowing Sam keeps his memory alive and our hearts strong. Sam loved his work. I want to continue his legacy, and hope to share some of the beautiful songs he was working on for his musical and our son, Weston. » Scrubs creator and star Zach Braff paid tribute to Lloyd, tweeting, « Rest In Peace to one of the funniest actors I’ve ever had the joy of working with. Sam Lloyd made me crack up and break character every single time we did a scene together. He could not have been a kinder man. I will forever cherish the time I had with you, Sammy. »
Legendary Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula died on May 4, 2020. He was 90 years old. The team said in a statement (via TMZ), « Don Shula was the patriarch of the Miami Dolphins for 50 years. He brought the winning edge to our franchise and put the Dolphins and the city of Miami in the national sports scene. Our deepest thoughts and prayers go out to Mary Anne along with his children Dave, Donna, Sharon, Anne and Mike. »
Shula began his NFL career as a defensive back in the 1950s for the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Colts, and Washington Redskins before becoming a coach for the Baltimore Colts from 1963 to 1969, then for the Miami Dolphins from 1970 to 1995. He has the record for most wins ever by an NFL coach with a whopping 347 victories in 33 years, including two Super Bowl wins for the Dolphins. He remains the only coach to ever guide an undefeated NFL team, being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997.
« Don Shula will always be remembered as one of the greatest coaches and contributors in the history of our game, » NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. « He made an extraordinarily positive impact on so many lives. His iconic legacy will endure through his family and continue to inspire generations to come. »
Roy Horn of Siegfried and Roy died from coronavirus complications on May 8, 2020, TMZ reported. He was 75 years old.
Horn and his magic act partner, Sigfried Fischbacher, were Las Vegas performing staples for decades after meeting on a cruise ship. The duo were famous for stunts with big cats, including cheetahs, tigers, and lions. They were the highest earning Sin City acts ever, clocking in at $57 million per year, and even inspired a song by Michael Jackson.
In 2003, Horn appeared to be mauled by a white tiger onstage, though Horn and Fischbacher claimed he actually suffered a ministroke onstage and that the tiger was helping drag him offstage. Doctors claimed to 2020 the ministroke actually occurred after Horn was hospitalized from the tiger attack and suffered massive blood loss. The incident left Horn partially paralyzed, but he made a remarkable recovery and was eventually able to walk and even perform again.
Fischbacher said in a statement, « Today, the world has lost one of the greats of magic, but I have lost my best friend. From the moment we met, I knew Roy and I, together, would change the world. There could be no Siegfried without Roy, and no Roy without Siegfried. » He continued, « Roy was a fighter his whole life, including during these final days. I give my heartfelt appreciation to the team of doctors, nurses and staff at Mountain View Hospital who worked heroically against this insidious virus that ultimately took Roy’s life. »
Rock and roll pioneer Little Richard died at age 87 on May 9, 2020 from bone cancer, Rolling Stone reported. Born Richard Wayne Penniman in Macon, Ga., his flamboyant style, « gospel-infused » vocals, piano pounding, and at times nonsensical lyrics made him a chart staple in the 1950s, starting with « Tutti Frutti, » the hook of which he conceived while at work washing dishes at a bus station. « When I first came along, I never heard any rock and roll. When I started singing [rock and roll], I sang it a long time before I presented it to the public because I was afraid they wouldn’t like it, » he admitted to Rolling Stone in 1990. « I never heard nobody do it, and I was scared. »
Little Richard famously rocked a pompadour and makeup onstage, which he claimed was to make white audiences less intimidated by his presence — but gave fodder to speculation about his sexuality for decades. His public proclamations about his sexuality ranged from allegedly calling himself « the founder of gay » to « omnisexual » (a term he used to describe his attraction to both men and women) to outright homophobic.
He left rock behind in 1957 to become a minister, then a gospel artist. He made a rock comeback in 1964 and hob-nobbed with the likes of the Rolling Stones, the Beatles (who covered « Long Tall Sally ») and Bob Dylan. He remained a successful touring act and was one of the original inductees to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.
Jerry Stiller, prolific comedian and actor, died on May 11, 2020 at age 92, his son Ben Stiller confirmed on Twitter, writing, « I’m sad to say that my father, Jerry Stiller, passed away from natural causes. He was a great dad and grandfather, and the most dedicated husband to Anne for about 62 years. He will be greatly missed. Love you Dad. » No cause of death has been reported, as of this writing
New York City native Stiller served in the Army during and after World War II. He studied theater at Syracuse University, after which he began his stage career, according to The New York Times. He married fellow comedian and actor Anne Meara not long after they met. The pair worked together as Stiller and Meara, doing improv and comedy in clubs, then on radio and TV spots. He appeared in Broadway and off-Broadway shows, as well over 100 screen credits.
Stiller was likely best known for his television and film roles, namely as Frank Costanza — father to George Costanza and Festivus enthusiast — on Seinfeld, for which he was nominated for an Emmy in 1997. When Seinfeld ended, he played another often-irrationally temperamental patriarch in King of Queens from 1998 to 2007. He also appeared in movies with his beloved son Ben, including The Heartbreak Kid, Zoolander, and Zoolander 2. He previously told Esquire, « You’ll always know if I’m in the audience when Ben or our daughter, Amy, is performing. I’m the one laughing loudest. »
Fred Willard, great comic and character actor, died on May 15, 2020 at 86 years old, The Guardian reported. Willard served in the Army before studying drama in New York. He and pal Vic Grecco performed comedy and sketches together as Willard & Grecco. His first big break was the talk show satire Fernwood Tonight, playing a sidekick to a smarmy onscreen host, in 1977. In 1984, he made a memorable turn as an Air Force lieutenant in This Is Spinal Tap alongside Christopher Guest, with whom he would collaborate frequently, co-starring in cult classics including Best In Show, A Mighty Wind, and Family Tree. Willard was also beloved for his television work, with recurring roles on Roseanne, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Modern Family. In the latter, he starred as Ty Burrell’s eccentric father, Frank Dunphy.
He told Vulture of his long and illustrious career, « I’ve been in a lot of shows, I will say that. Every once in a while I’ll look at a tape of something I’ve done and I won’t even remember having done it. » He added, « I’m trying to think what I saw the other day — oh, a sketch on the Jay Leno show. I did over 90 of them, and I just happened to have one on my TiVo, and I looked at it and I said, ‘I have no memory of the character or any of the jokes.’ So I could watch it objectively and say, ‘Oh, this is funny.' »
Director Lynn Shelton died on May 16, 2020 from a previously undiagnosed blood disorder, The New York Times reported. She was 54 years old.
Shelton got her breakthrough in 2006, winning the Grand Jury prize with We Go Way Back at the Slamdance Film Festival. She followed with 2008’s SXSW entry My Effortless Brilliance, then the acclaimed Humpday in 2009, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. She directed numerous TV series, including Little Fires Everywhere, New Girl, GLOW, The Good Place, Fresh Off the Boat, and The Morning Show. She is survived by her son, Milo Seal, parents Wendy and Alan Roedell, two brothers, a sister, her estranged husband Kevin Seal, and boyfriend Marc Maron. Maron said, in part, in a statement (via IndieWire), « I have some awful news. Lynn passed away last night. She collapsed yesterday morning after having been ill for a week. There was a previously unknown, underlying condition. It was not COVID-19. The doctors could not save her. They tried. Hard. »
Maron continued, « I loved her very much as I know many of you did as well. It’s devastating. I am leveled, heartbroken and in complete shock and don’t really know how to move forward in this moment. » He added, « She was a beautiful, kind, loving, charismatic artist. Her spirit was pure joy. … This is a horrendous, sad loss. »
Professional wrestler Shad Gaspard died on May 17, 2020 at 39 years old. Gaspard went missing after he and his 10-year-old son, Aryeh, got caught in a rip current while swimming in Marina Del Rey, Calif. Gaspard encouraged first responders to save his son first. Gaspard’s body was later discovered on Venice Beach, TMZ reported.
Gaspard made his WWE debut in 2006 as half of Cryme Tyme with JTG, leaving in 2010 to pursue acting. His acting credits include Think Like A Man Too, Get Hard, Black Panther, and From Dusk Til Dawn: The Series. Fellow WWE alum turned Hollywood actor Dwayne « The Rock » Johnson was heartbroken at Gaspard’s passing, writing on Instagram, « This one hurts. Great guy. My deepest condolences and love to Shad Gaspard’s wife, son and family. Shad drowned in the ocean, but not before instructing lifeguards to save his 10yr old son first. That’s the love of a father. This is a tough one to process. Love and light to Shad’s family. And your warrior spirit lives on through your son. »
Gaspard’s wife, Siliana, said in a statement (via CNN), « Shad was our whole world and we were his. There are not enough words to describe what he means to all of us. He was our heart, our soul, our protector, our warrior. He was a bright force of nature, who brought joy to many through his joyous and gracious nature. » She added, « Shad was and always will be our real-life superhero. »
Tyler Gwozdz, a contestant on Season 15 of ABC’s The Bachelorette, died on Jan. 22, 2020. Gwozdz was 29 years old.
TMZ reported that Gwozdz was suspected to have suffered from an overdose at his Boca Raton, Fla., home and was hospitalized on Jan. 13, 2020. He reportedly was treated in an intensive care unit and was in stable but critical condition. His official cause of death has not yet been reported, but the report cited a 911 call in which the caller told a dispatcher that Gwozdz may have used heroin at the time of the incident.
Gwzodz competed for Hannah Brown’s final rose (and nabbed a one-on-one date with the former pageant princess) before he left the show with no explanation after three weeks of shooting. At the time, he told Refinery29 in a statement that his exit was « a decision that I came to with producers, and something that I’ve come to realize what is the best decision that could’ve been made. »
According to Gwzodz’s Bachelorette profile (via Business Insider), he was a sales manager and entrepreneur who aspired to someday be a clinical psychologist; he also did volunteer work to raise awareness and funds for gun control efforts after a friend’s daughter was killed in the Parkland, Fla., school shooting in February 2018. He is survived his parents and five younger siblings.
Ian Holm passed away at age 88 on June 19, 2020, surrounded by loved ones. Noting that the beloved actor’s death was related to Parkinson’s disease, his agent told The Guardian, « Charming, kind and ferociously talented, we will miss him hugely. »
Holm began his career in London’s theater scene, before joining the Royal Shakespeare Company and later performing on Broadway; he won a Tony Award in 1967 for playing Lenny in The Homecoming. However, Holm temporarily quit stage acting in 1976 because he had such brutal stage fright during a performance of The Iceman Cometh, later recalling to the Independent, « That is a scar on my memory that will never go away. » He then transitioned to film, and did so gloriously. Two years after playing android Ash in Ridley Scott’s iconic Alien in 1979, Holm starred as Olympic coach Sam Mussabini in Chariots of Fire, earning his first BAFTA. Appearing in numerous other films, including The Fifth Element, he braved the Shakespearean stage once again in 1997. Still, Holm was best known for his role of Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Holm is survived by fourth wife Sophie de Stempel and five children from prior relationships — the result of a colorful personal life chronicled in his autobiography, which earned him the tabloid nickname of « Lord of the Flings. » Among the several LOTR castmates paying tribute was Elijah Wood, who tweeted, « So sad to hear that the singular, brilliant and vibrant, Sir Ian Holm has passed. Farewell, uncle. »
Director Joel Schumacher died from cancer on June 22, 2020, at 80 years old, Variety reported.
Schumacher started as a costume designer, then a screenwriter for projects including Sparkle, The Wiz, and Car Wash. He followed with television, writing, and directing The Incredible Shrinking Woman starring Lily Tomlin and Mr. T in D.C. Cab.
With St. Elmo’s Fire, Schumacher introduced the Brat Pack — including a young Demi Moore — to the world in 1985. He followed with vampire comedy The Lost Boys, starring Corey Feldman, Corey Haim, Jason Patric, and Kiefer Sutherland, then 1990 thriller Flatliners and 1993 critically acclaimed hit Falling Down, starring Michael Douglas. Critics also praised Schumacher’s John Grisham adaptations, such as A Time To Kill, which became a breakout hit for Matthew McConaughey.
Schumacher’s distinct aesthetics showed in projects like Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, the latter of which notoriously featured nipples on George Clooney’s batsuit and Chris O’Donnell’s Robin costume. After his Batman films failed critically, he earned several Oscar nominations for his adaptation of Phantom Of The Opera. He returned to television in 2013, directing several episodes of House Of Cards. Rob Lowe said in a statement, « Joel saw things others could not. When casting St Elmo’s Fire, everyone thought I should play the yuppie, but Joel knew I could play the Bad Boy … He had extraordinary taste. The images from his films are timeless snapshots of their era. He was a larger than life original; I will never forget him. »
Comedy legend Carl Reiner died on June 29, 2020, at 98 years old, his son, actor, writer, and director Rob Reiner, announced on Twitter, adding, « As I write this my heart is hurting. He was my guiding light. » Throughout his career, Reiner was a producer, comedian, actor, writer and director, likely most famous for creating The Dick Van Dyke Show. The series was meant to be autobiographical, but he couldn’t sell the show until Dick Van Dyke played him; Reiner had a supporting role as cocky, cantankerous comedian Alan Brady.
Reiner wrote Oh God, starring George Burns, as well as numerous films with Steve Martin, including The Jerk. He directed a slew of movies, including Summer Rental (starring the late great John Candy). His seemingly endless acting credits included Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Thirteen, House, Hot in Cleveland, and Two and a Half Men. Over 70 years in the business, Reiner won nine Emmys, two Grammys (with best friend Mel Brooks), and a Mark Twain Prize. Late in life, he was an outspoken critic of Donald Trump.
Reiner was married to wife Estelle from 1943 until her death in 2008; they share three children (including Rob). Dick Van Dyke tweeted of his longtime friend, « My idol, Carl Reiner, wrote about the human comedy. He had a deeper understanding of the human condition than I think even he was aware of. Kind, gentle, compassionate, empathetic and wise. His scripts were never just funny, they always had something to say about us. »
Broadway veteran Nick Cordero died on July 5, 2020, following a harrowing, months-long battle with COVID-19. He was 41 years old.
Cordero was born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. For two years, he attended Ryerson University before pursuing music with the band Lovemethod, eventually turning his attention to theater. He appeared in Rock of Ages in 2009 and in 2014, he starred as Cheech in Bullets Over Broadway, earning a Best Featured Actor in a Musical Tony nomination and winning the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical, as well as an Outer Critics Circle Award and a Theater World Award. His screen work included a recurring role on CBS mainstay Blue Bloods and guest roles on Law & Order: SVU.
Cordero’s wife, Amanda Kloots, chronicled his battle with COVID-19 in detail daily. Before his death, Cordero was in and out of a coma and had to have a leg amputated due to complications from the disease. He is survived by Kloots and their one-year-old son, Elvis. Kloots said Cordero was surrounded by loved ones when he died and that they sang his song, « Live Your Life, » writing, « As I sang the last line to him, ‘They’ll give you hell / But don’t you [let] them kill your light / Not without a fight / Live your life.‘ I smiled because he definitely put up a fight. I will love you forever and always my sweet man. »
Naya Rivera was reported missing on Wednesday, July 8, 2020, after she took her four-year-old son, Josey, to Lake Piru in Ventura County, California. Josey was found alone and asleep on their rented boat, while Rivera was nowhere to be found. Tragically, what started as a search-and-rescue mission for the actress and singer turned into a recovery mission: Her body was found on Monday, July 13, 2020, after a days-long search, TMZ reported. Rivera was 33 years old, and no foul play is suspected in her death, which is being treated as a tragic accident.
Rivera started out as a child star, landing the role of Hillary Winston on The Royal Family when she was just four years old. Her big break came as Santana on Glee in 2009, which launched her to a record deal with Columbia two years later. Her hit « Sorry Not Sorry » in 2013 featured her then-fiance Big Sean; years after they split, she accused him of hooking up with Ariana Grande while they were together. She married childhood friend Ryan Dorsey on what would have been her wedding day to Big Sean in July 2014; they share son Josey and divorced in 2018.
In addition to an actress and singer, Rivera was also a businesswoman, designing unisex kidswear for Jojo & Izzy, and the author of candid memoir Sorry Not Sorry. Rivera is survived by her parents, brother, sister, and son.
Kelly Preston died on July 12, 2020, her husband John Travolta announced on Instagram. She was 57 and had been battling breast cancer in secret for two years. « She fought a courageous fight with the love and support of so many, » he wrote in part, adding, « Kelly’s love and life will always be remembered. »
Hawaii native Preston studied acting at the University of Southern California, landing her first role in 1985’s Mischief. She went on to appear in CHiPs and star in movies including Twins and Jerry Maguire.
Travolta and Preston married in 1991 and welcomed son Jett in 1992, followed by daughter Ella in 2000. Jett tragically passed away in 2009 at age 16; a year later, Preston and Travolta welcomed son, Ben. Ella wrote on Instagram, « I have never met anyone as courageous, strong, beautiful and loving as you. Anyone who is lucky enough to have known you or to have ever been in your presence will agree that you have a glow and a light that never ceases to shine and that makes anyone around you feel instantly happy. Thank you for being there for me no matter what. Thank you for your love. Thank you for your help and thank you for making this world a better place. You have made life so beautiful and I know you will continue to do so always. I love you so much mama. »
TV icon Regis Philbin died on July 24, 2020, at 88 years old. His family told People, « His family and friends are forever grateful for the time we got to spend with him — for his warmth, his legendary sense of humor, and his singular ability to make every day into something worth talking about. »
The Bronx native served in the Navy before becoming a writer and host of San Diego, Calif. local talk show, The Regis Philbin Show, in 1961, followed by a stint on The Joey Bishop Show in 1967. He went on to host numerous local talk shows in The Golden State, before moving back to New York City to host The Morning Show in 1983, which was later retitled Live with Regis and Kathie Lee. While Philbin left Live in 2011, passing the baton to co-host Kelly Ripa, he was also the first host of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, Million Dollar Password, and the first season of America’s Got Talent. Throughout his career, he won three Emmys, plus a Lifetime Achievement Daytime Emmy. Philbin also earned a Guinness World Record for most broadcast hours from a TV personality (over 16,000!), boasting (via ABC 7), « Every day, you see the record shattered, pal! One more hour! »
Philbin is survived by daughters Joanna and J.J. and his second wife, Joy, as well as daughter Amy from first wife Catherine Faylen. In separate Instagram tributes, Ripa called Philbin « the ultimate class act, » and Kathie Lee Gifford wrote in part, « I smile knowing somewhere in Heaven, at this very moment, he’s making someone laugh. »
Olivia de Havilland
Olivia de Havilland, the last surviving star of Gone with the Wind, died peacefully in her sleep on July 25, 2020, at 104 years old, Entertainment Weekly reports. The Old Hollywood actress wasn’t just famous for her work onscreen, but also for the landmark lawsuit that took on the restrictive studio system: following multiple suspensions after she refused too many damsel-in-distress roles, Warner Bros. attempted to extend de Havilland’s seven-year contract; she sued and won in what’s still known as the de Havilland decision.
De Havilland got her first role at 18 in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and grew famous in the 1930s for starring alongside Errol Flynn in several films, including The Adventures of Robin Hood. After nabbing an Oscar nomination for her performance as Melanie in Gone with the Wind, she turned to more dramatic roles, winning two Academy Awards for 1946’s To Each His Own and 1949’s The Heiress. De Havilland also appeared on Broadway and television, scoring a Golden Globe for Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna. Also known for her bitter lifelong rivalry with younger sister Joan Fontaine, de Havilland denied in 2016 — three years after Fontaine’s death — that she ever « initiated hostile behavior » toward Fontaine. They’re the only sisters to ever both win Academy Awards.
The beloved star, who gave up on Hollywood in the mid-1950s and moved to Paris, was also politically active, campaigning for Franklin D. Roosevelt and against communism, and fighting to improve the industry throughout her life. In 2017, de Havilland sued FX Networks for defamation over her portrayal in Feud, but the suit was ultimately dismissed.
Character actor Wilford Brimley died on Aug. 1, 2020, at 85 years old. As his agent told The New York Times, Brimley had a kidney condition for about two months before his passing.
Born Anthony Wilford Brimley in Utah, he dropped out of school and became a real-life cowboy at 14. Brimley went on to become a ranch hand, Marine, and bodyguard for Howard Hughes, before venturing into Hollywood. First working with horses in TV and film, he eventually graduated to nonspeaking roles on horseback. Brimley then cut his acting teeth on television in recurring roles on series like How The West Was Won, Kung Fu, and The Oregon Trail, and later landed a breakthrough role on The Waltons as Horace Brimley. His star turn on the big screen was in The China Syndrome, alongside Jane Fonda and Jack Lemmon; he followed with Absence Of Malice, The Natural, The Firm, and Cocoon. « Wilford’s a testy guy, not an easy guy to work with all the time, but he has great instincts, » Cocoon director Ron Howard previously admitted to the NYT. « Many of his scenes were totally improvised. »
Brimley, who received a type 2 diabetes diagnosis in 1979, later became the face of Quaker Oats and Liberty Medical, the latter of which became a meme for his distinct, accented pronunciation of « diabetes. » In 1993, Brimley told The Dallas Morning News of his career (via the NYT), « I’m never the leading man. I never get the girl. And I never get to take my shirt off. I started by playing fathers to guys who were 25 years older than I was. »