Year in review: Entertainers and creators we lost in 2021
On so many levels, 2021 was a challenging year. And for entertainment fans, the year was made even more difficult by the loss of so many talented performers.
We said goodbye to award-winning actors, ground-breaking musicians, game-changing directors and far too many multi-hyphenates, all of whom made a lasting impact through their work in different arenas.
Here, The A.V. Club offers a look back at notable entertainment names who bid farewell in 2021, from Norm Macdonald to Jessica Walter, from DMX to Charlie Watts, from Michael K. Williams to Stephen Sondheim, and many others.
Celebrated actress Cicely Tyson, a titan of stage and screen, died in January at the age of 94. She won an honorary Academy Award in 2018, capping a seven-decade career that extended from her early days as a model, included roles in films such as Sounder, a Tony-winning run in The Trip To Bountiful, and even an appearance in a Willow Smith music video.
As The A.V. Club noted in her obituary, “It’s difficult to quantify Tyson’s impact in all facets of entertainment. It’s even harder to adequately state how much she meant to the Black community across multiple generations… More importantly, Cicely Tyson taught Black women that they deserved to have a hand in their own destinies and not settle for figurative scraps. ‘I wait for roles—first, to be written for a woman, then, to be written for a black woman,’ she explained to the Entertainment News Service in 1997. ‘And then I have the audacity to be selective about the kinds of roles I play. I’ve really got three strikes against me. So, aren’t you amazed I’m still here?’” [Shannon Miller]
Cloris Leachman died in January of natural causes at age 94. The Oscar and Emmy-winning actress was beloved for roles stretching across more than 70 years of work.
Leachman held the record for many years for the most Primetime Emmy wins by a single performer with eight. (Julia-Louis Dreyfus tied that record in 2017.) Leachman also won an Oscar for Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show in 1972. [Gwen Ihnat]
Eric Jerome Dickey
Eric Jerome Dickey
Eric Jerome Dickey, the prolific New York Times best-selling author, died in January after a long illness. He was 59. Dickey had a penchant for shaping characters that resonated with his community and leaned into Black culture. His stories often balanced romance, scandal, and a considerable amount of heart, and they were beloved by a fanbase that felt both seen and wholly embraced. [Shannon Miller]
Soap opera actor John Reilly—a longtime presence on General Hospital—died in January at the age of 84. After General Hospital, Reilly remained an off-and-on fixture of various soaps and soap-adjacent series, playing Del Douglas on Sunset Beach and then Kelly Taylor’s estranged father on Beverly Hills, 90210. In 2005, after the death of actor David Bailey, Reilly took over the role of Alistair Crane on Passions. His role was eventually reduced for budget reasons, but he remained a recurring part of the show until 2008. [Sam Barsanti]
Siegfried Fischbacher, one half of the world-renowned illusionist act Siegfried & Roy, died in January from pancreatic cancer at age 81. He passed eight months after his longtime business partner Roy Horn, who died in May 2020 of complications from coronavirus.
Siegfried and Roy first made their mark on the Las Vegas Strip in 1981 with the show Beyond Belief. Their ascension continued in 1990 when they created the iconic Siegfried & Roy show at The Mirage, which would reportedly become one of the most expensive shows ever staged in Las Vegas and helped pave the way for the city’s shift to family entertainment. [Shannon Miller]
Sylvain Sylvain, a guitarist and co-founder of the New York Dolls, legendary underground band, died in January after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 69. In the 1970s, the Dolls charted an unpredictable course between hard rock, glam, and the earliest dregs of what would one day become punk. The band married fashion, cynicism, and a frequently determined lack of interest in musicianship into a bold new iteration of modern music. [William Hughes]
Larry King, the broadcasting luminary who established his legacy through radio and TV talk shows over the course of more than 50 years, died in January at age 87.
He made his deepest impact during the 25-year run of Larry King Live, a nightly show on CNN that featured in-depth interviews with newsmakers and celebrities. King conducted over 30,000 interviews during that stretch, and cemented his impact on journalism and the broadcast industry. Viewers responded to King’s breezy interviewing style, which conveyed a deep interest in his guests, whether they were dignitaries or promising upstarts. [Shannon Miller]
Sophie, a performer best known for blurring the lines between underground dance music, electronic, and a sort of hyperkinetic mutation on the structures of pop, died in an accident in Greece in January. She was 34. Her music—including a single studio album, 2018’s Oil Of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides—helped reshape dance music over the last decade, pushing the genre to its limits to reach (and sometimes challenge) audiences. [William Hughes]
Former Saved By The Bell star Dustin Diamond died in February at age 44, a few weeks after he announced that he was suffering from stage four lung cancer. Diamond played the sweet, dorky, and curlicued Screech on just about every iteration of Saved By The Bell, from its precursor series Good Morning, Miss Bliss to The College Years to The New Class, in which he played the assistant to Dennis Haskins’ Principal Belding.
Diamond appeared in a few film roles as an adult—Made, Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, Pauly Shore Is Dead—usually as a heightened version of himself. His career skidded to a halt, however, after he stabbed someone with a switchblade in a 2014 bar fight and was convicted of disorderly conduct in 2015. [Randall Colburn]
Award-winning actor Christopher Plummer, whose lengthy career spanned unforgettable performances from The Sound Of Music to Ridley Scott’s All The Money In The World, died in April at 91.
Upon his death,
Plummer’s manager of 46 years,
said: “Chris was an extraordinary man who deeply loved and respected his profession with great old fashion manners, self-deprecating humor and the music of words. He was a national treasure who deeply relished his Canadian roots. Through his art and humanity, he touched all of our hearts and his legendary life will endure for all generations to come. He will forever be with us.” [Shannon Miller]
Mary Wilson, a founding member of The Supremes, died in February at age 87. A native of Greenville, Mississippi, Wilson was raised in Detroit. While still in elementary school, she met Florence Ballard and they formed a singing duo. In 1959, while in high school, the two friends auditioned to become part of a sister group to The Primes, and were ultimately grouped with fellow recruits Diana Ross and Betty McGlown to form the Primettes.
Two years later, the Primettes—with Barbara Martin briefly replacing McGlown before the group became a trio—signed to Motown Records and their name was changed to the Supremes. Wilson, Ballard, and Ross enjoyed their first hit, “When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes,” in 1963. They reached No. 1 on the Billboard pop charts for the first time with 1964’s “Where Did Our Love Go.” [Patrick Gomez]
Jessica Walter, whose award-winning acting career spanned five decades, died in New York in March at the age of 80. The Brooklyn-born Walter began her career in theater, winning a Clarence Derwent Award in 1963 for Outstanding Debut Broadway Performance in Photo Finish. In 1964, she made her feature film debut in Lilith.
Walter captured her first Emmy for 1975’s Amy Prentiss. She was nominated again in 1977 and 1980 for her work on Streets Of San Francisco and Trapper John M.D., respectively. She received her final Emmy nomination 25 years later for playing the outlandish Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development. Her portrayal of Bluth became a fan-favorite that’s still referenced in memes and pop culture nearly two decades later. She also collected many fans for her voiceover work on Archer. [Patrick Gomez]
Beloved children’s author Beverly Cleary died in March 2021. The creator of such adored children’s characters as Ralph S. Mouse, Henry Huggins, and, of course, Ramona Quimby, Cleary sold roughly 90 million books.
She originally studied and worked as a librarian, a position that brought her into close contact with a) a great many children with a great love of reading, and b), the general dearth of emotionally intelligent and enjoyable children’s literature in post-World War II U.S. Thus began a long career intended to correct the deficits of b) on behalf of the vast majority of a). [William Hughes]
Paul Ritter—best known to American audiences for playing haggard and impatient nuclear engineer Anatoly Dyatlov on HBO’s Chernobyl and the wizard Eldred Worple in Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince—died in April from a brain tumor. He was 54. [Sam Barsanti]
Walter Olkewicz, a prominent character actor best known for his roles on David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, died in April at the age of 72. He appeared on both versions of Twin Peaks, first as sinister bartender/card-dealer Jacques Renault in the original series, and then as another vice-invested Renault, Jean-Michael, in The Return.
Born in New Jersey, Olkewicz—per a bio he penned himself a few years back—got his start in the entertainment industry in comedy and writing, penning jokes for The New Dating Game before landing a role in Steven Spielberg’s 1941. From there, his large frame, distinctive face, and knack for comedy opened doors for roles in Taxi, Cheers, The Love Boat, Newhart, and other mainstays of ’80s TV comedy. More regular gigs during the period included a starring role on the short-lived The Last Resort, and CBS’s attempt to import swords-and-sandals fantasy into primetime TV, Wizards And Warriors. [William Hughes]
Prince Philip, the Duke Of Edinburgh, died in April at the age of 99. He was married to Queen Elizabeth for nearly 75 years. Philip, a member of both the Greek and Danish royal families, first met then-Princess Elizabeth in 1934 at the wedding of Princess Marina and Prince George. (She was 8, he was 13, and they were technically second cousins once removed as well as third cousins.)
In 1939, while in the British Royal Navy, Philip was tasked with giving Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret a tour of the Royal Naval College, and the pair began corresponding shortly thereafter. He served with distinction in World War II, and was granted permission to marry Elizabeth once she turned 21. In 1947, the couple wed in a lavish ceremony heard by more than 200 million people on BBC Radio around the world. Prior to the ceremony, he was named Royal Highness, as well as Duke Of Edinburgh, Earl Of Merioneth, and Baron Greenwich. [Marah Eakin and Gwen Ihnat]
The rapper born as Earl Simmons, but known to the music-loving world as DMX, died in April after suffering a heart attack related to a drug overdose. DMX—whose music often addressed his struggles with substance abuse, and his desire to be a good father to his children—was 50 years old.
Just as tales of addiction, rehab, prison, release, and relapse were intertwined with the life story of Earl Simmons, his music intertwined with the sound of rap in the 21st century. Often quantified as “gruff,” DMX’s style never allowed itself to be seduced by R&B, or even melody; his sharp delivery was often harsh, never slow, and wholly uncompromising. And people responded, in the millions, to the music, and the man. [William Hughes]
Veteran Broadway actor Joseph Siravo—known to TV audiences as Tony Soprano’s father on HBO’s The Sopranos—died in April at age 66. Siravo’s big break onscreen came in 1993 when he was cast in Carlito’s Way opposite Sean Penn and Al Pacino. He played Italian gangster Vinnie Taglialucci, who blamed Penn and Pacino’s characters for the deaths of his father and brother. The appearance led to a significant number of additional mobster-type parts after that, including his recurring role as Johnny “Johnny Boy” Soprano on HBO’s The Sopranos and appearances on For Life and The Blacklist. [Sam Barsanti]
Helen McCrory—the English actor known for her roles in three Harry Potter films, as well as Peaky Blinders, and The Queen—died from cancer in April at the age of 52.
“Heartbroken to announce that after an heroic battle with cancer, the beautiful and mighty woman that is Helen McCrory has died peacefully at home, surrounded by a wave of love from friends and family,” her husband, actor Damian Lewis, said in a statement on Twitter. “She died as she lived. Fearlessly. God we love her and know how lucky we are to have had her in our lives. She blazed so brightly. Go now, Little One, into the air, and thank you.” [Shanicka Anderson]
Songwriter, composer, and producer Jim Steinman—best known for writing all of Meat Loaf’s best songs, along with his work with Celine Dion, Bonnie Tyler, and Air Supply—died in April at the age of 73. Steinman was an undeniable master of a very specific kind of song, generally involving grand, sweeping romantic tragedies and tongue-in-cheek takedowns of traditional rock ’n’ roll ballads. [Sam Barsanti]
Shock G, also known to the world as Humpty, by his birth name Gregory Jacobs, or simply as the mastermind behind formative rap group Digital Underground, died in April from fatal combination of drugs and alcohol. He was 57. Shock G left his stamp on the world of music, both through his own songs, and through his extensive production work—most notably helping to launch the career of Digital Underground member Tupac Shakur. [William Hughes]
Olympia Dukakis, the Oscar-winning actor, director, activist, teacher, and playwright, died in her home in New York in May at age 89. Celebrated for roles in films like Moonstruck and Steel Magnolias, Dukakis once romanced Abe Simpson himself, and spent her life and career as an advocate for progressive causes and LGBTQ+ rights.
Born to Greek immigrants in Massachusetts in the 1930s, Dukakis was a New England fencing champion three times over at an early age, and used her degree in physical therapy to aid the recovery of victims of polio. She moved into acting in the early ’60s, starting in Massachusetts theater before moving to off-, and then on-, Broadway productions. [William Hughes]
An actor, dancer, and model, Tawny Kitaen was best known for her work during the rise of the music video scene in the 1980s. The sight of her gyrating on the hoods of various cars for Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” became an instant signifier for a very particular flavor of rock superstardom.
Kitaen also worked as a more conventional actor—most notably in Tom Hanks’ Bachelor Party, and, somewhat bizarrely, as a voice performer on Eek! The Cat—before moving into the world of reality television as that genre solidified in the mid-2000s. Kitaen died in May at age 59. [William Hughes]
Charles Grodin, the famously acerbic comedic actor and star of The Heartbreak Kid, Beethoven, and more, died in May at 86. The actor, who delivered deadpan comedy with ease, was also a longtime lover of talk shows. He had his own talk show for a while and made nearly 40 appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and 17 appearances on Late Night With David Letterman. He was also a regular on Broadway, in addition to film roles in movies like Midnight Run, Clifford, and more. [Shanicka Anderson]
Paul Mooney, comedian, actor, and regular collaborator of Richard Pryor died in May at 79. The comic was born in 1941 and took on the last name “Mooney” based on the original Scarface actor Paul Muni’s name. Following a stint as a ringmaster for the Charles Gody Circus, Mooney met Pryor in L.A. in the 1960s.
A short while later, they re-connected at a concert, launching a long and fruitful partnership that led to Mooney’s monumental work as the head writer on The Richard Pryor Show. Mooney is credited with discovering Robin Williams during the variety show’s brief run—it was Williams’ big break, an opportunity that Mooney also extended to Sandra Bernhard, Marsha Warfield, John Witherspoon, and Tim Reid. [Tatiana Tenreyro]
Kevin Clark, the child actor and musician who played lovable loudmouth drummer Freddy “Spazzy McGee” Jones in School Of Rock, was killed while riding his bike in Chicago in late May. He was 32. School Of Rock was Clark’s only screen credit. After appearing in the hit film, he focused on his music career, playing in multiple bands, including Dreadwolf and a recent stint in Jess Bess And The Intentions. [Tatiana Tenreyro]
Ned Beatty, known for memorable turns in films ranging from Superman: The Movie to Deliverance died in June. He was 83. Beatty’s big-screen debut was a memorable one: In 1972, he famously “squealed like a pig” as Bobby in Deliverance. It was the first of several iconic roles in the ’70s, including his appearance as Delbert Reese in Nashville and as Lex Luthor’s bumbling sidekick Otis in 1978’s Superman. His explosive performance as TV honcho Arthur Jensen in Network garnered Beatty an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. [Matt Schimkowitz]
Richard Donner, the celebrated director who brought both the Superman and Lethal Weapon film franchises to life, died in July. Donner, whose other credits included The Omen, Goonies, and a number of other classics of the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, was 94.
In a 2016 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Donner—a childhood fan of the Man Of Steel—recalled being appalled by the first draft of the Superman film. After getting “a little stoned,” pulling on the Superman costume that had been delivered with the script, and summoning writer Tom Mankiewicz (who was taken aback to find his friend wearing Clark Kent’s red cape), Donner made a fateful declaration: “The most important thing when you look at it is this: Make a love story. And prove a man can fly.” [Erik Adams]
Robert Downey Sr.
Robert Downey Sr.
Robert Downey Sr.—actor and filmmaker best known for his work on Putney Swope and Greaser’s Palace—died in July at age 85. “Last night, dad passed peacefully in his sleep after years of enduring the ravages of Parkinson’s… he was a true maverick filmmaker, and remained remarkably optimistic throughout. According to my stepmom’s calculations, they were happily married for just over 2,000 years. Rosemary Rogers-Downey, you are a saint, and our thoughts and prayers are with you,” his son Robert Downey Jr. wrote.
Downey Sr. began his filmmaking career in the ’60s, focusing on anti-establishment, absurdist films. His first successful feature was 1966’s Chafed Elbows, a comedic still image film starring his first wife, Elsie Ann Downey. Downey Sr.’s biggest film, Putney Swope, came a few years later. The satirical film tackles the white power structure, and it is about a Black advertising exec who takes the reins of an advertising agency after the sudden death of the company’s chairman. [Tatiana Tenreyro]
Actor Charlie Robinson—best known for playing court clerk Mac on the NBC series Night Court—died in July at the age of 75. After Night Court, Robinson starred in Love & War and later appeared in Ink, Malcolm & Eddie, Beowulf, Home Improvement, Buddy Faro, My Wife And Kids, Yes Dear, How I Met Your Mother, The House Bunny, Still Standing, The Game, Hart Of Dixie, Key And Peele, The Guest Book, and Mom. He also played a fictionalized version of himself (and sort of reprised his role as Mac) in an episode of 30 Rock—specifically “The One With The Cast Of Night Court.” [Sam Barsanti]
Biz Markie died in July at age 57. The rapper, actor, and DJ was best known for his 1989 single “Just A Friend,” off his sophomore album The Biz Never Sleeps—but also for a spirit, perseverance, and good-natured energy that transcended that single major hit.
Markie was also known for his comedic approach to his music, his collaborations with many of the less self-serious artists from the hip-hop world, and—inadvertently—for setting legal precedents that re-shaped the relationship between early rap artists and the samples they so frequently relied upon. He was hospitalized in 2020 due to complications from Type II diabetes. [William Hughes]
Dusty Hill, the bearded, thundering bassist for the legendary Texas blues-rock trio ZZ Top, died in July. Hill joined ZZ Top in 1971, just before they recorded their debut album, the aptly titled ZZ Top’s First Album. He wasn’t their first bassist, but Hill became a fixture of the band for the next 50 years as the trio played more than 3,000 shows together. [Matt Schimkowitz]
Trevor Moore died in August after an accident at his home. He was 41. The co-founder of sketch comedy troupe The Whitest Kids U’ Know—and, subsequently, one of the stars, and the head writer, of the troupe’s television show on Fuse and IFC—Moore helped pioneer the world of online comedy at the turn of the century, leveraging the power of the internet and social media to carve out a niche for the group. [William Hughes]
Markie Post—best known for roles on Night Court and The Fall Guy, as well as an appearance in There’s Something About Mary—died in August after battling cancer for nearly four years. She was 70.
After Night Court, Post had regular roles on Hearts Afire and Odd Man Out. She also played Elliot’s overbearing mother in a recurring guest star role on Scrubs. More recently, she popped up on Chicago P.D., The Santa Clarita Diet, and The Kids Are Alright. [Sam Barsanti]
British actor Una Stubbs—best known, especially outside of England, as begrudgingly supportive landlady Mrs. Hudson on Sherlock—died in August at 84. Stubbs was a fixture of British television for decades, popping up on shows like Till Death Us Do Part, In Sickness And In Health, Fawlty Towers, Worzel Gummidge, and the game show Give Us A Clue. She was also a regular collaborator with singer and actor Cliff Richard, appearing in his films Summer Holiday and Wonderful Life as well as his TV series It’s Cliff Richard. [Sam Barsanti]
English comedian Sean Lock—best known for appearing on the Channel 4 show 8 Out Of 10 Cats—died in August after battling cancer. He was 58. Lock’s TV career began with Rob Newman and David Baddiel’s TV series Newman And Baddiel In Pieces in 1993. In 1998 he got his own BBC Radio 4 show 15 Minutes of Misery, which was turned into a TV series called 15 Storeys High in 2002. Lock was also the team captain on famed panel show 8 Out Of 10 Cats, holding the title of team captain from season 1 until season 18. [Tatiana Tenreyro]
Actor and martial arts icon Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba—best known to American audiences for his role in martial arts movies like The Street Fighter and for his appearance as surprisingly good-natured sword maker Hattori Hanzö in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill died in August. Chiba contracted COVID-19 in July and was undergoing treatment at home, but he developed pneumonia and his condition worsened. Chiba was 82.
In the ’70s, Chiba started his own school for stunt performers and actors in martial arts movies, but it wasn’t until 1973’s Karate Kiba that he starred in a martial arts-focused movie of his own. An edited version of the film was later released in the U.S. as The Bodyguard, with one of the changes being an opening quote falsely attributed to a bible verse—you know it even if you haven’t seen The Bodyguard, because Quentin Tarantino reused it in Pulp Fiction as a nod to Sonny Chiba (it begins “The path of the righteous man…”). [Sam Barsanti]
Don Everly, the elder sibling of the influential rock ’n’ roll duo The Everly Brothers, died at his home in Nashville in August. He was 84. In the earliest days of rock, Don and Phil Everly delivered a string of catchy hits highlighted by their heavenly harmonies. Tracks like “Bye Bye Love” and “Wake Up Little Susie” found fans in The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and Simon & Garfunkel, as well as millions of fans around the world. [Matt Schimkowitz]
Charlie Watts, who served as the drummer for The Rolling Stones for nearly 60 years, died in August at the age of 80. Born in 1941, Watts was a truck driver’s son who discovered a passion for music, especially jazz, and he began playing drums as a teen. But it wasn’t until he was recruited by original Stones members Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones that Watts developed the harder-edged R&B and rock style that became his signature, though he infused it with the stuttering, jazzy style that became a hallmark of the Rolling Stones rhythm section.
Widely acknowledged as one of the best rock drummers of all time, Watts earned international recognition as a member of The Rolling Stones, beginning with the group’s early successes in the mid-’60s, when their early habit of performing mostly covers soon gave way to their first chart-topping hit, 1965’s “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” [Alex McLevy]
Ed Asner, who starred in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Up, and had literally hundreds of other credits, died in August. He was 91. In addition to his long career as an actor, Asner was also a former president of the Screen Actors Guild, fought to introduce single-payer health care to California, supported Barack Obama’s initial presidential run in 2008, and was a member of the Democratic Socialists Of America.
When asked, a few years back on social media about whether it bothered him that he was remembered for Up more than his earlier work, he responded: “Different people remember me for different things and that’s great. But, the one thing I hope I am remembered for is that I tried to make the world a better place.” [Gwen Ihnat and Sam Barsanti]
Michael K. Williams
Michael K. Williams
Michael K. Williams, who played Omar Little on HBO’s The Wire, was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment in September. He was 54.
In 2002, he won the role of openly gay vigilante Omar Little after one audition. As written, the character was supposed to die after seven episodes, but he became a series mainstay due to Williams’ performance, appearing in 51 of the show’s 60 episodes.
After The Wire, Williams became one of the most in-demand character actors on TV. In addition to puncturing his street-tough persona on Community, he starred in a string of HBO series, including four seasons on Boardwalk Empire as Chalky White and Emmy-nominated turns on 2017’s The Night Of and 2020’s Lovecraft Country. In 2019, he earned an Emmy nomination for Ava DuVernay’s Central Park Five mini-series When They See Us. [Matt Schimkowitz]
Norm Macdonald, a veteran stand-up comedian, renowned cast member for Saturday Night Live on seasons 20 through 23, and star of his own series The Norm Show, died of cancer in September. He was 61.
After leaving SNL, Macdonald co-wrote and starred in the Bob Saget-directed movie Dirty Work. He also became a recurring presence in the films of SNL castmate Adam Sandler, including Billy Madison, Grown Ups, and Jack & Jill. After his sitcom Norm, Macdonald continued racking up acting roles and voiceover work and touring his stand-up act. In 2016, he published a semi-fictional memoir, Based On A True Story, which he dedicated to “Charles Manson (not that one).” [Tatiana Tenreyro]
Willie Garson—best known as Carrie’s best friend Stanford Blatch on Sex And The City and as con artist Mozzie on USA’s White Collar—died in September at age 57. In an Instagram post from his son, Nathen, who was adopted by Garson in 2009, referred to his father as “the toughest and funniest and smartest person I’ve known.”
Garson stayed in the HBO family after Sex And The City, playing Meyer Dickstein on the short-lived John From Cincinnati, but his second big breakout role came shortly after that when he joined White Collar as lovable con man Mozzie (he appeared in all 81 episodes of the show). In more recent years, Garson had recurring roles on Hawaii Five-O and Supergirl, and a voice appearance on Netflix’s Big Mouth. [Sam Barsanti]
Granville Adams, who played Zhair Arif on the prison drama Oz and Officer Jeff Westby on Homicide: Life On The Street, died in October 10 at the age of 58.
After Adams was diagnosed with brain cancer, former Oz showrunner and executive producer Tom Fontana and Oz star Dean Winters launched a GoFundMe campaign to fund Adams’ medical bills. The campaign raised more than $99,000.
Adams played devout Muslim inmate Arif on Oz, appearing on 48 episodes of HBO’s seminal drama. He also starred on Homicide and Homicide: The Movie. His final role came in 2011 as Scout in Magic City Memoirs. [Matt Schimkowitz]
Peter Scolari, star of Bosom Buddies, Newhart, and plenty of other classic TV comedies, died in October from cancer. He was 66.
After Bosom Buddies was canceled in 1982, Scolari was cast in small roles in classic TV shows like Family Ties, The Love Boat, Happy Days, and The Twilight Zone, ultimately landing his second starring role in CBS series Newhart, playing Michael Harris, the producer of Bob Newhart’s character Dick Loudon’s TV show. That role earned him three Emmy nominations. He later appeared on Honey I Shrunk The Kids, Girls, and, most recently, Paramount+’s Evil. [Tatiana Tenreyro]
James Michael Tyler
James Michael Tyler
James Michael Tyler—who quietly became an iconic part of TV history with his performance as the lovably lovelorn Central Perk barista Gunther on Friends—died in October at the age of 59. He revealed earlier in 2021 that he had been diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer in 2018.
Tyler appeared in 150 episodes of Friends, enough to make him as much of a core cast member as anyone else, but (like the core Friends cast, oddly enough) he never found much consistent TV success after the show ended. He appeared on Scrubs, Just Shoot Me, and Sabrina The Teenage Witch, and played himself on Matt LeBlanc’s meta comedy Episodes. [Sam Barsanti]
Dean Stockwell, the child performer whose eventual resumé ran through everything from Quantum Leap, to Battlestar Galactica, to David Lynch’s most memorable lip synch sequence ever, died in November. He was 85.
He worked steadily in Hollywood from 1945 onward, and earned an Oscar nomination for Married To The Mob in 1989. But perhaps Stockwell’s most memorable role was Admiral Al Calavicci in the beloved sci-fi series Quantum Leap. Cigar-smoking hologram Al helped lead “leaper” Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) through various time-traveling missions. Stockwell was nominated for four Emmys for the role, as well as four Golden Globes, winning once. QL fans helped push for Stockwell’s star on Hollywood Boulevard, which appropriately happened on Leap Day in 1992. Stockwell and Bakula eventually reunited in a 2002 episode of Star Trek: Enterprise. [Gwen Ihnat]
Young Dolph—beloved Memphis rapper—died after he was shot outside of a local bakery in November. He was 36. Born Adolph Robert Thornton, Young Dolph released his debut studio album King Of Memphis in 2016. Dolph was a prolific rapper and he released an album every year after his debut, and he worked with artists such as Gucci Mane, Waka Flocka Flame, Rick Ross, Juicy J, 2 Chainz, Migos, Snoop Dogg, and Megan Thee Stallion. Three of his albums landed in the 10 on the Billboard 200, with 2020’s Rich Slave project peaking at No. 4 on the chart. [Gabrielle Sanchez]
Character actor Art LaFleur, best known for playing Babe Ruth in The Sandlot and for nearly 200 other movie and television roles, died from Parkinson’s in November. He was 78.
In 1989 LaFleur appeared in Field Of Dreams, playing the ghost of 1919 White Sox first baseman Chick Gandil—the player who infamously convinced his severely underpaid teammates to throw the World Series in what was later called the “Black Sox” scandal. [Sam Barsanti]
Stephen Sondheim, one of Broadway’s best known and most revered composers and lyricists, thanks to shows including West Side Story, Into The Woods, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street, died in November. He was 91.
Sondheim’s successes and failures alike made up a rich body of work that defied expectation. He worked from a place of experimentation, in many cases, breaking the rules of musical theater and embracing more “dangerous” routes as he headed into the unknown. “You shouldn’t feel safe,” Sondheim said in 2017. “You should feel, ‘I don’t know if I can write this.’ That’s what I mean by dangerous, and I think that’s a good thing to do. Sacrifice something safe.” [Matt Schimkowitz]
Mick Rock, the photographer known as “The Man Who Shot The ’70s,” died in November at age 72. Rock produced iconic portraits and catpured live performances by some of music’s biggest stars, including David Bowie, Queen, Blondie, Iggy Pop, and Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett.
“It is with the heaviest of hearts that we share our beloved psychedelic renegade Mick Rock has made the Jungian journey to the other side,” a statement read following his death. “Those who had the pleasure of existing in his orbit, know that Mick was always so much more than ‘The Man Who Shot the ’70s.’ He was a photographic poet — a true force of nature who spent his days doing exactly what he loved, always in his own delightfully outrageous way.” [Shanicka Anderson]
Groundbreaking Italian director Lina Wertmüller, the first woman director to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Director, died at the age of 93 in December.
After making her directorial feature debut in 1963 with The Basilisks, Wertmuller would go on to make comedies and musicals. She even became the only woman to direct a spaghetti Western. Wertmuller gained widespread notoriety in the ’70s for her sharp take on political identity, with The Seduction Of Mimi and Love And Anarchy debuting and competing at Cannes.
She received two Academy Award nominations for her 1975 feature Seven Beauties, a grotesque and nightmarish Holocaust odyssey starring Giancarlo Giannini. Wertmüller continued to create films until 2004, when she capped her career with the dramedy Too Much Romance… Time For Stuffed Peppers starring Sophia Loren. [Gabrielle Sanchez]
Michael Nesmith, the knit cap-clad singer, guitarist, and songwriter for TV and pop stars The Monkees, died in December at the age of 78. Nesmith remained active in music after leaving The Monkees in 1970, forming the First National Band the same year. When that group called it quits in 1972, he formed The Second National Band.
Nesmith also worked as music producer and was an early producer of music videos, including Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” and Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.” In addition, Nesmith produced the cult favorite film Repo Man. [Tatiana Tenreyro]
Virgil Abloh—fashion designer, artistic director of Louis Vuitton Men’s, and founder of Off-White—died in November at the age of 41. Abloh was diagnosed with cardiac angiosarcoma in 2019, but decided to keep that information private.
“Through it all, his work ethic, infinite curiosity, and optimism never wavered,” according to a statement released after his death. “Virgil was driven by his dedication to his craft and to his mission to open doors for others and create pathways for greater equality in art and design. He often said, ‘Everything I do is for the 17-year-old version of myself,’ believing deeply in the power of art to inspire future generations.” [Shanicka Anderson]
bell hooks—prolific feminist theorist, author, and activist—died in December at the age of 69. Her book, Ain’t I A Woman: Black Women And Feminism, would lay the foundation for intersectional feminism and Black women’s inclusion in feminist theory. In it, she wrote, “A devaluation of black womanhood occurred as a result of the sexual exploitation of black women during slavery that has not altered in the course of hundreds of years.” Then and now, her work remains radical. [Gabrielle Sanchez]
Leonard Hubbard, former bassist for The Roots, died in December at the age of 62. “It’s with the heaviest of hearts that we say goodbye to our brother Leonard Nelson Hubbard,” the band said in a statement after his death. “May your transition bring peace to your family to your friends to your fans and all of those who loved you. Rest in Melody Hub.” [Shanicka Anderson]
Carlos Marín, one-fourth of the opera-pop quarter Il Divo, died in December at the age of 53. Marín was hospitalized in the United Kingdom on December 8 after falling ill during a tour.
Il Divo was formed by Simon Cowell in 2003 as a new version of The Three Tenors. The group, which was comprised of singers from around the world, mixed opera and pop music in a series of best-selling albums and tours [Victoria Edel]
Joan Didion, the master of melancholy novels, essays, and screenplays, has died. Her works, including Play It As It Lays, The Year Of Magical Thinking, and Slouching Toward Bethlehem, inspired generations of readers and spoke to a feeling of sadness and disappointment so profound it spawned an archetype: The Didion Woman. She was 87.
It’s impossible to extricate Didion from the state from which she hails: California. Her family descended from a group of frontier settlers who exited the Donner Party before they became infamous. It was a curiously appropriate lineage that incepted a tinge of pensive irony that readers felt throughout her career. [Matt Schimkowitz]