The 1990s is considered one of the better times of the 20th century. CGI in the film industry had started to gain traction, some of the best music was released, and there were plenty of interesting and weird toys that children could buy. Some of the greatest movies, like Pulp Fiction, Titanic, and The Matrix also came out during this period. At the time, the world had advanced tremendously in technology. Cellular phones, color television, and live television were becoming norms, and the World Wide Web was starting strong. Plus, the infant mortality rate had dropped almost 90%!
Sadly, however, not everything was perfect. The 90s came after a time when drugs were everywhere, and the world was still thawing after The Cold War. It was also the time the Gulf War began. And death, the one thing that all humans will have in common, definitely wasn’t taking a break during this decade. Due to drugs, wars, gang violence, and natural causes, death kept taking and taking like it always has. And, of course, celebrities were no exception. A lot of influential people died during this decade — some of natural causes, some by drug overdoses, and a few even by homicide.
These are some of the 15 celebrities who died in the 1990s.
15. Princess Diana (August 31st, 1997)
Diana was the first wife of Charles, the Prince of Wales, and a prominent figure in the British Royal Family. Born into royalty, Diana married Charles on July 29th, 1981. Her wedding was remembered for her 25-foot long gown. She bore two sons, William and Harry, and was married to Charles until their divorce in 1996. Diana was very active in charities involving AIDS and cancer, just to name a few.
On August 31st, 1997, the world was shocked to hear that Diana had died in a car accident. The driver, Henri Paul, and Diana’s partner, Dodi Fayed, also died in the crash. There were many theories as to how the crash occurred, ranging from Paul being inebriated behind the wheel to an actual assassination. To this day, Diana’s image still influences the royal family.
14. Tupac Shakur (September 13th, 1996)
Tupac Shakur is considered one of the most influential and greatest rappers of his generation — and of all time. Born on June 16th, 1971, Shakur grew up in a family filled with members of the Black Panther Party — some of them committing serious offenses. Shakur started his career in the arts at the age of twelve, later on enrolling in the Baltimore School of the Arts. Shakur was engaged to Kidada Jones.
On September 7th of 1996, Shakur was caught in a drive-by shooting by an individual in a white Cadillac. Shakur was hit four times and was taken to the University Medical Center of Southern Nevada where he died of his wounds on September 13th. To this day, Tupac is considered by many rappers to be a martyr and a father figure.
13. The Notorious B.I.G. (March 9th, 1997)
Christopher George Latore Wallace, known by the name “The Notorious B.I.G.” was a prominent member of the hip-hop community. He was born on May 21st, 1972 in New York City and was involved in drugs since the age of 12. He was married to Faith Evans and had two children. During B.I.G.’s career, he was heavily involved in the West Coast-East Coast hip hop feud.
In 1997, B.I.G. was in California to promote his new album and record a music video. A month later, around March 9th, a man in a black Chevy Impala pulled up to B.I.G.’s vehicle and shot him four times in the chest. B.I.G. was rushed to the hospital, where he later died of his wounds. His death impacted the hip hop community as he was considered to be one of the best rappers and also since his death occurred a year after the legendary Tupac Shakur.
12. Bob Ross (July 4th, 1995)
Bob Ross was, and still is, considered one of the happiest painters ever. His show, The Joy of Painting, showed him painting landscapes in a cheerful and laid-back manner — referring to trees as “Happy little trees,” among other forms of positive expression. Ross was born in Florida and lost a piece of his index finger in a woodshop accident. He served in the military at age 18 as a medical records technician. Ross was married to Jane Ross, who died in 1993, and together, they had three children.
In the early 90s, Ross was diagnosed with lymphoma. His condition soon caused him to retire with the final episode of The Joy of Painting airing on May 17th, 1994. He died a year later on July 4th. Bob Ross will always be remembered for his positive attitude and kind smile.
11. Freddie Mercury (November 24th, 1991)
Freddie Mercury was the lead singer of the band Queen. Some of the songs that Mercury is remembered for are Bohemian Rhapsody, We are the Champions, We Will Rock You, and Don’t Stop Me Now, to name a few. Mercury was born in Zanzibar, East Africa to parents Bomi and Jul Bulsara. He began taking piano lessons at age seven and started singing in bands after his graduation years later. Mercury is considered a prominent figure in the LGBTQ community. Though he never openly stated his sexuality, he spent the later part of his life in a relationship with Jim Hutton.
Mercury was diagnosed with AIDS in October of 1986. He never stated his illness throughout his career, though his appearance was more ragged and frail through the remainder of his years. A few days before his death, Mercury finally came out as having been diagnosed with AIDS. On November 24th, 1991, Freddie Mercury passed away due to bronchial pneumonia related to AIDS.
10. Jim Henson (May 16th, 1990)
Jim Henson is remembered fondly for his creations Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, and the Sesame Street ensemble. Born on September 24th, 1936, Henson spent his youth in Mississippi until he moved to Maryland in 1940. When his family acquired a television, Henson was inspired by the early puppets and ventriloquists. In 1960, Henson was tasked to make a show for the WRC-TV, which would be the forerunner for The Muppets. Henson was married to Jane Nebel and had five children.
On May 16th, 1990, Henson had passed away due to toxic shock syndrome. Some, his mother included, believed that his Christian Science-based faith might have contributed to the puppeteer’s death. A few days before his death, Henson was coughing up blood and had trouble breathing. When asked to go to the hospital, he refused.
9. Kurt Cobain (April 5th, 1994)
Kurt Cobain was the lead singer of Nirvana, their song Smells Like Teen Spirit being their most recognizable. Cobain was born on February 20th, 1967, in Aberdeen, Washington. His life started out shakily, first due to his parents’ divorce and then his mother kicking him out when he dropped out of high school. Cobain was always interested in music, being influenced by The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. Cobain was married to Courtney Love and had one child.
Cobain attempted suicide several times throughout the later years of his life — first with a combination of champagne and Rohypnol. Later, he locked himself in a room with a gun, though he claimed it was to hide from his wife. On April 8th, an electrician found Cobain’s body with a gun under his chin and a suicide note on his person. His body had been there for three days, placing his suicide date at April 5th, 1994. Kurt Cobain’s death was one of the most shocking and devastating of the decade.
8. Brandon Lee (March 31st, 1993)
Brandon Lee was the son of the famous martial artist, Bruce Lee. He, like his father, followed a path of acting and martial arts. He starred alongside Dolph Lundgren in the film Showdown in Little Tokyo and is recognized for his role in The Crow — his last film. He was engaged to Eliza Hutton and planned to start a family with her before his death.
On the set of The Crow, there was a scene involving a prop .44 Magnum revolver. Co-star Michael Massee was to shoot Lee with a blank in the scene. However, there was a bullet lodged in the barrel. When the blank was triggered, the bullet was launched with a force similar to a live round and hit Lee in the stomach. Brandon Lee died of his wound soon afterward.
7. River Phoenix (October 31st, 1993)
River Phoenix was brother to Joaquin Phoenix and is recognized as Chris Chambers in Stand by Me, young Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Robert Kennedy Jr. in the mini-series Robert Kennedy and His Times. He was originally named River Jude Bottom — Jude being from the Beatles song “Hey Jude” — but this name was changed to Phoenix when he moved to Florida after a disillusionment with a religious group.
On October 31st, 1993, Phoenix was found collapsed outside The Viper Room — a club owned partially at the time by Johnny Depp — and proceeded to convulse for five minutes. Brother Joaquin and sister Rain tried to resuscitate him, but they were unsuccessful, and River was later taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center where he soon died. The cause of his death was an overdose caused by a mixture of narcotics.
6. DeForest Kelley (June 11, 1999)
DeForest Kelley may be best known for his portrayal of Leonard “Bones” McCoy in the original Star Trek Television series. He was also in a few showings of The Lone Ranger. He was born on January 20th, 1920 and served in the armed forces during World War 2. Kelley started his acting career in 1947, joining the cast of Star Trek in 1966 and returned to be the voice of “Bones” McCoy in the animated series.
Kelley was proud of his role as McCoy, seeing as it inspired many to join the medical field when they grew up. However, he was afraid of being typecast as a doctor character and said that his fear was that McCoy’s iconic quote in the series would be put on his tombstone: “He’s Dead, Jim.” Kelley’s final role was that of Viking 1 in The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars. He passed away due to stomach cancer on June 11th, 1999.
5. Burl Ives (April 14th, 1995)
Burl Ives is recognized for his sing-song voice, most notably as Sam the Snowman in Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. He was a member of a family with six siblings and first sang at his uncle’s “Old Soldier’s” reunion. He married Dorothy Koster Paul and had four children. Some of his notable songs are his renditions of Holly Jolly Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Go Tell Aunt Rhody.
Ives was an avid pipe and cigar smoker and was shown with a cigar in his mouth on the cover of his first album. He was diagnosed with mouth cancer in 1994 and had several unsuccessful operations. He decided not to go through with the surgeries anymore and fell into a coma, dying on April 14th, 1995.
4. Anthony Perkins (September 12th, 1992)
Anthony Perkins is famously recognized as Norman Bates in the Psycho film series. He was also known for his role as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in Edge of Sanity. Perkins was born on April 4th, 1932 and began his acting career in the film The Actress in 1953. He was married to Berry Berenson and had two children. Perkins was also a descendant of the Mayflower passenger John Howland.
During the production of Psycho IV, Perkins was diagnosed with HIV and AIDS. Even so, he starred in eight television shows. His final performance was in In the Deep Woods in 1992. On September 12th of the same year, he passed away of AIDS-related pneumonia. His widow, Berry, died during the 9/11 attack on American Airlines Flight 11.
3. Gene Roddenberry (October 24th, 1991)
Gene Roddenberry was an American screenwriter and producer, most famously known for his creation of the Star Trek universe. His writing often reflected real-life issues. His other works consisted of The Lieutenant with Leonard Nimoy and The West Point Story. He was born on August 19th, 1921, and spent his youth as a Southern Baptist. His religious views started to change at age 14. Roddenberry was married to Majel Barrett, and he had three children.
Roddenberry was heavily involved in drugs — cannabis, alcohol, and amphetamines to name a few. He used the latter intensively to stay up throughout the night to work on his productions. Due to his drug use, he started showing symptoms of cerebral vascular disease and encephalopathy. His health continued to decline until he finally passed away on October 24th, 1991 due to heart failure. A portion of his ashes were launched into space and more of his remains was scheduled for launching into deep space in 2016.
2. Kevin Peter Hall (April 10th, 1991)
Although some may not recognize Kevin Peter Hall by his face, they may recognize him as the Predator in Predator and Predator 2. He was born on May 9th, 1955 and was the tallest out of all his siblings at 7’3″. Due to his height, he was often cast as the monsters in most horror roles. He was married to Alaina Reed Hall.
During his work on the TV Series Harry and the Hendersons, Hall announced that he had contracted HIV through a blood transfusion. That TV show and the movie Highway To Hell would be his last performances for he died on April 10th, 1991 of AIDS-related pneumonia.
1. Stevie Ray Vaughan (August 27th, 1990)
Stevie Ray Vaughan was considered one of the most influential guitarists in music history and in the blues style of music. He had a rough upbringing, living with an alcoholic father who would terrorize him and those close to him with his bad temper. His father’s alcohol dependency caused Vaughan to become addicted to the drink at the tender age of six, and he soon later developed a drug habit during his career. He began to play guitar at the age of seven with his brother Jimmie.
On August 27th, 1990, Vaughan and fellow musicians were staying at an Alpine ski resort during a concert. Weather conditions were bad, but that did not deter the group from leaving in a helicopter. Sadly, the pilot lost control, and they crashed. All occupants, including Vaughan, were killed instantly in the crash.