When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
– William Shakespeare
2016 was a thief. For you naysayers, there was indeed an increase in significant deaths this year compared to usual. It came in the night as we slept, stole our most beloved and tortured us for 12 months with events nightmares rarely conjure. It took some of the best of us, made the uninformed regret their voting rights and made those in the harsh spotlight burn like vampires, exposed for even the most minor offence – save for the one man who had it coming. It poisoned our water, committed a mini-genocide, elected ignorance to power in two once outstanding countries and held us hostage with lazy, lazy freedom of the press. That first amendment used to truly mean something. It brought figures to their knees, sent wrongdoers to prison, saved lives and today we’re so jaded that its legs can be broken by a mere tweet.
Oh, also heroin is rampaging through middle American suburbs. Well done, Oxycontin prescriptions left unfilled by paranoid doctors, you’ve driven working, decent people to score smack.
And worse, it took from us those that entertained, dared us to think differently and made the most difference in some lives. Every year does that, but 2016 kicked off with a harsh double-barrel shotgun to the heart. It got so tragic that anytime an actor, comedian or writer’s name appeared on my Facebook newsfeed, I immediately assumed 2016 had claimed another victim. I was right more than half the time. Anyone playing a deadpool cashed in their chips this year. The rest of us were ready to close up shop, stop caring because it was just too hard to move on.
However, those fallen still lived gloriously. They lived to inspire others. Here’s the most comprehensive list possible of who we lost this past year, and who we should celebrate as best we can: simply by being ourselves.
30. Zsa Zsa Gabor – Aged 99
The passing of Zsa Zsa Gabor came as no surprise to anyone who was paying attention to the actress and socialite’s later years. Since 2010, she had been suffering from a myriad of health issues.
Gabor began her career after winning Miss Hungary in 1936. She began taking roles in Hollywood films in 1952, taking the first of her few leading roles in John Huston’s Moulin Rouge!.
But her acting career was always secondary in the media compared to coverage of her excessive Hollywood lifestyle. With the exception of her appearances in film, her celebrity was more akin to that of Paris Hilton‘s “famous for being famous.” Fitting, considering one of her nine marriages was to Hilton’s hotel magnate great-grandfather Conrad.
Children of the 90s may best remember her spoofing a run in she had with the police in Naked Gun 2 1/2. She spent her final years in her native Hungary, passing from a heart attack just two months shy of her 100th birthday, for which her husband was planning a huge celebration. Gabor’s adoptive son, Oliver Prinz von Anhult, died on Christmas of complications from a motorcycle accident that occurred the day of her passing.
29. Alice Drummond – Aged 88
Though Alice Drummond had a distinguished career on and off Broadway – winning a Tony for Best Actress – she will forever be remembered as the frightened librarian who is, at the moment, not menstruating at the beginning of 1984’s Ghostbusters. She also played the deranged mother of Ray Finkle in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. All told, Drummond appeared in over 75 film and television shows.
28. Jim Deligatti – Aged 98
Though McDonald’s began as a restaurant run by two brothers in 1940, it expanded into the artery-clogging chain we know and love today only eight years later. Jim Deligatti joined the franchise nine years later, but invented the Big Mac in 1965.
Said Deligatti in an interview with The L.A. Times, “This wasn’t like discovering the lightbulb. The bulb was already there. All I did was screw it in the socket.”
27. Gil Hill – Aged 84
Though Gil Hill’s acting career only stretched over three films, his contribution is memorable. Hill, a commander in the Detroit police department, rose through the ranks quickly – blessed with a knack for coaxing confessions out of criminals. He received national media attention in 1979 for his involvement in the capture of serial killer Wayne Williams – the Atlanta Child killer.
He became a familiar face playing Eddie Murphy’s agitated boss in all three Beverly Hills Cop films. Rather than pursue an acting career (which, given his performance, he could have easily done), he became president of the Detroit City Council.
26. Kevin Meaney – Aged 60
Like most comics that began their career in the 1980s, Kevin Meaney’s dream was realized when Tonight Show host Johnny Carson called him over to sit after a set – a blessing that meant you had a future.
Called the “Comic’s comic”, Meaney worked throughout the next two decades, all but copywriting his signature line, “That’s not right!” after a litany of complaints. His trademark nasal voice served him well in animated series, from Space Ghost to Duckman. He also spent years on Broadway, which he credits with making him comfortable with his homosexuality.
25. Robin Hardy – Aged 86
Robin Hardy may have only three directorial efforts under his belt, but his first will forever be remembered as one of the most singular horror films ever to come out of Britain. 1974’s eerie musical-horror-mystery The Wicker Man quickly gained a cult following playing as the second feature at the Drive-in and, in recent years, has been hailed as one of the finest of the genre. Concerning a Christian police detective confront an isolated pagan community while investigating a disappearance, the film is unsettling, gorgeous and outright bizarre.
Actor Christopher Lee cites it as the best film in which he ever participated.
Hardy directed a follow up, The Wicker Tree – itself an adaptation of his novel Cowboys For Christ – in 2011. It was not as successful as its predecessor, though Hardy expressed interest in a third film, entitled The Wrath of the Gods.
24. Tom Hayden – Aged 76
Tom Hayden was forever a radical. One of the Chicago Seven, arrested during the 1968 DNC riots alongside Abbie Hoffman, he co-authored the Port Huron Statement, which established the New Left and called for the abolition of hierarchy and bureaucracy in democratic society.
Later in life, Hayden ran for the California State Senate with the encouragement of future ex-wife Jane Fonda. He finally won 1992, serving until 2000. His radical, troublemaking spirit never left him, praising his son’s, actor Troy Garity, wedding to African American Simone Bent as dream fulfillment – specifically his dream to see the non-violent disappearance of the white race.
23. The Lady Chablis – Aged 59
Without the help of author John Berendt and subsequently Clint Eastwood, the Lady Chablis may not have been known outside of Savannah, Georgia. Though she died as much a fixture of the Southern city’s culture as singer/songwriter Johnny Mercer and Uga (the name of ten separate English Bulldogs that have served as mascot for the University of Georgia’s football team).
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil introduced the world to The Lady Chablis, the African American drag queen of the deep south. Throughout her life as an entertainer, she served as Miss Gay World 1976, Miss Dixieland 1976 and The Grand Empress of Savannah 1977. Her appearances in film and television made her one of the first drag performers accepted by a large audience.
22. Mario Spezi – Aged 71
Mario Spezi’s work as an investigative journalist may one day make him one of the most important in the world. He is known to true crime buffs as the Italian Robert Graysmith – whose investigative work into the Zodiac killings is unparalleled.
Spezi worked alongside author Douglas Preston to uncover the identity of Italy’s own Zodiac, Il Monstro De Firenze (the Monster of Florence). From 1968-1985, the Monster terrorized Florence with an M.O. not dissimilar to the Zodiac. To this day, he has not been identified.
Spezi also investigated the Amanda Knox trial, even apologizing to Knox for her treatment in the press.
21. Alexis Arquette – Aged 47
Born Robert Arquette, Alexis was best known pre-transition as the failed assassin who unloads a full revolver at Jules and Vincent in Pulp Fiction. Later in life, she became a vocal advocate of gender transition, supporting Chaz Bono during his much-publicized reassignment surgery.
Arquette died on September 11 due to complications from the HIV virus, which she had contracted 29 years earlier. She was surrounded by friends and siblings David, Patricia and Rosanna, who serenaded her with David Bowie‘s “Starman”.
20. C. Martin Croker – Aged 54
When it comes to well-known voice actors who have passed on, C. Martin Croker stands alongside Archer’s George Coe and Phil Hartman. Croker lent his voice to characters in Space Ghost Coast to Coast, The Brak Show and Aqua Teen Hunger Force while also serving as an animator.
19. Florence Henderson – Aged 82
Though best known for her role as Carol Brady in The Brady Bunch, Florence Henderson had a long, distinguished career on Broadway and in television long before we heard the story of a lovely lady. As an avid fan of game shows, she also was a regular panel guest on numerous shows throughout the 70s including Hollywood Squares, The $25,000 Pyramid and To Tell The Truth.
Henderson never left the spotlight, continuing game show appearances well into the millennium for charity.
Three days before her death on November 24, she appeared on Dancing With The Stars to show support for friend and contestant Maureen McCormick. Her passing from heart failure came as a shock to those close to her, who noted she did not seem ill before her hospitalization.
18. Alan Thicke – Aged 69
Canadian-born Alan Thicke began his career in a way our previous fallen celebrity would have approved – he spent years hosting game shows before playing the paternal Jason Seaver on Growing Pains. Beginning with a local Montreal show called First Impressions, he was soon hired by television icon Norman Lear to produce and head the writing staff of Fernwood 2 Night, a tongue in cheek talk show hosted by Martin Mull and Fred Willard.
Aside from his acting career, Thicke was also a successful composer of TV Themes, including Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts of Life. His musical abilities were carried on by his son Robin.
17. Fred Tomlinson – Aged 88
Fred Tomlinson may not be as household a name as Michael Palin, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam or Terry Jones, but he was a Python through and through. He sang and wrote alongside the comedy troupe throughout their career in television and film – co-writing “The Lumberjack Song” and “Spam” with Jones and Palin.
16. Dr. Henry Heimlich – Aged 96
Aside from an emergency tracheotomy, the Heimlich Manoeuvre is a medical procedure anyone thinks they are capable of due to television exposure that you probably shouldn’t try without proper training. While it’s obvious you shouldn’t cut into someone’s throat and insert a pen tube without some surgical know-how, you may not realize incorrectly trying the Heimlich could crack a few ribs.
Dr. Henry Heimlich developed the abdominal thrust while trying to find a better way to respond to emergency choking. He was also responsible for creating the flutter valve, which drains blood and air from the chest.
15. Don Calfa – Aged 76
Any self-respecting horror fan knows the name of Don Calfa, the pale-skinned, eccentric mortician in 1985’s cult-favourite Return of the Living Dead. The cast is full of horror stars, from Linnea Quigley to James Karen. And Calfa’s wiry performance fits in perfectly with the film’s tone. Much of the cast remained close, and Calfa joined them at countless horror conventions.
Apart from Dead, his career spanned over 40 years and included roles alongside Warren Beatty and Michael Douglas. His other well-known roles include the mute hitman in the comedy-mystery Foul Play starring Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn and another killer in Weekend at Bernie’s.
14. Miss Cleo – Aged 53
Anyone suffering from insomnia through the 90s surely recalls Miss Cleo, born Youree Dell Harris. Though born in Los Angeles, her infomercial pay-per-minute persona was a Jamaican shaman guaranteed to give you accurate psychic readings through the Psychic Reader’s Network.
In 2002, the FTC charged the company’s owners with deceptive advertising, billing and collection practices. Harris was not charged.
She continued using her faux-Jamaican accent in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, voicing the Haitian crime lord/racist stereotype Auntie Poulet. Later attempts to return to her Miss Cleo persona were stifled by the Psychic Reader’s Network’s owners, claiming they owned the rights to the character.
13. Hanoi Hannah – Aged 87
Trin Thi Ngo, better known by her radio persona, served as a constant agitator of U.S. troops in Vietnam. She had been a radio personality since 1955 in Vietnam and, during the war, she was chosen to read English language scripts directed at invading forces. She would taunt, cajole and attempt to mislead G.I.’s in-country.
A typical broadcast would begin as follows: “How are you, GI Joe? It seems to me that most of you are poorly informed about the going of the war, to say nothing about a correct explanation of your presence over here. Nothing is more confused than to be ordered into a war to die or to be maimed for life without the faintest idea of what’s going on.”
The reports backfired. The broken English and clear-cut propaganda mostly provided soldiers with a good laugh in an otherwise bleak and terrifying tour of duty. In later years, Ngo claimed she agreed with the purpose of the broadcast, stating the U.S. had no business in her country. She retired to live a quiet life with her husband until she passed on September 30 in Ho Chi Minh city.
12. Kenny Baker – Aged 81
“He looked down his nose at me like I was a piece of $#!*,” Baker recalled of his co-star. Though Daniels and Baker were the only actors to appear in all six films involving creator George Lucas, Daniels was notoriously cruel to him, telling him more than once he “might as well be a bucket.”
Regardless, Baker was one of the most well-known dwarf actors of his era, working alongside Warwick Davis in Willow, The Elephant Man, Time Bandits and Amadeus. He died of a chronic lung condition on August 13 and, by all accounts, was as sweet as Guinness claimed.
11. Lois Duncan – Aged 82
Long before YA novel adaptations became the Hollywood cash cows they are today, there was Lois Duncan. Duncan began writing YA mystery novels in the 60s, but after the murder of her youngest daughter – a case still unsolved – she turned to children’s books. Her work early work culminated in the Kevin Williamson-scripted adaptation of I Know What You Did Last Summer in 1998. Her lighter work also enjoyed screen time with an adaptation of Hotel For Dogs.
10. Merle Haggard – Aged 79
Ah, Merle Haggard, the Okie from Muskogee whose last name equally described his later life. He perfected the classic, country twang of a guitar that has been emulated, but never surpassed. Haggard’s life has all the trademarks of a country western legend, digging ditches for an electrical company before hitting it big with his first hit, “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive”. If you’ve never heard a Merle Haggard song, you’ve certainly heard a cover version. From The Byrd’s “Life In Prison” to Elvis Costello‘s “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down”, his music weaved and transcended between genre like his cigarette smoke.
9. Nancy Reagan – Aged 94
Just say no. The first lady was much beloved in her time (a time ironically defined by cocaine abuse and greed), but Nancy Reagan has rightfully undergone retroactive controversy for not acknowledging the AIDS epidemic despite friend Rock Hudson suffering and dying from it during her husband‘s presidency.
Normally, this is the part where I would say awful things about her husband’s term and negligence, but this is no time to speak ill of the dead (though, let’s face it, if he were alive, he wouldn’t remember anyway). The first lady always is granted a pet cause to champion – for Michelle Obama, it was healthy food for children. For Reagan, it was drugs. “Just Say No” became her motto, neglecting numerous helpful treatments for abuse in preference to absolute intolerance.
8. Lou Pearlman – Aged 62
On lists like these, typically we try to honour the dead, but if ever there was a man that deserved rancour, it’s Lou Pearlman. The former manager of bands such as N’Sync and The Backstreet Boys not only has numerous allegations of sexual advances made toward his teen stars, but he was also the Bernie Madoff of the music industry.
In 2006, Pearlman was charged with committing one of the biggest ponzi schemes in recent history. He managed to funnel over $95 million to an off-shore account from thousands of investors.
He was sentenced to 25 years in prison on charges of conspiracy, money laundering, and making false statements during a bankruptcy proceeding. Pearlman could reduce his prison time by one month for every million dollars he helped a bankruptcy trustee recover. He also had to pay individual investors out of his own pocket.
7. Richard Libertini – Aged 82
A character actor whose facial hair did a lot of the work for him, Richard Libertini delivered some of the most memorable moments in films like The In-Laws, Fletch and All of Me. Whether Chevy Chase’s agitated boss or a foreign dictator well beyond sanity, Libertini always added something special to the comedies of the late 70s/early 80s.
On television, he was a regular on Soap in the 1970s, and made numerous guest appearances on shows as vastly different as Supernatural, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Animaniacs.
6. Sir Terry Wogan – Aged 77
Sir Terry Wogan was the pre-eminent radio personality throughout England in the 1960s. He would continue to be so before he transferred to television in 1971. Wogan quickly became known for his combustible personality, often insulting his co-hosts without much provocation. His work on the Eurovision song contest caught the brunt of his dismissive, mocking tone, even as late as 2008 when he hinted that one contestant was a “freakshow.”
He hosted a series of chat shows throughout the 70s and 80s. Perhaps one of his more infamous moments occurred on Wogan, when former soccer star and conspiracy theorist David Icke appeared to proclaim himself the son of God. “They’re not laughing with you,” Wogan told Icke. “They’re laughing at you.
5. Maurice White – Aged 74
Though the Earth, Wind and Fire bandleader and producer was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in the late 80s – forcing him to stop touring – Maurice White never stopped being involved in the music industry. He served as producer for albums featuring the talents of Bootsy Collins, Grover Washington Jr. and Chaka Kahn. Over the course of his career, he amassed a total of 20 Grammy nominations, taking home seven.
4. Edward Albee – Aged 88
Few, if any, fans of film or literature are unfamiliar with Edward Albee’s seminal work, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. The play – later a film starring Elizabeth Taylor – recounts the disintegration of a marriage over the course of a university faculty party.
Like all of Albee’s work, it’s known for its biting, excoriating dialogue. He is generally considered one of the finest playwrights of his generation.
3. Robert Vaughn – Aged 83
Robert Vaughn was one of the most familiar faces on television throughout the 60s and 70s, starring as Napoleon Solo in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and appearing more than once as the killer on Columbo. In the 80s, he was a regular on The A-Team. Superhero fans may remember him taking over the villain role in Superman III.
Apart from over 220 roles in film and television, Vaughn was a lifelong member of the Democratic party, campaigning for John F. Kennedy in 1960. He was also one of the first popular actors to publicly denounce the Vietnam was and, alongside Dick Van Dyke and Carl Reiner, found the activist group Dissenting Democrats. It was rumoured that Vaughn had political ambitions of his own, though he stated that after the 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy he “lost heart for the battle.”
2. Glenn Frey – Aged 67
The founding member of The Eagles, dubbed “America’s band”, Glenn Frey departed the stage for the last time on January 18 – leaving behind a legacy of 24 top singles on the Billboard 100, six Grammys, five American Music Awards, a Permanent Place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and – just last week – a posthumous Kennedy Centre Honour.
Frey began playing with his fellow Eagles as a backing band for singer Linda Rondstant at the Troubadour in L.A. before breaking off to perform on their own. Success came easy and fast, with Frey and bandmate Don Henley writing hits on the road.
After they disbanded in 1980, all four Eagles pursued solo careers – which for Frey partly included guest roles in television shows such as Miami Vice and Wiseguy, culminating in a small role in Cameron Crowe‘s Jerry Maguire.
1. Janet Reno – Aged 78
Janet Reno was the first female Attorney General, serving under the Clinton administration. Her tough demeanour was memorably spoofed on Saturday Night Live multiple times, which led to her appearing on the show as herself.
While not immune to self-deprecation, Reno was certainly a tough lawyer. During her tenure as State Attorney in Dade Country, Florida, she led a crusade against child abusers, leading the three sensationalized trials, including one against a 13-year-old accused of molesting 21 children during church services.
During her tenure as Attorney General, the second longest in the history of the office, she handled some of the most newsworthy and controversial cases of the 90s. Under her supervision, she authorized the FBI assault on the Branch-Davidians in Waco, Texas, brought an antitrust suit against Microsoft and oversaw the capture and conviction of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols as well as those responsible for the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing.
In her later years, she served on the board of directors for the Innocence Project.
Reno died of Parkinson’s on November 7.
Stay tuned for part two, wherein we pay respect to another Star Wars legend, a Supreme Court justice and one of the most influential comedians of the last 40 years.