The year 2016 will go down in history as a multi-pronged assault on the human spirit. It attacked us ideologically with the most brutal, immature and insane political election in modern American history. It attacked us physically with the Zika virus, terrorism and soiled Olympic water. It attacked us with systemic racism and injustice. It attacked us with hypocrisy and ignorance. It left us beaten in the alley, robbed and half-drowning in Michigan lead-water.
And it couldn’t have begun on a more sour note, with the sudden, unexpected deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman. Both had been titans in their fields. Bowie was one of the most innovative musicians of the 20th century, and Rickman had been praised as one of the best actors of his generation, universally loved since his first film role as the villainous Hans Gruber in Die Hard. Both had been struggling secretly with cancer and passed within four days of each other, on January 10 and 14th, respectively.
The rest of the year has followed suit, taking from the world Prince, Gene Wilder, Anton Yelchin, Ronnie Corbett, Glenn Frey, Abe Vigoda, George Kennedy, Harper Lee, Sir George Martin, Garry Shandling, Garry Marshall and Muhammad Ali. When a man who fought for a living, both in the ring and in his personal life; who took on the United States government and bravely stood as a conscientious objector in front of the Supreme Court against an unjust war, can’t brave the year – you know that year is one tough bastard.
Yet there are some still unexpectedly with us and, with a little luck, they may make it to the ball drop in Times Square once again.
15. Wilford Brimley
Robert Duvall may still pop up in films playing a grandfatherly figure, most notably as Robert Downey Jr.‘s dementia-addled father in The Judge, though such appearances are becoming fewer and farther between. Still, every performance is a nuanced piece of brilliance, like his turn as Jeff Bridges‘ supportive bartender in Crazy Heart. Duvall has played so many elderly, distinguished characters, even in his early years, that it’s hard to imagine him with the hardboiled edge he brought to such films as Joe Kidd and The Outfit. But those roles exist, right alongside his most well-known turn as the mild-mannered Tom Hagen in The Godfather and its first sequel.
13. Gene Hackman
Perhaps the most mistaken for dead name on the list, Gene Hackman officially retired from acting in 2004 after (and possibly because of) the disastrous flop Welcome to Mooseport. The Ray Romano vehicle wasn’t Hackman’s first box office disaster – the actor has openly admitted he doesn’t have the best eye for material. But his stellar work in The Conversation, Unforgiven and David Mamet‘s underrated Heist excuse all of the trash. And the problem with the trash was never Hackman. Even in inexplicable choices like Behind Enemy Lines, he’s the most engaging presence onscreen.
12. Shirley MacLaine
Shirley MacLaine is probably best associated with her performance as Jack Lemmon’s love interest in Billy Wilder’s charming romantic comedy The Apartment as well as her nutty, nutty ideas. The only time MacLaine’s name appears in the press today is due to some controversial, new age theory she dreamt up and decided the public should know.
Last year, she came under fire from Christians, Jews and relatives of Stephen Hawking when she suggested that victims of the Holocaust were mere victims of their own karma. Because when six million people are exterminated, clearly they all did something in their past life that made them deserve the most extreme persecution.
As for poor Hawking, MacLaine claimed he subconsciously gave himself ALS so that he may better focus on physics. She said all of this with a straight face, or at the very least with a spacey, bewildered smile.
11. Sidney Poitier
Sidney Poitier made history by being the first African American to win an Academy Award in 1963 for Lillies of the Field. In 1967, not long after Lyndon Johnson signed the civil rights bill and a year shy of Martin Luther King’s assassination, he starred in three hit films that dealt directly with race relations. He may be best remember as Mr. Tibbs (who demands you refer to him as such) playing against Rod Steiger’s racist Southern sheriff in In The Heat of the Night – which, if slightly tweaked, could easily be a modern buddy cop comedy. In 2009, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama.
10. Harry Belafonte
The man responsible for bringing calypso music to America is still alive and tallying bananas. His 1956 album Calypso was the first million selling album by a single artist. Younger generations are probably familiar with his music via Tim Burton, thanks to the now iconic possession dance sequence in Beetlejuice.
Alongside Poitier, Harry Belafonte was an early and active supporter of the civil rights movement. He was one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s closest confidantes. In the 80s, he helped organize the Grammy winning recording “We Are The World.”
Like many celebrities and sane people, he was openly opposed to George W. Bush‘s administration and foreign policy.
Belafonte is still outspoken politically. A celebrity ambassador for the ACLU and a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, he recently voiced support for Bernie Sanders during the primaries, referring to the Senator as “a moral imperative.” Take if from a guy who bailed MLK and countless other protestors out of Southern jails.
9. Hal Holbrook
Hal Holbrook has the distinction of being the most accurate Mark Twain impersonator still living. He’s played Twain in his one man show, Mark Twain Tonight, to great acclaim since 1957. In fact, he’s portrayed the character more times than Samuel Longhorne Clemens did in his lifetime.
Off the stage, Holbrook has been the recognizable villain in everything from the Dirty Harry sequel Magnum Force to Fletch Lives. At 91, he’s still making appearances in film and television. Some day, one imagines he’ll retire. After all, as his Magnum Force character would say, “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”
8. Mike Farrell
You didn’t think this list would be complete without a cast member from MASH that wasn’t Alan Alda, did you? There are a few still kicking around, but the majority of the 4077th have since gone packing for permanent R & R. Just last year Wayne “Trapper John” Rogers passed away from complications due to pneumonia. However, his replacement on the show, Mike “B.J. Hunnicutt” Farrell is alive and well, living much the same preachy existence as Alda.
Both men are heavily involved in political activism, with Alda’s dating back to the heavy handed anti-war episodes he wrote and directed during MASH‘s 11 year run. In the past, Farrell has been a human rights advocate, providing aid to El Salvadoran refugees in 1985 and remaining an outspoken critic of the 2003 Iraq war. He’s also worked extensively alongside PETA.
7. Artie Lange
At 49, Artie Lange is the youngest celebrity on the list, though his struggles with addiction, gambling and suicide still make him a strong contender for any morbid Dead Pool game you may play with friends. Lange is perhaps best known for playing second banana to Howard Stern on his radio show and Norm MacDonald in many projects, including the cult favourite Dirty Work.
In 2010, he attempted to commit suicide in such a manner that suggests he wasn’t just crying for attention. The comedian drank bleach, slit his wrists and stabbed himself in the stomach nine times. Miraculously, he was back on stage performing eight months later. He’s since relapsed a few times, though comedian friends such as Colin Quinn have forced him into treatment and he’s currently working on his third book.
6. Ali MacGraw
Ali MacGraw is best remembered as one of two things: the female lead in the much maligned Love Story or the woman Robert Evans repeatedly called the c-word throughout his autobiography The Kid Stays In The Picture. Post Love Story, MacGraw starred in the Sam Peckinpah-helmed The Getaway, which introduced her to future husband Steve McQueen. It was the relationship with McQueen that destroyed her previous marriage to producer Evans. Jim Thompson’s source novel was adapted again in 1994 with Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger, shortly after they married. MacGraw and McQueen laster five years, Baldwin and Basinger nine. Never has one film been so associated with as many terrible relationships.
MacGraw resides peacefully in New Mexico, making rare appearances in support of PETA.
5. Robert Evans
The eccentric vulgarian that gifted us with some of the best films of the 60s and 70s is still very much in the picture, despite suffering a debilitating stroke in 1998. Since, he regained his ability to speak and walks with a cane. For fans of Entourage, Martin Landau’s character as the former Holllywood big shot Bob Ryan is based on Evans. For those of you with taste, Dustin Hoffman‘s over-tanned, tinted shades-wearing Hollywood producer in Wag The Dog was Evans, note for note.
Evans is as notorious for his hubris as Donald Trump. Unlike Trump, however, he has provided society with worthwhile contributions like Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather and Serpico. Their track record with women is pretty much on the same level, however.
4. Dick Miller
The name Dick Miller may only be recognizable to the geekiest of cinephiles, but his face is sure to make even the most casual watcher nod in recognition. Miller came from a stable of actors working under director and producer Roger Corman in the 1950s. His first lead role was in the low-budget cult favourite Bucket of Blood in which he portrayed Walter Paisley, a milquetoast figure who is launched into boho/beat gen stardom as an artist who kills his subjects and covers them in clay.
Miller has played Paisley, or at least characters with the same moniker, multiple times, typically under Corman-taught filmmaker Joe Dante’s work. He’s perhaps best known for his role of Mr. Futterman in Dante’s Gremlins and Gremlins 2: The New Batch.
In 2014, a Kickstarter funded documentary That Guy Dick Miller premiered at the South By Southwest festival in Austin to positive reception. Miller toured various festivals with the film and its director.
3. Roger Corman
The Godfather of Gore, Herschel Gordon Lewis, was lost to genre fiends last month. However, the king of schlock is still producer direct-to-DVD trash such as Piranhaconda. Roger Corman began directing in 1955 and has since produced well over 400 films through his American Internation Pictures. Filmmakers beloved were once students of the Corman Film School, which was more film boot camp – as aspiring directors were let loose with a camera. Corman demanded little of his directors, merely that there be multiple climaxes, nudity and violence – a business model for what always sells with audiences.
2. Christopher Plummer
Though born in Toronto, Christopher Plummer grew up and honed his craft not far from the home office of TheRichest while living on Ave. Des Pins in Montreal.
He began a career on Broadway in 1953 before making the transition to film in Sydney Lumet’s Stage Struck in 1958. Since then, he’s worked with the most notable filmmakers in the industry, from Terry Gilliam in 12 Monkeys to Terrence Malick in The New World.
Though he was eventually won for an Oscar for his role in Beginners, his most critically acclaimed role is criminally overlooked. He does a note-perfect impression of Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes fame in Michael Mann‘s The Insider, and gives us a more haunting, sincere and heartbreaking look at the journalist from behind the camera.
1. Max Von Sydow
The last place you’d expect to see the name Max Von Sydow pop up is in a video game. But there it is, in the credits of Ghostbusters: The Game as the voice of Viggo The Carpathian.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Swedish actor is still alive and well. His breakthrough role in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal involved stalling and outsmarting Death personified, after all. What’s truly stunning is that he’s still acting, appearing in everything from Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island to Episode VII: The Force Awakens. His role as the Three-Eyed Raven in Game of Thrones, given his history of playing medieval, crusading characters, seems almost foretold.
Given the whole cheating Death thing, it should come as no surprise that Von Sydow is reportedly either an agnostic or atheist.