For those of us who love the celebrity world, show business, music and film, 2016 was one of the most difficult years imaginable. It seemed like every week, some great and fabled legend was dying, and then just when we thought we were clear of it around the December holidays, tragedy struck faster and more furious than ever before. Some people have gone as far as saying that 2016 was the reckoning for celebrities. It did seem like an abnormal amount of well-known celebs were passing away. Death got greedy. But it’s done now. All we can do is hope that it was an anomaly and that 2017 and the years to follow will be much kinder to the famous. We’re not completely naïve. We do expect that someone great will die each year, but, please, keep it to a minimum if you can, oh Death. Give us some more time to honor our legends before you take them from us.
With only 15 spots to give on this list, and a very clear bias for the film and television stars we lost, there were some greats left off the final tally. Since we tried to focus most on celebrities from show business, we were forced to exclude the incredible Muhammad Ali, Merle Haggard, John Glenn and Sir George Martin among others. There were also some brilliant actors who were left off, including Alan Thicke from Growing Pains and Abe Vigota from The Godfather. With that said, let’s take a look at the stars who did make this horrible list. Here are the 15 most influential stars killed by 2016.
15. Doris Roberts
Doris Roberts may be best known for her work on Everybody Loves Raymond. She played Ray Romano‘s hilariously overbearing mother who everybody could easily relate to. She also played a great part in National Lampoons’ Christmas Vacation, but this lovely woman was actually working in the industry in a big way since the 50s. In addition to her great work in front of the camera, she was also a well-known activist and philanthropist. She dedicated much of her time and energy to helping others, and those who knew her, say that this was her true passion. On April 17, 2016, Roberts had a stroke in her sleep and died peacefully. She was 90 years old.
14. Florence Henderson
On November 24, 2016, Florence Henderson, the actress best known for playing Carol Brady in The Brady Bunch, died of heart failure at age 82. In recent years, Henderson may not have been as central a figure in our lives as she once was, but the impact she had on TV culture as a whole was monumental. The Brady Bunch was one of the biggest shows in TV history and Henderson’s character, Carol, left an impression on the entire industry and families everywhere. In her later career and life, Henderson hosted a couple different television shows and was always involved in television game shows throughout her great career. She will always be remembered as one of the greatest TV moms ever. And by the way, please don’t start singing The Brady Bunch theme song now, because it will be stuck in your head for days.
13. Leonard Cohen
Singer, songwriter, poet, author and legend, the name Leonard Cohen might be a bit of an unknown to many younger readers, but everyone of every age has felt his impact. Perhaps Cohen will always be best known for creating the song “Hallelujah,” even though his original version isn’t familiar to everyone. It seems a bit reductive to speak of Cohen and only talk about one song, but “Hallelujah” is almost like a microcosm of Cohen’s entire career. Though the song is timeless, it has always felt older than it is, like its words and melodies have been pulled from some ancient place, reconnecting music and poetry in a way that we had not seen for ages. Much of Cohen’s work was like this and, even he, seemed like he was from some world lost to time. At age 82, the great Leonard Cohen passed away from several contributing factors including cancer and a fall he suffered at his home.
12. Agnes Nixon
There’s a very good chance that you have not heard of Agnes Nixon, but this woman might have had the greatest impact on television, specifically daytime television, of anyone in history. First of all, Nixon created both One Life to Live and All My Children, daytime soap operas that ran for a combined 86 years. No, that’s not a typo. Both shows ran for over 40 years each. In addition to being forever linked to two of the longest running television shows in history, Nixon was also an innovator and boundary pusher for television. She created the first health-related storyline and the first Vietnam storyline. She also wrote in the first lesbian kiss on-screen and the first abortion. At age 93, on April 6, 2016, Nixon died from pneumonia resulting from Parkinson’s disease.
11. Anton Yelchin
Without taking anything away from the others on this list, Anton Yelchin‘s shocking death might have been saddest news on this list, if only because he was only 27 years old. Seemingly on the verge of becoming one of Hollywood’s premier actors, if he wasn’t already one, Yelchin was involved in a fatal freak vehicle accident in his own driveway on June 19, 2016. The news shocked the world who was introduced to a young and talented Yelchin back in 2001 with his groundbreaking work as a child actor in Hearts in Atlantis and Along Came a Spider. Then in 2006 and 2007, we got Yelchin as a young teen in Alpha Dog and Charlie Bartlett respectively, films that showed us that Yelchin can drive a film all on his own. His subsequent work in the Star Trek franchise as Pavel Chekov and many other films brought us more of the same. In one of his last films, Yelchin starred in one of if not the best horror films of 2016 with Green Room, teasing us with a talent that we would lose shortly after the film’s release.
10. Zsa Zsa Gabor
Compared to the other stars on this list, Zsa Zsa Gabor might not seem as influential in show business, but, that couldn’t be further from the truth. In a world obsessed with reality TV and socialites like Paris Hilton (Gabor was married to Paris’s grandfather Conrad) and Kim Kardashian, people whose fame comes more from their sex tapes and their personal scandals than any of their work, Gabor is more relevant than ever. You could argue that Gabor is the one who really made this type of socialite lifestyle and fame something that people were interested in. Though she did some acting and was Miss Hungary in 1936, Gabor was always more famous for her marriages to the elite and her public appearances than anything else. In total, she had nine marriages and she was never shy about discussing any of them. On December 18th, 2016, at 99 years old, just months before her 100th birthday, Gabor died.
9. George Michael
It’s a bit unclear how the star, George Michael, died on December 25, 2016, but most reports are pointing to heart failure. No doubt, over the next few weeks, we will get more information. Over the past few years, Michael did have several different health complications and there are some saying that he also suffered deeply from depression, but it’s unknown if any of that was a contributing factor. Regardless, the world felt the impact of Michael’s loss and whether you were a fan of his music or not, you knew who he was. With over 100 million records worldwide and almost 30 years in the industry, Michael certainly made his mark and he will be missed.
8. Garry Shandling
It might not be the most recognizable name, but Garry Shandling is a man who left behind an enormous legacy in the television industry when he died on March 24, 2016. He started out as a writer for Sanford and Son and Welcome Back, Kotter, making a name for himself as one of the premiere young comedy writers. This led to him doing a lot of work on The Johnny Carson Show, even setting himself as one of the leading contenders to take the show over when Carson left. After that, Shandling created both It’s Garry Shandling’s Show and The Larry Sanders Show. In total, he was nominated for 19 Emmy Awards and two Golden Globes in his career, truly remarkable totals. Shandling died of a blood clot in his lungs. He was 66 years old.
7. Garry Marshall
While Princess Diaries might be your favorite movie of the wonderful Garry Marshall, most would point to Pretty Woman as the high point in his film career. However, Marshall’s biggest impact was definitely felt from his television work, creating Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley and Mork & Mindy, three of the biggest shows of their times. Marshall was not only responsible for a wide number of innovations in the way that television comedies are filmed today, but, perhaps more importantly, he is directly responsible for launching the careers of some of the greatest actors we’ve ever known. On July 19, 2016, Marshall died of pneumonia following a stroke.
6. Alan Rickman
Thanks to the convincing way that Alan Rickman portrayed his characters, there was always a love hate relationship between Rickman and movie fans. We loved his work and loved and hated most of his characters, like Hans Gruber in Die Hard or even Snape for much of the Harry Potter franchise. Yet, despite all of that, we respected and revered this great actor. We had just gotten over his character’s death in the Harry Potter franchise, so we were not ready for him to go in real life. Even though he was at a somewhat advanced age of 69, and even though we heard of a stroke he had in 2015, we were still incredibly shocked to hear that he had passed from terminal pancreatic cancer on January 14th, 2016.
On April 21st, 2016, the world was saddened with the news that Prince, the iconic musician, had died of a fentanyl overdose. It’s unclear what all led to his overdose and his death, but we do know that Prince had some health issues shortly before he died, which could have contributed. In his astounding career, Prince won almost every award a person could win and sold over 100 million records worldwide. He was a true icon in the world of music, fashion and flamboyancy. Even in film, Purple Rain is regarded as a piece of art. His legacy will continue long after he’s gone.
4. David Bowie
Since the 1960s, David Bowie was a preeminent figure in the music industry. He dabbled with film and made some great lasting impressions there as well. Labyrinth anyone? He sold over 140 million records in his entire lifetime, which is simply astounding. It also makes him one of this highest-selling artists of all time. Two days after the release of his last album, Blackstar, on January 10th, 2016, Bowie sadly passed away from liver cancer. Whether he gets the proper credit for it or not, Bowie left an impression on so many different areas in our lives, from the obvious with his art to his performances even to his personal life.
3. Carrie Fisher
It was just days before Christmas, December 23, 2016, when reports came out that Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia from Star Wars, suffered a heart attack. We stayed vigil looking for updated reports about her health after she got to hospital. Some said her status was unknown, whereas others stated that she was stable. We had hope. Then, four days after her heart attack on December 27, 2016, it was announced that she had passed. It was the worst news. We could look at Fisher’s resume and show how it was more than Star Wars or we could say that her Star Wars fame was more than enough, but we want to say that Fisher made a character that was more than any one film or even a small collection of them. Through Princess Leia, Fisher became one of the most recognizable women on the planet. She carved out her place among the giants of cinema and did it with humor, honesty and humility. If there is one saving grace to this tragic news, it is that we can guarantee that Fisher will live on for ages through the great work she’s done and the timeless vehicle she’s attached to.
2. Debbie Reynolds
The news of Carrie Fisher’s death had been out for one day. We were still shocked and saddened. Then we heard that her mother, the great Debbie Reynolds, had died as well. The amazing actress from so many classics, like Singin’ in the Rain, The Unsinkable Molly Brown and Halloweentown was gone. Reynolds was also known for her music and her work in theater. Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of Reynolds’ outstanding career was what she did for movie memorabilia. When MGM studios auctioned off many of their props, it was Reynolds who purchased much of it and put it into a museum. She would sell some of her prized possessions to private collectors later on, but she is almost single-handedly responsible for preserving some of the most beloved Hollywood pieces. There’s no questioning the sadness of losing Reynolds, but there is also a bit of romance here too. Reynolds and Fisher’s family say that Debbie had said she wanted to be with Carrie after her passing. It’s kind of sweet.
1. Gene Wilder
In terms of film comedy, you would be hard pressed to find someone who had a greater impact on the genre than Gene Wilder. Though he had pulled back from the industry in the years leading up to his death, Wilder’s impression on comedy and film in general was always seen and will be forever felt. From Blazing Saddles to Young Frankenstein to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Wilder’s work touched people of all ages across multiple generations. More than that, he changed the way comedy is written, how it’s filmed and how it’s performed. Nearly every comedy in the last 20-30 years has the markings of Wilder. We see him in the delivery of comics and we hear him in the jokes. Wilder may have famously said that he didn’t understand the comedy of today, but he sure as hell is one of the main reasons it is what it is. It may seem rather ridiculous to “rank” the deaths of 2016, and to be honest, that’s not what we’ve done here. BUT, when it comes to film, there may be no greater loss than this. On August 29, 2016, at age 83, Wilder passed away of complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
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