The entertainment world was shaken in August when beloved actor and comedian Robin Williams passed away. The consummate entertainer with a distinctive style was best known for his roles in family movies such as Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji and his voice work in Disney’s Aladdin. He was also critically acclaimed for his dramatic acting roles in The Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting. Many have found it very difficult to say goodbye to such a beloved comedian and actor, and tributes on television and by his friends testify to how much he is missed.
Sadly, Williams is not the only extremely talented comedian to have had his life and career cut short. The lives of several other famous comedians and entertainers – who brought so much happiness to audiences through their work - were tragically short.
Along with Robin Williams, here are 10 comedians that the world said goodbye to too soon.
10 Gilda Radner
Gilda Radner was one of the original cast members of Saturday Night Live, a role that she won an Emmy for in 1978. Her career breakout as a comedian happened when she joined Toronto’s Second City comedy troupe. When she was featured on National Lampoon Radio Hour, a syndicated radio comedy show, the world was introduced to her distinctive original characters. She was actually the first performer ever cast in Saturday Night Live. During her tenure at SNL, Radner came up with endless beloved characters including the nerdy personal advice expert Roseanne Roseannadanna. She also became the first comedian to make fun of news anchors with her creation of “Baba Wawa,” a parody of Barbara Walters. In 1979, she had her own one-woman Broadway show. At the height of her career in 1986, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and passed away from the disease in 1989 at the age of 42.
9 John Candy
8 Chris Farley
Like many other famous SNL alumni, Chris Farley began his comedy career in Chicago’s Second City touring group and was quickly promoted to the main stage. In 1990, along with fellow comedian Chris Rock, he joined the cast of Saturday Night Live. Some of his popular original characters on SNL included himself on The Chris Farley Show, an over-the-top motivational speaker, a member of a group of stereotypical Chicagoans, a Chippendale’s dancer and a stereotypical lunch lady. He was also well known for his off-screen pranks in the offices of SNL and earned a somewhat “bad boy” reputation behind the scenes. In 1995 he was released from his contract with SNL, but was no worse for the wear: immediately after, he began working on his film career and came out with successful movies including Tommy Boy, Black Sheep, and Beverly Hills Ninja. In the last few years of his life he sought treatment for obesity and drug abuse. However, in 1997 at the age of 33, died from a drug overdose.
7 John Belushi
The death of Chris Farley is often compared to that of his fellow SNL alum a decade earlier, John Belushi, who also died at age 33. Belushi had his big comedy break in Chicago’s The Second City comedy troupe and he was a part of the National Lampoon Radio Hour in the 1970s along with fellow comedian Gilda Radner. His work in Second City led him to SNL; Belushi was one of the original cast members on the show in 1975. Belushi left Saturday Night Live in 1979 to pursue a film career. In the movie he is most famous for, The Blues Brothers, he starred alongside fellow SNL alumnus Dan Aykroyd. In 1982, he passed away from a cocaine overdose.
6 Madeline Kahn
Kahn was an Emmy and Tony-award winning actress best known for her roles in movies including Paper Moon in 1973 and 1974’s Blazing Saddles, which both earned her Academy Award nominations. She actually began her career on stage and on Broadway. Her work on stage led to one of her breakout film projects, the screwball comedy What's Up, Doc? which starred Barbra Streisand. In the 1980s, her career continued to rise with comedic roles both on screen and on stage. In the 1990s, she voiced a character in A Bug’s Life. In 1999, at the age of 57 when she was still very active in Hollywood, she passed away from ovarian cancer.
5 Phil Hartman
Phil Hartman began his comedy career in 1975 as a member of the comedy group The Groundlings. He actually co-wrote the screenplay for the film Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and was a frequent guest on the Pee-wee Herman Show. He rose to fame in the 1980s when he joined the cast of Saturday Night Live, where he became best known for his uncanny impressions, especially his impression of former President Bill Clinton. Hartman won an Emmy for his work on SNL in 1989. In 1995, his career switched gears when he starred as one of the main characters in the primetime sitcom NewsRadio and also had frequent roles on The Simpsons. However, his career was dramatically cut short in 1998, when, at the age of 49, he was shot and killed by his wife while he slept at their home.
4 Bernie Mac
Originally from the South Side of Chicago, Bernie Mac rose to fame thanks to his talent in stand-up comedy. He was a part of The Original Kings of Comedy, along with other talented funny men Steve Harvey, Cedric the Entertainer and D.L. Hughley. From 2001 to 2006, Mac was the star of the television comedy series The Bernie Mac Show. He was also featured in many movies including Ocean’s Eleven, Mr. 3000, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle and Transformers. Sadly, Mac suffered from a chronic disease called sarcoidosis and died from complications of pneumonia in 2008 when he was 50 years old.
3 John Ritter
2 Andy Kaufman
Although Andy Kaufman has frequently been called a comedian, this unique performer didn’t actually consider himself one. He said that he disliked telling jokes, preferring instead to perform song and dance routines. In the 1970s, he dreamt up a character called “Foreign Man.” This man told jokes incorrectly and did weak imitations of famous people. The character was incorporated into the sitcom Taxi as a reoccurring character. He was also known for his clever performance art. In one memorable show in 1979 at Carnegie Hall, he invited his grandmother on stage to watch the show. At the end of the show, his grandmother stood up – and it was revealed that it had been fellow comedian Robin Williams in mask and costume on stage the whole time. At the height of his career, Kaufman allegedly told some people that he wished to fake his own death, and in 1984 when, at the age of 35, he passed away from cancer, some believed that he had not really died. However, he had supposedly said that if he ever faked his death, he would return in 20 years, which would have been in 2004. The 1999 movie Man on the Moon starring Jim Carrey told the story of Kaufman’s life and left the question of his death open-ended.
1 Robin Williams
Robin Williams began his career in stand-up, often mentioning personal matters and struggles on stage, a process which he said was “cheaper than therapy.” His stand up shows eventually earned him a Grammy, but his struggle with alcohol and drugs made it difficult for him to keep working onstage. Then, in 1978, he was cast in an episode of Happy Days, and his appearances on HBO comedy specials and late night talk shows helped develop him into a household name. His major film break came when he was cast in 1987’s Good Morning, Vietnam. He continued to take on both dramatic and comedic movie roles throughout the 1990s. As a testament to his talent, he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor three times and he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his work in the 1997 film Good Will Hunting. He received numerous other awards for his work on television, in movies and on stage, including two Emmy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards and five Grammy Awards. In 2014, he passed away from an apparent suicide.