It seems like you can’t get on any Internet news site these days without reading about somebody famous who died that day. With so much information out there, and the definitions of “famous” and “celebrity” ever-expanding, it’s easy to miss the passing of people whose careers you actually cared about, or who had an iconic role you remember.
We hear about the big ones. If you’re old enough to remember the media coverage of the deaths of Princess Diana or Michael Jackson, you know just how much attention the death of a famous person can get. Unfortunately, there are a lot of talented people in the world who brought a lot of joy with their artistic work who don’t get one-hundredth of the attention that other celebrities do.
The very end of a year, or beginning of a new year, causes people to look back at the events of the recent year and taking a look at those who passed away is one of those things that will probably never stop. Whether it’s an awards show, cable news or those entertainment news shows, many take a moment to stop and remember those that are no longer with us.
We’ll skip the big name deaths of 2015 since you probably already know about them. Instead, we’d like to focus on people who had long, healthy careers, or had one role that has never been forgotten in presenting 10 people you didn’t realize died in 2015.
10 Leonard Nimoy
He’ll be forever known as Mr. Spock to the world and legions of Star Trek fans, and even TV Guide called that character one of the 50 most memorable in the history of television. Like many in the Star Trek franchise, Nemoy found it hard to find work outside of the science fiction genre, prompting him to write a book in 1975 called I Am Not Spock. But, with age came perspective and Nemoy embraced the role that made him famous, talking about it in a follow-up book, I Am Spock. Nemoy was also a fine photographer, having gallery shows for the last few decades. He died on February 27, 2015.
9 Dick Van Patten
Dick Van Patten was just one of those guys who, regardless of the role he was playing, seemed like he had to be a good guy in real life. Most over the age of 40 will remember him as the father on the popular Eight is Enough, but younger audiences will be more familiar with his work in Mel Brooks movie like Spaceballs and Robin Hood: Men in Tights or in a couple of Weird Al Yankovic videos. Van Patten was passionate about animals, having created both Natural Balance Pet Foods and establishing National Guide Dog Month. Van Patten was 86 when he died of complications due to diabetes on June 23, 2105.
8 Amanda Peterson
“Who’s Amanda Peterson?” “Oh, yeah, that girl... she died?” Peterson rose to fame in the 1980s starring as the object of a young Patrick Dempsey’s affection in Can’t Buy Me Love. There were a handful of follow-up roles, but Peterson never escaped the shadow of that film, and it may have been a contributing factor to the drug and alcohol problems she suffered, resulting in five arrests over a 12-year period. Her family claimed that she was clean at the time of her death, but toxicology reports stated Peterson died of an accidental overdose due to combining medications on July 3, 2015.
7 Wes Craven
It’s unfortunate that among Hollywood circle and cinema elite, horror is looked upon as a throwaway genre, because when perhaps its greatest contributor, Wes Craven, died, he should have received much more attention. His most famous movies were easily the Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream series, but he directed the classics Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes early in his career. Also included in his dozens of credits were Swamp Thing, The Serpent and The Rainbow and The People Under the Stairs. He also wasn’t against acting cameos, popping up in every one of the Scream films. Craven died of brain cancer on August 30, 2015.
6 Taylor Negron
He’s another one of those people you don’t recognize by name, but if you put his name into IMDb or Google Images, you’d realize just how many roles Taylor Negron had over the years. Many remember him as the pizza guy delivering Sean Penn a pie during class in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but he also appeared in Better Off Dead, River’s Edge, Stuart Little and The Last Boy Scout to name just a couple of the films on his extensive resume. Young people will know him from cameos on Fresh Prince of Bel Air, That’s So Raven and Wizards of Waverly Place. This gifted jack-of-all trades died of liver cancer, which he was first diagnosed with in 2008, on January 10, 2015.
5 Roddy Piper
One of the things people often forget about any classic good guy/bad guy struggle is that the good guy’s victory can only mean something if it means more that the bad guy loses. Such was the case for Roddy Piper, who should arguably receive more credit for building Hulk Hogan’s epic career than even Hogan himself. Despite never holding the WWE World Title, Piper is considered one of the all-time greatest, and perhaps the finest talker in the history of the business. He finished his career as a loved and appreciated good guy and despite taking breaks to make movies like They Live, Piper could never stay away from the live crowd too long. Piper succumbed to cardiac arrest on July 31, 2015.
4 James Best
He’d had a long and successful career before taking on his defining role, but James Best will always be known as the bumbling right hand man to Boss Hog, Sherriff Roscoe P. Coltraine in the early 1980s television show The Dukes of Hazzard. His antics of always falling short in catching “them Duke boys” doing something illegal was the comic engine for the CBS comedy. Best continued to act after that show and actually and recieved the highest critical praise of his career with a guest spot in 1991 on In The Heat of the Night, garnering awards. In his later life, Best taught acting and was an artist. He died from complications of pneumonia on April 6, 2015.
3 Bobbi Kristina Brown
When your father is Bobby Brown and your mother is Whitney Houston, it’s pretty safe odds that your life is going to be filled with drama and turbulence, and that was true for Bobbi Kristina Brown, whose life ended prematurely in 2015. After her mother died of an overdose in a bathtub in 2012, Brown’s life was a soap opera, with infighting over her mother’s fortune, which was bequeathed to her and a controversial marriage. On January 31, 2015, she was found unresponsive in a bathtub at her home in Georgia. She spent the seven months in a coma, and although her cause of death has been sealed in court records, she did pass away in hospice care on July 26, 2015.
2 Donna Douglas
For growing boys of a certain age and likely all men in the 1960s, Donna Douglas was one of those women on television who makes tuning into a stupid show must-see viewing. There’s no other way to explain the fact The Beverly Hillbillies was able to stay on television for nine seasons. Playing the beautiful blonde Elly May Clampett, Douglas suffered from the curse of many people who create an iconic role in that it’s hard to get work afterward. Aside from a few Hillbillies-related projects, Douglas didn’t get a lot of roles after 1972, which led her to find new passions, including real estate, gospel singing and writing childrens’ books. Douglas died of pancreatic cancer on January 1, 2015.
1 BB King
Considering BB King, a blues musician and guitar legend was 79 at the time, it made sense to launch his farewell tour in 2006, but he could never walk away from his calling, performing concerts for almost another decade before passing. For people who were unfamiliar with this master and his guitar, Lucille, the controversy surrounding his death may be what he is most remembered for. After his death, his daughters accused two of King’s associates with poisoning the musician so he’d go into diabetic shock. An autopsy proved that theory to be incorrect, stating the blues legend died of heart failure, with complications of Alzheimer’s disease on May 14, 2015.