It’s no secret that 2016 was a brutal year. And while this was true across the board, it seems that it was particularly devastating to Hollywood; a number of its stars, from the biggest of the big to the smallest of the small, from the most legendary to the more recent arrivals, all ended up shuffling off of this mortal coil.
To express our condolences and show our support for all the wonderful careers of every last performer here, we’ve decided to provide a rundown of who has been lost and provide even just the most rudimentary of reasons why his or her body of work should be remembered. Hopefully, in the process, you’ll discover a new favorite actor whose legacy you’ll carry with you from this point forward.
Just a quick organizational point before we get started: because of the sheer volume of deaths throughout the previous year (we counted 28 stars who were lost to us), we’ve opted to structure our memorial by the month in which the artist passed. In this way, the narrative that was 2016 can be preserved, as well, which has now indelibly become part of all the individual actors’ stories.
Rest easy, friends.
The opening month of 2016 essentially opened with the first star to fall, Angus Scrimm (August 19, 1926 – January 9, 2016), an older Hollywood mainstay but a nonetheless important one. A revered figure in horror, he starred as the Tall Man throughout all of the Phantasm series to date (which started in 1979 and has stretched on, incidentally, to 2016), which afforded him the opportunity to pop in many other pictures, from 1980’s Witches’ Brew to 2012’s John Dies at the End.
If there was any indication of all the loss that would follow throughout the rest of the year, however, it would have to be with January’s next two victims, starting with none other than David Bowie (January 8, 1947 – January 10, 2016). A legendary figure in music that can only be described as an icon, Bowie was a sonic – as well as a visual – chameleon, whose work and aesthetics changed literally with every new album, allowing all subsequent artists the opportunity to stretch their wings as fluidly and fully as he did. Of course, he also managed to make waves in the media of television and film, making his first appearance in 1968 (with the British anthology Theatre 625) and going all the way until 2009. Along the way, he landed what are arguably his two biggest roles, as Jareth the Goblin King in 1986’s Labyrinth and Nikola Tesla in 2006’s The Prestige.
Alan Rickman (February 21, 1946 – January 14, 2016) became famous for his deep baritone voice (which his acting instructors warned him would prevent him from ever reaching fame) and his ability to portray the most dastardly of villains, whether that be the Sheriff of Nottingham in 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves or, of course, the infamous Hans Gruber in 1988’s Die Hard. But the warmth of his performances meant that he could play any role; his turn as a grieving lead in the bittersweet Truly, Madly, Deeply (1991) proves this all by itself, but his parts in 2005’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (as the voice of Marvin the Paranoid Android) and, but of course, in the Harry Potter series (as the utterly-redeemable Severus Snape) help to fill in the dramatic corners.
Angela Raiola (June 30, 1960 – February 18, 2016) made her mark in the vivid world of reality television in 2012, during the second season of VH1’s Mob Wives, a series which followed a number of New York women after their spouses or relatives were incarcerated for Mafia-related crimes (in Big Ang’s case, she was the niece of Salvatore “Sally Dogs” Lombardi, who had risen to the rank of capo in the Genovese family, one of New York’s infamous Five Families – though she more than extended her crime bona fides by dating a number of gangsters). The channel immediately spun the immensely-popular Raiola out in her own series, starting with 2012’s Big Ang and ending with 2013’s Miami Monkey.
It’s hard to find a brighter star than George Kennedy, Jr. (February 18, 1925 – February 28, 2016), who had more than 200 film and TV credits under his belt by the time he retired. From Cool Hand Luke (1967) to the original Dallas (1988-19991), from Airport to The Naked Gun, generations of viewers got exposed to Kennedy’s incredible dramatic range and the comedic timing that would make him timelessly famous. And his long life (he passed just after turning 91) ensured that he would receive one last distinction for his incredible career: in 2016, he became the oldest-living recipient of the Best Supporting Actor Oscar (he won for Cool Hand Luke, of course).
Speaking of comedic talents, few were as gifted as Garry Shandling (November 29, 1949 – March 24, 2016), a man who made a name for himself as a stand-up comic before venturing into the realms of television (starring in one of HBO’s first big hits, It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, before co-creating yet another, The Larry Sanders Show) and film (where he seemed to be particularly interested in children’s and animated movies, such as last year’s The Jungle Book). But for many die-hard nerd admirers, it’s Shandling’s brief appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (as Senator Stern, Iron Man’s foe and a secret Hydra sympathizer) and on The X-Files (portraying David Duchovny’s Agent Fox Mulder in a Hollywood film version of the X-files unit) that he’ll most be appreciated as.
And Hollywood lost yet another of its most legendary members when Patty Duke (December 14, 1946 – March 29, 2016) passed just five days later. Breaking out at the tender age of 16 in 1962’s The Miracle Worker (where she played the equally-famous Helen Keller), she quickly received her own television series, The Patty Duke Show (1963-1966), which cemented her status. Though Duke would continue to act all the way up until 2015 (in Liv and Maddie, a Disney Channel sitcom), her advocacy of mental health issues would consume much of her professional life (she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1982).
Doris Roberts (November 4, 1925 – April 17, 2016) was best known as Marie Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond (1996-2005), but her acting career actually began 45 years earlier with a number of guest appearances on various television series, a trend that would continue for the next few decades, with stints on Mary Tyler Moore, Murder, She Wrote, The Love Boat, and Fantasy Island – all of which says nothing of the scores of films she was in, including four that released all throughout last year.
On the other end of the spectrum is Chyna (born Joan Marie Laurer; December 27, 1969 – April 20, 2016), who initially found fame in the world of professional wrestling; she was part of the WWE from 1997 until 2001 (where she was dubbed “the ninth wonder of the world”), and then occasionally re-entered the ring with other programs, such as Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. This fame was translated into brief stints in reality TV (The WB’s Surreal Life, and its various spinoffs), B-movies (2006’s Just Another Romantic Wrestling Comedy, 2007’s Illegal Aliens), and, of course, adult entertainment (2012’s Backdoor to Chyna).
And then there’s Prince (born Prince Rogers Nelson, June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016), another stratospheric personality whose shadow looms large over the music and, by extension, film industries. His real dominance came in the former, where – much like David Bowie before him – he carved for himself a unique musical and performance identity, allowing subsequent artists more freedom in their own presentations and musical stylings. For the latter, he only appeared in a smattering of movies, such as Purple Rain (1984) and its sequel, Graffiti Bridge (1990), which were designed as personal vehicles for him. Nevertheless, they have left a lasting impression with his legion of fans.
After a one-month period of (relative) quiet, June arrived with an early entry on our list: Kimbo Slice (born Kevin Ferguson, February 8, 1974 – June 6, 2016), a boxer, wrestler, and mixed martial artist who rose to fame based on various online videos of him engaging in (consensual) street fighting. This notoriety led to him going professional, including signing with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and then segueing into movies, where he starred – unsurprisingly – in such martial arts titles as the direct-to-video Blood and Bone (2009). But his biggest step in the film world was also, unfortunately, his last: 2012’s The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption.
Anton Yelchin (March 11, 1989 – June 19, 2016) also, tragically, died early, in this case at the extremely young age of 27. Yelchin was, of course, best known for his portrayal of Pavel Chekov in the rebooted Star Trek trilogy of movies, but he actually had managed to accrue an extremely impressive body of work well before that, starting all the way back in the early ‘00s with guest spots on ER and Judging Amy and making appearances in such films as Along Came a Spider. Most amusingly, Anton portrayed Clumsy Smurf in movies, short films, and, even, video games for a two-year period, from 2011 to 2013.
The name Kenny Baker (August 24, 1934 – August 13, 2016) always has been and always will be synonymous with R2-D2, the lovable, heroic droid from Star Wars. Thanks to ever-improving technology, the actor played the character, to one degree or another starting with the 1977 original, all the way through the conclusion of the prequel trilogy in 2005. (He was initially going to continue the role with the recent Episode VII: The Force Awakens, but he ended up serving as a “consultant” instead.) It is beyond SW, however, where one really gets a sense of his work, from the rest of his film roles (Time Bandits , Labyrinth , and Willow  among them) to his stints as both a musician and stand-up comic.
There are few names on this list that can hold a candle next to Gene Wilder (born Jerome Silberman, June 11, 1933 – August 29, 2016), and with good reason: the artist landed his first major role in Mel Brooks’s The Producers (1968), which started a long-lived relationship with the writer-director, and then quickly went on acquire his most famous role in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) and to start another fruitful partnership, this time with fellow actor and comic Richard Pryor (beginning with 1976’s Silver Streak). After retiring from acting in 2003 (his last appearance was as a guest star on the TV show Will and Grace), he concentrated on his painting and started up a new craft that he would end up mastering, as well: literary writing, producing memoirs, novels, and short story collections.
Alexis Arquette (born Robert Arquette, July 28, 1969 – September 11, 2016) started her acting career with a long string of walk-on parts, from the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) to Pulp Fiction (1994), before graduating to more featured fare, such as 2003’s Killer Drag Queens on Dope. Though she would never become as famous as her brother, Scream star David Arquette, she did gain an extra level of celebrity for transitioning and becoming a transgender actress over a decade ago.
Bill Nunn (October 20, 1953 – September 24, 2016) put together an extremely well-populated resume over the course of his 30+ year career. After making it big in the 1989 film Do the Right Thing from director Spike Lee (a man with whom Nunn would collaborate time and again throughout his career), he landed a series of cop or detective roles, such as in True Crime, The Affair, and New York Undercover, all of which released in 1995. Arguably, his most memorable turn over the years was in 1992’s Sister Act, alongside Whoopi Goldberg. Genre fans, however, will immediately associate Nunn with his character of Robbie Robertson in the original Spider-Man trilogy, which ran from 2002 to 2007.
Kevin Meaney (April 23, 1956 – October 21, 2016) originally hailed from the world of stand-up comedy, having made his first big splash with an HBO comedy special in 1986. He then lent his talents to film and, primarily, television, where he would either guest-star or voice-act in several animated series, ranging from the kid-friendly (Garfield and Friends, Rocko’s Modern Life) to the adult-oriented (Space Ghost: Coast to Coast, Duckman). It was on the small screen where he landed his most memorable role, as Uncle Buck in the eponymous 1990 show (not to be confused with the later, 2016 series, which was also based on the 1989 John Candy movie and which also lasted for only a single season).
Tammy Grimes (January 30, 1934 – October 30, 2016) may be part of a famous Hollywood family — her husband was Christopher Plummer, and their daughter is Amanda Plummer — but the singer and actress more than had a career of her own, starting in the theater in 1956 before transitioning to film a full decade later. She would remain active here until 1998’s indie High Art, with such titles as The Horror at 37,000 Feet (1973) and the animated cult classic The Last Unicorn (1982) comprising some of her more noteworthy projects.
The penultimate month of the year saw three, almost-rapid-fire deaths befall Hollywood. First up was Robert Vaughn (November 22, 1932 – November 11, 2016), an iconic actor who dominated stage, TV, and film. Though his credits are far too substantial to list even partially here, some of his more noteworthy turns include The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The A-Team, The Magnificent Seven (1960), Bullitt (1968), and Superman III (1983). He was still acting in the final months before he passed.
Florence Henderson (February 14, 1934 – November 24, 2016), likewise, had a long and storied career in television, becoming one of the most iconic participants in the still-new medium when she was cast in the ‘60s as Carol Brady on The Brady Bunch. She built for herself a veritable TV empire, appearing on countless game and reality shows (including, even, a guest-host spot with WWE wrestling) in the decades since. She later formed her very own series for Retirement Living TV, a long-running talk show (The Florence Henderson Show), and a cooking program (Who’s Cooking with Florence Henderson). Much like Robert Vaughn, she was still appearing on both the small and big screens up until her passing.
Rounding out the trio of TV luminaries is Ron Glass (July 10, 1945 – November 25, 2016), yet another actor whose involvement with the medium goes all the way back to Sanford and Son in 1972 and All in the Family in ’73. He landed the first of his two most memorable roles a few years later – that’s in Barney Miller, yet another legendary production – while the second came much later in life: as Shepherd Derrial Book in Joss Whedon’s Firefly, in 2002. Marvel fans will again see a recognizable face here, as Glass made two brief guest appearances during Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s first season (another series co-created by Whedon).
And you thought November was brutal…
The final month of the year brought with it an expanded roster of lost celebrities, which is fitting, we suppose, given the corresponding jump in deaths the general population sees in the period directly leading up to and immediately following the holidays. Instead of the usual two or three loses, December brought no fewer than seven fallen stars. Alan Thicke (March 1, 1947 – December 13, 2016), best known for his role as the kindly father in the ‘80s series Growing Pains, was the first to go. The passing of Zsa Zsa Gabor (born Sari Gabor, February 6, 1917 – December 18, 2016) came a few days later. One of the most famous (and infamous) Hollywood stars, Gabor’s career started way back in the heyday of the ‘50s.
There were a string of tragic passings to conclude the year, of course: Ricky Harris (October 5, 1965 – December 26, 2016), who got his start in Tupac Shakur’s Poetic Justice (1993); Barbara Tarbuck (January 15, 1942 – December 26, 2016), most remembered for her time on General Hospital (and who occasionally guest-starred on the various Star Trek series); and William Christopher (October 20, 1932 – December 31, 2016), 13-year cast member of both M*A*S*H and its spinoff, AfterMASH, all passed on before the new year.
Still December, unfortunately…
But as talented and as well-accomplished as these performers were, either individually or collectively, the big story that dominated December headlines and cast a pall over the entire year – something which most thought was impossible immediately beforehand – was the one-two loss of daughter-mother Carrie Fisher (October 21, 1956 – December 27, 2016) and Debbie Reynolds (April 1, 1932 – December 28, 2016). Both actresses, of course, featured large bodies of work that extended well beyond the screen. Fisher, for instance, gained notoriety as an author and script doctor, while her mother was a known film buff who aspired to create a Hollywood museum of her very own.
Frankly, though, both will forever be unilaterally associated with singular roles: Princess Leia Organa in Star Wars and Kathy Selden in Singin’ in the Rain (1952), respectively. Having lost just one of these bright stars would have made the Hollywood sky a fair bit darker, but having both shuffle off this mortal coil in rapid-fire succession was just devastating.
In a way, it seems the most appropriate ending imaginable for the year that was 2016.
Have your own favorite scenes or memories with this far-flung collection of artists? Do you feel we missed the most salient highlight of their various careers? Please feel free to list your thoughts in the comments section.
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