Gone but not forgotten: the best way to describe many of the remarkable stars who passed away during the past year of 2019. Before we look forward to 2020, it’s important to pause for a moment and reflect on the achievements of the many people who made an impact on our culture through their hard work and their dedication to our entertainment.
1. Lisa Sheridan
Lisa Sheridan, a native of Macon, Georgia and a graduate of the prestigious Carnegie Mellon School of Drama, sadly passed away in February 2019 from alcohol-related issues. The 44-year-old actress made headlines after her brief 2003 engagement to actor Ron Livingston after meeting him while working on the film, Beat.
Sheridan starred in many television roles. Her most notable work was as the main character of FreakyLinks, which aired from 2000 to 2001, and in Invasion, which ran from 2005 to 2006. In FreakyLinks, Sheridan’s character of Chloe Tanner worked to uncover paranormal mysteries, whereas her character in Invasion, Larkin Groves, helped to fight back against the water monsters invading Earth.
2. Fatima Ali
Many of us struggle to find our passion in life, but not Top Chef fan favorite Fatima Ali, who grew up knowing what she wanted to do with her life. Born in Pakistan, the young Fatima would eagerly watch reality cooking shows growing up. By age 18, she’d packed her bags and moved to New York to attend the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park.
Not only was Ali the Top Chef fan favorite, but she became the first Pakistani woman to win the cooking reality Chopped. Sadly, Ali’s career was cut tragically short at age 29, after she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.
3. Carol Channing
Immediately recognizable for her vivacious facial expressions and her signature raspy voice, the flamboyant and iconic Carol Channing was an award-winning actress renowned for her roles on stage and on screen. Her breakout role came in the Broadway play Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1949.
The bubbly blonde originated the title role of Hello, Dolly! on Broadway in 1964, which earned her a Tony Award. She won a Golden Globe for her part as Muzzy in the film Thoroughly Modern Millie. With her health already on the decline after nearly eight decades of work, Channing’s publicist gravely announced to the world in early 2019 that the star of so many well-known movies and plays had passed away at 97 years old.
4. Bob Einstein
Bob Einstein began his career as a writer of the groundbreaking The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, earning himself an Emmy Award in 1967. Later, the prolific comedy writer again was recognized once more for his talents in comedic writing with yet another Emmy for his work on the show Van Dyke and Company.
Most recently, Einstein was recognized for his role as Marty Funkhouser on Larry David’s long running HBO special, Curb Your Enthusiasm. After 13 years of working on the show, Einstein’s manager announced that the actor would not be returning to the series after being diagnosed with cancer. After a two year struggle with the disease, Einstein passed away in January 2019.
5. Gene Okerlund
Considered by some to be the most recognizable interviewer in sports-entertainment history, Gene Okerlund could often be seen interviewing some of the biggest names in the WWE. His nickname, “Mean Gene,” was bestowed upon him by pro-wrestler, and later governor of Minnesota, Jesse “The Body” Ventura.
The name was so popular that interviewees would often begin a response to a question asked of them by Okerlund with, “Well, you know something, Mean Gene?” In January 2019, “Mean Gene” passed away two weeks after his 76th birthday. His funeral was graced by many of the greats from WWE history, including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Hulk Hogan, and many more.
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6. Brody Stevens
A stand-up comedian and actor, Brody Stevens was “widely admired” by other comedians for being willing enough to venture into territory that most performers were too hesitant to try. For Stevens, it seemed as though comedy might’ve been his preferred form of therapy, considering that much of his set involved brutally honest recounts of his struggles with depression, which he turned into raucous jokes.
In addition to performing live, Stevens was well-known for his roles in the Hangover movies, as well as his appearances on shows like Chelsea Lately and The Burn with Jeff Ross. Tragically, the world lost a talented comedian after Stevens committed suicide in his home in Los Angeles at the age of 48.
7. Kevin Barnett
Writer, producer, and comedian, Kevin Barnett is probably best known for co-hosting the podcast, Roundtable of Gentlemen. During the podcast, Barnett would discuss pop culture and other current events with fellow co-hosts Ed Larson, Jackie Zebrowski, Holden McNeely, and Ben Kissel. Additionally, Barnett worked on numerous comedy television series, including Unhitched, Rel, and Top Five.
Several days after Barnett arrived to Mexico for a vacation, the Forensic Medical Service of Tijuana made a very solemn announcement. After receiving Barnett at 5:50 am on January 22, 2019, they announced that the young star had passed away at just 32 years old from complications due to pancreatitis.
8. Rip Torn
Described by the New York Times as being a hardworking stage and screen actor with a sterling reputation, Rip Torn’s death was no doubt a big blow to his many adoring fans. Early in his career of over 60 years, Torn was known for having a short temper. The actor’s unscripted striking of another actor caught on camera became the pinnacle scene of the 1968 underground film, Maidstone.
According to an interview in the Los Angeles Times, as Torn got older, he became a much more easygoing individual. That calming seemed to work for the actors’ benefit: first nominated for an Academy Award, then nominated several times for an Emmy Award, Torn finally earned the prestigious award in 1996.
9. Doris Day
Called “The Movie Star Who Charmed America,” Doris Day began her career as a singer. In fact, her first record, Sentimental Journey, sold more than a million units after it was released in 1945. Even though she was renowned for her musical talent and ability, her on-screen acting was what elevated her to stardom.
Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress after her work starring alongside Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk, Day worked with some of the best during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Her on-screen partners included such massive names as Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra and many others. In May 2019, we all shed a collective tear after America lost one of its icons, when Day passed away at the ripe age of 97.
10. Denise Nickerson
A New York City native, Denise Nickerson didn’t have to travel very far before landing herself a role on Broadway in the short-lived 1971 musical adaptation of Lolita. Nickerson isn’t best recognized for her time on Broadway, though. She will always be known as Violet Beauregarde, the obnoxious, gum-chewing spoiled brat from 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Nickerson became a member of the Short Circus on the Emmy Award-winning series, The Electric Company. After a failed audition for Princess Leia in 1977, Nickerson gave acting a shot for one more year, before retiring to become a nurse and spend time with her family. She died in 2019 of complications resulting from pneumonia.
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11. Marie Fredriksson
Providing the voice to the Swedish power-pop duo Roxette, Fredriksson and her stage partner Per Gessle achieved international success after the release of their breakthrough album Look Sharp! Together, the pair pumped out numerous hit songs that served as the soundtrack to the ’80s and ’90s, earning $75 million in record sales alone.
The powder blonde powerhouse Fredriksson possessed a rare talent on the microphone. Not only was she singing in English, a foreign language, but she was capable of doing so in three different octaves. Her talent was so renowned that she even performed at the wedding of Princess Madeleine of Sweden in 2013. Fredriksson passed away on December 9, 2019, aged 61. Tributes poured in, including one from the King of Sweden himself.
12. Peter Fonda
Star of the generation-defining cult film Easy Rider, Peter Fonda was described by his older sister, actress and activist Jane Fonda, as one of the kindest and most sensitive men she had ever known. “He would never intentionally harm anything or anyone,” she wrote in her 2005 memoir My Life So Far, “In fact, he once argued with me that vegetables had souls. It was the ’60s.”
Son of the Academy Award-winning Hollywood great Henry Fonda, Peter nevertheless earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay for Easy Rider, and another nomination for Best Actor in 1997’s Ulee’s Gold. On August 16, 2019, this great actor and symbol of the counterculture revolution passed away from lung cancer.
13. Robert Forster
Appearing in over 200 films and television shows, Robert Forster garnered critical acclaim largely for his “tough guy” roles. Two of his most popular roles were in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, which earned him an Oscar nomination, the Breaking Bad television series, and the feature film El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.
Not only a talented actor, Robert Forster was actually a certifiable genius. He earned membership to the Triple Nine Society, an international society for high IQ adults whose scores on intelligence tests rank above 99.9 percent of the population. After a busy life on screen, Forster died on October 11, 2019 in his Los Angeles home.
14. John Witherspoon
Survived by his sons, wife, and large family, actor and comedian John Witherspoon died suddenly in his home in October 2019 at the age of 77. Known affectionately as “Pops,” Witherspoon is probably most recognizable playing the role of Willie Jones in the Friday series, the popular comedy films written by Ice Cube and DJ Pooh.
Witherspoon’s four-decade career encompassed much more than the Friday series. The comedy actor also performed on The Tracy Morgan Show, Barnaby Jones, and The Boondocks. Additionally, Witherspoon wrote his own film, From The Old School, the story of a man fervently fighting against a neighborhood convenience store being turned into a strip club.
15. Diahann Carroll
Diahann Carroll was known for breaking barriers with the television sitcom, Julia, and for her incredible singing voice which was showcased on television, in swanky nightclubs, and even on Broadway. Carroll’s talent could not be ignored, and she was granted the distinction of becoming the first African American woman to win a Tony Award in 1962.
Carroll was also considered to be an entertainment pioneer for her starring role in Julia, a groundbreaking show that marked the first time the life of a black woman was the focus of a television series. The series highlighted the racism and discrimination faced by African Americans in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Carroll died of breast cancer on October 4, 2019, but not before she firmly marked her place in our collective history.
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16. Kylie Rae Harris
Singer-songwriter Kylie Rae Harris had a bright future before her. By age twelve, the future country star was already writing her own songs, sung while playing her guitar. Harris had been offered a music scholarship upon graduation from high school, but she refused it in order to begin her music career immediately. By 2010 she had already released her debut album, All the Right Reasons.
Sadly for Harris, her problems with alcohol caught up with her. On September 4, 2019, the country star was driving at 102 miles per hour with a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit. She swerved into oncoming traffic, colliding head on with another car and killing its 16-year-old driver before also passing.
17. Luke Perry
After erupting into stardom thanks to his role of Dylan McKay on the hit television series Beverly Hills, 90210, Luke Perry’s face was plastered across innumerable billboards and magazine covers. In fact, many publications attribute the show’s success as being due in large part to Perry’s good looks and “bad boy” attitude on the show.
While playing Dylan McKay will always be the role most attributed to Perry, fans of Riverdale will also remember him in the role of Archie Andrews’ father, Fred Andrews. An entire generation of fans was left speechless when, in March 2019, Perry’s family tearfully announced the actor’s sudden passing. He was 52 years old.
18. Philip McKeon
Philip McKeon, the former child actor best known for his role on the CBS sitcom Alice, sadly left us in December of 2019, leaving his fans with fond memories of him playing the role of Tommy Hyatt. McKeon worked on the popular series all nine seasons, from 1976 until 1985.
Following his work on Alice, McKeon took a step back from acting, although he did pop up from time to time in other primetime series like CHiPS, Fantasy Island, and The Love Boat. For the most part though, McKeon worked primarily in radio, working for ten years on KFWB in Los Angeles before hosting his own radio show in Wimberley, Texas.
19. Emily Hartridge
As most people probably know, getting into entertainment is hard. With so many people all possessing so much talent, competition is high and many struggle to get noticed. Not so with Emily Hartridge. She took matters into her own hands and launched her own YouTube channel, covering topics ranging from sex and relationships to issues in her own personal life.
From there, Hartridge landed a spot on UK’s Channel 4 as a television presenter for shows like Oh Sh*t I’m 30 and Sketch My Life. Sadly, Hartridge passed away when the electric scooter she was riding collided with a flatbed truck, further prompting UK lawmakers to review the law in regards to riding electric scooters on public roads.
20. Cameron Boyce
Disney star Cameron Boyce made his first appearance in a Panic! at the Disco music video, and from there debuted in the 2008 supernatural film Mirrors at age nine. He went on to play Luke Ross in the Disney Channel comedy series Jessie along with appearances in numerous films like Grown Ups and Eagle Eye.
In the middle of July 2019, Boyce’s family came forward with a terrible announcement. Boyce, who suffered from epilepsy, had died in a fatal seizure. Boyce’s death helped to bring awareness to this condition, and according to the New York Times, fatal seizures like the one Boyce had claim the lives of about 2,600 Americans every year.
21. Juice WRLD
By the age of just 20, rapper Juice WRLD, whose real name is Jarad Anthony Higgins, had already become a platinum-certified artist. Juice WRLD’s debut studio album Goodbye & Good Riddance skyrocketed into infamy, with several singles from the album, “Armed and Dangerous,” “Lean wit Me,” and “Wasted,” all charting on the Billboard Hot 100.
On December 8, 2019, while flying from Los Angeles to Chicago, Juice WRLD died of a suspected drug overdose. The Guardian pointed out that Juice WRLD was just a part of a long list of artists who have died young after profiting off sites like Soundcloud. They posited that this alarming trend suggests something needs to be done to prevent more tragic deaths like this.
22. Karl Lagerfeld
There are many artists who have been thought of as ‘redefining’ in the world of fashion. But few would hold a candle in comparison to Karl Lagerfeld. The German icon was described by the New York Times as being “the most prolific designer of the 20th and 21st centuries and a man whose career formed the prototype of the modern luxury fashion industry.”
Anna Wintour, editor of American Vogue and the inspiration for Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada, commented on the late designer’s passing by saying, “More than anyone I know, he represents the soul of fashion: restless, forward-looking and voraciously attentive to our changing culture.”
23. James Ingram
Musician James Ingram, who topped the Billboard charts at number one with songs like “Baby, Come to Me” and “I Don’t Have a Heart,” passed away on January 29, 2019 at age 66. Discovered by none other than world-famous record producer Quincy Jones in the early 1980s, Ingram was given the opportunity to appear on Jones’ 1981 album The Dude.
From there, it seemed as though nothing could stop this R&B artist’s rise to fame and success. Not content with “just” being a Billboard chart topper, Ingram also earned two Grammy Awards and appeared at the Academy Awards twice after having been nominated for Best Original Song.
24. Albert Finney
The performances of Albert Finney’s 56-year-long career were defined by many Britons as reflecting the frustrations felt by blue-collar society in the United Kingdom throughout the 1950s and ’60s. As a stage and film actor, and later a Hollywood star, Finney was frequently spotted at the Academy Awards and the British equivalent, the BAFTAs, as a regular nominee.
Around 2007, Finney suddenly disappeared from acting. It wasn’t until four years later that Finney publicly admitted that he had been quietly struggling with cancer. Before fully retiring, though, Finney played one last time in small roles in The Bourne Legacy and the James Bond film Skyfall.
25. Peter Mayhew
Known as “the man behind the Chewbacca mask,” Peter Mayhew appeared in the original Star Wars trilogy as well as in 2005’s prequel Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, and 2015’s sequel Star Wars: The Force Awakens. His devotion to the character was so strong, that even after a knee surgery in 2013, he still came back to reprise the role in time for the 2015 film.
Popular at conventions for his lightsaber-shaped cane, Mayhew was described by those that worked with him on Star Wars as a man with a, “big heart, gentle nature.” While he was born in Barnes, Surrey, England, this 7 foot 3 actor made America his home, and died in Boyd, Texas at age 74.
26. Peggy Lipton
At just 22 years old, Peggy Lipton had already found success on the ABC drama The Mod Squad, playing flower child Julie Barnes. The iconic and era-defining series, one of the first to acknowledge hippie counterculture, helped Lipton to earn four Emmy nominations and a Golden Globe award.
The rigors of the show put a lot of pressure on Lipton. As a result she withdrew from acting and married composer Quincy Jones, with whom she had two children, Kidada Jones and Rashida Jones. In 2004 Lipton was diagnosed with colon cancer and, after a 15 year battle, passed away in May 2019. She was 72 years old.
27. Tim Conway
Tim Conway’s first job after getting released from the United States Army was at a television station in Cleveland. It may not have seemed like Conway’s career had much trajectory, until by chance a future writer from The Dick Van Dyke Show, Rose Marie, happened to see him and arranged an audition for him for Steve Allen.
It was surprising to say the least. In Conway’s words, “I had no professional training at all…I had a sense of humor and had been in front of a microphone, but as far as doing movies or series work or anything like that, I had no idea.” He’s most remembered for his physical comedy work on The Carol Burnett Show. After a successful 60 year career, which earned him five Emmys and a Golden Globe, Conway passed away in May 2019 at age 85.
28. Valerie Harper
Valerie Harper didn’t begin her career on the screen. Her entryway into show business came as a Broadway dancer and chorus girl. After being spotted in 1970 doing theater in Los Angeles, she was invited to do an audition for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, getting a role in the main cast as Rhoda Morgenstern.
Her role as the definition-defying and utterly iconic Rhoda eventually led to an award winning spin-off starring her character, which was aptly called Rhoda. Both shows earned Harper a combined total of four Emmys and one Golden Globe. Sadly, the actress passed away in August 2019 at the age of 80.
29. Georgia Engel
An integral part of the main cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Georgia Engel played the “somewhat ditzy” girlfriend of news anchor Ted Baxter. It became one of her most recognizable roles, helped by her distinctive voice and excellent comedic timing, and earned the actress her first two Emmy nominations.
Sadly, in April 2019 this sitcom actress, whose credits also include playing Ray’s brother Robert’s mother-in-law in the popular series Everybody Loves Raymond, passed away at age 70. Due to her religious beliefs, she opted to not consult doctors, and as a result the reason for her passing has never been determined.
30. Caroll Spinney
Caroll Spinney was more than just an ordinary puppeteer. For nearly 50 years he was the mastermind behind two very important characters on the seminal children’s series, Sesame Street. Both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, almost polar opposites on the series, owe their mannerisms and their voices to Spinney’s talent.
Not only did Spinney just showcase his skills on the entertaining and educational children’s series, he also performed live. His venues were numerous, everything from worldwide concert tours to even performing at the White House. Although he passed away in 2019 at 85, his legacy lives on via many films, documentaries, and record albums.
31. Jan-Michael Vincent
Jan-Michael Vincent seemed like he was on his way to becoming the next Robert Redford. He had the good looks, and with a résumé that included early work on shows like Bonanza, Lassie, and Gunsmoke it seemed like he was set to rule Hollywood. Sadly, Vincent’s personal problems, which included problems with alcohol and other substances, prevented him from reaching the top.
In the prime years of his acting career, Vincent was most recognizable for playing the character of pilot Stringfellow Hawke on the CBS show, Airwolf. The Airwolf actor died in early 2019 at the age of 73 near his home of Asheville, North Carolina.
32. Stanley Donen
Considered to be the “Master of the Musical,” Stanley Donen was responsible for some of America’s first and favorite on-screen musicals in the golden era of musical films. The list is long, but it includes classics like Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Royal Wedding (1951), and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954).
According to an article in The New Yorker, Donen “epitomized Hollywood style…[he] made the world of champagne fountains and pillbox hats look enchanting, which is much harder than it sounds.” The legendary director passed away at the age of 94 in 2019, leaving behind a successful career and having enjoyed a long life.
33. Sid Haig
With a towering figure, Sid Haig appeared in over 350 television series and 70 movies. As his career grew, Haig found himself with a cult following of horror fans who eagerly looked forward to his works — particularly those which partnered him with musician, actor, and director Rob Zombie.
Haig’s many film credits are quite impressive; he appeared in films like Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown and the James Bond spy thriller, Diamonds Are Forever. His most popular role was as the murderous clown in Rob Zombie’s horror movie House of 1000 Corpses. After 50 years of providing excitement and terror to audiences, Haig passed away at age 80.
34. Vinny Vella
Known affectionately as the unofficial “Mayor of Little Italy” in New York City’s Little Italy, Vinny Vella’s career was comprised of roles in gangster movies. Some of his most famous include Martin Scorsese’s 1995 crime movie, Casino, which put the Little Italy actor next to Robert De Niro then, and again in 2002 for the film Analyze That.
Vella’s other most memorable role was as Jimmy Petrille in the classic HBO mobster series The Sopranos where he worked for five seasons. The actor known for playing it tough died in 2019 following a battle with liver cancer. He was 72 years old.
35. Grumpy Cat
Arguably one of the most famous cats in the world, many people will recognize this adorable feline from the numerous memes featuring its face. Grumpy Cat, as the internet knew her, was actually named Tartar Sauce by her owners, and passed away in 2019, leaving the Internet heartbroken.
The cat’s perpetually grumpy face was caused by a combination of an underbite and feline dwarfism. By the time she passed in 2019, Grumpy Cat had amassed a following of 8.2 million Facebook friends, 2.7 million Instagram followers, and 1.5 million followers on Twitter. Although the cat may have looked grumpy she no doubt helped millions of people feel better even on their grumpiest of days.
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