Sadly, the year 2020 saw the passing of many high-profile celebrities across the world. We lost quite a few icons over that 12-month period – including box office titans, celebrated sportsmen and musicians. So from Diego Maradona to Little Richard, let’s explore a few of the trailblazers who sadly departed this earth in 2020.
40. Kenny Rogers
That March 81-year-old country music icon Kenny Rogers died of natural causes – surrounded by his family and in hospice care. The husky voiced legend sold 120 million records globally and saw 24 of his songs hit the top of the U.S. charts, according to his official website. The musician’s publicist said in a statement, “Kenny Rogers left an indelible mark on the history of American music. His songs have endeared music lovers and touched the lives of millions around the world.”
39. Terry Jones
In February, Monty Python members John Cleese, Terry Gilliam and Sir Michael Palin attended a humanist funeral ceremony in the U.K. capital for their compatriot Terry Jones. The celebrated actor and director had helmed many of the comedy outfit’s most beloved sketches. Jones died that January at the age of 77 from frontotemporal dementia – a condition he’d been diagnosed with five years earlier.
38. Eddie Van Halen
Guitar virtuoso Eddie Van Halen sadly died of a stroke in October 2020. Over the course of 40 years, Van Halen – the band he formed with his brother Alex and singer David Lee Roth – recorded 12 albums. They also had a number of hit singles including “Hot For Teacher” and “Jump.” And Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello expressed some warm words for him at the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony that year. He said, “Eddie Van Halen was the Mozart of our generation.”
37. Rocky Johnson
Rocky Johnson – the 75-year-old father of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and one half of the first ever black duo to win the WWE tag team championships – died in January. His son posted a video on Instagram explaining that his father had experienced a heart attack brought on by deep vein thrombosis. A bittersweet Rock reportedly joked, “… I can also hear him now, ‘Make sure you put me over in the speech, say good stuff about me.’”
36. Neil Peart
In 2020 the world lost one of the best drummers of all time. Neil Peart – who was part of Canadian prog rockers Rush for 45 years – died of brain cancer that January. In an official statement posted on the band’s Twitter account, Peart was described as their friend and soul brother. He will be remembered by his photographer wife Carrie and daughter Olivia.
35. K.T. Oslin
Journalist Robert K. Oermann – a long-time friend of country music star K.T. Oslin – confirmed her passing to Rolling Stone in December. The “80’s Ladies” singer had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2015 and died only a week after contracting coronavirus. She is celebrated for her history making career thanks to being the first-ever woman to win the CMA Award for Song of the Year.
34. John le Carré
In December, at the age of 89, John le Carré died from pneumonia and the world lost arguably the greatest spy novelist of all time. The British writer – who Stephen King referred to as “a literary giant and a humanitarian spirit” – wrote the classic novels The Spy Who Came In from the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. According to the BBC, his agent Jonny Geller said that le Carré “defined the Cold War era and fearlessly spoke truth to power.”
33. Diego Maradona
Diego Maradona’s home nation of Argentina went into a state of mourning after the iconic soccer star died of a heart attack in November at the age of 60. Enormous crowds gathered to say their goodbyes when his coffin was displayed for the public at the country’s presidential palace. Many cried, prayed and blew kisses to their departed hero – a man they loved for his incredible talents and, equally, for his flaws.
32. Ann Reinking
“The world and our family have lost a vibrant, amazing talent and beautiful soul.” These words were part of an emotional statement issued by Broadway icon Ann Reinking’s family after the Tony Award winner passed in December. It continued, “She was visiting our brother in Washington state when she went to sleep and never woke up. We will miss her more than we can say. Heaven has the best choreographer available now.”
31. Alex Trebek
Quick-witted Canadian television host Alex Trebek fronted Jeopardy! for more than 8,200 episodes across three decades. He was a TV institution, and the world was deeply saddened when the 80-year-old died in November from stage-four pancreatic cancer. Though some comfort was taken by the fact that he passed peacefully at home with family and friends by his side.
30. Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister
Known for his intimidating presence in movies such as Friday and The Dark Knight, Tommy “Tiny” Lister was a unique presence in Hollywood. In fact, he even took Zeus – his character from No Holds Barred – into the WWE wrestling ring to face down Hulk Hogan. The 62-year-old sadly died in December from what was officially listed as “natural causes.” Though Lister’s manager confirmed that he had displayed coronavirus symptoms in the week before his passing.
29. Clark Middleton
In October The Blacklist and Twin Peaks star Clark Middleton lost his life to the West Nile virus at the age of 63. The unique character actor had lived with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis from the age of four years old. In a statement, his wife Elissa paid tribute to him by saying, “[Middleton] was a beautiful soul who spent a lifetime defying limits and advocating for people with disabilities.”
28. Conchata Ferrell
Conchata Ferrell played irascible housekeeper Berta in 12 seasons of the massively successful sitcom Two and a Half Men. Oh, and she also collected two Emmy nominations in the process. She died in October at 77 after cardiac arrest complications – leaving her castmates devastated. Long-time co-star Charlie Sheen posted on Twitter that Ferrell was “an absolute sweetheart, a consummate pro [and] a genuine friend. [It’s] a shocking and painful loss.”
27. Jon Huber
In December the pro-wrestling community was dealt a terrible blow when Jon Huber – known as Luke Harper in WWE and Brodie Lee in other promotions – died unexpectedly. The 41-year-old passed from an unspecified lung issue and widespread tributes were paid by many people in the wrestling business. His wife Amanda posted on Instagram that “he was my best friend, my husband, and the greatest father you would ever meet.”
26. Michael Lonsdale
Michael Lonsdale played Bond villain Hugo Drax in 1979’s Moonraker, and it would be the role that would define the Anglo-French actor for many film fans. Over the course of an extensive career, he also appeared in Munich, Ronin and The Day of the Jackal – among more than 200 credits. His agent Olivier Loiseau revealed the 89-year-old died in September in Paris at home.
25. Brian Dennehy
During an illustrious career over five decades, Brian Dennehy won six Emmy Awards, a Golden Globe and two Tonys. He’s perhaps best known to film fans for his role as the over-zealous sheriff going up against Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo in First Blood. Though Dennehy also starred in countless television shows and theater productions. The 81-year-old died from a cardiac arrest brought on by sepsis.
24. Chi Chi DeVayne
Chi Chi DeVayne – a star of RuPaul’s Drag Race whose real name was Zavion Davenport – tragically died in August at only 34. She had been in hospital in July with kidney failure and high blood pressure, but was released, only to be readmitted a month later suffering from pneumonia. RuPaul said in a statement, “I am so grateful that we got to experience her kind and beautiful soul. She will be dearly missed, but never forgotten.”
23. Regis Philbin
At the age of 88, legendary TV host Regis Philbin died in July from a myocardial infarction brought on by coronary artery disease. He had previously undergone triple bypass surgery in 2007. His loved ones released a beautiful statement, saying, “[Philbin’s] family and friends are forever grateful for the time we got to spend with him – for his warmth, his legendary sense of humor, and his singular ability to make every day into something worth talking about…”
22. Jackie Stallone
In September Jackie Stallone died in her sleep at the age of 98. The sad news was announced by her son Frank, who posted on Instagram, “It was hard not to like her, she was a very eccentric and flamboyant person.” Her other son – Hollywood icon Sylvester – wrote on the platform, “A mother who has always believed and encouraged her sons. She was the number one fan of Sly and Frank. She will be remembered forever for her charisma and love.”
21. Ennio Morricone
Ennio Morricone – the man who created the score for The Good, the bad and the Ugly – left us in July at the age of 91. A man whose work will forever be synonymous with Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood’s “spaghetti westerns,” the genius composer also scored films such as The Untouchables and The Hateful Eight. Fittingly, in his birth city of Rome, Italy, he was known to the locals as “maestro.”
20. Joel Schumacher
Director Joel Schumacher died in June following a cancer diagnosis the previous year. Though he left behind an incredibly diverse range of films. He helmed the 1980s classics St. Elmo’s Fire and The Lost Boys, hit legal thrillers A Time to Kill and The Client, and he ventured into the superhero arena with Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. Schumacher will also be remembered as an openly gay director who forged a path in Hollywood that others have since followed.
19. Adam Schlesinger
Adam Schlesinger was a founding member of pop-rock outfit Fountains of Wayne, who had a major hit in 2003 with the hilarious “Stacy’s Mom.” In more recent years, he had transitioned into writing songs for The CW’s popular show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and won an Emmy in the process. Tragically, the 52-year-old died in April from coronavirus complications – leaving behind his partner Alexis and daughters Claire and Sadie.
18. Little Richard
Little Richard really was one of a kind. The rock n’ roll pioneer was publicly noted as an influence on future icons such as Elton John, Elvis Presley and the Beatles. The flamboyant and exuberant singer had a string of hits in the 1950s – including “Good Golly Miss Molly” and “Tutti Frutti.” The 87-year-old legend died at his home in Tennessee over complications brought on by bone cancer.
17. Kelly Preston
In the ’90s Kelly Preston starred in hit films like For Love of the Game and Jerry Maguire. She married Hollywood leading man John Travolta in 1991 and the couple had three children together. Sadly, the 57-year-old died in July from breast cancer. A devastated Travolta posted on Instagram, “[Preston’s] love and life will always be remembered.”
16. Fred Willard
Comedy legend Fred Willard’s death was first announced on social media in May by actress Jamie Lee Curtis – the wife of Willard’s long-time creative partner Christopher Guest. Of the Modern Family and Best In Show star, Curtis wrote, “How lucky that we all got to enjoy Fred Willard’s gifts.” His daughter Hope tweeted, “He kept moving, working, and making us happy until the very end. We loved him so very much!”
15. Jerry Stiller
Jerry Stiller was a comedy giant and best known as the eccentric-yet-loveable Arthur Spooner in The King of Queens and Frank Costanza in Seinfeld. The 92-year-old’s death was announced by his son – Meet The Parents star Ben – on Twitter. The actor, who appeared alongside his father in the Zoolander franchise, wrote, “He was a great dad and grandfather, and the most dedicated husband to Anne for about 62 years. He will be greatly missed.”
14. Honor Blackman
“It’s with great sadness that we have to announce the death of Honor Blackman, aged 94,” read a statement given to The Guardian. “She died peacefully of natural causes at her home in Lewes, Sussex, surrounded by her family.” Blackman was fondly remembered for her trailblazing roles as Bond girl Pussy Galore in Goldfinger and Cathy Gale in 1960s TV series The Avengers.
13. Roy Horn
Roy Horn – one half of iconic magic act Siegfried and Roy – died in May after contracting coronavirus. His on-stage partner Siegfried Fischbacher performed alongside him for an astonishing 40 years in Las Vegas. He said in a statement, “Today, the world has lost one of the greats of magic, but I have lost my best friend. From the moment we met, I knew [Horn] and I, together, would change the world.”
12. Irrfan Khan
Slumdog Millionaire, Life of Pi and Jurassic World star Irrfan Khan tragically lost his life in April at the age of 53. In 2018 he had been diagnosed with a neuroendocrine tumor and a week before his death he was taken to an intensive care unit in his native India with a colon infection. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, “Irrfan Khan’s demise is a loss to the world of cinema and theater.”
11. Bill Withers
With iconic songs like “Lean On Me” and “Ain’t No Sunshine” to his name, Bill Withers left an indelible impression on the world of hip hop and R&B. The singer sadly passed in April at the age of 81 from heart complications. His family’s statement read, “With his poetry and music, he spoke honestly to people and connected them to each other.” It added, “In this difficult time, we pray his music offers comfort and entertainment as fans hold tight to loved ones.”
10. Naya Rivera
Glee star Naya Rivera lost her life in a tragic accident in July after a boat trip with her son went horribly wrong. The 33-year-old had gone missing at Lake Piru in California, and the star’s young son was later found alive in their rented pontoon boat. Rivera’s death was ruled an accidental drowning, and the child told authorities that his mother had saved him by pushing his body into the boat before she fell beneath the waves.
9. Ian Holm
Esteemed British character actor Ian Holm played Bilbo Baggins in both the first and third entries in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit franchises. He also starred in seminal films such as Alien and Chariots of Fire. At the age of 88, Holm died of an illness connected to the Parkinson’s disease he’d had for several years.
8. James Lipton
“He lived each day as if it were his last,” said Kedakai Lipton of her husband James – the beautifully articulate host of Inside the Actor’s Studio. “His work was his passion, [he] loved what he did and all the people he worked with.” The 93-year-old died from bladder cancer in March but left behind an archive of fascinating episodes in which he’d interviewed more than 300 actors about their craft.
7. Vera Lynn
Dame Vera Lynn became deeply entrenched in the psyche of Britain during World War II. Indeed, her songs – including “We’ll Meet Again” and “The White Cliffs of Dover” – helped boost the morale of soldiers. She passed in June at the incredible age of 103 with her family and friends by her side. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson poignantly wrote on Twitter, “Her voice will live on to lift the hearts of generations to come.”
6. Max von Sydow
Swedish actor Max von Sydow enjoyed an astounding career that spanned seven decades. From The Exorcist and The Seventh Seal, all the way to Game of Thrones, he was known to many generations. Sydow passed in March at the age of 90. Director Martin Scorsese – who worked with him on Shutter Island – told The Guardian that the star was “a consummate actor, with a pride in his art and a dedication to his craft that I’ve encountered in very few people in my life.”
5. Kirk Douglas
Spartacus star Kirk Douglas – a man synonymous with the Golden Age of Hollywood – lived to the ripe old age of 103. When he passed in February, his leading actor son Michael released a poignant statement. He said, “Kirk’s life was well-lived, and he leaves a legacy in film that will endure for generations to come, and a history as a renowned philanthropist who worked to aid the public and bring peace to the planet.”
4. Diana Rigg
English actress Diana Rigg played Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – the only Bond girl to actually marry the dashing superspy. She was also an icon in her homeland for her role as Emma Peel in The Avengers and in recent years appeared in Game of Thrones as Olenna Tyrell. Rigg sadly died in September from cancer, which she had been diagnosed with earlier in March.
3. Sean Connery
The first James Bond – Scottish acting legend Sir Sean Connery – died in October at 90. His son Jason announced that he passed peacefully in his sleep at his home in the Bahamas. He added, “A sad day for all who knew and loved my dad and a sad loss for all people around the world who enjoyed the wonderful gift he had as an actor.” Connery also starred in hit films like Highlander, The Untouchables and The Rock.
2. Kobe Bryant
In January five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna – as well as seven other members of Gianna’s basketball team and their parents – died in helicopter crash. And, understandably, this tragedy shocked the world. In December Bryant’s wife Vanessa posted a Christmas photo on Instagram with her other daughters Bianka, Capri and Natalia. The moving caption read, “Always together, never apart, together forever in our hearts.”
1. Chadwick Boseman
The death of 43-year-old Chadwick Boseman in August hit fans hard. The Marvel Cinematic Universe and Da 5 Bloods star died of colon cancer, which came as a total shock as his condition had been kept from the public. His family’s statement read, “A true fighter, Chadwick persevered through it all…” The message went on, “It was the honor of his career to bring King T’Challa to life in Black Panther.”