In Memoriam 2016: Film, Television, Music, Sports, Literature, the Arts…
With 2017 upon us, let’s take one final look back at the luminaries and personalities of the entertainment world who left us in 2016, during a year that seemed more turbulent and taxing than any other in recent memory.
Challenges in the past and challenges ahead, it’s a tough time to live in the world right now with so many changes like a whirling dervish to the senses. While there is much sadness in recognizing and accepting the passing of so many great figures in 2016, it’s the endearing, endless, never-ending fanbase and legacy that will keep each and every one of these names mentioned here (and some are of only cult status, but still enjoy a rabid passionate following as equal as any global figure) alive and well in the consciousness and beyond. In no particular order and apologies in advance if some of your favorites were left off. This was a huge list to go through and what was more painful than compiling this list was the fact that these incredibly talented people are all no longer with us.
It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since the Starman left this galaxy. The chameleon of so many facets (art, music, and fashion being the apexes), the work and legacy of David Bowie was already in huge paramount whilst the man was alive in his later years. Now, in his death (on Jan 10th of 2016 at the age of 69), there’s an even more larger than life persona that hovers over the rock and roll landscape daily, more than it ever did before. Bowie filled a void with his fresh and pioneering approach to glam and then sounds and styles that branched out from that genre, and then ultimately created a void in his untimely passing. He will be missed greatly, achingly, and respectfully, until the end of time.
The R&B master, who died on April 21st at the age of 57 and who in many ways was not only one of the great songwriters/producers/singers/song craftsmen of all time, but also one of the greatest guitar players of all time, was part of a small group of superstars who charted many directions in 1980s music sounds and styles. Prince, who penned such delectable and complex sonic masterpieces of pop as “When Doves Cry” and the Oscar-winning song of the film of the same name “Purple Rain,” will always not only be remembered as just a symbol of the ’80s, but a symbol of a master of his craft. One of his prodigies during his heyday, Vanity, the leather wearing and clad in lingerie singer, who sang in her own band Vanity 6 and appeared in ’80s films like The Last Dragon, also died in 2016 on Feb 15th at the age of 57.
Dubbed by many as the unofficial “fifth Beatle,” it was due to the production approach of George Martin, who helmed the recordings of the Beatles to their full, final, and ultimately legendary fruition. Working in tandem with all four and helping shape in every way the sound, style, and arrangement of classic after classic, Martin had a sonic taste, grace and uplift as a human being and as an artist of production. For years after The Beatles broke up in 1970, Martin still supervised or at least had hands on with most of the post-break up Beatles projects and products, all to varying success. He was 90 years old when he died on March 8.
Not only one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time, but also one of the greatest human beings of all time, Muhammad Ali was an everyman for everybody. A champion inside the ring and out, his tireless energy and boundless personality was on par with any A-lister in Hollywood in terms of public adoration and reach. But he was also a fighter of principle and belief, risking and losing crucial peak years of his fighting career because of his outspoken views on the then-current Vietnam War. At first vilified and then regarded as an American hero in many ways, the legacy of Muhammad Ali goes far beyond the pugilism aspect and sports spectrum, as someone who (as he so loudly yet eloquently put it when he beat Sonny Liston in their first matchup together, when no one gave Ali a chance for victory) “shook up the world.” He was 74 when he died on June 3. Howard Bingham, who was Ali’s longtime personal photographer, biographer, and friend, also died in 2016, on December 15th at the age of 77.
Possibly the greatest NHL player of all time, the beloved hockey player, who rightfully earned the for-life moniker “Mr. Hockey,” thrilled audiences of the sport through decades, and set records and staked claims on how the game should be played like almost no other player before or since. Gordie Howe was 88 when he died on June 10.
Anton Yelchin, mostly known to this generation of audiences for his portrayal of Chekov in the J.J. Abrams-helmed Star Trek film series franchise, died in a freak and tragic accident at his home in Studio City on June 19th. He was only 27 years old when he died, but had already made his bones in a competitive sea of Hollywood and had a future that looked to know no end in sight in terms of what was available to him. Yelchin remains missed by the legions of past, present, and future Star Trek fans around the world.
The wunderkind responsible for the wave of innocuous yet successful sitcoms of the 1970s, such as The Odd Couple, Laverne and Shirley, Mork and Mindy, and Happy Days, Garry Marshall also had a successful career directing films, kickstarted by the 1990 smash hit Pretty Woman. Marshall, whose sister Penny has also made her mark in Hollywood as an actor and director in her own right, died on July 19th at the age of 81.
Diminutive in size yet gargantuan in terms of adoration, Kenny Baker, best remembered for his entirely in the costume portrayal of R2-D2, the lovable droid who remains one of the brightest characters from the Star Wars franchise, died at the age of 81 on August 13, leaving behind a legacy and a character which will remain in movie lore for all time. Tony Dyson, the robotics technician who built R2-D2 for the films, also passed away in 2016, on March 4.
Gene Wilder made his career on playing neurotic yet tenderly and sometimes emotionally erratic and meek characters, like his expert portrayal of Leo Bloom in Mel Brooks’ hilarity-fest The Producers; as the gleeful candy magnate Willy Wonka; a warped and maniacal frizzy-haired mad scientist in Brooks’ Young Frankenstein; the robust comedies he made with Richard Pryor; or any of the light films he made with his wife, the late Gilda Radner. There was always a slight wink and an ease and comfort about watching Wilder in action, which is an element that makes him sorely missed by legions of fans around the world. He was 83 when he died on August 28.
Bill Nunn, a great character actor who mainly worked with Spike Lee in his formative years and may be best remembered as playing Radio Raheem, the lumbering giant who had a radio twice his size in Lee’s 1989 masterpiece Do the Right Thing, died on September 24 at the age of 62. Nunn may be best recognized to contemporary audiences for his appearance in the Spider-Man film franchise.
To many, Leonard Cohen remains a figure in music unlike no other, a true prophet and a poet, fused with a kind of romanticism blended with dashes of spirituality and sexuality to create songs of passion, longing, and outreach, such as “Suzanne,” “Bird on a Wire,” and the uplifting and urgent “Hallelujah.” He was 82 when he died on November 7.
Dashing, debonair Robert Vaughn, who always played villains and slick character types with full relish, may best be remembered for his co-starring role (with David McCallum) on the 1960s espionage small screen classic The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Vaughn had a career after U.N.C.L.E. in film and TV that lasted decades, including the 1960 classic The Magnificent Seven, and his distinct face and steely voice made him one of the most legendary character (and sometimes leading) actors of all time. Vaughn died on November 11, at the age of 83.
Florence Henderson was best remembered for portraying the wholesome mom Carol Brady on The Brady Bunch, the harmless sitcom which showcased a perfect nuclear all-American family, devoid of any of the horrors of real life a family would face. In the Brady’s world, all was serene, the biggest crisis being who gets to use the house phone the most out of six kids in the house. Henderson was also a skilled song and dance woman and was a prolific actress who spanned multiple genres and projects pre and post Brady Bunch work. With her death at 82 on November 24, the six actors who played the children on The Brady Bunch remain the only surviving members of the program.
Ron Glass, the stalwart TV actor seen in genre-stretching programs such as the cop comedy-drama Barney Miller or the short-lived cult favorite Firefly, had a career in which he usually parlayed a pseudo-upper crust manner not unlike the way Tony Randall played his public persona later in his career. In fact, it’s probably not coincidence that both Randall and Glass had played prissy neat freak Felix Unger in television adaptations of The Odd Couple (Randall’s remaining a smash cult program in reruns, and Glass’ version a dud, cancelled half season). Glass was 71 when he died on November 25.
Greg Lake was one-third of the classic trio Emerson, Lake & Palmer and also a founding member of King Crimson, both British bands which took rock and roll conventions and meshed them with complex jazz-styled arrangements to create and have a firm hand in the “progressive rock” genre that was just coming into its own at the time of the birth of King Crimson, circa the late 1960s. With ELP, Lake and the others (drummer Carl Palmer and the late keyboardist extraordinaire Keith Emerson, who also died the same year, see below) created exciting music that was the bridge between where other electric trios like Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience left off and where bands like Rush would follow later in ELP’s wake. Lake was 69 when he died on December 7.
Keith Emerson, who was also a co-founder of ELP, had a vocabulary on the keyboard as wide and expansive as some would say his ego, but it was all part and parcel of a style and ultimately a sound that was integral and key to the success of ELP as much as anyone else if maybe more, as Emerson was the unofficial leader of the group in many ways. It was that kind of metaphoric strut he had on his instrument and in his public persona that made him and ELP stalwarts of the prog rock scene and ultimately, elevating to hall of fame status. Emerson was 71 when he died on March 11.
The perennial performer, comedian, and even tunesmith (he penned themes to many game shows, including the original theme to Wheel of Fortune), Alan Thicke may best be remembered however as the head of the Seaver family on the ’80s sitcom Growing Pains. Thicke had a kind of swarmy, deadpan kind of style to him, and his light comedy touches and versatility made him a household name during the Reagan era in America. He died on December 13 at the age of 69.
The colorful in more ways than one figure, who was a longtime sideline reporter for various sports, is probably most remembered for his reporting basketball coverage and post and pre game interviews for TNT Sports and their various incarnations on the TNT Network. With a kind flair, a gently pressing demeanor and a presence that was beloved and looked up to by all generations of the sport, Craig Sager’s presence is missed greatly by fans of the sport domestically and globally. He died on December 15 at the age of 65.
Best remembered for his portrayal of the gentle and genteel Father Mulcahy on the long-running TV series MASH, William Christopher also had appeared here and there on various sitcoms pre and post MASH, The Andy Griffith Show being a standout. Christopher was 84 when he died on December 31.
Garry Shandling’s warped comedic sensibilities first found him in his own TV show on Fox, which broke conventions, and then he found fame as Larry Sanders on the cable smash The Larry Sanders Show, in which he played to the hilt a complete parody of the machinations of running a late night talk show and the constant comic foibles and tribulations one faces in that milieu. Shandling was 66 when he died on March 24.
George Kennedy was an Academy Award-winning actor in 1960s Hollywood (for his ruthless performance in Cool Hand Luke with Paul Newman), but he may best be remembered as the bumbling police Captain in the now-classic Naked Gun series of films, based on the TV series Police Squad!, with the late, great Leslie Nielsen. Kennedy deadpanned his way through each of those three hilarious films, never once flinching at anything the writers gave him, be it raunchy, A-grade humor, raunchy Z-grade humor, or otherwise. Kennedy was a congenial, masterful actor who also gave a huge presence to the successful Airport films during the 1970s. Kennedy was 91 when he died on February 28.
Paul Peter Porges
Paul Peter Porges, whose loose yet extremely biting and sharply rendered cartoons graced the pages of Mad magazine for decades and during the magazines heyday from the ’60s to the ’80s, died on December 20 at the age of 89. His work will be remembered in a long line of fans and colleagues around the world, all who raise a toast of high honor and respect for an artist who managed to escape a deportation camp he was stationed in as a young lad during Nazi Germany to become one of the A-listers of the Mad Magazine staff, affectionately known as “The Usual Gang of Idiots.”
Don Edwing was another masterful Mad magazine writer/cartoonist, kind of in the Porges camp of loosely yet sharply biting renderings, but in a style uniquely and without question wholly his own. Ghostwriting Don Martin’s warped one-panels near the end of that legendary loopy and zany cartoonist’s tenure at Mad because it had been reported that Martin was sometimes unable to come up with good gags, Edwing eventually took the mantle left behind when Martin left the magazine in the late 1980s and quickly carved his own crazy, warped, even at times grotesque style for the magazine. He had been around for Mad since the 1960s, but it wasn’t until Martin left and he took that spot, that he solidified his legend with Mad readers past and present. He was 82 when he died on December 26.
For legions of jazz fans that stretched generations, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson was among that instrument’s elite. He had a breezy sound that had an elasticity that allowed it to stretch sub-genres within the jazz idiom and he did it effortlessly and swimmingly on record after record in which he fronted bands and song structures that at once swayed between traditional, post-bebop, early fusion, fusion itself, and all usually with undercurrents of Latin and Swing. Like Milt Jackson or Lionel Hampton and especially Cal Tjader, all masters of the vibraphone and all equals on par with Hutcherson and some even succeeding him, Hutcherson was a true blue jazz star, a consummate legend and reliable and consistent titan of the vibraphone. He was 75 when he died on August 15.
Burt Kwouk, best known for his role as Cato, the humble manservant of Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther series of films, who at once however could quickly play an always destructive and dangerous game of martial arts cat and mouse with the Inspector when he least expects it and when he always just comes home, died at the age of 85 on May 24. Kwouk, born in England but raised in Shanghai, also appeared in some popular productions independent of the Pink Panther series, such as the 1960s James Bond take off Casino Royale and the James Bond proper You Only Live Twice.
Certainly not a household name in any respects to John Q. Public, but Al Brodax was an instrumental television and film producer, largely responsible for the production of the 1960s Beatles Saturday morning cartoons. The success of that led to the creation of the Beatles theatrical legendary psychedelic pop-art film Yellow Submarine, released in 1968 and considered a benchmark in animation history. Brodax had gotten his start in producing animation on a low-budget scale, helming the Popeye shorts of the early ’60s which ran continuously on syndicated TV during that time and into the 1980s. Brodax was 90 when he died on November 24.
A consistent character actor in film and mainly sitcom TV, Marvin Kaplan’s bespectacled, slightly cherubic kind of everyman was perfect for the roles of characters who mainly thrived on being milquetoast. Whether it was films like It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World or TV shows like Alice, in which he played Henry, who worked for the telephone company and frequented Mel’s Diner, Kaplan played characters who were slight, but usually had punch lines and most of the comeback style jokes. Kaplan was 89 when he died on August 25.
The frontman of Wham!, the ’80s pop sensation out of England with hits like “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” and “Careless Whisper,” George Michael died on Christmas Day at the all too young age of 53. Taking the success he found with Wham! and parlaying that into a solo career that catapulted him to stratospheric heights both as a performer and a songwriter, Michael’s ride was all too brief in sad hindsight and it seemed as if, even though he had been relatively quiet the last few years, was ready to embark on the next chapter of a musical career that was bold and fun, which tugged at soul, sex, and heartstrings and left a body of work which will endure as it’s done for over three decades now.
One of the last true blue bonafide living Hollywood legends from its storied Golden Age period, Debbie Reynolds could do it all. She effused a bubbly effervescence that was infectious and could soften even the hardest of hearts. Whether it was light breezy comedy or carrying films with her ebullient yet erudite manner, or singing and dancing in the rain, or the boundless other things she could do, which seemed effortless and had such a zestful buoyancy that even passing glances could get sucked in by its blinding and dazzling charm, the film and lifeography of Debbie Reynolds was a true example of what an exemplary shining star is supposed to really be and represent. She died tragically in the wake of her daughter actress Carrie Fisher’s death (see below) one day after, on December 28th, at the age of 84.
Carrie Fisher was one of the most luminescent figures not only in the Star Wars franchise, but in Hollywood culture as well. Like her mother Debbie Reynolds, she had an ease about everything she did, a sly wink and a wide smile that allowed her, and rightfully so, to pretty much open any door she wanted or needed to with people, who were more than willing to melt in her presence. With a voice that always borderlined on sarcasm, she gave each and every Star Wars fan the satisfaction they wanted each and every time, never wavering, never failing. She was a role model in which her portrayal of Princess Leia and Carrie Fisher the real life human being blurred often. She’s usually overlooked when one mentions early women action stars in films, usually giving that plateau to Sigourney Weaver as the first with her portrayal of Ripley in the Alien films. But Fisher did things as Leia before Weaver, and even if she didn’t get her hands down and dirty most of the time in the Star Wars films (unless she really needed to), she still had that kind of swagger exemplified by the best of those gun-toting women in those other actioners. She is and will be missed terribly by the entire Star Wars universe, but like the Force, her presence as Princess Leia and also in the other works she did, like her books and tireless energy put to her various causes, will be with us, always. She was 60 years old when she passed away on December 27.
We also remember the following who passed in 2016, for their contributions to the entertainment industry and to the arts:
– Peter Vaughan (93, actor, Game Of Thrones; played Maester Aemon)
– Michael Cimino (director, The Deer Hunter, Year of the Dragon)
– Robin Hardy (director, The Wicker Man)
– Darwyn Cooke (artist and comic book creator)
– Paul Kantner (guitarist, Jefferson Airplane)
– Abe Vigoda (actor, The Godfather, Barney Miller)
– Jimmy Bain (bassist, Dio, Rainbow)
– Glenn Frey (guitarist/singer, The Eagles)
– Alan Rickman (actor, Harry Potter, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves)
– Angus Scrimm (actor, “The Tall Man” from Phantasm)
– Vilmos Zsigmond (cinematographer, Close Encounters of the Third Kind)
– Doris Roberts (actress, Everybody Loves Raymond)
– Pat Harrington Jr. (actor, One Day At A Time)
– Michael Galeota (actor, Disney Channel’s The Jersey)
– David Margulies (actor, Ghostbusters)
– Dan Haggerty (actor, Grizzly Adams on The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams)
– Maurice White (musician, Earth, Wind & Fire)
– Daniel Gerson (screenwriter, Disney’s Monsters Inc., Big Hero 6)
– George Gaynes (actor, Punky Brewster, Police Academy)
– Angela “Big Ang” Raiola (reality TV star, The Mob Wives)
– Harper Lee (author, To Kill a Mockingbird)
– Tony Burton (actor, Rocky)
– Nancy Reagan (actress, former First Lady of the United States, widow of U.S. President Ronald Reagan)
– Jim Harrison (author, Legends of the Fall)
– Patty Duke (actress, The Patty Duke Show, The Miracle Worker)
– William Schallert (actor, em>The Patty Duke Show)
– Erik Bauersfeld (actor, voice of Star Wars character Admiral Ackbar)
– David Gest (Music producer, former husband of Liza Minnelli)
– Chyna (WWE women’s champion wrestler, reality TV star)
– Morley Safer (broadcast journalist, 60 Minutes)
– Janet Waldo (voice of Judy Jetson on The Jetsons)
– Theresa Saldana (actress, Raging Bull, The Commish)
– Michu Meszaros (actor, circus performer, Alf)
– Ronnie Claire Edwards (actress, The Waltons)
– Miss Cleo (TV informercial psychic)
– Jerry Doyle (actor, Babylon 5)
– Alexis Arquette (actress, The Wedding Singer, Pulp Fiction)
– Gwen Ifill (broadcast journalist, PBS NewsHour)
– Ricky Harris (actor, Everybody Hates Chris)
– John Glenn (astronaut, former U.S. Senator)
– Rod Temperton (songwriter, Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You”)
– Arnold Palmer (pro golfer)
– James Alan McPherson (Pulitzer Prize-winning author)
– Bernie Worrell (musician, Parliament-Funkadelic)
– Phife Dawg (musician, A Tribe Called Quest)
– Rene Angelil (singer, music producer, husband and manager of singer Celine Dion)
– Robert Stigwood (Manager, Cream and the Bee Gees; film producer, Grease, Saturday Night Fever