Join us as we look back at some of the most recognizable and beloved notable people who died in 2019
By: Linnea Crowther and John Maxwell
1 month ago
In 2019, we lost people who shaped our world — entertainers, politicians, athletes, artists. Join us as we look back at some of the most recognizable and beloved notable people who died in 2019.
As the year began, we lost Carol Channing, whose bright smile dazzled both on Broadway and in movies including “Thoroughly Modern Millie;” later in the year, we lost Carol Lynley, who memorably played the ship’s singer in “The Poseidon Adventure.” Albert Finney was a ladies’ man in “Tom Jones” and a master detective in “Murder on the Orient Express,” while Rip Torn worked with aliens in “The Man Who Fell to Earth” and “Men in Black.”
John Singleton made history as the first African American and the youngest person ever nominated for an Oscar for Best Director, for “Boyz n the Hood.” Comedian John Witherspoon played a hilarious dad in the “Friday” series, and Danny Aiello was unforgettable as pizzeria owner Sal in “Do the Right Thing.” Rutger Hauer was part of a nightmare future when he played a replicant in “Blade Runner,” while Peter Mayhew offered a friendlier sci-fi vision as the man in the Chewbacca suit in the “Star Wars” series.
Two greats of 1960s film died this year: Peter Fonda, who exemplified the decade’s counterculture in “Easy Rider,” and Michael J. Pollard, whose hapless gangster helped make “Bonnie and Clyde” a classic of the era’s Hollywood Renaissance. And we lost an icon from just a bit earlier when Doris Day died — she was America’s Sweetheart in the 1950s and early ‘60s, both in the movies as she starred in “Pillow Talk” and “That Touch of Mink” and on our radios as she sang hits including “Secret Love” and “Que Sera, Sera.”
The 1980s wouldn’t have been the same without two of the rock stars who died this year: Ric Ocasek, lead singer for the Cars, helped bring new wave into the mainstream with hits like “Just What I Needed” and “You Might Think,” while Eddie Money rocked the airwaves with “Two Tickets to Paradise” and “Take Me Home Tonight.” Earl Thomas Conley topped the country charts over and over in the ‘80s with songs like “Holding Her and Loving You,” and a decade later, Keith Flint put edgy electronic dance music songs like “Firestarter” on the map as lead singer for the Prodigy.
Three notable rappers died far too young in 2019: Nipsey Hussle, whose mixtapes were legendary; Bushwick Bill, a member of the Geto Boys; and Juice WRLD, whose song “Hide” was featured on the soundtrack to “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” And we lost two Spanish-language superstars: Camilo Sesto sold more than 100 million albums on the strength of singles including “Algo de Mi,” and José José was Mexico’s influential “Prince of Song” and recorded romantic ballads like “El Triste.”
Jessye Norman’s powerful soprano made her a star of American opera who was beloved at the Met, where she performed more than 80 times. Dr. John was one of the brightest stars of the New Orleans music scene as he combined blues, jazz, and rock to create hits like “Right Place, Wrong Time,” while Leon Redbone took us back to an earlier era when he played the music of the Tin Pan Alley days. James Ingram’s rich voice made us fall in love with romantic hits including “Baby, Come to Me,” and Marie Fredriksson’s singing for Roxette sent ballads like “It Must Have Been Love” to the top of the charts.
Ginger Baker was a legend of classic rock as he provided driving drums for Cream on songs including “Crossroads” and “White Room,” while Hal Blaine drummed on 150 Top 10 hits of the ‘60s and ‘70s as a member of the fabled session band the Wrecking Crew. Dick Dale was the “King of the Surf Guitar” as he played fast and furious instrumentals like “Misirlou,” and Peter Tork played a very different kind of ‘60s music as the keyboardist and bass guitarist for the Monkees, who ruled both radio and TV with hit songs like “Pleasant Valley Sunday.”
Cokie Roberts was also a star of both radio and television, but not as a singer — her political reporting was the gold standard on NPR’s “Morning Edition” as well as on “ABC World News Tonight.” Valerie Harper charmed us as she played free-spirited Rhoda Morgenstern on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and in her spinoff, “Rhoda,” and her “Mary Tyler Moore” costar, Georgia Engel, who played the show’s sweet and ditzy Georgette, also died this year. Edith González was a star of Mexican telenovelas, while Diahann Carroll broke down barriers when she played the title character on “Julia,” TV’s first black woman with a professional career.
Luke Perry was a top ‘90s heartthrob on “Beverly Hills, 90210” and grew up to be a dad on “Riverdale,” while soap opera audiences loved Kristoff St. John as he played the long-running character Neil Winters on “The Young and the Restless.” Peggy Lipton’s career spanned decades as she starred on both “The Mod Squad” and “Twin Peaks,” and Rene Auberjonois tackled comedy, drama, and sci-fi alike on “Benson,” “Boston Legal,” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
We lost some very funny TV actors in 2019: Katherine Helmond was sweet and flirty on “Soap” and a feisty mom on “Who’s the Boss;” Rip Taylor cracked up audiences on “The Hollywood Squares” and “The Gong Show;” and Tim Conway cracked up audiences AND his costars on “The Carol Burnett Show” as he used physical comedy and funny accents to bring down the house. We also lost stars beloved to children of all ages: Cameron Boyce was a young Disney star who today’s kids loved as he played Carlos DeVil on “The Descendants,” while Caroll Spinney spent fifty years delighting generations of children as he played the iconic characters of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on “Sesame Street.”
“Mean” Gene Okerlund was a WWE Hall of Famer, not for his piledriver or his power slam, but as a prominent announcer and interviewer from the 1970s until just last year, and Harley Race was a nine-time world heavyweight champion of wrestling and a Hall of Famer himself. Mason Lowe was a highly ranked professional bull rider who tragically died while doing the sport he loved, while Formula One driver Niki Lauda famously cheated death by surviving a horrific crash at the 1976 German Grand Prix.
John Havlicek won eight NBA championships during his 16 years with the Boston Celtics, and Ted Lindsay was a four-time Stanley Cup champion as he played with the Detroit Red Wings. Frank Robinson was the first baseball player to be named MVP in both the National League and the American League, playing for the Cincinnati Reds and the Baltimore Orioles, and Tyler Skaggs had been pitching for the Los Angeles Angels since 2013.
Pernell Whitaker was called the best boxer in the world in the ‘90s and was a world champion in four different weight categories, and Bart Starr was a legend of the Green Bay Packers, a quarterback who led his team to victory in the first two Super Bowls.
Toni Morrison was one of the towering writers of the past 50 years, a transcendent novelist who won a Pulitzer Prize for “Beloved” and a Nobel Prize in Literature for her celebrated body of work. She fed our souls, while Leah Chase fed our bodies as the "Queen of Creole Cuisine" and chef at Dooky Chase’s Restaurant in New Orleans. I.M. Pei was the architect of striking and important buildings including the Louvre Pyramid in Paris and the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.
Karl Lagerfeld dictated high style as the creative director at fashion houses Chanel and Fendi, and Gloria Vanderbilt made designer jeans that were must-haves in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Aleksei Leonov was a Soviet cosmonaut who became the first human to walk in space, while Jerrie Cobb was NASA’s first female astronaut candidate.
Beth Chapman was one of the beloved stars of reality TV — she starred and worked alongside her husband on “Dog the Bounty Hunter.” Suzanne Whang was the first host of “House Hunters” and stayed with the show for eight years, while Jessi Combs hosted “Xtreme 4x4” on SpikeTV as well as appearing on “Mythbusters” and setting the women’s land speed world record driving a jet-powered car.
Grant Thompson was YouTube’s “King of Random,” who walked millions of subscribers through fun DIY projects and experiments, and Desmond Amofah was known as Etika on YouTube, where he was a popular gaming streamer.
Elijah Cummings was a Democratic U.S. Representative from Maryland, and he was leading the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump at the time of his death. Ross Perot ran for president as a third-party candidate in 1992 and 1996, while John Paul Stevens was a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1975 until his retirement in 2010.
David Koch was a billionaire businessman, the 11th-richest person in the world and a prominent donor to Republican political campaigns. Lee Iacocca was a top exec at Ford, where he helped design the Mustang, and later at Chrysler, which he revived after years of falling sales.