It shocks us when public figures die at a young age — and, for most of us, 50 feels pretty young. From Jackie Robinson to Jerry Garcia, Grace Kelly to Kate Spade, some of our favorite celebrities died in their 50s, leaving us much too soon. We remember famous figures from film, television, music, business, and sports who died before 60. Click the links for more info about your favorite celebrities.
KATE SPADE (1962 – 2018)
Fashion designer KATE SPADE (1962 – 2018) was known for her stylish handbags and bubbly personality. “I hope that people remember me not just as a good businesswoman,” she told Glamour magazine in 2002, “but as a great friend — and a heck of a lot of fun.”
GORD DOWNIE (1964 – 2017)
When GORD DOWNIE (1964 – 2017) died after a brave battle with brain cancer, Canada lost one of its most beloved musicians. Downie fronted the Tragically Hip from the band’s formation in 1983 until his death.
TROY GENTRY (1967 – 2017)
DAVE SEMENKO (1957 – 2017)
Former Edmonton Oilers winger DAVE SEMENKO (1957 – 2017) was known as Wayne Gretzky’s on-ice bodyguard. He died of cancer at 59.
CHRIS CORNELL (1964 – 2017)
As the lead singer for Soundgarden and Audioslave, CHRIS CORNELL (1964 – 2017) was one of the architects of the 1990s grunge rock movement. Cornell died suddenly May 17, 2017, in Detroit, where he’d been performing with Soundgarden. He was 52.
ERIN MORAN (1960 – 2017)
Actor ERIN MORAN (1960 – 2017) was best known for her role as Joanie Cunningham on the 1970s sitcom “Happy Days” and its 1980s spinoff “Joanie Loves Chachi.” She died of cancer at 56.
CHARLIE MURPHY (1959 – 2017)
Comedian CHARLIE MURPHY (1959 – 2017) was known for his work on “Chappelle’s Show” and for his real-life role as Eddie Murphy’s older brother. He died of leukemia at 57.
SAM SIMON (1955 – 2015)
SAM SIMON (1955 – 2015) began his career in television as a writer for sitcoms such as “Cheers” and “Taxi,” but made his biggest mark as co-creator of “The Simpsons.” In later life he became a philanthropist, establishing the Sam Simon Foundation, an animal welfare organization, in 2002. Ten years later, after a terminal cancer diagnosis, Simon decided to give away his entire estate of more than $100 million to various charities after his death.
JAN HOOKS (1957 – 2014)
As a “Saturday Night Live” cast member, JAN HOOKS (1957 – 2014) had audiences in stitches with her impressions of famous women. Later she starred as innocent and tenderhearted Carlene Dobber on “Designing Women.” Hooks died of throat cancer at 57.
HENRY “BIG BANK HANK” JACKSON (1957 – 2014)
HENRY “BIG BANK HANK” JACKSON (1957 – 2014) was a member of the Sugarhill Gang, the hip-hop act whose 1979 track “Rapper’s Delight” set the stage for a music revolution and influenced a generation of musicians. He died at 58 of cancer.
ELIZABETH PENA (1959 – 2014)
ELIZABETH PENA (1959 – 2014) was a versatile actress who shifted between dramatic roles in such films as “Lone Star” and comedic parts in TV shows like “Modern Family.” Peña died at 55 of cirrhosis of the liver due to alcohol abuse.
JAMES GANDOLFINI (1961 – 2013)
JAMES GANDOLFINI (1961 – 2013), who won three Emmy Awards for outstanding lead actor in a drama series for his work in “The Sopranos,” died at 51 of a heart attack
STEVE JOBS (1955 – 2011)
STEVE JOBS (1955 – 2011) forever made his mark on technology as the founder and CEO of Apple. Jobs died at 56 of pancreatic cancer.
RANDY SAVAGE aka MACHO MAN (1952 – 2011)
RANDY SAVAGE aka MACHO MAN (1952 – 2011) was a wrestling icon, and fans were devastated when he died at 58 of heart disease.
MICHAEL JACKSON (1958 – 2009)
King of Pop MICHAEL JACKSON (1958 – 2009) was wildly successful both as a solo artist and with his brothers, churning out some of the best-selling and most critically-acclaimed albums of all time. He died at 50 of acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication following a cardiac arrest.
PATRICK SWAYZE (1952 – 2009)
PATRICK SWAYZE (1952 – 2009) made women and girls swoon as the romantic lead in films such as “Dirty Dancing” and “Ghost,” and was equally effective as a tough guy in films such as “The Outsiders” and “Roadhouse.” Swayze died at 57 of pancreatic cancer.
BERNIE MAC (1957 – 2008)
Born on Chicago’s South Side, BERNIE MAC (1957 – 2008) held jobs at General Motors and Wonder Bread before pursuing a career in comedy. His stand-up success brought him movie roles and his own television show, putting him in the homes of millions of viewers who loved laughing with him. Mac died at 50 of sarcoidosis.
TIM RUSSERT (1950 – 2008)
“Meet the Press” anchor TIM RUSSERT (1950 – 2008) was the guy who could effortlessly marshal facts, figures, block quotes from a devastating New York Times profile – whatever was necessary – and gently weave them into a guest’s shroud. Russert died at 58 of a heart attack.
LUTHER VANDROSS (1951 – 2005)
LUTHER VANDROSS (1951 – 2005) sang songs that made us fall in love – with his music and with each other. The singer-songwriter sold more than 25 million albums and won eight Grammys, thanks to his rich voice and romantic music. Vandross died at 54 of a heart attack.
CHRISTOPHER REEVE (1952 – 2004)
CHRISTOPHER REEVE (1952 – 2004) became everyone’s favorite superhero when he played the lead role in “Superman.” But it was his bravery, strength, and determination after being paralyzed from the neck down that made him a true hero.
RICK JAMES (1948 – 2004)
RICK JAMES (1948 – 2004) called his blend of musical styles “punk funk.” His most well-known songs, including “Super Freak,” “Give It to Me Baby,” and “Mary Jane,” promote a wild lifestyle that eventually caught up with him in real life.
BARRY WHITE (1944 – 2003)
In the 1970s, the songs of BARRY WHITE (1944 – 2003) were the gold standard for setting a romantic mood, and fans still remember him fondly for providing the soundtrack to their most intimate moments. White was in need of a kidney transplant and undergoing dialysis when he suffered a stroke in May 2003. He died a few months later at 58.
JOHN RITTER (1948 – 2003)
In 1977 JOHN RITTER (1948 – 2003) landed the job that would make him a star – playing Jack Tripper on “Three’s Company.” Co-star Don Knotts called him “the greatest physical comedian on the planet.” Ritter died at 54 of an aortic dissection.
NELL CARTER (1948 – 2003)
NELL CARTER (1948 – 2003) went from nightclub gigs in Birmingham, Alabama, to a Tony-winning performance in “Ain’t Misbehavin,” then on to television as the star of sitcom “Gimme a Break!” She died at 54 of heart disease complicated by diabetes.
LYNNE THIGPEN (1948 – 2003)
LYNNE THIGPEN (1948 – 2003) has many film and television credits, but she’s perhaps best known for her turn as the Chief on the PBS children’s series “Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?” and “Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego?” based on the popular computer games. Thigpen died of a cerebral hemorrhage after complaining of headaches for a few days. She was 54.
ROBERT KARDASHIAN (1944 – 2003 )
Attorney ROBERT KARDASHIAN (1944 – 2003) rose to national prominence in the 1990s as part of O.J. Simpson’s legal defense team against murder charges. He died of esophageal cancer in 2003, four years before his children Kourtney, Kim, Khloé, and Rob Jr. became reality TV superstars.
GEORGE HARRISON (1943 – 2001)
GEORGE HARRISON (1943 – 2001) was just 14 years old when he joined the Beatles. Lennon and McCartney may have been the primary songwriters, but Harrison wrote several timeless Beatles’ songs, including “Here Comes the Sun,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and “Taxman” before going on to a successful solo career. He died of lung cancer at 58.
MADELINE KAHN (1942 – 1999)
MADELINE KAHN (1942 – 1999) costarred in some of the funniest movies of the 1970s and ’80s, including “Young Frankenstein,” “Blazing Saddles,” and “Clue.” Reportedly, she doubted her own ability to tell a joke, but she could certainly sing one – as anyone who has laughed through “I’m Tired” from “Blazing Saddles” can attest. Kahn died of ovarian cancer at 57.
GENE SISKEL (1946 – 1999)
GENE SISKEL (1946 – 1999) and fellow movie critic Roger Ebert created the template for succinct thumbs-up or thumbs-down movie reviews. Siskel died at 53 of complications from surgery for brain cancer.
TAMMY WYNETTE (1942 – 1998)
As TAMMY WYNETTE (1942 – 1998) neared the end of her life, she reflected on the challenges she’d faced: a childhood picking cotton, a baby who contracted spinal meningitis, jobs waiting tables and working on factory floors. Five husbands, a bankruptcy filing, a stalker, a house fire. So how did she make peace with a lifetime of struggle? “The sad part about happy endings is there’s nothing to write about.” Wynette died at 55 of a blood clot in her lung.
LINDA McCARTNEY (1941 – 1998)
LINDA McCARTNEY (1941 – 1998) broke the hearts of women all over the world when she married Beatle Paul McCartney in 1969. A gifted photographer, animal rights activist, author and entrepreneur, she died of breast cancer at 56.
JOHN DENVER (1943 – 1997)
JOHN DENVER (1943 – 1997), whose songs “Rocky Mountain High” and “Take Me Home, Country Roads” gained him worldwide appeal and millions of record sales in the 1970s, was killed at 53 when his experimental single-engine plane crashed off the California coast.
JERRY GARCIA (1942 – 1995)
JERRY GARCIA (1942 – 1995) was a master guitarist whose band, the Grateful Dead, symbolized the 1960s counterculture and remained a top concert draw three decades later. Garcia was at a drug treatment center when he died of a heart attack at 53.
RAUL JULIA (1940 – 1994)
RAUL JULIA (1940 – 1994) was one of Puerto Rico’s most famous native sons, thanks to his celebrated acting career on Broadway and in films such as “The Addams Family” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” Julia died of complications from a stroke after months of ill health. He was 54.
FRANK ZAPPA (1940 – 1993)
A prolific composer and musician, FRANK ZAPPA (1940 – 1993) released more than 60 records during his lifetime. When he died of prostate cancer at age 52, the New York Times called him “rock’s most committed iconoclast.”
BILL BIXBY (1934 – 1993)
BILL BIXBY (1934 – 1993) starred in not one but three popular television shows: “Incredible Hulk,” “My Favorite Martian,” and “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.” He was directing the popular sitcom “Blossom” in 1993 when he collapsed on the set. Bixby died six weeks later at 59 of complications from prostate cancer.
MICHAEL LANDON (1936 – 1991)
For more than three decades, MICHAEL LANDON (1936 – 1991) was one of television’s biggest names, starring on “Bonanza,” “Little House on the Prairie,” and “Highway to Heaven.” Meanwhile, the movie and TV actor was also busy behind the scenes, as a writer, director and producer. Landon died at 54 of pancreatic cancer.
JIM HENSON (1936 – 1990)
From “Sesame Street” to “The Muppet Show,” “Star Wars” to “Labyrinth,” JIM HENSON (1936 – 1990) created worlds of wonder with his groundbreaking Muppets and creature designs. With felt, Ping-Pong balls and other mundane materials, he brought to life unforgettable characters like Kermit the Frog and the Swedish Chef. Henson died at 53 of heart failure.
ROY ORBISON (1936 – 1988)
ROY ORBISON (1936 – 1988) had hits with “Only the Lonely,” “Running Scared,” and “Oh, Pretty Woman” thanks to his pure, operatic, instantly recognizable voice. He died of a heart attack at 52.
ANDY WARHOL (1928 – 1987)
ANDY WARHOL (1928 – 1987) was one of the pioneers of the Pop Art movement. Best known for his garishly colored portraits of celebrities and of everyday objects like soup cans, he was also an experimental filmmaker and performance artist who influenced a generation of artists and musicians. Warhol died at 58 of complications from gallbladder surgery.
GRACE KELLY (1929 – 1982)
GRACE KELLY (1929 – 1982) stunned the world in 1955 when she left Hollywood behind to marry Prince Rainier III of Monaco. Princess Grace died at 52 of injuries sustained in a car crash.
STEVE McQUEEN (1930 – 1980)
STEVE McQUEEN (1930 – 1980) was one of those stars we loved to look at. From his earliest roles to iconic movies such as “Bullitt” and “The Great Escape,” McQueen captivated audiences whenever he stepped in front of a movie camera. McQueen was just 50 when he died of mesothelioma.
JACKIE ROBINSON (1919 – 1972)
One of the greatest trailblazers in sports history, JACKIE ROBINSON (1919 – 1972) is well known for a certain iconic “first” – but his entry into Major League Baseball was just one of many things Robinson did before anyone else. Robinson died of a heart attack at 53.
VIVIEN LEIGH (1913 – 1967)
VIVIEN LEIGH (1913 – 1967) will always be remembered best for her iconic portrayal of Scarlett O’Hara in 1939’s “Gone With the Wind,” for which she won her first Academy Award. She died of tuberculosis at 53.
CLARK GABLE (1901 – 1960)
Known as “The King of Hollywood,” CLARK GABLE (1901 – 1960) was the epitome of a Hollywood leading man in Golden Age classics like “Gone With the Wind” and “It Happened One Night.” Gable died at 59 of an arterial blood clot, a few days after suffering a heart attack.
ERROL FLYNN (1909 – 1959)
Actor ERROL FLYNN (1909 – 1959) was nearly as well known for his decadent private life of drinking and womanizing as for his movie roles as swashbuckling heroes in classic 1930s movies such as “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and “Captain Blood.” Flynn died of a heart attack at age 50.
HUMPHREY BOGART (1899 – 1957)
During an iconic acting career that spanned three decades, HUMPHREY BOGART (1899 – 1957) starred in classic movies such as “Casablanca,” “The Maltese Falcon,” “The African Queen” and dozens more. Bogart died of esophageal cancer at 57, leaving behind 32-year-old widow Lauren Bacall and their two children.
BABE RUTH (1895 – 1948)
During his legendary career, BABE RUTH (1895 – 1948) led the Yankees to four World Series wins, and he the major leagues in home runs 12 times, including a 60 home run season that stood as a record for more than 30 years. Ruth died of cancer at 53.