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Celebrities Who Died in Their 50s

by Legacy Staff

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)

Kate Spade (Photo by David Howells/Corbis via Getty Images)

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.”

Kate Spade’s Obituary


GORD DOWNIE (1964 – 2017) 

Gord Downie ( Corbis via Getty Images / Icon Sportswire / Photo by Chris Austin)

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.

Gord Downie: The Tragically Hip’s Greatest Performances

TROY GENTRY (1967 – 2017)

Troy Gentry (Photo by Frederick Breedon IV/Getty Images for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum)

Troy Gentry’s Obituary

DAVE SEMENKO (1957 – 2017)

Dave Semenko (Getty)

Former Edmonton Oilers winger DAVE SEMENKO (1957 – 2017) was known as Wayne Gretzky’s on-ice bodyguard. He died of cancer at 59.

Dave Semenko’s Obituary

 CHRIS CORNELL (1964 – 2017)

Chris Cornell (Photo by Joby Sessions/Total Guitar Magazine via Getty Images)

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.

Chris Cornell’s Obituary

ERIN MORAN (1960 – 2017)

Erin Moran (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)

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.

Erin Moran’s Obituary

CHARLIE MURPHY (1959 – 2017) 

Charlie Murphy (Getty)

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.

Charlie Murphy’s Obituary

SAM SIMON (1955 – 2015)

Sam Simon (Getty Images / WireImage / Amanda Edwards)

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.

Sam Simon’s Obituary

 JAN HOOKS (1957 – 2014)

Jan Hooks (Everett Collection)

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.

Remembering Jan Hooks


Henry “Big Bank Hank” Jackson (Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives)

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.

More Big Bank Hank

ELIZABETH PENA (1959 – 2014) 

Elizabeth Pena (Photo by Matt Carr/Getty Images)

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.

Elizabeth Pena’s Obituary

JAMES GANDOLFINI (1961 – 2013)

James Gandolfini (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, file)

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

James Gandolfini’s Obituary

STEVE JOBS (1955 – 2011) 

Steve Jobs (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

STEVE JOBS (1955 – 2011) forever made his mark on technology as the founder and CEO of Apple. Jobs died at 56 of pancreatic cancer.

Remembering Steve Jobs

RANDY SAVAGE aka MACHO MAN (1952 – 2011)

Randy “Macho Man” Savage (Photo by Bob Stowell/Getty Images)

RANDY SAVAGE aka MACHO MAN (1952 – 2011) was a wrestling icon, and fans were devastated when he died at 58 of heart disease.

Randy Savage: Showman

MICHAEL JACKSON (1958 – 2009) 

Michael Jackson (AP Photo/Cliff Schiappa, File)

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.

The Michael Jackson Five

PATRICK SWAYZE (1952 – 2009) 

Patrick Swayze (Photo by Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)

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) 

Bernie Mac (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, file)

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.

We Still Miss Bernie Mac

TIM RUSSERT (1950 – 2008)

Tim Russert (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

“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.

TV Journalists Gallery

LUTHER VANDROSS (1951 – 2005)

Luther Vandross (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

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.

Luther Vandross is for Lovers

CHRISTOPHER REEVE (1952 – 2004) 

Christopher Reeve (AP Photo/Akili Ramsess)

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.

Super Christopher Reeve

RICK JAMES (1948 – 2004)

Rick James (Getty Images/Paul Natkin)

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.

Rick James: 5 Fun Facts

BARRY WHITE (1944 – 2003)

Barry White (Getty Images/WireImage /Chris Walter)

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.

More Barry White

JOHN RITTER (1948 – 2003) 

John Ritter (AP photo)

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.

Remembering John Ritter

NELL CARTER (1948 – 2003)

Nell Carter (AP Photo)

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.

The Highs and Lows of Nell Carter

LYNNE THIGPEN (1948 – 2003)

Lynne Thigpen (PBS Promo)

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.

Favorite Children’s Entertainers

ROBERT KARDASHIAN (1944 – 2003 )

Robert Kardashian (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian, Pool)

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 (AP Photo)

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.

George Harrison’s Best Beatles Songs

MADELINE KAHN (1942 – 1999)

Madeline Kahn (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

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.

Madeline Kahn, Reluctant Comedian

GENE SISKEL (1946 – 1999)

Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac, File)

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.

More Gene Siskel

TAMMY WYNETTE (1942 – 1998)

Tammy Wynette (AP Photo)

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.

More Tammy Wynette

LINDA McCARTNEY (1941 – 1998) 

Linda McCartney (Getty Images/Redferns/Gijsbert Hanekroot)

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.

Linda McCartney and Paul

JOHN DENVER (1943 – 1997)

John Denver (AP Photo/File)

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.

John Denver: Pure Gold

JERRY GARCIA (1942 – 1995)

Jerry Garcia (AP Photo/FILE/Arista)

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.

Jerry Garcia: 10 Facts

RAUL JULIA (1940 – 1994) 

Raul Julia (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

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.

Remembering Raul Julia

FRANK ZAPPA (1940 – 1993) 

Frank Zappa (Getty Images/Redferns/Gijsbert Hanekroot)

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.”

Frank Zappa: Revolutionary

BILL BIXBY (1934 – 1993)

Bill Bixby (Photo by CBS via Getty Images)

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.

The Incredible Bill Bixby

MICHAEL LANDON (1936 – 1991) 

Michael Landon (Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

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.

Michael Landon was a Teenage Werewolf

JIM HENSON (1936 – 1990) 

Jim Henson (AP Photo/file)

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.

More Jim Henson

ROY ORBISON (1936 – 1988) 

Roy Orbison (Getty Images/Redferns/David Redfern)

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.

The Songs of Roy Orbison

ANDY WARHOL (1928 – 1987)

Andy Warhol (Getty Images/Jack Mitchell)

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.

More Andy Warhol

GRACE KELLY (1929 – 1982)

Grace Kelly (AP Photo)

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.

Grace Kelly’s Fairy Tale

STEVE McQUEEN (1930 – 1980)

Steve McQueen (Getty Images/Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive)

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.

Steve McQueen Photos

JACKIE ROBINSON (1919 – 1972)

Jackie Robinson (Getty Images/Hulton Archive)

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.

More Jackie Robinson

VIVIEN LEIGH (1913 – 1967)

Vivien Leigh (Getty Images/Silver Screen Collection)

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.

More Vivien Leigh

CLARK GABLE (1901 – 1960)

(Getty Images/John Kobal Foundation/George Hurrel)

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.

Clark Gable by the Numbers

ERROL FLYNN (1909 – 1959)

Errol Flynn (Getty Images/Silver Screen Collection)

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.

In Like Errol Flynn

HUMPHREY BOGART (1899 – 1957)

Humphrey Bogart (Getty Images/Mondadori Portfolio)

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.

Hollywood Love Stories

BABE RUTH (1895 – 1948)

Babe Ruth (Getty Images/Western Reserve Historical Society/Louis Van Oeye)

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.

The Many Faces of Babe Ruth

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