The entertainment world began 2019 in sad fashion. Three stars passed away on the second day of the year: Wrestling icon "Mean" Gene Okerlund, Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s Bob Einstein, and Daryl Dragon, one half of music group Captain and Tennille. Later that month, the world lost Top Chef star Fatima Ali after a heartbreaking battle with cancer and also Broadway legend Carol Channing, who played the titular role in Hello Dolly! and became a leading lady in film and television. And, in early March, the world was forced to say goodbye to Beverly Hills, 90210 star Luke Perry.
These talented entertainers and household names left an indelible mark on the world, be it through acting, athletics, cuisine, comedy, music, or just high-quality smack-talk. Let’s take a moment to honor the stars we lost in 2019 and to revisit their incredible contributions to the creative arts.
‘Mean’ Gene Okerlund
Iconic WWE interviewer "Mean" Gene Okerlund died at age 75 on Jan. 2, 2019. Okerlund had been suffering from health issues for years, undergoing three kidney transplants, according to ESPN. Okerlund was famous for his insult-heavy wrestling promos for WWE, which peaked in the 1980s with stars such as Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, and Randy "Macho Man" Savage. During the mid-’90s, Okerlund transitioned to WCW. His final major wrestling appearance was on Jan. 22, 2018, for the 25th anniversary of Monday Night Raw.
The wrestling community was heartbroken over Okerlund’s death. WWE CEO Vince McMahon tweeted, "It was impossible not to crack a smile whenever ‘Mean’ Gene Okerlund entered a room. He was the voice behind so many of WWE’s most iconic and entertaining moments, and the WWE family will miss him immensely."
Famed wrestler "Stone Cold" Steve Austin had this to say about Okerlund on Twitter: "As an interviewer, pitch man, announcer, or host, he was untouchable. Simply the best. Total professional with quick wit, sarcasm, humor, and that golden voice."
Daryl Dragon of musical duo The Captain and Tennille died on Jan. 2, 2019. The "Captain" was 76 years old. Dragon was born into a musical family. His father was an Oscar-winning conductor and composer, and his mother was a singer who worked with Bing Crosby, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Dragon was classically trained and performed with The Beach Boys before achieving fame with wife partner Toni Tennille in the 1970s. Captain and Tennille’s biggest hits were its cover of Neil Sedaka’s "Love Will Keep Us Together" and the No. 1 hit "Do That to Me One More Time."
Dragon and Tennille tied the knot in 1975 and divorced in 2014. Following his death, Tennille revealed troubling details about the singer’s private live. According to Closer Weekly, she "found out he had Parkinsonian symptoms, including tremors exacerbated by anxiety and PTSD after [allegedly] being beaten from age 4 by his famous dad, bandleader Carmen Dragon." Tennille said she moved to Arizona around 2016 to help care for Dragon. That reportedly meant "firing home health aides whom she said kept him drugged at night, finding him a new place to live with better care and visiting regularly." She was by his side when he passed. "He was a brilliant man," she said, "and I loved him with all my heart."