We all look up to our favorite stars, and when one of them sadly passes, it leaves us all with a heavy heart. There’s never truly a good time to say goodbye to a loved one, and the same is somehow true for people we only know from afar, whether they were actors, musicians, or sports legends. Many of these names you will recognize, some you may not, but each of these people left an undeniable mark on our lives and the world we know today. Some were cut short in their prime while others led long, fulfilled lives before leaving the mortal coil, and some stars may have faded in recent years, but they all have one thing in common: They will be missed. Join us as we take a look at these stars, how we lost them, and the accomplishments or feats we’ll always remember them for.
Omar Sharif is probably most famous for his roles in Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, but while those roles kicked off his career in the U.S., they certainly weren’t the end of it. The Egyptian actor was a powerhouse in cinema for over 60 years, up to his most recent role in 2013’s Rock the Casbah (not to be confused with Bill Murray’s Rock the Kasbah). Younger fans might recognize him from The 13th Warrior, which also starred Antonio Banderas, or the Viggo Mortenson film Hidalgo.
In early 2015, Omar Sharif was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He had a heart attack later that same year and died on July 10, 2015, in Cairo, Egypt. Sadly, his mental health had deteriorated rapidly in those few short months. According to his son, the 83-year-old could remember the broad strokes of his life — he knew he was an actor — but he couldn’t recall when some of his films had been made.
On February 25, 2016, 78-year-old actor and ex-boxer Tony Burton finally fought his last round after a long battle with pneumonia. The world knew Tony Burton best as Duke, the hard-ass boxing trainer in the Rocky series. He had a supporting role in six total Rocky films, most recently the 2006 sequel, Rocky Balboa. Burton was a long-time friend of Sylvester Stallone and Carl Weathers, who played Apollo Creed in the franchise.
It should come as no surprise that the man who trained both Creed and Rocky on film was a boxer himself in his early years. He was a two-time light-heavyweight champion before he retired from the sport in 1959. After that, Tony Burton tried to cobble his life together, but eventually found himself doing a three-year stretch in a California prison for robbery. While behind bars, Burton took an interest in acting, and in 1974 he landed his first role in the blaxploitation film The Black Godfather.
After a string of minor TV appearances, Burton nabbed a small role in John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, and then finally went for the knockout when he was cast as Duke in the first Rocky film. The rest, as they say, is history.
It’s been said that if there hadn’t been a George Martin, there wouldn’t have been a band called the Beatles. Whether that’s true or not is impossible to say, but George Martin certainly helped turn the band into the international sensation they became. John Lennon himself said that George Martin "made us what we were in the studio." It’s no wonder the legendary producer was often called the fifth Beatle.
From 1963’s Please Please Me, the Beatles’ first LP, all the way through 1969’s Abbey Road, George Martin practically was a member of the band, working closely with them to refine the sound and texture of each and every song. After the Beatles’ breakup, Martin continued producing for Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr during their solo efforts, famously working on McCartney’s "Live and Let Die" in 1973.
Other musical acts that George Martin worked with include Kenny Rogers, Celine Dion, and Elton John, to name a few. On March 8, 2016, Martin died of unknown causes. He was 90 years old and passed away quietly in his sleep.
Nick Lashaway never became a household name, although who knows where his career might have gone if it had been given more time. Most recently, Nick Lashaway was known for his role as Frank on HBO’s Girls. Lashaway also had roles in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and 2011’s In Time, starring Justin Timberlake.
In 1998, at the age of 10, Nick Lashaway was cast in The X-Files as a young Fox Mulder, a role he later reprised in the 2015 continuation of the series. According to an Instagram post by Lena Dunham, star of Girls, Nick Lashaway was talented and sweet, and she feels "such gratitude for his gifts." Nick Lashaway was 28 when he was killed in a car accident on May 8, 2016.
Rob Knox is relatively well-known to fans of the Harry Potter film franchise — he played ice cream-loving Ravenclaw Marcus Belby in Half-Blood Prince — though he should’ve been known for far more than that. Unfortunately, due to his incredibly untimely death, his career never advanced past that one big role.
Knox was set to return for Deathly Hallows, despite Belby not appearing in the Hallows novel, but tragedy struck before filming could commence. On May 24, 2008, Knox was at a pub with his younger brother in London when a man appeared, brandishing knives and screaming for a fight. He went after Knox’s brother, but Knox (also an aspiring rugby player) rushed in to defend him. Unfortunately, this left Rob with four stab wounds, and he died that day. He was only 18.
A year later, his killer, Karl Bishop, was sentenced to life in prison. Around that time, during Half-Blood Prince‘s premiere, the cast wore white ribbons, both as a tribute to Knox and to raise awareness of the knife violence that was sadly prominent at the time in England.
When people nickname you "The King," you know you’re doing it right. The godfather of golf and a god on the green, Arnold Palmer is one of golf’s most recognizable names, and not just because somebody named a drink after him. Between 1955 and 1973, Arnold Palmer raked in victories at 62 PGA Tour events. When the World Golf Hall of Fame opened in 1974, only 13 golfers were added to the roster, and Arnold Palmer was one of them.
In 2012, Palmer became the sixth athlete in history to receive the Congressional Gold Medal. His career — which lasted more than 60 years — inspired thousands and went a long way toward making golf a nationally beloved sport. He passed away on September 25, 2016, at the age of 87. His wife told the press that he suffered from heart issues.
You never saw his face, you never heard his voice, but Kenny Baker was one of the most recognizable actors in movie history. Standing just 3’8" tall, Kenny Baker went down in history as a giant. From A New Hope in 1977 to Revenge of the Sith in 2005, Kenny Baker was the man inside the suit in every Star Wars movie that featured R2-D2.
In addition to the Star Wars films, Kenny Baker also acted in Labyrinth, Time Bandits, Willow, and The Elephant Man. For years, Baker suffered from a lung condition, and the English actor finally succumbed to the illness on August 13, 2016. He was 81 years old, and he reportedly died peacefully in his sleep. George Lucas said that he was the "heart and soul" of R2-D2, a man who always worked hard to bring the robot to life.
The world’s first glimpse of Kimbo Slice came in the form of YouTube videos showing the massive, bearded man brawling in backyards. Overnight, he became an internet sensation. But when his 15 minutes of fame was ready to leave him in the dark, Kimbo fought back. In 2008, Kimbo Slice (real name Kevin Ferguson), became a professional MMA fighter. His third professional fight became the first MMA match to be broadcast on prime-time TV.
In many ways, Kimbo’s larger-than-life attitude brought the young sport of MMA into the mainstream, and although he looked fearsome in the ring, he was said to be a "gentle giant" in private. On June 6, 2016, Kimbo Slice was rushed to a hospital in Florida. He died of heart failure the same day.
According to ESPN, Kimbo Slice had been on a waiting list for a heart transplant at the time of his death.
As time goes on, we’ve learned more and more about the terrible effects football can have on the brain. Junior Seau is proof, though sadly not living proof.
Seau played in the NFL for 20 years and, according to ESPN, was never once diagnosed with a concussion. Many concussions go unnoticed and undiagnosed, and Seau clearly suffered plenty of them. Two years after retiring, Seau shot himself in the heart, on May 2, 2012, and his wife and son wanted to know why. So they partnered with the National Institutes of Health, which studied his brain and concluded he suffered from severe chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Basically, as a result of getting hit in the head countless times over 20 years, Seau’s brain deteriorated to the point that he couldn’t think logically, which may have played a part in the suicide.
Seau’s family hopes this research, along with subsequent research that has found CTE in countless football players, will someday prevent such tragedies from continuing to occur. Maybe organizations like the NFL can find ways not to hurt people and destroy families.
Dino Bravo was never the biggest WWF star, though he certainly was one of the strongest. Unfortunately, it was his (likely steroid-aided) size that was ultimately his downfall.
After years of employment throughout the ’80s, Dino found himself on the outs with the WWF by 1992. According to fellow wrestler and friend Rick Martel, he simply didn’t fit into Vince McMahon’s plans anymore, so he was released. Bravo, with no savings and no knowledge of anything other than wrestling, got into organized crime through his uncle and joined a cigarette smuggling ring based in Quebec. Less than a year later, on March 10, 1993, he was dead, 17 gunshots riddled all over his body. Martel believes a cocaine smuggler blamed him for cops showing up during a would-be deal between the two markets, and Bravo suffered the consequences of running afoul with the mob.
Bravo may not have been Hulk Hogan or Steve Austin in terms of wrestling fame, but he certainly deserved a better fate than what he got.
Hector "Macho" Camacho was both a great boxer (79 wins against just six losses) and a great showman. When he boxed, fans knew they were getting both sports and entertainment. But he’s been gone from us for awhile, slain on November 24, 2012.
Camacho hadn’t boxed since 2010 and had been battling drug problems long before that. In 2005, for example, he was arrested for trying to rob a store and had ecstasy with him at the time. On November 20, 2012, he was driving around with a friend who was apparently deep into cocaine. Another car approached Camacho and his friend, and the people inside opened fire. The driver (who had nine bags of coke on him) was shot twice and died. Camacho, meanwhile, took one bullet that went straight through his head. At first, according to ESPN, doctors thought he would survive, but then he suffered a heart attack that left him brain dead. He was taken off life support and died four days after the shooting.
Kirby Puckett was a Hall of Fame baseball player who won two World Series championships with the Minnesota Twins and who also won adulation from basically everyone who watched him play. As MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said upon his passing, "He was revered throughout the country and will be remembered wherever the game is played."
In 1996, Puckett’s career was cut short due to glaucoma. According to former teammate Kent Hrbek, having to leave baseball so soon was likely super-devastating to Puckett, a feeling evidenced by Puckett’s rapid post-retirement weight gain. Sadly, it was this extra weight that probably did him in — on March 5, 2006, Puckett suffered a severe stroke and died just a day later. At age 45, he became the second-youngest member of the MLB Hall of Fame to die post-induction (older only than Lou Gehrig). He left behind a legacy of sheer fun and enthusiasm, proving that you can play sports at the highest level and still enjoy yourself while doing it.
Craig Sager was the Rod Roddy of sports — a pleasant, middle-aged guy wearing the loudest, most colorful suits imaginable. For nearly 40 years, the TNT sideline reporter would interview NBA stars while dressed like a stereotypical used car salesman, but nobody found it obnoxious (though San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich would playfully rib him for just about anything). Seemingly everyone found him endearing.
So it was a league-wide loss when, on December 15, 2016, the 65-year-old Sager lost his two-year battle with acute myeloid leukemia. He had been battling it valiantly, getting three bone marrow transplants and over 20 rounds of chemo. As he told HBO’s Real Sports, his goal was to make it five years, despite only being given 3-6 months to live. He made it more than two years, which still blew the doctors’ expectations right out the water. But, as a testament to how beloved he was, during the 2016 NBA Finals, TNT arranged for Sager to appear on ESPN to report on his first-ever Finals game. LeBron James took the opportunity to rib him with, "How in the hell do you go 30-plus years without getting a Finals game? That don’t make no sense." He added: "I’m happy to see you, man. Much love and respect. I’m happy I was able to witness it in front of these fans. We really appreciate you." For once, when one man spoke for everyone else, he was right.
Reggie Lewis was on his way to becoming an all-time NBA great when he left us way too soon, a death that hit the Boston community — and the entire NBA — hard.
He was only 27 when he died, but Reggie Lewis had already achieved a ton. He was an All-Star, a Celtics captain, a mentor to underprivileged youth — he was on his way to becoming as beloved as any legendary Boston sports figure. It didn’t hurt that he would pull off insane feats like block Michael Jordan four times in a single game and was putting up incredible numbers as well. He was only the sixth player from 1988-1993 to score 7,500 points, 1,500 rebounds, 1,000 assists, and 500 steals. The other five are all Hall of Famers, so Lewis was almost certainly on his way.
Sadly, that never happened — on July 27, 1993, he collapsed on the court during practice. He had collapsed once before, during a playoff game the previous spring. But this time, he never got up, and was pronounced dead two hours later. His cause of death was hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a common athletic ailment where the heart thickens, eventually causing heart attacks and cardiac arrest. Regardless of the diagnosis, losing Lewis left a huge, long-lasting hole in Boston sports, and Boston in general.
You might not know the name Windell Middlebrooks, mainly because it sounds made up. But you’ve almost certainly seen the man behind the name, whether it was as cruise ship security guard Kirby from The Suite Life On Deck, as Curtis Brumfield on Body of Proof, in dozens of one- or two-shot TV appearances on shows ranging from Hannah Montana to It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, or the delivery guy from all those Miller High Life commercials. He was very much an "Oh, That Guy" kind of actor, and you were bound to find him in something you enjoyed.
Sadly, he’s no longer with us. On March 9, 2015, at the far-too-young age of 36, Middlebrooks suffered a fatal pulmonary embolism, or a blockage of the arteries in his lungs. His Suite Life co-stars grieved for him over Twitter, as did fans of his incredibly diverse work the world over.
Talia Joy Castellano
Talia Joy Castellano wasn’t a YouTube star for very long, but only because cancer took her too early. Not just too early for her career — Talia was 13 when she passed, and that’s too young for anyone.
At age 7, Castellano was diagnosed with cancer. She responded by focusing on making herself as beautiful as possible. She discovered makeup and, in 2011, started a YouTube channel devoted to makeup and beauty tutorials. She quickly became popular — so much so, in fact, that she appeared on Ellen in 2012. There, Ellen and CoverGirl magazine dubbed her an honorary CoverGirl, with her own cover and everything. Showing people a clip of it is Step 1 in determining whether they’re robots.
Sadly, the next year her cancer became terminal, and on July 16, 2013, Castellano passed away surrounded by family. Regardless, she reportedly met her death while remaining happy, just as she would hope all her fans were every day.
Gram Parsons, a 1960s and ’70s rock star, who was known for stints in The Byrds and the deliciously named Flying Burrito Brothers, died young even for musician standards. He died on September 19, 1973, after mixing opiates and alcohol to major overdose levels. He was only 26, meaning he didn’t even qualify for the vaunted 27 Club, though we like to assume Jimi, Janis, and Morrison let him in anyway. The man did help invent country-rock, after all.
His death was a story in itself. As recapped by Rolling Stone, Parsons traveled to the Joshua Tree Inn in California because he apparently loved to do drugs in the desert. There he overdosed and died; then his body disappeared. As it turned out, his friend, Phil Kaufman, had stolen Parson’s body and burned it at Cap Rock in Joshua Tree per a pact between the two. Parson’s ashes were then buried in New Orleans, supposedly because his stepfather stood to inherit some of his son’s estate if he could prove Louisiana residency. Since you couldn’t exactly ask a pile of ashes where they lived, apparently burying them in the state you want them to have lived in is proof enough.
YouTube has been around long enough that it breeds legitimate celebrities, but sadly that also means some of them have already passed. Stevie Ryan is one such person, a YouTuber who gained millions of followers through her Little Loca show, along with various impressions of Old Media stars. She got popular enough that she got her own sketch comedy show on VH1, Stevie TV, which ran for two seasons.
Unfortunately, like many a creative talent, Ryan suffered from depression, a condition that only got worse when her beloved grandfather passed. She said on the Mentally Ch(ill) podcast, "I’m just worried that this is going to send me into a deeper depression." Unfortunately, on July 1, 2017, two days after speaking about her grandfather, Stevie Ryan killed herself, leaving behind an all-too-brief legacy of a funny lady whose demons took her away long before her time.
Zsa Zsa Gabor
Zsa Zsa Gabor made it until she was 99 years old, though if she got her way, her tombstone would probably say she was 75.
Gabor was a legendary actress, appearing in over 30 films over a career that began in the 1950s. But she’s more famous for her main career: "being Zsa Zsa Gabor." As the LA Times put it, "she was famous for being famous" long before Paris Hilton and company decided to be so. She was an unabashed personality, always ready with a racy quip ("I want a man who is kind and understanding. Is that too much to ask of a millionaire?") and glamorous clothing galore. She was fond of dressing as memorably as possibly, once complaining of modern starlets, "When you see them in real life, they look like nothing." But when Zsa Zsa walked down the street, you knew it was Zsa Zsa.
She married nine times (as she once said, "A girl must marry for love, and keep on marrying until she finds it,") had a habit of insisting she was younger than she really was, and called everybody "dahlink" whether they acted like a dahlink or not. Sadly, things took a turn in 2002, after a car crash left her partially paralyzed. Her health declined over the years, and on December 18, 2016, she passed away of heart failure. She had lived a full life.
Fans of Angel and Roseanne knew Glenn Quinn well. On the former, he was Doyle, Angel’s adviser to the Powers-That-Be. On the latter, he was Becky’s studly-yet-dim boyfriend. By the time of his death on December 3, 2002, at age 32, he was Hollywood royalty. He had dated Gwyneth Paltrow, was friends with John Travolta, and was starting to be mentioned in the same breath as other Irish stars like Daniel-Day Lewis. Unfortunately, with stardom came temptation and vices, which Quinn sadly succumbed to. He developed a heroin habit and was reportedly reduced to begging for money from patrons at the clubs he used to own, according to the Belfast Telegraph.
On the day of his death, Quinn was crashing on a friend’s couch after getting thrown out of rehab for using drugs. He went to sleep and, unbeknownst to his friend, would never wake up. He had overdosed on heroin, right there on the couch. And with that, one of the brightest stars of our time was snuffed out.
George Reeves was one of the earliest actors to play Superman and was almost certainly the most beloved until the almost-identically-named-but-not-quite Christopher Reeve came along. But Reeves never relished the role and felt playing a TV superhero was beneath him — according to The Telegraph, he was frequently drunk on set and would say things to his co-star Phyllis Coates (Lois Lane) like "here’s to the bottom of the barrel, babe," before drinking some more.
By the time he died on June 16, 1959, Reeves was in the toilet, professionally and personally. He had been typecast due to his Superman role, as studios didn’t want to give him serious film work anymore, seeing him as nothing but a children’s TV guy. He gained weight and became severely depressed. He died with a bullet in his head, although no one is sure how it got there. Either he shot himself intentionally, or his girlfriend (or one of his ex-lovers) did. Or perhaps he accidentally shot himself while high on painkillers (he had been in a bad car accident months before). It could have been something else entirely. Unfortunately, detectives didn’t do much detective work. They decided it was a suicide without even dusting around for fingerprints. They also tampered with the evidence (and Reeves’ body) so much it’s likely impossible to ever learn the truth. Either way, whether it was Reeves himself or someone else, somebody did what even Doomsday could not: killed Superman and kept him dead.
If you were a fan of the Police Academy films, you knew and enjoyed David Graf. he played Eugene Tackleberry in all six films, and outside of that was in shows like The West Wing, Touched By An Angel, and Caroline in the City, and films like Rule of Engagement and The Brady Bunch Movie. He was a seasoned character actor who could play just about any character, comedic or serious.
Unfortunately, his career and life were destined to be shorter than they deserved to be. On April 7, 2001, while attending a family wedding in Arizona, Graf suffered a severe heart attack and was unable to recover. He died that day, just a week away from turning 51. Sadly, this theme appears to run in the family; according to a Variety review of Surviving David, a one-woman play performed by Graf’s widow, Kathryn, both David’s father and grandfather died of heart attacks, and both died at age 51. That sounds like something out of a movie, but unfortunately, it’s an all-too-real plot twist.
Rebecca Schaeffer was on her way to becoming a major actress when evil ruined it all. The young Schaeffer had only been pursuing acting for a few years but was already winning major roles. She was in a CBS sitcom called My Sister Sam, had several films under her belt, was featured on the cover of Seventeen magazine, and was being considered for the title role in Pretty Woman, the one that eventually went to Julia Roberts. She was, in short, poised to be a superstar.
Tragically, along the way, she grabbed the attention of Robert Bardo, an obsessed fan who paid a private investigator to secure Schaeffer’s home address. He arrived at her home, and the encounter ended with him shooting her in the heart. According to Bardo, she repeatedly asked "Why?" as she died, just 21 years old. Bardo was arrested the next day and convicted of first-degree murder two years later. He will remain in prison for the rest of his life, and his actions prompted many states to adopt strong anti-stalking laws. (Every state now has them.) It wasn’t the fate Schaeffer wanted, but at least she can rest knowing that others are just a little bit safer.
Judith Barsi had a large body of work for someone who died, horribly, at age 10. Starting her career when she was 3 years old, Barsi appeared in shows as diverse as Twilight Zone, Punky Brewster, Remington Steele, and Cheers, along with films like Jaws: The Revenge and Eye of the Tiger. She was probably most known, however, for voicing Ducky the Dinosaur in The Land Before Time, along with Anne-Marie in All Dogs Go To Heaven. What most viewers hearing her voice in those films didn’t know is that she was already dead by the time they were released.
Barsi’s father, Jozsef, was an abusive alcoholic who would hit both Judith and her mother, resulting in severe depression and anxiety for the young girl. She would pluck out her own eyelashes and even her cat’s whiskers, according to the LA Times. During all this, Jozsef repeatedly claimed he would kill his wife and daughter, and on July 25, 1988, he did just that. He shot them both in their home, set the house ablaze, then shot himself to death.
Monty Hall was one of the most memorable hosts of one of the most memorable game shows of all time: Let’s Make a Deal. The show’s premise is bare-bones basic: Do you want to trade the thing you have for a mystery prize that might be better than your thing? But Hall’s easygoing charisma, plus potential contestants vying for his attention by dressing in the wackiest, weirdest outfits they could dream up, made the show iconic. He and his show even spawned a famous probability conundrum: the Monty Hall problem. In a nutshell, contestants would pick one of three doors, and Hall would open a different door with a booby prize behind it. He would then allow the contestant to switch doors if desired. In short, you should always switch. There’s a 66 percent chance a great prize is behind the door you just switched to. Don’t question it; legitimate geniuses say it’s true.
Hall remained host of the show until 1990, when it effectively went off the air. When Deal returned permanently in 2009, it had a new host in Wayne Brady. But according to the New York Times, Hall still owned the show and would sometimes show up to make deals alongside Brady. Even at his advanced age, he was still as jovial and charismatic as ever. Unfortunately, age can only advance so far, and on September 30, 2017, Hall suffered heart failure and passed away at 96 years of age.
Younger fans may not recognize Rod Taylor, but his legacy in Hollywood is undeniable. His most famous role came in 1963, when he was cast in the memorable starring role of the Hitchcock thriller The Birds. Rod Taylor appeared in more than 30 movies during the ’60s and ’70s, including The Time Machine, Do Not Disturb, and Nobody Runs Forever.
In 2009, Rod Taylor played Winston Churchill in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. He was 78 at the time, and it was to be his final role. Rod Taylor died of unknown causes on January 7, 2015, just four days before his 85th birthday. CNN reported that he died in his home, surrounded by friends and family.
Over more than 50 years in show business, Steven Hill gained a reputation as a talented, versatile actor. Dick Wolf, the producer of Law & Order whom Steven Hill worked with for nearly a decade, called him "one of the truly great actors of his generation." And although he never hugged the spotlight, Steven Hill’s acting career cemented him as one of the great faces of television.
From his time on Mission: Impossible (the ’60s TV show, not the films, although he did star with Tom Cruise in 1993’s The Firm) up through his 10-year run as Adam Schiff on Law & Order, Steven Hill always brought a tense, down-to-earth quality to the characters he portrayed on-screen. He passed away at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital on August 23, 2016, at the age of 94.
Rising star Laurel Griggs achieved the dream of countless stage performers: She made it into the cast of a Broadway show. What’s even more impressive is that she accomplished that lofty goal by the age of six. In 2013, she landed the role of Polly in a revival of the play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, starring opposite Scarlett Johansson. From there, she bounced over to another production on the Great White Way, this time the stage musical adaptation of the film Once, where she played the character of Ivanka for 17 months. During Griggs’ time on Broadway, she maintained a normal life, regularly attending school in the New York neighborhood where she lived with her parents.
On November 5, 2019, Griggs was working on a homework assignment when she fell ill. "She said, ‘I don’t think I feel so good,’ which immediately set off all the alarms in my head," father Andy Griggs, told the New York Post. Griggs was diagnosed with asthma at birth, and while she controlled the breathing condition with medication, she suffered one serious attack three years back. Emergency personnel rushed Griggs to a hospital and administered CPR along the way. Just four hours after the asthma attack, Griggs, merely 13, expired. On Friday, November 8, Broadway dimmed its lights in remembrance of the young actress.
The late ’80s cast of Saturday Night Live was among the best in its long and storied history. Players at the time included Dana Carvey, Dennis Miller, Phil Hartman, and Jan Hooks. She had all the tools to make it as an SNL all-star: recurring characters like nightclub singer Candy Sweeney of the "Sweeney Sisters" and a knack for uncanny imitations of the celebrities of the day. Her Diane Sawyer was hilariously smug, her Sinead O’Connor was ridiculously disaffected, and her Kathie Lee Gifford was loud and obnoxious.
The Georgia-born comic left SNL in 1991 to join the cast of the Atlanta-set sitcom Designing Women as the ditzy Carlene Dobber and enjoyed recurring roles on some of the most popular comedies of the next two decades, including 3rd Rock from the Sun, The Simpsons (voicing Apu’s wife, Manjula), and 30 Rock. After fighting a major illness for some time, according to TMZ, Hooks died in October 2014 at age 57.
Two thirds of LFO
When boy bands ruled the TRL-fueling music world in the late ’90s and 2000s, each collective of cute guys had to differentiate themselves from the rest. For the trio LFO, short for "Lyte Funky Ones," that meant half-singing and half-rapping their way through chill, laid-back songs filled with non sequitur lyrics. Take this example from "Summer Girls," a #3 hit in 1999: "New Kids on the Block had a lot of hits / Chinese food makes me sick / And I think it’s fly when girls stop by for the summer." After a few more singles like "Every Other Time," "Girl on TV," and "I Don’t Wanna Kiss You Goodnight," LFO split up in 2002, according to Rolling Stone, right around the time that the boy band bubble burst.
There will never be an LFO reunion — tragically, two of the band’s three singers died untimely deaths. In 2010, Rich Cronin died at age 35 after suffering a stroke, following five years of fighting a form of leukemia. In 2018, bandmate Devin Lima, following a diagnosis of adrenal cancer and a surgery to remove an abdominal tumor, passed away at age 41.
Roy Horn of Siegfried and Roy
Some acts are forever associated with Las Vegas. There’s Frank Sinatra and his "Rat Pack" of crooners in the ’60s, Elvis Presley in the ’70s, and in the 1990s and early 2000s, Siegfried and Roy were a major Sin City draw. The German duo of Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Horn offered an act unlike anything else, one part elaborate stage magic, one part exotic animal show featuring beautiful white tigers (not to mention dazzling showmanship and some pretty fabulous costumes).
Per The Hollywood Reporter, the stage act came to an abrupt and shocking end in 2003, when a 400-pound tiger named Mantacore mauled Horn — in front of a packed house of 1,500 spectators — and then violently pulled him offstage. Horn lost a lot of blood, suffered a stroke during the attack, needed two surgeries after, and had to learn to walk again. He and Fischbacher performed just one more time as a duo before Horn retired for good in 2010. In May 2020, Horn died at age 75, falling victim to complications of the coronavirus.
Pete Burns of Dead or Alive
In the mid-1980s, British dance pop collective Dead or Alive scored a string of dark but groovy hits in the US and the UK, most notably "Lover Come Back to Me," "Brand New Love," and the eternally popular (and extremely catchy) "You Spin me Round (Like a Record)." The band was a vehicle for frontman Pete Burns, a man of chameleonic fashion (famously rocking a towering mullet and a signature eyepatch) with a grand and gothic singing voice. He was also one of the few celebrities at the time to publicly disclose that he followed a non-heterosexual lifestyle. (He was married to a woman, but after they separated, he entered into a civil partnership with a man, whom he’d eventually marry in 2006).
According to a statement on social media from Burns’ management (via CNN), the Dead or Alive singer passed away on October 23, 2016, after suffering "massive cardiac arrest." Burns was 57.
While Thuy Trang played a lot of roles in her brief career, she’ll forever be remembered for one specific part, because she was part of the original cast of one of the most popular kids’ TV shows of all time. Trang was Trini Kwan, aka the very first Yellow Ranger, in the first season of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers from 1993 to 1994. She went on to land roles in Spy Hard and The Crow: City of Angels. It was a difficult and unlikely path to Hollywood for Trang. When she was two years old, Saigon fell to the Viet Cong, forcing her father, a member of the South Vietnamese army, to flee the country. In 1979, six-year-old Trang and the rest of her family reunited with her father and settled in California.
On September 3, 2001, Trang was a passenger in a car on a California freeway when, according to Complex, the driver lost control of the vehicle, which hit a rock face, flipped, and rammed into a safety barrier. Trang survived the accident but died on the way to the hospital. She was 27.
As one of the most visible and hardest-working comics of his generation, it’s surprising that stand-up wasn’t Greg Giraldo’s life’s work from an early age. He actually graduated from the prestigious Harvard Law School and worked as an attorney before giving it up to pursue comedy in 1992. Just four years later, he’d landed his own sitcom, the short-lived Common Law, and by the 2000s, he was a staple of Comedy Central. Not only did his stand-up appear on the channel, but he was a regular contributor to panel shows like Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, Root of All Evil, and, most famously, a frequent and hilariously brutal participant in the network’s televised celebrity roasts. (For example, he likened Hulk Hogan to "an old man who dresses like a Hooters waitress.")
In 2010, after his girlfriend was unable to reach him, an employee of the hotel where Giraldo was staying summoned authorities when he discovered the comedian in his room, not breathing. Five days later, his family decided to take Giraldo off of life support, per TMZ, and the comedian never awoke from the coma he’d entered after a drug overdose. Giraldo was 44.
His name may not always have been known by avid television viewers, but James Rebhorn had such a familiar face — and such an extensive resume, with more than 100 acting credits — that he became a classic "Hey, it’s that guy!" kind of performer. His regular-guy looks and everyman sensibility made for a career of specializing in portraying stern, middle-aged, and stubborn authority figures.
Rebhorn had recurring role status on a lot of law and order shows, including Third Watch, The Practice, Boston Legal, and Law & Order. Occasionally popping up in comedies like 30 Rock and Enlightened, Rebhorn was probably best known for his late-career work as Frank Mathison, father of Claire Danes’ character on Homeland. On the big screen, he appeared in a number of ’90s classics, like My Cousin Vinny, Basic Instinct, Carlito’s Way, Scent of a Woman, and Independence Day.
In 1992, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Rebhorn was diagnosed with melanoma. He kept the disease at bay for decades before finally dying from it in March 2014 at age 65.
Whether as an actor, director, writer, or some combination thereof, Harold Ramis had an enormous impact on comedy films of the ’80s and ’90s. After performing with the Second City improv troupe in Chicago, he moved on to National Lampoon, where he co-wrote the brand’s first feature film, the smash-hit college comedy Animal House. Then he wrote and directed the classic golf movie Caddyshack, wrote and co-starred in Stripes, directed National Lampoon’s Vacation, and portrayed Dr. Egon Spangler in Ghostbusters, which he also co-wrote. After the ’80s, Ramis directed and helped write Groundhog Day while also taking on notable roles in major comedies, such as Knocked Up and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.
As detailed by the Chicago Tribune, after developing a rare condition called autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, which causes blood vessels to swell, Ramis died in the early morning hours of February 24, 2014, at his Chicago home. He was 69 years old.
Lee Thompson Young
Not every teen TV star becomes a teen TV star by portraying a teen TV star, but that’s what young actor Lee Thompson Young did. From 1998 to 2001, he starred on The Famous Jett Jackson, a Disney Channel original series about a kid who balances his wacky personal life with his responsibilities as the star of a secret agent television series called Silverstone. Young was all over the Disney Channel in the late ’90s and early 2000s. In addition to Jett Jackson, he starred in the network’s popular made-for-TV movie Johnny Tsunami.
Young successfully made the jump from kid stuff to adult roles, notably playing overconfident intern Derek on Scrubs, DC Comics hero Cyborg on the Superman-oriented Smallville, and Detective Barry Frost on the TNT crime drama Rizzoli & Isles. When Young didn’t report to the set one day in August 2013, according to USA Today, police performed a wellness check and discovered the 29-year-old actor deceased in his Los Angeles home. His manager confirmed that Young had committed suicide.
If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Michelle Thomas may not have been part of the main cast of a network sitcom in the ’80s and ’90s, but she definitely made an impression. In the later seasons of The Cosby Show, Thomas portrayed Justine, the girlfriend who made Theo Huxtable’s heart go all a flutter. After that show wrapped, she moved on to Family Matters to play Myra Monkhouse, a young lady desperately in love with mega-nerd Steve Urkel for some reason. She also appeared in popular ’90s music videos for R&B groups Boyz II Men and Dru Hill, and in 1998, she settled into the role of Callie Rogers on the long-running daytime soap The Young and the Restless.
According to The New York Times, just two months into her run, Thomas took a medical leave from the show to seek treatment for cancer. Tragically, the cancer took Thomas’ life in late December 1998. The actress was just 30 years old.
Ashleigh Aston Moore
In 1995, one of the most star-studded casts in Hollywood history was assembled for … a gentle, winsome, nostalgic movie about teenage girls growing up in the early 1970s. Now and Then paired four A-list adult actresses as lifelong best friends in the present day, and four up-and-coming actresses as the characters’ younger selves in the past. For example, Christina Ricci and Rosie O’Donnell played Roberta, Gaby Hoffmann and Demi Moore portrayed Samantha, and Rita Wilson and Ashleigh Aston Moore played Chrissy, the most naive one of the bunch.
Moore was the least experienced of the four teen stars, having only landed her first roles in made-for-TV movies in 1993. Now and Then represented the peak of her career. After a couple more movies and a few episodic TV appearances, Moore retired from acting in 1997. Sadly, she died in 2007. According to Life & Style, the former actress took what turned out to be a fatal overdose of heroin. She was only 26.
Almost invariably, Edward Herrmann played characters with a vibe of superiority or entitlement. The imposing actor could be counted on to play big shots, rich guys, barons of industry, and politicians. Among his most famous roles of this ilk: Richie Rich’s wealthy dad in Richie Rich, the wealthy husband of Goldie Hawn’s character in the original Overboard, wealthy scion and Vice President Nelson Rockefeller in Nixon, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the film version of the musical Annie.
Herrmann played FDR quite a few other times: in a 1970s made-for-TV movie, in a miniseries, and giving voice to the man in Ken Burns’ The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. Herrmann was heard as often as he was seen, as he narrated dozens of projects for the History Channel and served as the voice of Dodge in the ’90s. But Herrmann was best known for playing the very picture of the kindly patriarch: Richard Gilmore, the extremely civilized grandfather on all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls. Per The New York Times, he passed away in 2014, before the Netflix revival of the show. According to his son, Herrmann perished from brain cancer at the age of 71.
Michael Clarke Duncan
After a string of bit parts as bouncers, bullies, and security guards throughout the ’90s (while also working security in real life), Michael Clarke Duncan landed his breakthrough role: oil driller-turned-astronaut Bear in the summer of 1998 blockbuster Armageddon. About a year later, Duncan earned acclaim for his work in The Green Mile as John Coffey, a 1930s prison inmate on death row for crimes he didn’t commit who also possessed the supernatural gift of a healing touch. The film was nominated for Best Picture, and Duncan earned a nod for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
From that point, Duncan put his large stature and deep, distinctive voice to use, playing tough guys and gentle giants alike in hits like Talladega Nights, The Scorpion King, Planet of the Apes, and Sin City. In 2012, Duncan starred on the Fox dramedy The Finder, and just months after its cancellation, the actor passed away. According to his publicist, via The New York Times, Duncan suffered a heart attack in July, and complications from the event led to his death in September. He was 54.
"Rowdy" Roddy Piper
Professional wrestling has always been popular on American television, but it had never had the cultural reach it attained in the ’80s. Wrestlers like Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, and Jake "The Snake" Roberts became household names. The good guys, or "faces," like Hogan, were loved and cheered, while the bad guys, or "heels," were bombarded with boos in recognition for their ability to sell their character. And there was no bigger heel, or one people loved to hate more in this era of the WWF, than "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. Set up as the archnemesis of Hogan, the character was a hothead prone to fits of rage and also so proud of his Scottish heritage that he wore a kilt in bouts and entered the ring with bagpipe music. When inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005, Ric Flair called him "the most gifted entertainer in the history of professional wrestling."
"Rowdy" Roddy Piper isn’t a person, merely the persona of Canadian wrestler Roderick Toombs. As just plain Roddy Piper, the man was an actor out of the ring, too, starring in the cult classics Hell Comes to Frogtown and They Live. In 2006, per NBC News, Piper received a Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis and sought treatment. Nine years later, according to his agent, the wrestler died in his sleep at age 61.
In the pantheon of lovable TV dads, Uncle Philip Banks, the gruff surrogate father figure from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, ranks right up there with Mike Brady and Danny Tanner. The tough love-issuing, Jazz-tossing judge held his own with the charismatic Will Smith, and the 1990-1996 sitcom is certainly the most famous role in the long and prolific career of James Avery. Nineties kids will also remember him as the voice of Shredder in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series, just one of Avery’s nearly 200 acting credits. He did a lot of voice work in the ’80s on relics like Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling, Rambo, and SuperFriends, while appearing in the fresh on TV dramas like Simon & Simon, L.A. Law, and Cagney & Lacey. After Fresh Prince wrapped up, Avery’s most prominent role was that of medical examiner Dr. Crippen on the popular TNT procedural The Closer.
In November 2013, according to CNN, Avery endured open-heart surgery, and complications from the procedure led to his death the following New Year’s Eve. Avery was 68.