We're Paying Our Respects to the Stars We've Lost in 2021
We said goodbye to so many icons and heroes last year, and it certainly wasn’t easy. And again this year, we’ve bid farewell to other celebrities who have touched our lives. On New Year’s Day, singer and actor George Gerdes died after suffering a brain aneurysm. Since then, we’ve lost author bell hooks, fashion designer Virgil Abloh, television legend Michael K. Williams, Harry Potter star Helen McCrory, The Parent ‘Hood‘s Suzzanne Douglas, actor and director Robert Downey Sr., and more. Ahead, we’re paying our respects to all the stars who have passed away in 2021.
Trailblazing author, feminist scholar, professor, and critic bell hooks died from an undisclosed illness on Dec. 15 at age 69. A press release shared by bell’s niece, Ebony Motley, stated that the author was “surrounded by friends and family when she passed.” bell rose to critical acclaim through her writing – which included essays, cultural criticisms, and children’s books. Some of her most famous works were books like Ain’t I a Woman?, All About Love, and Feminist Theory.
James Michael Tyler
Well known for playing the sarcastic coffee shop manager Gunther on Friends, Tyler died on Oct. 24 at his home in Los Angeles following a battle with prostate cancer. He was 59. “The world knew him as Gunther (the seventh “Friend”), from the hit series Friends, but Michael’s loved ones knew him as an actor, musician, cancer-awareness advocate, and loving husband,” Tyler’s rep said in a statement. “If you met him once you made a friend for life.”
Multihyphenate creative Virgil Abloh died at age 41 in November. LVMH issued a statement on Nov. 28 breaking the news, saying: “LVMH, Louis Vuitton and Off White are devastated to announce the passing of Virgil Abloh, on Sunday, November 28th, of cancer, which he had been battling privately for several years.” Another statement posted on Virgil’s official Instagram account revealed that he privately battled a rare, aggressive form of cancer, cardiac angiosarcoma, for two years before his untimely death.
Several of his friends and peers paid tribute to him in the wake of the news. Virgil leaves behind his wife, Shannon Abloh, and his two children, Lowe Abloh and Grey Abloh.
The actor – who was best known for his role as Stanford Blatch in Sex and the City – died after a short illness in September. He was 57.
Michael K. Williams
The television icon died at age 54 in September. His publicist, Marianna Shafran, confirmed the news in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, saying, “It is with deep sorrow that the family announces the passing of Emmy-nominated actor Michael Kenneth Williams. They ask for your privacy while grieving this insurmountable loss.”
Rapper Young Dolph – whose real name was Adolph Robert Thornton Jr. – died at age 36 on Nov. 17 following a shooting in his hometown of Memphis, TN. He was well-known in his local community for giving back and showing support, even on the day he died. A Twitter user pointed out that a week prior, Young Dolph was seen “showing love and promoting a local Memphis cookie business he frequents and today they killed him right outside.” Young Dolph leaves behind his son and daughter.
Michael Constantine, who was best known for his role as Windex enthusiast Gus Portokalos in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, died on Aug. 31 at the age of 94. Nia Vardalos – who played his daughter Toula in the film – paid tribute to her late costar on Sept. 8, writing: “Michael Constantine, the dad of our cast-family, a gift to the written word, and always a friend. Acting with him came with a rush of love and fun. I will treasure this man who brought Gus to life. He gave us so much laughter and deserves a rest now. We love you Michael.”
Drakeo the Ruler
Darrell Caldwell, also known as Drakeo the Ruler – a well-known Los Angeles rapper – died on Dec. 18 at age 28 after a fatal stabbing at the Once Upon a Time music festival in LA. Rolling Stone reported that the stabbing incident was the result of an altercation that occurred during the festival. Darrell was in critical condition when he was taken to a hospital, where he later succumbed to his injuries. Several of his music peers paid tribute to him following his death – including Snoop Dogg, Drake, and others.
Best known for his work with Bad Boy Records’s “Hitmen” production team, the hip-hop producer died on Aug. 9 at the age of 53. “It is with a very heavy heart that I can confirm the passing of Chucky Thompson,” his publicist, Tamar Juda, said in a statement to People. “To anyone in his orbit, you know how generous he was with his energy, creativity, and love. Both the music industry, and the world has lost a titan.”
Dennis "Dee Tee" Thomas
The Kool and the Gang co-founder died in August at age 70. The music group announced his death on Facebook, writing, “On August 7, 2021, Dennis Thomas (known as “Dee Tee”), beloved husband, father and a co-founder of Kool & the Gang, passed away peacefully in his sleep at the age of 70 in New Jersey.”
According to Deadline, the 41-year-old comedian died on Aug. 6 from an accident. His manager confirmed the news via a statement from Trevor’s wife, Aimee Carlson, and family. “We are devastated by the loss of my husband, best friend and the father of our son,” the statement read. “He was known as a writer and comedian to millions, and yet to us he was simply the centre of our whole world. We don’t know how we’ll go on without him, but we’re thankful for the memories we do have that will stay with us forever. We appreciate the outpouring of love and support we have received from everyone. This is a tragic and sudden loss and we ask that you please respect our privacy during this time of grieving.”
The actress, best known for her roles in Night Court and The Fall Guy, died on Aug. 7 following a three-year battle with cancer. She was 70.
BET reality star and singer Keyshia Cole’s mother, Frankie Lons, died at the age of 61 on July 18. “Worse pain ever . . . to see my mama in a body bag on her birthday,” her daughter Elite Noel shared via Instagram Story. Frankie appeared alongside daughter Keyshia on the BET reality series Keyshia Cole: The Way It Is, Keyshia & Daniel: Family First, Keyshia Cole: All In, and Keyshia Cole: My New Life. She also had her own spinoff series with 2009’s Frankie & Neffe, which she starred in with daughter Neffeteria Pugh.
The rapper, who was well-known for his hit song “Just a Friend,” died on July 16 at age 57. His rep confirmed the news in a statement to People, writing, “It is with profound sadness that we announce, this evening, with his wife Tara by his side, Hip Hop pioneer Biz Markie peacefully passed away. We are grateful for the many calls and prayers of support that we have received during this difficult time.”
Robert Downey Sr.
The actor and director, whose work includes Putney Swope and Greaser’s Palace, died after a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s disease on July 6. He was 85. His son, Marvel star Robert Downey Jr., confirmed the actor’s death in a post on Instagram, writing, “Last night, dad passed peacefully in his sleep after years of enduring the ravages of Parkinson’s, he was a true maverick filmmaker, and remained remarkably optimistic throughout.”
The Bollywood star, best known for cult classics like Devdas, Naya Daur, and Ganga Jamuna, died on July 7. He was 98. “With a heavy heart and profound grief, I announce the passing away of our beloved Dilip Saab, few minutes ago. We are from God and to Him we return,” shared Faisal Farooqui on the late actor’s Twitter account.
The Parent ‘Hood star died at the age of 64 on July 6. “Suzzanne Douglas a beautiful and talented actress made her transition today. She warmed our hearts on movie screens and television sets all over the world. This beautiful soul was my cousin,” family member Angie Tee confirmed on Facebook. “I can remember growing up, there weren’t very many black actresses who had starring roles but there was my cousin with the lead role in Tap starring alongside great dancers such as Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis Jr. She also performed with Angela Bassett and Whoopi Goldberg in How Stella Got Her Groove Back. The Inkwell, Jason’s Lyric and so much more the list goes on. The world will miss your talent but your soul will live on forever Rest in Paradise my beautiful cousin Suzzane you will be missed RIP.”
The director, whose projects include The Goonies, Superman, and Lethal Weapon, died on July 5. He was 91.
Lisa Banes, best known for Gone Girl and Pumpkin, died on June 14 following a hit-and-run accident earlier that month. She was 65. “We are heartsick over Lisa’s tragic and senseless passing,” Lisa’s manager David Williams said in a statement to NBC News. “She was a woman of great spirit, kindness and generosity and dedicated to her work, whether on stage or in front of a camera and even more so to her wife, family and friends. We were blessed to have had her in our lives.” David added that she had “suffered a traumatic brain injury and was unable to recover.”
Oscar-nominated character actor Ned Beatty died on June 13 at the age of 83. “Ned passed away from natural causes Sunday morning, surrounded by his family and loved ones,” his manager Deborah Miller said via email to CNN. Once called the “busiest actor in Hollywood,” Ned is perhaps best known for his roles as Bobby Trippe in 1972’s Deliverance, Arthur Jensen in 1976’s Network, Lex Luthor’s idiot henchman Otis in 1978’s Superman and 1980’s Superman II, and as the voice of Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear in 2010’s Toy Story. 3. The actor retired in 2013.
Actor Gavin MacLeod of The Love Boat and The Mary Tyler Moore Show died on May 29 at age 90. Gavin’s nephew, Mark See, confirmed his death to The New York Times and said the cause was unknown.
The “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” singer, B.J. Thomas, died on May 29 at age 78. According to his publicist, B.J.’s death came after a battle with lung cancer. He is survived by his wife, Gloria, and three daughters.
Samuel E. Wright
The actor, who is best remembered for voicing Sebastian in Disney’s The Little Mermaid, died at age 74 in May. “Sam and his family have impacted countless Hudson Valley youth always inspiring them to reach higher and dig deeper to become the best version of themselves,” the town of Montgomery, New York, announced in a Facebook statement. “On top of his passion for the arts and his love for his family, Sam was most known for walking into a room and simply providing PURE JOY to those he interacted with. He loved to entertain, he loved to make people smile and laugh and he loved to love.”
The comedian died on May 19 after suffering a heart attack. He was 79. His death was announced by his cousin Rudy Ealy, who told CNN that Paul died at his home in Oakland, CA.
Actor Charles Grodin died on May 18 after a battle with bone-marrow cancer, his son, Nicholas, confirmed in an email to CNN. Best known for his roles in The Heartbreak Kid, Midnight Run, Beethoven, and The Great Muppet Caper, Charles had a long stage career prior to the movie and TV roles that made him famous. From 1995-1998, he also hosted The Charles Grodin Show.
“So [sad] to hear. One of the funniest people I ever met,” Charles’s The Lonely Guy costar Steve Martin shared on Twitter. The Emmy winner is survived by wife Elissa Durwood Grodin, son Nicholas, and daughter Marion.
Moonstruck star Olympia Dukakis died on May 1 at the age of 89. “Her brother Apollo Dukakis, her sons Stefan and Peter Zorich, and four grandchildren thank you for your love, prayers, and kind remembrances during this difficult time,” the family said in a statement. “After many months of failing health she is finally at peace and with her Louis,” her brother Apollo Dukakis added on Facebook.
In 1988, she won an Oscar for best supporting actress for her role as Rose Castorini in Moonstruck. She went on to have roles as Clairee Belcher in 1989’s Steel Magnolias, Rose in the Look Who’s Talking franchise, and Anna Madrigal on Tales of the City.
The actress, who was best known for her roles in the Harry Potter franchise and on Peaky Blinders, died in April. Her husband, Damian Lewis, confirmed the sad news with a statement on Twitter. “I’m heartbroken to announce that after a heroic battle with cancer, the beautiful and mighty woman that is Helen McCrory has died peacefully at home, surrounded by a wave of love from friends and family,” he wrote. “She died as she lived. Fearlessly. God we love her and know how lucky we are to have had her in our lives. She blazed so brightly. Go now, Little One, into the air, and thank you.” Helen was 52.
Earl "DMX" Simmons
Rapper DMX died on April 9 at the age of 50. “We are deeply saddened to announce today that our loved one, DMX, birth name of Earl Simmons, passed away at 50 years old at White Plains Hospital with his family by his side after being placed on life support for the past few days,” his family confirmed in a statement. “Earl was a warrior who fought till the very end. He loved his family with all of his heart and we cherish the times we spent with him. Earl’s music inspired countless fans across the world and his iconic legacy will live on forever. We appreciate all of the love and support during this incredibly difficult time. Please respect our privacy as we grieve the loss of our brother, father, uncle and the man the world knew as DMX. We will share information about his memorial service once details are finalised.”
He was originally hospitalised on April 2 after a suffering a major heart attack and was placed on life support. “White Plains Hospital extends its deepest condolences to the family of Mr. Simmons, as well as his friends and legions of fans who expressed their unwavering support during this difficult time,” the hospital said in a statement. “Earl Simmons passed away peacefully with family present after suffering a catastrophic cardiac arrest.”
The Royal Family confirmed that on April 9, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, died at age 99. Buckingham Palace issued a short statement, saying: “It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty The Queen has announced the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. His Royal Highness passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle. The Royal Family join with people around the world in mourning his loss. Further announcements will be made in due course.”
The queen and Prince Philip were married for 70 years and had four children: Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, and Prince Edward. They, in turn, gave the couple eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. In February 2021, the duke was admitted to hospital where he later underwent a successful procedure for a pre-existing heart condition.
Friday Night Dinner star Paul Ritter died on April 5 at the age of 54. “It is with great sadness we can confirm that Paul Ritter passed away last night,” his agent said in a statement. “He died peacefully at home with his wife Polly and sons Frank and Noah by his side. He was 54 and had been suffering from a brain tumour. Paul was an exceptionally talented actor playing an enormous variety of roles on stage and screen with extraordinary skill. He was fiercely intelligent, kind and very funny. We will miss him greatly.”
The British actor’s most recent acting credits include the award-winning TV drama Chernobyl and the 2020 period drama Belgravia. He also appeared in a number of films, including the John Lennon biopic Nowhere Boy, Quantum of Solace, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. On the stage, he earned Olivier and Tony nominations.
The actor, best known for his role as Dave Turner on Degrassi: The Next Generation, died at age 29 in March. His rep confirmed the news with a statement to People, saying, “It is with a heavy heart that I confirm the passing of a dear friend and client Jahmil French. He will be remembered by many for his passion for the arts, his commitment to his craft, and his vibrant personality. I ask that you keep his family and friends in your thoughts and prayers at this difficult time.”
Motown singer and co-founder of The Supremes Mary Wilson has died at the age of 76. Wilson’s publicist Jay Schwartz announced that she died at her home in Henderson, Nevada. Her cause of death was not confirmed.
The Canadian actor, who was best known for his work in The Sound of Music and Beginners, died at his home in Connecticut in February. “Chris was an extraordinary man who deeply loved and respected his profession with great old fashion manners, self deprecating humour and the music of words,” his manager and friend Lou Pitt said in a statement. “He was a National Treasure who deeply relished his Canadian roots. Through his art and humanity, he touched all of our hearts and his legendary life will endure for all generations to come. He will forever be with us.” Christopher was 91 and is survived by his wife, Elaine Taylor, and daughter Amanda from his previous marriage to Tammy Grimes.
The legendary Emmy and Tony-winning actress died on Jan. 28. “I have managed Miss Tyson’s career for over 40 years, and each year was a privilege and blessing,” her manager, Larry Thompson, told Variety in a statement. “Cicely thought of her new memoir as a Christmas tree decorated with all the ornaments of her personal and professional life. Today she placed the last ornament, a Star, on top of the tree.” She was 96.
The Tony-winning actor, who was well known for his portrayal of Mark Twain in the Broadway play Mark Twain Tonight!, died on Jan. 23 at age 95.
Dustin Diamond, best-known for his role as Samuel “Screech” Powers on Saved by the Bell, died on Feb. 1 after being diagnosed with carcinoma in January. He was 44.
Pop star and producer Sophie died at age 34 on Jan. 30. According to NPR, the singer’s family released a statement confirming the news, writing: “Tragically our beautiful SOPHIE passed away this morning after a terrible accident. True to her spirituality she had climbed up to watch the full moon and accidentally slipped and fell. She will always be here with us. The family thank everyone for their love and support and request privacy at this devastating time.”
Longtime TV host and interviewer Larry King died on Jan. 23 at the age of 87. Ora Media shared the news via his official Twitter account, writing, “With profound sadness, Ora Media announces the death of our co-founder, host, and friend Larry King, who passed away this morning at age 87 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.”
“For 63 years and across the platforms of radio, television and digital media, Larry’s many thousands of interviews, awards, and global acclaim stand as a testament to his unique and lasting talent as a broadcaster. Additionally, while it was his name appearing in the shows’ titles, Larry always viewed his interview subjects as the true stars of his programs, and himself as merely an unbiased conduit between the guest and audience. Whether he was interviewing a U.S. president, foreign leader, celebrity, scandal-ridden personage, or an everyman, Larry liked to ask short, direct, and uncomplicated questions. He believed concise questions usually provided the best answers, and he was not wrong in that belief.”
In January, the Food Network star died at age 75. Kerry’s nonprofit organisation, Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show, announced her death on their Facebook page, writing, “It is with great sadness that I have to report the passing of Kerry Vincent earlier this evening. Being a very private person when it came to all things not cake, she did not want to put her illness out there to the public. Unfortunately her fight has come to an end but she will no longer have any pain. She will be sorely missed by all who she has touched through the Sugar Arts as well as personally.”
The songwriter and actor died on New Year’s Day after suffering a brain aneurysm on New Year’s Eve. He was 72.
The actress, who was well known for her roles in Hammer Horror films, died in January after contracting COVID-19. She was 88.
The lead singer of Gerry and the Pacemakers died in January at age 78. Marsden’s friend Pete Price announced his death on Twitter, writing, “It’s with a very heavy heart after speaking to the family that I have to tell you the Legendary Gerry Marsden MBE after a short illness which was an infection in his heart has sadly passed away.”
Eric Jerome Dickey
The New York Times bestselling author died on Jan. 3 at the age of 59, due to complications from a long illness.
Following a brief hospitalisation, the That ’70s Show actress died at age 65. Her death was previously announced prematurely, but her companion, Lance O’Brien, later confirmed the news on Jan. 5.
On Jan 7., Police Academy star Marion Ramsay has died at the age of 73. The actor died at her home in Los Angeles following a brief illness her management confirmed the the BBC.
The famed magician, best known for the magic act Siegfried & Roy, died from pancreatic cancer on Jan. 13 at his home in Las Vegas. He was 81.
Harry Brant, son of billionaire Peter Brant and supermodel Stephanie Seymour, died at age 24. According to The New York Times, Harry died from an accidental overdose of prescription medication on Jan. 18. “We will forever be saddened that his life was cut short by this devastating disease,” his family said in a statement.
The famed actress, who scored eight Emmy Awards and 22 nominations throughout her career, died of natural causes on Jan. 26 at her home in Encinitas, CA. She was 94.