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In the longest year ever, one marked by a pandemic, it’s not surprising that we lost so many beloved public figures. Here’s a look back at some of the most influential people who died during 2020, including activists, artists, musicians, and many more.
Matt Becker/Wikimedia Commons
Neil Peart, Musician
January 7, Age 67
Peart was the drummer and main lyricist of the rock band Rush.
Christopher Tolkien, Author
January 16, Age 95
Tolkien is best known for editing literary works by his father, J.R.R. Tolkien.
Terry Jones, Actor, Comedian, Writer
January 21, Age 77
Jones was a founding member of Monty Python. Best known roles include the mother of the messiah in Life of Brian.
Jim Lehrer, Newscaster
January 23, Age 85
Lehrer co-founded the show that became The PBS News Hour, and moderated more than a dozen presidential debates.
Alexandra Walt/Creative Commons
Kobe Bryant, Athlete
January 26, Age 41
Bryant was a five-time NBA champion who retired from the Los Angeles Lakers in 2016. He died in a helicopter crash that also killed his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.
Mary Higgins Clark, Author
January 31, Age 92
Clark was a prolific crime writer who wrote dozens of novels that sold tens of millions of copies, in addition to children’s books, short stories, and a memoir.
Kirk Douglas, Actor, Producer, Director
February 5, Age 103
Douglas was a Hollywood legend who helped to halt the Hollywood blacklist of the McCarthy era. His children include famed actor Michael Douglas.
Beverly Pepper, Artist
February 5, Age 97
Pepper created monumental works of public art using steel and stone, and has numerous sculptures in collections of the world’s most renowned museums.
Clive Cussler, Author, Adventurer
February 24, Age 88
Cussler spent decades writing adventure novels, including several New York Times bestsellers. He was also instrumental in discovering several historic shipwrecks.
Katherine Johnson, Mathematician
February 24, Age 101
Johnson worked in relative obscurity to create equations that were essential to early space travel, and continue to be used by NASA today.
James Lipton, Actor
March 2, Age 93
Lipton is best known as the longtime host of the TV show Inside the Actors Studio.
Max von Sydow, Actor
March 8, Age 90
Von Sydow appeared in more than 150 films during a 70-year career. His credits include The Exorcist, Game of Thrones, and a number of Ingmar Bergman films.
Betty Williams, Peace advocate
March 18, Age 76
Williams was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for activism that helped to bring an end to The Troubles in Northern Ireland.
Terrence McNally, Playwright, Screenwriter
March 24, Age 81
McNally wrote the plays Kiss of the Spider Woman and Ragtime, and received several Tony Awards for his work on Broadway.
Bill Withers, Singer, Songwriter
March 30, Age 81
Withers penned numerous hit songs including “Lean on Me” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” earning three Grammy Awards for his work.
Adam Schlesinger, Musician, Songwriter
April 1, Age 52
Schlesinger co-founded Fountains of Wayne, wrote music for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and was nominated for an Academy Award for the title song for That Thing You Do!
John Prine, Singer, Songwriter
April 7, Age 73
Prine penned and sang folk and country music that spoke to hard times. He recorded more than 20 albums, and received three Grammy Awards.
Brian Dennehy, Actor
April 15, Age 81
Dennehy was best known for performances in First Blood, Cocoon, and Tommy Boy.
Florian Schneider, Musician
April 21, Age 73
Schneider was a founding member of the band Kraftwerk.
Roy Horn, Performer
May 8, Age 75
Horn was part of the iconic Las Vegas entertainment duo Siegfried & Roy, who specialized in working with large cats.
Richard Wayne Penniman (Little Richard), Singer
May 9, Age 87
Penniman delivered frenetic performances starting in the 1950s, becoming one of the first musicians inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Daniel Krieger Photography/Wikimedia Commons
Jerry Stiller, Actor, Comedian
May 11, Age 92
Stiller first performed with wife Anne Meara in the 1960s, but is best known for playing Frank Costanza in Seinfeld. He’s the father of Ben Stiller.
May 31, Age 84
Christo created monumental works of environmental art for settings that included Central Park in New York City and the Reichstag in Berlin.
Ian Holm, Actor
June 19, Age 88
Holm performed in numerous Shakespeare plays, but he’s best known for roles in The Lord of the Rings and Chariots of Fire.
Joel Schumacher, Director
June 22, Age 80
Schumacher directed numerous films including St. Elmo’s Fire and The Lost Boys.
Carl Reiner, Actor, Comedian, Director
June 29, Age 98
Reiner’s career spanning six decades included working with fellow comedy greats Dick Van Dyke, Mel Brooks, and Steve Martin. His children include Rob Reiner.
Ennio Morricone, Composer
July 6, Age 91
Morricone was an Academy Award-winning composer whose work included The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, Days of Heaven, The Untouchables, and The Hateful Eight.
Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons
Naya Rivera, Actor
July 8, Age 33
Rivera filled the role of Santana on the popular TV Show Glee.
Kelly Preston, Actor
July 12, Age 57
Preston had a long career in television and film, including roles in Jerry Maguire and For Love of the Game, and was married to John Travolta.
Grant Imahara, TV Host
July 13, Age 43
Imahara is best known for his robotics used in numerous film franchises such as Star Wars and Terminator, and appearing in the show Mythbusters.
Mobilus In Mobili/Flickr
John Lewis, Civil Rights Activist
July 17, Age 80
Lewis fought with fellow civil rights leaders including Martin Luther King Jr., and later served more than three decades in the U.S. Congress.
Regis Philbin, TV Personality
July 24, Age 88
Philbin’s credits during a six-decade career include Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
Peter Green, Musician
July 25, Age 73
Green is best known as a co-founder and guitarist for Fleetwood Mac.
Olivia de Havilland, Actor
July 26, Age 104
De Havilland was a Hollywood star who earned two Academy Awards, and is best known for her performance in Gone With the Wind.
Chadwick Boseman, Actor
August 28, Age 43
Boseman starred in biographical movies about James Brown, Thurgood Marshall, and Jackie Robinson, and was the main character in the 2018 film Black Panther.
Doctor Who Spoilers/Flickr
Diana Rigg, Actor
September 10, Age 82
Rigg performed in the cult hit The Avengers in the 1960s, received a Tony Award for playing Medea in the Greek tragedy, and gained a new generation of fans for her role as Lady Olenna on Game of Thrones.
Nick Cordero, Actor
September 17, Age 41
Cordero recently starred in the Broadway musical Waitress, and was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance in Bullets Over Broadway.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
European University Institute
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice
September 18, Age 87
Ginsburg was a legal pioneer in gender equality, became the second woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and was renowned for writing dissenting opinions.
Helen Reddy, Singer, Songwriter
September 29, Age 78
Reddy wrote and performed the song “I Am Woman,” which was an anthem for the women’s movement during the 1970s.
Eddie Van Halen
Eddie Van Halen, Musician
October 6, Age 65
Eddie Van Halen co-founded Van Halen, the band he sang and played guitar with for four decades, elevating rock during an era of punk and disco influence.
Sean Connery, Actor
October 31, Age 90
Connery was film’s first James Bond, and received an Oscar for his performance in The Untouchables.
Sony Pictures Television
Alex Trebek, TV Personality
November 8, Age 80
Trebek hosted several game shows before becoming the iconic host of Jeopardy! in 1984. Trebek was beloved for his dry wit, warmth, and breadth and depth of knowledge.
David Prowse, Actor
November 28, Age 85
Prowse is most famous for his physical portrayal of Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy.
Hugh Keays-Bryne, Actor
December 1, Age 73
Keays-Byrne’s film career included appearing in two Mad Max films.
Chuck Yeager, Aviator
December 7, Age 97
Yeager was the first pilot to successfully break the sound barrier, and key figure in the history of American aviation and aeronautics.
John le Carré, Author
December 12, Age 89
Le Carré is renowned for his spy novels, including The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.
Charley Pride, Singer, Songwriter
December 12, Age 86
Pride began writing and singing country songs in the 1960s, and had more than 30 No. 1 hits. He was the first Black artist inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Ann Reinking, Actor, Choreographer
December 12, Age 71
Reinking is best known for roles in the musicals Chicago and the film All That Jazz.
Rebecca Luker, Actor
December 23, Age 59
Luker earned several Tony nominations, and performed in musicals including Show Boat, The Music Man, and Mary Poppins.
Pierre Cardin, Fashion designer
December 29, Age 98
Cardin is one of the pioneers of ready-to-wear fashion.
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