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People we lost in 2020
People we lost
People we lost in 2020

Influential people we lost last year

 

(AP) -- In a year defined by a devastating pandemic, the world lost iconic defenders of civil rights, great athletes and entertainers who helped define their genres.

Many of their names hold a prominent place in the collective consciousness — RBG, Kobe, Maradona, Eddie Van Halen, Little Richard, Sean Connery, Alex Trebek, Christo — but pandemic restrictions often limited the public's ability to mourn their loss in a year that saw more than a million people die from the coronavirus.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — known as the Notorious RBG to her admirers — was one of the many noteworthy figures who died in 2020.

In a court known for solemn legal proceedings, Ginsburg became a cultural and social media icon whose fierce defense of women's rights earned her a devoted following. She died in September after 27 years on the country's highest court. Making few concessions to age and health problems, she showed a steely resilience and became the leader of liberal justices on the court.

The world also said goodbye to U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a lion of the civil rights movement who died in July.

Some of the year's deaths struck down relatively young people, leaving mourners with the heartbreak of a life gone too soon.

Basketball great Kobe Bryant died along with several others in a January helicopter crash at age 41. And in a shock to fans, actor Chadwick Boseman, who inspired audiences with his portrayal of comic book superhero Black Panther, died of cancer in August at age 43.

Others in the world of arts and entertainment who died in 2020 include actors Olivia de Havilland and Kirk Douglas; musicians Ellis Marsalis Jr., John Prine, Bonnie Pointer, Kenny Rogers, Juliette Greco and Toots Hibbert; authors Mary Higgins Clark and Clive Cussler; TV hosts Regis Philbin and Jim Lehrer; and magician Roy Horn.

Here is a roll call of some influential figures who died in 2020 (cause of death cited for younger people, if available):

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JANUARY

 

David Stern, 77. The basketball-loving lawyer who took the NBA around the world during 30 years as its longest-serving commissioner and oversaw its growth into a global powerhouse. Jan. 1.

Don Larsen, 90. The journeyman pitcher who reached the heights of baseball glory when he threw a perfect game in 1956 with the New York Yankees for the only no-hitter in World Series history. Jan. 1. Esophageal cancer.

Neil Peart, 67. The renowned drummer and lyricist from the influential Canadian band Rush. Jan. 7.

Elizabeth Wurtzel, 52. Her blunt and painful confessions of her struggles with addiction and depression in the bestselling "Prozac Nation" made her a voice and a target for an anxious generation. Jan. 7. Cancer.

Buck Henry, 89. "The Graduate" co-writer who as screenwriter, character actor, "Saturday Night Live" host and cherished talk-show and party guest became an all-around cultural superstar of the 1960s and 70s. Jan. 8.

 

Terry Jones, 77. A founding member of the anarchic Monty Python troupe who was hailed by colleagues as "the complete Renaissance comedian" and "a man of endless enthusiasms." Jan. 21.

Jim Lehrer, 85. The longtime host of the nightly PBS "NewsHour" whose serious, sober demeanor made him the choice to moderate 11 presidential debates between 1988 and 2012. Jan. 23.

Kobe Bryant, 41. The 18-time NBA All-Star who won five championships and became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career spent entirely with the Los Angeles Lakers. Jan. 26. Helicopter crash.

John Andretti, 56. Carved out his own niche in one of the world's most successful racing families and became the first driver to attempt the Memorial Day double. Jan. 30.

Mary Higgins Clark, 92. She was the tireless and long-reigning "Queen of Suspense" whose tales of women beating the odds made her one of the world's most popular writers. Jan. 31.

 

FEBRUARY

 

George Steiner, 90. He became one of the world's leading public intellectuals through his uncommon erudition, multilingual perspective and the provocative lessons he drew from his Jewish roots and escape from the Holocaust. Feb. 3.

Kirk Douglas, 103. The intense, muscular actor with the dimpled chin who starred in "Spartacus," "Lust for Life" and dozens of other films, helped fatally weaken the blacklist against suspected communists and reigned for decades as a Hollywood maverick and patriarch. Feb. 5.

Roger Kahn, 92. The writer who wove memoir and baseball and touched millions of readers through his romantic account of the Brooklyn Dodgers in "The Boys of Summer." Feb. 6.

Orson Bean, 91. The witty actor and comedian who enlivened the game show "To Tell the Truth" and played a crotchety merchant on "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman." Feb. 7. Hit by a car.

Robert Conrad, 84. The rugged, contentious actor who starred in the hugely popular 1960s television series "Hawaiian Eye" and "The Wild Wild West." Feb. 8.

Charles "Chuckie" O'Brien, 86. A longtime associate of Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa who became a leading suspect in the labor leader's disappearance and later was portrayed in the Martin Scorsese film, "The Irishman." Feb. 13.

Sy Sperling, 78. The Hair Club for Men founder who was famous for the TV commercials where he proclaimed "I'm not only the Hair Club president but I'm also a client." Feb. 19.

Katherine Johnson, 101. A mathematician who calculated rocket trajectories and Earth orbits for NASA's early space missions and was later portrayed in the 2016 hit film "Hidden Figures," about pioneering Black female aerospace workers. Feb. 24.

Clive Cussler, 88. The million-selling adventure writer and real-life thrill-seeker who wove personal details and spectacular fantasies into his page-turning novels about underwater explorer Dirk Pitt. Feb. 24.

 

MARCH

 

Jack Welch, 84. He transformed General Electric Co. into a highly profitable multinational conglomerate and parlayed his legendary business acumen into a retirement career as a corporate leadership guru. March 1. Renal failure.

Rev. Darius L. Swann, 95. His challenge to the notion of segregated public schools helped spark the use of busing to integrate schools across the country. March 8.

Charles Wuorinen, 81. A winner of the 1970 Pulitzer Prize in Music and composer of the operas "Brokeback Mountain" and "Haroun and the Sea of Stories." March 11. Injuries suffered in a fall.

Kenny Rogers, 81. The Grammy-winning balladeer who spanned jazz, folk, country and pop with such hits as "Lucille," "Lady" and "Islands in the Stream" and embraced his persona as "The Gambler" on records and TV. March 20.

Joe Diffie, 61. A country singer who had a string of hits in the 1990s with chart-topping ballads and honky-tonk singles like "Home" and "Pickup Man." March 29. Coronavirus.

Bill Withers, 81. He wrote and sang a string of soulful songs in the 1970s that have stood the test of time, including "Lean on Me," "Lovely Day" and "Ain't No Sunshine." March 30.

 

APRIL

 

Ellis Marsalis Jr., 85. The jazz pianist, teacher and patriarch of a New Orleans musical clan. April 1. Coronavirus.

Adam Schlesinger, 52. An Emmy and Grammy-winning musician and songwriter known for his work with his band Fountains of Wayne and on the TV show "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend." April 1. Coronavirus.

Tom Dempsey, 73. The NFL kicker born without toes on his kicking foot who made a then-record 63-yard field goal. April 4. Coronavirus.

John Prine, 73. The singer-songwriter who explored the heartbreaks, indignities and absurdities of everyday life in "Angel from Montgomery," "Sam Stone," "Hello in There" and scores of other songs. April 7. Coronavirus.

Linda Tripp, 70. Her secretly taped conversations with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky provided evidence of an affair with President Bill Clinton that led to his impeachment. April 8.

Brian Dennehy, 81. The burly actor who started in films as a macho heavy and later in his career won plaudits for his stage work in plays by William Shakespeare, Anton Chekhov, Eugene O'Neill and Arthur Miller. April 15.

Jane Hull, 84. She was Arizona's first woman elected governor and part of the "Fab Five" celebrated as the nation's first all-female elected state executive branch leadership group. April 17.

 

MAY

 

Don Shula, 90. He won the most games of any NFL coach and led the Miami Dolphins to the only perfect season in league history. May 4.

Roy Horn, 75. He was half of Siegfried & Roy, the duo whose extraordinary magic tricks astonished millions until Horn was critically injured in 2003 by one of the act's famed white tigers. May 8. Coronavirus.

Little Richard, 87. He was one of the chief architects of rock 'n' roll whose piercing wail, pounding piano and towering pompadour irrevocably altered popular music while introducing Black R&B to white America. May 9. Bone cancer.

 

Jerry Stiller, 92. For decades, he teamed with wife Anne Meara in a beloved comedy duo and then reached new heights in his senior years as the high-strung Frank Costanza on the classic sitcom "Seinfeld" and the basement-dwelling father-in-law on "The King of Queens." May 11.

Phyllis George, 70. The former Miss America who became a female sportscasting pioneer on CBS' "The NFL Today" and served as the first lady of Kentucky. May 14.

Fred Willard, 86. The comedic actor whose improv style kept him relevant for more than 50 years in films like "This Is Spinal Tap," "Best In Show" and "Anchorman." May 15.

Ken Osmond, 76. On TV's "Leave It to Beaver," he played two-faced teenage scoundrel Eddie Haskell, a role so memorable it left him typecast and led to a second career as a police officer. May 18.

Jerry Sloan, 78. The Hall of Fame coach who was a fixture for decades in Utah and took the Jazz to the NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998. May 22.

Eddie Sutton, 84. The Hall of Fame basketball coach who led three teams to the Final Four and was the first coach to take four schools to the NCAA Tournament. May 23.

Christo, 84. He was known for massive, ephemeral public arts projects that often involved wrapping large structures in fabric. May 31.

 

JUNE

 

Wes Unseld, 74. The workmanlike Hall of Fame center who led Washington to its only NBA championship and was chosen one of the 50 greatest players in league history. June 2.

Bonnie Pointer, 69. She convinced three of her church-singing siblings to form the Pointer Sisters, which would become one of the biggest acts of the 1970s and '80s. June 8. Cardiac arrest.

William S. Sessions, 90. A former federal judge appointed by President Ronald Reagan to head the FBI and fired years later by President Bill Clinton. June 12.

Charles Webb, 81. A lifelong nonconformist whose debut novel "The Graduate" was a deadpan satire of his college education and wealthy background adapted into the classic film of the same name. June 16.

Jean Kennedy Smith, 92. She was the last surviving sibling of President John F. Kennedy and who as a U.S. ambassador played a key role in the peace process in Northern Ireland. June 17.

Joel Schumacher, 80. The eclectic and brazen filmmaker who shepherded the Brat Pack to the big screen in "St. Elmo's Fire" and steering the Batman franchise into its most baroque territory in "Batman Forever" and "Batman & Robin." June 22.

Milton Glaser, 91. The groundbreaking graphic designer who adorned Bob Dylan's silhouette with psychedelic hair and summed up the feelings for his home state with "I (HEART) NY." June 26.

Carl Reiner, 98. The ingenious and versatile writer, actor and director who broke through as a "second banana" to Sid Caesar and rose to comedy's front ranks as creator of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and straight man to Mel Brooks' "2000 Year Old Man." June 29.

 

JULY

 

Hugh Downs, 99. The genial, versatile broadcaster who became one of television's most familiar and welcome faces with more than 15,000 hours on news, game and talk shows. July 1.

Charlie Daniels, 83. Country music firebrand and fiddler who had a hit with "Devil Went Down to Georgia." July 6. Stroke.

Naya Rivera, 33. A singer and actor who played a gay cheerleader on the hit TV musical comedy "Glee." July 8. Drowning.

Kelly Preston, 57. She played dramatic and comic foil to actors ranging from Tom Cruise in "Jerry Maguire" to Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Twins" and was married to actor John Travolta. July 12. Cancer.

John Lewis, 80. An icon of the civil rights movement whose bloody beating by Alabama state troopers in 1965 helped galvanize opposition to racial segregation, and who went on to a long and celebrated career in Congress. July 17.

Regis Philbin, 88. The genial host who shared his life with television viewers over morning coffee for decades and helped himself and some fans strike it rich with the game show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." July 24.

Peter Green, 73. The dexterous blues guitarist who led the first incarnation of Fleetwood Mac in a career shortened by psychedelic drugs and mental illness. July 25.

Connie Culp, 57. She was the recipient of the first partial face transplant in the U.S. July 29.

Herman Cain, 74. A former Republican presidential candidate and former CEO of a major pizza chain who went on to become an ardent supporter of President Donald Trump. July 30. Coronavirus.

 

AUGUST

 

Wilford Brimley, 85. He worked his way up from movie stunt rider to an indelible character actor who brought gruff charm, and sometimes menace, to a range of films that included "Cocoon," "The Natural" and "The Firm." Aug. 1.

Robert Trump, 71. President Donald Trump's younger brother, he was a businessman known for an even keel that seemed almost incompatible with the family name. Aug. 15.

Lute Olson, 85. The Hall of Fame coach who turned Arizona into a college basketball powerhouse. Aug. 27.

Chadwick Boseman, 43. He played Black American icons Jackie Robinson and James Brown with searing intensity before inspiring audiences worldwide as the regal Black Panther in Marvel's blockbuster movie franchise. Aug. 28. Cancer.

John Thompson, 78. The imposing Hall of Famer who turned Georgetown into a "Hoya Paranoia" powerhouse and became the first Black coach to lead a team to the NCAA men's basketball championship. Aug. 30.

Tom Seaver, 75. The Hall of Fame pitcher who steered a stunning transformation from lovable losers to Miracle Mets in 1969. Aug. 31. Complications of Lewy body dementia and the coronavirus.

 

SEPTEMBER

 

Diana Rigg, 82. A commanding British actress whose career stretched from iconic 1960s spy series "The Avengers" to fantasy juggernaut "Game of Thrones." Sept. 10.

Toots Hibbert, 77. One of reggae's founders and most beloved stars who gave the music its name and later helped make it an international movement through such classics as "Pressure Drop," "Monkey Man" and "Funky Kingston." Sept. 11.

 

Florence Howe, 91. An activist, educator and major contributor to American literature and culture who as co-founder of the Feminist Press helped revive such acclaimed and influential works as Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wall-Paper" and Rebecca Harding Davis' "Life in the Iron Mills." Sept. 12.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 87. The U.S. Supreme Court justice developed a cultlike following over her more than 27 years on the bench, especially among young women who appreciated her lifelong, fierce defense of women's rights. Sept. 18.

Gale Sayers, 77. The dazzling and elusive running back who entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame despite the briefest of careers and whose fame extended far beyond the field for decades thanks to a friendship with a dying Chicago Bears teammate. Sept. 23.

Helen Reddy, 78. She shot to stardom in the 1970s with her rousing feminist anthem "I Am Woman" and recorded a string of other hits. Sept. 29.

Timothy Ray Brown, 54. He made history as "the Berlin patient," the first person known to be cured of HIV infection. Sept. 29.

Mac Davis, 78. A country music star who launched his career crafting the Elvis hits "A Little Less Conversation" and "In the Ghetto," and whose own hits include "Baby Don't Get Hooked On Me." Sept. 29.

 

OCTOBER

 

Bob Gibson, 84. A baseball Hall of Famer and the dominating St. Louis Cardinals pitcher who won a record seven consecutive World Series starts and set a modern standard for excellence when he finished the 1968 season with a 1.12 ERA. Oct. 2.

Eddie Van Halen, 65. The guitar virtuoso whose blinding speed, control and innovation propelled his band Van Halen into one of hard rock's biggest groups and became elevated to the status of rock god. Oct. 6. Cancer.

Johnny Nash, 80. A singer-songwriter, actor and producer who rose from pop crooner to early reggae star to the creator and performer of the million-selling anthem "I Can See Clearly Now." Oct. 6.

Whitey Ford, 91. The street-smart New Yorker who had the best winning percentage of any pitcher in the 20th century and helped the Yankees become baseball's perennial champions in the 1950s and '60s. Oct. 8.

Joe Morgan, 77. The Hall of Fame second baseman became the sparkplug of dominant Cincinnati teams in the mid-1970s and was a two-time National League Most Valuable Player. Oct. 11.

Bernard S. Cohen, 86. He won a landmark case that led to the U.S. Supreme Court's rejection of laws forbidding interracial marriage and later went on to a successful political career as a state legislator. Oct. 12. Complications from Parkinson's disease.

Christopher Pendergast, 71. A suburban New York teacher who turned a Lou Gehrig's disease diagnosis into a decadeslong campaign to raise awareness and fund research. Oct. 14.

Rhonda Fleming, 97. The fiery redhead who appeared with Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, Ronald Reagan and other film stars of the 1940s and 1950s. Oct. 14.

Diane di Prima, 86. A poet, activist and teacher who was one of the last surviving members of the Beats and one of the few women writers in the Beat movement. Oct. 25.

Sean Connery, 90. The charismatic Scottish actor who rose to international superstardom as the suave secret agent James Bond and then abandoned the role to carve out an Oscar-winning career in other rugged roles. Oct. 31.

 

NOVEMBER

 

Norm Crosby, 93. The deadpan mangler of the English language who thrived in the 1960s, '70s and '80s as a television, nightclub and casino comedian. Nov. 7.

Alex Trebek, 80. He presided over the beloved quiz show "Jeopardy!" for more than 30 years with dapper charm and a touch of schoolmaster strictness. Nov. 8.

Paul Hornung, 84. The dazzling "Golden Boy" of the Green Bay Packers whose singular ability to generate points as a runner, receiver, quarterback and kicker helped turn the team into an NFL dynasty. Nov. 13.

Jan Morris, 94. The celebrated journalist, historian, world traveler and fiction writer who in middle age became a pioneer of the transgender movement. Nov. 20.

David Dinkins, 93. He broke barriers as New York City's first African American mayor but was doomed to a single term by a soaring murder rate, stubborn unemployment and his mishandling of a riot in Brooklyn. Nov. 23.

Dave Prowse, 85. The British weightlifter-turned-actor who was the body, though not the voice, of archvillain Darth Vader in the original "Star Wars" trilogy. Nov. 28.

 

DECEMBER

 

Thomas M. Reavley, 99. He was the oldest active federal judge who served for 41 years on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Dec. 1.

Rafer Johnson, 86. He won the decathlon at the 1960 Rome Olympics and helped subdue Robert F. Kennedy's assassin in 1968. Dec. 2.

Alison Lurie, 94. The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist whose satirical and cerebral tales of love and academia included the marital saga "The War Between the Tates" and the comedy of Americans abroad "Foreign Affairs." Dec. 3.

Paul Sarbanes, 87. He represented Maryland for 30 years in the Senate as a leader of financial regulatory reform and drafted the first article of impeachment against Republican President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal as a congressman. Dec. 6.

Charles "Chuck" Yeager, 97. The World War II fighter pilot ace and quintessential test pilot who in 1947 became the first person to fly faster than sound. Dec. 7.

Tommy "Tiny" Lister, 62. A former professional wrestler who was known for his bullying Deebo character in the "Friday" films. Dec. 10.

Charley Pride, 86. He was one of country music's first Black superstars whose rich baritone on such hits as "Kiss an Angel Good Morning" helped sell millions of records and made him the first Black member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Dec. 12. Coronavirus.

Jeremy Bulloch, 75. The English actor who first donned a helmet, cape and jetpack to play Boba Fett in the original "Star Wars" trilogy. Dec. 17.

K.T. Oslin, 78. A country singer who hit it big with the 1987 hit "80's Ladies" and won three Grammy awards. Dec. 21.

Tony Rice, 69. The master bluegrass picker performed or recorded with musicians including Ricky Skaggs, Dolly Parton and Jerry Garcia. Dec. 25.

Phil Niekro, 81. The baseball Hall of Famer pitched with a knuckleball that baffled hitters for more than two decades, mostly with the Atlanta Braves. Dec. 26.

George Blake, 98. The former British intelligence officer worked as a double agent for the Soviet Union. His death was reported in Russia on Dec. 26.

Pierre Cardin, 98. The French fashion designer revolutionized fashion with his iconic looks of the 20th century. Dec. 29.

Luke Letlow, 41. Louisiana's congressman-elect died of complications related to COVID-19. be. Dec. 29.

Dawn Wells, 82. She played the wholesome Mary Ann on the 1960s sitcom "Gilligan's Island." Dec. 30.

Samuel Little, 80. Authorities say he was the most prolific serial killer in U.S. history, with nearly 60 confirmed victims. Dec. 30.