The year 2016 has seen a number of high profile celebrity deaths. Many talented, wonderful people, who greatly contributed to arts, entertainment, and science have died this year. Let’s take a look at who we lost (in no particular order, to keep it interesting):
David Bowie – known for his innovative musical approach, and a pioneering androgynous style, David Bowie rocked multiple generations, starting with the Baby Boomers in the 1960s. His early works, like Ziggy Stardust and the Spider from Mars, were ground-breaking, and his range was impressive, as exemplified by his moving Christmas duet with Bing Crosby.
Prince – The consummate performer of the 1980s, Prince, like Bowie, transcends the generations. His album Purple Rain exemplifies his artistry. A popular musician, his work is also subtle and intelligent.
Muhammad Ali – One of the greatest heavy-weight champions that ever lived, Ali touched millions. His mastery in the ring, and his long-lived career, started at the Olympics, where he won gold, and moved seamlessly to the professional circuit, where he dominated the sport. Ali, born Cassius Marcellus Clay, converted to Islam in the early 1960s, influenced by Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad. Ali embraced non violence outside of the ring, denouncing the Vietnam War, and refusing military service as a conscientious objector. After his boxing career, he faced a long and valiant struggle with debilitating Parkinson’s disease, and helped to gain awareness of the condition.
Garry Shandling – A first class comedian, he starred in two major comedy shows during his long career, delighting his fans with self-deprecating, sarcastic, and subtle humor.
Patty Duke – She wowed a generation, playing a pair of twins on “The Patty Duke” show, when she was a teenager. She was also the poster child for Bipolar, from which she suffered, helping to spread understanding about the condition, and mental illness in general, and reduce the stigma experienced by those who suffered.
Ken Howard – a beloved actor known for his dignified portrayal of a young Thomas Jefferson in the smash musical hit “1776,” when he was a young man, and his gripping portrayal of a dedicated high school basketball coach in “The White Shadow” television show.
Anton Yelchin – Just starting out, this young actor died in a freak car accident outside his home. He rose to fame portraying the lovable Russian-accented Ensign Chekov, in the movie reboot of the Star Trek Franchise. Star Trek fans were already mourning the loss of Leonard Nimoy, who played Mr. Spock, one of the series most well-known characters.
Morley Safer – A veteran television journalist, who covered the Vietnam war (the first truly televised war in American history) Safer is best known for his long run for his role on 60-Minutes, the TV news magazine renowned for its tough, “gotcha” interviews, investigative journalism, and interesting personality profiles.
Nancy Reagan – The First Lady of the United States throughout most of the 1980s, and second wife of President Ronald Reagan, she got her start as an screen actress during Hollywood’s Golden Age. She worked on an anti-drug campaign characterized by the slogan “Just say no to drugs.”
Alan Rickman – A first class British Actor, best known for his portrayal of Professor Snape, in the Harry Potter films. Rickman’s character was complex, tempted by the dark side, but ultimately choosing righteousness, discourteous and rude, but acting in the best interests of his students—-a character befitting the skills of this highly competent thespian.
Doris Roberts – One of America’s queens of comedy, she’s best known for portraying the mother on the hit comedy series “Everyone Loves Raymond,” in which she gave her on-screen daughter-and-law, and son, considerable grief.
John Glenn – Astronaut and long-serving United States Senator, John Glenn was the first American to orbit the earth is the nation’s fledgling manned space program. He served in WWII and Korea as a combat pilot, and then a military test pilot, before joining the space program.
Fidel Castro – He lead the Cuban Revolution, an initially nationalist revolution, but ultimately embraced communism, and worked with his benefactor, the Soviet Union, to promote the cause of international socialism world-wide. He instituted universal health care and a successful educational program for his people, but his country suffered under the harsh economic sanctions imposed by the U.S.
Gene Wilder – one of the most beloved comedians and film personalities of the 70s and 80s, and husband of Gilda Radner, the smashingly good comedienne who died tragically young, Wilder was a best known for his roles as the mysterious Willy Wonka in the colorful and fantastical “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and Mel Brooke’s hilariously funny classic “The Producers.”
Ron Glass – an actor best known for his suave, sophisticated, three-piece-suit wearing character on the 70s sitcom “Barney Miller.” He portrayed an archetypal yuppie before the term became a popular expression.
Arnold Palmer – Known by legions of adoring fans as “The King of Golf,” he is widely considered the greatest golfer of all times. And he invented a tasty beverage, “The Arnold Palmer,” (half iced tea, half lemonade) that remains a refreshing favorite, and a lucrative commercial venture, to this very day.
Florence Henderson – One of televisions most recognized actresses, she enjoyed a successful run in musicals, particularly her role in “Oklahoma!,” and is best known for her portrayal of Carol Brady, the archetypal TV Mom on the hit television show “The Brady Bunch,” which lives on in syndication. She also enjoyed an entertaining run on “Dancing with the Stars,” in recent years.
Zsa Zsa Gabor – sister to Eva Gabor (of Green Acres fame) Zsa Zsa was born in Hungary, and found success in Hollywood. In youth she had exquisite beauty and an exotic brand of European charm. She’s best known for her part in John Houston’s 1952 “Moulin Rouge.” Later in life, her exaggerated persona, and the fact that she slapped a cop during a routine driving stop, gave her the reputation of someone who was “famous for being famous.”
Alan Thicke – A good-natured, likable and multi-talented entertainer, Thicke played one of the most loved TV Dad’s in television history, starring as Jason Seaver on ABC’s “Growing Pains.” Thicke was also a successful song writer and author.
George Michael – a popular musician with a string of enjoyable hits, Michael’s was known for a smoldering sexuality and a vivacious, high energy performance style. He was also an avid and secretive philanthropist, quietly giving millions to worthy charities, and hosting benefit concerts for worthy causes.
Carrie Fisher – An actress and author born to Hollywood royalty, Fisher will always be remembered for her iconic role as Princess Leia in George Lucas’s Star Wars Saga. Fisher battled substance abuse and mental illness, writing about her struggles in books and a a live performance, and raising awareness for these conditions.
Debbie Reynolds – Best known for her roles in “Singing in the Rain,” opposite Gene Kelly, and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” she was a triple threat, able to sing, dance, and act, during the Golden Age of Hollywood. She shifted her career from films to the stage, starring on Broadway, and made millions collecting and selling classic Hollywood memorabilia. She passed away just one day after her beloved daughter, Carrie Fisher.
Photo: San Francisco Chronicle / SFGATE.com