2016’s Most Heartbreaking Celebrity Deaths
We now say goodbye to the year that we said goodbye to many of our most beloved icons in, so it behooves us to take sad stock of the pop culture luminaries lost in 2016. We’ve ranked the most distinguished dearly departed below, to note their immortality in the melancholy face of their mortality. We’ve put out many free tribute t-shirts throughout the year in honor of the amazing ways they’ve impacted our lives, just like this Carrie Fisher shirt to further immortalize these legends across your chest.
NOTE: There are still a couple more days left in 2016, so we will update this list should any more significant superstars pass on at the tail end of the year.
1. Prince (April 21) – With 19 Top 10 hits, 16 platinum albums, and a memorably phallic Super Bowl performance, the passing of the “Artist Formerly Known As” inspired a series of memorial dance nights at local clubs that seemingly still continues today.
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3. Carrie Fisher (Dec. 27) – One of the iconic female characters in the Hollywood sci-fi canon, Fisher played Princess Leia in four (or five, depending how you count) Star Wars movies, made a ton of movie cameos, wrote three best-selling books and was the rare superstar advocate for addiction and mental health issues. Then her mom Debbie Reynolds died the very next day! That is heartbreaking on a galactic scale. Get your free Carrie Fisher t-shirt here
4. Gene Wilder (Aug. 28) – After beating out Fred Astaire and Peter Sellers for the lead role in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, Wilder co-wrote Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. His Richard Pryor buddy comedies Silver Streak and Stir Crazy introduced a generation of white Americans to the concept of race relations.
5. George Michael (Dec. 25) – As part of the duo Wham! and as a solo artist, Michael sold more than a 100 million records worldwide would become one of the world’s most noted LGBT activists after coming out in 1998.
6. Leonard Cohen (Nov. 7) – Best known for other people’s covers of his songs “Suzanne” and “Hallelujah”, Cohen was eulogized in November in the most poignant Saturday Night Live cold open ever.
7. Muhammad Ali (June 3) – We remember Ali as a three-time World Heavyweight Champion, but often forget that the prizefighter was stripped of his title for refusing to enlist in the Vietnam War. He took that fight all the way to the Supreme Court and won, but lost four prime years of his career in the process.
8. Alan Rickman (Jan. 14) – From Die Hard to Harry Potter to Galaxy Quest, the droll character actor always stole the show in his supporting roles.
9. Sharon Jones (Nov. 18)- The “female James Brown” enjoyed most of her success after the age of 50, and refused to wear a wig onstage while publicly battling with pancreatic cancer for the last three years.
10. Phife Dawg (March 22) – The original Tribe Called Quest member’s death hits closest to home, as “The Funky Diabetic” passed at his household in Contra Costa County.
11. Garry Shandling (March 24) – A sort of less-grotesque Woody Allen, Shandling popularized playing an ugly version of himself that paved the way for Louis C.K. and Ricky Gervais.
12. Vanity (February 15) – The Prince protege and “Nasty Girl” also had a nice career appearing 1980s B-movies, including The Last Dragon and Action Jackson.
13. Harper Lee (Feb. 18) – Author of the greatest grade school novel To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee went into reclusion as her book sold 30 million copies.
14, Nate Thurmond (July 16) – The Golden State Warriors’ Hall of Fame center Nate Thurmond’s had none other than former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown as his agent, and Thurmond’s barbecue stop Big Nate’s BBQ was once honored with an SF Weekly Best Barbecue award.
15. Elie Wiesel (July 2) – Deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp at age 15, Wiesel would survive to write 57 books and win a Nobel Peace Prize.
16. The Lady Chablis (Sept. 8) – The Lady Chablis was a drag star before being a drag star was cool, appearing in both the 1994 novel and 1997 film versions of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
17. Buckwheat Zydeco (Sept. 24) – The most accomplished zydeco artist of all time, Zydeco’s band performed the closing ceremonies of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta with a television audience of more than three billion.
18. Gwen Ifill (Nov. 14) – The trailblazing journalist was the first African American woman to anchor a nightly news show (PBS NewsHour) and the first to moderate a vice-presidential debate (2004, 2008).
19. Craig Sager (Dec. 15) – Known for his outrageously tacky jackets, Sager still made occasional appearances as an NBA sideline reporter even while battling with leukemia.
20. Zsa Zsa Gabor (Dec. 18) – The former Miss Hungary 1936 was the original “famous for being famous” socialite in the model of today’s Paris Hilton. In fact, she is Paris Hilton’s step-great-grandmother, as Hilton Hotels co-founder Conrad Hilton was among Gabor’s nine ex-husbands.