In memoriam: Celebrity deaths of 2020

Dawn Wells poses with the original, fully restored S.S. Minnow from "Gilligan's Island" to meet and greet fans and visitors at the Vancouver International Boat Show in Vancouver on January 23, 2014. Best known for her role as Mary Ann from "Gilligan's Island," Wells died of COVID-19 on December 30 at the age of 82. Photo by Heinz Ruckemann/UPI

Dec. 31 (UPI) — 2020 was — by most measures — a tumultuous and depressing year, made only bleaker by the deaths of dozens of beloved music, stage and screen artists.

Here are a few who made unforgettable contributions to the arts.

Film and TV stars

“Black Panther,” “Marshall,” “Get On Up” and “42” actor Chadwick Boseman lost his secret, four-year battle with colon cancer Aug. 28. He was 43.

Boseman’s death sent shock waves through Hollywood, as many of his closest friends and collaborators praised the strength, dignity and work ethic he maintained as he fought for his life.

His performances in two films released after his death — “Da 5 Bloods” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” — have been generating Oscar buzz.

If he wins, Boseman would be only the third actor to receive that honor posthumously after “The Dark Knight” star Heath Ledger and “Network”‘s Peter Finch.

“Jerry Maguire” and “What a Girl Wants” actress Kelly Preston died July 12 after privately struggling with breast cancer for two years. She was 57.

Preston, who was married to “Grease” and “Pulp Fiction” actor John Travolta since 1991, was known for her vivacious personality and a career that dated to the 1980s with memorable appearances in films like “Secret Admirer,” “SpaceCamp” and “Twins.”

She was predeceased by her eldest child, Jett, in 2009. He was 17 when he died after a seizure.

Preston is survived by Travolta; daughter Ella, 20, and son Benjamin, 10.

This year also saw the drowning death of “Glee” and “Devious Maids” actress Naya Rivera. She went missing July 9 while on a boating excursion with 4-year-old son Josey on California’s Lake Piru.

Her body was discovered in the lake several days later, and her death was ruled an accidental drowning. She was 33.

Rivera’s death was the third tragedy to hit the cast of the musical dramedy series “Glee.” Cory Monteith died in 2013 of a drug overdose at age 31, and Mark Salling hanged himself in 2018 at age 35.

Longtime “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek, 80, died of pancreatic cancer Nov. 8.

He had been optimistic and candid about his health issues in the hopes of increasing awareness about the disease and how to detect and fight it. A video he taped before his death was released on Thanksgiving. In it, he urged fans to look out for each other during the coronavirus pandemic.

“There are more and more people extending helpful hands to do a kindness to their neighbors and that’s a good thing,” he said. “Keep the faith. We’re going to get through all of this and we will be a better society because of it.”

The winner of five Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Game Show host previously presided over “Music Hop,” “The Wizard of Odds,” “Double Dare,” “High Rollers,” “Battlestars,” “Classic Concentration” and “To Tell the Truth.”

Oscar-winning film star Kirk Douglas, one of the last titans of Hollywood’s Golden Age, died Feb. 5. He was 103.

Best known for his work in the films “Champion,” “Ace in the Hole,” “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” “The Bad and the Beautiful,” “The Big Sky,” “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,” “Paths of Glory,” “Spartacus,” “Tough Guys,” “Inherit the Wind” and “Diamonds,” his final big-screen role was opposite his son Michael Douglas in 2003’s “It Runs in the Family.”


Rock ‘n’ roll legend Eddie Van Halen died of cancer Oct. 6. The Grammy winner was 65.

He co-founded the popular band Van Halen in 1972, and it was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.

The group, which included Van Halen’s son, Wolfgang, on bass since 2006, toured until not long before the coronavirus pandemic shut down live performances.

Country music star and occasional actor Kenny Rogers died March 20. He was 81.

Best known for the classic songs “The Gambler,” “Lady” and “Islands in the Stream” — a duet with Dolly Parton — Rogers was a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the winner of three Grammy Awards and six CMA Awards.

Rogers also acted in several Gambler and MacShayne TV movies, as well as the feature film Six Pack and episodes of How I Met Your Mother, Touched By an Angel and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

Entertainer Little Richard died May 9 at age 87 after months of declining health.

He was famous for his flashy fashion and a string of 1950s hit songs that included “TuttiFrutti,” “Good Golly Miss Molly,” “Long Tong Sally,” “Rip It Up,” “Jenny Jenny,” “Keep A-Knockin” and “Lucille.”

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993.

COVID-19 deaths

COVID-19, which was responsible for much of 2020’s misery, stole the lives of about 330,000 Americans.

Among the most famous to succumb to complications from the virus was country music icon Charley Pride, who was 86 when he died Dec. 12.

He had 51 more country Top 10 hits in the 20 years after his 1967 breakout record, “Just Between You and Me,” and, in 2000, became the first Black member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

In November, he received the Country Music Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Other celebrities who died of coronavirus complications include country musician John Prine (73), playwright Terrence McNally (81), and Broadway actors Mark Blum (69) and Nick Cordero (41.)

The world also bid farewell to Gone with the Wind heroine Olivia de Haviland, 104; comedian and The Dick Van Dyke Show creator Carl Reiner, 98; daytime television titan Regis Philbin 88; “I Am Woman” singer-songwriter Helen Reddy, 78; James Bond portrayer Sean Connery, 90; and Southern rock musician Charlie Daniels, 83.

Taking their final bows, as well, in 2020 were fashion designer Pierre Cardin, 98; Latin music singer and composer Armando Manzanero, 85; Deadliest Catch star Nick McGlashan, 33; spy thriller author John Le Carre, 89; Two and a Half Men and Mystic Pizza scene-stealer Conchata Ferrell, 77; Game of Thrones matriarch Diana Rigg, 82; Laverne & Shirley alum David Lander, 73; British model Stella Tennant, 50; Broadway star Rebecca Luker, 59; wrestler Jon Huber, 41; and bluegrass icon Tony Rice, 69.


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