No, famous people won’t stop dying on January 1. But we lost too many bright lights this year and we hope that 2017 will be better. Here’s a list of noteworthy people who died in 2016.
For the past several months a lot of us have been saying we can’t wait for this damned year to be over.
2016 gave us the worst election season I can remember, and every ten minutes or so another beloved artist would die, it seemed. Any year that gives us Donald Trump and takes Muhammad Ali, David Bowie, Prince in return has done more damage than some decades.
No, people aren’t going to stop dying at the stroke of midnight tomorrow. When we think about our musical heroes, for instance, the simple fact is that if you were an icon in the ’70s, you’re probably in your 70s now, and past a certain age people begin dying at an increasing rate. Unless a miracle cure for aging hits the market this afternoon, we might brace ourselves for what’s yet to come.
That said, Prince was only 57.
It was inevitable that we would react emotionally to this seemingly out of control statistical cluster of geniuses passing on happing in the same year. And once you notice it, you start looking for it more, maybe. A year is largely a construct and we often attribute agency when all that’s happening is basic coincidence. Humans seek for patterns, and sometimes we create them when we shouldn’t.
Regardless, I probably speak for everyone when I say I hope that 2017 goes easier on us. There isn’t enough brilliance as it is to illuminate the world against the gathering darkness. That said, Scholars & Rogues says a final goodbye to those who left us in 2016. We miss you already.
[The following is a very abbreviated list, and while everyone on it achieved a measure of fame, not all are people whose lives were admirable. For a more thorough catalogue of 2016 deaths, please see the Wikipedia article linked at the foot of this page.)
David Bowie, Musician – One of the most influential musical artists of the past four deacdes – age 69
Prince, Musician – musical innovator of the first order – age 57
Sir George Martin – “The Fifth Beatle” – age 90
Merle Haggard, C&W singer/songwriter – “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive,” “Okie From Muskogee” – age 79
Leonard Cohen, Poet and influential songwriter – “Suzanne,” “Hallelujah” and “Bird on the Wire” – age 82
Glen Frey, Singer/Songwriter – founded The Eagles – age 67
Paul Kantner, Singer/Songwriter – co-founder of The Jefferson Airplane – age 74
Maurice White, Musician/songwriter – founding member of Earth, Wind & Fire – age 74
Keith Emerson, Musician/keyboardist –founding member of Emerson, Lake & Palmer rock group – age 71
Greg Lake, Musician – founding member of Emerson, Lake & Palmer “Lucky Man” – age 69
Sharon Jones, Grammy-nominated Brooklyn soul singer with The Dap-Kings, one of most influential performers in the neo-soul revival of the past decade – age 60
Otis Clay, soul singer and Blues Music Hall of Famer, died Jan. 8 at 73.
Pete Fountain, Jazz Musician – played with both Al Hirt and Lawrence Welk – age 86
Leon Russell, Musician/Songwriter – “A Song for You,” “Tight Rope” and “This Masquerade” – age 74
George Michael, Singer/Songwriter – #1 hits; “Faith,” “I Want Your Sex,” “Careless Whisper” – age 53
Ralph Stanley, bluegrass music legend and “O Brother Where Art Thou” singer, died June 23 at 89.
Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural Jr., Buckwheat Zydeco leader and Louisiana accordionist, died Sept. 24 at 68
Phife Dawg, Singer – Rapper with the group A Tribe Called Quest, also known as “Five Foot Assassin” – age 45
Peter Maxwell Davies, British composer who devoted much of his life to the Orkney Islands, died on 14 March, age 81.
Neville Marriner, was an English violinist who became “one of the world’s greatest conductors.” He founded the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. Died October 2.
Arts & Literature
Harper Lee, Novelist – Pulitzer Prize for fiction (1961) for novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” – age 89
Edward Albee, ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ playwright, died Sept. 16 at 88.
W.P. Kinsella, author whose book “Shoeless Joe” was adapted into the movie “Field of Dreams,” died Sept. 16 at 81.
Nathan Lyons, Photographer, Curator, Educator – associate director at the George Eastman House and founded the independent Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester. Started the Society for Photographic Education, becoming its first chairman. Assistant editor of Image, regional editor of Aperture and founder of Afterimage.
Umberto Eco, novelist (The Name of the Rose) and cultural commentator, died on 19 February, age 84.
Jim Harrison, gritty novelist and author of Legends of the Fall, died on 26 March, age 78.
Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides, died on 4 March, age 70.
Film, Television & Stage
Gene Wilder, Actor – Blazing Saddles (1974), Young Frankenstein, Willy Wonka – age 83
Carrie Fisher, Actress – Princess Leia in “Star Wars” (1977) and four sequels – age 60
Debbie Reynolds, Actress – Kathy Selden in “Singin’ in the Rain,” Mother of Carrie Fisher – age 84
Alan Rickman, Actor – Hans Gruber in ‘Die Hard’ and Severus Snape in ‘Harry Potter’ – age 69
George Kennedy, Actor – Academy Award for “Cool Hand Luke” also in all the “Airport” movies – age 91
Larry Drake, Actor – Benny Stulwicz on L.A. Law (1987-1994) – age 66
Garry Shandling, Comedian – “Garry Shandling Show” and “The Larry Sanders” Show – age 66
Garry Marshall, Writer/Producer/Actor – created “Happy Days,” “Mork & Mindy,” “Laverne & Shirley” – age 81
Florence Henderson, Actress/Singer – Carol Brady on “The Brady Bunch” (1969 to 1974) – age 82
Grant Tinker, Television executive – Chairman and CEO of NBC (1981-’86) married to Mary Tyler Moore (1962-’81) – age 90
Zsa Zsa Gabor, Hungarian Actress and Socialite – Moulin Rouge (1952), married nine times to mostly wealthy men – age 99
Frank Finlay, best known for his role as Porthos in Richard Lester’s Three Musketeers and Four Musketeers, and also nominated for an Oscar for his Iago in Lawrence Olivier’s Othello, died 30 January, age 89.
Sports & Sports Entertainment
Muhammad Ali, Professional Boxer – (formerly Cassius Clay) three time heavyweight champion (1964, 1974, and 1978), proclaimed “The Greatest” – age 74
Arnold Palmer, Golfer – One of the greatest golfers ever, did more to popularize the sport than any other golfer – age 87
Monte Irvin, who nearly broke baseball’s color lines before Jackie Robinson, died Jan. 11 at 96. He played seven seasons with the New York Giants, served as MLB’s first black executive, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
Gordie Howe, Hockey player – Detroit Red Wings for 25 seasons, 23-time NHL All-Star – age 88
Buddy Ryan, NFL Football Coach – while defensive coordinator for Chicago Bears invented the 46 defense – age 85
Pat Summitt, NCAA Basketball Coach – University of Tennessee Woman’s team (1974 – 2012) the winningest NCAA coach ever – age 64
Craig Sager, Sports Reporter – best known for covering the NBA and for his loud suits – age 65
Blackjack Mulligan, a former New York Jets player, ’70s WWE star and father of pro wrestlers Barry Windham, Kendall Windham and former SU wrestler Mike Rotunda (a.k.a. Irwin R. Schyster or I.R.S.) and grandfather of Bray Wyatt and Bo Dallas, died April 7 at 73.
Joanie “Chyna” Laurer, WWE wrestling legend and Rochester native, died April 20 at 46.
John Saunders, longtime ESPN sportscaster, died Aug. 10 at 61.
Joe Garagiola, Baseball Player – MLB catcher and announcer and television host – age 90
Fidel Castro, Dictator – Prime Minister then President of Cuba from 1959-2008 then gave same powers to his brother – age 90
Shimon Peres, Statesman – President of Israel (2007-’14), Prime Minister twice, held various offices from 1959-2007 – age 93
Janet Reno, Attorney General of the United States 1993-2001 nominated by President Bill Clinton – age 78
Antonin Scalia, Supreme Court Justice – appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1986 – age 79
Nancy Reagan, First Lady of the U.S.(1981-1989) Husband, 40th President Ronald Reagan – age 94
Elie Wiesel, Jewish Writer/political activist – Holocaust survivor, and Nobel Laureate – age 87
Phyllis Schlafly, reactionary idiot who helped defeat the Equal Rights Amendment, died 5 September, age 92.
Science & Technology
John Glenn, WWII & Korean War Fighter Pilot. Marine Colonel. NASA Astronaut. Senator from Ohio (1974-99). Married for 73 yrs – first American to orbit the Earth (1962) – age 95
Seymour Papert, AI pioneer and author of Mindstorms, died 1 August at age 88.
Marvin Minsky, AI pioneer and author (with Seymour Papert) of the groundbreaking Perceptrons, died on 24 January, age 88.
Morley Safer, Journalist – CBS News for 52 years (1964-2016), 60 Minutes for 46 years (1970-2016) won 12 Emmy Awards – age 84
Gwen Ifill, Journalist – “Washington Week” and “PBS NewsHour” on PBS – age 61
In addition to our staff’s own cataloguing of these deaths, this article draws heavily on lists compiled by FiftiesWeb.com, Syracuse.com and Wikipedia, and in some cases we simply quote their descriptions.
Lisa Wright, Cat White and Wufnik contributed to this article.