In 2020, the world lost some legends in the entertainment industry. And while these musicians, actors, and athletes have passed on, their legacies and contributions to their respective fields will be around for generations.
From actresses Kelly Preston and Naya Rivera to Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek and former wrestler Rocky Johnson, here are some of the celebrities who passed away in 2020.
In the entertainment industry, 15 years is a blink of an eye, and typically not enough time to win numerous Grammy Awards and write various hit singles. Well, tell that to Bill Withers, the genius behind songs such as “Ain’t no Sunshine,” “Lean on Me,” and “Just the Two of Us.”
The three-time Grammy Award-winning artist passed away on March 30, 2020, at the age of 81, after complications with his heart. Upon his death, Giovanni Russonello of the New York Times wrote, “Ultimately Withers reminded us that it’s the everyday that is the most meaningful: work, family, love, loss.”
A big hit to the world of game show television happened in 2020, with the passing of host Regis Philbin. Some of his more memorable appearances were as the host for the premiere season of America’s Got Talent, Million Dollar Password, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and, of course, his years hosting alongside Kelly Ripa on Live! With Regis and Kelly.
Whatever the assignment, Regis was always a character to watch onscreen. He passed away a month before his 89th birthday, on July 24, 2020.
No matter what show or film she was in, actress Naya Rivera was a force on the screen. Arguably best known for her role as Santana Lopez in the musical television series Glee, Rivera proved her acting chops time and time again, not to mention her Amy Winehouse-like vocals.
Her passing on July 8, 2020, was a blow to the entire Glee community, including one of her good friends and co-stars, Heather Morris. The tragic accident that happened on Lake Piru will not soon be forgotten.
Sam Lloyd is probably best known for his Scrubs character, the low self-esteem lawyer Ted Buckland. His beloved character wound up crossing over to another sitcom for a few episodes in Cougar Town, too, just showing how much people enjoyed Lloyd’s ability to make the “sad sack” character amusing.
After his passing on April 30, 2020, at the age of 56, many of Lloyd’s former co-stars paid tribute. His Scrubs co-star, Zach Braff, said, “Sam Lloyd made me crack up and break character every single time we did a scene together. He could not have been a kinder man. I will forever cherish the time I had with you, Sammy.”
The Black Mamba, Kobe Bryant, is widely considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time. A 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant left the professional stage an 18-time All-Star, a 12-time member of the All-Defensive Team, a 15-time member of the All-NBA Team, and a five-time NBA Champion.
More importantly, though, he’ll be remembered as a loving father and husband. Unfortunately, a freak helicopter accident on the way to Camarillo Airport on January 26, 2020, led to this basketball legend’s untimely passing.
Neil Peart, known by Rush fans as The Professor, was the drummer and primary lyricist for the rock band Rush. The youngest drummer to be inducted into the Modern Drummer Readers Poll Hall of Fame, Peart’s career was full of tremendous achievements and milestones, including the release of a solid 19 studio albums.
The rock star passed away on January 7, 2020, after a very secret three-and-a-half-year-long battle with glioblastoma. Aside from Peart’s inner circle of friends and family, no one knew about his illness until he passed.
For 37 seasons, Alex Trebek was the host of the popular game show Jeopardy! From 1984 until his passing in 2020, people tuned in to watch Trebek rattle off answer after answer of random trivia knowledge. Something fans appreciated even more after he announced his stave IV pancreatic cancer diagnosis in 2019.
On October 29, 2020, Trebek taped his last episode of Jeopardy! Less than a month later, on November 8, 2020, he passed away at the age of 80. Before his death, the beloved game show host wrote, “I’ll be perfectly content…sitting on the swing with the woman I love…my wonderful children nearby.”
Frank from Seinfeld, Arthur Spooner on King of Queens, and a force in films such as Zoolander, The Heartbreak Kid, and Heavyweights, Jerry Stiller will be greatly missed by both fans and people in the entertainment industry. No one can play eccentric and yet overly grumpy characters quite like Stiller; he had a knack for it.
Less than a month before his 93rd birthday, Stiller passed away at his Upper West Side Manhattan home from natural causes. It was May 11, 2020.
“The Innovator, The Originator, and The Architect of Rock and Roll,” Little Richard was one of a kind when he stepped up onto a stage to perform. With his frantic piano playing, unmatched charisma, and showmanship, not to mention his unique raspy vocals, Richard helped shape the image of rhythm and blues.
Little Richard passed away at the age of 87 on May 9, 2020, from complications with bone cancer. Upon his passing, many high-profile musicians paid their respects to his legacy, including Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Elton John, and Paul McCartney.
Comedian, actor, screenwriter, and an overall entertainment guru, Carl Reiner had a career in the industry that lasted over seven decades. Writing alongside the likes of Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, and Neil Simon, Reiner became one of the more iconic and prolific comedy writers in Hollywood.
A Grammy winner, an 11-time Emmy Award-winner, and the recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, Reiner lived a very full life. On June 29, 2020, he passed away due to natural causes at the age of 98.
Sky High, SpaceCamp, The Cat in the Hat, Jerry Maguire, and What a Girl Wants; actress Kelly Preston appeared in some top-notch films over the years. Of course, those weren’t her only contributions to the entertainment industry. During her career, Preston appeared in over 60 television and film productions.
After a brave two-year fight with breast cancer, Preston passed away on July 12, 2020, at the age of 57. Like many celebrities, her illness wasn’t widely publicized, making her passing a shock to her fans and the fans of her husband, John Travolta.
Mary Pat Gleason
Writer and actress Mary Pat Gleason was in the entertainment industry until the end, appearing in over 50 feature films throughout her career. Some of her more memorable roles include Jane Hogan on the soap opera Guiding Light, Mary on Mom, and Professor Foxtrot’s voice in WTF 101, her last project.
After years of fighting uterine cancer, Gleason passed away on June 2, 2020, at the age of 70. According to her nephew, John Brostrom, the actress is survived by a “large, loving extended family.”
Funnyman Fred Willard’s work is extensive. Through the years, he showed his comedic ability in mockumentary films such as This Is Spinal Tap, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, Mascots, For your Consideration, and Waiting for Guffman. Outside of the Christopher Guest “series,” though,” he appeared in multiple blockbuster films and television shows, such as Anchorman and Modern Family.
Willard passed away May 15, 2020, at age 86, after reportedly suffering from cardiac arrest at his home in Los Angeles, California.
Rocky Johnson was the Johnson family’s original professional wrestler, standing in the ring from his debut in 1964 until his retirement in 1991. During his career, Johnson won more than one National Wrestling Alliance title, became a Georgia Heavyweight Champion, and, in 1983, he and his partner Tony Atlas won the World Tag Team Championship.
He passed away on January 15, 2020, at the age of 75. His son, “The Rock,” paid tribute to his late father on social media, saying, “You lived a very full, very hard, barrier-breaking life and left it all in the ring. I love you, dad, and I’ll always be your proud and grateful son.”
When it was announced Chadwick Boseman passed away on August 28, 2020, it was a shock. Diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016, Boseman kept his illness a secret and continued to work through treatments.
Known for his work on Black Panther, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Da 5 Bloods, and many more films, Boseman’s colleagues had nothing but praise for the actor upon his death. Marvel Studios president paid tribute to Boseman, saying, “Each time he stepped on set, he radiated charisma and joy, and each time he appeared on screen, he created something truly indelible […] Now he takes his place [as] an icon for the ages.
The wife of James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the one who “did it” and killed Joffrey on Game of Thrones, and Emma Peel in the television series The Avengers, actress Diana Rigg had countless memorable roles in various universes across film and television.
And that’s not even accounting for her numbers theater performances, including My Fair Lady and King Lear. Rigg was diagnosed with lung cancer in March of 2020. After battling the illness for a few months, Rigg passed away on September 10, 2020, at the age of 82.
A popular stage and film actress, fierce activist, and loving mother to her three children, Shirley Douglas passed away on April 5, 2020, three days before her 86th birthday, due to complications from pneumonia. Her career in the arts began back in 1950 when she entered the Dominion Drama Festival.
From there, Douglas was hooked on becoming an actress. In her career, she appeared in many films, television shows, and even on the stage. Some of her more popular works include Wind at my Back, The Silver Surfer, Shadow Lake, and The Glass Menagerie, a stage performance she performed alongside her son, Keifer Sutherland.
While he was very popular with the country crowd, musician Kenny Rogers had a knack for making music that could cross genres. In fact, over his long career, Rogers had over 420 hit singles that spread across numerous musical genres, not just country!
Considered one of the best-selling artists of all time, Rogers passed away peacefully from natural causes at his home in Sandy Springs, Georgia, at the age of 81; he was surrounded by his loved ones. It was March 20, 2020.
Journalist and author Elizabeth Wurtzel had her first memoir, Prozac Nation, published at the age of 27. Her confessional writing style soon popularized a more personal tone and memoir genre throughout various works in the 90s. Later, she became one of the unofficial-official voices of Generation X.
In 2015, Wurtzel announced she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After years of fighting the disease, the acclaimed writer passed away on January 7, 2020, from leptomeningeal disease, a rare complication of breast cancer. She was 52 years old.
Max von Sydow
After a long and illustrious career in both American and European film, television, and on the stage, on March 8, 2020, actor Max von Sydow passed away at the age of 90. A 70-year career that included appearing in over 150 projects, all of which were in multiple languages, von Sydow is going to be greatly missed on screen.
Some of his more prolific performances include his Primetime Emmy-nominated role as the Three-eyed Raven in Game of Thrones, the Academy Award-winning films The Virgin Spring and Through a Glass Darkly, and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.
From 1994 until 2018, James Lipton hosted the interesting talk show Inside the Actors Studio, a series where he interviewed stars on their inspirations and various acting techniques they use when working on a project. But his life was more than the talk show.
Lipton also had the privilege of being the dean at the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University, a graduate-level university established in 2006. He had much to be proud of in his life. On March 2, 2020, Lipton passed away after a fight against bladder cancer. He was 93 years old.
A chemistry major at the University of Washington, Dawn Wells didn’t really pursue a career in the arts until after graduation in 1960. It was that year that she went on to represent the state of Nevada in the Miss America pageant after being crowned Miss Nevada the year before.
After her beauty pageant days, Wells appeared in numerous television series, including Roseanne, The Wild Wild West, and 77 Sunset Strip. But she’s arguably best-known for her role as Mary Ann Summers on the hit series Gilligan’s Island. Wells passed away on December 30, 2020, at the age of 82.
One of the most heartbreaking losses in 2020 was of iconic actor Kirk Douglas. Since the 1950s, Douglas appeared in over 90 films, including Spartacus, The Bad and the Beautiful, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Surrounded by his family on February 5, 2020, Douglas passed away at his home in Beverly Hills, California. He was 103. Upon his passing, his son, Michael Douglas, said, “To the world, he was a legend, an actor from the golden age of movies who lived well into his golden years, a humanitarian whose commitment to justice and the causes he believed in setting a standard for all of us to aspire to.”
Throughout her career, actor Esther Scott appeared in multiple films and television shows. And she always made herself well-known! Some of her more prolific television roles include Gladys on the Geena Davis Show, Delma Warner on Hart of Dixie, and Doris in The Help.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as Scott appeared in over 70 popular projects, including Boyz in the Hood. On February 14, 2020, Scott passed away at the age of 66, after suffering from a heart attack at her home in Santa Monica, California.
Celebrity makeup artist and hairstylist Scott Patric suffered from a heart attack and passed away in his sleep on January 8, 2020, at the age of 53. Known for his beautiful work and talent on Project Runway, those close to Patric say they’ll miss his creativity, warmth, positive energy, and smile.
During his career, Patric worked on multiple spin-off series of Project Runway, including Junior, Threads, and All-Stars. he was also known for collaborating with big-name stars such as Taylor Swift, Madonna, and even Kate Moss.
A first-generation Cuban-American, Silvio Horta made it his mission in life to live out the “American Dream.” And he most certainly did. Getting into the arts in high school, Horta moved from acting on the stage to more behind-the-scenes work as a director and screenwriter.
He is arguably best known for his genius work in reworking the popular telenovela Yo soy Betty, la fea into the popular sitcom Ugly Betty, a Golden Globe-winning series. Horta passed away on January 7, 2020, at the age of 45.
During his career, Buck Henry made more than one contribution to the film industry. A screenwriter, Henry co-wrote some classic films, including The Graduate and What’s Up Doc? He even directed Heaven Can Wait alongside the legendary Warren Beatty and co-created the comedic series Get Smart.
A two-time Academy Award-nominee and a Golden Globe and Primetime Emmy Award winner, Henry is going to be missed for his satirical approach to humor, something that was showcased more than once across his work. Henry passed away on January 8, 2020, at the age of 89.
Ed Byrnes’s journey to becoming an actor started in 1956 when he accepted an unpaid job at a summer stock theatre company, Litchfield Community Playhouse. There, he began acting in their onstage productions. Of course, that wasn’t his big break. That came years later when he landed the role of Gerald Lloyd “Kookie” Kookson III in 77 Sunset Strip, instantly becoming a teen idol.
From there, he had various film and television appearances, including Vince Fontaine in the popular movie Grease and as a prospective neighbor to Al and Peg in Married…With Children. Byrnes passed away on January 8, 2020, of natural causes. He was 87 years old.
Jeremy Bulloch first gained recognition for his role as Boba Fett in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. But that wasn’t the last time Bulloch was seen in a Star Wars picture, taking on a cameo appearance of Captain Colton in Revenge of the Sith.
During a career that spanned over six decades, Bulloch did a bit more than wait around for a new Star Wars movie to call him up. He also appeared in various British television shows, including Robin of Sherwood and Doctor Who. Bulloch passed away on December 17, 2020, from complications with Parkinson’s Disease. He was 75 years old.
From her first on-screen credit for the role of “Patron” in The George Gobel Show in 1954 to her last appearance in the 2018 drama High & Outside: A Baseball Noir, Norma Michaels had an extensive career that spanned over six decades.
In the 80s, Michaels briefly shifted her career path and became a therapist and counselor, but she eventually made it back to the screen. One of her more well-known performances includes Josephine on The Kind of Queens. She passed away on January 11, 2020, at the age of 95.