The well-known actors, artists, and world figures we lost this year


This year has seen the deaths of many larger than life personalities — from acclaimed actors, musicians and writers who found fame across the world to a royal who stood by Queen Elizabeth II for more than six decades.

As another year comes to a close, here we take a look back at some of the well-known people we lost in 2021. 

Charlie Watts, 'heartbeat' of the Rolling Stones Charlie Watts, who died aged 80, was described as the "heartbeat" of the Rolling Stones.(Charlie Watts-WikimediaCC)

The drummer who provided the backbone of the Rolling Stones' songs for more than 50 years, Charlie Watts died "peacefully" in a London hospital in August, aged 80.

Watts, a jazz drummer, had announced he would not tour with the Stones in 2021 because of an undefined health issue. He joined the group in 1963, with his "genius" and versatility consistently praised by bandmates and critics.

"Charlie was the heartbeat for the band, you know, and also a very steady personality," Mick Jagger told Howard Stern. "He was a very reliable person, wasn't a diva — that's the last thing you want in a drummer."

While the rest of the Stones "shagged themselves senseless" and dressed like bohemians, all the time looking for the next big trend, Watts was always "perfectly dressed, faithful to his wife, listening to the song and always playing what he deemed appropriate", Mark Bannerman wrote

"His power was his ability to listen."

Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth's 'strength and stay'Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.WatchDuration: 7 minutes 28 seconds7m Prince Philip 1921-2021

Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and husband to Queen Elizabeth II, died in April aged 99.

Born on the Greek island of Corfu in 1921, Philip was the fifth child and only son of Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark and Princess Alice Battenberg — a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria.

He fled Greece with his family after his uncle, King Constantine, was forced to abdicate in 1922, and spent several years exiled in France.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in 1972. 

The duke first met his future wife in 1939 while serving in the British Navy. The pair married eight years later and Prince Philip went on to become the longest-serving consort of a monarch in the history of the British royal family.

Before taking on royal duties after the death of King George VI in 1952, he had a long career with the Royal Navy and served in World War II.

Known for his forthright manner, Prince Philip was a key source of support for the Queen, who described him as her "strength and stay" throughout their 73-year marriage.  

He retired from official royal duties in 2017 after his health began to decline. 

Joan Didion, writer who chronicled contemporary America American writer Joan Didion found fame as an early practitioner of "new journalism".(AP: Kathy Willens)

Joan Didion, an author whose essays, memoirs, novels and screenplays chronicled contemporary American society, died last week of complications related to Parkinson's disease aged 87.

She first emerged as a writer in the late 1960s and was an early pioneer of "new journalism" — a form of writing that allowed journalists to take a more personalised perspective.

Didion was also known for her air of casual glamour, often photographed in oversized sunglasses or lounging nonchalantly with a cigarette dangling from her hand.

One of her most lauded works, the 1968 essay collection titled Slouching Toward Bethlehem, detailed the turbulence of the emerging hippie culture in San Francisco. Later in life, the shock death of her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne, and only daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, led to a career resurgence as she explored her grief in two books, The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights. 

Didion's publisher Penguin Random House described her as one of the US' "most trenchant writers and astute observers". Speaking about her career in 1975, Didion said: "I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means."

Captain Sir Tom Moore, war veteran and pandemic hero British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Captain Sir Tom Moore was "a hero in the truest sense of the word".(AP: Chris Jackson/Pool Photo)

Captain Sir Tom Moore, a World War II veteran who raised millions for Britain's National Health Service in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, died in February aged 100, after contracting the virus.

Captain Sir Tom had hoped to raise 1,000 pounds but instead raised nearly 33 million ($57 million) in the lead up to his 100th birthday by completing 100 laps of his garden with the help of a walking frame.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson described Captain Sir Tom as "a hero in the truest sense of the word".

"In the dark days of the Second World War he fought for freedom and in the face of this country's deepest post-war crisis he united us all," Johnson said. "He cheered us all up and he embodied the triumph of the human spirit."

The veteran was farewelled at a nationally televised funeral with a guard of honour and World War II plane flyover.

Jessica Walter, Emmy-winning actor Actor Jessica Walter played Lucille Bluth on the popular television show Arrested Development.(AP/Invision: Richard Shotwell)

The American actress Jessica Walter, best known for her role as Lucille Bluth on television show Arrested Development, died in March, aged 80.

Walter was also the voice of Mallory Archer in the TV series Archer and appeared in several films, including as stalker Evelyn Draper in Clint Eastwood's 1971 thriller, Play Misty for Me, for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe. 

In 1975 she won an Emmy for her role as a police detective in the TV drama Amy Prentiss and, according to the New York Times, was often cast throughout her career as "off-centre women capable of silencing men with a withering glance, a piercing remark or the sharp point of a butcher knife".

Walter's comedic flair as the deeply flawed mother in a dysfunctional family in Arrested Development won her a new generation of fans. 

As series producer 20th Television said in March, her "spectacular turn as the devilish Lucille Bluth is one of the great comedic performances of television history, and we loved working with her as much as audiences loved her on Arrested Development".

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, anti-apartheid activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureateSpace to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.WatchDuration: 2 minutes 33 seconds2m 33s Desmond Tutu dies aged 90

Even after the end of apartheid, Archbishop Desmond Tutu never wavered in his fight for a fairer South Africa.

Born in Klerksdorp, a predominantly Afrikaner farming town south-west of Johannesburg, Archbishop Tutu, who died in December, was a teacher before training to become a priest.

After studying and working in London for two stints in the 1960s and '70s, he served as the bishop of Lesotho, before returning to Johannesburg to become the general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, from which the pro-apartheid Afrikaans churches had split.

He preached against the policy of apartheid and blazed a trail for others, including Nelson Mandela.

In 1984, the archbishop won the Nobel Peace Prize "for his role as a unifying leader-figure in the campaign to resolve the problem of apartheid in South Africa".

His message, of course, spread far beyond his homeland. Former US president Barack Obama hailed Archbishop Tutu as "a moral compass for me and so many others." 

"A universal spirit, Archbishop Tutu was grounded in the struggle for liberation and justice in his own country, but also concerned with injustice everywhere," he said. "He never lost his impish sense of humour and willingness to find humanity in his adversaries."

Sean Lock, 'giantly funny' comedian Sean Lock has been celebrated as one of Britain's finest comedians.(Channel 4)

An English comedian and "utterly lovely man" whose deadpan quips were highlights of comedy show 8 Out of 10 Cats, Sean Lock died of cancer in August, aged 58.

Lock appeared frequently on British television panel shows including Big Fat Quiz, QI and Have I Got News For You, and performed regular stand-up comedy gigs. 

His agent, Off the Kerb Productions, said Lock, a father of three children, died at home surrounded by his family: "Sean was one of Britain's finest comedians, his boundless creativity, lightning wit and the absurdist brilliance of his work marked him out as a unique voice in British comedy … Sean will be sorely missed by all that knew him."

Actor and comedian Bill Bailey described Lock as "brilliantly funny" on and off-stage, telling the Guardian their "daft" conversations would leave him "helpless with laughter".

In writers' rooms Lock "spurred you on to find a better joke, a new line, the sweet spot of a perfect gag", Bailey said, and when the results worked, Lock would let out a "great gale of laughter".

Una Stubbs, a familiar face on British television for half a century Stubbs died this year after a "heroic battle with cancer". (AP: Joel Ryan)

British actor Una Stubbs was a small screen fixture for five decades, finding fame in series such as Till Death Us Do Part, EastEnders, Faulty Towers and most recently as a landlady in Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal of Sherlock.

She died peacefully at home surrounded by family in August according to a statement from her three sons. Her agent of more than 20 years, Rebecca Blond, told the BBC she had been sick for a few months. She was 84.

Stubbs was "wickedly funny, elegant, stylish, graceful, gracious and kind," Blond said. "We are desperately sad to have lost not only a wonderful actress, whose screen and stage career, spanning over 50 years, was so extraordinarily varied."

The actor began her career as a teenager in advertising and as a chorus girl. She had previously said she spent most of her life "doing two jobs, motherhood and acting, and being so-so at both of them," the BBC said.

Following her death, tributes described her as a "star", a "serenely graceful actor", and one of the "kindest, nicest, funniest" people.

Bunny Wailer, a reggae legend who brought Jamaican music to the world Wailer was the last surviving member of the legendary reggae group, The Wailers.(AP: David McFadden)

Legendary Jamaican reggae singer Bunny Wailer died in March. He was 73.

Wailer, whose given name was Neville O'Riley, was best known as a founding member of the Wailers, a reggae group which also included Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. He was the group's final surviving founding member.

Jamaican Prime Minister Andrews Holness described his death this year as a great loss for the country, labelling Wailer a "respected elder statesman of the Jamaican music scene". The group formed in 1963 and is credited with helping to popularise reggae music. Wailer eventually left the group, while Marley continued touring with new band members.

Over his lifetime, Wailer recorded 10 albums, won three Grammys, and received many of Jamaica's highest honours. In recent years he suffered multiple strokes, the final one seeing him hospitalised for the final months of his life.

Helen McCrory, brought formidable and fearsome women to life McCrory starred in the television show Peaky Blinders and the Harry Potter films.(AP: Joel Ryan/Invision)

British actor Helen McCrory, best known for her roles in Peaky Blinders and Harry Potter, died in April after a "heroic battle with cancer". She was 52.

One of Britain's most respected actors, McCrory brought formidable, and sometimes fearsome, women to life as the matriarch of a crime family in Peaky Blinders and Voldemort ally Narcissa Malfoy in the Harry Potter Films.

Her husband and fellow actor, Damian Lewis, described McCrory as a "beautiful and mighty woman", while New Zealand actor Sam Neill called his friend "witty, kind, skilled, riotously funny and so damn cool".

Describing her approach to the film and television industry in 2016, McCrory said: "Of course, there's so much sexism within the profession … But I think you approach it in different ways, and my approach is just to forge forward."

According to Lewis, she died peacefully at home. "She died as she lived, fearlessly," he said.

Michael K Williams, a powerful actor who played dark characters The Wire co-star Isiah Whitlock Jr described Williams as "one of the nicest brothers on the planet with the biggest heart".(AP: Chris Pizzello)

Best known for his role in the hit drama series The Wire, Michael K Williams received critical acclaim for his portrayal of shotgun-wielding thief Omar Little.

But over his career, which lasted three decades, Williams was nominated for five Emmys, including four for outstanding supporting actor for his roles in Bessie (2015), The Night Of (2016), When They See Us (2019), and Lovecraft Country (2020).

Williams as Omar Little in The Wire. (Wikipedia: HBO)

Following his death in September, The Wire co-star Isiah Whitlock Jr described him as "one of the nicest brothers on the planet with the biggest heart" and an "amazing actor and soul".

Speaking to NPR in 2016, Williams, who struggled with addiction, said it was difficult to separate his personal life from the often dark, and sometimes violent, characters he played. "When I wear these characters to the extent that I wear them, that [energy's] gotta go somewhere," he said.

Williams was found unresponsive in his New York apartment in September. His death has since been attributed to an accidental drug overdose. He was 54.

Sophie, a visionary who broke through barriers SOPHIE performs at Mojave Tent during the 2019 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival on April 19, 2019. (AFP: Frazer Harris)

Grammy-nominated producer, DJ, and recording artist Sophie Xeon, who was more commonly known by their first name Sophie, came to prominence after writing a song for Madonna.

But it was the Scottish artist's own electronic-dance music that captured a legion of international fans. In 2018, Sophie released the album Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides, which received a Grammy nomination for best dance/electronic album.

Sophie, who was transgender, was considered a pioneer in the music industry. Speaking about gender identity to Paper Magazine in 2018, Sophie said: "Transness is taking control to bring your body more in line with your soul and spirit so the two aren't fighting against each other and struggling to survive."

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Fellow recording artist Christine and the Queens described Sophie as a "stellar producer" and a visionary who "rebelled against the narrow, normative society by being an absolute triumph, both as an artist and a woman".

Sophie, who was 34, died in Athens in January following a sudden accident. 

Mary Wilson, a trailblazing vocalist of The Supremes Wilson was the only original member in The Supremes when they broke up in 1977.(AFP: Mark Ralston)

Mary Wilson was a founding member of The Supremes, an all-female vocal group that had more than a dozen pop hits during the '60s and were a trailblazing success of the iconic music label Motown Records.

She died at her Nevada home in February at 76.  

Wilson, along with Diana Ross and Florence Ballard, were most well-known for their hits Baby Love (1964), Where Did Our Love Go (1964), and Stop! In the Name of Love (1965). The founder of Motown, Berry Gordon, has described Wilson as a "star in her own right" who "over the years continued to work hard to boost the legacy of the Supremes."

Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson and Diana Ross of The Supremes in 1965. The group was so popular they rivalled The Beatles. (Supplied)

According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Supremes were Motown's "first and most commercially successful girl group". "The Supremes were so popular that they rivaled even the Beatles," the website reads. Wilson was the only original member remaining in the group when it broke up in 1977.

Sonny Chiba, actor and martial arts expert Sonny Chiba, playing samurai-turned-sushi-chef Hattori Hanzo, and Uma Thurman, who played Beatrix Kiddo, in a scene from Kill Bill Vol 1.(Supplied)

Japanese martial arts expert and actor Sonny Chiba, who featured in two Quentin Tarantino films, died in August from COVID-19 complications. He was 82.

Chiba was born in Japan, and trained in Karate and other martial arts. His skills won him a competition for new talent and a job working as an actor for Japan's Toei studio which made him famous as the star of The Street Fighter trilogy.

Hollywood took notice soon after. Quentin Tarantino was an influential supporter – first making Christian Slater's character in True Romance a Chiba fan, and later casting Chiba in his cult hit Kill Bill Vol. 1.

Chiba's agent Timothy Beal described his client as "a humble, caring and friendly man".

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences described Chiba as a "legend" and said his acting "blended toughness with depth".

Olympia Dukakis, veteran actor of stage and screen Olympia Dukakis' flair for maternal roles helped her win an Oscar as Cher’s mother in the romantic comedy Moonstruck.(AP: Andy Kropa)

Veteran actor of stage and screen, Olympia Dukakis, died this year aged 89.

Her flair for maternal roles delivered an Oscar in 1988 for playing Cher's mother in the romantic comedy Moonstruck. It was the same year her cousin Michael Dukakis won the Democratic Party's nomination for US President.

After her Oscar win, Dukakis commented that her "ambition wasn't to win the Oscar. It was to play the great parts".

Her love of acting began as a child but her Greek immigrant parents dissuaded her and she studied physical therapy before returning to study drama at Boston University.

The switch from calm, studious science students to loud opinionated actors shocked her.

"I thought they were all nuts," she told one interviewer. "It was wonderful."

Eric Carle, creator of The Very Hungry Caterpillar Children's author Eric Carle said he hoped to teach kids that learning was fun. (AP: Richard Drew)

Children's author Eric Carle – most famous for his classic book The Very Hungry Caterpillar – died in May, aged 91.

"The unknown often brings fear with it," he once observed.

"In my books, I try to counteract this fear, to replace it with a positive message. I believe that children are naturally creative and eager to learn. I want to show them that learning is really both fascinating and fun."

Carle was born in New York but his immigrant parents returned to Nazi Germany when he was six. All but realistic and naturalistic art was banned under the regime and Carle credits his high school art teacher for changing his life by secretly educating him about expressionism and abstract art.

He returned to the US in 1952 and began his career as a graphic artist. Carle ultimately wrote 75 books but The Very Hungry Caterpiller – which narrowly escaped being called Willi the Worm – is his best-known and remains loved as "a book of hope".

Carle believed its message to young children was: "You, too, can grow up and grow wings".

Anne Rice, brought vampires to life Anne Rice was the gothic novelist widely known for her bestselling novel Interview with the Vampire. (AP: Dima Gavrysh)

American author Anne Rice wrote more than 30 books, but she was best known for her debut novel, Interview with the Vampire, which was turned into a Hollywood film starring Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Kirsten Dunst.

She wrote a further 12 novels in her Vampire Chronicles series.

Rice, who died in December aged 80, also wrote erotic fiction under the pen names of A N Roquelaure and Anne Rampling, including Exit to Eden, which was adapted into a 1994 film.

In a 1993 interview with an American broadcaster, Rice said part of her fascination with vampires as a character was that they could be seen as a metaphor for the human condition.

"Because all of us make ruthless compromises in order to live, don’t you think?,” she said. 

Sabine Schmitz, a 'proper driving legend' Sabine Schmitz smiles while driving a Ford Transit around the Nürburgring during a 2004 episide of Top Gear.(Supplied: Top Gear)

Race car driver Sabine Schmitz, nicknamed "Queen of the Nürburgring", died in March aged just 51.

Schmitz grew up near Nürburgring, a fearsome track which winds through the hills of western Germany, and went on to win 24 Hours of Nürburgring touring car race with BMW in 1996 and 1997. Estimates say she lapped the track more than 20,000 times.

In 2016 Schmitz became a regular presenter on BBC's Top Gear and a household name.

Her co-host Richard Hammond paid tribute to her on twitter, describing Schmitz as "a proper driving legend".

"The Ring has lost its Queen," he said.

Tanya Roberts, actor and one of Charlie's Angels Actress Tanya Roberts in 2007.(AP: Jae C Hong, file)

Bond girl and Charlie's Angels star Tanya Roberts played a range of characters through her decades-long career.

Roberts, who died in January aged 65, played geologist Stacey Sutton opposite Roger Moore in 1985's A View to a Kill. She also appeared in such fantasy adventure films as The Beastmaster and Hearts and Armour.

She replaced Shelley Hack in Charlie's Angels, joining Jaclyn Smith and Cheryl Ladd as third Angel Julie.

A new generation of fans saw her on That '70s Show from 1998 and 2004, playing Midge, mother to Laura Prepon's character Donna.

Christopher Plummer, appeared in more than 100 filmsLoading

Although he was best known as Captain von Trapp opposite Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, Christopher Plummer flourished in a succession of meaty roles after he hit 70.

He appeared in more than 100 films before his death in February, aged 91.

He became the oldest actor to win an Academy Award at age 82 in 2012 for his supporting performance in Beginners as an elderly man who comes out of the closet as gay after his wife's death.

He won two Tony Awards for his Broadway work, two Emmy Awards for TV work and performed for some of the world's top theatre companies.

But for many his career was defined by his performance as a stern widower in The Sound of Music — a role he called "a cardboard figure, humourless and one-dimensional".

Stephen Sondheim, a giant of Broadway Stephen Sondheim in 2004.(AP: Charles Krupa, File)

A giant who reinvented Broadway, Stephen Sondheim's influence ricochets across musical theatre — and movies — today.

Sondheim, who died in November aged 91, won eight lifetime Tony Awards, which remains unsurpassed by any other composer.

His most successful musicals included the fairytale-inspired Into the Woods in 1987, the 1979 thriller Sweeney Todd about a murderous barber in London and 1962's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, a vaudeville-style comedy set in ancient Rome. 

Sondheim was born in 1930 in New York City and started learning the art of musical theatre under the wing of The Sound of Music lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II when he was just a teenager, and stepped up as a mentor himself later in his career, including for Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.

His songs were celebrated for their sharp wit and insight into modern life and for giving voice to complex character

More lives remembered

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news



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