2016: The Year In Death

Was 2016 the year of the dead celebrity? Maybe. The BBC in particular did an analysis in December, showing only the first quarter as having a greater than usual famous body count. But it did not go all the way to the last week of December, and covered only the famous and infamous from the United Kingdom. Here are the people we will miss from this year, but who made their mark on the Imagination Generation.

  • Vilmos Zsigmond (cinematographer) January 1. Won a Best Cinematography Oscar for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, went on to photograph movies like The Deer Hunter and The River.
  • Angus Scrimm, January 9, horror’s indelible Tall Man of the Phantasm franchise, aged 89.
  • David Bowie (singer/songwriter/actor) January 10. Talented singer/songwriter (“Space Oddity,” Life on Mars” and “Starman”) who also acted in movies like Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence and The Man Who Fell to Earth, stylish trendsetter, father of director Duncan Jones, invented “Bowie bonds” which let people buy bonds against future intellectual property royalties, published his list of 100 favorite books in late 2013, released Lazarus two days before he died of cancer.
  • David Margulies, January 11, who played the Mayor of New York in the Ghostbusters films.
  • Brian Bedford (actor/director) January 14. Born February 16, 1935. Nominated for 7 Tony Awards, won once (School for Wives), bit parts on TV & in the movies, probably most memorably as the Fox in the Disney animated feature of Robin Hood back in the ’70s.
  • Alan Rickman (actor/director) January 14. Great British actor, first introduced to Americans as Hans in Die Hard, Doctor Lazarus in Galaxy Quest, millenials probably know him best as Snape in the Harry Potter movies.
  • David G. Hartwell (editor/critic) January 20. Brain bleed following a fall. Senior editor at Tor, editor of many “Best of” books (many with Kathryn Cramer) and The Ascent of Wonder, won two Hugo Awards for editing, a founder of the World Fantasy Convention, editor of The New York Review of SF.
  • Joe Alaskey, February 3, a successor to Mel Blanc who for years voiced iconic cartoon characters such as the modern Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Sylvester, Tweety Bird and others from the classic Warner Bros cartoons, aged 63.
  • Daniel Gerson, February 6, a screenwriter on Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. and prequel Monsters University. Aged 49.
  • Clarence Howard “Bud” Webster, February 13. Webster wrote the Bubba Pritchert series, but may be better known as an SF historian, having written numerous columns about science fiction authors and book collecting. Webster managed SFWA’s Estate Project since 2007, trying to build a comprehensive database of the estates and rights holders for authors. In 2012, he received the Kevin O’Donnell, Jr. Service to SFWA Award.
  • Humbert Allen Astredo, February 19, remembered by generations of scared kids as the evil, devil-bearded warlock Nicholas Blair of Dark Shadows, aged 86.
  • Douglas Slocombe, February 22, the cinematographer on Steven Spielberg’s first three Indiana Jones films, has died. He was 103.
  • Tony Dyson, March 2, the man who gave the world one of its most iconic onscreen robots when he constructed Star Wars droid R2-D2, aged 68. The Times of Malta reported that he probably died of natural causes. Self-described on his Facebook page as “R2-D2’s Dad,” Dyson was a familiar face at various sci-fi conventions and once described the development of R2 as one of the most exciting periods of his life.
  • Gary Hutzel, March 3, four-time Emmy winning visual effects artist whose work helped define much of the Next Generation era of Star Trek and later, the Battlestar Galactica reboot, aged 60.
  • Michael White, March 8 of heart failure. Scottish producer whose long list of largely U.K. stage and film credits includes Monty Python and the Holy Grail and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. White was the subject of the 2013 documentary The Last Impressario.
  • Ken Adam, March 10, whose hi-tech Aston Martins for James Bond and retractable wings for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang helped make him one of the most celebrated product designers in cinema history and earned him two Academy Awards, aged 95.
  • Sylvia Anderson (TV executive, writer, puppet voice) March 15. Wrote and produced many of the Anderson puppet TV shows, voiced Lady Penelope on Thunderbirds, married to frequent collaborator Gerry Anderson from 1962-1975, she later went to work for the BBC and HBO, wrote several books including My Fab Years, reportedly argued against casting the stars of Space: 1999.
  • Earl Hamner, Jr. (TV/movie writer) March 24. Cancer. Best-known for the biographical show The Waltons, he also wrote for Falcon Crest and Twilight Zone, especially the “folksy” episodes like “The Hunt.”
  • Garry Shandling, March 24. Writer and actor, known for What Planet Are You From? (2000), The Larry Sanders Show (1992) and Over the Hedge (2006). His last acting appearance was as Senator Stern in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Hail Hydra.
  • Patty Duke, March 29. Famously played identical cousins on her self-titled TV series. Mother of Sean Astin [Lord of the Rings].
  • Douglas Wilmer, died March 31. Stage and screen actor best known for portraying Sherlock Holmes in the 1960s BBC series, aged 96. The Sherlock Holmes society made the news public.
  • Erik Bauersfeld, April 3, a longtime radio dramatist famous for voicing the character Admiral Ackbar in two Star Wars films, aged 93.
  • Gareth Thomas, April 11. The star of Blake 7, he appeared in many other TV shows (Merlin) and many plays.
  • Prince, April 21. Fentanyl overdose. Singer/songwriter/style setter, wrote/performed classics like “Purple Rain (which was the last song he performed in public),” “Little Red Corvette,” “When Doves Cry” and, of course, “1999.” Supported female musicians more than most superstars, much of his work made many cogent comments on racism. A former girlfriend, Vanity, also died in 2016.
  • Dick Darley, April 21. Television producer and director of the first season of The Mickey Mouse Club and the person who brought the groundbreaking pulp science fiction series Space Patrol to a national audience.
  • Ed Dravecky III, April 23. Co-founder of WhoFest, a fan event celebrating the BBC’s long running science fiction television program Doctor Who, was found dead in his hotel room in Irving during this year’s convention, aged 47.
  • William Schallert (actor) May 9. Versatile actor who acted professionally from 1947-2014, probably best-known as Patty’s dad on The Patty Duke Show (and died only 5 weeks after Patty Duke), appeared in Twilight Zone and two versions of Star Trek and was president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1979-1981.
  • Darwyn Cooke, May 14. He broke into the superhero scene by working on two of its biggest characters, Superman and Batman, as a storyboard artist. His adaptations of Richard Stark’s Parker stories earned him an Eisner Award for best writer/artist in 2011.
  • Alan Young, May 19. Canadian-English actor best known as Wilbur on CBS’ 1960s talking-horse sitcom Mister Ed who also provided the voice of Disney’s Scrooge McDuck for more than three decades.
  • Burt Kwouk (actor) Died May 24. A bit part actor for 50 years, may be best-known for playing Cato in several Peter Sellers’ Pink Panther movies. Doctor Who, “Four To Doomsday” 1982.
  • Mihaly “Michu” Meszaros, June 13, the Hungarian-born performer who segued from life with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus to semi-fame as the sometime-star of the TV sitcom ALF, has died. The self-proclaimed “world’s shortest man” — he stood 2?9? tall — was 76.
  • Janet Waldo (cartoon voice/actress/radio star) June 12. Over a 60 year career, starting by starring in “Meet Corliss Archer” on the radio, many bit parts on TV, but her career took off as a cartoon voice after originating Judy Jetson on The Jetsons.
  • Anton Yelchin. June 19. Freak car accident. Born in Russia, his figure skater parents (Irina Korina and Viktor Yelchin) immigrated to to California when he was six months old, been working on TV since he was about 10, probably best-known as Chekov in the ’00s Star Trek reboot and as the young Kyle Reese in Terminator Salvation. Aged 27.
  • Alvin Toffler, June 27. Writer best-known for Future Shock, he was a columnist for Fortune and interviewed Vladimir Nabokov for Playboy.
  • Robin Hardy, July 1. English author and film director best known for helming the classic 1973 suspense horror film The Wicker Man.
  • Noel Neill (actress) July 3. Lois Lane in the ’50s version of Superman.
  • Jack Davis, July 27. Mostly drew for Mad magazine but his art appeared all over, including in posters for movies like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
  • Jerry Doyle (actor/radio host) July 27. Garibaldi on Babylon 5, later became a radio host.
  • Terence Bayler, 2 August, became a recognisable face on television and in films, notably for his collaborations with the Monty Python team. A couple of his ad libs became great quotes in “Life of Brian,” such as “I’m Brian, and so’s my wife.” Also in Time Bandits (1981), Brazil (1985), Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (as the ghostly Bloody Baron, 2001).
  • Barry Jenner, died August 9. best known for his pivotal role as Admiral William Ross on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Jenner appeared in 12 episodes total, including the two-part series finale.
  • Kenny Baker. August 13. Made R2D2 run through six Star Wars movies, also appeared in Amadeus and The Elephant Man.
  • Marvin Kaplan, August 25, a prolific character actor best known for his recurring role as Henry Beesmeyer on the 1976-85 sitcom Alice and as the voice of Choo-Choo on the cartoon Top Cat. Voicing Choo-Choo, the pink, turtleneck-clad cat, he reprised the role for 1987’s Top Cat and the Beverly Hills Cats. He also voiced characters on Garfield and Friends, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Johnny Bravo, and 2011’s The Garfield Show among others.
  • Gene Wilder. August 29. Complications of Alzheimer’s Disease. The original Leo Bloom in the mostly-non-musical version of The Producers, starred in and co-wrote Young Frankenstein, co-starred with Richard Pryor in several movies including Stir Crazy, once married to Gilda Radner, Wilder survived lymphoma.
  • Leslie H. Martinson, September 3. who directed dozens of TV shows as well as feature films, including Batman: The Movie [1966].
  • Martin Croker, September 18, voice actor behind classic characters Zorak and Moltar on Space Ghost Coast to Coast, Dr. Weird on Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and an animator in his own right died from undisclosed causes.
  • William G. “Bill” Nunn, III, September 24, character actor best known for his acclaimed turn as Radio Raheem in Spike Lee’s groundbreaking 1989 film Do The Right Thing, as well as for playing Daily Bugle editor Robbie Robertson in the Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man trilogy, died in Pittsburg from undisclosed causes.
  • Bill Warren, October 7, Author of KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES! AMERICAN SCIENCE FICTION MOVIES OF THE FIFTIES. Best person to go to the movies with, he always spotted the interesting things that even WE missed.
  • John Vulich, October 12, a three-time Emmy-winning makeup effects artist known for his work on Babylon 5, The X-Files and Buffy The Vampire Slayer among many other credits.
  • Merl “Bill” Baldwin, Jr. October 14. A lifetime active member of SFWA, Baldwin wrote the Helmsman series, beginning in 1985 and continuing through eight books, ending with The Turning Tide in 2011.  He also wrote the stand-alone novels Canby’s Legion and The Enigma Strategy.
  • Sheri S. Tepper, October 22. Tepper was a prolific author of science fiction and fantasy, best known for her feminist and ecological themes, with major titles including The Gate to Women’s Country (1988) and Grass (1989).
  • Steve Dillon, October 22. Influential comic artist known for co-creating the seminal Vertigo series Preacher recently adapted for television.
  • John Zacherle, October 27. One of the earliest and best known in the wave of horror-show hosts who haunted local TV markets in the 1950s and ’60s, The Cool Ghoul died at his home in New York City. He was 98.
  • Tammy Grimes. October 30. Won Tonys for The Unsinkable Molly Brown and Private Lives, ex-wife of Christopher Plummer, mother of Amanda Plummer. Voice over talent in The Last Unicorn and My Little Pony.
  • Donald James Marshall. October 30. Actor best known for his role as Dan Erickson in the television show Land of the Giants.
  • Natalie Babbitt, October 31. Newbury-Award-winning author of Tuck Everlasting.
  • Julie Gregg, November 7. In addition to appearing in the first two Godfather films, Ms. Gregg guested on many TV shows and was twice a “henchwoman” on ‘Batman’, once for the Penguin and once for Mr. Freeze.
  • Robert Vaughn, November 11, acute leukemia. His character, Napoleon Solo on NBC’s spy yarn The Man From U.N.C.L.E. set TV’s 1960s standard for suavity and crimebusting cool.
  • Guadalupe Natalia “Lupita” Tovar, November 12, Mexican-American actress, best known for her starring role in the 1931 Spanish language version of Dracula, filmed in Los Angeles by Universal Pictures at night using the same sets as the Bela Lugosi version, but with a different cast and director. She also starred in the 1932 film Santa, the first Mexican sound film.
  • Ron Glass, November 25.  Busy actor from Barney Miller, Firefly.
  • Alice Drummond, November 30. Small but memorable roles such as the ghost librarian in “Ghostbusters.”
  • John Glenn, astronaut and US Senator. December 8. First American to have orbited the earth, decades later was the oldest person to have traveled in space, last surviving astronaut from the Mercury Seven.
  • Bernard Fox, December 14. Dr. Bombay in Bewitched and survived two different movies on the Titanic.
  • Zsa Zsa Gabor, December 18. “Queen of Outer Space” and beauty queen all her days. For someone accused of not being a real actress, IMDB lists 79 acting credits.
  • Richard Adams, December 24. Author of WATERSHIP DOWN, PLAGUE DOGS, SHARDIK. Passed away on Christmas Eve, the night when the animals speak.
  • Piers J. Sellers, December 24.  Astronaut, climate scientist who flew to the International Space Station three times in NASA’s shuttle program, became a leading figure in the agency’s scientific research initiatives and continued while terminally ill with pancreatic cancer to devote himself to the challenges posed by global warming.
  • Vera Rubin, December 25. Astronomer who overcame sexism to gain her college degrees and achievements. Confirmed existence of dark matter, STEM heroine.
  • George S. Irving, December 26. Broadway actor, Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for playing the role of Madame Lucy in the revival of the musical Irene. Narrator in “Underdog” cartoons; “Heat Miser” in 1974’s Christmas stop-motion animated television special The Year Without a Santa Claus.
  • Carrie Fisher, December 27. Princess Leia in the Star Wars films, script doctor, writer. Was on her way home from book promotion tour in the UK when she had a heart attack on a plane, passed four days later.
  • Debbie Reynolds, December 28. Her daughter, Carrie Fisher, died the day before. Apart from her half century plus in the movies and TV, from “June Bride” to “Will and Grace,” in recent years Ms. Reynolds has played grandparental roles, not only to Billie Lourd and Gary the bulldog, but in Rugrats, Kim Possible, Halloweentown and The Penguins of Madagascar.
  • Tyrus Wong, December 30, whose paintings served as visual inspiration for Disney’s animated classic “Bambi.” In 2001, Wong was named a Disney Legend, and in 2013 he had his artwork featured in the Walt Disney Family Museum. In October 2016, “Tyrus” biographical documentary, directed by Pam Tom, opened on his 106th birthday at the Asian World Film Festival.
  • William Christopher, December 31, the actor best known for his role as Father John Mulcahy on the hit TV show “M*A*S*H.” Precisely one year to the day after co-star Wayne Rogers. Not really a sci-fi star, but the last celebrity to hit our heartstrings in 2016.

If you thought this list of the departed makes 2016 a particularly harsh year for famous, important people dropping dead, you’re not wrong. We did a quick count, and determined that roughly 168 people died who were famous or a celebrity in some way in 2016. That’s close to an average of one every two days. We’re happy to say that 2016 is officially fired. 2017 is likely to be a better year, if for no other reason than there probably won’t be so many of our beloved icons of popular culture keeling over.

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