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Famous People We’ve Lost in 2017

A look back at celebrities who have died this year

  • Jason Moore/ZUMA/REA/Redux

    Mel Tillis, singer-songwriter, 85

    (Aug. 8, 1932 — Nov. 19, 2017) For more than six decades, country music star Mel Tillis entertained America — and people around the world. He’s among the greats, having achieved 35 Top 10 country singles, including "Coca-Cola Cowboy," "Southern Rains" and "Good Woman Blues.” He wrote more than 1,000 songs and released more than 60 albums. But getting started as a singer wasn’t easy for Tillis, who had a speech impediment. While it may have slowed his career, he kept busy writing songs. Eventually, though, his stutter disappeared when he sang. In 2012, Tillis received a National Medal of Arts.

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    Della Reese, singer-actress, 86

    (July 6, 1931 — Nov. 19, 2017) Known first as an R&B singer, then as an actress, Della Reese touched many generations. Her voice was part of the R&B music mix during the 1950s and ’60s. Her biggest song, “Don’t You Know,” from 1959, rose to the top of the charts. In the following years she tested her skills as an actress, taking a number of small roles. Then, in the 1990s, she got her big break when she was cast as Tess on Touched by an Angel. For nine years she played an angel who delivered messages from God.

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  • Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

    Malcolm Young, guitarist, 64

    (Jan. 6, 1953 — Nov. 18, 2017) The guitarist and songwriter for the heavy metal group AC/DC founded the band with his brother Angus Young in Australia in 1973. Malcolm was forced to hang up his guitar early, though, when he developed dementia in 2014. The band had many massive hits and remained so popular that it continues to tour today. AC/DC's first show was New Year’s Eve in a Bondi Beach nightclub near Sydney. Within a few years, the band quickly rose to the top of the charts and reached America with its album Back in Black, selling 22 million copies here. After Malcolm retired, his nephew, Stevie, replaced him in the band.

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    Liz Smith, writer, 94

    (Feb. 2, 1923 — Nov. 12, 2017) Fort Worth tomboy Liz Smith arrived in New York in 1949 with $50, subsisting on automat crackers with ketchup. She worked for TV's Candid Camera, befriended Mr. and Mrs. Richard Burton, and parlayed such connections into a job as the greatest gossip columnist since Walter Winchell, only saner and smarter. Syndicated in over 70 newspapers, she may have been America's highest-paid journalist. Her biggest scoop was Ivana Trump's divorce from Donald (Liz sided with her), and she out-scooped everyone because celebs found her kindly. She had few regrets, she told the Hollywood Reporter at age 92: "I wish I had been smarter about money. I didn't know I was going to live so long. My advice to every young person is, 'Be smart about preparing to live a long time.' A million goes quicker than you think.”

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    John Hillerman, actor, 84

    (Dec. 20, 1932 — Nov. 9, 2017)  Known mostly for his role as Jonathan Higgins, caretaker of a Hawaiian estate owned by a wealthy novelist, on the 1980s TV detective series Magnum, P.I., John Hillerman won both a Golden Globe and an Emmy Award for his work on the show, alongside Tom Selleck in the title role. The Texas native cultivated the British accent he used on Magnum earlier in his career, when he appeared in many theater productions. After going to school for journalism and serving in the Air Force, Hillerman got into acting, making nearly 100 appearances on shows, including playing a radio detective in Ellery Queen. But of all the characters he inhabited, Higgins was his favorite: “I could do Higgins happily for 10 years without getting bored,” he once told People magazine.

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    Fats Domino, musician, 89

    (Feb. 26, 1928 — Oct. 24, 2017)  As one of the pioneers of rock 'n' roll, Antoine "Fats" Domino helped introduce the world to a new musical genre. Known for hits such as “Blueberry Hill,” ″Ain’t That a Shame” and "Blue Monday," he sold more than 110 million records. He got his start playing the piano and gained popularity in the late 1940s, thanks to his song “The Fat Man," one of the first rock 'n' roll records.

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    Robert Guillaume, actor/singer, 89

    (Nov. 30, 1927 — Oct. 24, 2017)  Known for his role as Benson DuBois on the TV series Soap and its sitcom spinoff Benson, Robert Guillaume’s acting and musical career was groundbreaking. Among his accomplishments, he was the first African-American actor to win comedy Emmys and the first African-American to sing the title role of Phantom of the Opera.  He also appeared in films, including his role as Rafiki in The Lion King.

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    Tom Petty, musician, 66

    (Oct. 20, 1950 — Oct. 2, 2017) For four decades, Tom Petty’s voice led the Heartbreakers, a band he formed in 1976. The group just wrapped up a summer tour to celebrate its 40th anniversary, and it was said to be their last trip together around the country — though Petty said he would still sing and play his guitar. Among the songs played in his final shows was a rarity, Rockin' Around (With You), from the group’s first album.

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    Samuel Irving Newhouse Jr. , media mogul, 89

    (Nov. 8, 1927 — Oct. 1, 2017) The man who bought and revamped the New Yorker died in the city he loved, New York. Samuel Irving "S.I." Newhouse Jr. and his companies, Advance Publications and Condé Nast, are also behind several other magazines, including Vogue and Vanity Fair. Picking up where their father left off, Newhouse and his brother, Donald, created one of the biggest privately held companies in the United States.

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    Monty Hall, TV game show host, 96

    (Aug. 25, 1921 — Sept. 30, 2017) The host of the hit game show Let’s Make A Deal was always up for a gamble. Monty Hall, born Monte Halparin, cocreated the show that first aired on daytime TV in 1963; it also aired in prime time over its four-decade run. Over the years, many lined up to get a seat in the studio audience, hoping they would be picked as a contestant to make a deal with Hall — and hear him say: “Do you want Door No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3.”

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    Hugh Hefner, media publisher, 91

    (April 9, 1926 — Sept. 27, 2017) Known as a ladies' man and a driving force behind a sex revolution, Playboy magazine creator Hugh Hefner never let age hold him back. The sometimes controversial media mogul, who always seemed to have young and attractive women around him, published the first Playboy magazine in 1953 at the age of 27. Since then he and his Playboy empire have produced movies, developed a clothing line, opened resorts and much more.

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    Harry Dean Stanton, actor, 91

    (July 14, 1926 — Sept. 15, 2017) Appearing in more than 100 films and 50 TV shows, Harry Dean Stanton had a signature face viewers couldn’t forget. Among the shows he’s best known for are Gunsmoke, Big Love and Twin Peaks. His movie career included appearances in Straight Time, The Rose and Escape From New York. The actor's final appearance will be as Sheriff Lloyd in the yet-to-be-released film Frank and Ava.

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  • RGR Collection/Alamy

    Frank Vincent, actor, 80

    (Aug. 4, 1937 — Sept. 13, 2017) Since ending his role as a mobster on HBO's The Sopranos in 2007, Frank Vincent continued his acting career right up until his death. Routinely playing tough guys throughout this acting career, Vincent had a recognizable look that fit the many different characters he played, including Billy Batts in Goodfellas.  

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    Edith Windsor, human rights activist, 88

    (June 20, 1929 — Sept. 12, 2017) A pioneer for gay rights, Edith Windsor was a plaintiff in the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court case that struck down a federal law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Following the death of her wife, Thea Clara Spyer, in 2009, Windsor was denied surviving spouse exemptions under the Defense of Marriage Act. Her challenge, and the eventual ruling, paved the way for same-sex marriages nationwide.

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    Jay Thomas, actor, 69

    (July 12, 1948 — Aug. 24, 2017) A comic at heart, Jay Thomas entertained us for years playing waitress Carla’s husband, Eddie Lebec, on Cheers and talk-show host Jerry Gold on Murphy Brown. His exemplary performance on the small screen earned him two Emmy Awards in the early 1990s, and his work in radio earned him a spot on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He had been fighting cancer.

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    Jerry Lewis, comedian and filmmaker, 91

    (March 16, 1926 — Aug. 20, 2017) A defining and influential figure in American entertainment (and famously beloved in France), Jerry Lewis launched a long career in comedy in the 1940s and '50s as partner to Dean Martin. The duo split in 1956, and he went on to Hollywood mega-stardom — beloved by some and ridiculed by others — writing, directing and starring in comedies such as The Nutty Professor and The Big Mouth. And, of course, Lewis was a fixture on TV every Labor Day weekend, hosting his annual telethon for muscular dystrophy. From 1966 to 2010 he helped raise around $2.5 billion.

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    Dick Gregory, civil rights activist and comedian, 84

    (Oct. 12, 1932 — Aug. 19, 2017) America's first black nightclub comic star, Dick Gregory was the first invited to sit on the Tonight show couch, a friend of Martin Luther King Jr. who risked his life alongside him and made Selma marchers laugh at dire moments. His wit packed political influence, as did his books, civil rights activism and hunger strikes for justice. Born poor in St. Louis, he grew up to become an entertainment pioneer, embraced in the 1960s by fans of all races who were drawn to his potent mix of wry humor and sharp social commentary (“I heard we’ve got lots of black astronauts. Saving them for the first space flight to the sun.”). He had been performing standup around the country this year before he fell ill; he died after suffering a severe bacterial infection, according to his family.

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  • Getty Images

    Glen Campbell, country singer, 81

    (April 22, 1936 — Aug. 8, 2017) With a career spanning over 50 years, Glen Campbell was a singer, musician, songwriter, television host and actor. He was the voice behind "Rhinestone Cowboy," "Wichita Lineman," "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and more. His latest album, Adiós, was released in June. He recorded it before entering the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease. He was diagnosed with the degenerative brain disease in 2011 and said he made peace with his condition. Some lines from the title track include: “Don’t think that I’m ungrateful. And don’t look so morose. Adiós. Adiós.”

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    Sam Shepard, playwright and actor, 73

    (Nov. 5, 1943  July 27, 2017) Sam Shepard wrote 44 plays over a 50-year career and had many other roles and accomplishments. The playwright and actor won a Pulitzer Prize for his play Buried Child in 1979. He was nominated for an Oscar as an actor for his portrayal of test pilot Chuck Yeager in 1983's The Right Stuff. According to his family, Shepard died after complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease. He had three children, two of them with actress Jessica Lange

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    John Heard, actor, 71

    (March 7, 1946 — July 21, 2017) From Broadway to the small screen and big screen, John Heard held a variety of acting roles over the last 40 years. One of his most memorable roles was as the protective — and sometimes forgetful — father Peter McCallister in Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Among other productions, the American actor appeared in Cutter's Way, Big, Beaches and The Sopranos.

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    George Romero, writer and director, 77

    (Feb. 4, 1940 — July 16, 2017) The father of the modern-day zombie may not have set out to become a Hollywood star, but George Romero certainly achieved stardom. His first major project, in 1968, turned out to be his best. Night of the Living Dead — directed by Romero — is among the most celebrated American horror films. According to his family, Romero battled lung cancer and died while listening to the score of one his favorite films, The Quiet Man.

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    Martin Landau, actor, 89

    (June 20, 1928 — July 15, 2017) His first job was as a cartoonist, but Martin Landau went on to become much more.  The highlight of his acting career was playing Rollin Hand in Mission: Impossible, a television show in which his then-wife Barbara Bain costarred. He later acted in a number of film and television roles, winning several Golden Globes. In 1995 he earned an Oscar for his portrayal of Bela Lugosi in the film Ed Wood.

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    Adam West, actor, 88

    (Sept. 19, 1928 — June 9, 2017) Known as the crime-fighting superhero Batman in the popular 1960s television series, Adam West died after a short battle with leukemia. The man with a memorable voice, who took many voiceover roles, made a return to Gotham City in numerous animated incarnations. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in April 2012.

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    Frank Deford, sportswriter, 78

    (Dec. 16, 1938 — May 28, 2017) His writing and voice recognized by many, Frank Deford was a pioneer of sports journalism. The legendary sportswriter worked for Sports Illustrated and National Public Radio, and had announced his retirement just weeks before his death.  

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    Gregg Allman, musician, 69

    (Dec. 8, 1947 — May 27, 2017) A pioneer of Southern rock, Gregg Allman and his late brother, Duane, began performing in the Allman Joys in the mid-1960s. They went on to form the Allman Brothers Band, known for the albums Eat a Peach (1972) and Brothers and Sisters (1973). Gregg died of complications from liver cancer.

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    Roger Moore, actor, 89

    (Oct. 14, 1927 — May 23, 2017) Making his 007 debut in Live and Let Die, Sir Roger Moore played suave and sophisticated British secret agent James Bond in seven films. His final appearance was in 1985’s A View to a Kill.  Although he went on to appear in several television shows and films, he became known for his charitable endeavors for UNICEF, for which he became a goodwill ambassador in 1991.  He was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1999 and promoted to Knight Commander in 2003.

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  • Courtesy Everett Collection

    Dina Merrill, actress, philanthropist, producer, 93

    (Dec. 29, 1923 — May 22, 2017) A self-made actress and performer, Dina Merrill got her start on Broadway in 1945 in The Mermaids Singing.  She went on to perform in a number of shows and films, including BUtterfield 8.  The daughter of financier E.F. Hutton, the founder of the eponymous Wall Street firm, and heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, of the Post cereal fortune, she dropped out of George Washington University after only a year to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

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    Erin Moran, actress, 56

    (Oct. 18, 1960 — April 22, 2017) She was best known for her role as Joanie, the freckle-faced little sister of Richie Cunningham, played by Ron Howard, on the hit show ‘Happy Days.' Her spinoff sitcom "Joanie Loves Chachi" co-starring Scott Baio was cancelled in 1983 after 17 episodes. Moran’s TV credits also included “The Love Boat,” “Murder, She Wrote” and “The Bold and the Beautiful.”

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    Don Rickles, actor and comedian, 90

    (May 8, 1926 — April 6, 2017) “Mr. Warmth” was the sarcastic nickname for this master of the comedic insult, a Vegas stand-up fixture who cracked up his audience by making fun of them as well as celebrities (including Frank Sinatra — to his face). It was all just for laughs: “If I were to insult people and mean it, that wouldn’t be funny,” he once said.

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    Jimmy Breslin, journalist, 88

    (Oct. 17, 1930 — March 19, 2017) The Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist for The New York Times was renowned for his often-scathing, hard-boiled prose that gave voice to the underdog while criticizing powerful establishments.

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    Chuck Berry, musician, 90

    (Oct. 18, 1926 — March 18, 2017) The seminal musician is considered by many to be the father of rock ’n’ roll, and his influential guitar playing, singing and stage antics influenced legions of rock musicians. His oeuvre includes such timeless hits as “Johnny B. Goode,” “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Sweet Little Sixteen.”

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    Joni Sledge, musician, 60

    (Sept. 13, 1956 — March 10, 2017) She was the second oldest member of the R&B/pop family quartet Sister Sledge, who scored hits in the ’70s and ’80s that included “He’s the Greatest Dancer,” “Lost in Music” and its signature anthem, “We Are Family.”

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    Robert Osborne, TV host, 84

    (May 3, 1932 — March 6, 2017) For 23 years, this former TV actor and journalist brought his elegance and love for old movies to his job as host of the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) cable network.

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    Joseph Wapner, judge and TV personality, 97

    (Nov. 15, 1919 — Feb. 26, 2017) Best remembered as the first judge on the TV reality court show The People’s Court, he presided for 12 seasons, between 1981 and 1993. 

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    Bill Paxton, 61, actor

    (May 17, 1955 — Feb. 25, 2017) A versatile actor who made memorable appearances in such popular movies as The Terminator, Aliens and Titanic, he also earned an Emmy Award nomination for portrayal of Randolph “Randall” McCoy in the 2012 TV miniseries Hatfields & McCoys. 

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    Al Jarreau, singer, 76

    (March 12, 1940 — Feb. 12, 2017) Known as the “Acrobat of Scat,” this seven-time Grammy-winning jazz singer explored a varied idiomatic terrain that included bebop, R&B, pop and Brazilian music, and recorded such hits as “We’re in This Love Together,” “Mornin,’” and the theme song for the TV show Moonlighting. 

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    Richard Hatch, actor, 71

    (May 21, 1945 — Feb. 7, 2017) Best remembered for portraying Capt. Apollo, a space-fighting hero on the 1970s TV show Battlestar Galactica, he also starred as Phillip Brent on the daytime TV soap opera All My Children and as Tom Zarek on the 2004-2009 version of Battlestar Galactica. 

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    Mike Connors, actor, 91

    (Aug. 15, 1925 — Jan. 26, 2017) Award-winning television actor best known for portraying rugged crime fighters in such series as Mannix, Today’s FBI and Tightrope!    

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    Barbara Hale, actress, 94

    (April 18, 1922 – Jan. 26, 2017) Emmy Award-winning actress best remembered for portraying legal secretary Della Street on CBS’ long-running courtroom drama television series Perry Mason. 

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    Mary Tyler Moore, actress, 80

    (Dec. 29, 1936 — Jan. 25, 2017) Acclaimed television and movie actress, widely regarded as “America’s sweetheart” for her pioneering role as Mary Richards on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She also starred on The Dick Van Dyke Show as Laura Petrie, and as Beth Jarrett in the 1980 movie Ordinary People.

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    John Hurt, actor, 77

    (Jan. 22, 1940 — Jan. 25, 2017) British actor best known for such roles as John Merrick, the lead part in David Lynch’s 1980 movie The Elephant Man, Kane in Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) and Max in Alan Parker’s 1978 movie Midnight Express.

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    Miguel Ferrer, actor, 61

    (Feb. 7, 1955 — Jan. 19, 2017) Acclaimed television and movie actor best remembered for his TV roles as Owen Granger on NCIS: Los Angeles, Dr. Garret Macy on Crossing Jordan and Albert Rosenfield on Twin Peaks. 

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