Retrospective Tribute to Entertainers We Said Goodbye to in 2021
These beloved film, TV and music talents may be gone, but not forgotten
Ed Asner, 91
Left us: Aug. 29 (no cause given)
Most memorable role: The gruff editor with a heart of gold on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and later on Lou Grant.
You may not have known: With seven Primetime Emmys — five for portraying Lou Grant and two for performances in miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man and Roots — Asner is the most honored male performer in the history of the award.
Watch him here: The Mary Tyler Moore Show, streaming on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Hulu, Vudu
Ned Beatty, 83
Left us: June 13, from natural causes
Most memorable role: His most famed appearance — as the horrifyingly abused Bobby Trippe in 1972’s Deliverance — was in fact Beatty’s debut feature role.
You may not have known: Having appeared in more than 160 films in a five-decade career, Beatty was known as “the busiest actor in Hollywood.”
Watch him here: His Oscar-nominated role (his only one) for Best Supporting Actor in Network, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
Sonny Chiba, 82
Actor and martial artist
Left us: Aug. 18 due to pneumonia caused by COVID-19
Most memorable role: Hattori Hanzo, the retired samurai sword craftsman who runs a sushi restaurant in Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 cult film, Kill Bill.
You may not have known: Chiba held black belts in six forms of martial arts.
Watch him here: Kill Bill: Vol. 1, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, HBO Max, Hulu, Vudu, YouTube
Michael Constantine, 94
Left us: Aug. 31, after a long illness
Most memorable role: Family patriarch Gus Portokalos in the 2002 hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding and its 2016 sequel, My Big Fat Greek Life.
You may not have known: The character actor won an Emmy in 1970 for his role as the compassionate principal Seymour Kaufman in the TV series Room 222.
Watch him here: My Big Fat Greek Wedding, on Amazon Prime, Google Play, HBO Max, Hulu, Vudu
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Willie Garson, 57
Left us: Sept. 21 from pancreatic cancer
Most memorable role: Every Sex and the City devotee knows that Garson played agent Stanford Blatch, Carrie Bradshaw’s male best friend in the hit HBO series as well as both SATC films (he had been filming the HBO revival series, And Just Like That, when he died).
You may not have known: While Stanford Blatch was gay, Garson was not and yet did not share that information with the press readily. “For years I didn’t talk about it because I found it to be offensive to gay people,” he told Page Six in 2020. “People playing gay characters jumping up and down screaming that they’re not gay, like that would somehow be a bad thing.”
Watch him here: Sex and the City, on HBO Max
Charles Grodin, 86
Left us: May 18 from bone marrow cancer
Most memorable role: How does one choose the wry creations by this versatile character actor? It’s a three-way tie between thief Nicky Holiday in The Great Muppet Caper (1981), Jonathan "The Duke" Mardukasin in Midnight Run (1988) and canine dad George Newton in Beethoven (1992).
You may not have known: Grodin was an author and playwright in addition to his memorable acting (and talk-show host) career. In 1977 he even nabbed an Emmy as one of the writers on the Paul Simon Special.
Watch him here: Midnight Run, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Netflix, YouTube
David Gulpilil, 68
Left us: Nov. 29, after a two-year battle with lung cancer
Most memorable role: The indigenous Australian actor came to national attention in the United States in 1971 as the star of Nicolas Roeg’s critically acclaimed Walkabout.
You may not have known: A national treasure, Gulpilil was called “a once-in-a-generation artist who shaped the history of Australian film and Aboriginal representation on screen” by South Australian Premier Steven Marshall.
Watch him here: Walkabout, on Amazon Prime, Vudu
Hal Holbrook, 95
Left us: Jan. 23 (no cause given)
Most memorable role: He may have played Deep Throat in All the President’s Men, but the gravel-voiced actor was most enduringly linked with his 1966 Tony-winning portrayal of American humorist and author Mark Twain.
You may not have known: Holbrook was honored with the National Humanities Medal by President George Bush in 2003.
Watch him here: All the President’s Men, on Amazon Prime, HBO Max, Hulu
Larry King, 87
Left us: Jan. 23 from sepsis and underlying conditions after a battle with COVID-19
Most memorable role: Himself, the ever-curious host of Larry King Live, his iconic interview show that was CNN’s most-watched and longest-running show of all time (it ran from 1985-2010).
You may not have known: The well-known journalist enjoyed cameo roles in a variety of TV shows and movies, including 30 Rock and Ghostbusters. He played himself in The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, the true crime TV series, in 2016.
Watch him here: Must-see interviews from Larry King Live, on CNN
Yaphet Kotto, 81
Left us: March 15 (no cause given)
Most memorable role: Although perhaps best known for his turn as Bond villain Mr. Big in 1973’s Live and Let Die, Kotto played the other side of law and order as an FBI agent in Midnight Run and Lieutenant Al Giardello on Homicide: Life on the Street.
You may not have known: Portraying a Black Sicilian proud of his Italian heritage on Homicide, Kotto was credited with a true breakout character for television.
Watch him here: Live and Let Die, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Vudu, YouTube
Art LaFleur, 78
Left us: Nov. 17, after a 10-year battle with Parkinson’s disease
Most memorable role: The popular character actor with more than 170 film and TV credits to his name did a memorable turn as Babe Ruth (to whom he bore a striking resemblance) in 1993’s The Sandlot.
You may not have known: LaFleur had some real experience for portraying athletes — he played football at the University of Kentucky in the early 1960s as a redshirt.
Watch him here: The Sandlot, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Vudu, YouTube
Cloris Leachman, 94
Left us: Jan. 27 of natural causes
Most memorable role: Mel Brooks fans will vote for Frau Blücher in Young Frankenstein, TV nostalgics will name her role as high-strung, nosy neighbor Phyllis on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but the Academy gave the versatile actress the golden nod in 1971 for best supporting actress in The Last Picture Show.
You may not have known: While making America belly-laugh on a string of popular sitcoms, Leachman scooped up eight Emmy statues along the way — the highest number for any actress (an honor she shares with Julia Louis-Dreyfus).
Watch her here: The Last Picture Show, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
Jackie Mason, 93
Left us: July 24 (no cause given)
Most memorable role: In addition to his long and inimitable career as a stand-up comic, Mason put in a star turn in 1988’s Caddyshack II.
You may not have known: Before he turned to comedy, Mason was a rabbi.
Watch him here: Caddyshack II, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, HBO Max, Vudu, YouTube
Norm Macdonald, 61
Left us: Sept. 14, after a near-decade-long battle with cancer
Most memorable role: Dry, biting, laconic “Weekend Update” news anchor on Saturday Night Live from 1994-1997.
You may not have known: Macdonald was a writer on the TV sitcom Roseanne for one season before joining SNL.
Watch him here: Saturday Night Live, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Hulu, NBC.com, Peacock, Vudu, YouTube
Eddie Mekka, 69
Left us: Nov. 27 (no cause given)
Most memorable role: Who didn’t love Mekka’s Carmine “The Big Ragu” Ragusa on ABC’s hit sitcom, Laverne & Shirley? You may not have known: The guy who seemed inextricably linked with a big lug from Milwaukee scored a Tony nomination for his leading role in the Broadway rock opera The Lieutenant, in which he played the title role.
Watch him here: Laverne & Shirley is currently not streaming, but keep your eyes open on classic TV platforms.
Christopher Plummer, 91
Left us: Feb. 5 (no cause given)
Most memorable role: Once you’ve played Captain von Trapp, it doesn’t matter how many other great roles — and this award-winning star had his share — you snag. Plummer’s 1965 The Sound of Music turn opposite Julie Andrews is by far his most famous role.
You may not have known: Plummer is the second-oldest Oscar winner in history, snagging best supporting actor for his role in the 2011 romantic comedy-drama Beginners at the age of 82 (Anthony Hopkins claimed the honor at age 83 with his 2020 win for The Father).
Watch him here: The Sound of Music, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Disney+, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
Peter Scolari, 66
Left us: Oct. 22, from cancer
Most memorable role: Depending on your favorite TV era, it could be Henry Desmond opposite Tom Hanks in the wacky 1980s sitcom Bosom Buddies or yuppie husband Michael Harris on the wry Newhart later in the decade.
You may not have known: The forever youthful actor won his Emmy for playing dad to Lena Dunham’s Hannah Horvath on her HBO hit series, Girls.
Watch him here: Girls, on Apple TV, Google Play, HBO Max, Hulu, YouTube
Stephen Sondheim, 91
Left us: Nov. 26 (no cause given)
Most memorable role: Sondheim was a true American giant of the theater, and his remarkable opus of work from West Side Story and Gypsy to Into the Woods, Company, and Assassins (the latter two playing on Broadway right now) inspired and influenced generations of theater lovers throughout the world.
You may not have known: Sondheim was a passionate fan of games and puzzles; in the late 1960s he even created and published some of his own cryptic crosswords in New York magazine.
Watch his work here: Take Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration, on YouTube
Dean Stockwell, 85
Left us: Nov. 7, of natural causes
Most memorable role: Were you a Quantum Leap fan in the early '90s? Then you know the cult status of this character actor’s portrayal of Admiral “Al” Calavicci. (For the rest of us, Stockwell graced critically acclaimed films including Blue Velvet and To Live and Die in L.A.)
You may not have known: Stockwell began his career as a child actor, appearing with Erroll Flynn.
Watch him here: Quantum Leap, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, NBC.com, Vudu, YouTube
James Michael Tyler, 59
Left us: Oct. 24, from prostate cancer
Most memorable role: The bleached-blonde, Rachel-loving-Ross-hating barista Gunther from all 10 seasons of NBC’s Friends.
You may not have known: Tyler actually worked as a barista at one point at a Los Angeles coffeehouse called the Bourgeois Pig.
Watch him here: Friends, on HBO Max
Cicely Tyson, 96
Left us: Jan. 28 (no cause given)
Most memorable role: A Tony- and Emmy-winning legend, Tyson’s best-known role of her remarkable seven-decade career remains her Oscar-nominated performance in the 1972 film Sounder.
You may not have known: In addition to her outsize career on stage and screen (she was admiringly referred to as “Queen Cicely” by the likes of Ava DuVernay, Tyler Perry and Shonda Rhimes), Tyson was godmother to Lenny Kravitz, Denzel Washington’s daughter Katia and Perry’s son Aman.
Watch her here: Sounder on Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube
Melvin Van Peebles, 89
Left us: Sept. 21 (no cause given)
Most memorable role: The pioneering Godfather of Black Cinema blazed onto screens in 1971 as Sweet Sweetback in Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song — which the massively talented Peebles also wrote, directed, edited and composed the music for.
You may not have known: In the 1980s, Van Peebles became involved in commodities trading and was the first African American to hold a seat on the American Stock Exchange.
Watch him here: Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song is currently unavailable, but Van Peebles’ earlier directorial outing, Watermelon Man, is available on Black Film Archive.
Jessica Walter, 80
Left us: March 24 (no cause given)
Most memorable role: Walter, who enjoyed a six-decade career as an actress, achieved comedic cult status in her 70s as Lucille Bluth, the hard-drinking, side-eyeing matriarch on the anarchic TV comedy Arrested Development.
You may not have known: Walter starred opposite Clint Eastwood in 1971’s Play Misty for Me.
Watch her here: Arrested Development, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Hulu, Netflix, Vudu, YouTube
Charlie Watts, 80
Left us: Aug. 24 (no cause given)
Most memorable role: The steady backbeat of one of the greatest rock bands in the world.
You may not have known: Behind Mick Jagger and Keith Richard, the dapper Watts was the third-longest-running member of the Rolling Stones.
Watch him here: Martin Scorsese’s 2008 Rolling Stones documentary, Shine a Light, on Amazon Prime, Google Play, Pluto TV, Vudu, YouTube
Michael K. Williams, 54
Left us: Sept. 6 from an accidental drug overdose
Most memorable role: A singular achievement as LGBTQ gangster Omar Little in Season 1 of HBO’s critically acclaimed series The Wire.
You may not have known: Williams got his start as a hoofer, backing up superstars like George Michael and Madonna.
Watch him here: The Wire, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, HBO Max, Hulu, Vudu, YouTube
Clarence Williams III, 81
Left us: June 4 from colon cancer
Most memorable role: Williams permanently etched himself into the cannon of 1960s cool as undercover cop Linc Hayes on The Mod Squad.
You may not have known: Although best known for his breakout Mod Squad role, Williams’ 40+ years career included work on stage and screen in comedies, dramas and sci-fi.
Watch him here: Although The Mod Squad is currently not available for streaming, check out Williams’ critically lauded role as a troubled father in Prince’s 1984 film, Purple Rain, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube
Samuel E. Wright, 74
Left us: May 24, after a three-year battle with prostate cancer
Most memorable role: Voicing the lovable Disney animated character Sebastian the Crab in 1989’s The Little Mermaid, helping nab an Oscar for best song “Under the Sea” (which beat out his other Little Mermaid classic, “Kiss the Girl”).
You may not have known: Wright played the purple-grapes character in the famed series of live action Fruit of the Loom commercials for 11 years beginning in 1974.
Hear him here: The Little Mermaid, on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Disney+, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube