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Celebrities PopWrapped | Celebrities

2016: The Year Pop Culture Died

Faeriesun | PopWrapped Author


01/05/2017 6:24 pm
PopWrapped | Celebrities
2016: The Year Pop Culture Died | pop culture
Media Courtesy of Billboard

If February 3, 1959 was the Day the Music Died, then 2016 was the year pop culture died. Not just the music world -- film, sports, and politics, too, were all dealt iconic losses. Faces that have been around for most if not all of our lives have shuffled off this mortal coil, leaving gaps that cannot be filled.

On December 27, a piece of my childhood died. The year ended with the tragic death of actress Carrie Fisher, followed only a day later by that of her mother, Debbie Reynolds, on December 28.

Fisher was best known for her role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise. Her mother was one of Hollywood's sweethearts, best known for her roles in Singin' in the Rain and The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

Earlier the same week, the Christmas day death of pop star George Michael shook the music world.

The death of pop culture began in January with the quiet passing of actor Pat Harrington Jr and blues man Otis Clay. Harrington was most recognizable as the ever-present handyman on the TV show One Day at a Time. Clay was a member of the Blues Hall of Fame who got his start singing Gospel music.

2016 was just getting started.

On January 10, David Bowie left us after his quiet battle with cancer. Four days later, actor Alan Rickman (best known for his role as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films) followed. Glenn Frey of the the band The Eagles and Abe Vigoda (The Godfather and TV show Barney Miller) also left us before the month's end. But they were not the only ones. Iconic 60s band Jefferson Airplane lost two former members on January 28: guitarist and vocalist Paul Kantner and original member Signe Anderson (who was replaced by Grace Slick when she left the band in 1966).

Kentucky State Senator Georgia Davis Powers passed away on January 30. She was the first person of color and the first woman to be elected to Kentucky's State Senate.

In February, the literary world lost To Kill a Mockingbird author, Harper Lee. Her novel about racism, family, and the Depression-era South is a standard on school reading and banned book lists alike. She passed on the 19th.

Before we lost Harper Lee, we lost Maurice White (February 3), a founding member of '70s super-group Earth, Wind, and Fire and Edgar Mitchell, a member of NASA's legendary Apollo 13 mission team. He passed on February 4.

Mob Wives star Angela "Big Ang" Raiola passed on the 18th.

On March 4, we lost Prince of Tides author Pat Conroy. The next day, Raymond Tomlinson died. While many may be unfamiliar with Tomlinson by name, it is safe to say we are all familiar with some of his work: he wrote the first program that made email as we know it possible. He is also the one who chose the "@" symbol "to connect the username with the destination address".

Former actress and First Lady, Nancy Reagan passed away on March 6. She was the widow of United States President, Ronald Reagan, and is the woman behind the "Just Say No" drug awareness campaign of the '80s.

Beatles producer George Martin and son of Frank Sinatra (and performer in his own right) Frank Sinatra Jr. both left the music world, followed by Gary Shandling who left the world of comedy. The month ended with the death of Patty Duke, who is most noted for her role as Helen Keller in the movie, The Miracle Worker.

While many do not know his name, they do know his voice. Erick Bauersfeld, passed away on April 3. He was the voice of Star Wars character, Admiral Ackbar.

Country music giant, Merle Haggard, passed away on April 6. It was his 79th birthday.

Familiar TV faces Doris Roberts and Chyna also left us.

Doris Roberts, who starred as Ray Romano's mother in the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, passed away from a "massive stroke".

Chyna, whose birth name was Jodie Marie Laurer, is best known for her time as a professional female wrestler for the WWE (formerly the WWF).

On April 21, we heard the sound of doves crying. The amazingly talented, pop culture icon Prince was found dead in his Minnesota studio, dead from an accidental overdose of the drug, fentanyl.

In May, Olympian Tommy Kono , Afeni Shakur, mother of deceased rapper, Tupac Shakur, and 60 Minutes reporter Morley Safer all bid us farewell.

In June, boxing legend Muhammed Ali passed away. The greatest boxer of all time, he transcended the sport. He appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated 40 times, second only to Michael Jordan. He was an athlete, poet, and inspiration to those who strive for greatness. He battled Parkinson's Disease and died of septic shock on June 3.

On June 19, Hollywood lost rising star Anton Yelchin. Yelchin played the role of Chekov in the newest installments of the Star Trek film franchise. The 27 year-old died tragically when his Jeep Grand Cherokee slipped out of gear, rolled back and pinned him against a fence.

Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel died on July 2. His memoir, Night, recounts the events surrounding his time in Auschwitz.

In August, the Star Wars franchise lost another member. Kenny Baker was the man inside the most beloved of Star Wars' droids: R2D2.

Gene Wilder also passed in August. The characters he played have embedded themselves into American film history. He appeared in several Mel Brooks films, most notably, Young Frankenstein. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, in which he played the title role, is one of the films that would gather families around the television. Few children of the 70s and 80s can imagine childhood without Wilder's version of Willy Wonka.

Golf legend Arnold Palmer passed away on the 25th of September while waiting to have heart surgery. He is touted by many to be the best to ever play 18 holes.

The first female United States Attorney General, Janet Reno, passed on November 7. Despite her tenure being surrounded with controversy, she is known for her consistent display of integrity.

The man behind one of the most haunting songs in recent pop culture history, Leonard Cohen, also passed on November 7. His music has been a part of countless television and film soundtracks. His song "Hallelujah" has been covered by countless artists and gained even more popularity after it appeared in the movie Shrek.

Florence Henderson, quite possibly America's favorite television mom, died on November 24 due to heart failure. From 1969-1974 (and beyond, due to syndication) American kids would tune in to The Brady Bunch to get their dose of motherly wisdom from Carol Brady, played by Henderson.

The next day, notorious Cuban dictator Fidel Castro died. Castro served as president in Cuba from 1976 until 2008. During that time, he turned Cuba in a Socialist state with one political party and became the first Communist Party-ruled government in the Western hemisphere.

In the final month of 2016, we lost the first United States astronaut to orbit the Earth, John Glenn. Glenn is one of the reasons children growing up in the '60s wanted to become astronauts. He inspired a generation.

Television star and composer Alan Thicke died on December 13. He is best known for his role in the television series Growing Pains, but he also contributed to the soundtracks of several other iconic television shows from the '80s, including Diff'rent Strokes and The Facts of Life.

Henry Heimlich, developer of the life saving Heimlich Maneuver passed away on December 17. His maneuver saved countless victims of choking in the 70 years since it was developed.

Socialite and actress Zsa Zsa Gabor died on December 18, less than two months before her 100th birthday. The flamboyant beauty was married nine times and is a pop culture icon.

On Christmas day, we lost George Michael. He was one half of the pop duo Wham! that lit up the charts in the 1980s. His life after Wham! was marked by chart-topping hits, personal struggle and public controversy. His place in pop culture, however, is undisputed, and fans all over the world are still reeling from the loss.

This bring us back to the loss of Princess Leia, Carrie Fisher, and her mother, Debbie Reynolds.

Since then, in the final days of the year, we have added Ricky Harris, George S. Irving, Vera Rubin, and William Christopher to the list.

Every year, we lose beloved members of the pop culture community, but never can I remember a year where every facet of popular culture lost so many influential, powerful, and noteworthy members. Their inspirations, stories, songs, discoveries, and films will live on in this digital age. While their contributions to our lives remain eternal, may their spirits rest in peace.

For Anthony.

Pop Culture Deaths In 2016


Pat Harrington Jr., 86

Otis Clay, 73

David Bowie, 69

Alan Rickman, 69

Rene Angelil, 73

Dan Haggerty, 74

Glenn Frey, 67

Abe Vigoda, 94

Paul Kantner, 74

Signe Toly Anderson, 74

Linus Maurer, 90

Georgia Davis Powers, 92


Bob Elliott, 92

Maurice White, 74

Edgar Mitchell, 85

Antonin Scalia, 79

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, 93

Andrzej Zulawski, 75

Angela “Big Ang” Raiola, 55

Harper Lee, 89

Umberto Eco, 84

Eric “Winkle” Brown, 97

Sonny James,


George Kennedy,



Tony Warren,


Joey Feek, 40

Pat Conroy,


Raymond Tomlinson,


Nancy Reagan, 94

George Martin, 90

Frank Sinatra Jr., 72

Rob Ford, 46

Phife Dawg,


Garry Shandling, 66

Earl Hamner Jr., 92

Patty Duke, 69


Leandro (Gato) Barbieri, 83

Erik Bauersfeld, 93

Merle Haggard, 79

Howard Marks, 70

David Gest, 62

Fred Hayman, 90

Doris Roberts, 90

Chyna, 46

Dwayne (Pearl) Washington, 52

Victoria Wood, 62

Prince, 57

Billy Paul, 80

Ozzie Silna, 83

Conrad Burns, 81


Tommy Kono, 85

Madeleine LeBeau, 92

Afeni Shakur, 69

William Schallert, 93

Gene Gutowski, 90

Donnovan Hill, 18

Guy Clark, 74

Morley Safer, 84

Rosalie Chris Lerman, 90

Alan Young, 96

Mullah Mohammed Akhtar Mansour

Thomas E. Schaefer, 85


Muhammad Ali, 74

Peter Shaffer, 90

Theresa Saldana, 61

Gordie Howe, 88

Lois Duncan, 82

Jo Cox, 41

Anton Yelchin, 27

Wayne Jackson, 74

Michael Herr, 76

Bud Spencer, 86


Elie Wiesel, 87

Michael Cimino, 77

Nate Thurmond, 74

Alan Vega, 78

Marni Nixon, 86

Rev. Tim LaHaye, 90

Sam Wheeler,


Youree Dell Harris, 53

Gloria DeHaven,



Pete Fountain, 86

Kenny Baker,


Fyvush Finkel,


Bobby Hutcherson, 75

John McLaughlin,


Arthur Hiller, 92

Donald “D.A.” Henderson,


Toots Thielemans, 94

Gene Wilder, 83

Juan Gabriel, 66

Harry Fujiwara, 82

Vera Caslavska,



Jon Polito,


Hugh O’Brian,


Hugh O’Brian,


Bobby Chacon, 64

Greta Zimmer Friedman, 92

Johan Botha,


Lady Chablis, 59

Jack Hofsiss, 65

Edward Albee,


W.P. Kinsella, 81

Charmian Carr, 73

Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural Jr.,


Arnold Palmer, 87

Jean Shepard, 82

Shimon Peres, 93


Joan Marie Johnson,


Jacob Neusner, 84

Aaron Pryor, 60

Dario Fo, 90

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 88

Dennis Byrd, 51

Tom Hayden, 76

Bobby Vee, 73

Norman R. Brokaw,



Jean-Jacques Perrey,


Janet Reno, 78

Leonard Cohen,


Robert Vaughn,


Leon Russell, 74

Gwen Ifill, 61

Holly Dunn, 59

Mose Allison, 89

Anthony Brooklier,


Mentor Williams,


Sharon Jones, 60

Ralph Branca, 90

Florence Henderson,


Fidel Castro, 90

Fritz Weaver, 90

Grant Tinker,



John Glenn, 95

Esma Redzepova,


Joe Ligon,


Alan Thicke, 69

Craig Sager,


Henry Heimlich, 96

Zsa Zsa Gabor, 99

George Michael, 53

Ricky Harris, 54

Carrie Fisher, 60

Debbie Reynolds, 84

Ricky Harris, 54

George S. Irving, 94

Vera Rubin, 88

William Christopher, 84


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