Celebrity deaths that rocked the world in 2016

By Karen Butler   |   Updated Dec. 29, 2016 at 10:59 AM
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NEW YORK, Dec. 20 (UPI) -- 2016 will likely go down in entertainment history as one of the worst in terms of shocking celebrity deaths.

Lost, but not forgotten are...

British rock megastar -- and occasional actor -- David Bowie died Jan. 11 following a secret, yearlong battle with liver cancer. Bowie's death occurred just two days after the arrival of his final album, Blackstar, which was released on his 69th birthday.

His career spanned five decades and included acting performances in the movies The Man Who Fell to Earth, Labyrinth and Basquiat. Among his many memorable songs were "Space Oddity," "Life on Mars," "Starman," "Fame," "Heroes," "Under Pressure" and "Let's Dance."

England's former Prime Minister David Cameron seemed to sum up the global reaction to Bowie's passing when he said: "I grew up listening to and watching the pop genius David Bowie. He was a master of re-invention, who kept getting it right. A huge loss."

Just days later, on Jan. 14, British actor Alan Rickman also died of cancer. Also at the age of 69. He was famous for his contributions to many modern film classics, including his portrayal of Severus Snape in the Harry Potter blockbusters, as well as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Hans Gruber in Die Hard.

Other notable film credits are A Little Chaos, Lee Daniels' The Butler, CBGB, Sweeney Todd, Bottle Shock, Galaxy Quest, Sense and Sensibility, Love Actually and Truly, Madly, Deeply.

J.K. Rowling, who penned the Harry Potter books on which the films were based, echoed the sentiment of stunned fans who didn't know Rickman was ill.

"There are no words to express how shocked and devastated I am to hear of Alan Rickman's death. He was a magnificent actor & a wonderful man," Rowling said.

Garry Shandling, a famed actor, voice performer and comedian, died on March 24 of a medical emergency eventually determined to be a blood clot to his heart. He was 66 years old when he died shortly before the release of The Jungle Book, a live-action and animated hybrid movie in which he played a porcupine.

"He's always been a friend, not to just myself, but to many people in the film-making industry," Jungle Book director Jon Favreau said of the one-time Larry Sanders Show and Garry Shandling's Show star. "He's quietly been a mentor to so many people. You're only seeing it now with the outpouring of affection, you're seeing how many people's lives he actually touched."

American recording artist Prince Rogers Nelson died April 21 at his Paisley Park estate in Minneapolis at the age 57. An autopsy revealed the Grammy Award-winning, "Purple Rain," "Raspberry Beret" and "Little Red Corvette" singer suffered a fatal "self-administered" dose of fentanyl -- an opioid roughly 100 times stronger than morphine.

U.S. President Barack Obama declared, "Today, the world lost a creative icon."

"Michelle and I join millions of fans from around the world in mourning the sudden death of Prince," the president said in a statement. "Few artists have influenced the sound and trajectory of popular music more distinctly, or touched quite so many people with their talent. As one of the most gifted and prolific musicians of our time, Prince did it all. Funk. R&B. Rock and roll. He was a virtuoso instrumentalist, a brilliant bandleader, and an electrifying performer. 'A strong spirit transcends rules,' Prince once said -- and nobody's spirit was stronger, bolder, or more creative. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, his band, and all who loved him."

Russian-born actor Anton Yelchin was killed June 19 when his sport-utility vehicle accidentally rolled over him while he was in the driveway of his home. The well-regarded, former child actor co-starred in the Star Trek re-boot franchise and built up an impressive resume with appearances in Taken, Along Came a Spider, Hearts in Atlanta, Huff, Terminator Salvation, Fright Night, Like Crazy, House of D, Alpha Dog and The Beaver. His animated series Trollhunters is to debut on Netflix Friday.

"You were brilliant. You were kind. You were funny as hell. And you weren't here nearly long enough. Missing you... J.J.," Star Trek filmmaker J.J. Abrams said at the time.

Canadian-born television star Alan Thicke died Dec. 13 at the age of 69 after suffering a heart attack while he was playing hockey with his 19-year-old son, Carter, at a Burbank rink.

Although he was best known for his portrayal of caring Dr. Jason Seaver -- a psychiatrist and father of four -- on the 1980s sitcom Growing Pains, Thicke also enjoyed success as a game-show host and interviewer on programs such as First Impressions, Animal Crack-Ups, Pictionary, All New 3's a Crowd and The Alan Thicke Show.

He penned some of the most famous TV theme songs of the 1970s and '80s, as well. Among them were the tunes for Diff'rent Strokes and The Facts of Life. He co-wrote Bill Champlin's hit "Sara," too. In recent years, he was a popular guest star on TV shows like Just Shoot Me, The Bold and the Beautiful, How I Met Your Mother, Scream Queens and This is Us. He and his family also starred in two seasons of the mockumentary series Unusually Thicke.

Thicke's heartbroken son, "Blurred Lines" singer Robin Thicke, described the actor as "always a gentleman."

"The good thing was that he was beloved and he had closure," he added. "I saw him a few days ago and told him how much I loved and respected him."

The final week in December took a trio of luminaries -- British pop superstar George Michael, American actress/author Carrie Fisher and Fisher's entertainer mother Debbie Reynolds.

Michael, who achieved global success first as part of the music duo Wham!, then as a solo artist, was found dead in his London home Christmas morning. A representative said the "Freedom," "One More Try" and "Father Figure" singer died peacefully of heart failure.

"I am in deep shock. I have lost a beloved friend - the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist. RIP @GeorgeMichael," tweeted Elton John, who collaborated with Michael on the hit song "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me."

Fisher, an author and actress best known for her portrayal of Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise, died Tuesday after suffering a mid-flight heart attack Friday. She was 60.

Harrison Ford, who played Han Solo, Leia's longtime partner in love and adventure, called Fisher "one-of-a-kind ... brilliant, original" in a statement after her death, but before Reynolds had passed.

"Funny and emotionally fearless. She lived her life, bravely...My thoughts are with her daughter Billie, her Mother Debbie, her brother Todd, and her many friends. We will all miss her."

Fisher's mother, an icon for her performances in the classic movies Singin' in the Rain and The Unsinkable Molly Brown, had a stroke, reportedly while planning Fisher's funeral, and died Wednesday at age 84.

"SAG-AFTRA mourns the passing of Debbie Reynolds, whose six-decade career made her a star of both the big and small screens. Reynolds, a recipient of SAG-AFTRA's SAG Life Achievement Award, died today at the age of 84," Gabrielle Carteris, president of the Screen Actors Guild, said in a press release Wednesday.

"I was deeply saddened to learn of Debbie Reynolds' passing. We have lost a unique talent and a national treasure. Coming so close to the death of her daughter, Carrie Fisher, this is truly a double tragedy. Their imprint on our culture is profound and they both will live on."

Among the other artists who died in 2016: socialite Zsa Zsa Gabor (99), Brady Bunch matriarch Florence Henderson (82), Game of Thrones alum Peter Vaughan (93), "Hallelujah" singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen (82), comic legend Gene Wilder (83), Everybody Loves Raymond mom Doris Roberts (90), directors Garry Marshall (81) and Curtis Hanson (71), trailblazing transgender actress Alexis Arquette (47), Night author Elie Wiesel (87), Bernard Fox from Bewitched and Hogan's Heroes (89), progressive rock pioneer Greg Lake (69), WWE Superstar and reality TV personality Chyna (46) and country music titan Merle Haggard (79).

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