It’s safe to say that 2016 wasn’t an enjoyable time for anyone. No, between election drama, terrorist attacks and natural disasters, the year didn’t give us many reasons to be cheerful. On top of this, though, was the sheer amount of treasured celebrities – from beloved singers to Hollywood icons – who unexpectedly passed away in 2016. Yes, these stars left an indelible impression on our hearts and will all be sadly missed.
20. Alan Rickman
Whether as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter franchise or Die Hard’s Hans Gruber, Alan Rickman was the baddie you couldn’t help but love. Sadly, doctors diagnosed the star of stage and screen with pancreatic cancer in 2015, and Rickman quickly succumbed to the illness. Yes, after spending January 14, 2016, in the company of his family and friends – including fellow actor Emma Thompson – the star passed away aged 69.
19. Anton Yelchin
Thanks to roles in Star Trek and Like Crazy, Anton Yelchin was one of Hollywood’s hottest young actors. But tragedy struck on the morning of June 19 when his own Jeep rolled down his driveway and crushed the 27-year-old star to death against the security fence of his Los Angeles home. Afterward, his devastated Like Crazy co-star Felicity Jones admitted via statement that “a world without Anton is a lesser place.”
18. Leonard Cohen
Famed for his deep voice and poetic lyrics, Leonard Cohen was responsible for haunting classics like “I’m Your Man” and “Hallelujah.” But following the release of his 14th album, You Want it Darker, the 82-year-old singer died while asleep on the night of November 7, 2016. Eerily, Cohen told The New Yorker he was “ready to die” less than a month before his passing.
17. Christina Grimmie
Musicians have lost their lives to unstable fans before – John Lennon and Selena being notable examples. But, unfortunately, The Voice star Christina Grimmie was added to this list when assailant Kevin James Loibl shot her dead after a June 10 concert in Orlando, Florida. Just 22 at the time of her death, Grimmie left a promising career that remains sadly unfulfilled.
16. Carrie Fisher
Best known as Star Wars’ Princess Leia, Carrie Fisher nevertheless enjoyed a successful second career as a screenwriter. However, during a December 23 flight to Los Angeles from London, the star had a heart attack. Upon landing, she was promptly rushed to the famous Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. But despite being placed in intensive care, the 60-year-old star died from heart failure just four days later.
15. Debbie Reynolds
While Fisher’s death left many fans in shock, her mother Debbie Reynolds was apparently hit hardest by the news. According to Reynold’s son, Todd, the distraught Singin’ in the Rain star had expressed a desire to be with Fisher again the day after her passing. Then, in a horrifically prophetic turn of the events, the 84-year-old actress suffered a fatal stroke a mere 15 minutes later.
14. Merle Haggard
An icon within country music, Merle Haggard epitomized the genre’s spirit of Americana and influenced artists like Bob Dylan. Still, though he won a battle with cancer earlier in life, the singer succumbed to pneumonia and died on April 6 – his 79th birthday. Speaking to Rolling Stone the same month, Keith Richards wrote, “It’s another goodbye to another old friend.”
13. Gene Wilder
While he gained fame through his comedic collaborations with Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder will forever be remembered for his joyful leading role in 1971’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Because of his jubilant reputation, the actor chose not to make details of his Alzheimer’s diagnosis – made in 2013 – public. As a result, the 83-year-old’s eventual death on August 29, 2016, was met with shock by many.
12. Harper Lee
Although she only published two novels in her lifetime, Harper Lee left an immeasurable influence on American literature. In fact, her socially conscious 1960 book, To Kill a Mockingbird, is still regarded as a classic and one of the greatest novels ever written. Sadly, though, one year after the release of her second book, Go Set a Watchman, Lee died in her sleep on February 19, aged 89.
11. George Michael
It may be a joyous time for many, but not even Christmas Day was immune to 2016’s celebrity heartbreak. Upon waking, fans were left grieving with the news of “Faith” singer George Michael’s mysterious death. With the star aged only 53, his passing left people both shocked and baffled, a fact not helped by a subsequent post-mortem that ruled his cause of death inconclusive.
Few wrestlers have lived a life as tragic as that of former-WWE superstar Chyna. After becoming one of the sport’s biggest sensations, the brawler – real name Joanie Laurer – fell into a downward spiral of drugs, depression and pornographic movies. Ultimately, she was found in her apartment, dead from an accidental overdose, on April 20. She was 45.
9. Glenn Frey
Thanks to self-penned songs like “Tequila Sunrise,” Glenn Frey made the Eagles one of the biggest bands of the 1970s. However, the singer ultimately passed away aged 69 from a combination of arthritis, colitis and pneumonia on January 18, 2016. In honor of his legacy, Frey’s band mates and Jackson Browne performed his hit “Take it Easy” at the 2016 Grammy Awards.
8. Maurice White
Undoubtedly, no soul group is as universally loved as Earth, Wind & Fire, and the band’s success lay on the shoulders of frontman Maurice White. Since 1992, however, the musician had been fighting Parkinson’s disease, which forced him to give up touring in 1994. Eventually, the singer succumbed to the illness on February 4, 2016. He passed away in his sleep aged 74.
7. Zsa Zsa Gabor
Known equally for her rambunctious personality and her acting, Zsa Zsa Gabor was one of Hollywood’s most colorful stars. But – after a decade of debilitating health issues – the Hungarian actress’ strength finally gave out, and she suffered a fatal heart attack on December 18, 2016, one year shy of her 100th birthday. Tragically, her son Oliver passed away one week later.
6. Alexis Arquette
Primarily an actress, Alexis Arquette was also well known as an inspiration for transgender people the world over. Indeed, her September 11 death at age 47 owing to complications from HIV rocked many who held the star as a role model. Among the many tributes on the morning of her passing, brother David Arquette’s solemn tweet “my hero for eternity” was perhaps the most moving.
5. Robert Vaughn
An actor with over 100 television credits to his name, Robert Vaughn was one of the small screen’s most prolific star. Perhaps known best from ’60s spy thriller The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the actor worked on a variety of projects, from The A-Team to classic western The Magnificent Seven. Still, after five decades in the business, Vaughn lost his life to leukaemia on November 11, aged 83.
4. Garry Shandling
While his The Larry Sanders Show alter ego was famously aloof, Garry Shandling was kind and generous in real life. Consequently, his March 24 death from a blood clot at the age of 66 was met with shock and dismay by those within the comedy community and beyond. In particular, Conan O’Brien was so moved that he devoted a whole opening monologue to his departed friend on his late night show.
One of the most unique musicians in history, Prince regularly shocked fans with his constant reinvention and mysterious persona. Fittingly, then, few followers predicted his April 21 death – not least because the 57-year-old had shown little sign of ill health. Still, a post-mortem revealed that the “Purple Rain” singer had succumbed to an accidental overdose of the pain relief drug fentanyl. Tragically, Prince was apparently due to start opioid addiction treatment the day after his passing.
2. David Bowie
On January 8, Davie Bowie’s fans celebrated the release of the musician’s 25th album, Blackstar. However, their joy soon turned to anguish as – just two days later – the singer passed away from cancer aged 69. While followers were unaware of his illness, Bowie himself knew of his impending death. As a result, the record – which includes lyrics like “look up here, I’m in heaven” – was granted added poignancy.
1. Muhammad Ali
Few nicknames are as contestable as “The Greatest,” but Muhammad Ali was utterly deserving of his exalted moniker. Indeed, his boxing prowess and civil rights advocacy made him sport’s most respected star, and the 74-year-old’s June 3 death from septic shock left millions in mourning. As President Obama put it the next day, “Muhammad Ali shook up the world. And the world is better for it.”