In Memorium: The Lives That Touched Us In 2016
Clockwise from top left: David Bowie; Florence Henderson; Muhammad Ali; Leonard Cohen; Gordie Howe; Harper Lee; Prince; Elie Wiesel
To borrow a term from Seinfeld, in many ways 2016 proved something of a “bizzaro” year: The Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the first time in more than a century, while the improbable rise of Donald Trump from unfit American presidential candidate to unfit American President-Elect left virtually everyone except some Russian computer hackers in shock.
And then there were the notable deaths, from beloved entertainers to sports greats to world figures. What made the passing of so many public figures so jarring wasn’t simply the sheer number of them, but the statuses they carried as legends in their respective fields. In 2016, we lost some of the most influential musical artists, some of the most impactful writers, some of the greatest athletes, some of the most beloved actors and some of the most recognizable statesmen/women of the 20th century.
This list, however, isn’t about marking the deaths of this past year, but rather the lives that we remember as the year closes. In that vein, we offer a month-by-month breakdown of the most notable lives we reflected on in 2016.
The first month of the year set the tone for the rest of 2016. Within an eight-day span we lost David Bowie (Jan. 10) at age 69, then both Celine Dion’s husband and manager René Angélil at 73 and actor Alan Rickman at 69 on Jan. 14. Dan Haggerty, of Grizzly Adams fame, passed away the following day while Eagles co-founder, frontman and singer Glenn Frey died at age 67 on Jan. 18. Then, on Jan. 26, the beloved Godfather and Barney Miller star Abe Vigoda died at 94.
Other notable deaths in January 2016:
JAN 2: Marcel Barbeau, Order of Canada and Governor General Award-honoured Canadian painter and sculptor, 90.
JAN 3: Paul Bley, innovative Montreal-born jazz pianist, 83.
JAN. 17: “Iron” Mike Sharpe, famed member of Canadian’s Sharpe professional wrestling family, 64.
JAN. 18: Pierre DesRuisseaux, former Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate, 70.
JAN. 23: Archie “The Stomper” Gouldie, Calgary-area professional wrestling legend, 79.
* DAVID BOWIE AND THE SOUNDTRACK OF A GENERATION
* ALAN RICKMAN, BRITISH STAR OF STAGE AND SCREEN, DIES AT 69
* SECRET SICKNESS: WHY DAVID BOWIE’S AND ALAN RICKMAN’S DEATHS SHOCKED US
* RENE ANGELIL, HUSBAND OF CELINE DION, DIES AT 73
* REMEMBERING ABE VIGODA—FIVE OF HIS MOST FAMOUS ROLES
* GRIZZLY ADAMS ACTOR DAN HAGGERTY DIES AT 74
Literary lovers mourned the passing of one of the great American scribes of the 20th century when To Kill A Mockingbird author Harper Lee passed away at age 89 on Feb. 19. As well, famed Italian novelist Umberto Eco, whose works include The Name of the Rose, died on the same day at age 84. Meanwhile, a few weeks earlier, music fans marked the loss of Earth, Wind & Fire’s Maurice White at age 74 on Feb. 4.
Other notable deaths in February 2016:
FEB. 13: Antonin Scalia, controversial conservative Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1986-2016, 79.
FEB. 15: Vanity, Canadian lead singer of group Vanity 6, protégé/partner of Prince and actress and evangelist, 57.
FEB. 16: Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Egyptian born Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1992-1996, 93.
FEB. 18: Jo-Ann Episkenew, award-winning Canadian indigenous rights activist, author and educator, 63.
FEB. 28: George Kennedy, Oscar-winning Cool Hand Luke, Airplane! and Naked Gun actor, 91.
Canadian-born journalist, broadcaster, and 60 Minutes mainstay Morley Safer passed away on May 19, about a week after announcing his retirement. The 84-year-old was the longest serving reporter on the famed CBS news show, beginning in 1970 and only retiring due to ill health. His work not only remained engaging, but also relevant, into his final years on the show, as CBS.com noted, “Safer enjoyed the longest run anyone ever had on primetime network television. Though he cut back a decade ago, he still appeared regularly until recently, captivating audiences with his signature stories on art, science and culture … [Safer] was in his true element playing pool with Jackie Gleason, delivering one of his elegant essays aboard the Orient Express or riffing on Anna Wintour, but he also asked the tough questions and did the big stories. In 2011, over 18.5 million people watched him ask Ruth Madoff how she could not have known her husband Bernard was running a billion-dollar Ponzi scheme. The interview was headline news and water cooler talk for days.”
Safer once summed up his role, and that of many a journalist, succinctly: “Some people, you have to grit your teeth in order to stay in the same room as them, but you get on and ask the questions you assume most of the people watching want to ask.”
Other notable deaths in May 2016:
MAY 3: Frank Levingston, both America’s oldest man and the nation’s oldest living Second World War veteran, 110
They were two of the greatest athletes in their respective sports, both electrifying fans with their unparalleled skill and dominant performances and they passed away within a week of each other in June. On June 3, world champion, Olympic gold medalist and the greatest boxer who ever lived, Muhammad Ali, died at age 74. Then, on June 10, hockey hall of famer and one of the best to ever lace up the skates, Gordie Howe, passed away at the age of 88. As the sports world reeled from the loss of two of the most legendary athletes of a generation, two weeks later famed American fashion photographer Bill Cunningham, an institution at the New York Times, died at age 87.
Other notable deaths in June 2016:
JUNE 4: Bobby Curtola, “Fortune Teller” singer, 1960s teen idol and Order of Canada recipient, 73.
JUNE 19: Anton Yelchin, Star Trek film actor, 27.
“I’m a storyteller and my greatest satisfaction comes from making people laugh and also leaving them with a tear in the corner of their eye,” Canadian author W.P. Kinsella, who wrote the beloved novel Shoeless Joe Jackson, later adapted into the classic film Field of Dreams, told his biographer Willie Steele in the days leading up to his doctor-assisted suicide on Sept. 16 at age 81. For fans of the B.C.-based writer the news was heartbreaking, though the fact that his last work of fiction, Russian Dolls, will hit bookstores in 2017 offers some consolation that a piece of Kinsella’s life and work is still to come.
Just nine days later, the sports world once again mourned one of its legends after the passing of golf great Arnold Palmer on Sept. 25 at age 87. And on Sept. 28, former Israeli President, Prime Minister and Nobel Laureate Shimon Peres died at age 93.
Other notable deaths in September 2016:
SEPT. 9: Lord Littlebrook, world-famous midget wrestler and manager, 87.
SEPT. 26: Toughie, last known surviving Rabbs fringe-limbed treefrog in the world, 12 (approx.)
Canadians across the country were shocked to hear of the passing of Jim Prentice, 60, long-time Conservative politician and the former Premier of Alberta, in a plane crash that took the lives of three others on board in British Columbia on Oct. 13. Reflecting on his passing, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “Jim was a man who brought his deep convictions to everything he turned his hand to, whether it was law, business or politics. At each step of his career, Jim was a strong voice for the people of Alberta and for the people of Canada. He was highly respected and well-liked in the House of Commons across all party lines, because he brought an intelligent, honest and straightforward approach to everything he did.”
Other notable deaths in October 2016:
OCT. 13: Dario Fo, Nobel Prize-winning Italian playwright, 90.
“Don’t dwell on what has passed away/Or what is yet to be”— easy for Leonard Cohen to say. He wasn’t the one shaken by the news that the beloved Canadian poet and singer had passed away. Tributes poured in for the troubadour who, at age 74 in 2008, after his semi-retirement, was interrupted by the theft of most of his earnings by an unscrupulous former manager. Cohen then embarked on a multi-year sold out world tour while continuing to write and record some of the best and most celebrated albums of his entire career. Just weeks before his passing, Cohen’s final album, You Want It Darker, continued to climb the charts and earn vaunted laurels from critics and fans alike. And then, he was gone, slipping quietly away at age 82, the death not just of a ladies man, but a poet for all seasons.