25 Cultural Icons You Won’t Believe 2016 Took From Us

Posted by , Updated on January 10, 2017


2016 Was a good year for some people, and a pretty big disappointment for some others. But no matter which of those people you are, you can’t deny that last year was exceptionally deadly for the entertainment industry. From seemingly immortal goblin kings like David Bowie to rebellious galactic princesses like Carrie Fisher, and even worldwide sex symbols (literally!) like Prince, death was a busy deity in 2016. Now that we’ve finally crossed the threshold into a new year, I’m hoping the grim reaper will take a breather. Meanwhile, there were so many notable deaths last year, I had to actually narrow-down the list to only 25. Here’s 25 cultural icons you won’t believe 2016 took from us!


George Kennedy

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As a Hollywood veteran of over 200 film and television productions, George Kennedy showed his massive talent and versatility by winning an Academy Award on “Cool Hand Luke” (1967) and being nominated for multiple Golden Globe awards. He was still acting as recently as 2014 before he passed away February 28th, 2016 at 91 years old.


Frank Sinatra Jr.

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The son of “Ol’ Blue Eyes”, Frank Sinatra Jr. never made it to the iconic level of his father. But most argue that it was because of his father’s legacy he wasn’t further recognized. Despite that, he was an accomplished musician, performer, director and conductor. He appeared in several television shows and feature films (including alongside Sammy Davis Jr.) and eventually put his rising career on hold to act as his father’s director at Frank Sinatra Senior’s request. After his father passed away, Jr. returned to music until he died March 16th, 2016 at 72 years old.



Morley Safer

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Morley Safer was the sort of journalist who demanded respect and emanated legitimacy through sheer integrity and communication ability. He was with CBS Nightly News for over half a century while simultaneously working on 60 Minutes for 46 of those years. His tireless dedication to his craft earned him twelve Emmy awards before he retired and eventually passed away on April 19th, 2016 at 84 years old.


Glen Frey

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Glen Frey is one of the founding members and lead singers of the legendary rock group know as The Eagles (you may have heard of them.) He co-wrote and was the lead vocalist on classic songs like “Take It Easy” and “Tequila Sunrise” which contributed to him winning six Grammy Awards and five American Music Awards. After the Eagles broke up in 1980, Glen was one of the more successful solo careers, releasing six more songs that made the Billboard Top 40 singles list. Eventually, his rheumatoid arthritis took its toll, and complications from that treatment led to his death on January 18th, 2016 at just 67 years old.



John Glenn

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Marine Colonel John Glenn was the kind of patriot that would make Captain America envious. His entire resume consists of serving the USA in drastically different ways. He was a fighter pilot in both World War II and the Korean War, and that’s how he got started. Colonel Glenn then decided to join the space program, strap himself to a rocket, and become the first American to ever orbit the Earth. That must’ve given him a great deal of perspective because for his next trick he came back down to Earth in order to serve as the Senator from Ohio for a quarter-century. Eventually, when he ran out of awesome things to do for our country, Colonel Glenn passed away on December 8th, 2016 at 95 years old.



Joanie “Chyna” Laurer

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Say what you want about her… later career choices (google it…) Chyna invaded an extremely macho, male-dominated industry and brought it to its knees before her. She was the most dominant female WWF wrestler in history, besting many popular and high-caliber male counterparts, and is the ONLY woman to ever win the Intercontinental Champion belt. Which she did, three times. She was a pioneer that took women from the sidelines of combat sports (however scripted) and legitimized them as viable, popular competitors. Sadly she was the youngest on this list when she died April 20th, 2016 at only 46 years old.


Joe Alaskey

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While you wouldn’t know the difference had you passed him on the street, if you’re currently an adult, Joe Alaskey probably had a hand in shaping your childhood. He is the genius comedian and impressionist that lent his considerable voice talent to characters such as Tweety Bird, Sylvester, Pepe Le Pew, Marvin the Martian, Foghorn Leghorn, Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, and yes, Joe is the voice behind the original bunny himself: Bugs Bunny. Those are just a few of the multitude of characters he was responsible for crafting, including some of the characters from the 90’s Looney Tunes update: Tiny Toon Adventures. Sadly he and his talents were taken from us prematurely by cancer on February 3rd, 2016, he was 63 years old.


Maurice White

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Maurice White was the man when it came to matters of music. He founded the iconic, excessively talented, universally recognized musical powerhouse band known as Earth, Wind & Fire. He also initially served as the band’s primary songwriter, record producer, and co-lead vocalist. All of that talent lead EWF to be nominated for a total of twenty Grammy awards. Maurice was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (with EWF,) the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, and individually into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. Tragically, a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis caused him to stop touring with Earth, Wind, and Fire in the late 80s, but he retained executive control and was active in the music business all the up to his death on February 4th, 2016. Maurice was 74 years old.


Garry Shandling

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As the father of premium channel comedy talk shows, Garry Shandling is the reason shows like “Last Week Tonight” and “Real Time with Bill Maher” exist today. Garry made the leap to prime time stand-up on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show and was a top contender to replace Carson when he retired. Instead, he created the “It’s Garry Shandling Show” for Showtime and enjoyed immediate success. Four years later he crossed enemy lines to star in “The Larry Sanders Show” on HBO, which earned eighteen Emmy award nominations (in addition to four earned by his run on Showtime) and eventually won a Primetime Emmy for the outstanding writing of the series finale. In addition to his nominations, Garry also hosted the prestigious Grammy Awards four times and the Emmy Awards three times. Unfortunately, Garry passed away entirely too early on March 24th, 2016 at just 66 years old.


Alan Thicke

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Before he was America’s dad, Alan Thicke was a popular Canadian actor, songwriter, producer, talk show and game show host (I guess the USA was adopted.) But it was the seven seasons he spent as Jason Seaver on Growing Pains that forever immortalized him in our hearts (including that of his co-star, a very young Leonardo DiCaprio!) Alan definitely had a thing for beautiful women, having married an actress, Ms. World, and a model at different points, while also hosting the Ms. USA, Ms. Universe, and Ms. Universe Canada pageants at various points in his career. Alan’s last appearance on NBC was a mere two months before his death on December 13th, 2016. He was 69 years old.


Dan Haggarty

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Grizzly Adams was not really an actor. Sure, Dan Haggerty appeared in over forty movies and television shows. And his iconic role as Grizzly Adams catapulted him into movie stardom followed by a television series. But the reason he played those roles so well is because Dan Haggerty literally was Grizzly Adams. He was a real-life beast master.Dan got his start as an animal trainer and handler for Disney movies. He directed white tigers, wolverines, eagles, wild boar, bears, foxes, and hawks. So essentially if an animal was awesome, but could kill and eat you, that was Dan’s specialty. Even after his Grizzly Adams run, Dan lived on a small ranch with animals he either rescued or tamed at birth. Sadly, the one thing he could not tame was cancer, which took him on January 15th, 2016 at 73 years old.


Arnold Palmer

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Arnold Palmer is the reason we talk about Golf. While it existed long before him, he was directly responsible for bringing golf into the mainstream media as a sport for the masses. In a career spanning over six decades, he won sixty-two PGA tour titles and fashioned himself into a living legend. In addition to his accomplishments on the course, in his off time he tirelessly worked with his charity organization, “Arnie’s Army” to support a multitude of children’s charities including the development of the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies. Arnold’s huge heart finally gave out on September 25th, 2016 when he passed away at 87 years of age.


Gene Wilder

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If any man could embody “pure imagination”, it’s man who brought Willy Wonka to life. From his start in Mel Brooks’ cult comedy classic “The Producers”, Gene Wilder oozed a spellbinding combination of charisma and comedic delivery. It was this combination that led him to land his iconic role in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, where he demonstrated even greater range with both serious and some impressively creepy moments. It was Wilder himself who pitched his next iconic role to Mel Brooks: Young Frankenstein and the success of that movie led to another famed role in the hilarious Blazing Saddles. After many more movies, and even an Emmy Award Winning guest role on Will and Grace, Wilder succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease and died on August 29th, 2016 at 83 years old.


Nancy Reagan

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Not since Jacqueline Kennedy had the first lady made the White House look so fabulous! After years of falling into disrepair, Nancy sought private donations and gave the White House a much-needed face-fit and modernization. She also launched a massive drug education campaign “Just say no!” Which is still utilized by some educational programs. When her husband, President Reagan was shot in an assassination attempt, the First Lady actively took on a role as his protector and the last line of defense. Politics aside, the relationship Nancy had with her husband inspired many even up to his final days suffering from Alzheimer’s. It was many years after his death when she finally passed away on March 6, 2016 at 96 years old. She left behind a legacy of respect and admiration that transcended politics.


George Michael

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George Michael owned a career spanning three decades and managed to nail the style of each decade and look amazing while doing it. Throughout his musical career, he co-founded Wham! And enjoyed immense success before taking it to new heights as a solo artist with iconic hits such as “Last Christmas” and “Faith”. When he bravely came out as gay in 1998 (still a very difficult time to do so) he single-handedly broke the hearts of millions of women, while providing hope to just as many men. He was only 53 when he died on Christmas day in 2016. Making one of his hit songs depressingly ironic.


Patty Duke

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I used to watch Patty Duke on “Nick at Night” doing the (at the time, cutting edge) mirror routine with her “twin” cousin on the classic “Patty Duke Show”.  But long before I caught up to her show, she had already won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress at sixteen. She was the youngest ever to win the award at that time. Then after three seasons of her own show, Patty would go on to earn a Golden Globe for best actress and several Emmy awards in various roles. She later became the second female president ever of the Screen Actors Guild. Duke was also a huge mental health advocate, having struggled with bipolar disorder her entire life. When she died on March 29, 2016 at 69, her son Sean called for public donations and began the Patty Duke Mental Health Initiative.




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There is only one man in entertainment history who literally became a (sex) symbol. He was the father of partying like it’s 1999 well before it was ever actually 1999, while Bat-Dancing in the Purple Rain. Prince got away with flamboyance, extravagance and extremely eclectic work that nobody else could pull off because he was simply that good. Over 100 million records sold later, Prince had earned seven Grammy awards, an American Music Award, a Golden Globe Award, and even an Academy Award before prematurely taking his leave from our world on April 21st, 2016 at only 57 years old.


Florence Henderson

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This Florence didn’t need any machines. She was Carol effing Brady and she was the very definition of America’s mom. But even beyond that, Florence Henderson was essentially made of magic. She was born on Valentine’s Day and was classically trained in theater as a young adult, allowing her to move on and star in several Broadway shows. She began her television career in the late fifties and at one point became the first woman to ever host The Tonight Show as a guest host before Johnny Carson began his run. After five iconic years on The Brady Bunch, Henderson continued a long and varied television career before she passed away on Thanksgiving of 2016 at 82 years old.


Alan Rickman

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As a classically trained English actor of stage and film, Alan Rickman was the kind of actor that, when he passed by, other actors would say “Oh my god! It’s Alan Rickman!!!” Not only did he single-handedly define what a Christmas villain should be, he went on to play an iconic, magical, tragic hero and even (one of my favorites) the voice of god herself. This is just a small sliver of a brilliant career that was tragically cut short by cancer on January 14th, 2016. He was 69 years old.


Harper Lee

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Some people spend decades taking roles, writing lists, singing songs, and doing whatever they can to be noticed before their big break. Harper Lee wrote a book. One book. It just so happened to literally beone of the best works of fiction ever written. To this day, To Kill A Mockingbird is considered a gold standard of quality fiction. A year after its release, Harper’s book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and was voted “Best Novel of the Century” in a poll by the library journal. The original first manuscript of To Kill A Mockingbird was found and released under its original name “Go Set A Watchman” in July 2015, less than a year before Harper Lee died on February 19th, 2016 at 89 years old.


Muhammud Ali

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A dominating athlete of strong mind, strong body, and very strong personality, there were very few people who could stand up to Muhammad Ali. His nickname was “The Greatest” and he lived up to it as the only three-time lineal heavyweight champion in boxing history. As a disciple of Malcolm X, Ali craved the spotlight and the opportunity to speak his mind, lending a voice to the repressed and disenfranchised regarding issues of racism and opposition to the Vietnam War. His struggle with the latter led him to be a universal icon for the larger counterculture generation. After a long battle with Parkinson’s Syndrome, Muhammud Ali died on June 3rd, 2016 at 74 years old.


George Gaynes


George Gaynes was an accomplished World War II veteran who made the transition to Broadway Theater after helping win the war. He enjoyed great success in multiple stage shows before entering film and television in the early 1960s. The ensuing career saw him in over thirty movies and fifty television shows in various capacities. Most recognizable was his comedic turn in the Police Academy movies as the eccentric Commandant Lassard and his reoccurring television role as father figure Henry Warnimont to the popular 80’s icon Punky Brewster. After a long and fruitful career, George Gaynes died on February 15th, 2016 at 98 years old.


Carrie Fisher

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Carrie Fisher stood up (and gave total shade) to an imposing, mystical, relentless, space-samurai who was clad entirely in black, wielded telekinesis, and a laser-sword. Maybe that was her iconic Princess Leia character, but that’s exactly the sort of person she was in reality as well. Princess Leia is considered an early example of a strong female role model, but in real life she was even more badass. Not only was she a lifelong champion for mental illness awareness (while fighting her own Bi-Polar disorder,) but she openly gave absolutely zero f*#@ what anyone thought about anything she said or did (including her affair with Harrison Ford!) Despite that, she remains everyone’s beloved space-princess all the same. Carrie just barely made this list, as she became one with the force on December 27th, 2016 not long after her 60th birthday.


Debbie Reynolds

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Well. This is just heartbreaking (no pre-pun intended.) Debbie Reynolds was the mother of aforementioned space-princess Carrie Fisher. And like something out of a movie, exactly one day after Carrie died, Debbie followed. As a lifelong performer, Debbie Reynolds’ career spanned four decades with her breakout film role in the excellent “Singin’ In the Rain.” She was also a Grammy-nominated musician, a Tony-nominated stage actress, and spent over fifty years helping to raise awareness for mental illness. Debbie never retired; her final performances include a documentary with Carrie filmed in 2016. She was 84 years old when she left to join her daughter on December 28th, 2016.


David Bowie

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The man who fell to earth and became the goblin king. Ziggy Stardust used his musical magic to spellbind Europe and the United States alike for over five decades. He is one of the best-selling artists of all time with record sales topping an estimated 140 million. Along the way, he was recognized with two Grammy awards and appeared in at least 23 films including (perhaps) his best-known role as Jareth in Labyrinth (you remind me of the babe…) David Bowie’s greatest legacy may have been his utter fearlessness. In his music and his life in general, he was unafraid to go against trends and expectations and blaze a different path. His final album was released on his 69th birthday, January 8th, 2016. Two days later David returned to the stars (seemingly) for good.

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