Celebrity deaths of 2020: Sir Sean Connery, Dame Barbara Windsor and more

Keiran Southern, PA Los Angeles Correspondent
·9-min read

Sir Sean Connery, Dame Barbara Windsor and Caroline Flack were among the stars who died in 2020.

A year like no other began with the shock death of basketball star and Oscar-winner Kobe Bryant before a pandemic upended life as we knew it.

Kobe Brant
Oscar-winner and basketball star Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash and his death stunned the world (Ian West/PA)

Here are some of the high-profile figures who said their final goodbyes over the last 12 months:

January

Neil Peart

Peart, the drummer from Canadian prog-rock trio Rush, died aged 67 following a battle with brain cancer.

Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl led the tributes and Peart was lauded as one of the greatest drummers in rock ‘n’ roll history.

Kobe Bryant

The former basketball superstar, 41, was killed alongside his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others after their helicopter crashed in Calabasas, Southern California.

Oscar-winner Bryant’s death sent shockwaves around the world and Barack Obama was among those who paid tribute.

Nicholas Parsons

Parsons, a broadcaster known for hosting Radio 4’s Just A Minute, died aged 96 following a short illness.

Stephen Fry described Parsons as a “great institution” while Graham Norton said he was “truly the kindest and most generous person I’ve ever worked with”.

Terry Jones

Monty Python star Jones, who had dementia, died at the age of 77.

The actor and comedian directed some of the comedy troupe’s best-loved works and his former colleagues were among those to pay tribute.

February

Kirk Douglas

Kirk Douglas
Hollywood star Kirk Douglas died in February at the age of 103 (Yui Mok/PA)

One of the last stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age died at the age of 103, bringing the curtain down on one of the industry’s great careers.

The patriarch of an acting dynasty and star of films Spartacus, Ace In The Hole and Champion, Douglas’ son Michael said he leaves a cinematic legacy that “will endure for generations to come”.

Pop Smoke

The US rapper, 20, was shot and killed in Los Angeles in an alleged home invasion.

Tributes from across the music industry flooded in and his posthumous album, Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon, topped charts around the world, including in the UK.

Caroline Flack

The Love Island host, 40, took her own life at her home in Stoke Newington, north-east London.

An inquest into her death heard she was concerned about a forthcoming trial for assaulting her boyfriend, former tennis player and model Lewis Burton.

March

Kenny Rogers

The venerated country music star, known for his husky singing voice and hits such as Coward Of The County and The Gambler, died aged 81 from natural causes.

His collaborator and long-time friend Dolly Parton paid an emotional tribute and said: “I loved Kenny with all my heart. And my heart’s broken. A big old chunk of it has gone with him today.”

Bill Withers

The soul singer, whose hits included Lean On Me, Lovely Day and Ain’t No Sunshine, died from heart complications aged 81.

Beach Boys star Brian Wilson remembered him as a “songwriter’s songwriter”.

April

Honor Blackman

Honor Blackman
Honor Blackman, considered by many to be the greatest ever Bond girl (Yui Mok/PA)

Perhaps the most famous Bond girl ever, Blackman played the provocatively named Pussy Galore alongside Sir Sean in Goldfinger.

After her death at 94, Blackman, also known for TV roles in The Avengers and The Upper Hand, was hailed a “film icon”.

Tim Brooke-Taylor

The Goodies star Brooke-Taylor died aged 79 after contracting coronavirus.

Tributes flooded in from across the entertainment world and Bill Oddie, his former comedy partner, described him as a “true visual comic and a great friend”.

Eddie Large

The comedian, who delighted audiences for decades as part of his Little And Large partnership with Syd Little, died at the age of 78 after contracting coronavirus while being treated for heart failure in hospital.

Little said he was “devastated”.

May

Little Richard

Little Richard
American rock ‘n’ roll star Little Richard was among the celebrities who died in 2020 (Yui Mok/PA)

Rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Little Richard, who blazed a trail in popular music that paved the way for the Beatles, David Bowie and many more, died aged 87 after being diagnosed with bone cancer.

Tributes flooded in following his death and Sir Paul McCartney said: “I owe a lot of what I do to Little Richard and his style; and he knew it.”

Michael Angelis

Angelis, best known as the long-term narrator of Thomas The Tank Engine series Thomas And Friends, died at the age of 76.

Among those paying tribute was comedian Matt Lucas, who described Angelis as “one of the greatest TV actors I’ve ever seen”.

June

Joel Schumacher

Hollywood director Schumacher, whose films included classics St Elmo’s Fire and The Lost Boys, as well as the much-derided Batman & Robin, died at the age of 80 after a year-long battle with cancer.

Among those paying tribute was Corey Feldman, who told how Schumacher tried to stop him doing drugs on the set of The Lost Boys.

Sir Ian Holm

Sir Ian, whose distinguished career on stage and screen included films Chariots Of Fire and The Lord Of The Rings, died at the age of 88.

The actress Samantha Morton, Sir Ian’s daughter-in-law, described him as “inspiring, funny, generous”.

Dame Vera Lynn

Dame Vera Lynn death
Dame Vera Lynn, the Forces Sweetheart, died at the age of 103 (Lewis Whyld/PA)

The Forces Sweetheart, a national treasure, died at the age of 103.

In the final months of her life, Dame Vera witnessed We’ll Meet Again, the track she is best known for, become a rallying cry to help the country through lockdown.

July

Sir Alan Parker

Hollywood mourned British filmmaker Sir Alan following his death at the age of 76 and praised his varied output, which included Bugsy Malone, Fame, Midnight Express and Mississippi Burning.

Antonio Banderas starred in Evita and described Sir Alan as a “great director”.

Dame Olivia de Havilland

Another star of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Dame Olivia died in Paris at the age of 104.

As well as winning two best actress Oscars, the Gone With The Wind star played a pivotal role in breaking the studio system after winning a legal battle to end her contract with Warner Bros in 1944.

Peter Green

Green, who co-founded Fleetwood Mac in London in 1967, died at the age of 73.

He left the influential group following struggles with his mental health. Mick Fleetwood and Stevie Nicks led the tributes.

Naya Rivera

The former Glee actress, 33, drowned at a Southern California lake while on a boating trip with her four-year-old son.

Rivera played cheerleader Santana Lopez on the musical drama and following her death she was praised for the portrayal of an LGBT character.

Ennio Morricone

Italian composer Morricone, who created The Good, The Bad And The Ugly’s main theme over a varied career, died aged 91.

Fellow composer Hans Zimmer paid tribute and said: “Ennio was an icon and icons just don’t go away, icons are forever.”

August

Chadwick Boseman

Chadwick Boseman
The death of Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman stunned Hollywood (Ian West/PA)

Boseman was best-known for his portrayal of Marvel superhero Black Panther, a blockbuster hailed as a landmark moment for representation in Hollywood.

He died at the age of 43 following a private four-year-battle with colon cancer and Barack Obama was among those to pay tribute, describing him as “blessed”.

September

Helen Reddy

Reddy, best known for the feminist anthem I Am Woman, died aged 78.

The Australia-born singer enjoyed a prolific career and earlier this year her life was the subject of a biopic.

Dame Diana Rigg

Veteran actress Dame Diana, known for her roles in The Avengers, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Game Of Thrones, died at the age of 82.

She had been diagnosed with cancer earlier in the year and died peacefully at home, her daughter said.

October

Margaret Nolan

Margaret Nolan
Bond girl Margaret Nolan died at the age of 76 (PA)

Bond girl Nolan was the gold-painted model in the Goldfinger title sequence, the movie in which she also played 007’s masseuse Dink.

She died aged 76.

Eddie Van Halen

Van Halen was lauded as one of the greatest rock music guitarists ever after he died at 65 following a battle with cancer.

His son Wolfgang announced the death and said “my heart is broken and I don’t think I’ll ever fully recover from this loss”.

Frank Bough

Former TV presenter Bough, one of the best-known hosts of the 1970s and 1980s, died at the age of 87.

Gary Lineker was among those to pay tribute, describing Bough as “a brilliant presenter who made it all look so easy”.

Bobby Ball

The comedian, known for his double act with Tommy Cannon, died at the age of 76 after testing positive for Covid-19.

Cannon said: “Rock on, my good friend, I can’t believe this, I’m devastated.”

Sir Sean Connery

Sean Connery death
Sir Sean Connery had one of the great Hollywood careers (PA)

Sir Sean, who died peacefully in his sleep aged 90, was seen in the eyes of many as the ultimate James Bond.

Among the world leaders and celebrities to pay tribute, Pierce Brosnan, one of Sir Sean’s 007 successors, said he “cast a long shadow of cinematic splendour that will live on forever”.

November

Geoffrey Palmer

Palmer, perhaps best known for his role as Lionel Hardcastle in As Time Goes By, died aged 93.

Among those to pay tribute was his As Time Goes By co-star Dame Judi Dench, who described Palmer as a “master of comedy”.

Des O’Connor

O’Connor, an all-round entertainer whose career and popularity spanned decades, died at the age of 88, days after he suffered a fall at home.

Melanie Sykes, who fronted Today With Des And Mel alongside O’Connor, paid tribute to him, saying it was an “education and a privilege to work with him”.

December

Barbara Windsor death
Dame Barbara Windsor, who died aged 83, was beloved by millions (PA)

Dame Barbara Windsor

Dame Barbara, who found fame in the 1960s starring in the Carry On films before becoming a national treasure playing Peggy Mitchell in EastEnders, died at 83, six years after being diagnosed with dementia.

Tributes flooded in and Ross Kemp, who played her on-screen son Grant, described her as “the woman who always had time for everybody”, adding: “I will miss Bar always.”