Celebrity deaths 2021: Willie Garson, Helen McCrory and Michael K Williams among stars we lost this year

Celebrity deaths 2021: Willie Garson, Helen McCrory and Michael K Williams among stars we lost this year

In celebration of their lasting legacies and undying commitment to the arts, here’s to remembering some of the most notable actors, filmmakers, composers, comedians, musicians, and writers we lost in 2021.

Ed Asner (15 November 1929 – 29 August 2021)

American actor Ed Asner – best known for playing no-nonsense newsman Lou Grant – died of natural causes in August this year. He was 91.

Asner was among the few actors to have portrayed the same character (Grant) in both a sitcom (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) as well as drama series (Lou Grant). He was also the most honoured male performer in the history of the Primetime Emmy awards, having been recognised for his performance as Grant in both The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its spin-off series.

With over 300 acting credits, Asner also starred in Will Ferrell’s 2003 film Elf, and voiced the character of beloved widower Carl Fredricksen in the acclaimed Disney Pixar film Up.

Peter Aykroyd (19 November 1955 – 6 November 2021)

Canadian comedian, writer and actor Peter Aykroyd died in November. He was 66.

Actor Dan Aykroyd’s brother, Peter joined Saturday Night Live as a cast member and writer during the show’s fifth season in 1979. His year-long stint at SNL earned him an Emmy nomination for outstanding writing in a variety or music program.

Darrell Wayne Caldwell/Drakeo the Ruler (1 December 1993 – 19 December 2021)

West Coast rapper Drakeo the Ruler, real name Darrell Wayne Caldwell, was fatally stabbed in an altercation at a Los Angeles music festival this December. He was 28.

Dubbed “the most original stylist on the West Coast” for his darkly comedic lyrics and deadpan delivery, Drakeo the Ruler pioneered a type of rap called “nervous music”.

In this March 2021 photo provided by Scott Jawson, West Coast rapper Drakeo the Ruler is seen outside a recording studio (AP)
In this March 2021 photo provided by Scott Jawson, West Coast rapper Drakeo the Ruler is seen outside a recording studio (AP)

Vincent Cohran/Slim 400 (21 June 1988 – 8 December 2021)

American rapper Slim 400, real name Vincent Cohran, was shot dead at the age of 33, earlier this month.

A rising star on the West Coast hip hop scene, Slim 400 was best known for the song “Bruisin’” featuring rappers YG and Sad Boy Loko.

Slim 400 had previously narrowly escaped death when he was was shot at multiple times in Los Angeles in 2019.

Lou Cutell (6 October 1930 – 21 November 2021)

Film, theatre and character actor Lou Cutell – who appeared on Seinfeld, Grey’s Anatomy, and Curb Your Enthusiasm –died in November 2021. He was 91.

Cutell’s passing was confirmed by his friend Mark Furman on Facebook.

Stuart Damon (5 February 1937 – 29 June 2021)

In June, General Hospital actor Stuart Damon died of renal failure at the age of 84.

He portrayed the character of Dr Alan Quartermaine for three decades on the hit ABC show.

Dustin Diamond as Samuel ‘Screech’ Powers in Saved by the Bell (AP)
Dustin Diamond as Samuel ‘Screech’ Powers in Saved by the Bell (AP)

Dustin Diamond (7 January 1977 – 1 February 2021)

Actor Dustin Diamond died from cancer on 1 February, a month after he was diagnosed with the disease. Diamond was 44.

Diamond’s legacy as an actor was cemented by his role in the hit American high school comedy Saved By The Bell. The actor portrayed Samuel “Screech” Powers, the geeky friend of Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar). He appeared in the Saved By The Bell series for a total of 13 years.

Joan Didion (5 December 1934 – 23 December 2021)

Influential American writer Joan Didion died of Parkinson’s disease this month. She was 87.

During her lifetime, Didion wrote 19 books across diverse subjects, including politics and her home state of California.

Didion’s best known works include the first of her seven non-fiction books, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, as well as 1979’s The White Album, a collection of essays.

Former US President Barack Obama called the author “one of our sharpest and most respected observers of American politics and culture” when he presented her with the National Humanities Medal in 2012.

Willie Garson (20 February 1964 – 21 September 2021)

Willie Garson, who is fondly remembered for his performance as Stanford Blatch in Sex and the City, died of pancreatic cancer on 21 September. He was 57.

Garson’s character was best friends with Sarah Jessica Parker’s character in the hit HBO series. Reacting to the news, Parker called Garson’s loss “unbearable” in a heartfelt tribute to her on-screen and off-screen friend.

He also starred in the 2007 HBO series John from Cincinnati and played Mozzie in the USA Network series White Collar from 2009 to 2014.

His acting credits include three Farrelly brothers films, including Kingpin, and There’s Something About Mary. He also starred in Being John Malkovich, Freaky Friday, Labor Pains, and Out Cold.

George Gerdes appeared alongside Shannon Wilcox in ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ just last year (Rex Features)
George Gerdes appeared alongside Shannon Wilcox in ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ just last year (Rex Features)

George Gerdes (23 February 1948 – 1 January 2021)

George Gerdes died from a brain aneurysm on 1 January this year. He was 72.

A regular feature on US television, Gerdes worked on shows such as The X-Files, ER, Vice, and Dexter.

More recently, the American actor starred in Amazon’s drama Bosch and the long-running medical series Grey’s Anatomy, on which he appeared in 2020.

Marcel Theo Hall / Biz Markie (8 April 1964 – 16 July 2021)

Biz Markie died on 16 July at the age of 57.

The rapper and DJ – born Marcel Theo Hall – was fondly known as the “clown prince of hip-hop”. His debut gig was as a beat boxer with rap collective Juice Crew in 1985.

Markie released a total of five studio albums over the course of his career. His 1999 song “The Biz Never Sleeps” made it to Rolling Stone’s top 100 pop songs and earned a spot on VH1’s list of 100 greatest hip-hop songs of all time.

Sarah Harding (17 November 1981 – 5 September 2021)

Former Girls Aloud singer Sarah Harding died from breast cancer on 5 September. She was 39.

Harding performed with the “Love Machine” girl group for 11 years, before Girls Aloud disbanded in 2013.

She revealed that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020. In her 2021 memoir Hear Me Out, Harding shared that she underwent a mastectomy and intensive chemotherapy treatment following the diagnosis.

Sarah Harding (Getty Images)
Sarah Harding (Getty Images)

José Ángel Hernández/Flow La Movie (1 August 1985 – 15 December 2021)

Puerto Rican music producer Flow La Movie – real name José Angel Hernandez – and his family members died in a plane crash earlier this month. Hernandez was 36 at the time.

Despite working for a decade, Hernandez’s career took off in 2018 when he produced “Te Boté” for Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny, a song that topped the Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart for 14 weeks.

Hal Holbrook (17 February 1925 – 23 January 2021)

All the President’s Men actor Hal Holbrook died at his Los Angeles home at the beginning of 2021. He was 95.

Halbrook starred in several prominent films, including Into The Wild (2007) and the 1987 crime drama Wall Street.

He became the oldest actor to be nominated for an Oscar in 200 for his role in Into The Wild. Halbrook held the record for seven years until Robert Duvall was nominated for an Academy Award at the age of 84.

A prominent thespian, Holbrook was also known for his one-man stage show inspired by the life of Mark Twain.

Sally Ann Howes (20 July 1930 – 19 December 2021)

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang actor Sally Ann Howes died in December at the age of 91.

While she was best known for playing Truly Scrumptious in the 1968 film with Dick van Dyke, Howes appeared in over 140 films, musicals, plays and TV projects.

Howes earned a Tony Award nomination for her performance in Brigadoon at the New York City Opera in 1962.

Howes was best known for her role in ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ (Getty Images)
Howes was best known for her role in ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ (Getty Images)

Adolph Robert Thornton Jr/Young Dolph (27 July 1985 – 17 November 2021)

Rapper Young Dolph – real name Adolph Robert Thornton Jr – was killed in a fatal shooting at a Memphis cookie shop last month. He was 36.

The rapper was born in Chicago and raised by his grandmother in Memphis. He was known for regularly giving back to his local community, and was handing out Thanksgiving turkeys when he was murdered.

Following Dolph’s death, rappers Offset, Megan Thee Stallion, and Chance The Rapper remembered him as a “legendary artist and person” who was “loved by millions of people”.

Larry King (19 November 1933 – 23 January 2021)

Veteran TV host and two-time Peabody winner Larry King died after he was treated for Covid-19 in January. The celebrated broadcaster was 87.

Sat opposite politicians, film stars, and TV personalities, King interviewed approximately 50,000 people during a six-decade-long career.

He rose to fame in the US with the launch of The Larry King Show in 1978, before moving over to CNN for Larry King Live between 1985 to 2010.

Joanne Linville (15 January 1928 – 20 June 2021)

Joanne Linville, the actor best known for playing Romulan commander in 1968’s Star Trek: The Original Series, died this June. She was 93 at the time.

With acting credits in over 100 productions across film and television, Linville notably starred in Kraft Theatre, Mark Rydell’s film James Dean, Charlie’s Angels, Dynasty, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Studio One.

Her more prominent movie projects include appearances in 1976’s A Star is Born and Gable and Lombard.

Comedian Sean Lock died aged 58 in August (Eamonn McCormack/Getty Images)
Comedian Sean Lock died aged 58 in August (Eamonn McCormack/Getty Images)

Sean Lock (22 April 1963 – 16 August 2021)

British comedian Sean Lock died from cancer in August this year. He was 58.

Best known for being the team captain on Channel 4 series 8 Out of 10 Cats, presented by Jimmy Carr, Lock was also team captain alongside Jon Richardson on the show’s spin-off 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown.

Carr said he became “sick” with grief in the wake of Lock’s death.

Norm Macdonald (17 October 1959 – 14 September 2021)

Saturday Night Live! alum and revered stand-up comedian Norm Macdonald died in September, having been diagnosed with cancer nine years ago. Macdonald was 61.

Famous for his droll, deadpan delivery, the Canadian comedian joined SNL in 1993 and remained on the hit NBC show for five years.

After his time on SNL, Macdonald starred in his own comedy series, The Norm Show which ran for two years. He also had a recurring role on The Middle and appeared on numerous late night chat shows over the years including Late Night With David Letterman and Conan.

Carlos Marin (13 October 1968 – 19 December 2021)

Legendary Il Divo singer Carlos Marín died at a Manchester hospital in December after contracting Covid-19. He was 53.

Il Divo’s online statement read: “It is with heavy hearts that we are letting you know that our friend and partner, Carlos Marín, has passed away. He will be missed by his friends, family and fans.”

“There will never be another voice or spirit like Carlos,” Marin’s bandmates Urs Bühler, David Miller, and Sébastien Izambard said.

TV judge Simon Cowell, who formed the “popera” group in 2003, said on Twitter he was “devastated” by Marín’s death.

Helen McCrory (SWNS)
Helen McCrory (SWNS)

Helen McCrory (17 August 1968 – 16 April 2021)

Helen McCrory, best remembered for her performances in the Harry Potter movies and Peaky Blinders, died from cancer. She was 52.

The stage and screen actor played Narcissa Malfoy, mother to Harry Potter’s arch-enemy Draco Malfoy, in the Harry Potter films.

Meanwhile, McCrory portrayed family matriarch Polly Gray on the hit BBC show Peaky Blinders.

Frank McRae (18 March 1941 – 29 April 2021)

Frank McRae died of a heart attack on 29 April, aged 80.

The late actor was known for his roles in the James Bond film Licence to Kill and Last Action Hero.

A former professional American football player, McRae played 007 ally Sharkey in Licence to Kill, which starred Timothy Dalton as the debonair MI5 agent.

Trevor Moore (4 April 1980 – 7 August 2021)

Co-founder of sketch comedy group The Whitest Kids U Know Trevor Moore died in an accident in August this year. Moore was 41.

The writer and comedian also hosted The Trevor Moore show on Comedy Central since 2019.

Michael Nesmith (30 December 1942 – 10 December 2021)

Singer-songwriter and guitarist Michael Nesmith died peacefully in December, aged 78.

One of the founding band members of The Monkees, Nesmith auditioned for and won a role in TV sitcom The Monkees, about four young men trying to make their names as America’s answer to The Beatles. The other members were Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork and Davy Jones.

Both the sitcom and the eponymous band became successes. The Monkees songs “I’m a Believer”, “Daydream Believer” and “Last Train to Clarksville” were all chart toppers.

Christopher Plummer (13 December 1929 – 5 February 2021)

The Sound of Music actor Christopher Plummer died in February, aged 91.

Plummer rose to fame with the 1965 film, starring opposite Julie Andrews, before appearing in projects like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Up (in which he voiced the villain) and Broadway’s Inherit the Wind.

More recently, the multiple award-winning actor portrayed Harlan Thrombey in Knives Out and J Paul Getty in All the Money in the World.

In 2012, Plummer became the oldest actor to win a competitive acting Academy Award when he took Best Supporting Actor for his role in Beginners.

Christopher Plummer, pictured in 2011, is the oldest ever Oscar winner at 82 (AP)
Christopher Plummer, pictured in 2011, is the oldest ever Oscar winner at 82 (AP)

Puneeth Rajkumar (17 March 1975 – 29 October 2021)

Well-loved Indian actor Puneeth Rajkumar died at the age of 46 after suffering a cardiac arrest in October.

One of the Kannada film industry’s biggest stars, Rajkumar was reportedly working out at the gym when he suddenly collapsed.

The national award-winning actor was fondly known as “Appu”, for his role in the eponymous 2002 film.

John Reilly (11 November 1934 – 9 January 2021)

Known for playing Sean Donely on General Hospital, veteran soap star John Reilly died at the age of 86.

Reilly enjoyed an 11-year run on ABC’s hit daytime series, before reprising Donely’s role in the General Hospital spin-off Night Shift.

Geoffrey Rowe/Jethro (8 March 1948 – 14 December 2021)

Cornish comedian Jethro – real name Geoffrey Rowe – died on 14 December after contracting Covid-19. He was 73.

Antony Sher (14 June 1949 – 2 December 2021)

Acclaimed Shakespearean actor Sir Antony Sher died of cancer in December. He was 72. Sher was diagnosed with the terminal illness earlier this year.

The South Africa-born actor joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1982, appearing in productions like Macbeth and Othello.

His screen credits include Oscar-winning film Shakespeare in Love and film adaptations of Macbeth and The Winter’s Tale.

Siddharth Shukla (12 December 1980 – 2 September 2021)

Popular Indian television actor Sidharth Shukla died of a heart attack on 2 September this year. He was 40.

Actor Joseph Siravo has died (Dave Allocca/Starpix/Shutterstock)
Actor Joseph Siravo has died (Dave Allocca/Starpix/Shutterstock)

Joseph Siravo (11 March 1955 – 11 April 2021)

The Sopranos actor Joseph Siravo died from cancer in April, aged 64.

He played Tony Soprano’s father, Giovanni Francis “Johnny” Soprano, in the hit HBO series.

More recently, Siravo was cast in 2016 series The People v OJ Simpson: American Crime Story. The actor portrayed Fred Goldman, father of murdered waiter Ronald Goldman, in the Netflix show.

Stephen Sondheim (22 March 1930 – 26 November 2021)

Musical theatre icon Stephen Sondheim passed away on 26 November at his home in Connecticut. He was 91.

Over a career spanning six decades, Sondheim wrote the lyrics for the Broadway classic West Side Story and composed Into The Woods, and revolutionised the medium with shows including Sweeney Todd, Company, and Sunday in the Park with George.

Sondheim won nine Tony Awards, an Academy Award, eight Grammys and and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1985, for his contributions to musical theatre.

Dean Stockwell (5 March 1936 – 7 November 2021)

American actor Dean Stockwell died in his sleep in November at the age of 85.

The Oscar-nominated actor was best known for his performances in sci-fi television series Quantum Leap and David Lynch’s film adaptation of sci-fi epic Dune (1984).

Stockwell was honoured with the Best Actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival for the 1962 film Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

Matthew Strachan (11 December 1970 – 8 September 2021)

Award-winning British music composer Matthew Strachan, best known for writing the theme to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, died suddenly at his West London home this September. He was 50.

Tyler, who joined the ‘Friends’ cast in 1994, went on to feature in 150 episodes (Getty Images)
Tyler, who joined the ‘Friends’ cast in 1994, went on to feature in 150 episodes (Getty Images)

James Michael Tyler (28 May 1962 – 24 October 2021)

James Michael Tyler, who played the beloved character Gunther on Friends, died from prostate cancer on 24 October. Tyler was 59 at the time.

Tyler, who also had acting credits on Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Scrubs, kept his diagnosis private for around three years, before revealing that he had prostate cancer that had spread.

Dennis Thomas (9 February 1951 – 7 August 2021)

A founding member of soul-funk band Kool & The Gang, Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas died peacefully in his sleep on 7 August. He was 70.

Florida-born Thomas was the band’s alto sax player, flautist and percussionist since 1964, when the band was formed. His final appearance with Kool & The Gang – known for its tracks “Get Down On It” and “Celebration” – was a show at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles in July this summer.

Jean-Marc Vallée (9 March 1963 – 25 December 2021)

Oscar-nominated director Jean-Marc Vallée was found dead at his cabin in Quebec City, Canada earlier this month. He was 58.

The director of hit films and TV shows – such as Dallas Buyers Club and Big Little Lies – worked with actors including Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Amy Adams, and Jake Gyllenhaal over the course of his professional career.

bell hooks adopted the pen name bell hooks in honour of her maternal grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks (Getty Images)
bell hooks adopted the pen name bell hooks in honour of her maternal grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks (Getty Images)

Gloria Jean Watkins/bell hooks (25 September 1952 – 15 December 2021)

Celebrated author, feminist, and activist bell hooks died from an unspecified illness on 15 December, aged 69

Writing about race, gender, class – and the way they impact each other – hooks was a celebrated cultural critic. She published over 30 books over the course of her life, beginning with a collection of poetry in 1978.

She adopted the pen name bell hooks in honour of her maternal grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks.

Charlie Watts (2 June 1941 – 24 August 2021)

The Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts “passed away peacefully” in London on 24 August. He was 80.

Watts had been a member of the rock band since 1963, alongside the Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards.

Sir Elton John, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr paid tribute to the legendary drummer.

Watts’s bandmates honoured his legacy at the first show of the Rolling Stones’s much-delayed No Filter tour on 26 September.

Sir Elton John, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were among the stars to pay tribute to Charlie Watts (AFP via Getty Images)
Sir Elton John, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were among the stars to pay tribute to Charlie Watts (AFP via Getty Images)

Cara Williams (29 June 1925 – 9 December 2021)

At the time of her death, Cara Williams was one of the last remaining actors of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She died aged 96 in December.

Williams was nominated for an Oscar for her performance as a widowed mother in Stanley Kramer’s movie The Defiant Ones (1958).

The actor received an Emmy nomination when she played Gladys Porter on Pete and Gladys, CBS’s spin-off of its hit sitcom December Bride.

Michael K Williams (22 November 1966 – 6 September 2021)

Actor Michael K Williams died from a drug overdose on 6 September. He was 54.

Williams first gained prominence for playing Omar Little on HBO’s hit show The Wire. He was also known for his roles on the period gangster drama Boardwalk Empire and HBO’s acclaimed miniseriesThe Night Of.

Barack Obama once called Little his “favourite character” and “the toughest, baddest guy on [The Wire]”.

Williams was nominated for an Emmy award for his performance on Lovecraft Country, which he starred in opposite Jurnee Smollett and Jonathan Majors.

The Marvelettes in 1965 (REX FEATURES)
The Marvelettes in 1965 (REX FEATURES)

Wanda Young (9 August 1943 – 15 December 2021)

Singer Wanda Young died aged 78 earlier this month. Her death was a result of complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Young was one of the lead singers of the Marvelettes, the Motown doo-wop girl group. She performed on some of the band’s greatest hits, including “Don’t Mess With Bill”, which was written by Young’s frequent collaborator Smokey Robinson.