2017 may not have felt like the constant barrage of notable deaths we endured in 2016, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t lost many beloved stars this year. We were left mourning America’s sweetheart when Mary Tyler Moore died in January, and one of the top teen idols of the 1970s, David Cassidy, took his final bow just last month. In between, we said goodbye to some of the architects of rock ‘n’ roll, influential comedians, bestselling novelists, and more. Join us as we take a look back at the most notable deaths of 2017.
Musicians occupied the headlines in large numbers this year, including the tragic too-young death of Chris Cornell, lead singer of iconic rock bands Soundgarden and Audioslave. His suicide was followed closely by that of his close friend Chester Bennington, frontman for the influential rap-rock band Linkin Park. Tom Petty was one of the top-selling recording artists of all time thanks to easygoing singles including “Free Fallin'” and “You Don’t Know How it Feels.” Glen Campbell married country and pop music in a decades-spanning career with more than 60 albums. Gregg Allman and Butch Trucks were founders of the Allman Brothers Band, carrying on the group’s country-rock legacy long after the death of Allman’s brother Duane. Al Jarreau brought jazzy cool to the airwaves, while Troy Gentry was half of the award-winning country duo Montgomery Gentry, and Prodigy was half of the East Coast hip-hop duo Mobb Deep. No matter where their careers began or what type of popular music they played, they could all look back at Chuck Berry and Fats Domino as crucial influences – the two were among the celebrated group of musicians who, in the 1950s, combined a musical mélange of influences and created rock ‘n’ roll.
Film & TV
Spanning the acting and music worlds was teen idol Cassidy, who got his start on the groovy 1970s musical sitcom “The Partridge Family” and turned his TV fame into a massive musical career that kept him swarmed with fans and admirers. Moore was no less beloved as she debuted as a charming homemaker on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and became a feminist icon as a single career girl on her self-titled sitcom. Bill Paxton made us jump in thrillers like “Twister” and laugh in comedies like “Weird Science.” Martin Landau was one of classic Hollywood’s great actors, while Sam Shepard wore many hats, from playwright to director to actor. Roger Moore was suave as the legendary James Bond; Adam West was campy as the equally iconic Batman. Joseph Wapner really was a judge – and he played one on TV in the reality court program “The People’s Court.” Barbara Hale was a favorite for years on “Perry Mason,” and Erin Moran had similar longevity on “Happy Days.” Robert Guillaume turned sitcom fame into voice acting success when he voiced Rafiki in “The Lion King,” and June Foray was one of the great voice actors of many beloved classic cartoons. Della Reese tugged at our heartstrings in “Touched By an Angel,” while George Romero awoke a much different emotion – primal fear – with his influential zombie films. And British actor John Hurt was not always the recognizable leading man, but some called him the greatest actor in the world.
They made us laugh during their lives, but emotions ran more to deep sadness when some of the classic comedians of the 20th century died in 2017. Don Rickles’ insult comedy could have stung if we weren’t too busy laughing at his spot-on takes. Dick Gregory was the first black comedian to find widespread fame with white audiences as well, and he parlayed his fame into activism in support of peace and civil rights. Jerry Lewis was a rubber-faced, pratfalling legend, as beloved for his support of the Muscular Dystrophy Association as for his standup comedy and wacky films including “The Nutty Professor.”
Iconic mogul Hugh Hefner turned his men’s magazine “Playboy” into a massive media empire. Liz Smith was “The Grand Dame of Dish” with her decades-spanning gossip column. William Peter Blatty terrified us with his bestselling novel “The Exorcist,” and Robert James Waller took us on a romantic journey to the heartland in “The Bridges of Madison County.”
Roy Halladay was a pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies, making history as one of the very few pitchers to throw a no-hitter in the postseason. Professional wrestling lost two colorful characters in George “The Animal” Steele and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, while the boxing world lost Jake LaMotta, the middleweight inspiration for classic film “Raging Bull.”