The Year In Celebrity Deaths- Look Back Week


Every year brings the passing of many celebrities in Hollywood, but 2012 seemed particularly grave. Whitney Houston’s death marked a strange and surprising beginning to a year that left the entertainment industry without some of its most prolific majesties. Here’s an ode to those who passed, and a brief word on their legacy that remains forever.

Whitney Houston

August 9, 1963 – February 11, 2012

Photo by tm_10001

The Grammy and Emmy Award-winning pop superstar, actress, and producer accidentally drowned in the Beverly Hills Hotel just before the Grammy Awards. Toxicology reports revealed her sudden death was due to the effects of chronic cocaine use and heart disease. In her life, she changed the face of pop music, and is the only artist to chart seven consecutive No. 1 Billboard Hot 100 hits. She was 48.

Tony Scott

June 21, 1944 – August 19, 2012

Photo from

The filmmaker behind Top Gun and Crimson Tide took his life by jumping off a bridge into the Los Angeles River. No explanation was provided, and the coroner’s office determined his death was due to multiple blunt force injuries; therapeutic levels of mirtazapine and eszopiclone were subsequently in his system at the time of death. Though he lived in the shadow of his brother Ridley, he was an A-list Hollywood director in his own right. He was 68.

Jenni Rivera

July 2, 1969 – December 9, 2012

Photo by Julio Enriquez.

The Mexican singer died when her private jet crashed in Mexico leaving no survivors on board. In her career, Rivera sold over 15 million albums worldwide, and more recently had branched into television, appearing on several Mexican programs. She would have made her official acting debut in the film Filly Brown, screened at Sundance, and scheduled to be released in 2013. She was 43.

Ravi Shankar

April 7, 1920 – December 11, 2012

Photo by Fr. Dougal McGuire.

This Grammy Award-winning Indian musician became a legend for his sitar work, and died after a fruitful life and career likely due to heart-related illnesses. After it was recently revealed he was Norah Jones’ estranged father, the jazz chanteuse offered a note of farewell in a statement through her record label, “My dad’s music touched millions of people. He will be greatly missed by me and music lovers everywhere.” Shankar was 92.

Michael Clark Duncan

December 10, 1957 – September 3, 2012

Photo courtesy of

Best known for his role in The Green Mile, the talented actor died after attempting to recover from a heart attack he suffered two months prior. Prior to his acting career, he worked as a bodyguard for celebrities such as Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Jamie Foxx, LL Cool J, and The Notorious B.I.G. He was 54.

Phyllis Diller

July 17, 1917 – August 20, 2012

Photo by Jeff Tidwell.

A comic legend, this funny lady made it big by playing into women’s stereotypes, only to destroy them simultaneously. She was wild, witty, and crass, and paved the way for women in the field of humor. She died of natural causes, “with a smile on her face.” She was 95.

Miss Melodie

1969 – July 17, 2012

Photo courtesy of Uptown Magazine.

The female MC who held her own in Brooklyn died this year at the age of 43. While the cause of her death remains a mystery, her contributions to hip hop are as relevant as ever. She kept it real during the golden era, and was a forerunner for other females taking their rhymes to the airwaves. She was 43.

Andy Griffith

June 1, 1926 – July 3, 2012

Photo courtesy of Victoria Advocate.

R.I.P to an actor most of this generation grew up with, who incidentally also had a career as a Grammy-winning Southern gospel singer. Griffith remained true to his North Carolina roots until the end, dying of a heart attack at his home on Roanoke Island, where he was buried five hours later. He was 86.

Nora Ephron

May 19, 1941 – June 26, 2012

Photo courtesy of

Ephron understood romance – the tragedy and comedy, the beautiful and mundane – and most importantly, she could convey it in a way that was honest and real. Ephron was journalist, screenwriter and director, who brought the world When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, and Julia & Julia among many others. She passed away after battling leukemia at the age of 71.

Robin Gibb

December 22, 1949 – May 20, 2012

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Gibb hung on till the last minute, but the Bee Gees singer finally gave into his battle with cancer this year. Along with his brothers, Gibb revolutionized the British music scene in the ‘70s, selling over 200 million records in his lifetime and making the Bee Gees one of the most successful pop groups of all time. He was 62.

Donna Summer

December 31, 1948 – May 13, 2012

Photo courtesy of

The Queen of Disco passed away this year at 63 after suffering from lung cancer, but her musical dynasty has forever been immortalized through hits like “Hot Stuff,” “Bad Girls,” and “Love to Love You Baby.” She will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.

Adam “MCA” Yauch

August 5, 1964 – May 4, 2012

Photo by Zane Aveton.

Only Adam Yauch would leave in his will that he didn’t want his music made into advertisements.

“Notwithstanding anything to the contrary, in no event may my image or name or any music or any artistic property created by me be used for advertising purposes,” he noted, reports Rolling Stone. The Beastie Boy and hip hop icon died of long battle with cancer at the age of 47.

Dick Clark and Don Cornelius

November 30, 1929 – April 18, 2012

September 27, 1936 – February 1, 2012

Photo courtesy of Lyric Interpretations.

The New Year won’t be celebrated quite as bright without Dick Clark, the annual celebration’s strongest light, and television will never forget the legacy left by him and Don Cornelius, both of whom practically invented the variety show with their programs American Bandstand and Soul Train, respectively. Cornelius took his own life at the age of 75, and Clark died at 82 after suffering a stroke.

In addition to the list, other notable celebrities the world lost this year: Mike Wallace [May 19, 1918 – April 7, 2012]; Dave Jones [December 30, 1945 – February 29, 2012]; Levon Helm [May 26, 1940 – April 19, 2012]; and Etta James [January 25, 1938 – January 20, 2012].