Celebs Who Died In 2021 – Nicki Swift
The world saw an unprecedented amount of loss in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with celebrities including music legends Charley Pride and John Prine and stage and screen star Nick Cordero falling victim to the deadly illness, in addition to tragic losses of the likes of Kobe Bryant and Naya Rivera in horrific accidents. While we all wished 2021 would be different, the coronavirus rages on, adding to what would already have been an inevitably tragic death toll on names we know and love.
From broadcast news icons to sports legends to groundbreaking creators in music, magic moguls, and beloved character actors and actresses, here are the stars we said goodbye to for the last time in 2021. Even for stars who are up there in age, it’s always too soon. We’ll miss all of these bold-faced names, but their respective legacies are sure to live on forever.
Tanya Roberts died on Jan. 4, 2021, TMZ reported. She was 65 years old.
Born Victoria Leigh Blum in the Bronx, Roberts began her career as a successful model after running away from home at 15. She transitioned into acting, with roles in the final season of Charlie’s Angels and Bond Girl Stacey Sutton in A View to Kill alongside Roger Moore. Roberts went on to star in a series of B-movies, including Sheena and The Beastmaster but is likely most known for her role as Midge Pinciotti, Donna Pinciotti’s mother, on That ’70s Show starting in 1998.
Roberts exited That ’70s Show in its third season in 2001 to care for her husband, Barry Roberts, who was terminally ill, returning to the series as a recurring character beginning in Season 6; her husband died in 2006.
Roberts’ death was initially reported incorrectly, as her representative released a statement announcing her death prematurely. Roberts collapsed on Christmas Eve and never fully recovered, reportedly succumbing to sepsis following a urinary tract infection. She is survived by longtime partner Lance O’Brien and sister Barbara Chase.
Actress and singer Marion Ramsey, best known for her role of Officer Laverne Hooks in the Police Academy film franchise, died on Jan. 7, 2021, at age 73. At the time of this writing, no cause of death has been reported, but her management team told Variety that she had “fallen ill” before her death.
The Philadelphia native’s career began in the 1960s on stage with Hello, Dolly! and expanded into television and film in the following decade with productions of Little Shop of Horrors and Miss Moffatt, as well as guest roles in The Jeffersons, Cos, and ABC’s Keep On Truckin’ variety show. Her stage work and music were so iconic at the time, Entertainment Weekly reported, that she actually inspired the role of Lorell in the Broadway production of Dreamgirls.
In 1984, Ramsey appeared as Hooks in the first Police Academy franchise installment and was famous for her catchphrase: “Don’t move, dirtbag!” She reprised her role in every sequel except 1994’s Police Academy: Mission to Moscow. Following Police Academy 6: City Under Siege in 1989, Ramsey appeared in guest-starring roles and bit parts in shows including MacGyver, Beverly Hills, 90210, and Johnny Bago, as well as voicing D.I. Holler in the animated Addams Family series from 1992 through 1993. Ramsey continued acting through 2018, including two films with her Police Academy co-star Steve Guttenberg, Lavalantula and 2 Lava 2 Lantula.
Tommy Lasorda, the iconic former pitcher and manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, died on Jan. 7, 2021, at age 93 from cardiac arrest.
Lasorda, born in Norristown, Pa., was a Major League Baseball pitcher in the 1940s and 1950s, starting on the Philadelphia Phillies in 1945. Per the National Baseball Hall of Fame, after missing the 1946 and 1947 seasons for a stint in the United States Army, Lasorda made a major comeback in 1948 that garnered attention from the then-Brooklyn Dodgers, who drafted him from the Phillies in 1954. He then played for the Kansas City Athletics, New York Yankees, and Denver Bears.
He worked as a scout for the Dodgers, then a third base coach, working his way up to manager in 1977, followed by a brief stint as general manager in 1998 when Fred Claire was let go in the middle of the season, then senior vice president, followed by special adviser in 2004. While Lasorda was beloved by his teams, his penchant for colorful language rendered him a bit of a frenemy of the press, who often couldn’t use his quotes because of his frequent and prolific cursing.
One of Lasorda’s most famous quotes was, “If you don’t love the Dodgers, there’s a good chance you may not get into heaven.” If he’s right, it’s a safe bet the pearly gates were wide open and welcoming of his arrival.
Actor John Reilly died on Jan. 9, 2021, at 86 years old, his daughter, influencer Caitlin Reilly, confirmed to CNN. Reilly, a Chicago native, began his acting career in the 1960s with guest-starring roles in series including Gunsmoke, as well as a six-episode stint as Roy Ralston on Dallas, marking his first official foray into the soap opera genre that would come to define his long career.
Following Dallas, Reilly had guest roles in series including Newhart and Three’s Company before a brief recurring role in Dynasty followed by a decade long stint on General Hospital as Sean Donely, the role that made him a household name. He remained in the role of Donely until 1995, reprising the part briefly in 2008 and for the show’s 50th anniversary in 2013.
Though General Hospital was Donely’s bread and butter, he took other roles as well, including Alistair Crane on Passions, Del Douglas in Sunset Beach, Mike Armstrong in Arli$$, and voicing Hawkeye in the animated Iron Man series.
“John Henry Matthew Reilly AKA Jack. The brightest light in the world has gone out,” Caitlin wrote of her father on Instagram. “Imagine the best person in the world. Now imagine that person being your dad. I’m so grateful he was mine. I’m so grateful I got to love him. I’m so grateful I made it in time to hold him and say goodbye.”
Siegfried Fischbacher, the last living half of Siegfried & Roy, died on Jan. 13, 2021, following complications with pancreatic cancer, AP reported. He was 81 years old.
Born in Rosenheim, Bavaria, Germany, Fischbacher developed a fascination with magic tricks as a child. He and Roy Horn began working together in 1957 after meeting on a cruise ship, where Horn first served as Siegfried’s assistant, then upgraded their performances with animals. Fischbacher and Horn polished their act for several years in their native Germany, as well as in Switzerland, before taking their talents to the United States.
They began their Las Vegas performances a decade later. The duo became sensations, not just for their illusions but also for their work with big cats, including tigers and lions. In 1990, Siegfried & Roy began their residency at The Mirage and extended their contract to a lifetime deal in 2001, with their performances reportedly raking in more than $1 billion.
After a tiger injured Horn during a performance, Fischbacher was asked if he’d ever perform alone. His answer to Larry King could not have been more clear: “It’s not in my makeup because this is Siegfried and Roy. Roy gave me always the strength, you know. Like I always say, Siegfried would be not enough and Roy is too much. He pulls me up. He is bigger than life. And that [is] what it means.”
Music producer and murderer Phil Spector died on Jan. 16, 2021, from COVID-19 complications, TMZ reported. He was 81 years old and contracted the disease in prison, where he was serving a sentence of 19 years to life for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson. Clarkson was found dead in his home with a bullet in her head. Spector was convicted of murder and began serving his sentence in 2009.
Aside from his criminal record and questionable hair choices, Spector is best known for creating some of the greatest pop songs in history using his signature “Wall of Sound” production style. His first hit, “To Know Him Is To Love Him” by the Teddy Bears, put him on the map to create aural masterpieces from the likes of the Ronettes (whose frontwoman, Veronica “Ronnie Spector” Bennett, would become his wife), the Righteous Brothers, the Beatles, and the Ramones, to name merely a few. According to the New York Times, John Lennon called Spector “the greatest record producer ever,” and the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson said Spector was “everything.” Outside of his career, however, Spector was largely described by those closest to him as a monster.
Perhaps Bennett, who accused Spector of spousal abuse, said it best: “As I said many times while he was alive, he was a brilliant producer, but a lousy husband. Unfortunately Phil was not able to live and function outside of the recording studio. Darkness set in, many lives were damaged.”
Harry Brant, the influencer son of supermodel Stephanie Seymour and mogul Peter Brant, died on Jan. 17, 2021, from a drug overdose. He was 24 years old.
Harry became a fashion scene fixture since he and his older brother, Peter Brant II, were teens, and often pushed the envelope with his styling. The duo had their own cosmetics line for MAC, and both worked modeled for the likes of Balmain and Vogue Italia. A living portrait of nepotism, Harry also worked as a journalist for his father’s Interview magazine.
At the time of Harry’s death, the Brant family said in a statement to People that he was merely days away from going to rehab, adding, “Harry was not just our son. He was also a wonderful brother, loving grandson, favorite uncle and a caring friend. He was a creative, loving and powerful soul that brought light into so many people’s hearts. He was truly a beautiful person inside and out. He achieved a lot in his 24 years, but we will never get the chance to see how much more Harry could have done.”
Actress Mira Furlan died at home, surrounded by family, on Jan. 20, 2021, at age 65. According to BBC News, Furlan suffered from complications connected to the West Nile virus and had been ill for some time.
Furlan was born and raised in Yugoslavia (now Croatia), where she was an acclaimed stage and screen actress before moving to the United States with her husband, Serbian actor Goran Gajic, in 1991. Within three years, Furlan starred as Satai Delenn in Babylon 5, though she is likely best known for her role as scientist Danielle Rousseau on Lost from 2004 to 2010.
Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski recalled that Furlan spoke defiantly of death threats she received for leaving former Yugoslavia, claiming she told him, “What’s the worst that could have happened? Yes, they could have killed me. So what? Art should have no borders.”
Furlan’s Twitter account posted a line from her autobiography when she died: “I look at the stars. It’s a clear night and the Milky Way seems so near. That’s where I’ll be going soon.”
Legendary broadcaster Larry King died from COVID-19 complications on Jan. 23, 2021. He was 87 years old.
Born Lawrence Harvey Zeiger in Brooklyn, New York, King’s career spanned six decades, and the suspender-clad star was famous for not necessarily asking the hard questions, but for his easygoing nature that allowed his subjects to reveal their true personalities in other ways — as his infamous interview with Jerry Seinfeld showed.
King’s career began in Miami, and he became the marquee name for CNN in 1985 with Larry King Live. Throughout the years, King interviewed everyone from the Dalai Lama to Frank Sinatra, Vladimir Putin, Lady Gaga and LeBron James. In 2012, he co-founded the Ora Network and hosted his own online interview series. King’s colorful personal life made him as much of a celebrity as his subjects, as the Peabody Award winner was married a whopping eight times (twice to Alene Akins), most recently to Shawn Southwick King, from whom he was reportedly separated but never officially divorced. He had five children, two of whom died within a month of one another in summer 2020.
Since the 1980s, King faced several health struggles, including a heart attack and stroke, but nothing slowed him down. In 2020, King told People, “I have less of a fear of dying now. I’m 86 and it is what it is. I just want to keep working until the end. I’d like to die at work — I’ll retire right there!”
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