In Memoriam: Remembering those we lost this year

December 30, 2016

It is commonly said that celebrity deaths come in threes. But in 2016, famous people, especially musicians and actors, seemed to have died by the dozen.

These high-profile deaths have drawn questions from millions of global social media users who have gone online to morn their passing. The seemingly high number of stars lost during the past year may simply be coincidence as a many legendary musicians and actors are Baby Boomers now reaching their 60s and 70s.

Death also claimed transcendent political figures in 2016, including Cuba’s revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and Thailand’s longtime king, Bhumibol Adulyadej. The year also marked the passing of astronauts Edgar Mitchell of Apollo 14 and John Glenn, the first American into space and later a U.S. senator from Ohio; Harper Lee, who authored “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Morley Safer, correspondent on “60 Minutes.”

Among the other national and international figures who died in 2016 were former United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, former Israeli leader Shimon Peres and former first lady Nancy Reagan.

Artists and entertainers who exited in 2016 included musicians George Michael, Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Mose Allison, Glenn Frey and Frank Sinatra Jr.; and actors Gene Wilder, Abe Vigoda, Florence Henderson, Patty Duke, George Kennedy, Garry Shandling, Doris Roberts, Alan Thicke and Zsa Zsa Gabor.

Hollywood watchers were especially hard hit this week, as mother and daughter actresses Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher died within days of each other.

We could not include all who passed away this year, but may they all rest in peace.

Here is a roll call of some of the most well-known people who died in 2016.


Georgia Davis Powers, 92, Jan. 30. A giant in the fight for civil rights in Kentucky and the first African-American woman elected to the state’s Senate.


Maurice White, 74, Feb. 3. The Earth, Wind & Fire founder whose horn-driven band sold more than 90 million albums.

Acel Moore, 75, Feb. 12. A longtime reporter and editor with The Philadelphia Inquirer, a founding member of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists and winner of two of journalism’s highest honors, a Pulitzer Prize and a Nieman Fellowship to attend Harvard University. Philadelphia-born and raised, Moore died at his home in the Wyncote section from complications due to diabetes and lung disease.

Denise Matthews, 57, Feb. 15. The Canadian singer, songwriter, dancer, actress and model was dubbed “Vanity” by Prince who considered her to be the female form of himself. She later turned away from her music and acting career to concentrate on evangelism.


James N. Reaves, 99, March 16. The retired Philadelphia Police Department captain.

Phife Dawg, 45, March 22. Lyricist whose witty wordplay was a linchpin of the groundbreaking hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest. He died of complications from diabetes.


Prince, 57, April 12. Inventive and influential musicians whose hits include “Little Red Corvette,” “Let’s Go Crazy” and “When Doves Cry.”

Billy Paul, 80, April 24. A jazz and soul singer best known for the No. 1 hit and “Philadelphia Soul” classic “Me and Mrs. Jones.”

Barbara Daniel-Cox, 71, April 24. The community facilitator, educator, event producer and political consultant died unexpectedly.


Afeni Shakur, 69, May 2. Former Black Panther who inspired the work of her son, rap icon Tupac Shakur, and fostered his legacy for decades after he was slain in 1996.


Muhammad Ali, 74, June 3. Heavyweight champion whose fast fists, irrepressible personality and determined spirit transcended sports and captivated the world.


Nate Thurmond, 74, July 16. Tenacious NBA defensive center who played with Wilt Chamberlain.

Youree Dell Harris, 53, July 26. Actress who became famous playing the Jamaican psychic Miss Cleo, claiming to know callers’ futures in ubiquitous TV infomercials and commercials.


Bobby Hutcherson, 75, Aug. 15. Bricklayer’s son who became one of the most inventive jazz vibraphonists to pick up a pair of mallets.

Toots Thielemans, 94, Aug. 22. Belgian harmonica player whose career included playing with jazz greats like Miles Davis and whose solos have figured on numerous film scores.

Gene Wilder, 83, Aug. 28. The frizzy-haired actor brought his deft comedic touch to such unforgettable roles as the neurotic accountant in “The Producers” and the mad scientist of “Young Frankenstein.”.


Lady Chablis, 59, Sept. 8. Transgender performer who became an unlikely celebrity for her role in the 1994 best-seller “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”

Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural Jr., 68, Sept. 24. Musician who rose from a cotton-picking family in southwest Louisiana to introduce zydeco music to the world through his band Buckwheat Zydeco.

Donna N. Brown, 72, Sept. 30. The co-founder of the Point Breeze Performing Arts Center died at her home.


Aaron Pryor, 60, Oct. 9. Relentless junior welterweight who fought two memorable bouts with Alexis Arguello.


Harold B. Hairston, 76, Nov. 1. Philadelphia’s first African-American fire commissioner died at his West Mount Airy home.

Gwen Ifill, 61, Nov. 14. Co-anchor of PBS’ “NewsHour” with Judy Woodruff and a veteran journalist who moderated two vice presidential debates.

Sharon Jones, 60, Nov. 18. A musical powerhouse who shepherded a soul revival despite not finding stardom until middle age. She died of cancer.

Fidel Castro, 90, Nov. 25. The bearded rebel who victorious revolution in 1959 ousted Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of U.S. presidents during his half-century as ruler.


Dr. Carl M. Cousins, 84, Dec. 4. The pioneering veterinarian died in Philadelphia.

Mae Reeves, 104, Dec. 14. From the late 1930s to 1980s, Reeves was one of Philadelphia’s most successful millinery designers. Her 50-year vintage hat collection and other items from her Philadelphia hat shop are now on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. Her funeral was at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Peter and Paul on Dec. 22.

Ricky Harris, 54, Dec. 26. Comedian and actor who had a recurring role in Chris Rock’s “Everybody Hates Chris” sitcom and voiced several characters that appeared in Hip Hop albums.

Tribune staff writer

Ayanna Jones and The Associated Press contributed to this story