A lauded writer who brought to light stories overshadowed by prejudice. An actress and singer who helped embody the manufactured innocence of the 1950s. A self-made billionaire who rose from a childhood of Depression-era poverty and twice ran for president.
This year saw the deaths of people who shifted culture through prose, pragmatism and persistence. It also witnessed tragedy, in talent struck down in its prime.
Here is a roll call of just some influential figures who died in 2019 (cause of death cited for younger people, if available):
Eugene “Mean Gene” Okerlund, 76. His deadpan interviews of pro wrestling superstars like “Macho Man” Randy Savage, the Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan made him a ringside fixture in his own right. Jan. 2.
Bob Einstein, 76. The veteran comedy writer and performer known for “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and his spoof daredevil character Super Dave Osborne. Jan. 2.
Daryl Dragon, 76. The cap-wearing “Captain” of Captain & Tennille who teamed with then-wife Toni Tennille on such easy listening hits as “Love Will Keep Us Together” and “Muskrat Love.” Jan. 2.
Carol Channing, 97. The ebullient musical comedy star who delighted American audiences in almost 5,000 performances as the scheming Dolly Levi in “Hello, Dolly!” on Broadway and beyond. Jan. 15.
Harris Wofford, 92. A former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania and longtime civil rights activist who helped persuade John F. Kennedy to make a crucial phone call to the wife of Martin Luther King Jr. during the 1960 presidential campaign. Jan. 21.
Russell Baker, 93. The genial but sharp-witted writer who won Pulitzer Prizes for his humorous columns in The New York Times and a moving autobiography of his impoverished Baltimore childhood. He later hosted television’s “Masterpiece Theatre” on PBS. Jan 21. Complications after a fall.
Donald S. Smith, 94. He produced the controversial anti-abortion film “The Silent Scream” and, with help from Ronald Reagan’s White House, distributed copies to every member of Congress and the Supreme Court. Jan. 30.
Frank Robinson, 83. The Hall of Famer was the first black manager in Major League Baseball and the only player to win the MVP award in both leagues. Feb. 7.
John Dingell, 92. The former congressman was the longest-serving member of Congress in American history at 59 years and a master of legislative deal-making who was fiercely protective of Detroit’s auto industry. Feb. 7.
Jan-Michael Vincent, 73. The “Airwolf” television star whose sleek good looks belied a troubled personal life. Feb. 10.
Karl Lagerfeld, 85. Chanel’s iconic couturier whose accomplished designs and trademark white ponytail, high starched collars and dark enigmatic glasses dominated high fashion for the past 50 years. Feb. 19.
David Horowitz, 81. His “Fight Back!” syndicated program made him perhaps the best-known consumer reporter in the U.S. Feb. 21.
Peter Tork, 77. A talented singer-songwriter and instrumentalist whose musical skills were often overshadowed by his role as the goofy, lovable bass guitarist in the made-for-television rock band The Monkees. Feb. 21.
Stanley Donen, 94. A giant of the Hollywood musical who, through such classics as “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Funny Face,” helped provide some of the most joyous sounds and images in movie history. Feb. 21.
Katherine Helmond, 89. An Emmy-nominated and Golden Globe-winning actress who played two very different matriarchs on the ABC sitcoms “Who’s the Boss?” and “Soap.” Feb. 23.
Charles McCarry, 88. An admired and prescient spy novelist who foresaw passenger jets as terrorist weapons in “The Better Angels” and devised a compelling theory for JFK’s assassination in “The Tears of Autumn.” Feb. 26.
Andre Previn, 89. The pianist, composer and conductor whose broad reach took in the worlds of Hollywood, jazz and classical music. Feb. 28.
Keith Flint, 49. The fiery frontman of British dance-electronic band The Prodigy. March 4. Found dead by hanging in his home.
Luke Perry, 52. He gained instant heartthrob status as wealthy rebel Dylan McKay on “Beverly Hills, 90210.” March 4. Stroke.
Juan Corona, 85. He gained the nickname “The Machete Murderer” for hacking to death dozens of migrant farm laborers in California in the early 1970s. March 4.
Carmine “the Snake” Persico, 85. The longtime boss of the infamous Colombo crime family. March 7.
Birch Bayh, 91. A former U.S. senator who championed the federal law banning discrimination against women in college admissions and sports. March 14.
Dick Dale, 83. His pounding, blaringly loud power-chord instrumentals on songs like “Miserlou” and “Let’s Go Trippin’” earned him the title King of the Surf Guitar. March 16.
Jerrie Cobb, 88. America’s first female astronaut candidate, the pilot pushed for equality in space but never reached its heights. March 18.
Ken Gibson, 86. He became the first black mayor of a major Northeast city when he ascended to power in riot-torn Newark, New Jersey, about five decades ago. March 29.
Billy Adams, 79. A Rockabilly Hall of Famer who wrote and recorded the rockabilly staple “Rock, Pretty Mama.” March 30.
Nipsey Hussle, 33. A Grammy-nominated rapper. March 31. Killed in a shooting.
Sydney Brenner, 92. A Nobel Prize-winning biologist who helped decipher the genetic code and whose research on a roundworm sparked a new field of human disease research. April 5.
Ernest F. “Fritz” Hollings, 97. The silver-haired Democrat who helped shepherd South Carolina through desegregation as governor and went on to serve six terms in the U.S. Senate. April 6.
Richard “Dick” Cole, 103. The last of the 80 Doolittle Tokyo Raiders who carried out the daring U.S. attack on Japan during World War II. April 9.
Owen Garriott, 88. A former astronaut who flew on America’s first space station, Skylab, and whose son followed him into orbit. April 15.
Mark Medoff, 79. A provocative playwright whose “Children of a Lesser God” won Tony and Olivier awards and whose screen adaptation of his play earned an Oscar nomination. April 23.
John Havlicek, 79. The Boston Celtics great whose steal of Hal Greer’s inbounds pass in the final seconds of the 1965 Eastern Conference final against the Philadelphia 76ers remains one of the most famous plays in NBA history. April 25.
Richard Lugar, 87. A former U.S. senator and foreign policy sage known for leading efforts to help the former Soviet states dismantle and secure much of their nuclear arsenal but whose reputation for working with Democrats cost him his final campaign. April 28.
John Singleton, 51. A director who made one of Hollywood’s most memorable debuts with the Oscar-nominated “Boyz N the Hood” and continued over the following decades to probe the lives of black communities in his native Los Angeles and beyond. April 29. Taken off life support after a stroke.
Peter Mayhew, 74. The towering actor who donned a huge, furry costume to give life to the rugged-and-beloved character of Chewbacca in the original “Star Wars” trilogy and two other films. April 30.
Peggy Lipton, 72. A star of the groundbreaking late 1960s TV show “The Mod Squad” and the 1990s show “Twin Peaks.” May 11. Cancer.
Doris Day, 97. The sunny blond actress and singer whose frothy comedic roles opposite the likes of Rock Hudson and Cary Grant made her one of Hollywood’s biggest stars in the 1950s and ‘60s and a symbol of wholesome American womanhood. May 13.
Tim Conway, 85. The impish second banana to Carol Burnett who won four Emmy Awards on her TV variety show, starred in “McHale’s Navy” and later voiced the role of Barnacle Boy for “Spongebob Squarepants.” May 14.
Judith Kerr, 95. A refugee from Nazi Germany who wrote and illustrated the best-selling “The Tiger Who Came to Tea” and other beloved children’s books. May 22.
Bill Buckner, 69. A star hitter who made one of the biggest blunders in baseball history when he let Mookie Wilson’s trickler roll through his legs in the 1986 World Series. May 27.
Thad Cochran, 81. A former U.S. senator who served 45 years in Washington and used seniority to steer billions of dollars to his home state of Mississippi. May 30.
Leon Redbone, 69. The blues and jazz artist whose growly voice, Panama hat and cultivated air of mystery made him seem like a character out of the ragtime era or the Depression-era Mississippi Delta. May 30.
Dr. John, 77. The New Orleans singer and piano player who blended black and white musical styles with a hoodoo-infused stage persona and gravelly bayou drawl. June 6.
Sylvia Miles, 94. An actress and Manhattan socialite whose brief, scene-stealing appearances in the films “Midnight Cowboy” and “Farewell, My Lovely” earned her two Academy Award nominations. June 12.
Lew Klein, 91. A broadcast pioneer who helped create “American Bandstand” and launched the careers of Dick Clark and Bob Saget. June 12.
Pat Bowlen, 75. The Denver Broncos owner who transformed the team from also-rans into NFL champions and helped the league usher in billion-dollar television deals. June 13.
Gloria Vanderbilt, 95. The intrepid heiress, artist and romantic who began her extraordinary life as the “poor little rich girl” of the Great Depression, survived family tragedy and multiple marriages and reigned during the 1970s and ‘80s as a designer jeans pioneer. June 17.
Judith Krantz, 91. A writer whose million-selling novels such as “Scruples” and “Princess Daisy” engrossed readers worldwide with their steamy tales of the rich and beautiful. June 22.
Beth Chapman, 51. The wife and co-star of “Dog the Bounty Hunter” reality TV star Duane “Dog” Chapman. June 26.
Tyler Skaggs, 27. The left-handed pitcher who was a regular in the Los Angeles Angels’ starting rotation since late 2016 and struggled with injuries repeatedly in that time. July 1. Choked on his own vomit and had a toxic mix of alcohol and painkillers fentanyl and oxycodone in his system.
Lee Iacocca, 94. The auto executive and master pitchman who put the Mustang in Ford’s lineup in the 1960s and became a corporate folk hero when he resurrected Chrysler 20 years later. July 2.
Martin Charnin, 84. He made his Broadway debut playing a Jet in the original “West Side Story” and went on to become a Broadway director and a lyricist who won a Tony Award for the score of the eternal hit “Annie.” July 6.
H. Ross Perot, 89. The colorful, self-made Texas billionaire who rose from delivering newspapers as a boy to building his own information technology company and twice mounted outsider campaigns for president. July 9. Leukemia.
Rip Torn, 88. The free-spirited Texan who overcame his quirky name to become a distinguished actor in television, theater and movies, such as “Men in Black,” and win an Emmy in his 60s for “The Larry Sanders Show.” July 9.
Jim Bouton, 80. The former New York Yankees pitcher who shocked and angered the conservative baseball world with the tell-all book “Ball Four.” July 10.
Pernell Whitaker, 55. An Olympic gold medalist and four-division boxing champion who was regarded as one of the greatest defensive fighters ever. July 14. Hit by a car.
John Paul Stevens, 99. The bow-tied, independent-thinking, Republican-nominated justice who unexpectedly emerged as the Supreme Court’s leading liberal. July 16.
Paul Krassner, 87. The publisher, author and radical political activist on the front lines of 1960s counterculture who helped tie together his loose-knit prankster group by naming them the Yippies. July 21.
Art Neville, 81. A member of one of New Orleans’ storied musical families, the Neville Brothers, and a founding member of the groundbreaking funk band The Meters. July 22.
Henri Belolo, 82. He co-founded the Village People and co-wrote their classic hits “YMCA,” “Macho Man” and “In the Navy.” Aug. 3.
Toni Morrison, 88. A pioneer and reigning giant of modern literature whose imaginative power in “Beloved,” “Song of Solomon” and other works transformed American letters by dramatizing the pursuit of freedom within the boundaries of race. Aug. 5.
Peter Fonda, 79. The actor was the son of a Hollywood legend who became a movie star in his own right after both writing and starring in the counterculture classic “Easy Rider.” Aug. 16.
Richard Williams, 86. A Canadian-British animator whose work on the bouncing cartoon bunny in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” helped blur the boundaries between the animated world and our own. Aug. 16. Cancer.
Cedric Benson, 36. A former NFL running back who was one of the most prolific rushers in NCAA and University of Texas history. Aug. 17. Motorcycle crash.
Kathleen Blanco, 76. She became Louisiana’s first female elected governor only to see her political career derailed by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Aug. 18.
David H. Koch, 79. A billionaire industrialist who, with his older brother Charles, was both celebrated and demonized for transforming American politics by pouring their riches into conservative causes. Aug. 23.
Jim Leavelle, 99. The longtime Dallas lawman who was captured in one of history’s most iconic photographs escorting President John F. Kennedy’s assassin as he was fatally shot. Aug. 29.
Valerie Harper, 80. She scored guffaws, stole hearts and busted TV taboos as the brash, self-deprecating Rhoda Morgenstern on back-to-back hit sitcoms in the 1970s. Aug. 30.
Robert Mugabe, 95. The former Zimbabwean leader was an ex-guerrilla chief who took power when the African country shook off white minority rule and presided for decades while economic turmoil and human rights violations eroded its early promise. Sept. 6.
T. Boone Pickens, 91. A brash and quotable oil tycoon who grew even wealthier through corporate takeover attempts. Sept. 11.
Eddie Money, 70. The rock star known for such hits as “Two Tickets to Paradise” and “Take Me Home Tonight.” Sept. 13. Esophageal cancer.
Ric Ocasek, 75. The Cars frontman whose deadpan vocal delivery and lanky, sunglassed look defined a rock era with chart-topping hits like “Just What I Needed.” Sept. 15.
Cokie Roberts, 75. The daughter of politicians and a pioneering journalist who chronicled Washington from Jimmy Carter to Donald Trump for NPR and ABC News. Sept. 17. Complications from breast cancer.
Barron Hilton, 91. A hotel magnate who expanded his father’s chain and became a founding owner in the American Football League. Sept. 19.
Howard “Hopalong” Cassady, 85. The 1955 Heisman Trophy winner at Ohio State and running back for the Detroit Lions. Sept. 20.
Jacques Chirac, 86. A two-term French president who was the first leader to acknowledge France’s role in the Holocaust and defiantly opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Sept. 26.
Joseph Wilson, 69. The former ambassador who set off a political firestorm by disputing U.S. intelligence used to justify the 2003 Iraq invasion. Sept. 27.
Karel Gott, 80. A Czech pop singer who became a star behind the Iron Curtain. Oct. 1.
Diogo Freitas do Amaral, 78. A conservative Portuguese politician who played a leading role in cementing the country’s democracy after its 1974 Carnation Revolution and later became president of the U.N. General Assembly. Oct. 3.
Diahann Carroll, 84. The Oscar-nominated actress and singer who won critical acclaim as the first black woman to star in a non-servant role in a TV series as “Julia.” Oct. 4. Cancer.
Ginger Baker, 80. The volatile and propulsive drummer for Cream and other bands who wielded blues power and jazz finesse and helped shatter boundaries of time, tempo and style in popular music. Oct. 6.
Rip Taylor, 88. The madcap, mustached comedian with a fondness for confetti-throwing who became a television game show mainstay in the 1970s. Oct. 6.
Robert Forster, 78. The handsome and omnipresent character actor who got a career resurgence and Oscar nomination for playing bail bondsman Max Cherry in “Jackie Brown.” Oct. 11. Brain cancer.
James Stern, 55. A black activist who took control of one of the nation’s largest neo-Nazi groups — and vowed to dismantle it. Oct. 11. Cancer.
Alexei Leonov, 85. The legendary Soviet cosmonaut who became the first person to walk in space. Oct. 11.
Scotty Bowers, 96. A self-described Hollywood “fixer” whose memoir offered sensational accounts of the sex lives of such celebrities as Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Oct. 13.
Harold Bloom, 89. The eminent critic and Yale professor whose seminal “The Anxiety of Influence” and melancholy regard for literature’s old masters made him a popular author and standard-bearer of Western civilization amid modern trends. Oct. 14.
Elijah E. Cummings, 68. A sharecropper’s son who rose to become a civil rights champion and the chairman of one of the U.S. House committees leading an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump. Oct. 17. Complications from longstanding health problems.
Alicia Alonso, 98. The revered ballerina and choreographer whose nearly 75-year career made her an icon of artistic loyalty to Cuba’s socialist system. Oct. 17.
Bill Macy, 97. The character actor whose hangdog expression was a perfect match for his role as the long-suffering foil to Bea Arthur’s unyielding feminist on the daring 1970s sitcom “Maude.” Oct. 17.
Marieke Vervoort, 40. A Paralympian who won gold and silver medals in 2012 at the London Paralympics in wheelchair racing and two more medals in Rio de Janeiro. Oct. 22. Took her own life after living with pain from a degenerative spinal disease.
Sadako Ogata, 92. She led the U.N. refugee agency for a decade and became one of the first Japanese to hold a top job at an international organization. Oct. 22.
Kathryn Johnson, 93. A trailblazing reporter for The Associated Press whose intrepid coverage of the civil rights movement and other major stories led to a string of legendary scoops. Oct. 23.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, believed to be 48. He sought to establish an Islamic “caliphate” across Syria and Iraq, but he might be remembered more as the ruthless leader of the Islamic State group who brought terror to the heart of Europe. Oct. 26. Detonated a suicide vest during a raid by U.S. forces.
John Conyers, 90. The former congressman was one of the longest-serving members of Congress whose resolutely liberal stance on civil rights made him a political institution in Washington and back home in Detroit despite several scandals. Oct. 27.
Ivan Milat, 74. His grisly serial killings of seven European and Australian backpackers horrified Australia in the early ‘90s. Oct. 27.
Kay Hagan, 66. A former bank executive who rose from a budget writer in the North Carolina Legislature to a seat in the U.S. Senate. Oct. 28. Illness.
John Walker, 82. An Arkansas lawmaker and civil rights attorney who represented black students in a long-running court fight over the desegregation of Little Rock-area schools. Oct. 28.
John Witherspoon, 77. An actor-comedian who memorably played Ice Cube’s father in the “Friday” films. Oct. 29.
Gert Boyle, 95. The colorful chairwoman of Oregon-based Columbia Sportswear Co. who starred in ads proclaiming her “One Tough Mother.” Nov. 3.
Ernest J. Gaines, 86. A novelist whose poor childhood on a small Louisiana plantation germinated stories of black struggles that grew into universal tales of grace and beauty. Nov. 5.
Werner Gustav Doehner, 90. He was the last remaining survivor of the Hindenburg disaster, who suffered severe burns to his face, arms and legs before his mother managed to toss him and his brother from the burning airship. Nov. 8.
Walter J. Minton, 96. A publishing scion and risk taker with a self-described “nasty streak” who as head of G.P. Putnam’s Sons released works by Norman Mailer and Terry Southern, among others, and signed up Vladimir Nabokov’s scandalous “Lolita.” Nov. 19.
Jake Burton Carpenter, 65. The man who changed the game on the mountain by fulfilling a grand vision of what a snowboard could be. Nov. 20. Complications stemming from a relapse of testicular cancer.
Allan Gerson, 74. A lawyer who pursued Nazi war criminals and pioneered the practice of suing foreign governments in U.S. courts for complicity to terrorism. Dec. 1.
Caroll Spinney, 85. He gave Big Bird his warmth and Oscar the Grouch his growl for nearly 50 years on “Sesame Street.” Dec. 8.
Pete Frates, 34. A former college baseball player whose battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease helped inspire the ALS ice bucket challenge that has raised more than $200 million worldwide. Dec. 9.
Marie Fredriksson, 61. The female half of the Swedish pop duo Roxette that achieve international success in the late 1980s and 1990s. Dec. 9.
Danny Aiello, 86. The blue-collar character actor whose long career playing tough guys included roles in “Fort Apache, the Bronx,” “Moonstruck” and “Once Upon a Time in America” and his Oscar-nominated performance as a pizza man in Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.” Dec. 12.
Robert Glenn “Junior” Johnson, 88. The moonshine runner turned NASCAR driver who won 50 races as a driver and 132 as an owner and was part of the inaugural class inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010. Dec. 20.
Lee Mendelson, 86. The producer who changed the face of the holidays when he brought “A Charlie Brown Christmas” to television in 1965 and wrote the lyrics to its signature song, “Christmas Time Is Here.” Dec. 25. Congestive heart failure.
Don Imus, 79. The disc jockey whose career was made and then undone by his acid tongue during a decadeslong rise to radio stardom and abrupt plunge after a nationally broadcast racial slur. Dec. 27. Complications from lung disease.