In a year defined by a devastating pandemic, the world lost iconic defenders of civil rights, great athletes and entertainers who helped define their genres.
Many of their names hold a prominent place in the collective consciousness — RBG, Maradona, Eddie Van Halen, Sean Connery, Alex Trebek — but pandemic restrictions often limited the public’s ability to mourn their loss in a year that saw more than a million people die from the coronavirus.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — known as the Notorious RBG to her many admirers — was one of the many noteworthy figures who died in 2020.
In a court known for solemn legal proceedings, Ginsburg became a cultural and social media icon whose fierce defense of women’s rights earned her a devoted following. She died in September after 27 years on the country’s highest court. Making few concessions to age and health problems, she showed a steely resilience and became the leader of liberal justices on the court.
Here is a roll call of some influential figures who died in the second half of 2020 (cause of death cited for younger people, if available):
Hugh Downs, 99. The genial, versatile broadcaster from Lima who became one of television’s most familiar and welcome faces with more than 15,000 hours on news, game and talk shows. July 1.
Nick Cordero, 41. A Tony Award-nominated actor who specialized in playing tough guys on Broadway in such shows as “Waitress,” “A Bronx Tale” and “Bullets Over Broadway.” July 5. Coronavirus.
Ennio Morricone, 91. The Oscar-winning Italian composer who created the coyote-howl theme for the iconic spaghetti Western “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and soundtracks for such classic Hollywood gangster movies as “The Untouchables” and “Once Upon A Time In America.” July 6. Complications of surgery after a fall.
Charlie Daniels, 83. Country music firebrand and fiddler who had a hit with “Devil Went Down to Georgia.” July 6. Stroke.
Mary Kay Letourneau, 58. A teacher who married her former sixth-grade student after she was convicted of raping him in a case that drew international headlines. July 6. Cancer.
Naya Rivera, 33. A singer and actor who played a gay cheerleader on the hit TV musical comedy “Glee.” July 8. Drowning.
Kelly Preston, 57. She played dramatic and comic foil to actors ranging from Tom Cruise in “Jerry Maguire” to Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Twins” and was married to actor John Travolta. July 12. Cancer.
John Lewis, 80. An icon of the civil rights movement whose bloody beating by Alabama state troopers in 1965 helped galvanize opposition to racial segregation, and who went on to a long and celebrated career in Congress. July 17.
Regis Philbin, 88. The genial host who shared his life with television viewers over morning coffee for decades and helped himself and some fans strike it rich with the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” July 24.
Peter Green, 73. The dexterous blues guitarist who led the first incarnation of Fleetwood Mac in a career shortened by psychedelic drugs and mental illness. July 25.
John Saxon, 83. A versatile actor with a lengthy and prolific career who starred with Bruce Lee in “Enter the Dragon” and appeared in several “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies. July 25. Pneumonia.
Olivia de Havilland, 104. The doe-eyed actress beloved to millions as the sainted Melanie Wilkes of “Gone With the Wind,” but also a two-time Oscar winner and an off-screen fighter who challenged and unchained Hollywood’s contract system. July 26.
Connie Culp, 57. She was the recipient of the first partial face transplant in the U.S. July 29.
Alan Parker, 76. A successful and sometimes surprising filmmaker whose diverse output includes “Bugsy Malone,” “Midnight Express” and “Evita.” July 31.
Wilford Brimley, 85. He worked his way up from movie stunt rider to an indelible character actor who brought gruff charm, and sometimes menace, to a range of films that included “Cocoon,” “The Natural” and “The Firm.” Aug. 1.
John Hume, 83. The visionary politician who won a Nobel Peace Prize for fashioning the agreement that ended violence in his native Northern Ireland. Aug. 3.
Shirley Ann Grau, 91. A Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction writer whose stories and novels told of both the dark secrets and the beauty of the Deep South. Aug. 3.
Brent Scowcroft, 95. He played a prominent role in American foreign policy as national security adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush and was a Republican voice against the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Aug. 6.
Franca Valeri, 100. An elegant, ironic and versatile actress who pioneered female comic roles in Italy’s post-war years and helped the nation laugh at its foibles. Aug. 9.
Robert Trump, 71. President Donald Trump’s younger brother, he was a businessman known for an even keel that seemed almost incompatible with the family name. Aug. 15.
Slade Gorton, 92. A cerebral politician from Washington state who served as a U.S. Senate Republican leader before he was ousted by the growing Seattle-area liberal electorate in 2000. Aug. 19.
Gail Sheehy, 83. A journalist, commentator and pop sociologist whose best-selling “Passages” helped millions navigate their lives from early adulthood to middle age and beyond. Aug. 24. Complications from pneumonia.
Lute Olson, 85. The Hall of Fame coach who turned Arizona into a college basketball powerhouse. Aug. 27.
Chadwick Boseman, 43. He played Black American icons Jackie Robinson and James Brown with searing intensity before inspiring audiences worldwide as the regal Black Panther in Marvel’s blockbuster movie franchise. Aug. 28. Cancer.
John Thompson, 78. The imposing Hall of Famer who turned Georgetown into a “Hoya Paranoia” powerhouse and became the first Black coach to lead a team to the NCAA men’s basketball championship. Aug. 30.
Tom Seaver, 75. The Hall of Fame pitcher who steered a stunning transformation from lovable losers to Miracle Mets in 1969. Aug. 31. Complications of Lewy body dementia and the coronavirus.
Kaing Guek Eav, 77. Known as Duc, he was the Khmer Rouge’s chief jailer, who admitted overseeing the torture and killings of as many as 16,000 Cambodians while running the regime’s most notorious prison. Sept. 2.
Diana Rigg, 82. A commanding British actress whose career stretched from iconic 1960s spy series “The Avengers” to fantasy juggernaut “Game of Thrones.” Sept. 10.
Toots Hibbert, 77. One of reggae’s founders and most beloved stars who gave the music its name and later helped make it an international movement through such classics as “Pressure Drop,” “Monkey Man” and “Funky Kingston.” Sept. 11.
Terence Conran, 88. The British designer, retailer and restaurateur who built a furniture empire around the world, founded The Design Museum in London and modernized the everyday lives of British people. Sept. 12.
Winston Groom, 77. The writer whose novel “Forrest Gump” was made into a six-Oscar winning 1994 movie that became a soaring pop culture phenomenon. Sept. 17.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 87. The U.S. Supreme Court justice developed a cultlike following over her more than 27 years on the bench, especially among young women who appreciated her lifelong, fierce defense of women’s rights. Sept. 18.
Rev. Robert Graetz, 92. The only white minister to support the Montgomery bus boycott and who became the target of scorn and bombings for doing so. Sept. 20.
Ang Rita, 72. A veteran Nepalese Sherpa guide who was the first person to climb Mount Everest 10 times. Sept. 21.
Gale Sayers, 77. The dazzling and elusive running back who entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame despite the briefest of careers and whose fame extended far beyond the field for decades thanks to a friendship with a dying Chicago Bears teammate. Sept. 23.
Juliette Greco, 93. A French singer, actress, cultural icon and muse to existentialist philosophers of the country’s post-War period. Sept. 23.
Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, 91. The ruler of Kuwait who drew on his decades as the oil-rich nation’s top diplomat to push for closer ties to Iraq after the 1990 Gulf War and solutions to other regional crises. Sept. 29.
Helen Reddy, 78. She shot to stardom in the 1970s with her rousing feminist anthem “I Am Woman” and recorded a string of other hits. Sept. 29.
Timothy Ray Brown, 54. He made history as “the Berlin patient,” the first person known to be cured of HIV infection. Sept. 29.
Mac Davis, 78. A country music star who launched his career crafting the Elvis hits “A Little Less Conversation” and “In the Ghetto,” and whose own hits include “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me.” Sept. 29.
Sister Ardeth Platte, 84. A Dominican nun and anti-nuclear activist who spent time in jail for her peaceful protests. Sept. 30.
Bob Gibson, 84. A baseball Hall of Famer and the dominating St. Louis Cardinals pitcher who won a record seven consecutive World Series starts and set a modern standard for excellence when he finished the 1968 season with a 1.12 ERA. Oct. 2.
Eddie Van Halen, 65. The guitar virtuoso whose blinding speed, control and innovation propelled his band Van Halen into one of hard rock’s biggest groups and became elevated to the status of rock god. Oct. 6. Cancer.
Johnny Nash, 80. A singer-songwriter, actor and producer who rose from pop crooner to early reggae star to the creator and performer of the million-selling anthem “I Can See Clearly Now.” Oct. 6.
Mohammad Reza Shajarian, 80. His distinctive voice quavered to traditional Persian music on state radio for years before supporting protesters following Iran’s contested 2009 election. Oct. 8.
Whitey Ford, 91. The street-smart New Yorker who had the best winning percentage of any pitcher in the 20th century and helped the Yankees become baseball’s perennial champions in the 1950s and ’60s. Oct. 8.
Joe Morgan, 77. The Hall of Fame second baseman became the sparkplug of dominant Cincinnati teams in the mid-1970s and was a two-time National League Most Valuable Player. Oct. 11.
Bernard S. Cohen, 86. He won a landmark case that led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of laws forbidding interracial marriage and later went on to a successful political career as a state legislator. Oct. 12. Complications from Parkinson’s disease.
Christopher Pendergast, 71. A suburban New York teacher who turned a Lou Gehrig’s disease diagnosis into a decadeslong campaign to raise awareness and fund research. Oct. 14.
Rhonda Fleming, 97. The fiery redhead who appeared with Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, Ronald Reagan and other film stars of the 1940s and 1950s. Oct. 14.
Sid Hartman, 100. The Minnesota sports columnist and radio personality was an old-school home team booster who once ran the NBA’s Minneapolis Lakers and achieved nearly as much celebrity as some of the athletes he covered. Oct. 18.
Spencer Davis, 81. A British guitarist and bandleader whose eponymous rock group had 1960s hits including “Gimme Some Lovin’” and “I’m a Man.” Oct. 19.
James Randi, 92. A magician who later challenged spoon benders, mind readers and faith healers with such voracity that he became regarded as the country’s foremost skeptic. Oct. 20.
Lee Kun-Hee, 78. The Samsung Electronics chairman who transformed the small television maker into a global giant of consumer electronics but whose leadership was also marred by corruption convictions. Oct. 25.
Billy Joe Shaver, 81. An outlaw country singer-songwriter who wrote songs like “Honky Tonk Heroes,” “I Been to Georgia on a Fast Train” and “Old Five and Dimers Like Me.” Oct. 28.
Sean Connery, 90. The charismatic Scottish actor who rose to international superstardom as the suave secret agent James Bond and then abandoned the role to carve out an Oscar-winning career in other rugged roles. Oct. 31.
Robert Fisk, 74. A veteran British journalist, he was one of the best-known Middle East correspondents who spent his career reporting from the troubled region and won accolades for challenging mainstream narratives. Nov. 1.
Tom Metzger, 82. The notorious former Ku Klux Klan leader who rose to prominence in the 1980s while promoting white separatism and stoking racial violence. Nov. 4. Parkinson’s disease.
Norm Crosby, 93. The deadpan mangler of the English language who thrived in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s as a television, nightclub and casino comedian. Nov. 7.
Alex Trebek, 80. He presided over the beloved quiz show “Jeopardy!” for more than 30 years with dapper charm and a touch of schoolmaster strictness. Nov. 8.
Paul Hornung, 84. The dazzling “Golden Boy” of the Green Bay Packers whose singular ability to generate points as a runner, receiver, quarterback and kicker helped turn the team into an NFL dynasty. Nov. 13.
Soumitra Chatterjee, 85. The legendary Indian actor with more than 200 movies to his name and famed for his work with Oscar-winning director Satyajit Ray. Nov. 15. Coronavirus.
Walid al-Moallem, 79. Syria’s longtime foreign minister, he was a career diplomat who became one of the country’s most prominent faces to the outside world during the uprising against President Bashar Assad. Nov. 16.
David Dinkins, 93. He broke barriers as New York City’s first African American mayor but was doomed to a single term by a soaring murder rate, stubborn unemployment and his mishandling of a riot in Brooklyn. Nov. 23.
Bruce Carver Boynton, 83. A civil rights pioneer from Alabama who inspired the landmark “Freedom Rides” of 1961. Nov. 23.
Diego Maradona, 60. The Argentine soccer great who scored the “Hand of God” goal in 1986 and led his country to that year’s World Cup title before later struggling with cocaine use and obesity. Nov. 25.
Dave Prowse, 85. The British weightlifter-turned-actor who was the body, though not the voice, of archvillain Darth Vader in the original “Star Wars” trilogy. Nov. 28.
Thomas M. Reavley, 99. He was the oldest active federal judge who served for 41 years on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Dec. 1.
Valery Giscard d’Estaing, 94. He was the president of France from 1974 to 1981 and became a champion of European integration. Dec. 2.
Rafer Johnson, 86. He won the decathlon at the 1960 Rome Olympics and helped subdue Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin in 1968. Dec. 2.
Alison Lurie, 94. The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist whose satirical and cerebral tales of love and academia included the marital saga “The War Between the Tates” and the comedy of Americans abroad “Foreign Affairs.” Dec. 3.
David L. Lander, 73. An actor who played the character of Squiggy on the popular ABC comedy “Laverne & Shirley.” Dec. 4.
Paul Sarbanes, 87. He represented Maryland for 30 years in the Senate as a leader of financial regulatory reform and drafted the first article of impeachment against Republican President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal as a congressman. Dec. 6.
Charles “Chuck” Yeager, 97. The World War II fighter pilot ace and quintessential test pilot who in 1947 became the first person to fly faster than sound. Dec. 7.
Tommy “Tiny” Lister, 62. A former professional wrestler who was known for his bullying Deebo character in the “Friday” films. Dec. 10.
Charley Pride, 86. He was one of country music’s first Black superstars whose rich baritone on such hits as “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” helped sell millions of records and made him the first Black member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Dec. 12. Coronavirus.
John le Carre, 89. The spy-turned-novelist whose elegant and intricate narratives defined the Cold War espionage thriller and brought acclaim to a genre critics had once ignored. Dec. 12.
Ann Reinking, 71. The Tony Award-winning choreographer, actress and Bob Fosse collaborator who helped spread a cool, muscular hybrid of jazz and burlesque movement to Broadway and beyond. Dec. 12.
Jeremy Bulloch, 75. The English actor who first donned a helmet, cape and jetpack to play Boba Fett in the original “Star Wars” trilogy. Dec. 17.