In Depth

Celebrities who died in 2020

Chadwick Boseman, Jack Charlton and Eddie Van Halen are among the famous figures who have passed away this year

The world has lost a starry line-up of famous faces from show business and sport over the past 12 months.

Film fans worldwide mourned the passings of James Bond icon Sean Connery and Spartacus star Kirk Douglas, while the sudden death of basketball legend Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash caused both grief and shock.

Meanwhile, the music industry marked the loss of “Architect of Rock and Roll” Little Richard and guitar pioneer Eddie Van Halen.

As the year nears its close, here is a reminder of the celebrities we said goodbye to this year.

Terry Jones

Monty Python star Jones died in January, four years after being diagnosed with dementia. In a statement, his family said: “We are deeply saddened to have to announce the passing of beloved husband and father, Terry Jones.

“Terry passed away on the evening of 21 January 2020 at the age of 77, with his wife Anna Soderstrom by his side, after a long, extremely brave but always good-humoured battle with a rare form of dementia, FTD.”

Paying tribute to Welsh-born Jones, fellow Python star Michael Palin said: “He was far more than one of the funniest writer-performers of his generation, he was the complete Renaissance comedian - writer, director, presenter, historian, brilliant children’s author, and the warmest, most wonderful company you could wish to have.”

Kobe Bryant

The death of basketball legend Bryant on 26 January shocked both the sporting community and the wider world. The 41-year-old was killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other passengers. 

“He was one of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game, with accomplishments that are legendary,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said of Bryant, who spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. “But he will be remembered most for inspiring people around the world to pick up a basketball and compete to the very best of their ability.”

Kirk Douglas

Hollywood icon Douglas died on 5 February at the age of 103. The actor - best known for his starring role in Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus - had been in good health despite suffering a stroke in 1996. He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Anne, and his sons Michael, Joel and Peter.

“It is with tremendous sadness that my brothers and I announce that Kirk Douglas left us today at the age of 103,” Michael said in a statement.

“To the world, he was a legend, an actor from the golden age of movies who lived well into his golden years, a humanitarian whose commitment to justice and the causes he believed in set a standard for all of us to aspire to.”

Caroline Flack

Love Island host Flack was found dead in her flat on 15 February, in an apparent suicide by hanging, just weeks before she was due to go on trial for allegedly attacking her boyfriend.

How media outlets had reported the allegations against Flack became a topic of controversy after her death, with her management criticising the Crown Prosecution Service for pressing ahead with her “show trial” even after her alleged victim said he did not support it.

Then-Labour leadership contender Keir Starmer also criticised mainstream news outlets for “amplifying” damaging social media posts about Flack.

Little Richard

Born Richard Wayne Penniman, Little Richard would go on to earn the nickname of “The Innovator, The Originator, and The Architect of Rock and Roll”. He died on 9 May at the age of 87.

His death prompted an outpouring of tributes from leading figures in the music industry including Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Jimmy Page and Brian Wilson.

McCartney tweeted: “I owed a lot of what I do to Little Richard and his style; and he knew it. He would say, ‘I taught Paul everything he knows.’”

Jagger wrote: “He was the biggest inspiration of my early teens and his music still has the same raw electric energy when you play it now as it did when it first shot through the music scene in the mid-Fifties.”

Ennio Morricone

The creator of some of the most recognisable movie themes in history, Italian composer Ennio Morricone died on 6 July at the age of 91. His style was varied and versatile, but he is best known for his work for the so-called Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone, including Fistful of Dollars, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West.

Despite his considerable influence in Hollywood, Morricone had to wait until 2016 before receiving his first and only competitive Academy Award, for his score to Quentin Tarantino’s film The Hateful Eight. Ever the eccentric, his death - at a hospital in his birth city of Rome - was confirmed by his lawyer, who subsequently distributed a statement that Morricone had written himself, titled: “I, Ennio Morricone, am dead.”

Fellow composer Hans Zimmer said: “Ennio was an icon and icons just don’t go away, icons are forever.”

Jack Charlton

Part of the 1966 World Cup-winning England squad, Leeds United legend Jack Charlton died on 10 July at the age of 85. The bruising central defender, who was also famed for his charismatic off-field persona, passed away after a lengthy battle with dementia.

Throughout his long career in the beautiful game, Charlton proved himself time and again as both a player and a manager. Despite the footballing rivalry between the England and Republic of Ireland national teams, Charlton secured a place Irish football folklore by managing the “Boys in Green” to their first major finals at Euro ’88 and the World Cup quarter-finals at Italia ’90.

The England football team tweeted that they were “devastated” by his passing, while the Football Association of Ireland hailed Charlton as a man who “changed Irish football forever”.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 24: Chadwick Boseman poses in the press room during the 2019 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on November 24, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Ph

2019 Getty Images

Chadwick Boseman

Having only recently become a household name for his starring role in Hollywood blockbuster Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman died on 28 August at the age of 43 following a secret four-year battle with colon cancer.

“It is with immeasurable grief that we confirm the passing of Chadwick Boseman,” the actor’s family said in a statement.

“Chadwick was diagnosed with stage-three colon cancer in 2016 and battled with it these last four years as it progressed to stage four. A true fighter, Chadwick persevered through it all, and brought you many of the films you have come to love so much.”

Eddie Van Halen

The famed guitarist and co-founder of rock band Van Halen died on 6 October at the age of 65. The Dutch-American musician, who pioneered guitar techniques including two-hand tapping, had been receiving treatment for throat cancer.

Shortly after his death, the band’s long-time frontman David Lee Roth posted a photo of himself beside his former bandmate, along with the message: “What a long, great trip it’s been.”

Sean Connery

The first - and for many fans, the most iconic - actor to play James Bond on the big screen, Sean Connery died in October at the age of 90, having retired from acting in 2006.

The Edinburgh-born movie legend had “been unwell for some time”, according to his son Jason, who added that his passing marked “a sad day for all who knew and loved my dad, and a sad loss for all people around the world who enjoyed the wonderful gift he had as an actor”.

Current Bond star Daniel Craig was among the celebrities who lined up to pay tribute to Connery. “He defined an era and a style. The wit and charm he portrayed on screen could be measured in megawatts - he helped create the modern blockbuster,” Craig said.

Diego Maradona takes part in an Argentina training session.

Allsport UK /Allsport

Diego Maradona

One of football’s greatest ever players, Diego Maradona died on 25 November at the age of 60 after suffering a heart attack. 

His “multiple skills as creator, organiser and striker brought him worldwide acknowledgement as one of the best players ever known”, and saw him captain Argentina to victory in the 1986 World Cup, and to the final in 1990, says The Guardian.

Although he struggled with addiction to drugs and alcohol for much of his life, Maradona was a player with “unrivalled vision, and a touch and ball control that he ascribed to the abnormal rotational capability of his ankles”, the paper adds.

Barbara Windsor attends the UK Theatre Awards 2015

Tabatha Fireman/Getty Images

Barbara Windsor

Described by the BBC as a “bubbly blonde who packed a lot of personality into her 4ft 10in frame”, Barbara Windor died at the age of 83 on 10 December, after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2014. 

Windsor had become “a national treasure” during her long career, which  saw her go “from saucy minx in the Carry On films to the matriarch of the Queen Vic in EastEnders”, the broadcaster adds.

She was made a dame in the 2016 New Year’s Honours for her services to charity and entertainment.

John le Carre addresses a conference in Sweden.

Claudio Bresciani/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images

John le Carre 

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy author John le Carre died from pneumonia on 12 December at the age of 89. 

Born David Cornwell, le Carre drew on his own experiences as a Cold War-era spy when penning his renowned espionage novels. He was working for the British intelligence service in West Germany when his debut novel, Call for the Dead, was published in 1961.

Le Carre went on to publish a string of bestsellers, including The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and The Night Manager, but “was not a comfortable player in the metropolitan literary scene”, The Guardian says.

He refused a nomination for the Booker Prize in 2011, and later a knighthood. Despite turning down the opportunity to become one of the nation’s peers, however, he described himself as “English to the core”.


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