A personal list of notable people that we have lost in the last decade.
It is always surprising at the end of each year, usually published in a colour supplement, to find how many of the notable people who have died in the previous twelve months one had forgotten about.
In 2011 we lost four from the world of film, namely Susannah York, 72, whose roles in Tom Jones and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? were memorable, and one of the Hollywood greats, Elizabeth Taylor, 79, who won two Academy Awards for Best Actress, for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in 1967 and Butterfield 8 in 1961. Then there was director Sidney Lumet, 86, who never won an Oscar, but was nominated five times for the Academy Award, four for Best Director, for 12 Angry Men (1957), Dog Day Afternoon (1975) and Network (1976). And Ken Russell, 84, enfant terrible of British film, who produced one controversial movie after another, including Women in Love, with Oliver Reed and Alan Bates in the famous nude dancing/fighting scene. The Devils shocked audiences with graphic sex scenes, and there was more excessive behaviour in The Music Lovers. There were also some ‘baddies’ who passed during that year, including Sir Jimmy Saville, 84, who was a national disgrace, Osama bin Laden, 54, who was a national hero, but not in our country, and Colonel Gaddafi, 69, who was gunned down by Misrata militia members and NATO forces in the town of Sirte. Lucian Freud, 88, heralded as ‘Britain’s greatest figurative painter’, before David Hockney was handed the poisoned chalice, had lost his gloss a couple of years before. Christopher Hitchens, 62, Martin Amis’s mentor, was an English intellectual, author, polemicist and socio-political critic, who expressed himself as an orator, essayist, journalist and columnist, writing or co-writing and editing over 30 books. Steve Jobs, 56, the co-founder of Apple, helped create the most valuable company in the world, worth an astonishing $2 trillion.
Two ‘big names’ from the world of literature died during this year, including Ray Bradbury, 91, the science fiction writer, who penned Fahrenheit 451, made into an indifferent film with Oscar Werner and an ill-cast Julie Christie. He also wrote The Illustrated Man, which was made into a film starring Rod Steiger, and was a critical and financial flop. Gore Vidal, 86, was an American author known for his rapier wit, patrician arrogance, smooth manner and contentious view on politics and sexuality. Probably his best known book was Myra Breckinridge, an early female transgender story. Raquel Welch starred in the film version, widely regarded as the worst ever made. He had three major feuds which ended in litigation. He accused Truman Capote of slander, had a slanging match on air with the right-wing conservative William F Buckley Jr., and Norman Mailer head-butted him backstage at the Dick Cavett show. ‘Once again, words failed Norman Mailer’ was Vidal’s riposte. Dorothea Tanning, the surrealist painter, died aged 101, and two performers at opposite ends of the musical spectrum: Dave Brubeck, 91, whose jazz quartet in the 1960s was regarded as one of the most innovative groups around, with unusual time signatures as in Blue Rondo à la Turk and their big hit Take Five, and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, 86, a world class baritone, who made Lieder sound as though Schubert had written it just for him.
The most famous person to die in this year was undoubtedly Nelson Mandela, 95, a South African anti-apartheid activist, revolutionary, political leader and philanthropist, who was President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, and Nobel Peace Prizewinner in 1993, along with 250 other honours. Margaret Thatcher, 87, may have wanted to dispute the fact that she was the most famous person to die in 2013, as she had an unhealthily high regard for herself, holding the office of Prime Minister of the UK from 1979 until 1990. Her legacy still resonates into the twenty-first century, with her political philosophy and economic policies emphasising deregulation in the financial sector, flexible labour markets, and the privatisation of state-owned companies, whilst at the same time reducing the power and influence of trade unions. David Frost, 74, broadcaster, had a heated debate with her on television over the sinking of the Belgrano, an act she insisted she would have repeated, despite Frost’s assertion that the ship was sailing away from the conflict when sunk. Three figures from the world of acting also died in this year, namely Peter O’Toole, 81, a great theatrical actor as well as a giant on the screen; James Gandolfini, 51, who played Tony Soprano in the eponymous series, which is widely regarded as one of the greatest performances in television history, and Richard Briers, 79, who became a household name with his humorous role in The Good Life on BBC television, but still had a career on the stage performing Shakespeare. Michael Winner, 77, was the flamboyant film director of such sensationalist, but successful, movies as the Death Wish series with Charles Bronson, then became a restaurant critic. Two Nobel laureates, the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney, 74, who is sadly missed seven years after his death, and Doris Lessing, 94, who wrote The Grass is Singing in 1950, and the sequence of five novels collectively called Children of Violence in 1952. Iain Banks, 59, was the author of The Wasp Factory, The Crow Road and The Bridge, but also wrote sci-fi books under the pseudonym Iain M Banks, including the Culture series. Sir Anthony Caro, 89, was a modernist sculptor whose large assemblages of metal incorporated industrial objets trouvés. John Tavener, 69, was an English composer of mainly religious works, including The Lamb, The Protecting Veil and Song for Athene, which was sung at the funeral of Princess Diana. Lou Reed, 79, was the guitarist, singer and song-writer for the Velvet Underground, whose most successful single was Walk on the Wild Side.
There were five big names from entertainment who died this year, including Richard Attenborough, 90, whose career encompassed acting, directing and producing films of note and quality, including Gandhi, for which he won Best Picture and Best Director at the Academy Awards. Other actors include former child star Shirley Temple Black, 85, who went on to become an ambassador for the United States; Robin Williams, 63, one of the great comic geniuses, hanged himself to the surprise of everyone, because he had Parkinson’s and Lewy body disease. Philip Seymour Hoffman, 46, another extraordinary performer and one of the most talented actors of his generation, with such films as Capote, for which he won an Academy Award, died of an accidental overdose. Bob Hoskins, 71, an English actor, with roles in The Long Good Friday, Mona Lisa and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, first came to prominence in Pennies From Heaven. We lost two authors this year, namely Maya Angelou, 86, who wrote I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, centring on racism, identity and family, which won her universal acclaim, and her poem On the Pulse of the Morning, which she recited at Bill Clinton’s inauguration. P D James, 94, was a crime fiction writer who found fame with her series of detective novels featuring police commander (and poet) Adam Dalgleish. Cilla Black, 72, became one of the biggest stars on British television through Blind Date, and Rick Mayall, 56, star of such comedy classics as The Young Ones, Blackadder and Comic Strip Presents…, died of a heart attack after jogging, which is not funny.
Five actors died during this year, and all made it to a ripe old age. Christopher Lee, 93, had a career spanning 7 decades, and was famous for playing Dracula as well as other villains. Later he was Scaramanga in a Bond movie and Saruman in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. George Cole, 90, was famously Arthur Daley in the long-running series Minder, and also a wonderful spiv, Flash Harry, in the St Trinian’s films. Ron Moody, 91, was a memorable Fagin in both the film and subsequent Broadway production of Oliver! Warren Mitchell, 89, got himself typecast as Alf Garnett, but he was a fine actor and played many different roles. Omar Sharif, 83, made three memorable films, two with David Lean, Lawrence of Arabia and Dr Zhivago, and a third with William Wyler, Funny Girl, after which his career took a bit of a dive. Sir Terry Pratchett, 66, the UK’s best-selling author in the 1990s, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and as a patron of Alzheimer’s Research UK made a substantial donation, and filmed a programme for the BBC, chronicling his experiences with the condition. Günter Grass, 87, was yet another Nobel Prizewinner, for his seminal book The Tin Drum, successfully made into a film by Volker Schlöndorff, but he attracted critics when he revealed that, in his youth, he was a member of the Waffen-SS. In his defence he was conscripted when just seventeen, and had been a vocal critic of the Nazi regime all his adult life.
Three colossi of the music business had early departures from this mortal coil, namely David Bowie, 69, Prince, 57, and George Michael, 53. Their deaths came as a shock to their fans, and for a year, there were tributes and memorials to Michael on a patch of grass opposite his home in Highgate. Two Pulitzer Prize winners for literature, Edward Albee, 88, who wrote the savage Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which gave Elizabeth Taylor her second Oscar, and Harper Lee, 89, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, passed away that year. Go Set a Watchman was published in 2015 as a sequel, although written in the 1950s, but later confirmed to be an early draft of Mockingbird. Alan Rickman, 69, the mellifluous English actor, started out as a graphic designer, having attended the RCA, where he worked on the in-house magazine ARK, but decided to go to RADA and make a career out of acting, for which we are most thankful. The delightful and exceptionally talented comedian Victoria Wood, 62, died of cancer of the oesophagus at her home, an illness she kept private. Mohammed Ali, 74, was ranked the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time and the greatest athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated, and the Sports Personality of the Century by the BBC. Leonard Cohen, 82, the Canadian poet, author and singer-songwriter, went on a number of exhaustive world and European tours in 2012-3, along with a 12-string guitar, lute and banduria, and the seductive Webb sisters. Michael Cimino, 77, peaked with The Deer Hunter, for which he was awarded an Academy Award for Best Director, but then made the turkey Heaven’s Gate, which lost the studio $37,000,000. Umberto Eco, 84, was an Italian medievalist, philosopher and socio-political commentator, who came to fame with The Name of the Rose, followed by the erudite Foucault’s Pendulum. Fidel Castro, 90, was a revolutionary Marxist-Leninist politician, who was Prime Minister of the one-party communist state of Cuba from 1959 until 1976, and President from 1976 until 2008, overseeing the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion by American forces in 1961, and the Cuban Missile Crisis the following year. Sir George Martin, 90, was known as the ‘fifth Beatle,’ for his involvement in the Fab Four’s musical output. Jo Cox, 41, is the youngest person on this list, and was the MP for Batley and Spen, West Yorkshire, when she was tragically shot and stabbed multiple times outside a library in Birstall, where she was due to hold her constituency surgery, by an extreme right-wing psychopath. Gene Wilder, 83, was a comic actor, with a quirky style, who appeared in a number of Mel Brooks’ films, including Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein and The Producers, as well as Willy Wonka, directed by Tim Burton. The jovial and mischievous Terry Wogan, 77, was a favourite with British audiences, both on radio and television, because of his ready wit and Irish charm.
From the world of film, we lost Sir John Hurt, 77, who first came to audiences’ attention in Alan Parker’s Midnight Express and David Lynch’s Elephant Man, but gained notoriety for his role as an astronaut in Alien, when an extraterrestrial creature shockingly burst out of his chest. Jeanne Moreau, 89, shot to stardom with François Truffaut’s Jules et Jim, and went on to work with such notable directors as Antonioni, Orson Welles, Buñuel, Wim Wenders and Fassbinder, as well as Louis Malle, Tony Richardson and Truffaut, with whom she had affairs. Sir Peter Hall, 86, was director of the National Theatre in 1973, directing over 30 productions. The Times stated that he was ‘the most important figure in British theatre for half a century.’ Charles Manson, 83, served a life imprisonment for murder, notably of the actress Sharon Tate. Martin McGuinness, 66, astonishingly was never convicted of any murders, and only embraced peace and redemption when he knew he was beaten. Christine Keeler, 75, caused a little stir in the Conservative Party, and helped bring down Harold MacMillan’s government. Hugh Hefner, 91, was a publishing pioneer, printing a ‘lifestyle’ magazine for men called Playboy, which featured nude photographs of pneumatic young ladies, as well as tips on cocktails, stereo equipment, cars and clothes. John Surtees, 83, was the only person to win World Championships on both two and four wheels, in 1956, 1958, 1959 and 1960 on motorbikes, and in the 1964 F1 World Championship for Ferrari. Two legendary musicians, Chuck Berry, 90, known as the ‘Father of Rock and Roll,’ and Fats Domino, 89, a modest pianist and singer-songwriter, most famous for On Blueberry Hill, passed away this year. Antonio Carluccio, 80, was a larger-than-life chef and restaurateur, who had a love of fungi. Sir Bruce Forsyth, 89, was a national treasure, with an enormous range of talents over his 75-year career, and an inordinate number of catch-phrases, including ‘Nice to see you…’
Two giants of cinema died in 2018, namely Nick Roeg, 90, and Bernardo Bertolucci, 77. Roeg directed a number of stunning and unsettling movies, including Walkabout, Performance with Mick Jagger, Don’t Look Now, with its devastating opening sequence, and The Man Who Fell to Earth, starring rock superstar David Bowie. The Italian director made the notorious Last Tango in Paris in 1972, and The Last Emperor in 1987, which won him Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. From the literary world, we lost Philip Roth, 85, who won a Pulitzer Prize for American Pastoral in 1998, having already written Goodbye Columbus in 1959, and Portnoy’s Complaint in 1969, and Tom Wolfe, 88, well-known for being ‘The Man in the White Suit.’ He came to prominence with essays like The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, a book about the Mercury Seven astronauts entitled The Right Stuff, and his novel Bonfire of the Vanities. Nobel Prizewinning Stephen Hawking, 76, was probably the most famous theoretical physicist in the world, and, in spite of his disability, he managed to communicate his theories to millions. He sold over 10 million copies of A Brief History of Time, although it is not known how many people actually understood it, or even read it. Neil Simon, 91, won a Pulitzer Prize for writing Lost in Yonkers, but had already made his name with Barefoot in the Park in 1963 and The Odd Couple in 1965. Billy Graham, 99, was regarded as one of the ‘most admired people in the world’, and had an enormous following of Evangelical Christians. Dudley Sutton, 85, was not only a fine actor, he was also a talented wordsmith, performing his idiosyncratic ramblings at the Edinburgh Fringe and shocking quite a few people north of the border.
Albert Finney, 82, was one of my first filmic anti-heroes, in Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, representing the downtrodden man fighting the system. ‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down. What I want is a good time. All the rest is propaganda.’ He went on to play some exceptional roles in such films as Tom Jones, Miller’s Crossing and Erin Brockovitch. Agnès Varda, 90, was a Belgian film-maker, who was part of the Nouvelle Vague French film scene, and her existential film Cléo from 5 to 7 made a big impression at the Cannes Film Festival in 1962. She made her last film in the year she died, Varda by Agnès. André Previn, 89, and Michel Legrand, 86, won a combined total of 7 Academy Awards for Music, with Previn winning four for Best Music and Best Score, and Legrand the other three, including Best Original Song for Windmills of Your Mind. Karl Lagerfeld, 85, was the creative director of Chanel from 1983 until his death, and also of the fashion house Fendi.
Kirk Douglas, 103, was the last surviving star from Hollywood’s Golden Age, acting in countless films from the 1940s on. His most memorable roles were in the Stanley Kubrick films Paths of Glory and Spartacus. His own personal favourite was Lonely are the Brave. Max von Sydow, 90, had a 70-year career in European and American film, television and theatre, acting in over 150 movies, eleven of which he made with Ingmar Bergman, including the seminal Seventh Seal. Sean Connery, 90, had a very successful career playing Sean Connery in a variety of roles, whether as an Irish cop, a Franciscan monk or a Russian submarine commander. Christo, 90, was an artist working on a monumental scale, with his collaborator and wife Jeanne-Claude, at one point completely wrapping the Reichstag in Berlin in silver fabric as well as the Pont Neuf in Paris. In 2018 he installed a gigantic floating Mastaba on the Serpentine in Hyde Park, comprising over 7,000 oil barrels. Sir Alan Parker, 76, directed a number of critically-acclaimed and successful films, including Midnight Express, Bugsy Malone, Mississippi Burning, The Commitments and Evita, and was a passionate supporter of the British film industry. Vera Lynn, 103, became the oldest living artist to top the UK Albums Chart with the compilation album We’ll Meet Again, aged 92. She had been active in the music industry for 96 years. Maradona, 59, was credited with being the greatest footballer ever, even by English newspapers. Sir Terence Conran, 88, was a designer, restaurateur, retailer and author, who changed the face of British design, by appealing to the upwardly-mobile metropolitan middle classes. Craig Brown said, ‘before Conran, there were no chairs and no France.’
After compiling the list of illustrious people who had died over the past 10 years that was printed in the 100th edition, I realised to my horror, that I had omitted a few important names. A few had died after we had gone to press, but others had slipped through the net. Dame Diana Rigg, 82 and Honor Blackman, 94, had more than being prominent actors in common. They were both Bond Girls, Rigg playing Contessa Teresa di Vincenzo, Bond being played by ingenue actor George Lazenby, who married her in the film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, while Blackman played Pussy Galore to Sean Connery’s Bond in Goldfinger. They were also both John Steed’s feisty sidekicks in The Avengers, Rigg playing Emma Peel, and the latter, Cathy Gale. Another acting Dame to die in the same year was Barbara Windsor, 83, whose initial fame blossomed with Carry on Camping, when her bikini top famously flew off while doing PE with Kenneth Williams, but revived her career with her role as landlady Peggy Mitchell in Eastenders. Other losses from the world of entertainment were Des O’Connor, 88, a consummate all-rounder, the likeable Tim Brooke Taylor, 79, an original Goody and later game-show contestant, and Nicholas Parsons, 96, perennial host of Just a Minute. John Sessions, 67, an unspeakably clever performer, was a very funny man and superb impressionist, who was taken from us way too early with a heart attack. Chadwick Boseman, 43, was even younger when he died of cancer of the colon, having played the Black Panther in the Marvel movie, with a promising career ahead of him. Geoffrey Palmer, 93, was familiar face on British TV sit-coms and films, with a successful teaming up with Dame Judi Dench in As Time Goes By. Sir Ian Holm, 88, was a gifted actor, who came to prominence in Hugh Hudson’s Chariots of Fire in 1981, as Napoleon in Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits, and more recently playing Bilbo Baggins in Lord of the Rings.
From the world of music, we lost Bill Withers, 81, most famous for Ain’t No Sunshine, Little Richard, 87, with his signature tune, Tutti Frutti, and Kenny Rogers, 81, country singer and songwriter, who sold 100 million records during his lifetime. Juliet Greco, 93, was the muse of existentialist philosopher and writer, Jean-Paul Sartre, lover of Albert Camus, Sash Distel, film producer Daryl F Zanuck, and musicians Miles Davis and Quincy Jones, and she was married to Michel Piccoli for ten years in the 1960s. John Hume, 83, one of the founders of the Socialist Democratic and Liberal Party in Northern Ireland, won a Nobel Peace Prize with David Trimble for his involvement in the Northern Ireland peace process in 1998, but developed dementia and retired from public life. He also won the Gandhi Peace Prize and the Martin Luther King Award, a unique achievement. Ruth Bader Ginsberg, 87, held the highest judicial office in the US, the Supreme Court Justice of America. John Lewis, 80, was a politician, statesman, civil rights activists and member of the US House of Representatives for over thirty years, and was one of the ‘Big Six’ who organised the March on Washington in 1963. In sport, Jack Charlton, 85, was a legend at Leeds for 23 years, also playing for England in the 1996 World Cup Final, and managing the Repubic of Ireland football team from 1986-1996. J J Williams, 72, was a Welsh rugby player, who played as a winger, and won four Five Nations Championships in the late 1970s, including two Grand Slams. Frank Bough, 87, was a TV sports presenter and broadcaster, who would have known both these sportsmen, and, indeed, was one of the commentators at the 1966 World Cup final. Pierre Cardin, 98, was an Italian-born nationalised French avant garde fashion designer, interested in geometric patterns rather than the curves of the female form, and dabbled in unisex clothes. Although he professed to being gay, he had a four-year long affair with Jeanne Moreau, who died in 2017 aged 87, which is all a bit confusing, but, typically, very French.
Just before Christmas, David Cornwell, 89, died in St Buryan, Cornwall. He was one of Britain’s finest writers, more than just writing literary spy novels, but was better known under his nom de plume, John Le Carré. He followed a British tradition of writing espionage novels, pioneered by such luminaries as Joseph Conrad, W Somerset Maugham, Eric Ambler and Graham Greene. He had a major success with his third novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, and he gave up his day job at MI6 to become a full-time writer. He went on to write the Karla trilogy comprising Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley’s People, featuring the enigmatic and dogged spymaster George Smiley. In his tribute to Le Carré, William Boyd wrote in The Guardian, ‘It may seem a paradox but the tropes of espionage – duplicity, betrayal, disguise, clandestinity, secrets, the double bluff, bafflement, shifting identity – are no more than the tropes of the life that every human being lives.’ When he wandered off the espionage trail, with books like The Naive and Sentimental Lover, he displeased critics and readers alike, but they lapped up his ‘political’ thrillers, dealing with the international arms and drugs trade in The Night Manager, the exploitation of Africa by pharmaceutical companies in The Constant Gardener and the exploitation of natural resources in Africa in The Mission Song. His final book was Agent Running in the Field, published in 2019, and he won the much-coveted Olaf Palme prize, of which he donated the $100,000 award to Médicins Sans Frontières. He was a harsh critic of Tony Blair over the invasion of Iraq, as written about in his 2003 novel Absolute Friends, and he had a go at private banking and post 9/11 espionage in A Most Wanted Man in 2008. Before he died he had donated all his personal letters, papers, drafts and manuscripts, amounting to a barn-full, to the Bodleian Library in Oxford, where he was an Honorary Fellow of Lincoln College.