Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Look Back at 2010's Celebrity Departures

In an age where every star worth his salt is expected to have a Facebook page, a Twitter feed and a personal blog, it's easy to be inundated in the culture of celebrity gossip. Through the magic of the digital age, these celebrities are now omnipresent, no longer confined to the screen or the stage but instead coming into our personal computers on a daily basis. It seems as though they will never leave us alone.

Alas, this is not the case. 2010 brought a lot of great celebrity gossip, from the late-career renaissance (Betty White) to the falling-off-the-deep-end conspiracy theories (Randy Quaid) to the batshit-crazy-meltdowns (Mel Gibson). But the saddest stories are the figures that we lost this year, the figures who manage to garner one last tabloid headline before retreating into darkness. 

Below, we pay our respects to those figures who passed on in 2010. It's been said that all celebrity deaths come in threes, so the deceased have been divided into trios.  There's no figure as big as Michael Jackson to bite the dust this year, but that doesn't make their loss any less heartbreaking. Please take a moment to reflect on their varied contributions to pop culture, and also to mourn their passing.


J.D. Salinger (January 1st, 1919 - January 27th, 2010)
Best known for his seminal work of teenage angst, The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger had spent the last forty years living in seclusion in New England and suing the pants off of anybody who tried to write an unauthorized sequel to his famous work. Salinger died early in the year of natural causes. 

Henryck Gorecki (December 6th, 1933 - November 12th, 2010)

Gorecki may not be the composer of the past fifty years to gain the most critical acclaim, but he's certainly one of the most well-known, with his 1976 work A Symphony of Sorrowful Songs selling over a million copies in the United States. He passed away from complications stemming from a lung infection. 

Captain Beefheart (January 15th, 1941 - December 17th, 2010)

Beefheart had not released any recorded material since 1982's Ice Cream for Crow, instead choosing to concentrate on his visual art, but he still remained an influential figure in the field of rock and roll. Every two-bit rock star likes to think he's a rebellious genius, but Beefheart was one of the few who actually was one, completely inverting and rethinking the genre. He died from complications surrounding multiple sclerosis.


Gary Coleman (February 8th, 1968 - May 28th, 2010)

Coleman's life post-Diff'rent Strokes was hardly a happy one, as he was plagued with medical and legal problems. Still, he managed to place 8th in the bizarre 2003 California gubernatorial election, and experienced a resurgence in popularity after appearing as a puppet in Avenue Q. He died from a brain injury after falling down a flight of stairs. 

Solomon Burke (March 21st, 1940 - October 10th, 2010)

Though his biggest hits came in the 1960s, Burke remained a powerful and influential soul singer who managed to keep recording well into this decade. He passed away from natural causes after releasing an album this year and touring across Europe. 

Jaime Escalante (December 31st, 1930 - March 30th, 2010)

Escalanate is a personification of the American dream, a Bolivian immigrant who successfully taught advanced calculus to dozens of inner city students in southern California. Though institutional politics and jealousy eventually forced him out of his teaching position, he was memoralized in the 1988 film Stand and Deliver, in which he was portrayed by Edward James Olmos. He died from complications stemming from bladder cancer. 


Rue McClanahan (February 21st, 1935 - June 3rd, 2010)

The Golden Girls are dropping like flies. It was just last year that Bea Arthur passed on, and now the saucy portrayer of Rose has also left us, leaving Betty White as the only surviving Golden Girls alumna. McClanahan died of a stroke. 

Dennis Hopper (May 17th, 1936 - May 29th, 2010)

The original Hollywood anti-hero, Hopper built up aesthetic credibility with the seminal counterculture work Easy Rider, before blowing it all on the incomprehensible The Last Movie. Later in his life would see Hopper in memorable roles in both good movies (Apocalypse Now) and bad (Super Mario Brothers). He died of prostate cancer. 

Leslie Nielsen (February 11th, 1926 - November 28th, 2010)

Nielsen had been acting for thirty years before he starred in 1980's comedy Airplane!, which changed the course of his career. Throughout the 80s and 90s, Nielsen continued to act straight-faced and serious through some of the most absurd satires to hit the screen. He died of complications relating to pneumonia. 


Art Linkletter (July 17th, 1912 - May 26th, 2010)

Linkletter was a pioneer of radio and television shows based around audience interaction in the 1940s and 1950s. I, however, will always remember him for inexplicably being the face of the $100,000 dollar bills in the old Game of Life. He died of a stroke. 

Dino De Laurentiis (August 8th, 1919 - November 10th, 2010)

An Italian immigrant, De Laurentiis was a well-known Hollywood film producer, funding blockbuster projects like Barbarella, Serpico, and the 1976 King Kong, as well as David Lynch's ill-fated Dune adaptation. He died of natural causes in November. 

George Steinbrenner (July 14th, 1930 - July 13th, 2010)

The cantankerous, abrasive manager of the New York Yankees, Steinbrenner is almost as infamous for his actions off the field (including shady dealings with Richard Nixon). Pop culture-wise, he's best remembered through the over-the-top Seinfeld caricature that appeared in later seasons. Steinbrenner passed away of a heart attack on the day of the All-Star Game. 

So, in bidding 2010 adieu and welcoming a new decade, remember to take some time to make a toast to the figures we lost.