Saying goodbye is never easy, especially to the people who made huge impact to the society and reshaped the world in their own different, incredible ways. In 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic hit every corner of the globe, we were also shaken by the deaths of some of the world’s most notable figures.
Their passing – sudden or not – made this brutal year much worse as we start to realize that we will no longer see them in television series or films, or in news headlines.
From the entertainment industry to science and politics – these names will, in more ways than one, be etched in history. To see Kobe Bryant and a whole list of notable figures whose deaths rocked the sports world in 2020, read this.
They may have died, but their incomparable contributions and unquestionable passion for their craft will be remembered.
Katherine Johnson, 101 (February 24)
Pioneering mathematician Katherine Johnson played a key role in NASA’s historical feats. In 1962 when the US decided to send people to the Moon, Johnson was part of the team created to study space travel. Johnson used geometry to figure out paths for the spacecraft to orbit Earth and to land on the Moon. Because of her calculations of orbital mechanics, NASA was able to send astronauts into orbit, and later send astronauts to the Moon and back. After more than 30 years of working at NASA, Johnson retired in 1986 and enjoyed traveling and spending time with her family. Johnson died of natural causes at a retirement home on February 24 at the age of 101.
Al Worden, 88 (March 18)
Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden circled the moon alone in 1971, and became an American hero whose achievements in space will forever be monumental. Worden performed the first deep-space walk – nearly 200,000 miles from Earth as he crewmates moonwalked. Worden said of the mission: “Now I know why I’m here. Not for a closer look at the Moon, but to look back at our home, the Earth.” Apollo 15 was Worden’s only spaceflight. He was in NASA’s fifth astronaut class in 1966 and retired in 1975. Though Worden was embroiled in some controversies with NASA and the US government, his contributions in science remains valuable. He died in his sleep at a rehabilitation center in Houston on March 18, following treatment for an infection.
Kenny Rogers, 81 (March 20)
Country star Kenny Rogers, known for enduring classics like “The Gambler” and “Lucille”, enjoyed a career that spanned six decades. His husky, charismatic voice propelled his popularity, and enabled him sell more than 100 million albums worldwide. He won three Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He was also known for his philanthropic causes and his passion for photography. IN fact, he published multiple photography books that showcased portraits of Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor and Ray Charles. In 2015, Rogers announced his plans to retire, saying he had already accomplished everything he wanted to achieve as an artist. He died of natural causes at his home in Georgia.
Linda Tripp, 70 (April 8)
Linda Tripp’s courage shaped the US government in 1998. Many considered her a heroine who stood up for the rule of law when she secretly taped conversations with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky that proved the latter’s affair with then President Bill Clinton. Tripp’s recordings paved the way for Clinton’s impeachment following a five-week trial in the Senate. In a postmortem to the entire impeachment investigation, the Pentagon acknowledged leaking Tripp’s security file to try to smear her, and she later got a financial settlement related to being a whistleblower. Tripp died on April 8, as confirmed by her former lawyer. No cause of death was given, but reports indicated that she endured a brief case of pancreatic cancer.
Irrfan Khan, 53 (April 29)
Bollywood icon Irrfan Khan was one of the India’s most beloved actors. He was known internationally for his roles in “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Life of Pi”. He was called the “India’s face in the West” as he earned steady kudos and landed roles in the Jurassic World, A Mighty Heart, Inferno and The Amazing Spider-Man. Despite his celebrity status, Khan had a reputation for modesty and integrity, that’s why his death reverberated beyond Bollywood. He suffered from neuroendocrine tumor. He is survived by his wife and two sons.
Naya Rivera, 33 (July 8)
Glee star Naya Rivera was said to have used her last strength and breath to save her four-year-old son before she died on July 8. Rivera went boating with her son at Lake Piru in California, but the actress went missing on the same day; her son was found asleep on the boat. After a six-day search, Rivera’s body was found floating in the northeast area of the lake. The actress-singer was best known for her role as Santana Lopez on the beloved musical-comedy-drama Glee, where she appeared in nearly every episode until it ended in 2015.
John Lewis, 80 (July 17)
A towering figure of the civil rights era, John Lewis represented Georgia’s fifth Congressional District from 1987 until his death this year. Even when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he kept serving his community. Even at a young age, Lewis had that passion to fight for civil rights. At 18, he wrote a letter to Martin Luther King Jr., who responded by purchasing Lewis a bus ticket so they could meet. After that, Lewis wasted no time organizing and leading civil rights movement. He led numerous demonstrations against racial segregation and voting rights. He was arrested in Mississippi for using a white restroom during of his demonstrations. Ten days before his death, Lewis tweeted about the 59th anniversary of the incident. He continued to urge Americans to fight for the causes he believed in, and his encouragement to involve oneself in “good trouble” resonated with a whole new generation of activists. As we remember the deaths of the world’s most notable and remarkable figures in 2020, Lewis’ name will always be highlighted.
Chadwick Boseman, 43 (August 28)
Wakanda forever. Chadwick Boseman’s devastating death was mourned all over the world, even by non-Black Panther fans. Unknown to many, the actor was battling colon cancer for four long years. A true fighter, Boseman brought to life many films the world had come to love during and between countless surgeries and chemotherapy. Boseman’s death shocked the whole world, as people flooded every social media platform with tributes to the iconic actor. Out of all the deaths of notable personalities and figures in 2020, Twitter recently revealed that the announcement of Boseman’s death was the most retweeted post of 2020, which amassed 3.1 million tweets and 924,000 quote tweets.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 87 (September 18)
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had a long career as litigator and jurist, and courageously fought against discrimination and sexism. She developed a rock star status and was dubbed the “Notorious R.B.G.” in speaking events across the country, and was always greeted with standing ovations. When she took the bench, Ginsburg had the reputation of a “judge’s judge” for the clarity of her opinions that gave straightforward guidance to the lower courts. She consistently delivered progressing votes on the most divisive social issues including abortion rights, same-sex marriage, voting rights, immigration and health care. Ginsburg suffered two bouts of cancer in 1999 and 2009 and received a stent implant in her heart but never missed a day of oral arguments.
Sean Connery, 90 (October 31)
Oscar-winning actor Sean Connery was best known for playing James Bond. His movie career spans five decades, with highlight on being the first to portray the role of British fictional spy 007. He played James Bond from 1962 to 1971. It is no surprise that, some half-a-century later, he remains for many people the best James Bond. After James Bond, he remained a formidable actor – his performance as the incorruptible cop Jim Malone underpinned The Untouchables, and he was justly rewarded for it with an Oscar for best supporting actor. Steven Spielberg famously said of him: “There are seven genuine movie stars in the world today, and Sean is one of them.” Connery died from pneumonia and heart failure in his sleep in the Bahamas.
Pat Quinn, 37 (November 22)
Remember the viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? It was Pat Quinn who co-founded it in 2014 and made more than 17 million people participate by pouring ice water over their heads to raise awareness for ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the nerve cells int eh brain and spinal cord. His viral movement accumulated at least $115 million to the ALS Association and more than $220 million for ALS research. Quinn was 30 when he was diagnosed with ALS in 2013 and has since then advocated for fight against it. He continued to host an Ice Bucket Challenge every year in his hometown of Yonkers, New York, and created a social media campaign motivating people to “FindUrSmile.” Quinn was also nominated with co-founder Pete Frates (who died last year) as Time magazine’s Person of the Year. “Nobody knew the Ice Bucket Challenge would become a worldwide phenomenon, but we united as one because that is what it takes to change a disease like ALS,” he said.
Chuck Yeager, 97 (December 7)
US Air Force legendary pilot Chuck Yeager was the very first person to break the sound barrier. The celebrated pilot and retired brigadier general became the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound on October 14, 1947. This monumental event has made Yeager one of the most famous men in the aviation history. He was just 24 when he first outraced sound in the bright orange Bell X-1 craft. Yeager spent the following years testing aircraft and pushing limits. He set another speed record for a straight wing aircraft of Mach 2.44 on December 1953. Having flown a total of 10,131.6 hours in some 361 different types and models of military aircraft throughout his career, Yeager has left a legacy that will be remembered for generations.
Charley Pride, 86 (December 12)
Charley Pride was the first Black superstar of country music and the first Black member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Born in Mississippi, Pride had a rich baritone voice and an impeccable song-sense that altered the American music culture, which was then dominated by whites. He emerged as one of the most significant artists of RCA Records with his chart-topping singles “Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’” and “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone”. According to his website, Charley Pride’s final performance came on November 11, 2020, when he sang Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’ during the CMA Awards show at Nashville’s Music City Center. Pride wrote in his memoir. Pride died from complications related to coronavirus.
Jeremy Bulloch, 75 (December 17)
Many Star Wars fans grieved Jeremy Bulloch’s death days before Christmas. The actor played the original Boba Fett in Star Wars films, and had said playing the character changed the entire direction of his life in “such a wonderful way”. Bulloch had a long and happy life as an actor. He also starred in other films such as James Bond and Summer Holiday and some notable television series and theater productions. Away from the screen, Bulloch was a talented footballer and cricketer, and supporter a number of charities close to his heart. The actor spent his final weeks in a hospital in England due to health complications. He had suffered Parkinson’s disease for several years.
Beyond this list are many other actors, scientists, politicians, musicians, activists, advocates and wonderful people who, in small and big ways, made this world a better place.
The deaths of these familiar and notable figures in 2020 have taught us how short life is, and how we should live it with purpose not only for ourselves but for mankind.