Ah, the celebrity.
They’re a mysterious bunch, aren’t they? They live their lives in the spot light and people adore them for one reason or another.
Thanks to the Internet and social media, celebrities have the ability to communicate and connect to their fans in ways they couldn’t have before. Why, for the average person, it’s a highlight in their day if a celebrity they are following likes or retweets their post!
For all the love and admiration we have for famous people, we aren’t always aware when one passes away. Sure, sometimes we see RIP posts on social media, but even then some celebrity deaths get passed over.
Today, we are going to talk about 20 famous people who passed away in 2017. Some were musicians, some were actors, and some were prolific in their own way.
Note: The list isn’t in any specific order.
1. Bill Paxton – 61 Years Old
May 17, 1955 – Feb 25, 2017
Bill Paxton, a native Texan, died on February 25th due to complications following heart surgery. He began his acting career in the 1970s and even studied acting at NYU under Stella Adler. He was nominated for an Emmy for his role as Randall McCoy in the miniseries, Hatfields & McCoys, which aired on the History Channel.
He also received three Golden Globe nominations for his role as Bill Hendrickson in HBO’s drama, Big Love. Bill was married twice (Kelly Rowan: 1979 – 1980, Louise Newbury: 1987 – 2017) and he had two children with his first wife.
2. David Cassidy – 67 Years Old
Apr. 12, 1950 – Nov. 21, 2017
David Cassidy was a man who could do it all. He was an actor, singer, songwriter, and guitarist and is most recognized from his role as Keith Partridge from The Partridge Family which aired during the 70s.
David’s first big break was in the 1969 when he landed a role in the Broadway musical, The Fig Leaves are Falling. Unfortunately, the show only lasted for 4 performances. Fortunately, the casting director saw that David had talent. He then moved to LA where he signed with Universal Studios – and the rest is history!
Earlier in 2017, David announced that he was living with dementia and was retiring from show business. He later died in November 2017 due to liver failure.
3. Azzedine Alaia – 82 Years Old
Feb. 26, 1935 – Nov. 18, 2017
Azzedine Alaia is a name that may not be very familiar to most of us, but to those in the fashion industry, he was dubbed the “King of Cling.”
Azzedine was born in Tunis, Tunisia and was the child of wheat farmers. Azzedine also had a twin sister, Hafida, who actually inspired his admiration and passion for couture. He enrolled at École des Beaux-Arts in Tunis where he began studying sculpture. He would graduate in 1957 and swiftly moved to Paris.
Although he began privately dressing jet-setters in the late 1970s, his popularity would take off in the 80s and today’s celebs like Rihanna, Lady Gaga, and Kim Kardashian would wear his form fitting gowns.
Azzedine passed away due to heart failure.
4. Fats Domino – 89 Years Old
Feb. 26, 1928 – Oct. 24, 2017
Fats Domino (born Antoine Dominique Domino Jr.) was born in New Orleans and was the youngest of eight children to parents, Antoine Domino and Marie-Donatille Gros.
As one of the leading pioneers of Rock and Roll, Domino was an American singer-songwriter with a gift for tickling the ivories. He would sell more than 65 million records and had 11 top 10 hits.
Domino would tour the world, but when he fell ill in 1995, he decided he wouldn’t leave New Orleans – even when Hurricane Katrina came barreling through the area. Although he was rumored to have died as a result of the hurricane, he was alive and well, thanks to the Coast Guard rescuing he and his family via helicopter.
Fats Domino died in his home from natural causes.
5. Ralphie May – 45 Years Old
Feb. 17, 1972 – Oct. 6, 2017
Ralph “Ralphie” Duren May was an American stand-up comedian and actor whose career took off in 2003 when he participated in Last Comic Standing. Although he won second place, you wouldn’t know it. Ralphie went on to appear on shows like The Wayne Brady Show and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, but most notably, he was the only white comedian to appear on 2005’s The Big Black Comedy Show.
Ralphie released his first comedy special called Just Correct in 2005. He then would record 4 specials for Comedy Central and 2 Netflix.
Although he has always struggled with his weight, Ralphie would die from cardiac arrest on October 6th.
6. Barbara Sinatra – 90 Years Old
Mar. 10, 1927 – July 25, 2017
Barbara Sinatra was the fourth wife of the late Frank Sinatra, but she was famous in her own right.
Barbara once was a model, a Las Vegas showgirl, and a well-known socialite in Palm Springs. Before she married Frank in 1976, she was married to one of the Marx brothers, Zeppo Marx.
In 1986, both Barbara and Frank created the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center in Rancho Mirage, California. The center is a non-profit organization that provides one-on-one and group therapy sessions for youngsters who have endured physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse.
Barbara died of natural causes.
7. Wendy Pepper – 53 Years Old
Aug. 23, 1964 – Nov. 12, 2017
Wendy Pepper was one of the contestants on the first season of Project Runway, a competition show where designers must create garments based upon a given set of parameters.
During her time on the show, she won two challenges where the prizes were a big deal: one challenge was to create a dress that would be sold in Banana Republic and the other was to design a Grammy gown for Nancy O’Dell, the co-host for Entertainment Tonight.
Wendy continued to draw attention with her ready to wear clothing line which was shown at Cleveland Fashion Week in 2007.
Wendy died from complications from pneumonia.
8. Della Reese – 86 Years Old
July 6, 1931 – Nov. 19, 2017
Della Reese, born Delloreese Patricia Early, was mostly known for her role on the television show, Touched by an Angel where she played a caseworker named Tess.
Della wasn’t always an actress. During her youth, she became a devout gospel singer. In 1944, she was chosen to direct the young people’s choir. Not only that, but she regularly was chosen to sign on the radio all at tender age of 13.
Della’s musical career lasted several decades until she began to transition into acting work in 1969. During this time, she played smaller roles and guest roles until she landed her most notable role with Touched by an Angel.
Della passed away at her LA home due to natural causes, although some speculate her diabetes may contributed.
9. Monty Hall – 96 Years Old
Aug. 25, 1921 – Sept. 30, 2017
Monty Hall, born Monte Halparin, was the long-standing host of Let’s Make a Deal. Monty was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba to Maurice and Rose Halpin.
When Monty graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelors of Science degree, he had hoped he’d go on to medical school, but because he was Jewish, he was denied access. So, instead he began working for CKRC radio in Winnipeg while he was still a student.
He continued to do radio work for several years and when he moved to New York City in 1955, he set his sights on American broadcasting where he hosted lesser known game shows. It wasn’t until 1963 when he worked with Stefan Hatos to create and produce the popular game show.
Monty died due to heart failure in his home in Beverly Hills.
10. Bernie Casey – 78 Years Old
June 8, 1939 – Sept. 19, 2017
Bernie Casey was born in Wyco, West Virginia to Flossie and Frank Casey. Bernie had always been a stellar athlete. While at Bowling Green State University, he broke records in track and field. He then went on to help the football team win a national championship in 1959.
Bernie even earned All-American recognition in 1960 that earned him a trip to the United States Olympic Finals. On top of all that, he won three consecutive Mid-American Conference titles in 1958 to 1960 for high hurdles. He then would be drafted by the 49ers in 1961 where he played for 9 years.
He then moved on to acting and appeared in numerous films like Cleopatra Jones, Hit Man, Revenge of the Nerds, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and much more.
Bernie had a stroke and was sent to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after having a stroke.
11. Jessi Zazu – 28 Years Old
July 28, 1989 – Sept. 12, 2017
Jessi Zazu was born to Kathy and David, and had two brothers. She was known for being the lead singer and guitarist for Those Darlins, a country-rock band that was based in Nashville, Tennessee.
Jessi met the other members of Those Darlins at the Southern Girls Rock & Roll Camp at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and they began singing songs made famous by the folk group, The Carter Family.
In 2016, Jessi created a YouTube video where she talks about her battle with cervical cancer, which ultimately took her life near the end of 2017.
12. Don Williams – 78 Years Old
May 27, 1938 – Sept. 8, 2017
Don Williams was an American Country singer who began his solo career in 1971. During his career, he’s made 17 number chart toppers.
Don was the youngest son of Loveta Mae and James Andrew Williams. Prior to getting into music, he served with the US army Security Agency for two years and was honorably discharged shortly thereafter. He then joined the Pozo-Seco singers, a folk pop group that included Susan Taylor and Lofton Cline.
He continued to tour around the world and decided to hang up his hat in 2006. He came out of retirement in 2010 and began touring again. However, in 2016, he announced he was retiring for good.
Don died in September 2017 due to emphysema.
13. Tobe Hooper – 74 Years Old
Jan. 25, 1943 – Aug. 26, 2017
Anyone who loves a good horror movie from the 70s and 80s know who Tobe Hooper is. He created films like 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Guardian, and Poltergeist, which earned 3 Academy Award Nominations.
During the 1960s, he worked as a college professor during the day, but he would also be a documentary cameraman. He worked on the 1965 short, The Heisters.
Fast forward to 1974 when he began working on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The film was a wild success. He’d go on to work on other films and even television.
He passed away due to natural causes in his home at Sherman Oaks, California.
14. Joseph Wapner – 97 Years Old
Nov. 15, 1919 – Feb. 26, 2017
Joseph Wapner was American judge whose name everyone knew. He was born in LA to Joseph Max Wapner, an attorney, and Fannie Friedman. Wapner graduated from USC Law School in 1948 after he returned from serving in WWII, where he was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
Before landing the hit reality court show, The People’s Court in 1981, Joseph was appointed to the LA Municipal Court in 1959 where he served for two years. Shortly after, he was elevated to the LA County Superior Court where he sat for 18 years.
The People’s Court would run for 12 years, accumulating 2,340 episodes.
He died in his LA home from respiratory failure on February 26, 2017.
15. Sonny Landham – 76 Years Old
Feb. 11, 1941 – Aug. 17, 2017
Sonny Landham was an Native American actor and stunt man. He was born in Canton, Georgia and was a descendant of both the Cherokee and Seminole tribes.
Although Sonny was best known for his role in Predator as Billy Sole, he also appeared in other Hollywood flicks like 48 Hrs., Lock Up, and Action Jackson. Interestingly, at the beginning of his career, he was an adult actor and started in several adult pornographic movies.
Sonny eventually went on to run in the Republican Party primary election in 2003 to become the Governor of Kentucky, hoping to follow suit of Predator castmates, Jesse Ventura (Governor of Minnesota) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (Governor of California). He did not win.
Sonny passed away in August 2017 from congestive heart failure.
16. June Foray – 99 Years Old
Sept. 18, 1917 – July 26, 2017
Think back to your childhood and your favorite cartoons. Chances are, some of those characters were voiced by the same person – June Foray.
June’s work wasn’t just voice overs for kids shows. She worked in radio, theatrical short, full feature films, television, talking toys, video games, and much more! Her most notable voice work includes Rocky the Flying Squirrel from Rocky and Bullwinkle, Granny from the Looney Toons cartoons, and Cindy Lou Ho, from How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
In 2015, June was involved in a car accident that she never fully recovered from. She passed away in a LA hospital because of her continuously declining health post-accident.
17. Robert Hardy – 91 Years Old
Oct. 29, 1925 – Aug. 3, 2017
Robert Hardy is a well-known English actor whose career spanned across theater, film and television. At the beginning of his career, Robert he gained notoriety as his character, Siegfried Farnon on the BBC TV series All Creatures Great and Small. Most youngsters will recognize him as Cornelius Fudge from the Harry Potter franchise.
Robert joined the Royal Air Force during the second world war where he trained as a pilot. He trained in Terrell, Texas and would visit LA while on leave from training in Terrell. Although his acting career didn’t take off in Hollywood, he’d still go on to become a classical actor in Britain.
The details of his passing are unknown, except he passed away in Denville Hall, a retirement home for professional actors in London.
18. Jerry Lewis – 91 Years Old
Mar. 16, 1926 – Aug. 20, 2017
Jerry Lewis (born Joseph Levitch) was an accomplished man with many talents. He was a comedian, actor, singer, humanitarian, director, producer, author, and screenwriter!
He was most known for his slapstick humor and was dubbed the “King of Comedy.” He was half of the comedic duo (Dean) Martin and (Jerry) Lewis. The pair went their separate ways and both had very successful careers.
When Jerry wasn’t performing or acting, he would be the spokesman and national chairman for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
As one of the most successful performers of his day, his films earned an excess of $800 million worldwide.
Jerry passed away in his Las Vegas home as the result of end-stage cardiac disease and peripheral artery disease.
19. Hugh Hefner – 91 Years Old
Apr. 9, 1926 – Sept. 27, 2017
Hugh Hefner doesn’t need much of an introduction. Hugh was the first son of Grace Caroline and Glenn Lucius Hefner, and was born in Chicago, Illinois.
Hugh was the founder, editor and chief of Playboy magazine, and he was also the chief creative officer of the publishing group that produces the magazine, Playboy Enterprises.
Hugh was a copywriter for Esquire magazine in 1952, but when he was denied a $5 raise, he quit and began gathering money to publish the first issue of Playboy, which featured shots of Marilyn Monroe’s 1949 nude calendar. The first issue sold over 50,000 issues. The rest, is history!
Hugh died in his home in LA as a result of several ailments: cardiac arrest respiratory failure, sepsis, and E. coli.
20. Tom Petty – 66 Years Old
Oct. 20, 1950 – Oct. 2, 2017
Tom Petty was the legendary musician who brought us songs like “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” and “Free Falling” to name a few.
Tom was born in Gainesville, Florida to Kitty and Earl Petty. He also had a brother, Bruce, who was 7 years younger than him. His interest in music began at the tender age of 10 years old when he got to meet the King, Elvis Presley.
Tom first began making music with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, but he would go on to join the Traveling Wilburys with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Obison and Jeff Lynne. He would go solo in 1991 and have an amazing career!
It is believed that he died from a cardiac arrest, but the coroner ruled his death an accidental overdose from pain medication in January 19, 2018.
There were many celebs who passed away in 2017 – this is just a small glimpse of the passings. Did we miss anyone? Let us know in the comments below!