The celebrities we loved and lost in 2020

Publication Date21 Dec 2020
While there have been many moments of community spirit, friendship and tenacity as the world battles the pandemic, there has also been loss.

As 2020 comes to an end we look back at well-known personalities who are no longer with us.

From sporting champions to silver screen stars and politicians, let's take a look at the legacy they leave behind and celebrate their achievements.

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January

Derek Acorah, 69, January 3

TV mystic Derek Acorah died aged 69 after a short illness.

The self-styled spiritual medium, whose real name is Derek Johnson, is best known for hosting paranormal reality TV series Most Haunted and for appearing on Celebrity Big Brother in 2017.

His wife Gwen Acorah shared the news in a statement on his official Facebook page, adding that the psychic had been in intensive care after falling into a coma.

“Farewell my love! I will miss you forever! I’m devastated to announce that my beloved husband Derek has passed away after a very brief illness,” she wrote.

“Thank you so much to everybody who has supported me – I can never thank you enough.”

Kobe Bryant, 41, January 26

Kobe Bryant was one of the most decorated players in basketball history who transcended the sport and became a successful businessman and Oscar winner.

Bryant, who was 41, was killed in a helicopter crash alongside his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others in Calabasas, California, on January 26.

He spent his entire 20 year NBA career at the Los Angeles Lakers and became one of the most recognisable figures in the United States.

The double Olympic champion – who was an 18 time NBA All-Star – retired from basketball in 2016, but that was far from the end of the Kobe Bryant story.

He launched a multimedia original content company and in 2018 won an Academy Award for best short animated film entitled ‘Dear Basketball’.

Bryant is survived by his wife Vanessa and their three others daughters Natalia, Bianca and Capri.

He was posthumously inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

A statement on the hall of fame’s Twitter account read: “He was one of the greatest competitors who stepped on the court and made sure his impact was felt on both sides of the ball. He is ranked 4th on the NBA’s career points list 33,643. We congratulate posthumously 5x NBA Champion Kobe Bryant.”

Nicolas Parsons, 96, January 28

Broadcasting legend Nicholas Parsons passed away after a short illness.

Tributes poured in for the Just a Minute host who entertained millions on the radio.

Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan tweeted: “RIP Nicholas Parsons, 96. A wonderful man who brought so much fun, charm, wit & pleasure to so many millions of people over so many decades. What a life.”

Actor Stephen Fry tweeted: “Oh no. Nicholas Parsons gone He ruled Just a Minute for Just a Lifetime. A stunning achievement: never scripted, always immaculate."

February

Kirk Douglas, 103, February 5

One of the last remaining stars of Hollywood’s golden age, American actor Kirk Douglas died aged 103.

Best known for films including Spartacus and Ace In The Hole, his son Michael announced the news in a statement and said he was proud to be his son and his legacy will endure for generations to come.

“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,” he said.

Douglas was first called Issur Danielovitch and he endured an impoverished childhood.

He legally changed his name to Kirk Douglas before joining the US Navy during World War II.

He made his film debut in 1946 noir The Strange Love Of Martha Ivers, opposite Barbara Stanwyck.

Douglas, with his explosive acting style and masculine persona, soon established himself as a Hollywood leading man and throughout the 1950s starred in serious dramas, westerns and war movies.

His first best actor Oscar nomination came for his role in 1949 boxing drama Champion, while his second was in recognition of his part in 1952’s The Bad And The Beautiful, in which he starred opposite Lana Turner.

His third followed for the 1956 biopic Lust For Life, in which he portrayed Vincent Van Gogh.

But it is for 1960 historical epic Spartacus for which Douglas is best known.

He partnered with the then relatively unknown director Stanley Kubrick to play the leader of a slave revolt in ancient Rome.

Spartacus features one of the most quoted scenes in cinema. Towards the end of the film the captured slaves are told to identify Spartacus in exchange for leniency – they respond by all claiming to be Spartacus, sealing their own fate.

Spartacus also marked Douglas’s rebellion against the Hollywood blacklist during the early Cold War era.

When the film was released, he gave full credit to the screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, effectively ending the blacklist and becoming a hero those ostracised by it.

Reflecting on it years later, Douglas said: “I’ve made over 85 pictures, but the thing I’m most proud of is breaking the blacklist.”

Douglas was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1996 while the American Film Institute placed him number 17 on their list of the greatest male screen legends of classic Hollywood cinema.

He narrowly survived a helicopter crash in 1991 and suffered a stroke in 1996, following which he lived with a renewed focused on spirituality and religion.

Douglas, a father of four, is survived by his second wife, Anne Buydens, who he married in 1954.

Caroline Flack, 40, February 15

The former Love Island host took her own life at the age of 40.

The presented who fronted one of the biggest TV hits of recent years, was found dead at her London flat.

Her family said in a statement at the time: “We can confirm that our Caroline passed away today, the 15th of February.

“We would ask that the press respect the privacy of the family at this difficult time and we would ask they make no attempt to contact us and/or photograph us.”

The shock news prompted a flood of tributes from celebrities but also questions about the pressures faced by TV celebrities and about the decision to press ahead with her prosecution for an alleged assault on her boyfriend.

Flack stepped down from presenting Love Island after she was alleged to have assaulted Lewis Burton 27, at her then flat in Islington, North London, in December 2019.

She entered a not guilty plea to the assault charge at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court and she was released on bail, with conditions that stopped her having any contact with Burton ahead of a trial in March.

Flack is the fourth person linked to Love Island to have killed themselves.

Pop Smoke, 20, February 19

The US rapper was shot dead at his home in Los Angeles at age of 20.

His posthumous debut album Shoot For The Stars, Aim For The Moon later topped the UK album chart and reached the number one slot.

His label, Republic Records, said at the time of his death: “We are devastated by the unexpected and tragic loss of @POPSMOKE10.

“Our prayers and thoughts go out to his family, friends and fans, as we mourn this loss together.”

March

Michel Roux, 78, March 11

Chef and restaurateur Michel Roux died after a long battle with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

The founder of Le Gavroche and part of the Roux culinary dynasty died surrounded by his family at home in Bray-on-Thames, Berkshire.

A statement from his son Alain and daughters Francine and Christine on behalf of the family said: “We are grateful to have shared our lives with this extraordinary man and we’re so proud of all he’s achieved.

“A humble genius, legendary chef, popular author and charismatic teacher, Michel leaves the world reeling in his wake."

Kenny Rogers, 81, March 20

Know for hits including "Islands in the Stream" and "Lucille", the award-winning singer and songwriter died at his home in Sandy Springs, Georgia.

The husky-voiced singer, who also had hits such as Coward Of The County and The Gambler, was under hospice care and surrounded by his family at the time of his passing.

Long-standing collaborator Dolly Parton, whose duet Islands In The Stream with Rogers topped the charts in the US, shared a video in which she paid tribute to the singer while sitting at her piano.

She said: “I couldn’t believe it when I got up this morning and turned on the TV, checking to see what the coronavirus was doing, and they told me that my friend and singing partner Kenny Rogers had passed away.

“I know that we all know Kenny’s in a better place than we are today but I’m pretty sure he’s going to be talking to God sometime today – if he ain’t already – and he’s gonna be asking him to spread some light on the darkness going on here.

“But I loved Kenny with all my heart. And my heart’s broken. A big old chunk of it has gone with him today.

“And I think that I can speak for all his family, his friends and fans when I say that I will always love you.”

Bill Withers, 81, March 30

US soul singer Bill Withers, who was behind a string of hits in the 1970s including Lean On Me, Lovely Day and Ain’t No Sunshine, died from heart complications aged 81.

The three-time Grammy Award winner, who withdrew from making music in the mid-1980s, died in Los Angeles.

His death came as the...

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